Blog # 166   PEACE AND PARALLAX (A Metaphor)

Since logic and reason are famously dedicated to the enhancement of perspective and enlightenment, it is understandable that many words related to sight provide such areas ample resource for use as metaphor. Opaqueness and lack of vision, in that metaphoric sense, would presage an unfulfilling life, one typified by stagnation, ignorance and sterile insularity.

An interesting and useful such metaphor is the optic word, “parallax.” The word describes the illusion of a difference in location, or position of a viewed object, caused by the observer’s change of physical position. Seen from alternative angles, the observed object seems to have shifted (ex. the appearance of travelling in an opposite direction than the countryside when you are a passenger in a train or bus, or when looking at an object, one eye at a time.) To preface our metaphoric theme, seeing an object with both eyes at the same time furnishes the necessary depth of field and, accordingly, an accurate picture.

We have often written in praise of man’s capacity for enlargement of his understanding and his laudable efforts at life enhancement, such goals having intrinsic values far above the market price of any total accumulation of material assets. The attainment of life’s potential for depth and insight is inarguably the greatest single ambition and conceivably, the most rewarding enterprise.

The insight and ability to see and understand people of other traditions and differing belief systems, from an alternate point of reference, is to be mindful of our (metaphorical) parallax  phenomenon  and constitutes a valid exercise of reason and  understanding. The converse, an unfocused evaluation of others, solely from the limited angle of one’s own cultural standards, is to distort the viewed object and possibly portray a distorted sense of rectitude and acceptability of one’s group and a distain for others.

In some cases, a distorted picture may be occasioned by an unfortunate lack of sufficient exposure to other traditions and ways of life; a short-sightedness, or lack of awareness of our parallax factor, not sighting from an objective (alternate) point of view. In others, unfortunately, it is a selective ignorance, an inclination or desire to see other folkways with “only one eye” and publicly express criticism and intolerant dogma based on a lack of full and corrective vision. Like fish, which have no concept of water, they are entirely lacking in perspective beyond their familiar, limited environment.

To continue with our selected metaphor, every rational  person should strive to (simultaneously) open both eyes and observe, with proper depth of vision, mankind’s acceptably wide range of societal variation; some of which is historical or cultural, and some, observably necessitated  by specific environmental nuance. When we (at last) have all progressed to the point where we fairly and rationally focus on other lifestyles and belief systems, not from an ethnocentric vision, but from additional perspectives and alternate points of view, we will at long last have truly set the scene for world peace.

-p.

 

Blog # 165             THE OPAQUE MIRROR

The germination, development and maturity of a realistic and stable self-image is an essential factor in our rational participation in society. Otherwise, the perceived absence of a communal role, or part, in life’s theatrical performance is a ticket to an insular life of despair and irrelevance. In our lifelong inner conversation with ourselves, we have a need to construe and perceive an acceptable and relatively consistent theme, or personal rationale, for our actions.

Because of the felt importance of such concept, we may have, admittedly, expended an inordinate amount of time (and words) on the subject of the acquisition of perceived personal identity, or” self-image”, perhaps too often stressing the competing factors of private or public perception.

In the private mode of self -attribution of personal identity, we have cited the wisdom of the great philosopher, Socrates who famously said, “Know thyself” and “The unexamined life is not worth living,” challenges to the responsibility of man, personally and privately, to conduct a  personal audit, and contrasted it with the words of the famous poet, Robert Burns, whose professed aspiration for man is to be able to “ see ourselves as others see us,” the latter being a public, interactive dynamic. Yet we are troubled with both; the private dynamic, understandably being colored with fantasy, aspiration and rationalization, while the public mode being subject to the divergent perceptions of others and the possibility of our subjective choice as to the preferred observation.

Yet we require some rational, generally acceptable guide to the acquisition of our personal, nuanced persona. Our legal identity is indicated by our family and given name, our address, our assigned or selected role. To evaluate our inner self, we need a personal reference point, a home base, from which we can make consistent choices and understandable determinations. We cannot hazard the varied perceptions of the public or our dreamy aspirations about ourselves to make the determination.

Looking at a mirror to ascertain our essential being is completely useless. Useful in shaving, or checking cosmetics, it has no useful relevance in human evaluation. Long disproven are the Lombroso theory of criminal types and the Victorian literary portrayals of character from facial image, such as portrayed in the classic novel, “The Picture of Dorian Grey.” A mirror’s function is to inform us of our superficial appearance only; otherwise it is opaque.

Briefly put, our accurate self-image is not acquired by consulting our fantasies about ourselves nor in the reliance upon the interactive and varied perceptions of others. It is accrued from an accurate reference to the sum total of our actions, choices and beliefs manifested during the course of our lifetime.  This is the laboratory in which our persona is created and the reference point for our valid determination. To what extent have we demonstrated generosity, empathy, understanding, tolerance for others and disparate belief systems, wise choices, responsibility, personal dignity, awareness of self and others, aspirations for growth and self-enrichment; these factors and others are the admissible and probative evidence of character. Right actions are important, indicative deposits in our private personal account; less than the same are irretrievable withdrawals. As much as we have criticized aphoristic “truisms” one, nevertheless, has present relevance and validity, “Actions speak louder than words.”

-p

Blog # 164       A COLLEGIATE CRITIQUE

The college, of which we presently write, would not evoke thoughts of campus life, tuition, academic standing or admissions policy; it is, in fact, the long established American institution, the “Electoral College.” Unique in the entire civilized world, this mechanism, established by the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, we maintain, gives the lie to our proudly advertised standard of “one man, one vote.” It, like an inflamed appendix, is a troublesome vestigial organ and best done away with.

“Democracy” is a word of Greek origin, representing the politically salutary concept of one man, one vote. [Today, happily, this includes women.] The concept has often proven to be inspirational, if not consistently accurate.  Athens, Greece, for example, where the word had its origin, is often represented to be the birthplace of democracy, but this representation is entirely fallacious; only those qualifying as “Athenian Citizens,” a minority of Athenians, could vote. The large balance of the population, classified as “foreigners,” captives and slaves were not afforded the franchise.

Just as misleading as an uninformed concept of Athenian democracy, with specific reference to our Presidential elections, is our celebrated American representation of “one man, one vote.” The 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the foundational basis for the mechanism called “The Electoral College” and is the exclusive method for their election. Pursuant to this mechanism, the voters of each State vote for “Electors” (assigned to the respective candidates) not the candidates directly, for said offices; a majority, 270 electoral votes, wins the top two offices. Each State is entitled to the number of Electors equal to the sum of the number of its Congressional  Representatives plus two, the latter representing the uniform number of Senators allotted to each State.

There have been several elections, including the most recent one, where, based upon this flawed mechanism, a President and Vice-President were chosen, despite the fact that the “winners” garnered far less than the number of popular votes cast for their opponents. We find this to be hypocritical and inconsistent with the most precious and defining feature of a democracy.

This contemptible mechanism has also led to an unhealthy practice in which candidates will center their campaign efforts on States which have comparatively more electoral votes (“swing States”) and relatively ignore other States with less, albeit equally entitled to access. It has also been used, in recent past history, memorably, by the Southern States, to accommodate their immoral exclusion of certain groups of people, particularly black people, from the right to vote.

There may, conceivably, be some measure of acceptable argument in the equal allocation of two Senators per State, irrespective of population, arguably, to assure that all national interests are fairly represented in legislation; but the utility and rationale of that unfair and undemocratic mechanism, the Electoral College, mandated for the election of our national leader, boggles the mind. The right of every American voter to vote directly for his nation’s chief should not be diluted or impaired by any undemocratic filter. –p.

Blog # 163 THE MOUNTAIN

We have always treasured a particular Buddhist teaching which profoundly describes the process of acquisition of knowledge and wisdom, making use of an enlightening and visual metaphor, a mountain. The choice of words in the teaching, from a pedagogical point of view, is brilliantly construed so that only after considered analysis (which is the point) does it convey the  intended message.

The expression, generally stated is: “When you first see it, it is a mountain. Look again and you do not see a mountain. The next time you look, it is a mountain.” The words of the lesson may, upon initial consideration, appear to make little sense. The next time (after some enlightenment on the subject) you will then, once more, see the mountain, but now you will see it with some understanding of what a mountain is. The evident conclusion is that man’s knowledge of himself and his world depends upon his learned wisdom.

There exists a common misconception among many, that the youthful time of life  is lacking in existential concern and mature responsibilities, and  is accordingly , carefree and untroubled; such people have undoubtedly, or conveniently, forgotten their own past.

As children mature, they are imbued with the highest standards of morality and justice by well-meaning parents and teachers; they ingest rigid, settled and orthodox standards of rectitude. These teachings later, as a practical matter, prove to be inconsistent with actual experience, and to that extent, prove disorienting. The young person, at this stage, in reaction, may be inclined to rebel against parents and  society with charges of hypocrisy and feelings of disappointment.  Some engage in specific reactive behaviors, or by joining fringe groups with the known reputation of being opposed to mainstream society. At this stage, any experienced societal acceptance of anything less than the traditionally imbued standards, understandably, is reprehensible, disappointing and confusing.

The concept of “compromise,” to the inexperienced, represents the cowardly and unprincipled surrender of first principles, which rule sanctimoniously above all other considerations; pity, empathy, forgiveness, equity and sympathy. When the fog surrounding the mountain starts to lift, the young idealist is, for a time, ill- equipped to adjust, by reason of his idealistic ideation.

Before long, the dense fog of inflexible expectations lifts, and as it does, the maturing person begins to understand that in the practical course of life, ideals are the moral aspiration of good people; goals  although striven for, are not always attainable, perhaps for understandable or forgivable reasons. The sincere quest for right principle is always the goal of the moral person but not always the final result of his action.

With acquired wisdom, one looks upon the mountain with a measure of empathy and understanding.

-p.

Blog # 162    DON’T ASK SOCRATES OR ROBERT BURNS

Even an occasional follower of plinyblog.com can confidently tell you that we have consistently disparaged aphorisms and all manner of pre-packaged judgmental guides and behavioral rules. Many of our writings (such as the previous one) have attempted to discourage the use of home-spun, traditional homilies as guides to behavior or judgment.  We have ardently and consistently supported the use of personal empirical experience, interpreted by mature wisdom as the proper (and only) guide.

In past writings we have furnished numerous examples of this species of pre-packaged and useless and misleading aphoristic travesties but cannot resist another illustrative example. It appears, strangely enough, to be a well- known homily regarding the treatment of the common cold. “Feed a cold and starve a fever.” The suggested procedure (which, surprisingly, we actually have heard) is that you should allow a person suffering with a cold, to eat freely, but, in the case of the development of a fever, food is to be withheld. These observations, which are totally fallacious, actually appear to be a misquotation of an equally ignorant direction, “If you feed a cold, you will (cause) starve a fever.”

So ardent are we in our continuing effort to discourage pre-packaged, aphoristic advice, that we will bravely run the ( likely) risk of being labelled  presumptuous in making the following critical comments  regarding two truly great and justly celebrated individuals, Socrates and Robert Burns. We, nonetheless,   would bravely and humbly ask the reader to generously consider the possible merit of our observations.

The great classical Greek philosopher, Socrates is famously known for his instruction, “Know thyself.” This basic principle of life is challenging, among other things, considering the reactive effect on our sense of identity, by the element of the perception of us by other individuals with whom we regularly interact. Additionally, so many centuries before the revelation of the unconscious mind by Sigmund Freud, as well as the advent of the modern day aspiration for self- knowledge and identity, we shall assume that the intended message is that we should strive to become aware of our strengths and weaknesses, the reasonable limitation of our own capabilities, as well as our natural inclinations.

The world renowned Scottish poet, Robert Burns, of far more recent vintage, penned the famous words, “Oh would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as other see us.” The underlying basis is that our assumptions about ourselves are significantly different from the views of other people.

But the judgments of others will, as a practical matter, each vary with the individual perception; still further, since perception is purely subjective, which of the varied perceptions will be enlightening, or more accurate than our own self- assessment. The sole redeeming value of Burns’ statement is perhaps that we should not believe that our assumptions concerning ourselves are necessarily binding on others.

Socrates goes private; “know thyself” is a call to the individual to look into himself for knowledge of his identity, a situation which can be precarious considering the element of subjective fantasy; Burns looks publicly for an alternative picture of us from others. The view of Jews by Nazi Germany in the first half of the 20th Century, or the view of black people in America by much of its white population during the 16th through the 20th Centuries, was very far from appropriate or enlightening.

Man’s obligation to develop and maturely discover himself and his environment should not be relegated to pre-packaged or canned wisdom. As a rational being, man’s life is properly to be lived in accordance with his empirical experience, as it currently unfolds, with the aid (only) of mature reason, and the presence of sufficient sensitivity for other human beings.

-p.

 Blog#161       IF IT LOOKS LIKE A FISH, AND SMELLS LIKE A FISH…

We have consistently expressed disapproval and personal annoyance regarding the reductive and arrogant pseudo-wisdom presumed by aphoristic statements; instead, we have always respected and encouraged the practice of empirical reason in making judgments and decisions. Lazy, “group- think” wisdom, albeit phrased in snappy down-home folk jargon, has the potential to initially sound wise and tempting, but should on no occasion, whatsoever, be exalted by a reflexive response.

The targeted “aphorism du jour” is “What you see is what you get.” This ignorant, lazy and reductionist statement is grossly misleading and is conceivably responsible for uncountable instances of error and injustice. A possible corollary is, “If it looks like a fish and smells like fish, it is a fish.” Such “badda-bim, badda- boom” reasoning is particularly reprehensible when applied to judgment making and decisional thought concerning human beings. Its limited value may reside in simple optics, such as a bowl of oatmeal, a bicycle or an umbrella; in such cases, what you see is what you get. Notably, regarding experience in the social arena, one soon becomes confirmed in the eternal validity of this admonition.

In the Hindu tractates, the word “maya” is employed to refer to the false and distracting detail of life’s surface impressions. Things, it advises, may appear to be present but are really not what they seem.

Added to the daunting challenge, to fairly and accurately evaluate others, we are confronted with the statement of William Shakespeare, who famously wrote, “All the world’s a stage and all the people in it actors.” We would hazard our personal sense of the statement, that it does not mean we all live on a theatrical stage with scenery, costumes and an artistically written script, but rather that the particular setting of our life, situationally assigns to each of us a part, or a role, to play (well or badly). If this is so, to what extent, are the perceptions of us, by others, as well as our own self-identity, affected by the traditional stereotypical images associated with that role.

The use of time-worn stereotypes to analyze others, of course, simplifies the challenge for those of lazy and superficial inclination. Additionally, it is a double-edged sword, useful in the manipulation or misleading of others.  The strategic false acquisition of the trappings of a well -known role or persona can be used to mislead a hapless dupe who relies on appearances, viz.,”what you see is what you get.”

Far more costly, as a result of such short-sighted perception, is the populist undervaluation of those individuals who are possessed with unique qualities of creativity and advanced intellectual prowess, who are  gifted with the potential to enhance the development and further progress of society.

It is exclusively the individual’s development of mature sensitivity and acquisition of sufficient wisdom, enabling the wise evaluation of his empirical experience, which makes possible a fair and accurate evaluation of others. As we have often suggested, great literature is a primary resource for the acquisition of such requisite wisdom by the acquisition of insight and an understanding of man’s universal nature and his eternal experience.

-p.

 Blog # 160        SPEAKING OF “CLOUDS”

The plural noun “clouds” evokes visions of soft, ethereal, foggy masses, floating above the planet, whose ever changing venue is completely at the mercy of the prevailing winds.

The traditional  meaning  of the word “cloud” has been hijacked in this  digital age and employed  to refer to the repository of information and data located and stored in the miraculous ether of the internet and available for access as needed by means of the individual computer.

In view of the apparent license to change the application of the word, we at plinyblog.com have taken the liberty of further extending the word “cloud” to a third application. As we will explain, this third innovative concept makes possible the miraculous facility to engage in actual conversation between the “user” and an unlimited elective choice of great minds of the past; please note, we did say conversation.

Conversation is, essentially an exchange of statements for responsive reaction such as a reply by responsive statement, a refutation or a reactive question. This innovative application of “cloud,” in fact, can be said to exceed the utility and marvel of its stated internet application, because, as we will shortly demonstrate, it is interactive, while the internet use  describes only a mono-directional activity.

Our use of the word, “conversation,” in association with such third cloud, necessarily relies upon the element of written language (just as the internet cloud relies upon transcribed data). Written language, of course, is a system of recognizably understood words or symbols which enable the reader to ascertain the meaning of the expressed statement.[  N.B. Written language must be taught, while spoken language can be learned by reasonable exposure to it].

In this third utilization of the word “cloud,” we essentially refer to the eternal existence and ready availability of books and literature. Their existence and location is to be found in the unlimited and prodigious output of untold numbers of great authors and available at any library or bookstore. Each great novel has its own self-contained cloud, representing its recorded repository of wisdom and entertainment for access by the individual reader; and as well, an available conversation in which he is invited to participate by his reactive response.

The written expressions of  great authors when read carefully, reveal their respective interpretations of reality, and their impressions, of man, the vicissitudes of his life and the human condition in general. .

A conversation, of course, requires not only such statements, explicit or subtle, but also a reactive response .The best authors are wisely strategic and skilled enough in their art to predictably elicit, even direct, by selected language and context, the intended reaction by the reader. Such reactive response itself, albeit unspoken, satisfies the final and necessary criterion for a “conversation.” This repository of brilliant written expression, awaiting  response, is the third category of “cloud” (the literary cloud) and is present and readily available in all good literature.

It is exciting to realize that such marvelous conversations can easily  be had at any time, with any of the great and universally  celebrated authors, Dickens, Faulkner, Dostoevsky, et al. which facility (literary cloud) has  been available since the fortunate advent of the printing press.

It is also eminently clear that this new category of cloud will not mar any plans for outdoor recreation, but will only serve to enhance them.

-p.