Blog # 208           A TRIBUTE TO THE FOUNDERS

The hope that that this writing will be seriously considered by those to whom it has critical reference may be unrealistically optimistic. However, we at plinyblog do not shy away from potential criticism of “preaching to the choir ” in the hope that some readers of differing opinion may be interested enough to re- examine their belief systems from a fresh point of view.

We have heard, all too often, speakers who sanctimoniously declare that, “We are a Christian nation.”  On the assumption that such an ardent speaker has the capability, to notice that America has substantial populations of diverse religions, the only possible deduction is that the speaker believes that America was properly designed and established by its founders to define itself as Christian, and function in accordance with Christian dogma.

While, admittedly, one of our mottos reads, “One Nation Under God” the presumed intended emphasis was “One Nation” (E Pluribus Unum) and no specific Deity is mentioned, or indeed, believed intended. History relates that while some of our founding fathers were Deists, others, in fact, were agnostics or atheists. It is a rudimentary corollary that the freedom to believe in any religion (acquired by the random chance of birth) necessarily carries with that franchise, the right not to believe at all. Many prominent Americans were, in fact, atheists, like Thomas Paine and Robert Ingersoll. Those individuals who proclaim the principle that America is a Christian nation, appear to possess a religious ethnocentrism  complementary to their ignorance.

It is to be observed that the Constitution of the United States does not make any mention of the word, God, whatsoever, consistent with the founders’ knowledge of the sordid history of Europe, where an established church was part of the governing mechanism. The long and sad history of war, conflict, persecution and atrocity, they understood, was the result of that unholy partnership.  The replication of bloody centuries of European experience accordingly, was intentionally and studiously avoided. The founders in their wisdom, believed that to put the word “God” in the Constitution, was to eliminate (rule by) man and that the inclusion of any reference to a Deity would be seized upon by zealots and religious fanatics and used as a pretext for destroying the liberty of the citizen. Indeed, in too many places in the world, believers in any variant religion as well as non-believers have historically been stigmatized and prosecuted as heretics or infidels. Our nation was legally, wisely and morally created as a singular experiment in secular governance, for which thanks and reverence are forever due to our enlightened founders.

It is disappointing to observe, in the modern era, a significant number of citizens with a militant, as opposed to a reasonable and tolerant, religious belief who [ despite one’s acquisition of his beliefs  by the random accident of birth,] see themselves on a militaristic mission to evangelize others to ascribe to their (“the “true”) faith. Many will see the  purportedly “divinely inspired” bible as their field manual and lifetime guide  even though it was written by men who believed that the sun orbited the earth, condones slavery, capital punishment, the subjection of women and xenophobia. The Scopes trial and the shameful U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Dredd Scott case, are but two, of a great many atavistic and shameful travesties that had their origin and justification in the “Good Book.” It may be noted that disparate religions also have their respective, revered “holy book”.

Contemporaneous with this writing, we are the recipients of news reports regarding the candidacy of an individual for the United States Senate,[ a child molester and sexual abuser] who was removed from the judicial bench in Alabama on two occasions for his contemptuous disobedience of Orders, issued by the Federal Court, to remove his prominently installed display of the Ten Commandments at a public courthouse. Sadly, he is the popular favorite to win. It is both fascinating and extremely frustrating to observe that many of his conservative supporters,  ignorantly purport to be advocates  of the theory of “original intention” of the founders.

We, albeit in the modern era, are experiencing the tragedy of many so-called educated and enlightened followers of religious tractates and teaching, who persist in castigating Darwin and deny evolution, believe that the planet and all its fauna and flora (including homo sapiens) was created in one week, that the Earth is only two thousand years old, and who deprecate priceless enlightenment ,obtained as the successful result of scientific research, including man’s role in climate change. It seems that among our popularly exercised freedoms, the right to remain ignorant, is a well exercised franchise, and one which is both harmful to the advancement of society, as well as manifestly unfair to its informed citizens.

The time may arrive when observation and empirical experience will be the exclusive rational source of knowledge and wisdom for man, as opposed to irrational predilection, as wisely envisioned by our rational founders. Until then, we can only remain hopeful and eternally grateful to those eminent founding fathers, for showing us the way.

-p.

 

Blog # 207 ANTIDOTE AND CURE

We were re-reading our #206 and became disconsolate. As expressed, the universal teaching of “we” and “they,” taught to the young [ undoubtedly, to furnish them with an individual identity and a sense of belonging] effectively  plants seeds of discord, predictably festering and morphing into prejudice, warfare, and human tragedy. Unexpectedly, at such time a sudden recollection of a joyous and memorable event occurring several years ago, flashed into our mind and not only rewarded us with renewed hope, but fortuitously provided an antidotal preventative, as well as a cure, for such pathology of hatred and fear of the “other” (religion, race, ethnicity, belief system). First, the remembrance.

A good friend had invited us to the wedding ceremony and reception of his son. As it happens, the father of the groom was part Native American, the mother, Jewish. The bride’s family were Hindu-Americans, descendants of immigrants from the Indian Continent.  The occasion was attended by a large, diverse and multi-ethnic mix of celebrants, all of whom visibly enjoyed the happy event. The timely occurrence of this memory effected a positive change in our mood, and as stated, articulated an instructive primer on the evident cure for the dangerous and tragic pathology of “we” and “they.”

The ceremonials, presided over by a distinguished Guru, incorporated cultural wedding traditions derived from the traditions of the Cherokee (groom offers firewood to bride, couple are draped in blankets pinned together, the Jewish (smashing of wineglass) and the Indian (bride’s mother gifting bride to groom). Prayers and blessings were multi-cultural as, most enjoyably, was the food. Our sole complaint was the choice of  American rock music (we had expected some sitar music and Native American chant).

Admittedly, the event was somewhat extraordinary, in that it was multi-ethnic, featuring beautiful silk saris, multi-lingual toasts and blessing and some culturally traditional dancing [ but mostly American rock and roll]. The celebratory interaction was spontaneously and universally warm and affectionate, making the happening a great and memorable success. We appreciated, above all, the discovery and dynamics of an enjoyable, and effective antidote to the eternal toxic theory of “we” and “they.”

During the rearing and nurturance of our children, it certainly would be a salubrious and beneficial policy, to refrain from, solely and exclusively, teaching lessons in our own folkways, and to wisely include some enlightenment on the analogous ways of other peoples, emphasizing the commonality of mankind. For example, we can explain the functionality of chopsticks to knives and forks, the daily drinking of tea to the regular cup of coffee, the similarity of idealistic goals of all religions, the observation that traditional folkways of other cultures are historically meaningful, just as ours are. The theme is commonality, “us,” not the ultimately poisonous lesson of insularity, “them.”

For older members of society, already tainted by thoughtless and improvident childhood lessons [ it being too late for an antidotal dose of such wholesome messaging], we would respectively prescribe an effective cure, consisting of the following salubrious activities:

  1. Socialize with others of alternate ethnos and belief systems;invite friends of different nationality to your home,
  2. Listen on occasion to the music of other cultures,
  3. Exchange folktales, recipes, experiences with others,
  4. Learn about other cultures, their history and traditions,
  5. Attend museum displays of international exhibits and art, and,
  6. ** Very important—Do not passively tolerate ethnic jokes or slurs.

We can, ultimately, attain world peace by a universal awareness of the essential commonality and worth of all human inhabitants of our planet, and, especially, by teaching such principle to our young.

-p.

Blog # 206    SEEDS OF ETERNAL DISCORD (Redux #2)

It was part of our foundational intent two years ago when plinyblog.com had its birth, to write on diverse subjects deemed interesting enough to warrant comment. A cursory review of the previous 205 blogs published since such inception, will reveal very few instances where subjects have been seen to require repetition [ all of which have been designated as a “redux”]. But certain disturbing news reports of late, have unfortunately provided a worthy rationale for another rare relaxation of our original intent. These distressing news reports dealt with the latest instances of religious conflict and shameful atrocity.

We have found it necessary on several past occasions to express the obvious and too often overlooked truism, that man acquires his respective culture and belief system by the random accident of birth (as opposed to philosophical choice). An individual born into a Coptic Christian setting will live his life as a Coptic Christian, a baby born to Irish Catholic parents will grow up an Irish Catholic.

Yet a reference to any historical period in mankind’s history (to the present) will reveal unlimited examples of groups of people of one religious belief, who have prosecuted and vilified other groups ascribing to a different belief system, and have dedicatedly committed genocide on the alleged self justifying grounds that they were carrying out God’s will. There are far too many historic examples to comprehensively cite; these include, for example, the celebrated Spanish Inquisition, in which the bloodthirsty religious zealots, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, put an untold number of innocent people to death  by burning them alive, for heresy, in the name of the Prince of Peace, the thirty year’s war in Central Europe between Catholics and Protestants, which earned the title of the most destructive war in all history, in which 8 million people died in the  name of some Deity, and a continuous war, since the 7th Century between Sunni and Shiite Moslems, over religious differences, discussed below.

There remains, rationally and empirically, the unavoidable question: Is organized religion helpful or harmful to mankind? In theoretical principle, organized religion would seem culturally and morally salutary; in actual, historical experience, it has been demonstrably and uniquely responsible for contention, misery, warfare and homicide, on an unimaginable scale, throughout recorded history. Any reader of this declaration of fact, who finds the same, in any way shocking or objectionable, is cordially invited to consult an authoritative history text of choice, which we feel will mitigate such reflexive reaction, in favor of objective, empirical reason.

In past writings we have often referred to the etiology of this deadly human malady and its origin.  Young and highly impressionable children, born, randomly, into an ethnicity and culture, are taught, by well meaning parents and the community, lessons of “we” and, as referring to other cultures, “they.” The purpose, conceivably, may be well intended and geared to giving the young child a sense of familial identity and belonging, but lessons of “we” and “they” are toxic seeds of future enmity and discord. Next comes the creation of myths concerning the other, possibly evangelical activity and later, conflict and tragedy. It tragically appears that once these seeds of discord are sown, the results are impossible to effectively eradicate.

An illustrative, (fictional but real- life) example of the principle, which we have previously posited in one of our past writings, went as follows: A white 30- year old, well -educated woman, and a supporter of civil rights, donating money to the NAACP and the Urban League, is walking her 11- year old daughter to school. She sees another young woman, who is also well educated, and happens to be black, similarly, walking her young child to school. Friendly personal greetings, and sincerely friendly broad smiles are exchanged; but the young white 11 -year- old thinks she notices a subtle (probably not consciously intended) cautionary squeeze of her hand, responsive to the meeting. The unconscious reaction of the mother, is included in the harvest of bitter fruit of the seeds of discord (the “we” and “they”) planted in her in early life, and thereafter impossible to effectively eradicate.

The Sunni and the Shia, both traditional Moslem, have been engaged in continuous war since the 7th Century. The dispute was whether Prophet Mohammed’s successor should legally devolve by familial inheritance, like the English Crown, or selected by democratic vote.  No rational, persuasive argument can be urged, that this is the issue which has continued to cause such bloody warfare and loss of life,  persisting into the 21st Century, with little hope of cessation.  The only understandable motivation is the pernicious continuance of the “we” and “they” dynamic, which results in the depersonalization and objectification of the “they,” making atrocity and murder possible. It is a momentous tragedy that neither side is able is to realize that the Deity has not directed the extermination of the “they.” One of the current news reports which motivated this writing advised a systematic killing of Sufi Moslems, by ISIS, during their prayer service at the Sufi Mosque.

The other shocking news report which motivated the present writing, related the report that there is a genocidal “cleansing” of the population of Moslems, domiciled in Myanmaar. A film clip featured a leading Buddhist cleric in that country, clearly and unashamedly, stating that people who do not follow Buddha are not human and should be eliminated. We cannot adequately describe our shocked and disappointed reaction to his words and to the reported events. For some naïve, wishful, reason, we had previously believed that Buddhism, with its emphasis on inner growth, rather than obeisance to a stereotypic Deity, its cultural emphasis on peaceful meditation and mindfulness, made it an exception to the common aberration affecting organized religion; apparently (and sadly), we were wrong, and are truly shattered.

However disappointing and discouraging they may be, the facts speak clearly and unequivocally for themselves. We are therefore obliged to maintain that the honest and considerate practice of secular morality is the only rationally appropriate and acceptable belief system.

-p.

 

Blog # 205    OUR NOVEL EXISTENTIAL THREAT

One might permissibly define “society” as a voluntary entity in which people live together in company and companionship as a community, as opposed to living in isolation.

It would seem to be an elementary observation that no society can be established, or function, absent some degree of mutual understanding and consensus regarding the basic facts underpinning their existence. Differences regarding temporal matters are certainly acceptable, even encouraged as beneficial to society, but it is vital that the members of a society enjoy a basic shared recognition of the “given” in the geometric theorem of their common existence.

An accepted history, a language, an arithmetic system, ethical code and shared folkways, are among the existential requirements for communal living. Absent a shared acceptance of the commonality of human existence (past and present), one’s life, if survival were possible, would be solitary, insular and ignorant.

There is, inarguably, a universal, tacit acknowledgement of the observable elements constituting our natural phenomena. It is no longer open to dispute that the Earth is in orbit around the Sun, that the law of gravity is immutable, that the seasons change (for most of us) and have their signature features, that uncontrolled fire is destructive and dangerous and that all living things suffer their respective mortality. In this category of truthful facts, the only required investigatory mechanism is observation.

With respect to subject matter and events outside of our personal experience, a trusting reliance upon recognized sources of accurate information, such as encyclopedias, authoritative texts and other like sources, accessible for consultation, is essential. Knowledgeable consultants and specialists may also be resourced, when needed. Without a universal trust in such sources of accepted factual truth and accuracy, mankind would be doomed, metaphorically, to be lost at sea and rudderless.

America has (admirably) overcome a great many serious challenges and has nonetheless continued to evolve as an avatar of enlightened, moral and just society. It has outlawed slavery, and legally recognized the rights of all citizens, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, color or ethnicity, it has survived two world wars and other armed conflicts, economic depression, the McCarthy era, epidemics and natural as well as man-made disasters. It has successfully overcome virtually all manner of catastrophe yet has always emerged strengthened, because Americans have historically pulled together in common cause, and with a universal recognition and agreement as to factual reality.

However, we have recently been confronted with a truly existential threat to the existence of our Republican Democracy, one never previously experienced nor anticipated. This devastating threat, arguably, exceeds in resultant damage, physical and spiritual, the total sum of all horrific acts of terrorism practiced by our enemies. It a life-threatening disease, hosted by the previous election results, and has infected our body politic, and is rapidly metastasizing. The newly installed Administration has not only engaged in a consistent policy of recognizable mendacity, but has been the creative author of a new concept, “fake news,” among other activities, as a policy employed by it as a defensive and defamatory response when justly confronted by criticism from our historically reliable media.

There may be no worse institutional crime than an irresponsible and unprincipled attack on truth, the effect of which effectively constitutes an assault on (any) society’s rational gyroscope. It is particularly incredible when attributable to an American government, historically dedicated to the principles of verity and justice. From the sociological standpoint, concerning the progressive march of human development, it is an evil, retrogressive and a toxic threat to the basic support structure of human society.

We are left only with the necessary protective recommendation that the citizen be acutely aware of this base and unprecedented attack upon the very existence and moral stature of truth, and when appropriate, to trust solely to the value of his own personal inquiry and confident judgment.

-p.

Blog # 204      THE RESTITUTION OF THE AMERICAN REPUBLIC

The gravest and most dire concerns regarding the possible ascendency of Donald Trump, an egotistical, thoroughly unsuitable candidate, to the Presidency of the United States (and as such, the leader of the free world) was only exceeded by the tragic and alarming results of his success. The quick decline of America as an evolving avatar of Republican Democracy, had the speed and pathos of Classical Greek Tragedy, and left many ardent citizens in a state of confusion and utter despair.

If there were possible, a worrisome observation, even worse than the fact of the election of this unusual character to the Presidency of the United States, it was the dismaying and shocking realization that, incredibly, millions of fellow Americans, necessarily, voted for him.

We have quite often referred to the sage advice of Thomas Jefferson that, for a Democracy to function successfully, it requires a literate and informed populace. The subject Presidential election demonstrated unequivocally, that our country proved deficient in voters of the Jeffersonian caliber.

The inadequate number of usefully qualified citizen-voters, predictably, resulted in the current travesty to the American tradition. We were left with a completely unsuitable and unstable individual in office, a cabinet composed of people with obvious conflicts of interest, officials who are at the very top of our Security apparatus who are under indictment for treason, officials who are principally and illegally concerned with their aggregation of profits, (including the President himself who is clearly violative of the emoluments proscription of the U.S. Constitution), an Oval Office serving as a family mom and pop retail establishment, the creation of an atmosphere of disrespect for law and ethical conduct, a President who is embarrassingly ignorant regarding international, as well as national affairs, and sadly, so much more. It is frightening to realize that this impulsive orange primate has his tweeting fingers on the nuclear trigger.

What can be done? We would like to hazard a proposed solution, at least, for future implementation.

It is obvious that any program to assess the qualifications of the individual voter would be unconstitutional, under our “one man, one vote,” Republican form of Democracy. Moreover, sad experience with the subject of voter qualification, has demonstrated that it has been used for unscrupulous purposes, typically for the implementation of bigotry. This is not a recommended solution.

We would, however, suggest that a process of official vetting and qualification of candidates be undertaken, prior to the convening of any Presidential primary. A recollection of the last Republican primary, except for a few contestants, was a disappointing clown show of obvious incompetents; which, predictably, resulted in the selection of an incompetent clown nominee (ultimately, chief executive). Certainly, it must be possible to convene an objective, knowledgeable screening committee, composed, perhaps, of past Presidents, political scientists or other qualified people, to function as a protective filter to disqualify manifestly incapable aspirants to our high office.

-p.

 

Blog # 203     OUR UBIQUITOUS THUMBS (A Lesson from Mickey Mouse)

Every Anthropologist and Evolutionary Biologist would tell you that the Darwinian evolution of the opposable thumb was a tremendous leap forward in the development of human civilization. Homo Sapiens (and certain other primates) were thus enabled, developmentally, to make and use tools in the performance of tasks vital to survival. One can recall the cinematic images of intelligent apes busily using wooden twigs, as tools, to probe and extract nutritious termites from dead tree trunks (and eat them with a gusto and style, reminiscet of present day hockey fans, eating “fries.”)

The potential facility of the evolved thumb was virtually limitless and its subsequent uses, too varied to enumerate in any comprehensive list: employing tools, using weapons, writing and creating art, eating and drinking with utensils, handshakes, hugs, even hitchhiking (called “thumbing a ride”), as well as many communicative uses, wishing good luck or bon voyage, assurances of wellbeing, and much more. But some of the dexterous applications of our marvelous opposable thumb, are not salutary.

We have very often expressed our great concern and disappointment regarding the growing trend toward the substitution of personal conversation (face to face or by phone) by electronic messaging, the latter, resembling the impersonal transmission of data; the absence of the familiar voice, the limited ability to express emphasis or emotion, the lack of  spontaneous and relevant response, the absentee nature of interaction making the exchange impersonal; all at an time in mankind’s history when closeness, empathy, and mutual identification are so urgently needed. It is to be recognized that the development of the human voice and the innate ability to construe interactive conversation, are also featured among the generous gifts of evolution. The facility of the opposable thumb in the transmission of electronic messages, has been universally exploited, and can be seen as a retrograde act of disrespect and ingratitude for our marvelous evolutionary inheritance, which, in the long run may prove harmful.

Many of us remember the Walt Disney animated extravaganza “Fantasia” of some years ago. Among the several episodes was an animated production of an old poem, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” set to the beautiful music of Paul Ducat, bearing the same title. The star of the tale was none other than the celebrated and talented movie star, Mickey Mouse.

Mickey, a mere apprentice to the Sorcerer, during a brief period of his master’s absence, foolishly attempts to try his inexperienced hand at sorcery, with great catastrophic and uncontrollable results. Fortunately, the Sorcerer soon returns and restores normalcy. Mickey is profoundly shaken but now wiser.

The animated, melodious and humorous presentation, delivers a clear message for man to consider in exercising his choices; some of which may foolishly tend to reverse man’s advancement,so  generously facilitated by nature. One such instance is by the retrograde substitution of electronic messaging for our brain-larynx-voice capability of to socially communicate. The marvelous development of the opposable thumb, apparently useful in sending text messages, is being converted to such retrograde use. It, like all electronic conversation, is impersonal, insular, unsocial, mute ” message in a bottle” style interaction, with predictably future negative social and psychological implications.

We are certainly fortunate beneficiaries of progress, but need to be judicially selective; just ask Mickey!

-p.

Blog # 202      ON GOOSEBERRIES AND THE FAMILY

There are some occasions when the use of a comparative example may serve as a useful illustration in illustrating, or directing  focus on, an intended observation. Since we happen to be experienced in the raising and nurturing of gooseberries, we have selected that botanical example, certainly, a comprehensible, consistent and rational entity to contrast with the complex phenomenon called “family.”

Gooseberries, as a garden cultivar, is officially categorized as deciduous, potentially attaining a height of two to three feet and a spread of three feet.  Significantly, they produce berries, yellow, green, pink to purple, which depend singly, or in two’s or threes, from each small stem (unlike grapes which develop in bunches) and have thorns which would make rose plants blush with inadequacy. Thus, they are difficult to pick, but make delicious jam or pastry filling. To our point, they are observably easy to comprehend and are reliably predictable.

Despite all virulent contention, in truth, there are some features in common between gooseberries and the family. Structurally, the family usually presents itself in small clusters, communication is normally with the individual member and it is similarly perennial, with progeny closely resembling the predecessor.

But, major differences do exist between the two selected comparatives. This is especially evident in the exotic interactive behavior of the family. Seen externally, the family appears close-knit, cohesive, caring, interdependent and when threatened, fiercely loyal and protective. Medical emergencies, death of a family member or other occurrences of perceived major impact, are jointly and cooperatively responded to in unified and loyal fashion. Daily routines are experientially synchronized to avoid personal interference, a commonly selected newspaper is usually read, and there is, notably at least some agreement on political and social issues.

Pointedly, it is the inter-family dynamics which sets it apart and distinguishes it from the peacefully attached and supremely content gooseberry. There appears to be certain inconsistent and bizarre behavioral phenomena, which elude rational analysis and is markedly distinguishable from the placid and contented gooseberry.

Let us postulate a situation in which one thoughtlessly, or foolishly, makes an undesirable or inaccurate comment, or perhaps, commits a thoughtless act. If said or performed in the company of a friend, usually an apology or corrective action will suffice to end the matter; which, in friendship will probably be forgotten. Not so with family, for some reason. Instead there appears to be the unfortunate practice of the recounting of the faux-pas or mistaken action, which becomes, by virtue of repetition, a part of the fixed oral history of the family; it is not unusual that the recounted incident is gleefully exaggerated in some form of familial schadenfreude. Additionally, family members (usually influential elders) ascribe fixed stereotypes, accurate or unjust, to family personalities. By sheer contrast, gooseberries peaceably and amiably hang out with their fellows in a state of peaceful amiability.

Where love and intra-family loyalty are certainly implicit, if not an evident fact, why is there no forgiving and forgetting of a mistake or malaprop, as would be the predictable case with the more casual relationship of friend or acquaintance? There are no comprehensible or available answers; we can only maintain our eternal admiration and envy of the gooseberry.

We would advise any reader who presumes that this writing was done “with tongue in cheek”, that such assumption is not only erroneous but clearly, impossible, since our mouth is crammed full of delicious gooseberries.

-p.