Rainlight

Rainlight

I saw a world dawn today
That will never see another day
As sunlight streams through evaporating mist
Quivering pinpoint rainbow lights
Bejeweled spidersilk enmeshing forest green
Deep out to vanishing sight of glowing sky
Earth’s heaving bosom steaming rising light
To crystallize air fractured by bird calls
Overturning the ceaseless awakening
Pristine indifference to our thoughts
Of self-regarding nothingness grasping void
That disappears all wanting
And can never be all love
The solidity nothingness imagines
Even memories descendants are destined to forget
What never was learned and never remembered
Like the dawning of this world today
A world that will never see another day
Like this blazing taste of freedom in
The glistening rainwater halo on these twining twigs.

From rain to rain,
From rain to light.

Of what use is our warmth
If not to pass on as love to others?
To fear the world’s end
Is to imagine obligating immortality.
Absorb the dawning light
Exhale the breath of night
There is no loss no mystery
Only blissful sleep bathed in light.
Will my bones parch in desert sun?
My legacy a dusty swirl that fades from eyeless sight?
Our lost world ever sinking stern first
Into the cold icy ocean of indifference
While I, a misanthrope write poems of love
To a world made miserable with visions from above
The mindless matter of matterless minds
The perennial pinings of humankind.

19 December 2019 — 19 September 2021

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Here the ways of men divide.
If you wish to strive for peace of soul and happiness, then believe;
if you wish to be a disciple of truth, then search.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

There have been a few times in my life when I could see the total reality of our human world, and where it was going, with complete clarity. 2011 was such a time. This is not to say that I am some kind of genius or seer, but simply that by 2011 I had lived long enough, had learned enough and experienced enough to have my sense of awareness fully opened and finely sharpened to understand the full spectacle on display. It was a fortuitous combination of the flow of life and the pure luck of being. But it was nevertheless true: I saw, I knew, and I wrote some of it all down.

But what I also knew by then was that such moments of insight come with the realization that one is existentially alone: nobody else, however conventionally close and loved, can truly know your experience or feel your truths. And this is always true though one is usually oblivious to it because one is bedazzled by the moment-to-moment immediacy of their enthrallment with their desires and fears and emotions in the ever-changing ever-flowing kaleidoscope of personally experienced life.

So to be fully aware is to realize that one is a perpetual outsider, like Meursault in Albert Camus’s brilliant novel L’étranger. It’s not that I wish to be apart from people I conventionally love — children, spouse, family, even friends — or from the clubs I wish to be a part of, like that of the political Ezekiels ardent to bring about the socialist utopia of brotherhood and sisterhood they can so easily imagine and which few if any are prepared to actually bring about; no, it is simply that the conscious experience of being alive — and knowing — is completely unitary even as we are myriadly interconnected as social beings, as a species, and as organic forms of life.

So my instances of being prescient can only illuminate reality for me, they can never affect the perceptions of others, nor alter the course of human events. In that sense I am Sisyphus, and Meursault, alone in a world of implacable absurdity despite its many miraculous beauties flung across space and time like a spiderweb bejeweled with droplets from the first rainfall of the year now glinting and sparkling in the sun of a fresh new dawn.

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Political Belief And Self Image: Aron, OWS, And Libya

What are your political beliefs, and why do you hold them? Is it because by objective analysis you see them as most beneficial to the public good, and you are motivated by solidarity and patriotism to promote them? Is it because they help preserve a traditional way of life or culture, perhaps of a minority population, which you were born into or to which you have become devoted? Or, is it because your stated political views are part of a facade, which shields your actual motives and agenda from public view?


What we say we believe emanates from who we think we are. Dialog on political issues can often degenerate into ritual displays in defense of egos, and detached from the realities of the nominal issues. The more conscious we are about the roots of stated political beliefs, the easier we will find political debate arriving at a clear understanding of reality, and functional consensus for action on matters of mutual concern.
 
Raymond Aron and the Paris Intellectuals of the 1950s
 
The Opium of the Intellectuals, by Raymond Aron, was published in France in 1955. This book is a sociological study of the mid 20th century intelligentsia, and a polemic against ideological fanaticism. Aron opposed the pro-Soviet views of the French intelligentsia, as exhibited by prominent personalities like Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The crux of Aron’s argument was that Soviet-style communism was not in the interests of the French public because as a 19th century conception of the organization of an industrial society it was outmoded for 20th century France, and as a political system it was devoid of the personal liberties, especially of political free speech, prized by the fractious French.


Aron advocated “politics” in place of “revolution” as the means of changing French society, arguing that a modern industrialized state would progress toward a more just political economy, more swiftly and with far fewer personal tragedies, through reformism rather than violent revolution. Aron illustrated this by comparing the lag in socioeconomic development and the achievement of political stability in France in comparison to that of England during the century from 1789 (the French Revolution to the Third Republic).


Aron’s criticism of the legitimacy of the pro-communist belief of his contemporaries was not aimed at members of the Communist Parties in Europe (the true believers), but at the “communisants,” the French fellow-travelers who did not join the Communist Party in France, nor relocate to Communist countries, but condemned post-war American influence in Europe (“Atlanticism”), praised Marxist ideology, and never criticized the Soviet Union nor its actions in Eastern Europe.


“Seeking to explain the attitude of the intellectuals, merciless toward the failings of the democracies but ready to tolerate the worst crimes as long as they were committed in the name of the proper doctrines, I soon came across the sacred words Left, Revolution, Proletariat.” (The Opium of the Intellectuals)


It is possible to interpret the communisant attitude, which Aron criticized, as a defense of wounded pride. The Fall of France (1940) was not just a national catastrophe along the material dimensions of military and economic power, political independence, and social cohesion, but a psychological catastrophe as well. The humiliation imposed on the German people by the Treaty of Versailles (1919) was avenged twenty-one years later when France was placed under the control of a German Occupation and a collaborationist Vichy Government for over four years, a period we can bracket from the occupation of Paris to its liberation: June 14, 1940, to August 25, 1944.


The liberation of France began with the invasion of Europe by Allied forces, landing on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, and was completed by the end of World War II in Europe on May 8, 1945. Resistance organizations had formed themselves in every occupied country, and many of these irregular anti-Nazi fighters and agents were Communists. Immediately after WWII, the Communist parties of Western Europe had a well-deserved prestige because of the many risks taken and sacrifices made by Communist members of the Resistance.


Anyone from a country that had been occupied by the Germans, seeking some source of national pride to counter the humiliation of the occupation years, could at least look back and point to his country’s partisans.


The physical and economic ruin of Europe after WWII left the United States as the leading world power, and it applied its wealth to the rebuilding of Western Europe out of a mixture of motives: sympathy and goodwill, commercial self-interest, and a competition with the Soviet Union for political power: anti-communism. A major effort combining all these motivations was the Marshall Plan, which cycled $13B though Europe during the four years beginning in April 1948 (the U.S. had already contributed $12B in aid to Europe between the end of WWII and 1948).


Anyone who has suffered a calamity and then receives charity (which often has strings attached) can feel grateful up to the point where relief becomes overshadowed by resentment because of a growing sense of humiliation over one’s dependency. So it was with some Europeans in the early 1950s, when the United States and the Soviet Union locked horns in their Cold War and used Europe, Germany in particular, as their field of contention.


The Greek Civil War between the US-backed government and the Greek Communist Party lasted from March 1946 to October 1949. This was the beginning of US military assistance applied against the anti-Nazi partisans of the Occupation years. The Berlin Blockade, which was relieved by a NATO airlift, occurred between June 24, 1948, and May 12, 1949. Stalin died on March 5, 1953, and thwarted proletarian expectations erupted as the Uprising in East Germany on June 17, 1953. The Western European Union was founded on October 23, 1954, with the first inclusion of an independent West German state (the Federal Republic of Germany) into an economic and defense association of Atlantic Alliance (NATO) European nations, and which allowed the FRG to industrialize without restriction, and rearm. The Hungarian Uprising occurred during October 23 to November 10, 1956. Both the East German and Hungarian uprisings were ruthlessly suppressed by the Red Army and local paramilitary police troops.


In societies where there is wide public appreciation of their men and women of letters, the intellectuals belong to the elite class that interprets the nation to itself. The French intellectuals of the immediate postwar period were sensitive to the popular desire for a recovery of national pride, and also very sensitive to their own loss of importance in shaping the political narrative of their time. The centers of power affecting daily life throughout Europe were no longer Paris, London, and Berlin, but Moscow and Washington, D.C.


That the relatively unsophisticated Americans should have such wealth that they could act like a Salvation Army for derelict Western European nations; that they should have such military power that they could align their propped-up European charity cases like pawns in a geostrategic chess game with the Soviet Union; that America would gleefully spin the gears and pull the levers of politics in Western Europe and around the globe without the least thought to the wounded self-regard of France, or to the interpretations of history-in-the-making from one of the most brilliant sources of such narration in Western Civilization since the Enlightenment — the French intelligentsia — was galling to distraction, and shaped the pro-Soviet anti-Atlanticist orientation of a French intelligentsia seeking redemption and relevance.
 
Occupy Wall Street: The Face of American Deindustrialization
 
In the first decade or two after WWII, the Europeans could still easily recall many instances of the pre-war exploitation of working people, along with the more recent memories of the many hardships of the war years and the early postwar years (the latter with many high-casualty refugee movements). In his book about his flight from France in June 1940, Strictly Personal, W. Somerset Maugham describes the changed attitude of non-collaborationist French industrialists and military leaders regarding the French working class. Since the eventual liberation of France would be a painful labor largely carried out by working people, that future free France would necessarily be a nation whose industrially-generated wealth would be extensively socialized, as a simple matter of gratitude and justice. There would be no going back to the class relationships of the Third Republic. With this background in mind, the political builders of postwar Western Europe fashioned states that generally aimed at meeting Aron’s ideal: “An economy, liberal in its functioning, social in its goals, holds the most promise.” (Politics and History)


With the growing prosperity of Western Europe, working life was transformed from a proletarian to a bourgeois experience: “Wherever democratic socialism has been successful, the factory workers, having become petty bourgeois, no longer interest the intellectuals and are themselves no longer interested in ideologies. The improvement of their lot has both deprived them of the prestige of misfortune and withdrawn them from the temptation of violence.” (The Opium of the Intellectuals)


So, the heated existentialist-political debate between Atlanticism and Marxism in early 1950s France faded with the rising prosperity of the nation, driven by technological development. “The major fact of our age is neither socialism, nor capitalism, nor the intervention of the state, nor free enterprise: it is the monstrous development of technology and industry, of which the massive concentrations of workers in Detroit, Billancourt, Moscow, and Coventry are the consequence and symbol. Industrial society is the genus of which Soviet and Western societies are the species.” (Fanaticism, Prudence, and Faith)


Half a century later, we are witnessing a deindustrialization of the United States, slight deindustrialization in parts of Europe, and an accompanying industrialization of China, India, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, South Africa, Turkey, Brazil, and Mexico. Once again, technology (electronics, robotics, telecommunications) facilitates the geographic shift of production to lower cost and more easily exploited labor pools, and the resulting changes to national prosperity produce public reactions that are controlled or distorted by local political factors.


The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protest that has been in progress since September 17 in New York City, along with the many allied Occupy protests throughout the United States, have arisen in large part because of deindustrialization. Increasing redundancies in the American petty bourgeois workforce, at all levels of occupational skill, have forced many people to abandon previous career assumptions, and to question their own self images, because they are confronted by economic conditions that will not support making their original expectations real. Casting off an outmoded self image and then fashioning a new one can be a difficult and depressing task, to lose a dream is to lose a child of your mind. After that grief is finished, it can be liberating to successfully re-imagine yourself.


We can be sure that today millions of Americans are in a volatile psychological state, somewhere between realizing their original self image has become outmoded, and completing a robust reintegration of their psyche. They are awakening to new or reinforced political beliefs that will focus their subsequent social interactions in response to the changed economic realities in which they find themselves. The diversity and number of human beings that have been so callously shunted aside by the expatriation of the financialization-bewitched US economy is so great that no single mode of thought nor technically specific political demand can be expected to characterize the conclusions arrived at by Occupy Wall Street protesters and pilgrims and their sympathizers.


The appearance of the OWS movement in 2011 is obviously a direct result of the economic collapse of 2007-2008, but both the collapse and OWS are the fruits of Reaganomics: the divergence of the US economy from Aron’s economic ideal, since the Reagan Administration (1981-1988). We can anticipate that the many minds drawn into OWS will gravitate toward a thematic center-of-interest that we can label “economic fairness,” and which probably subdivides into five categories:


(1) personal debt relief,

(2) banking reform and financial market taxes,

(3) wide availability of diverse skilled employment,

(4) universal health and social security, a 35-hour work week,

(5) clean government: end corporate “personhood,” close tax loopholes, schedule equitable income and corporate taxes.


Marxism is an ideology originally developed to raise the expectations of a proletarian workforce in 19th century industrializing states. The growth of productivity during the 20th century, driven by “the monstrous development of technology and industry,” has elevated proletarian expectations by transforming the proletarians into petty bourgeois: they now have wealth beyond just their potential for manual labor, and their children. Ardor for revolution and enthusiasm for ideology have largely been lost during this transformation of the conditions of wage-earning life.


After thirty years of Reaganomics and “outsourcing,” or deindustrialization, and four years after the collapse of the financial bubble, the American workforce is suddenly confronted by economic conditions that undermine their now naturally petty bourgeois expectations. The prospect of having to downsize their dreams back to proletarian minimalism is clearly understood to be the foisting on them of the costs of the mismanagement of the US economy. Certainly, a wealthy class of politically well-connected speculators profited from the financial spectacle of the last decade, but their gains will cost the wider society far more than it could ever recover as a benefit because these speculators are richer.


The OWS movement is the face of petty bourgeois protest at the prospect of being pushed back into proletarian austerity. I do not anticipate a resurgence of Marxism in the near future because I cannot imagine American petty bourgeois people, however economically restricted, allowing themselves to assume a proletarian self image. It will be interesting to see how the OWS awakening expresses itself politically.
 
The Libyan Revolution and Progressivist Self Image
 
I began my investigation into the relationship between political belief and self image because of the forceful and emotional rejection of my views in support of the Libyan Revolution by progressive-minded correspondents in the left-wing Internet forums I frequented.
 
A Sketch of the Libyan Revolution


The Libyan Revolution broke out on February 15, 2011, and deposed Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s dictator during the previous 42 years, who fled his compound in Tripoli and went into hiding on August 22, 2011, as National Transition Council (NTC, rebel) forces gained control of most of the capitol, and the country. Aside from scattered remnants of Gaddafi’s forces in Tripoli, the remaining loyalists still fighting were penned into five cities: Tarhuna, Sirte, Sabha, Bani Walid, and Hun. By late September, only Sirte and Bani Walid remained occupied by loyalists. Bani Walid fell to the NTC on October 17; and the loyalists in Sirte, Gaddafi’s birthplace, were concentrated into a narrow two-block area, with their arsenal reduced to machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.


NTC fighters overran the last loyalist stronghold in Sirte on October 20, capturing a wounded Muammar Gaddafi who was apparently hiding in a storm drain, hustling him through the streets of a ruined Sirte amid a throng of ecstatic NTC fighters, and later delivering his body to a local hospital. It had two bullet wounds, in the head and chest. As I write on the 20th, fighting has ceased and the NTC is expected to declare Libya liberated, which then sets the date for democratic elections eight months later, to constitute the permanent successor government.


From its outbreak in the eastern city of Benghazi, the Libyan Revolution spread quickly through the country so that by the 25th of February most of Libya was under rebel control. Gaddafi controlled the cities of Tripoli, on the Mediterranean coast near the western border, as well as Sirte and Sabha. The revolution was a popular uprising; its fighters were civilians who had taken up arms and were joined by government troops who deserted. Gaddafi commanded the majority of the nation’s military forces, and thousands of mercenaries, primarily from African nations.


Because Libyan troops were reluctant to kill their own people, Gaddafi continually recruited mercenaries. Hundreds of Europeans were hired for specialized technical roles, such as pilots and military tacticians. Most of these fled by August. Thousands of black Africans were hired, like Tuaregs from Mali. The inducement of high pay to often impoverished men, and their lack of identification with the Arab and Berber culture of Libya, made the African mercenaries from the nations of the Sahel (the bio-geographic and climatic zone between the Sahara to the north and the savannas to the south) the most reliable killers at Gaddafi’s command.


In a televised address on the 23rd of February, Gaddafi stated that “Those who do not love me do not deserve to live.” During the 20 days between February 23 and March 15, Gaddafi’s forces recaptured most of the rebellious territory in the west and south, a particular exception being the coastal city of Misrata, east of Tripoli and west of Sirte.


On March 15, Gaddafi’s forces captured Brega and advanced east, beginning their assault on Ajdabiya, the last city along the road before Benghazi. In another public address, Gaddafi vowed to “bury” the rebels. Ajdabiya had been subjected to bombardment by Gaddafi’s air force since March 12, and on the 15th land and naval artillery barrages were added as well.


On March 17, Gaddafi’s forces captured Ajdabiya, about 120 km from Benghazi, and the United Nations Security Council adopted UN Resolution 1973 (2011), which authorized member states “to take all necessary measures… to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamhariya, including Benghazi, while excluding an occupation force.” NATO military forces were set to intervene.


On March 18, Gaddafi’s forces captured Zuwetina, about 100 km from Benghazi, and continued their drive until within 50 km of Benghazi.


On March 19, Gaddafi’s troops and tanks entered the suburbs of Benghazi, while Gaddafi’s artillery and mortars shelled the city from about 20 km away. The first shots of the NATO military intervention were fired by French aircraft, and destroyed a convoy of 14 of Gaddafi’s tanks accompanied by several ammunition trucks.


With the NATO intervention now underway, and with increasing diplomatic recognition of, financial assistance for, and military equipment supplied to the three-week-old political organization of the revolution, the NTC, the rebel forces advanced from Benghazi toward Ajdabiya on the 20th of March, and this new rebel offensive began the five month push west to Tripoli.
 
The Human Right to Political Freedom


My support for the Libyan Revolution was a reflex based on the belief that freedom from dictatorship is a human right. I explained how I came to this belief in an article called “Libya 2011: The Human Right to Political Freedom,” which grew out of the despairing notes I wrote during Gaddafi’s offensive toward Benghazi. I anticipated a bloody purge of revolutionary sentiment in Libya after Gaddafi’s forces captured Benghazi. I recalled how Franco cemented his dictatorship and suppressed Republicans in Spain after the Civil War, between 1939 and 1942. I distributed a first draft of this article as an e-mail broadcast on March 30, and its final form was eventually posted on the Internet by Dissident Voice on May 3, 2011, accompanied by an editorial criticizing it.


In 1978, Raymond Aron explained his guiding political compass this way: “Of the two values invoked by our times, equality and freedom, I give first place to the second — not for intellectual comfort but as a result of historical experience.” (Politics and History)


I feel the same alignment, and in my article put the question to the left-wing world this way:


“So let me ask you, is it possible to have a bias for freedom, an opposition to dictatorship anywhere, and also oppose the capitalistimperialist consensus that dominates US and European foreign policymaking? Is it possible to support popular revolutions against tyrants and dictators — no matter how doctrinally appealing certain of them might be for some of us — even to the point of arming popular revolts so they can credibly match the firepower of their oppressors? In short, can anti-imperialists elevate freedom to a guiding principle?”


“Rules of Rebellion” is my second article about the Libyan Revolution, and was provoked by the largely negative reception to my first one (i.e., e-mailed criticisms, and publication rejections). “Rules of Rebellion” was written in the spirit of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” and, because irony is unknown today, it was taken at face value and published on the Internet on April 6, 2011. “Rules of Rebellion” is presented as advice from the progressive “contented spectators” of the West, to would-be revolutionaries contemplating overthrowing their dictators:


“A revolution that fails to recognize the primacy of the anti-imperialist outcome, by either undermining an authoritarian anti-imperialist stalwart or failing to replace him with an untainted government of equal or greater anti-imperialist vigor, within a matter of days, does not deserve the support and respect of the enlightened and progressive world community.”


Revolutionaries around the world are urged, in the article, to realize that having their governments oppose US imperialism is an ideological mandate that outweighs the political freedom of their nation’s people, and even the lives of the revolutionaries. After the article appeared, I received letters asserting its overt argument as sincere belief.


On the day Gaddafi’s regime fell, I reflected on the doctrinairism that could be blind to the purges necessary to maintain its view of the world. Louis Proyect published my letter of August 22, 2011, “The Libyan Revolution and the Opium of the Intellectuals,” at his Web site, The Unrepentant Marxist. I recollected my clash with doctrine this way:


As I mentioned in my articles on Libya, the first priority was gaining the political freedom of the Libyan people, and preventing them from being massacred by their vengeful dictator. The blunt and inelegant instrument of a NATO intervention was the only means at hand capable of preventing a detestable outcome; capable of saving the lives of people who did not deserve to die. Whether or not the European and American governments, and corporations, were gaining economic and political advantages (the “humanitarian intervention” complex of modern left orthodoxy…) were unimportant considerations in comparison. Now that Libya is entering its liberated postwar period of political reconstruction, these considerations can be addressed, and by those who would be most affected by them, the Libyans themselves. It is so sad that so many leftists are so wrapped up in their politicized heads that they could obsess about “saving Libya from its Western saviors” to the complete disregard of the life-and-death struggle for political freedom by the Libyan people, the defeat of dictatorship. These political theorists must be relieved that the Syrian government has been untrammeled by Western interference in its rejection of its people’s rejection.
 
Anti-Imperialist Doctrinairism: Libya as Bosnia


“By doctrinairism I mean the attribution of universal value to a particular doctrine.” (Fanaticism, Prudence, and Faith)


A popular leftist doctrine today is opposition to “humanitarian interventions,” the use of Western military forces to control political outcomes in Third World (undeveloped and developing) and Second World (moderately developed) nations that are in distress, often with a civil conflict compounded by a humanitarian crisis. The doctrine congealed out of the many arguments over Western involvement (“interference,” interventions) in the wars that erupted during the breakup of Yugoslavia (1991-1995, 1998-1999), and in particular from the outcry against the NATO bombardment of Serbia (1999) during the UN military intervention in the Kosovo War (1998-1999).


From the leftist perspective, “humanitarian intervention” is a disingenuous label for imperialism carried out militarily for Washington-consensus capitalism by the United States leading its mainly Western European NATO allies.


This analysis justifies skepticism about the officially expressed motives for the use of US and NATO military power in any foreign conflict, as a third party. Proponents of an intervention can always find some iota of humanitarian need in the host nation to justify their case, and opponents can always find some suspicion of interventionist self-interest to justify non-intervention. The morally correct course of action for third parties should be indicated by which of these two poles lies closer to the public interest in the host nation, given its current specific conditions.


Interventionist self-interest actually has two classes: the leading economic and political class that directs foreign policy (or imperialism), and the general public whose labor, consumerism, taxes, and soldiering support the domestic basis of their nation’s foreign policy (or empire). Non-intervention is usually in the interest of the general public in the interventionist nation, from considerations of cost.


A third-party intervention is morally justified when conditions in the host nation indicate that it would be in their public interest, and when the public in the intervening nations willingly support the costs of the action. It is recognized that making such a determination is a matter of degree, there can never be a guarantee that a morally justified intervention will be completely free of any self-interest on the part of those intervening, nor be carried out without some errors and casualties. The need must be sufficiently dire, and the hazards sufficiently clear, that the responsible actors in both the host and third-party nations can see the potential benefits — to the host public — of the proposed intervention as far outweighing the unavoidable negative side effects.


From the above, it is evident that clear cases for morally justified interventions are rare. I believe Libya was one of those cases. Every case must be judged on its merits, on the specifics of the situation. We can be constant in our application of the principles outlined above to help us judge, but we should not close our minds to the plight of others because we have blinkered our thinking and walled off our empathy behind an absolutist doctrine that always equates third-party interventions to imperialism, and by a moralistic associative rule rejects all third-party interventions because of a self image as an anti-imperialist.


Libya is not Bosnia, Libya is not Kosovo; Libya is Libya.
 
Identify: Friend of Foe?


Are you a Democrat or a Republican?
I must know if you are friend or foe.

Are you a Marxist or bourgeois?
I must find if you’re my kind.

Are you populist or an elitist?
I must feel if you are real.

Are you a worker or are you an owner?
I must determine if you are vermin.

Are you a capitalist or anti-imperialist?
I must decide what you should abide.

Are you a militarist or are you a pacifist?
I must tell if you are well.

Are you a patriot or are you a dissident?
I must judge if you should trudge.

Are you progressive or are you conservative?
I must infer if you can concur.

Are you a believer or are you a skeptic?
I must learn if you should burn.

Are you right or are you left?
I must know if you are friend or foe.

I am right and I am left,
I am friend and you are foe.


One of the sadder realizations I gained from the negative responses to my articles in support of the Libyan Revolution was that some people with progressive political attitudes, being against war, racism, and violence, and believing in the entire complex of humanistic “peace and justice” values, examples of which easily come to mind with the use of that phrase, could express angry disapproval of me approaching hate in some instances, for essentially blaspheming against their doctrinal code. It was this that made me understand how deeply rooted in self image our political beliefs are.


We are emotionally invested in what we think of ourselves. For example, an anti-imperialist political belief can be rooted in a self image as a “good” person who is morally opposed to war, exploitative capitalism and the many forms of intolerance (e.g., racism). Perhaps these beliefs are applied in a rigid or fanatical manner because this person is uneducated, or irredeemably indoctrinated, or intellectually lazy, and so interprets and labels reality on the basis of a doctrinal code.


The doctrinal set is sacrosanct because it is rooted deep in the ego or self image of the person. The doctrinal set is expressed as a list of commandments; rules to be applied in the external world and that are actually extensions of the inner core of a person’s being. These doctrines are expressed as simplified ideas and phrases, code words that are, if you will, linguistic objects of depersonalized aspect for safe use in the world exterior to our persons (the exosomatic realm), but which actually encase tender parts of our spirit, emotionally charged aspects of our self definition.


For such a person, the defense of a doctrinally-held political belief is in reality a defense of their ego. To dispute another’s doctrinally-held belief is to attack the religion of a true believer.


The defense of the ego knows no barriers of courtesy, or logic, or truth. So, when I asked doctrinaire anti-interventionists how they could stand by and let Gaddafi’s forces take Benghazi, and then “bury” those who didn’t love him and so “deserved to die,” taking Gaddafi at his word as seemed reasonable given his history, I was told:


The rebels were Islamicists and Al Qaida (ergo, they deserved to die);

The rebels were against Pan-Africanism, and massacred blacks whenever possible (deserved to die);

The rebels were Libyan agents of Western-directed destabilization groups exploiting the mood of Arab Spring (deserved to die),

There really weren’t many rebels (too few to worry about dying),

Most of the Libyan people supported Gaddafi (then why was there a rebellion?).
The ego defense against sympathy for the rebels was quite simple: they don’t deserve to live, and there aren’t many of them. Even the most skeptical viewing of televised reporting from Libya put the lie to these assertions.


Other ego defenses were aimed at interventionist motives: the intervention was an oil grab, it was to depose a defender of Africa from US and European imperialism. Clearly, NATO countries that participated in the intervention will hope the successor government in Libya will remember them favorably when considering future business partners.


But the Europeans and Americans were already doing great business with Gaddafi’s Libya, that being the quid pro quo for his cooperation on nuclear disarmament, suppressing al Qaeda and withdrawing support from terrorist and/or insurgent organizations, restricting black African migration to Europe, and producing oil for the world market. The NATO countries did not need to incur the expense of their Libyan intervention in order to create commercial opportunities for themselves in Libya.


The final defense of doctrinally-held belief was an attack on the character of the blasphemer. How could I possibly agree to the NATO intervention when it was responsible for the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children? This made me equally guilty of the killing of babies in Tripoli. Did I want to personally plunge a knife into Aisha Gaddafi to stop her from rallying the people of Tripoli to her father’s cause?, because that was equivalent to my accepting a NATO intervention that rained bombs down on Tripoli.


It is pointless to respond to character attacks like this — they really have nothing to do with the person being attacked but instead show the desperation of an ego defending its doctrinally-held beliefs against the sense that they are unsupported by reality.


Muammar Gaddafi’s opposition to the Arab Spring-inspired popular protest movement in Libya degenerated into a war between a ruthless dictator with command of most of the nation’s military, and the lightly armed civilian population of the country. Given this balance of power and the history of Libya’s dictator, the world at large was faced with the choice of: acquiescing to a bloody suppression of the revolt, and probable purge of thousands of Libyans, by not intervening; or making a purge impossible by helping the revolt succeed, by intervening with decisive military force.


I think the second choice was by far the right one, as a matter of human decency for the greatest number of people, and because of that I accept that its implementation could never be “perfect” from every ethical and political perspective. It was the best course of action that circumstances allowed.


“In politics the choice is never between good and evil, but between the preferable and the detestable.” — Raymond Aron
 
Bibliography

Raymond Aron: The Opium of the Intellectuals, Transaction Publishers, 2001, (reprint of 1957 English language edition),

Raymond Aron: Politics and History, Transaction Publishers, 1984, (reprint of 1978 edition),

Raymond Aron: Fanaticism, Prudence, and Faith, (1956 essay revised, now an appendix in the reprinted The Opium of the Intellectuals).

W. Somerset Maugham: Strictly Personal, 1941.

Tony Judt: Postwar, A History of Europe Since 1945, Penguin Books, 2005.

Articles:

“Rules of Rebellion”
6 April 2011
http://dissidentvoice.org/2011/04/rules-of-rebellion/

“Libya 2011: The Human Right to Political Freedom”
3 May 2011
http://dissidentvoice.org/2011/05/libya-2011-the-human-right-to-political-freedom/

“The Libyan Revolution and the Opium of the Intellectuals”
22 August 2011
http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/the-libyan-revolution-and-the-opium-of-the-intellectuals/

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Political Belief And Self Image: Aron, OWS, And Libya
7 November 2011
http://www.swans.com/library/art17/mgarci31.html

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Belief, Truth, Science, Religion and 9-11

On 2 September 2021, Counterpunch published my article ‘Confessions of a Secret Controlled Demolitions Special Operative for 911’ (https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/09/02/confessions-of-a-secret-controlled-demolitions-special-operative-for-911/).

Some readers believe this story is entirely true, and confirms suspicions they “have always known to be true” about 9-11 being “an inside job.” Other readers believe this story is a hoax, something like the Piltdown Man fake fossil of 1912 that was only definitively refuted in 1953. And a third group of readers vacillate maddeningly with their uncertainties between these poles of true belief and complete non-belief. The present article is my reflection on all of this.

FIRST, about me

I gained a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1972 (Magna Cum Laude). I was awarded a Ph.D. in Aerospace and Mechanical Sciences by Princeton University in 1978. My graduate studies were centered on the classical and quantum physics of molecular and ion gas mixtures that in macroscopic quantities are fluid masses, and quantified by the branches of physics known as: fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, chemical thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, electrodynamics and magnetohydrodynamics and plasma physics. My thesis work focused on supersonic flow electric discharge molecular infra-red lasers, specifically with gas mixtures containing CO (carbon monoxide) or CO2 (carbon dioxide), and non-lasing inert species like diatomic nitrogen (N2) or helium (He, atoms). The following are images of my experimental apparatus: a supersonic windtunnel (flow is right to left), with a variety of electrodes for creating and spreading out ionization. The first image shows the unit in a static condition, the second shows it in operation, with blurred photo-images of vertical arcs being swept horizontally at Mach 2.2 (740 meters/second).

Image of Discharge Channel, static (#1)
Image of Discharge Channel, ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ (#2)

Because of my scientific knowledge about the molecular physics of the interaction (absorption and emission) of infrared radiation (IR) with heteropolar molecules like CO2 and CO, and its loss by them through molecule-molecule and molecule-atom inelastic collisions, and in this way mechanically transferring internally stored IR energy (held in excited rotational-vibration quantum levels) to other particles (like N2, O2, He, Ar, and unexcited heteropolar molecular species) as enhancements to the energy of motion (heat) of those other species — I have long been aware of the detailed physics of global warming through CO2.

Between 1978 and 2007, I had a physics experimentalist job that was dominated by nuclear radiation physics, as well as including aspects of plasma physics, magnetohydrodynamics, classical hydrodynamics, physical chemistry, and electronics. Also, throughout my entire scientific life, up to the present, I have done a great deal of mathematical physics modeling, mainly analytical but also computational, and based on the solution of systems of differential equations (both linear and nonlinear).

From 2003 to the present, I have written articles for the general public explaining physical phenomena in Nature (like global warming) and human society (like 9-11, and chemical warfare), and articles advocating antiwar, anti-racist, leftist-progressive political, and logical-rationalist orientations. Between 2006 and 2008, I wrote detailed reports — for the public — on my independent analysis of the many mechanical and thermodynamic phenomena that occurred during the building collapses of World Trade Center Buildings 1, 2 and 7. My original copies of those four reports are now collected at, and viewable from, the following webpage. https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/09/05/mgjr-9-11-physics-reports-originals/.

Since 2006, I have received many many e-mails expressing the full spectrum of ‘belief’ to ‘non-belief’ about my descriptions of the 9-11 phenomenology. I have also received the full spectrum of praise to condemnation that accompanies the entire ‘belief spectrum’ attached to the 9-11 events.

So all of this is the background from which I wrote ‘Confessions of a Secret Controlled Demolitions Special Operative for 911.’

SECOND, what I have learned about you all

Most Americans (and many others) in these modern times live out their lives by employing 20th-21st century technology with minds mired in medieval conceptions and fearful superstitions. This closely-held ignorant conservatism more than anything else kills the promise of possible enlightened societal advancement. We are witch-burning gods-fearing emotionally reactive apes with nuclear weapons.

I have learned that people believe what they want to believe, because that is how they construct their images of themselves. Any outsider who tries to change that runs into furious defensive opposition. Any outsider who supports that is warmly received.

Also, it is impossible for me to “change your mind” about anything. Only you can decide if and when you wish to reevaluate a currently held belief, perhaps prompted by a dramatic or traumatic life experience that shifts your consciousness into doubting previously held certainties. Such life shocks are usually what prompt people to reorient their thinking about life and about themselves: we only ever learn from ourselves.

At most, the only influence an outsider like me can have on your “change of mind” is if in your personal ruminations you choose to include some of the facts or arguments I advance in my publications, to formulate the final synthesis of the new orientation you will now operate from.

So it is pointless for me to argue with people about their belief systems, and I will never be a missionary, but I will always be a scientist: rational, logical, empirical. (I will also always be a poet: lyrical, romantic, philosophical; but that is another discussion.)

Clear thinking — also known as critical thinking — is performed with a rational mind that employs logic and wields Occam’s Razor.

My advice to all younger people on how to live fulfilling lives is: have fun, think clearly, and be kind.

THIRD, belief spectrum on my “confessions” article

The tripartite split of responses within one day after publication was: 60% True Believers (TB), 20% Vacillators (V), 20% Great Joke (GJ).

Vacillators mainly wanted to be reassured that it was all true, so a bipolar characterization of the first day responses could be: 80% TB (with 3 out of 4 fully confident, 1 out of 4 apprehensive), and 20% GJ.

FOURTH, what my “confessions” article really is

‘Confessions of a Secret Controlled Demolitions Special Operative for 911’ is a satire sprinkled with truthful incidental details to provide it with verisimilitude. You could think of it as Part II of Orson Welles’s radio broadcast on Halloween 1938 of the Mercury Theater’s play based on H. G. Wells’s novel ‘The War of the Worlds’.

Nearly every assertion in my article can be checked out against factual reality, with some internet searches performed with a rational mind that employs logic and wields Occam’s Razor, to slice away the elaborately improbable from the much simpler most likely.

A scientist allows preferred belief to fall before the superior force of verifiable facts, even if undesirable. A religious believer — for that is what all faith-dominant beliefs are: religions — will be undeterred by facts and hew to the faith, condemning all contradictions to it even if factual, and welcoming all agreements with it even if fabulous.

My “confessions” is a mirror to the reader’s chosen belief values on the reality or unreality of the 9-11 events, and on the believability or unbelievability of my elaborate “inside job” story about them.

Did I have fun writing “confessions”? You bet!

What parts are real and what parts are fake? That’s for you to decide.

FIFTH, what are my answers to your belief choices and “more details” questions?

In truth, at this point in my life I really don’t care what you believe about 9-11, or about what I’ve written on it.

To ‘truthers’ miffed at my tweaking of their noses: touché, for all your many troll e-mails to me over the years.

To people laughing at the satire: I’m glad you enjoyed it.

To vacillators anxious that I quell their doubts: stop being lazy, use your brains and work it out for yourselves; gaining knowledge takes work, and then it rewards you with confidence.

To most everyone (and especially those not scientifically minded) you doubtless take your set of beliefs as core elements that define your personality — not just to others but to yourself: your self-image. Thus it is very likely that anything anyone might say or write that contradicts one of your self-image defining beliefs will be met with hostility because you would experience it as a personal attack.

When a person takes a scientific approach to holding a set of observations and empirical and theoretical findings, synthesized into a unified hypothesis or body of knowledge (whether general or topical), as separate from themselves, then like all scientific knowledge such belief systems will be considered tentative-in-waiting until new information comes to light requiring you to gladly correct those beliefs.

This scientific process of evolving your belief systems insulates you from the emotional turmoil of feeling personally attacked when reality finds your ideas in error and dumps bad karma on you if you persist in failing to correct them. Remember, our goal as rationalists, realists and scientists (like Sherlock Holmes) is to maintain the most accurate description of reality available to us. That is what makes us happy to hold the belief systems we keep, and to change them as needed by the dictates of reality.

SIXTH, Science versus Religion, Rationality versus Irrationality

In his book ‘The Rebel’ (L’Homme révolté) Albert Camus made a very apt distinction between two orientations toward reality and meta-reality, those being a “rational” or “irrational” perspective. The conflict between faith-based people and “scientists” (characterized as agnostic or atheist: like Darwin, Einstein, Steven Weinberg, and many others, BUT NOT ALL) is of the type that Camus was describing in his book (which is superb). In my experience that conflict is entirely a result of believer insecurity.

Science is a method of logical and empirical inquiry. Results that have been shown to be reproducible by others are then taken as “scientifically proven facts” (e.g., enabling excellent engineering, invention and technological developments) until such time as new data calls them into question, as with supremely accurate Newtonian physics and Maxwell’s electromagnetics, which were refined with Einstein’s new revelations of 1905. Einstein’s corrections to 17th century mechanics and 19th century electrodynamics are essential for making late 20th century GPS satellite technology work.

So all science is always tentative in that scientists accept the possibility that new data and knowledge may require updating, correcting and refining old results; as for example with the refinement of Darwin’s formulation of the fact of evolution, with modern genetic science, which is essential for producing items like changeable flu and COVID-19 vaccines.

Scientific “laws” are not legalistic restrictions, but simply facts that no one has yet found contradictions too (like: heat always flows from a hotter point to a colder one). Scientists are also aware (or should be) of the wider implications of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem: that no axiomatic-logical system can contain within itself all the elements (definitions, rules of transformation) needed to prove every fact or hypothesis that can be constructed from those elements contained within the system. Loosely: no one theory can prove everything imaginable.

So, items like arguments over “proofs” or “disproofs” that God (or gods) exists or doesn’t exist, are beyond the purview of science. Metaphysics (“beyond physics”) is a matter of belief, that is to say irrationality: faith, intuition, hunch, but not rational, logical, scientific analysis.

And on belief, people believe what they want to believe, especially about how they wish to mediate their personal connection to the infinite. What science does do is provide us with the most accurate description of reality that is currently available to us (which window of availability has steady expanded — with a few hiccups — throughout human history), knowing that the totality of reality is always beyond the limits of human knowledge.

It has been my experience that people uncertain in their irrational beliefs (“faiths”) are more likely to attack science and scientists (impugning their honesty, for example as “all” being paid-off shills) as a defensive-by-attacking acting out, rather than scientists being more likely to go out of their way to attack faith-beliefs/”believers” — unless they are doing public harm, such as with creationist pollution of public education, vaccine avoidance, promoting poisons as alternative medicines, and climate change denial.

Fantastical “inside job” conspiracy theories about 9-11 are minor obstructions to the public good, in comparison to the four public harms I just mentioned. But their damage to both the public good and the wellbeing of the individuals holding them is still real, like the damaging effects on our politics and society by the entire complex of biases and delusions and hucksterism that I would term the Trumpian Neurosis, or the Cult of Rage. This kind of stuff stymies a better running of our public affairs, and bogs down the potential for advancing enlightened societal progress.

It’s bad enough that malicious power-seeking politicians and special interests will work to divide the citizenry by appealing to their competing bigotries, fears, superstitions, mental laziness and ignorance — all for the sake of their careerist self-aggrandizing agendas — without us making that easier for them by deluding ourselves with irrational beliefs and conspiratorial fantasies. Thinking is freedom: when it is done right.

Again: how you formulate your personal relationship with the infinite and eternal is for you alone to decide. This is outside the bounds of science.

However, the damaging social consequences, or “collateral damage,” that your irrational beliefs may have on other individuals and on the public at large are rightly matters of public concern and enlightened containment by society. Obvious examples of this today, in dire need of correction, are the imposition of White Supremacy biases through violent policing on Black, Latino, Amerindian and refugee people, and the imposition of sexist domination of women by men intrinsically fearful of female sexuality and psychology, through legalisms (or worse yet ‘honor killings’) aimed at usurping women’s control of their own bodies, their reproductive functioning, and to whom they choose to direct their affections.

9-11 ‘trutherism’ is a minor secular cult, or self-willed mental weakness, and springs primarily, I believe, from a deep-seated desire for personal attention, and deep-seated insecurity. It is a symptom that it would be well for those who have it to recognize as such, so they can then choose to improve their experience of life by developing and strengthening their ability at critical thinking. Teaching oneself how to think clearly is how one gains reality-based self-confidence, and the equanimity that emerges from that.

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Magic Mirror of You All

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Magic Mirror of You All

This is my Roseanne Roseannadanna equivalent of a response to the many skeptical good-hearted people who have replied to any of my scribbles.

Thanks for writing and sharing your own memories with me of the ‘good old days,’ whose madness by luck we both managed to survive. Such recollections by others help me sharpen my own memories, and improve my interpretations of my old and often confusing experiences. Learning never stops for anyone really intent on living.

Maine I loved (like you), Wes Montgomery records I have (like you), piano lessons I took for years in my adulthood (instead of your clarinet), music is a touchstone for me. Hippy I never was, though I let some coeds who insisted I was to keep thinking so because it was better for me that way. A lost world, 1969. I loved some of everywhere I’ve been, some of everything I’ve heard, some of everything I’ve seen; and some of that love was only realized long, long after the ‘now’ of the original experiences.

In fairness to you as you make your corrective judgments on my words, let me share my biases: between Guy de Maupassant and Anton Chekhov, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, I prefer: Maupassant, Fitzgerald, and Camus.

Since I haven’t worked for anybody in a long time, have no career ambitions, no reverence for authority or wealth, nor interest in any ideology or religion; no need for recognition, attention, ‘honors,’ votes or even “likes,” and have nothing I can be blackmailed for, I have devoted my external interests to presenting the truth as I find it.

In doing so, I have learned that no rational argument can overcome an irrational belief, and that religious fantasy in a myriad of forms is part of every human personality. And that is why COVID-19 is “just a flu,” anti-pandemic masks are “loss of freedom” while guns make you free, vaccines cause autism, and the televised American Fatima on 11 September 2001 was a divine revelation bestowing on the souls of true believers an instantaneous graduate degree in engineering and physics. Amazing grace.

I don’t argue: people believe what they want to believe, facts don’t matter.

Why? Because it is part of a person’s self-image and self-definition, and protecting that from modification against the pressure of cognitive dissonance can be achieved by fashioning psychological armor against reality out of fantasy. People don’t reason, they rationalize.

Humans have always made sacrifices to propitiate the gods — the powers beyond them and which control them — to help them live through their fears; and that is why they invented those celestial potentates in the first place: whether elevated on Mount Olympus, or by the Electoral College. And the sacrifices?: their minds.

So, yes, I know I am embarrassing and annoying (and wrong!). I make no apology.

From my earliest days, I realized that people, generally, are very inattentive; in a word: unaware. They amble blithely in their personal little bubbles oblivious to all that lies outside them. They babble loudly in their little groups in cafés without any thought to disturbing the people around them. They drive their cars with minimal notice of traffic, bicyclists and pedestrians. They have an unfailing ability to not-notice you if they are waiting tables or behind a counter you are in line in front of. There are just an uncountable number of ways that people can not-see, not-hear, not-notice and not-know. Of course, sometimes this not-noticing is intentional, arising from laziness, envy, fear or hostility. But, most of the time it is just simple short attention span mindlessness.

Because of the commonness of human narrow-view, short-focus bubble-vision, coupled with perceptual insensitivity, communications are often garbled, incomplete, misdirected, mistimed and ineffective. Who is without complaint on this score, whether at work, at school, among family and friends, and out and about in public?

Millions have been painfully and pointlessly consumed unseen by such blanket unthinking ignorance, like with the Vietnam War, whose discarded memory in the United States has been given the finalizing punctuation of a Black Wall past which the untrammeled unchanging national amnesia and human-reduced-to-robot OCD proceeds locked onto the almighty unending ‘grab.’

So, I have learned that it is necessary to be quite redundant in my verbal and written communications: repetition is the essence of pedagogy. Repetition is the unavoidable necessity of successful communication. So, when I want to ensure that my message is received by another consciousness, I repeat myself: in the speaking of the message, in the writing of the message, and in the repeated sending of the message.

Those who notice this repetition easily form the impression that I am “old,” and even “dumb.” But, I have made the calculation that it is acceptable to be taken for a bit of a clown if that ensures that the messages I care about have been effectively transmitted.

The messages I care about are those that will make for better lives for my children, and also all children; even though I think most American kids (and adults) are spoiled brats. But, “man is a social animal” (as Aristotle said), and the second best way to ensure a good future for my children is to advocate for a just and peaceful society of benefit to everyone.

This motivation has led me to advocate for the left-wing political causes and candidates I’ve written about. Astoundingly, advocating for a real response to global warming to cut off the Sixth Mass Extinction (which includes us) is branded by the status quo as beyond-the-pale radical left-wing extremism!

Sometimes in giving out my truths (the rational) and opinions (the somewhat less rational), people smile at me (agreeing), and sometimes their assholes pucker (disagreeing), but usually I glide through a human sea of not-noticing — both conscious and unconscious. I have plowed up a mountain of embarrassment before me, and I trail a wake of relief behind me. And, I don’t care. Transmission gets through (as best as it’s ever going to).

I have high hopes for the new generation resplendently buoying up the revitalized identification with “socialism” in America. But, I also have no confidence in the character of the Americans who see themselves as part of the establishment, or who fool themselves into believing they are entitled to its privileges by dint of their heritage and attitudes. It is disheartening to realize that Donald Trump can claim 74 million Americans as devoted fans.

Former president Jimmy Carter is correct to say that the United States “no longer has a functional democracy,” because incorporated Big Money can and has bought politicians and elections, so that the vast bulk of the public has little impact on government policy, which they are paying for in money, blood and impoverished futures for their children. And, all that sacrifice subsidizes the obscene corporate looting of the public commons, and the subversion of government to the service of very selfish and destructive special interests.

Even so, the remnant of democracy that we still have seems able to produce political figureheads for the oligarchy, whose dismal characters do reflect the embarrassing reality of the dominant traits of the American electorate: morally weak intellectual mediocrities who are tolerant of corruption, sloppy to the point of incompetence, and cravenly selfish. Not everybody, and for most not all the time, but in aggregate just too much.

If this were not so, Bernie Sanders’ mildly utopian mildly socialistic vision would have been implemented long ago. The opposition to the political visions of Bernie Sanders and young champions like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and “The Squad” is really of the same type as that before 1865 to the vision encapsulated in the 13th Amendment. I like to believe that the socialistic vision of Eugene V. Debs through The Squad will eventually prevail in the United States, when the evolution of the aggregate character of the American people finally arrives at the requisite “higher level.” But, it’s so damn slow getting there!

So, for my outnumbered fellow rational thinkers and fatigued ethicists, let me leave you with this summation by W. Somerset Maugham (himself quite a flawed and compromised human being — and who isn’t? — but also a much better writer), from his 1944 book “A Writer’s Notebook”:

“There is a nobility which does not proceed from thought. It is more elemental. It depends neither on culture nor breeding. It has its roots among the most primitive instincts of the human being. Faced with it, God, if he had created man, might hide his head in shame. It may be that in the knowledge that man for all his weakness and sin is capable on occasion of such splendour of spirit, one may find some refuge from despair.”

And some of those ‘occasions of splendour’ have been sprinkled randomly on me through unexpected letters.

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Photo:

Laura Williams
19 June 2013
https://www.flickr.com/photos/laurawilliams_x/9732914426/

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Swiftian Overload

“He has gone where savage indignation can lacerate his heart no more.”
—Jonathan Swift (1666-1747), his epitaph for himself, from the Latin

People listen to what they want to hear. What they want to hear is that they are righteous, they deserve what they take, they are free agents of independent mind, they are valued members of their group, their beliefs are justified, their actions are blameless, and they have no requirement to change. Prophets are doomed to exile accompanied by their insanity.

Eden

We huddle in our comfort groups, behind the circled wagons of our circular-logic orthodoxies, preserving the warm certainties of our virginal delusions against the hostile assaults of painful reality; our brave protectors sending out righteous fire onto a heathenish enemy intent on our dissolution. But God is on our side, because we created Him. He is our disembodied superiority, the source point of our primacy, the divine root of our power. So long as our circle remains unbroken, we bask in the certainty of this heavenly delusion, the Eden womb of ignorance. Truth is cold, knowledge is hell, awareness is exile.

This is why “under God” must stay in our loyalty prayer to our national flag; of course it is unconstitutional, but thank God our Supreme Court understands the will of the people is beyond constitution and law, and yearns most deeply for the one true faith to unite us all in one true state under one true God — unchallenged by the unthinkable.

Faith and religion must be crammed down the throats of non-believers because until all conform, believers insecure in their belief will agonize over their fears and doubts. People who have actually had a religious experience do not require anything of anyone else, at most they feel joy they may wish to share and a sense of compassion for the continued suffering of the unenlightened. Organized religion and dogmatic faith are impediments to actual religious experience. If you actually want to know God, you have to let go of religion. The burning bush of Moses, the blow that struck St. Paul off horseback, the fire that burned in St. Teresa’s heart are not for the weak, the self-satisfied, the fearful of denial being exposed; so instead, most choose to cling to religion. Religion is the great protector of prejudice, and our prejudices define the egos we cling to as self-definitions. How could we jeopardize THAT? How could we abandon ourselves to an overwhelming unknown that would burn all THAT away in a flash? And so the circles are drawn tight.

God, as the invention of war lords who justified their tyrannies by divine right descending from a remote Almighty above us, is very much the American God whose wrath falls on the poor of this earth, whom we war against for a greater good — to our benefit. This is why today even Salvadoran and Nicaraguan peasants, who may have lost family to the guns and machetes of our missionary wars, must surely feel some sadness as the most successful American fascist leader, Ronald Reagan, is laid to rest. Is not our glory worthy of such reverence? Do not our blessings from God deserve such honor? Surely, even those who may have felt the sting of actions by our freedom-loving agents and proxies, promoting the selfless civilizing efforts we make on behalf of world order, will understand the overriding benefits we have been empowered to provide. Surely, in time the world will be grateful, and God will bless us with the profits of that gratitude.

God, The Atheist

Are we alone in the universe? Will our rovers on Mars or our probes to the moons of Neptune and beyond ever find life? Instead of flinging ourselves into the cold, dark, near-vacuum vastness of space, seeking to answer “is there life in the universe?” (besides Earth), take a shortcut, go to the bathroom mirror and look at the universe to see the obvious: the universe is alive.

Imagine that our universe is just a fluke of randomness that clumped and rippled as it expanded away from the singularity of abstraction called the Big Bang — where nama and rupa, the names and forms carried by language can begin the illusion of containing the larger reality. Out of this, precipitated molecular fragments that settled as dusts and pooled as droplets drawn into the rocks and oceans of worlds drifting in space. In this one of uncountable and unknowable other worlds, conditions were just so that heat, light, water, minerals, organic molecular fragments, electricity and time could combine to produce DNA strands, and these in turn evolved with astonishing complexity and rapidity. A radiating cascade of energetics, flowing from the Big Bang through cosmogonic physics, material accretion during gravitational infall, radiochemical and thermo-electrochemical organosynthesis, biochemical elaboration, life, evolution, us.

If our science can dissect this process with sufficient precision, could we then produce life synthetically? Could we produce a sentient being directly from chemical elements, given sufficient energy, technology, and investment? Obviously, we can reproduce any living species — at least in theory — by modern artificial insemination, cloning and recombinant DNA methods. However, this is always never more than adjustments (of exceeding scientific refinement, to be sure) to existing natural biological systems of reproduction. To actually be God and create life, we would have to be able to do so from elements. We would synthesize our own DNA (which is routine today) and then build up our being from masses of basic synthetic organic material.

Our first synthetic beings were viruses, which were created by November 2003. Scientists in the United States assembled a bacteriophage — a virus which infects bacteria, not humans — by stitching together the more than 5,000 DNA building blocks of the organism, from pieces of DNA available commercially. It will be some time before American industry can synthesize a perfect butler, or a perfect prostitute.

A bacteriophage is certainly a being, but probably not one of significant consciousness. To prove to ourselves we are God, we would have to produce a creature of significant complexity and consciousness, like a hamster, or even synthetic soldiers for our military. Wouldn’t that prove we were God, and wouldn’t that prove there is no God? Then our Pledge of Allegiance could be corrected from “under God,” to “under Us,” note the capital U.

What the production of synthetic sentient life would prove is that sentience is an elemental embedded potentiality. Whether the chemist is cosmogonic, or geochemical, or a postdoctoral student in a laboratory, the yeast of sentience is intrinsic to the chemicals of life, and if the recipe is followed the hand of the maker is irrelevant. It is that intrinsic potentiality of sentience that is God. So we are God, inasmuch as we are no more than the dust and ooze of the universe and God suffuses it all, and we are not God in that we can never possess an exclusive unique power to create synthetic subservient life. Life we can create, and we may learn more ways to do so, but it will never be other than we ourselves are.

So the Almighty — God the Tory Lord — is a fiction. God is a communist and an atheist, and we are it! Tat vam asi — you are that.

Imagine the change in our politics if Americans could look into the mirror and see themselves as God, no different from looking into their neighbor’s eyes and seeing them as God, no different from looking into the beady little eyes of their child’s hamster and seeing it as God, and looking at news photos of Salvadoran and Nicaraguan peasants, and southeast Asian water buffalo boys, and seeing them as God as much as the viewers themselves. Our American God would die, his self-righteous empire would collapse, and with it the great weight of a bloody and godless idol would fall away.

East Of Eden

Jonathan Swift, the great satirist and champion of the Irish people against their oppression by his fellow Englishmen, went insane because he hated humanity but loved people. “His concern lay in his earnest, and as it happens his Christian, belief that mankind is not only susceptible to salvation but worthy of being saved.” Miriam Kosh Starkman continues, “Swift spoke meaningfully when he claimed to “hate and detest that animal called man,” but to “heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth;” for his professed hatred of the animal called man spells his dissatisfaction with mankind, and his love for the individual, his hope for mankind.” (1)

There are many Swifts in our modern day, railing against the follies and injustices of our time. Most are destined for obscurity, as American SUV excess lumbers blissfully on in our rapidly warming, desiccating world, which might snap into a mini Ice Age if the thermohaline cycle of ocean currents is diluted sufficiently by the melting of polar ice caps to change the planetary heat balance and with it world climates. Why worry, our SUVs will be perfect vehicles for cold, windy drought-parched land as long as we have…oops, no gas.

Today’s Swifts see the European tundra, the expanded American desert and the semi-arid savanna south of the Ohio River, the oil wars in the Persian Gulf, the Eastern Mediterranean and Southern Caribbean, the boat people from collapsed eco-systems landing on southern European and southern United States’ shores, the end of middle class comfort with the fading of oil-fired transportation and industry, the loss of carefree freedom with military needs never-ending in a world where survival is more difficult, living is more expensive, and life was never cheaper among its up to 8 billion people.

The Swifts of today know that if there is to be any equity, sanity, justice and peace in a climatically altered, largely oil-depleted world, in as soon as two decades, it will be that equity, sanity, justice and peace that carries forward from mechanisms that we form today and in these next few years. We will never adjust instantly, with grace and dignity, to the impact of abrupt climate change and significant oil depletion against our selfish and wasteful inertia.

The only certainty we have is that whatever changes occur, we will experience them together, locked on this island Earth. We have the wherewithal to “save ourselves” from what we can estimate might happen, if we get busy now, setting aside our petty penurious profiteering, and organize our use of resources for the best ends of society and for a planned transition to a sustainable national and world energetics.

Alas, the Swifts of today must go mad, because their messages violate every aspect of “what people like to hear.” It is the fate of most prophets to go insane to one degree or another. Driven by visions of a catastrophe they can see yet not prevent, they rail and become public nuisances, and must be forcibly silenced by stoning, or blocking with spam filters, and in any way possible sent off into a wilderness where their cries dissipate out of earshot from polite society. This time, our Titanic is the whole planet.

An American Prayer

God, let me experience life without thought of profit, preference or death. Let me know justice, by allowing me to experience the consequences of my acts as others experience them. Let me know You for what You are: the life in all, the knower, the known and the unknown. Let me be curious without fear of thought. Let me be expressive without thought of fear. Let me be forgiving, an instrument of compassion. Let me be alert, an instrument of knowledge. Let me be humane, an instrument of peace. Let me know truth. Let me be grateful.

1.  Gulliver’s Travels And Other Writings By Jonathan Swift, edited by Miriam Kosh Starkman, New York: Bantam Books, 1962, ISBN 0-553-21232-X

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The above was originally published as:

Swiftian Overload
5 July 2004
http://www.swans.com/library/art10/mgarci17.html

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My Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the flag
of the altered states in America,
and to the republic-of-dreams for which it stands,
one nation under the gods,
the goddesses, the spirits of the ancestors,
and the great unknowable void,
with liberty to imagine justice
for all.

28 June 2002

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God And Country

“My own mind is my own church”
— Thomas Paine, (1737-1809) The Age Of Reason

“God is in His heaven, and all is right with the world”

“If God is everywhere, why do I have to go to church?” The inability of adult authority to give a six year old boy an unequivocal answer planted a freethinking seed that flowered into liberation.

To criticize religion is unkind, like ridiculing a child’s thumbsucking and security blanket. Then why discuss it, since for many discussion is equivalent to critique? Because concepts of God are at the root of attitudes about community, security and power, and these in turn affect our shared external reality — country. Church and State, God and Country, they are never far apart. The ideal would be to keep our Gods contained within ourselves so they do not destroy what we enjoy together. Reality is otherwise.

Belief and Religion

Religion is organized belief in response to psychological need.

“Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing — fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand.”
— Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), (1)

There are two aspects to consider, a personal one of belief or unbelief in the existence of God, and the social one of communities of organized belief or unbelief: religions or societies of freethinkers, secularists and humanists. How do the beliefs within these communities affect the politics between them?

First, let us consider belief.

The Age Of Reason

In January 1794 in Paris, Tom Paine began his last important work, The Age Of Reason, of which he completed Part 1 six hours before his arrest by the Jacobins. Paine escaped the guillotine by accident, but nearly died of illness during his ten month incarceration. This patriot of the American Revolution, who had been elected an honorary French citizen and returned to the Convention (in Paris) by three different constituencies in 1792, had seen the promise of the French Revolution debased by the concentration of power, the self-aggrandizement of “leaders,” and a loss of vision and human connectedness by many others. A Robespierre who could believe “I am of the people because I feel all their wants, their hurts, their pains, their sufferings,” was a man elevating himself to godlike heights — with glacial empathy. (2)

Paine’s response was to write about religion because:

“The circumstance that has now taken place in France of the total abolition of the whole national order of the priesthood, and of everything appertaining to compulsive systems of religion, and compulsive articles of faith, has not only precipitated my intention, but rendered a work of this kind exceedingly necessary, lest, in the general wreck of superstition, of false systems of government, and false theology, we lose sight of morality, of humanity, and of the theology that is true.” (3)

The Age Of Reason shocked Paine’s contemporaries, even many who agreed with his politics. The nature of his belief was shared by Jefferson, Washington and Adams, but they were careful to avoid any public expression of unorthodoxy. (4)

Paine wrote:

“I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.
I believe in the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy.” (3)

The incendiary phrase is “and no more.” Paine spelled out the “no more” at length, generally a criticism of the Old Testament from a moral point of view, (4) and a dismissal of the Jewish, Roman, Greek, Turkish and Protestant orthodoxies. (3) Though Paine’s belief is now commonplace, these three words still keep it beyond the permissible limits of many today.

For Paine, belief was personal — not organized — and it informed personal acts, in his case an unwavering opposition to slavery (in America), oligarchy (in England) and unnecessary bloodshed (in France). He was a democrat opposed to cruelty in any form.

The Undiscovered Self

A more recent voice speaking eloquently about personal belief was that of Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961). He was separated from Paine’s lifespan by 66 years, and from today (2004) by 43 years. Jung had no need of faith, he was an empiricist who observed that natural processes of growth and decay included a natural process of psychological integration, which he called individuation. For him, that this happened of its own was God, and being aware of the process within oneself was knowing. And no more.

“The fact is that what happens to a person is characteristic of him. He represents a pattern and all the pieces fit. One by one, as his life proceeds, they fall into place according to some predestined design.

“All that I have learned has led me step by step to an unshakable conviction of the existence of God. I only believe in what I know. And that eliminates believing. Therefore I do not take His existence on belief — I know that He exists.” (5)

One can hear an echo of Herakleitos (c. 500 BC) in Jung, “Character is fate.” (6) Jung recommends that you dive in, that you know for yourself, and in particular that you “beware of childishness.” And what could be more childish than unquestioning obedience?

“Discovering yourself provides you with all you are, were meant to be, and all you are living from and for. The whole of yourself is certainly an irrational entity, but this is just precisely yourself, which is meant to live as a unique and unrepeatable experience. Thus, whatever you find in your given disposition is a factor of life which must be taken into careful consideration.

“If you should find, for instance, an ineradicable tendency to believe in God or immortality, do not allow yourself to be disturbed by the blather of so-called freethinkers. And if you find an equally resistant tendency to deny all religious ideas do not hesitate: deny them and see how that influences your general welfare and your state of mental or spiritual nutrition. But beware of childishness: whether you call the ultimate unknown “God” or “Matter” is equally futile, since we know neither the one nor the other, though we doubtless have experiences of both. But we know nothing beyond them, and we cannot produce either the one or the other.” (7)

Who was Jung’s God?

“The collective unconscious, it’s not for you, or me, it’s the invisible world, it’s the great spirit. It makes little difference what I call it: God, Tao, the Great Voice, the Great Spirit. But for people of our time God is the most comprehensible name with which to designate the Power beyond us.” (8)

And

“Without knowing it man is always concerned with God. What some people call instinct or intuition is nothing other than God. God is that voice inside us which tells us what to do and what not to do. In other words, our conscience.

“In this dark atomic age of ours, with its lurking fear, man is seeking guidance. Consciously or unconsciously he is once more grasping for God. I make my patients understand that all the things which happen to them against their will are a superior force. They can call it God or devil, and that doesn’t matter to me, as long as they realize that it is a superior force. God is nothing more than that superior force in our life. You can experience God every day.” (5)

The Sound Of One Hand Clapping

What makes Gods godly is their remoteness from human scale. This remoteness is one of power, emotion and concern. The ancient Greeks understood this about the Gods, they could be magnanimous or unearthly cruel, and they could equally well be completely oblivious about our individual fortunes or misfortunes. Jung’s great insight about God was this evenhandedness between the right hand of sweetness and light, and the left hand of darkness and cruelty; the mandala, the yin-yang of the Tao. Jung presented this in his work Answer To Job (1952), which of his writings most disturbs his religiously orthodox critics.

Does the image we have of God or Not-God inspire humility and satisfaction in “doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy?” Or, does the image we have of God or Not-God support a feeling of power and exclusivity, something that sets us above the unanointed with a superior sense to “feel all their wants, their hurts, their pains, their sufferings?” The first attitude as a social norm is essential to civic health, and to this end it does not matter whether any individual’s image is of God or Not-God. The second attitude as a social norm would be the left hand of God playing the religion card.

It is not what you believe that determines the worthiness of your religion (or non-religion) and the merit of your practice, but what you do, how you act, what you support.

If I call the unimaginably vast and ancient, powerful and impersonal universe the superior force in my life — God — and I view my own existence as an insignificance of such scant proportion that mere random chance can easily explain it, do I hold a belief in God that inspires humility and appreciation, even exultation in being alive, or have I crossed over into unbelief? Is there any difference?

The opposition of God and Not-God may be a false dichotomy if the practical outcome for the adherents of each is Paine socialism. If the social outcome is a Robespierrean absolutism, then the belief or atheism of the perpetrators is irrelevant, despotism is despotism. Where under Paine socialism the widest variety of personal conviction and religious practice would be tolerated, despotism would eliminate all competing thought in favor of one compulsory system of belief — a theocracy even if atheistic.

Only those religions or non-religions intent on achieving a Robespierrean absolutism (saving the country, saving the world) will be concerned that their particular form of the God or Not-God image dominates popular attention. If they have a mission, they are a threat to society, a mental health epidemic. Orthodoxy is the enemy of the people.

In April 1961, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin (1934-1968) became the first human to orbit the Earth. During his 89 minute orbit he radioed “I don’t see any God up here.” This led to many apocryphal stories and jokes, like the following. Yuri Gagarin is interviewed by Western journalists after his historic flight. An American journalist asks “Did you see God when you were in space?” Gagarin answers, “Yes, she’s black.” I heard this from Brother Kieran, OSF in my high school biology class of 1966. This was a Franciscan Brother, and it was the 1960s. Another entertaining story is told in (9). Gagarin’s documented quote is included in compilations of interesting quotes about atheism, (10) religion, science, skepticism and nonbelief. (11)

Now, let us consider nonbelief.

Why I Am Not A Christian

“The objections to religion are of two sorts — intellectual and moral. The intellectual objection is that there is no reason to suppose any religion true; the moral objection is that religious precepts date from a time when men were more cruel than they are now and therefore tend to perpetuate inhumanities which the moral conscience of the age would otherwise outgrow.”
— Bertrand Russell, (12)

In 1925 Bertrand Russell published a booklet called What I Believe, “to say what I think of man’s place in the universe, and of his possibilities in the way of achieving the good life.” This booklet, and other writings, were presented as evidence in court that Russell was unfit to teach philosophy at the College of the City of New York. The court agreed and Russell was barred from accepting his professorship in 1941. The successful campaign against Russell was carried on by “ecclesiastical journals, the Hearst press, and just about every Democratic politician joined [in a] chorus of defamation.” Of the sad result John Dewey said “As Americans, we can only blush with shame for this scar on our repute for fair play.” (13)

In What I Believe, Russell said this on the existence of God:

“God and immortality, the central dogmas of the Christian religion, find no support in science. It cannot be said that either doctrine is essential to religion, since neither is found in Buddhism… But we in the West have come to think of them as the irreducible minimum of theology. No doubt people will continue to entertain these beliefs, because they are pleasant, just as it is pleasant to think ourselves virtuous and our enemies wicked. But for my part I cannot see any ground for either. I do not pretend to be able to prove that there is no God. I equally cannot prove that Satan is a fiction. The Christian God may exist; so may the Gods of Olympus, or of ancient Egypt, or of Babylon. But no one of these hypotheses is more probable than any other: they lie outside the region of even probable knowledge, and therefore there is no reason to consider any of them.” (14)

In Why I Am Not A Christian, Russell succinctly demolishes five major arguments advanced to prove the existence of God. A summary might be as follows (C = Christian, R = Russell, J = Jungian Christian):

First Cause Argument
C: Everything in the world has a cause, and the root of this causal cascade — the First Cause — is called God.
R: “If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God.”

Natural Law Argument
C: Processes in nature, like the planets orbiting the sun, follow natural laws, pointing to a divine lawgiver.
R: “Human laws are behests commanding you to behave in a certain way…but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and being mere description[s]…you cannot argue that there must be somebody who told them to do that, because even supposing there were, you are then faced with the question ‘Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others?'”
C: God did so for his own good pleasure, without reason.
R: Then there is something which is not subject to law, and your train of natural law is interrupted.
C: In fact, God does have a reason for each law, to create the best universe.
R: “You would never think it to look at it,” but if there were such reasons “then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary.”

Argument From Design
C: Everything in the world is designed just so that we can manage to live in it, pointing to a supreme designer, for if the world were ever so little different, we could not manage to live in it.
R: Since Darwin we know that creatures evolve to adapt to their environments, not that environments are created just so for existing creatures — there is no evidence of design. “When you look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world…should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it. Do you think, that if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascists?”

Moral Argument
C: There would be no right or wrong unless God existed.
R: “[If] there is a difference between right and wrong…is that difference due to God’s fiat or is it not? If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer significant…to say that God is good. If you are going to say…that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning that is independent of God’s fiat, because God’s fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them.” If so, “it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but they are in their essence logically anterior to God.”
J: God can be bad.
R: A Gnostic hypothesis — “which I often thought was a very plausible one” — is that “this world that we know was made by the devil at a moment when God was not looking. There is a good deal to be said for that, and I am not concerned to refute it.”

Argument For Remedying Injustice
C: The existence of God is required to bring justice into the world.
R: “In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying.”
C: To have justice in the universe as a whole there is a future life, with heaven and hell, to redress the balance of life here on earth.
R: The simplest logic is to assume that this world is a fair sample of the rest of the universe unknown to us, “and if there is injustice here the odds are that there is injustice elsewhere also. Supposing you got a crate of oranges…and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue ‘The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.’ You would say, ‘probably the whole lot is bad,'” and a similar argument would apply to the universe. “Here we find in this world a great deal of injustice, and so far as that goes that is a reason for supposing that justice does not rule in this world,” which in turn forms “a moral argument against deity.”

But belief in God is not a matter of logic, it is a matter of imprinting and emotion. We humans are very similar to geese (read Konrad Lorenz), we imprint many images and associations very early in life, often our most indelible images and compelling associations. “Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it,” as Russell observes right after concluding his five counterproofs of deity, just described. The emotion is “the wish for safety, a sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you.”

Russell summed up his own guiding principle this way, “The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.” (15)

Why I Am A Pagan

Lin Yutang (1895-1976) like C. G. Jung was the son of a Christian preacher and seriously considered a life in the ministry, until his college years. The many doubts easily accessible to keen young Christian intellects — who use their minds as intended (if they were intentionally designed) — reached a head for Lin Yutang when he was a college instructor, one day in conversation with a Confucian colleague:

“Why,” I reasoned with a colleague, “if there were no God, people would not do good and the world would go topsy-turvy.”

“Why?” replied my Confucian colleague. “We should lead a decent human life simply because we are decent human beings,” he said.

“This appeal to the dignity of human life cut off my last tie to Christianity, and from then on I was a pagan.”

“It is all so clear to me now. The world of pagan belief is a simpler belief. It postulates nothing, and is obliged to postulate nothing. It seems to make the good life more immediately appealing by appealing to the good life alone. It better justifies doing good by making it unnecessary for doing good to justify itself. It does not encourage men to do, for instance, a simple act of charity by dragging in a series of hypothetical postulates — sin, redemption, the cross, laying up treasure in heaven, mutual obligation among men on account of a third-party relationship in heaven — all so unnecessarily complicated and roundabout, and none capable of direct proof. If one accepts the statement that doing good is its own justification, one cannot help regarding all theological baits to right living as redundant and tending to cloud the luster of a moral truth. Love among men should be a final, absolute fact. We should be able just to look at each other and love each other without being reminded of a third party in heaven. Christianity seems to me to make morality appear unnecessarily difficult and complicated and sin appear tempting, natural, and desirable. Paganism, on the other hand, seems alone to be able to rescue religion from theology and restore it to its beautiful simplicity of belief and dignity of feeling.” (16)

Lin Yutang went on to become a prolific writer, whose works include classics of philosophical commentary like The Wisdom Of Laotse, and of pedagogy like The Lin Yutang Chinese-English Dictionary Of Modern Usage. Lin Yutang’s 1937 bestseller, The Importance Of Living, is a work in the style of Michel de Montaigne’s Essays imbued with wu-wei, the Taoist concept of no-action.

Thinking Is Freedom

Is Russell’s freethinking unbelief of less value than morality compelled by orthodoxy? Russell makes an excellent case for the opposite. Is it possible that what Paine, Jung, Russell and Lin Yutang share is that their ideas of God or Not-God are motivated from their morality and not vice versa? Is it possible that both belief and unbelief are distractions, illusions, maya obscuring the living reality that has any value, which is adherence to the morality of “doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy,” of being “inspired by love and guided by knowledge,” of “leading decent human lives simply because we are decent human beings,” of “discovering yourself” with Jungian diligence, echoing the inscription at Delphi to “Know Thyself,” and Buddha’s dying words to “work out your salvation with diligence.”

Orthodoxy is the death of intellect, and in that there is no God, as Paine and Jung intuit, Russell proves and Lin Yutang eloquently confirms.

Church, Incorporated

Why have orthodoxy and churches?

Church is community, it is what people seek beyond family — or instead of it — to find belonging. At its best, such community can be very warm and accepting, and of great psychological and financial help in times of personal crisis. Many people find great comfort by association with others who mirror their concerns, and with whom they can form cooperatives for educating children and performing good works in their communities.

The church is the physical plant of a religion, which is an organized system of belief, which in turn is maintained by a priesthood or professional ministry who set about creating and interpreting theology to justify their existence, and creating community to maintain the attraction of their churches to ensure the continuing operation of this earthly enterprise. In the United States, religion is defined by the Internal Revenue Service, and religions are tax-exempt corporations. The original quid pro quo of this arrangement was that Churches would stay out of politics, and the State would stay out of the Church treasuries (“separation of church and state”). However, like all corporations Churches have preferences as to government policies, which can affect existing operations, income and the prospects for growth. So, churches engage in politics as the 1940 case of Bertrand Russell, and much else before and since has demonstrated. The role of the Catholic Church as a barrier to social and political reform is historic — read Bertrand Russell. In a recent (2004) article, Gary Leupp describes how the Catholic Church in France thwarted the aims of the Revolution of 1848. (17)

When the Catholic Church became a progressive force with “a preferential option for the poor” in Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s, it found itself opposed to oligarchy instead of allied with it as had been traditional, for example with Franco in Spain. Then, instead of having national armies protecting the Church, they attacked, murdering its priests and nuns, and even Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador. Since these Central American oligarchies are extensions of US imperialism, what occurred was a war by the US government through proxies against the Catholic Church. What was true in Rome in 250 during the reign of Emperor Decius was true in America in 1980 during the reign of Ronald Reagan, Christianity seen as a threat to the State was persecuted. The subsequent retreat of the Church is evident in its shift from the liberation introduced by Pope John XXIII and Vatican II in 1962, to the renewed fundamentalism of Pope John Paul II. From the perspective of empire the spread of “liberation theology” among the masses is socialism and not to be tolerated, and from the perspective of the Churches fundamentalism that reinforces oligarchy and the status quo is the surest guarantee of its physical safety and financial security.

Religious orthodoxy is an element of social control and thus of political power.

If we taxed the Churches and allowed them to engage in politics in the same manner as any other corporation, there would be much less confusion all around about both the politics and the religions.

There is a great deal of hate and prejudice that aspires to suffocating political control, and appropriates the language of Christianity to elevate its self-image to god-like stature. Such so-called American Christianity is hate masquerading as religion to operate as tax-exempt corporation, giving an illusion of power to the ignorant, and a vent of cruelty to the fearful.

Orthodoxy opposed to intellect is religion addiction, and of this the United States has a mental health problem of epidemic proportions. We are not the only country so affected. Our “War On Drugs” does not now include the “opiate of the masses” because the present mass addiction serves the interests of the ruling elites.

The Levers of Control

The four major levers of control by any government are: guns (and armaments), money (the supply and use of, including gambling), drugs (including mass psychosis and religion) and women (libido, fecundity). Religions at the service of the State will facilitate its use of these levers.

We can see that people whose God/Not-God image springs from Paine socialist convictions will be most likely to oppose government oppression and oligarchy. They are also the people least likely to contribute to the support of Church, Incorporated, though a good number may be very socially, civically and charitably engaged. These people can be troublemakers because they are inquisitive, outspoken, uncowed, principled, responsible, disobedient, uncontrolling, witty and irreverent.

Being in control is an illusion, but one that obsesses many.

People who are intimidated by the prospect of thinking, who are fearful and seek security, willingly surrender funds, the free range of their intellect and their freedom of action to a higher authority in exchange for protection, also transferring with a sense of relief their personal responsibility for the social consequences of Church actions and policies. Recall Jung’s comment about childishness. They do their duty, follow the obligatory strictures, perhaps complain now and then about “having to go to mass,” or “having to keep kosher at grandma’s house,” but generally coast along without the burden of thinking with its frightening possibility of erupting doubts that would undermine the well-oiled routines of their daily lives and their personal concerns to make money, push their children to success, amplify the comfort of their homes, gain social status and all the usual preoccupations. Their existential problem has been put on autopilot, and many will fly to their graves without once looking back on the settings. For some, “the left hand of God” may pull them up short — a fateful accident, a tragedy — and force them to reevaluate, and out of such crisis to break through the religion spell and discover themselves.

If misery loves company then so does doubt and so does resentment over obligatory religion — if this is salvation, even immortality, where is the joy? Joy is what attracts the charismatics, they find group acceptance to act stupidly, babbling, whooping, writhing and feeling physically excited like children. Perhaps all we need are some playgrounds for adults, some shedding of public inhibitions, and police trained to understand the difference between a natural psychological outlet and an actual public disturbance.

Joy comes with the freedom of using your mind, of “being your own church.” Then you are part of the world, which is both good and bad, but most importantly you are not trying to push it away or control and suffocate it to end its threat to your ignorance — your fear. The politics of religious orthodoxy is an apartheid politics, it projects its fears externally then seeks to contain and punish these projections — sinners and people attributed with lower value — in a delusion that this is an escape to safety, an elevation to prosperity and righteousness.

Jesus had it right when he said “By their works shall ye know them.” Don’t you think he would get along well with Tom Paine, Carl Jung, Bert Russell and Lin Yutang? Wouldn’t that be a fun party to attend? God is the ultimate reality, which we create for ourselves by our own actions. And no more.

Summary:
Concepts of God or Not-God that come from humane morality will characterize just societies.

References

[1] Bertrand Russell, “Why I Am Not A Christian,” lecture of 6 March 1927, printed in Why I Am Not A Christian, And Other Essays On Religion And Related Subjects, edited by Paul Edwards, 1957 (George Allen & Unwin Ltd.), NY: Touchstone (Simon & Schuster, Inc.), ISBN 0-671-20323-1

[2] Howard Fast, Citizen Tom Paine, 1943, NY: Grove Press, ISBN 0-8021-3064-X

[3] Thomas Paine, The Age Of Reason, 1794, see also [2].

[4] Bertrand Russell, “The Fate Of Thomas Paine,” 1934, see [1]

[5] C. G. Jung, “Men, Women, And God,” 1955, in C. G. Jung Speaking, Interviews And Encounters, edited by William McGuire and R.F.C. Hull, Bollingen Series XCVII, Princeton University Press, 1977, ISBN 0-691-09894-8

[6] Guy Davenport, Herakleitos And Diogenes, San Francisco: Grey Fox Press, 1994, ISBN 0-912516-36-4, see page 9 on Fragment 69.

[7] C. G. Jung, “The Art Of Living,” Gordon Young, Sunday Times (London)17 July 1960, see [5].

[8] C. G. Jung, “On The Frontiers Of Knowledge,” 1959, see [5]

[9] S. Wesley Ariarajah, “Many Voices, One God: Remodeling Christianity for a Pluralistic World”
http://www.tcpc.org/resources/articles/many_voices_ariarajah.htm [active 25 November 2004]

[10] Cliff Walker, Positive Atheism’s Big List of Quotations
http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/quotes/quote-g.htm
Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin (1934-1968) Soviet cosmonaut who, in 1961, became the first person to orbit the earth. He rode Vostok 1 around the Earth (24,800 miles) and experienced weightlessness for 89 minutes. “I don’t see any god up here.” — Yuri Gagarin, speaking from orbit in 1961.
[an extensive site, active 25 November 2004]

[11] Quotations on Philosophy and Religion
http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/quotes_freethght.html [active 25 November 2004]

[12] Bertrand Russell, “Has Religion Made Useful Contributions To Civilization?,” 1930, see [1]

[13] Paul Edwards, “How Bertrand Russell Was Prevented From Teaching At The College Of The City Of New York,” 1957, see [1]

[14] Bertrand Russell, “What I Believe,” 1925, see [1]

[15] Bertrand Russell, “What I Believe,” 1925, see [1]

[16] Lin Yutang, The Importance Of Living, 1937 (William Morrow & Company), NY: Quill, 1998, ISBN 0-688-16352-1

[17] Gary Leupp, “The Wrong Side Wins, Democratic Elections in Historical Perspective,” CounterPunch, 2 November 2004
http://www.counterpunch.org/2004/11/02/democratic-elections-in-historical-perspective/ [active 25 November 2004]

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Originally published as:

God and Country
17 January 2005
http://www.swans.com/library/art11/mgarci29.html

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For Darwin’s views on belief versus nonbelief in God, see:

Darwin’s Living Legacy
13 February 2017
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/02/13/darwins-living-legacy/

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15 February 2017:

All religions are expressions of the fear of death.

The greater the ignorance of nature, the greater the likelihood of being a fearful person who believes in a god: a hoped for supernatural protector against the fearful uncertainties of life.

Some people will combat their fears by challenging their ignorance, through reading and study, to learn more about reality. Expanded knowledge gradually diminishes irrational terrors and irrational beliefs, and strengthens the confidence to conduct your life. Such people value gaining insights more than avoiding the discomforts of making personal changes.

Other people prefer to defend their ignorant irrationality — their prejudices and their religions — against the potential enlightenment offered by rational thought and scientific knowledge. They value their comfort in remaining unchanged more than the gaining of insight about reality.