Sunday, May 21, 2017

GETTING TO KNOW AN UNKNOWN GOD - A homily

[Delivered on May 21, 2017 at Christ Episcopal Church, Yankton, South Dakota]

Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ From Acts 17
It’s not every Sunday one can give a homily based on Greek legend, Geek mythology, and the New Testament. So I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to do so.
In order to fully appreciate our first reading from Acts 17, we need to know why Paul addressed the Athenians at the Areopagus and why he cites two poems about the Greek god, Zeus. The author of Acts, Luke, likely assumed that everybody of his day, two thousand years ago, would have known why, but knowledge can get lost in two thousand years.  So let’s take a moment to rewind and review:
The Areopagus is a rock outcropping in Athens that was used in Paul’s time for conducting public trials. Here the Athenians wanted to discern if Paul was introducing a new religion into their city as Paul’s preaching about Jesus and his resurrection seemed to indicate.  Introducing a new religion was considered corruption, a serious crime in ancient Athens; a charge that resulted in the death of Socrates in 399 BCE. 
On his way there, Paul passes an altar to “The Unknown God,” the history of which Paul uses in his effective defense, along with citing two early Greek poems to support the premise that he was not preaching something new.
The first poet cited is Epimenides who wrote a poem called, "Cretica." In "Cretica," Epimenides argues with his fellow Cretans that Zeus was very much alive as evident in our being alive after they had built a symbolic tomb declaring him dead:
They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one,
 
                        Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies. 
                        But you (Zeus) are not dead: you live and abide forever,
                        For in you we live and move and have our being[1]
 As a side note, the line about Cretans being liars is cited, verbatim,  in Paul’s letter to Titus (1:12) and is the basis for Epimenides Paradox which states if being a Cretan himself, Epimenides, in calling Cretans liars is also a liar by telling a truth applicable to himself.
In fact, the altar to The Unknown God has a close connection to Epimenides:
 
During the time of the great Athenian law giver, Solon, the Athenians suffered a horrendous plague attributed to an act of treachery on people who they granted asylum and then killed. To rid themselves of the resulting plague, they tried appeasing their gods through sacrifice, but nothing was working. 
So they approached the Oracle at Delphi who informed them that there was a god they failed to appease.  When they asked which one, she said she didn’t know but they should send for Epimenides, a prophet in Crete, who would help them.  So they did.
When Epimenides arrives in Athens he comments that they must be very religious because of the many gods and goddesses they have. He told them there is an good and great unknown god who was smiling on their ignorance but was willing to be appeased. When they perform the proper rituals throughout the city, the plague is ended and they erect altars to this unknown god throughout Athens. [2]
The second “poet” Paul cites is the philosopher Aratus, from his work Phenomenon:
… always we all have need of Zeus. For we are also his offspring[3]
* * * * * * * * * * *
Avoiding the name Zeus, Paul infers, via his reference to the unknown god, the philosophical idea of a Superior God whose nominal identity is simply “God” which we monotheists have adopted.  As a result, Paul’s catechesis on God and who we are in relation to God boils down to this: 
Question: Who is God? 
Answer: God is that Being in which we live, move, and have our being. 
Question: Who are we? 
Answer: We are his offspring.”
In my opinion, this is the best definition of God and our relationship to God found anywhere. God is the active force of all that is, has been, and will be, and we are the incarnate manifestations of that activity. We live because God is living, we move because God is moving, we are because God is.  This concept of everything existing in God – panentheism – is found in Paul’s understanding of the Risen Christ. Jesus, as the Risen Christ, is, in Paul’s theology,  the cosmic nexus between God and humankind.
Paul’s personal encounters with Jesus occurred in his visions of the Risen Christ.  The only historical information about Jesus that gets any press began in Paul’s epistles begins on Maundy Thursday and ends on Easter Morning. Consequently, his epistles never mention Jesus’ parentage, his miracles, his parables, his disciples other than Peter, or his ministerial teachings other than the words of institution used in Holy Communion. 
For Paul, the Resurrection was the reset point of God’s original relationship with us. Jesus as the Risen Christ is declared by Paul to be the first born of a new creation who, as a man was sown a physical body and, as the Christ was raised a spiritual body as stated in his first letter to the Corinthians (15)
* * * * * * * * * *
In his defense at the Areopagus, Paul also accused the Athenians of becoming too religious for their own good, as demonstrated by their many idols. They had become God-blind – a problem every age encounters, including our own. Paul knew something about being God-blind. 
It took his vision of the risen Christ on his way to Damascus to experience literal blindness which led him to see how blind he was about God.  He went from being Saul, the Pharisee, a devout believer in a God of laws and strict discipline, to Paul, a prisoner of Christ, a man of faith, hope, and love who became shackled to a God of faith, hope, and love in us.
It was the wide embrace of God, the God and Father of all, as expressed in the poetry of Epimenides and Aratus that prompted him to a make the revolutionary claim echoed in every social/religious debate to this day:
“For there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in the risen Christ,” as he writes to the Galatians (Galatians 3:28).
Too often it is the Christians of today; especially those of rigid inclination who treat the Bible as being the literal inerrant word of God that are not only God-blind but also Bible-idolators.  After all, it was Paul who entered into their inerrant view of the Biblical record the words of Epimenides and Aratus, the poets of Zeus, giving Epimenides’ Paradox a new twist:
If the word of God is literal and inerrant, are the quotes by Epimenides and Aratus found in the New Testament, inerrant also? 
By extension, does not Paul’s use of their definition of Zeus make Zeus another name for God?
* * * * * * * * * *
God is known by many names; and yet, no single name can describe the ineffable, intimate, pervading sense of BEING that God is.  So in our liturgies and hymns when we reference God’s name, we capitalize the word “Name,” as in today’s opening hymn:
Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes, most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, almighty, victorious, thy great Name we praise.
To all life thou givest, to both great and small; in all life thou livest, the true life of all.  We blossom and flourish, like leaves on the tree, then wither and perish; but nought changeth thee.[4]
To which, I am confident, Aratus, Epimenides, and Paul would say, “AMEN!”  
* * * * * * * * * *
Until next time, stay faithful.


[1] Translated by Prof. J. Rendel Harris in a series of articles in the Expositor (Oct. 1906, 305–17; Apr. 1907, 332–37; Apr. 1912, 348–353;  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epimenides
[2] “To An Unknown God,” Christians in Crete, Connecting God’s Family http://christiansincrete.org/news/to-an-unknown-god/
[3] “Phenomenon” translated by G.R. Mair; http://www.theoi.com/Text/AratusPhaenomena.html
[4] “Immortal, invisible, God only wise” by Walter Chalmers Smith (1824-1908), number 423 in The Hymnal 1982.
 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

MUTUAL SELF-DESTRUCTION AND THE PURSUIT OF PEACE - Part I

With this post, I begin to ponder the  concept of mutual self destruction and the pursuit of peace.  In this posts I will speculate on why there appears to be a strong connection between fear and peace in the human mind.


MUTUAL SELF DESTRUCTION AND WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT OUR SPECIES



I remember being in grade school in the late 1950's and early 60's and having to participate in atomic bomb drills, by climbing under our desks and hunkering down. These were, of course, acts of futility should we have been under a real atomic attack as anyone from Japan would have told us.  I suspect the drills served another purpose; to bring the reality of mutual self-destruction home to the average U.S. citizen and provide some sense of hope about surviving an attack by doing something. I also remember the television commercials about building fallout shelters which my family couldn't have afforded.  I grew up feeling that disaster was upon us at any given moment.  I didn't obsess about it, but it was always there, ready to pop up into my awareness.

Since that time, our ability to destroy each other has vastly improved; with larger nuclear, chemical, and biological arsenals at our disposal.  Deterrence is the foundation upon which modern defense is built.  A relative sense of world peace is maintained by the fact that an all out global war involving any or all of these weapons would ensure the annihilation of life on this planet. We have witnessed their effectiveness on a small scale in Japan, Iraq, and Syria.

This fear has kept us from all out war for nearly three quarters of a century, but it has become an increasingly tenuous deterrent as the rise of nationalism amongst first world nations is evident and the treatise that they agreed on are being questioned.

Peace based on the fear of mutual self destruction is porous.

This foundation holds only on the assurance that those who possess such weapons will not use them and keep them from those who would.  This worked as long as the knowledge and technology needed to make such weapons could be withheld, however, knowledge is fluid and eventually is leaked.  The only thing staving off world-wide proliferation is control of the materials needed to make such weapons.

This is where philosophy becomes pragmatic. Science can tell us how to make such destructive weapons but it cannot prevent us from using them. As I have mentioned in other posts, there is a tendency in the field of science to "do it" if something is thought to be theoretically possible; that if  your side doesn't "do it" another side will.   This has been born out in the development of nuclear and other weapons.  It is that reality that has pushed us towards making a philosophical solution that is rooted in the ethical mandate to refrain from doing that which one wouldn't want done.

It is no longer a question of refraining from doing to others what one doesn't want done to oneself.  It is an imperative of not doing it at all because doing it is suicide.

What the concept of mutual destruction demonstrates is that fear remains the most potent motivation in the human drive for survival.  While most would say that peace is what we desire most, our desire for peace, by itself, is not potent or visceral enough to prevent us from self destruction whereas the fear of it is.  Fear produces a tangible feeling that peace does not.  We can gauge fear better than peace and there may be a reason for that.

PREDATORY FEAR

Fear is a predatory instinct related to environmental factors. When factors that contribute to fear are present they can be measured by the intensity of the fear we feel.  Peace, on the other hand, is largely an absence of these factors which then results in a feeling of safety and wellbeing.  We experience a momentary sense of relief in the removal of that which we feared.  A sense of peace quickly evaporates into the mundane, however, as the absence of the factors that led to fear is sustained. This can eventually lead to a numbing of the fear factor, something we are witnessing in the world today.

Predation as an instinctual motive for species survival is not prone to maintaining peace.   What has prevented us from killing ourselves off as a species millennia ago has been the recognition that we are the only species on this planet capable of doing so. I believe that warfare evolved as an attempt to curb the predatory instinct and define it in terms of conquest rather than annihilation. The crusades are an example of the papacy trying to maintain peace in Christendom by directing and expending the nobility's war prone tendencies to annihilate each other on freeing the Holy Land from the Arab domination through conquest.

War was largely thought of in terms of military game theory throughput most of warfare's history.  Civilian populations were largely left out of the fray of military battle, but that changed drastically in the First World War when towns and cities became deliberate targets for indiscriminate aerial bombing. World War Two saw cities firebombed for no other purpose than to bring a nation to its knees by terrorizing its population and destroying its infrastructure.  The war with Japan ended with the near total destruction of Hiroshima's and Nagasaki's civilian population by two atomic bombs as a way of securing the end of that war and establishing peace.  It exacted a terrible price and led to an arms race that ensured mutual self destruction.  No amount of rationalization can explain away this gargantuan leap by our species towards self annihilation.

The real victims of war are the civilians in modern warfare.  In the past, armies were defeated and populations conquered and enslaved.  Today cities are destroyed and civilian centers targeted in which hundreds of thousands civilians perish or are forced from their homes while military losses are relatively minor in comparison.

In our narrowing world, conquest is an anachronism that risks annihilation.

Nationalism is a fundamentalism that the world cannot sustain.

A PROFOUND EMBARRASSMENT

We have come to a point in our existence as a species where we hold the keys to our own mass extinction.

So while we can, let's ponder how profoundly embarrassing that is.   Seriously!

Here we are the most intelligent animals on the planet who managed to survived any number of obstacles, who are on the verge of human space exploration while continuing to rely on what basically amounts to a primeval fear of the predator in order to ensure world peace. 

Grant it there are layers of diplomatic rationale in which this fear is couched, but the core upon which world peace is maintained is the looming reality of mutual self destruction which brings me to wonder about the evolution of human intelligence and the role it plays in the pursuit of peace.

We have outsmarted every other species, including the annihilation of many of them along our ascent to the top of the food chain.  As Yuval Harari explained in his book, "Sapiens," this included the probable annihilation of our closest hominid relatives more than twenty thousand years ago.

But what is it that continues to makes us fear ourselves and, in turn,  requires such an enormous intellectual effort to prevent us from self annihilation? 

Why do we continue to prey on our own kind?  

While we hold the keys to our self destruction are we capable of forging the keys to lasting peace?

These are and should be uncomfortable questions for us to ponder.  Evolution perhaps holds an answer that, ironically, may not be totally related to evolution itself.

Allow me to speculate, since I really don't know: 

THE INTELLECT

From what little I know of evolution, I have surmised that human intelligence/consciousness developed faster than evolution should have allowed. In fact, we are still accelerating in this intellectual development by evolutionary standards. What actually clues me to this seeming acceleration is the fact that we have not lost our pre-intellectual instincts.  Intelligence does not appear to have necessarily evolved from our instincts or by having opposable thumbs and the ability to manipulate our environment manually.

We have retained our basic predatory survival instincts in spite of being intellectually aware or conscious.  Our instincts remain intact and as I have indicated they are very operative in the pursuit of peace.  We have, however, subdued them intellectually to the extent that we no longer think of them in terms of instincts and have largely intellectualized them as emotions.

So if intelligence is not a direct product of evolution, what is it?

Is learning evolutionary or is it something else? 

For instance, I have been pondering in recent past posts the fact that we get ahead of ourselves intellectually before we can fully process the ramifications of our intellectual endeavors in terms of what it means to our survival.  Of course, we have no sure way of knowing what our intellectual pursuits will result in causing.  It has been only in the last century that we have begun to explore and understand the scientific basis for human intelligence.

It is the intelligent mind that appears to be using our instinctual fears to prevent us from self destruction by seeing a need for the other of our species as necessary to our survival.  This was probably not an a-ha moment, but a gradual awareness preceding from repetitive experiences of seeing the mutual benefit of working with the other.

Nevertheless, our own kind poses a challenge to us and is why we ended up with warring clans, tribes, and nations.  We have yet to rid ourselves of the notion that race and ethnicity pose a threat. 
It's embarrassing that we possess such great intellectual abilities, but find them hostage to a primal fear of the other, even though the other is much the same as oneself. 

Intelligence requires a great deal of energy on a personal level. As a species we have mitigated this expenditure by the process of consensus. [I'm taking a giant leap forward in the story intellectual development.]  The ability to communicate ideas and perceptions have made us the masters of our own reality.  We have been able to convert, corral, and conceptualize our fears into ideologies, moral codes, and laws that minimize the amount of intellectual energy needed by an individual to process or convert our fears in a constructive way.

We have banked on the fear of a more powerful other in order to establish behaviors that preserve our species and maintains our sense of reality.  In other words, we became civilized.

This, in my opinion, was not evolutionary in the sense of a natural, organic evolution. There was a seismic leap to intellect that bypassed instinct while leaving instinct intact. What probably contributed the most to this shift was our ability to communicate discrete information.

One can speculate that the homo sapiens brain's  response to this relatively sudden shift was to shrink in size.  Why?

Shared communicative thought processes requires less space and energy.  Our brains became leaner and more efficient as a result of processing information in a communicative manner rather than solely relying on figuring things out by themselves.

According to anthropologists, Neanderthal brains were larger than the brains of homo sapiens. What this may indicate is higher reliance on the Neanderthal self to process information; that Neanderthals lacked the discreet communicative skills of homo sapiens that gave our species the edge on survival.

ABSTRACTION

Much of what we communicate is conceptually abstract.  We don't think of it as such because much of what is abstract is treated concretely because of its common and regular usage.  Where our ability for abstraction came from is anyone's guess, but it is indicative of the intellectual mind. The intellectual mind is a creative mind, it seeks a tomorrow, whereas the instinctual mind is not and lives for the day.

As such, human beings are of two minds that function simultaneously.   If I were to provide an analogy, I would liken this two minded approach to two tectonic plates colliding with each other with the instinctual mind being subducted under the intellectual mind. What we see is largely the intellectual mind at work, but what we feel remains largely instinctual.

Sticking with this geological analogy, peace is an abstract concept that rides above the subducted predatory impulse that gives rise to fear which periodically emerges into our intellectual consciousness when environmental conditions draw our instinctual drives to the surface.  On the surface of intellectual consciousness, we feel fear that is rooted in our subducted instinctual mind and desire peace as means to ease our collective tremors.

In my next post, I will offer a brief review of the role fear and pursuit of peace has played in defining civilization and religion.

Until next time, stay faithful.
































Thursday, April 20, 2017

DEATH AND THE PURSUIT OF ETERNITY - Part III

DIGGING UP THE GRAVEYARD

We never seem satisfied with just being who we are. If the answer to why we exist has no satisfactory answer, many opt for answering a more verifiable question, from whence do we come?  People can spend a great deal of time and money tracing their ancestry and genome. We search for identity by looking at the past; a past that leads to me - a past that somehow tells me who I am.  It seems that people of every race, culture, and lifestyle are drawn to a history that explains who they are. We crave for detail on any particular ancestor. We want to know if we share similar views, have similar habits, all in an effort to understand "me."

What must be disappointing to some is that the further back one goes, one's particular ancestry is no longer uniquely one's own.  We find that much of who we are connected by lineage to a host of others currently alive and well.  My family attended a reunion of descendants to a distant Bavarian great-great... grandfather born over two hundred years ago who migrated to this country.  Although not everyone could make it, the over one hundred people who did included many people I didn't know existed and who I could pass on the street as a complete stranger. Those who shared my distant great grandfather were people of mixed race and ethnicity, including Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics.

Many people would like to know if they are related to royalty.

The answer to that question is quite simple:

Yes - eventually.

When I was younger, I had a strong interest in knowing who my ancestors were. I remember my father telling me, "Don't dig into the past. You never know when you'll dig up a horse thief." His intuition was correct.  The likelihood of having a direct ancestor who was a murderer, prostitute, or thief is a more likely occurrence than being directly related to some historical celebrity.

This, of course, is not to mention the countless everyday Joes and Marys who made few waves in the fabric of history but probably contributed the most to who we are. In essence we are all mutts, a mixed bag of genetics that we largely share with every other person.

The fun thing about evolution, in my opinion, is it's randomness. As alike as we humans are, no two humans are totally alike, once you really get to know them. We may have our doppelgangers, but there are so many variations of the same that we cannot be totally the same. As such, I am convinced we are not the products of intelligent design by some cosmic manipulator of energy and matter who would have mass produced us, but rather we are the products of a random creative power that exposes the beauty of being from the bubbling chaos from which life emerges and takes on myriad forms.

We are works of art!

THE  AMORTAL

The first time I ran across the term  amortal was in Yuval Harari's book "Sapiens." It seems an apt description of those who are unwilling to risk death.  The amortal appears to represent a small minority of people who are unaffected by a sense of lineage, which recognizes that our existence is, in part, the result of our ancestors no longer existing.

Think about this for a moment:

The longer we live the less children are being born.  Yes the population of the world is growing, but not in areas were life expectancy is lengthening.

The single child family is increasing, which means that couples are not being numerically replaced by their offspring; particularly in developed nations. While there are many factors for this phenomenon, one of them is that people in socially developed nations are less dependent on the need for offspring to accommodate them in their old age.  The age of retirement is going up in some countries as the state takes on the responsibility of providing for their aging populations and longevity is the result.

I find it ironic that those who are seeking a path to amortality are people who describe themselves as evolutionists; individuals who would likely argue against the notion of an intelligent designer. Yet, here they attempting to merge humans and their machines as the next phase in human evolution and acting as would be intelligent designers themselves.

THEODICIDE

Killing God to become a god seems to be the objective of the unimaginative, intellectual designing would be amortals, who seemingly possess an underlying fear of life's randomness. They do not want to be works of art, but rather a carbon/silicon hybrid species that will likely lack the creative randomness found in the human imagination.

It is in the imagination of our metaphorical hearts, not the concrete mind, that is linked with the creative imagination of what is called God, the random ("My ways are not your ways") creating force of all that is.  For the amortal, the purpose of understanding the universe is not to find an answer to why we exist but rather how to control, harness, and extract its secrets in order to manipulate its power to ensure their personal longevity.  They do not see in this pursuit that they are acting from a sense of selfishness and are unwilling to let go of the life they have not willed in the first place. 

The more we know, the more we think we can go it alone. For many, the concept of God is dead or, if not dead, is dying every time there is a new discovery about what makes us tick.  For me, every time we discover what makes us tick and what our universe is made of the God concept expands and new avenues of exploration are opened into wonderment of creation.

ARROGANCE

Pride goes before destruction, says the book of Proverbs (16:18).  This is not a prediction.  It is an observation of an age old problem we humans are prone to.

Enhancing and being able to make and replace living organs to preserve and sustain the quality of natural life as long as possible is a noble cause.  I see nothing ethically or morally dissonant in that pursuit.  But that is far different than making robots or instilling and enslaving a human-like mind in a cyborg to make a better functioning machine or a better functioning human, which strikes me as anti-evolutionary and a form of bio-mechanical slavery.  And yes - if done successfully, intelligent machines endowed with a human thought process similar to our current process will be prone to rebellion, just as we are.  We cannot extract that element from our intellect and remain intelligent.

As smart as we have become, we remain our worst enemy.  We are prone to self destructive behaviors because we have never been able to totally reject the reptilian mind that prompts us to steal the fire of the gods and eat forbidden fruit, nor are we capable of doing so by sheer intellectual prowess.  Our pride, as it has in the past, may prove to be our undoing.

We are at a nexus regarding who we are and where we're going as a species.  Humans have the ability to choose a course regarding where we are going and what we become within the limited confines of our earthbound existence.  Death is a necessary part of life as it ultimately makes way for new life.  I am mindful of this every time I walk on an ocean beach, over the calcified remains of sea life from which we emerged and when I breathe the same air that sustained the life of those before me.  The whole of humanity's brief history is a fabric of experiential learning in which every human who breathes our air contributes at least a stitch or two to its composition.

The abundance of life on this planet is truly amazing. I am comfortable with the concept of a wild, random, creative force, I recognize as God, that takes the elements of chaos, the lifeless matter and energizes it, resurrects it for a time to create works of living art that I have the privilege of being and the privilege to enjoy at this time.  What comes next I'm content to leave to the creative imagination that gave me life in the first place. 

Until next time, stay faithful.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

DEATH AND THE PURSUIT OF ETERNITY - Part II

LIFE

Being born was not a choice any of us personally had a say in. Our being conceived was, at the very least, a decision consciously or unconsciously made by our parents who then choose to see it through and, barring any natural event which could have ended our birth, we entered this world whether we wanted to or not.  Life gets thrust upon us as we get thrust into life.

Most of us grow up embracing life - no matter what  it brings.  While we have no choice in being born, the conditions of one's birth is not the sole predictor of how life will turn out because choice plays a role in our development.   Although our personal choices are limited by our faculties and environment, we have choice within the parameter of being human.

The human mind, as it currently is, with all of its perceived limitations and weaknesses is and has been the single most important tool we humans possess in meeting our personal and collective needs. It permits us to adapt to a variety of situations that life throws our way.

The hope is with bioengineering and the ability to merge with AI technology some limitations will be lessened if not eliminated in the future, but as pointed out in another post, the human mind is readily addicted to ease and can inadvertently put a hold on the natural evolution of being.

As new and as innovative all of  technological advances appear, there is a sense we've been down this path before.  I believe the role of theism and its mythic stories is intended, in part, to prevent us from getting ahead of ourselves, to provide a paradigm for asking important life-sustaining questions that guide us in finding answers to help preserve and sustain natural life on this planet.

In the pursuit of eternal life, the question becomes if this is the only life to be lived?

As much as I like this life and don't want to die, is there more to life than this life?

For all practical purposes and from a purely personal perspective this life was a complete surprise.  Of course, I have no recall of being born but reflecting on the fact that I exist conjures up a sense of surprise.

Do more surprises await?

THE FUNCTION OF DEATH

We humans have a strange relationship with death.   We personify it as a god or a god-like creature or force that gathers us at the time of our demise.  In Christianity, death is personified as the "enemy." In Abrahamic monotheism, the belief is that God's intent was for humans to live forever. The only reason we die is because our first parents screwed up.  According to the Christian doctrine of original sin, we've been screwed ever since.

The concept of eternal life on this planet in Abrahamic monotheism comes from the warning our mythic first parents would know death the moment they ate the forbidden fruit of knowledge.  Eternal life on this planet  is a deduction made from that warning.  The creation story of humankind is a myth telling us why we experience suffering, not why we die.  Death becomes part of that suffering; something we worry about and some spend a lifetime trying to avoid.

Yet, this and stories like it tease the mind with the thought that we have been deprived, if not robbed of our rightful status of being immortal.  The fear of death is so strong that we live in denial which takes on many forms.

I believe death is, always has been, and always will be a part of life as the end state of this life - that life in this universe is finite.  Planets die, stars die, galaxies get swallowed up by their dark holes. Death is a function of existence.  It is nothing more or nothing less than that.  It is not a punishment, in and of itself, like causing someone to die can be.  Death is being dead.  What happens after death, if anything, is anybody's guess.

Death is the end of physical existence, the end of physical suffering and the mental angst associated with it. That much we know - and there is value in knowing that death serves that function.  The reservation most have about death is whether the mind or soul dies.

Culturally, these have been treated as animating and identifying properties of the physical being which separates from the physical body at the time of its death.   Mind and soul are not necessarily synonymous terms, as soul is sometimes considered one's life force and mind one's collective sense of being.

As the mind possesses what appears to be both organic and inorganic properties, it's hard to determine if our thoughts and memories die with our brains or if such things are being stored in some sort of cosmic cloud that can be accessed after death; much like information gathered on a computer can be regained should that computer die and it's information accessed by different or new computer from the internet's cloud.

Theoretically, as long as this universe exists the resonance of our being remains traceable.  The past is always detectable and is why scientists can study the origins of the universe.  While the mass of the universe expands and changes, it remains constant according to Lavosier's conservation of mass.

The question is whether thoughts and memories have mass.  If thoughts are observable as energized particles that can be traced in neural imaging they, theoretically at least, have an equivalency with mass, or is memory and thought merely conveyed by energy?

My point is that becoming an individual life form is a unique emerging of a universal constant that was present from the dawn of time.  What we are made of may be thought of as eternal matter and energy, existing at the dawn of time.  In essence there is no new mass or new energy, just new fluctuating manifestations of it; such as, ourselves.

While the universe is composed of constants, it does not act consistently.  Its mass evolves, devolves, expands and contracts as it generates and degenerates energy.  Life and death are part of this universal process.

The question is whether in the short span of our universal existence something "other" is taking place. The human mind hints at such a possibility as evident in our ability to imagine.

Where does the energy of life go when it is expended?

Does it remain constant like mass?

"Being" appears to be a universal constant, what happens to the "beingness" -  the energy that manifests the identity of individual beings that cease to be?

Are there dimensions of being that this stage we call life is totally incapable of perceiving?

Is death merely a threshold as some imagine it to be, the start of a new beginning?

Until next time, stay faithful.




Sunday, April 2, 2017

DEATH AND THE PURSUIT OF ETERNITY - Part I

Before getting into this post, I have a couple of book recommendations to make.  If you have not already done so, I strongly suggest reading Yuval Harari's "Sapiens - A Brief history of  Humankind" and "Homo Deus - A Brief History of Tomorrow." These frank and insightful books will challenge one's thinking on a number of subjects.   If you find what I write about a little interesting, you will find what he writes about immensely interesting and worth taking the time to read. 

* * * * * * * * * * 

This is the first part of what may be a two or three part series of posts on the topic of Death and Eternity.  In these posts I will ponder the perennial human fascination with death and eternal life in the light of scientific and technological advances that are likely to result in a merger between humankind and the machines we humans make, which is known by some as "Singularity."  If you have read my last post on Artificial Intelligence, you know that I have, as do others, misgivings about this adventure while being fascinated by the possibilities such advances possess in improving our finite lives.

THE NORMALACY OF DEATH

Death interests me because someday I will die.  It's personal.  I'm intrigued by it because I also know that some want to find ways to avoid death by merging with AI and robotic technologies which theoretically, at least, can keep people not only alive, but also vastly improved physically and intellectually than ever in human history.  It all sounds like science fiction, but it's not.  The thought that life can be eternalized makes me wonder about the value we give to natural life and the importance, if any, we give to death in the course of a natural life.

Like most, I don't want to die, but I also recognize an intuitive feeling that living forever may not be the best thing to aim for in a rather chaotic and changing universe which suggests a finite nature rather than an infinite one.   It makes me wonder about the concept of eternity, whether such a thing actually exists and what, exactly, does eternity mean ?  Is it normal to want live forever or is the desire that some have to live forever as human/machine blend something our reptilian drive to survive and our reasoning ability have come up with to help us cope and stave off the reality of death?

CROSSING THE BORDER

I don't know what happens to people after they die or what will happen to me.  I don't think what happens, if anything, is dependent on what one believes.  I don't put much faith in beliefs about what happens once one is dead.  We really don't know anything about what it is to be dead beyond us living beings being able to observe a truly lifeless corpse decompose, releasing its basic atomic elements to the universe from which all things originate. Whatever held these elements together as a person, that animated it, energized it, and made it an individual with a unique personality is missing. The lights have gone out and no one is home.  I know.  I've watched people die, even held their hands as they passed away in a hospital bed and the warmth of life turned cold in my hand.

Of course we are free to speculate all we want about what happens to one's sense of self after death. We know what happens to the body, but what happens to the energy and personality that was the life of an individual?  There has to be more to a living person than an animated shell of atomic particles that give shape and presence to the person.  Isn't there?  Is there?

I don't know.

There's an intuition that results from our collective, historical experiences that death, itself, is nothing more than a transition from one type of being into a whole new way of being that is independent of our carbon based physical existence. There are ambiguous hints in nature that lead us to such intuitive thoughts.   Perhaps, the desire to live forever by merging with the finite machines we make is the equivalent of behaving like a cosmic juvenile.  It's one thing not wanting to die. I don't want to go through the process of dying, but it seems to be an entirely different thing wanting to live forever.

Becoming a superhuman cyborg might lessen physical suffering but one would have to deal with a degree of intellectual anguish or systems angst if one's system started to malfunction.  The fact is nothing in the known universe is indestructible. Things might last for what seems like an eternity, but the universe strongly indicates that there is nothing in it that can be defined as truly eternal.

TIME AND ETERNITY

Knowing the age of the universe clues us to the fact that there was a point before time, a point of nonexistence - a point of nothing - including time.  Before time was there an eternity?  After time will there be an eternity?

In essence, eternity is nothing more than a measure of ongoing time, and time, ironically, is the measurement of decay. Time, as a force, is always being expended from a point of anticipation to a point of fulfillment. I believe it was the ancient Greeks who posited that the future is always behind us and that past is always in front of us.

So where did the concept of eternity come from?

It would appear that the concept of eternity is a deduction made from observing the passing of time; in that, as living things pass away other things remain for a time and new living things come into being.  This repetitious life cycle; of the birth and death of individual life forms, demonstrates a pattern that is ongoing, that is eternal. Nothing physical that we know of is eternal.  The concept of eternity teases the imagination by asking what if one could break this repetitious life cycle pattern and not die?

ARTIFICIAL IMMORTALITY

Immortality, the realm of the gods, theoretically will be within reach of some human beings, but what is the price one would pay to become an immortal super-human?  Who will qualify?  At present, the general consensus is only those who could afford to pay for immortality would qualify.  In other words evolution will become a matter of economy, turning the natural progression of the survival of the fittest into the survival of the richest.   

Let me say, I don't see the merger between humankind and machine as evolution, but rather as an attempt  to augment a select few.  Will it result in a super-human species? 

Perhaps, but if so, it will be a species caught in the amber of time.

Death, I suspect,  will remain as a choice, unless other natural forces or other super-human specie situations cause it.   Yes - death as a choice is something I can see being made if, for no other reason then when one tires of being an "artificial" immortal. 

A merged carbon and silicon human life form will not last forever, no matter how durable they are made. In this caustic, oxygenated planet everything eventually deteriorates and needs parts replacement and updating.  At what point will the natural human disappear, leaving only an artificial artifact - a robotic zombie - a device resembling a dead species?   It seems that such a merger will end human evolution. 

We humans are not good at species preservation. Our innovations historically have led to ruination of life rather than sustaining the variety life that exists or has existed on this planet.  Yes - there have been remarkable advances in medicine and smart prosthetics that have made human life immensely improved.   Prolonging life is not a bad thing as long as it is not done at the expense eliminating the variety of life forms on this planet. The fact is we are already merging with the technologies of our making. 

Science is making us rethink existence on many levels.  AI technologies and robotics are changing how we do business and manufacturing. They will, I believe, force us to establish a new economic system that will be used globally.  It already is influencing philosophy and theology in subtle ways.  It is forcing us to rethink what it means to be alive.  As advanced as we have become scientifically and technologically, we have yet to find a way to tame our impulse for destruction and distortion.  Putting that embedded factor of the human mind in a super human cyborg is something to give us pause.

Until next time, stay faithful

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE - An Intuitive Inquiry

All language possesses an intuitive quality. The choice of a word, no matter how mundane, can convey insight and intuition by its very placement in a sentence or a phrase.   I am forever looking up words that I thought I knew the meanings of to make sure I know their meanings; particularly, when it comes to conveying concept and context.

I have briefly touched upon the subject of Artificial Intelligence in another post (click here) in which I took issue with it being referred to as "artificial" intelligence suggesting that it be described as Augmented Intelligence.  I am not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination and am, for the most part, technologically challenged.  What occurs to me is that use of the term "Artificial" is an interesting choice of word to describe this technology.

Why artificial?

There seems to me to be something intuitive in its choice.  And it is this intuitive property of the word artificial that I feel is somehow connected to its being chosen to describe this field of science.

THE MERGING MIND

It is no longer a question if we humans have the ability to augment our organicity with technology.

We do. 

To say that doing so is the next step in our evolution is, in my opinion, a stretch.

Although intelligence is undoubtedly connected to the organic structure of the brain in its ability to be articulated, stored, and retrieved, our ability to create and be intuitive is perhaps an indication that cognition, itself, is more than a function of brain chemistry; that, at best, cognitive thought is an interactive process of both organic and inorganic properties - that our minds already exist in a state of merger.

There is a gnawing sense that technologically we are getting ahead of ourselves by which I mean science is engaging in a creative process where it is impossible to see or predict, much less weigh, all the possible outcomes.  As such, we seem grossly unprepared for the results of that creative activity; particularly, as it relates to any enhancement of the human mind.

The augmentation of the human brain holds both promise and a potential for disaster.  On the one hand there is great potential for being able to treat, if not cure, a host of mental and physical illnesses, to enhance sensory perception, to increase our knowledge base, and to establish new means for communication and improve computation skills.  On the other hand, as with all human innovations, there is the potential of using augmentation for evil purposes.

We have yet to fully understand our reptilian drives.  The emergence of AI should lead us to ponder the metaphysics of not only what it means to be but also what it means to become.  As humans, what we create is largely limited to what our faculties and senses allow us to make.  While AI will likely enhance such faculties and senses, the question that comes to mind is if such enhancement, especially, if merged with the human organism will inhibit the brain's natural ability to adapt?  Will it eradicate certain abilities such as the intuition?

THE ANTHROPOCENE AGE

The history of human innovation and technological advancement has been mixed.  The Anthropocene Age has resulted in numerous species becoming extinct and a predictable climate change all of which bear a distinct human imprint.  Human evolution is more than biology.   It is also about economy,  psychology, sociology, technology and everything related to these fields.

Curing diseases of every kind is in itself a reason to advance the scientific research and innovation in augmenting the physical ability and chemical biology of the human body.  The creation of intelligent machines that can learn and adapt to environmental changes promise to create new technologies and more efficient production of goods and services.  All of these innovations hold promise, but they also pose challenges. 

We have yet to control our lust for power.  In fact, we seem to be entering a zeitgeist phase in which, culturally, the nation's of the world are reverting to nationalistic form of tribalism, a stage in human social development that is likely to encourage development of AI for military purposes rather than creating sustainable sources of clean energy, water supply, and food production.

There are less obvious challenges that I believe largely fly under the radar of human awareness.  Culturally, while we become increasingly technologically advanced, there is evidence that we become less motivated as individuals.  Concern that young people spend too much time playing virtual reality games belies a deeper concern that the human brain is already showing signs of becoming dependent on AI technology.   Mathematics is a prime example.

Increasingly it is more important for middle school and high school students to know how to use a calculator than it is to calculate on one's own, using one's brain.  There was a time, as when I attended high school, that bringing a then rare and expensive calculator to class would have been considered cheating.  Today, a student can get into trouble for forgetting to bring one to class.  The calculator saves time in solving complex mathematical problems and there is no arguing the need for the young to know how to use them.  The question is if there is price to be paid at the expense of our natural abilities in order to save time.

I am cognizant that while I write this post, I am doing so, at times, on an android tablet that assists me by offering word options in a menu to insert while I write.  The tablet is able to learn limited context while I write; as in, words and even phrases that are used frequently become readily available as I write.  I only have to type one letter in some cases for the word I'm looking for to pop up which is usually followed up with a second and third word I need or am thinking of.  It's helping me think - Appreciated but a bit scary at times.  In fact this paragraph was largely composed of words I selected from my device's word menu.

Texting is another example of how interactive and dependent we are becoming on AI. Texting is resulting in a new way of writing - a new type of shorthand that largely reflects the human mind being trained by our technology to develop new language symbols.  Again - interesting and a bit scary.

The adaptability of the human brain to a new environment is based on its ability to develop new pathways of learning that it can depend on.  This reliance of the human mind on dependable sources is akin to dependence on substances whether internal or external.  Chemical dependency is when an external substance supplants naturally produced substances by interfering or enhancing one's brain chemistry or biochemistry.  While it is debatable whether external  AI interferes with the brain's internal chemistry or in the manner that chemical dependency does, it is known that prolonged emotional stress caused by external environmental factors can alter brain function.  While not considered stressful, could social factors, such as increased reliance on technology, alter brain function as well? Are we, in some sense, already merging with the technology that is being created?

ADDICTION AND ADAPTATION TO THE ARTIFICIAL

Addiction and adaptation are somewhat antithetical terms; in that, addictions are about being controlled by some situation or substance, and adaptation is about adjusting to or gaining control of some situation or substance.  It seems to me that our attraction to and dependence on AI is both an addiction and an adaptation or, perhaps better said, an adaptation that is addicting. 

Addictions create a sense of dependency through a feeling of relief and pleasure or via a numbing of displeasure and pain.  Ease - the ability to do something quickly and with little effort is similar to relief and pleasure and is subtly addicting.   Smart technologies are subtly addicting.   People walk around with the smart phones in hands or earbuds implanted in their ears.  People having what appears to be solo, one-sided conversations would have twenty years ago had us questioning the mental stability of that person is today dismissed as normal.   People sit at tables in coffee shops and cafes with their android tablets or laptop computers engaged with the world wide web while being oblivious to the immediate world around them.  We are very much adapting to a larger sense of the world and a larger sense of self with the aid of smart technologies while risking the loss of immediate, real time connections to the immediate human environment.  

We are less inclined to socialize face to face.  Human contact is quickly becoming virtual contact; texts and the like.  At present, there is not only a sense of artificiality about the technologies being developed but a superficiality about them.  We have yet to adapt to the notion of civility in our virtual contacts.  I find that people tend to say things they wouldn't normally say to someone standing in front of them.  The tweets of President Trump offer a current example of such artificiality and superficiality.

By some estimates, as much as 85% of what we wish to communicate is conveyed through body language.  In the not too distant future smart technologies may change to allow one to sense a person's physical reaction to conversations over the a smartphone beyond emoticons to encounter virtual sensation.  It isn't difficult to imagine a distant time when vocal speech could become a thing of the past, where all communication will be a matter of mental teleportation.

There is much to gain from such smart technologies and perhaps much to lose.  There is no way of stopping AI from progressing nor should we seek to stop it from progressing.  Rather, it is important that we engage in identifying serious considerations and having serious discussion about them along the way; many of which will not be popular from a scientific point of view because they undoubtedly cross into the field of metaphysics, philosophy, and ethics.

As I have suggested earlier in this post and in other posts, AI is already on the verge of changing culture.  Economics, the driving force behind  much of the research and innovation - the meaning of wealth, itself,  must undergo a vast change if there is to be a sense of social equity and global security.  Money as the measure of value may diminish to a vanishing point as the welfare of society becomes dependent on securing the value  and happiness of the individual as essential to social stability.

As such, what it means to be human becomes increasingly important in an age where that meaning involves the reality of augmentation and enhancement, of becoming an enhanced human.  Issues of power need to be resolved along the way.  Hypothetically speaking, the more physically and intellectually enhanced humans can become the more important divesting power will become in order to avoid conflict and unproductive competition in preserving the diversity of life on this planet.

"IT'S ONLY A TOY" - Insights and Intuition of a Five Year Old

As I have mentioned at the beginning of this post, "Artificial" is a term that possesses an intuition about what smart technologies are about.  There is a childish, toy-like, aspect to any technologies that are done merely because they can be done and which serve no real purpose.

My five year old great nephew, Oliver, who I take to preschool and daycare during the week has brought a number of his toys to our house to play with while waiting to go to these destinations.  Oliver likes it when I play along with  his toy dinosaurs or stuffed animals, which he bestows with the human qualities that are as amusing as they are revealing about his young mind's perception of the world and human relationships.

I'm the perfect dinosaur playmate because I have no real interest in playing other than to make Oliver happy.  So I let him set the stage and agenda for the play that ensuse. We adults forget how serious play can be to a child and if the play gets too serious (touches on something too lifelike) for him, he reminds himself by reminding me, "Uncle Noman (sic) they're just toys."  In essence he is addressing their being an artifact - their being artificial which brings him back to the present and allows him to change gears.

My point in telling this story is that my young great nephew, like most humans possess both insight and intuition.  Even though Oliver's toys are very important to him (and they truly are very important to him) they remain toys, artificial artifacts.  They do not replace true human relationships which he cherishes. At this stage in his young life he knows the difference between real and artificial and he ultimately prefers the real to the artificial and does not like the artificial becoming too real. There is something that I feel is very important in his intuitive sense that we can readily dismiss in our more developed intellectual minds -  it is important to know the difference between the real and the artificial.

In a previous post  I posited that intelligence is intelligent regardless of it is manufactured or not, but perhaps I was being too hasty in making that claim.  While artificial intelligence can reason, will it possess natural insight or the more elusive human ability of intuition?  What is artificial insight or artificial intuition?  Will AI recognize something as a toy, as being a toy, something that is an artifact, that is artificial as being different  from something genuine?   Will it care that there is a difference?

Will AI have the capacity to be religious, to form varying relationships based on differing belief systems?  Will it be able to develop a diversity of belief systems or will belief simple be relegated to a knowledge base of ideologies that have no pragmatic purpose beyond being knowledge (click here for more discussion).  Will AI be able to learn without intent?  Will it be able to retain the feeling of emotion; such as, love, fear, or surprise? Will it matter?  Or will such knowledge just become a toy - functional until it gets in the way?

Until next time, stay faithful.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

THE STATE IN DELUSION

It is tempting to start this post with, "In these darkening times..."  because in many ways they seem to be just that, darkening in a phantasmal way.  In my last post, a homily I delivered at the Episcopal Church I belong to, I mentioned the alternative reality of our making; the world in which we live.  In this post I will explore this alternate world in which the demise of principled constitutional government at the hands of deliberating opportunists seems to be upon us. 

Opportunism has been around since the dawn of human history, but I believe  that its raising its distorting visage once again is a result of two related phenomena: blind intellectualism and willful ignorance. Deliberated opportunism is the term I am conferring on the process that led  to President Trump's phenomenal rise to the presidency and will discuss it at length later in this post. 

No single individual or group of individuals would willing admit to being a blind intellectual or blind intellectuals, a willful ignoramus or willful ignoramuses, or having engaged in deliberated opportunism, unless the later is gleefully admitted by a devout Machiavellian.   So in using these terms and applying them to segments of the population must be done in the most generalized of terms.  If I am honest and gave it much thought, I would be able to recall times when I personally engaged in blind intellectualism, willful ignorance, and deliberated opportunism without thinking that was what I was doing at the time or that my actions could be labeled as such.  I am fairly confident that holds true for the groups being identified as such in this post.  My purpose in writing about these categories is not to accuse individuals but rather to bring about an awareness regarding the question:

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

I think it fair to say that most citizens of the USA still cannot comprehend how we ended up in this situation, and by situation I am referring to the collective angst so many of us feel and can't shake.  There is no simple answer to that question, since getting into this reality was, in my opinion, a work in progress for some time.  The details are many, convoluted, and intertwined.  There are paradoxical elements that, quite honestly, I feel most would rather not spend any time considering, since paradox forces one to consider oppositional positions as bearing similar weight and having similar influence on what occurs.   This past presidential election strikes me as being a paradox itself.  In my opinion, blind intellectualism contributed to Mrs. Clinton's failed presidential bid while willful ignorance and deliberated opportunism won Mr. Trump the presidency. 

In other words, one could say that the Democrats legitimately lost the presidency while there is a feeling of illegitimacy about Mr. Trump winning the presidency.

In this post, I will not address the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign's alleged connections with Russia in undermining the electoral process or making pre-inauguration deals with Russia's leadership.  Rather, this post will deal with what took place in this country regarding President's Trump move to the White House.

   
BLIND INTELLECTUALISM
Ignoring Reality
THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY

We have not heard much of blind intellectualism primarily because it has been defined as arrogant elitism by the punditry of the news media.  Elitism, in my opinion,  is a result of blind intellectualism in the sense that intellectuals can become too focused on their particular field of interest to the point of excluding related interests; depicting their field of focus as one-sided issues that tend to leave behind the vast majority of people who have no idea what they are talking about because there is no direct tie-in to their personal lives. 

In this recent presidential election, the Democrats suffered from blind intellectualism.  Focus on the woman voters, black voters, Hispanic voters, LGBTQ voters, educated voters, environmental issues and economic issues were often received, if not portrayed, as one-sided issues that failed to connect them to each other and importantly to the white, blue collar male.  While the Democratic platform was brilliantly written and designed to be inclusive, the Clinton campaign demonstrated exclusiveness through its focus on breaking glass ceilings for women and minorities.  What they did not take into consideration was how this looked to the vast majority of voters who, in the end, did not turn out to vote. 

I believe the critique that the Democrats were the victim of their own elitism has merit.  This became apparent as Bernie Sander's star was rising in the populace while he barely received any attention by the Democratic Party itself or the televised news media until late in the primary season.  There was an unrealistic optimism about Mrs. Clinton's abilities to win the day that turned a blind eye to the growing populism that was emerging.  There was a sense that the Democrats did not need the white working class male or the non-college educated voter in order to win the White House.  Their lack of attention to this sector came across as writing them off as unimportant and unnecessary, which was grasped as being labeled "deplorables" which many took to mean them.  In the long run, I believe this proved fatal in securing the electoral college votes. 

The democrats were also blind-sided by their own approach to democracy and the notion of the super-delegate.  This approach, in itself, was elitist and undemocratic.  There are few purely democratic procedures on the federal level in the United States.  The election of the U.S President is one of three.  The use of super delegates not only locked in early votes but proved to be a roadblock to the momentum that was evident in Mr. Sander's campaign.  While much of Mr. Sander's agenda found its way into the Democratic Platform, the damage was done when long before the democratic convention he could not find the support of the party's governing base.  There were also the obvious liabilities that Mrs. Clinton carried into the campaign.  Even though she was unjustly being attacked about her emails and Benghazi, being a constant target related to those events took its toll on the voting base she needed, particularly, when Sen. Sanders offered a way out of that dilemma via the momentum he possessed in an energized millennial base.  I believe Sen. Sanders was also the victim of ageism, as many thought he would be a one term president at best. He might have looked his age, but he wasn't that much older than those running against him. 

Early polling suggested that Sen. Sanders would have had a far better chance of beating Mr. Trump than Mrs. Clinton, but the Democratic party leadership chose to ignore those polls, thinking that Mrs. Clinton would be a better president than Sen. Sanders.  While one could argue the validity of that, it ignored the simple political fact that Sen. Sanders had the political energy that was free of scandal that would have thrown the Republicans off their game and allowed the voters a clear choice between who could better address the perceived problems existing in Washington D.C.  Mrs. Clinton became a symbol of the status quo, which it was clear the U.S. public was weary of.  People wanted the bickering and stagnation to end and she exemplified what people could expect if she were elected, more bickering and more stagnation.  Yes, she was and is far more qualified for the presidency than the other contenders, but she also carried a great deal of baggage that targeted her. 

The irony is that being highly qualified for a political position can be depicted as a liability when the opposition has effectively been able to paint politics as the problem rather than the solution. Once it was clear who the two parties' nominees were, things did not improve for the Democrats.  While Mr. Trump had secured his voting base, the Democratic party did not and, in fact, began to hemorrhage its voting base to ennui. 

Blind intellectualism led the Democratic party to think they could "smart-their-way" to winning the White House; that by winning every debate they would convince the American public that Mr. Trump lacked the qualifications needed to be the president.  While Mrs. Clinton was needlessly wasting her time preparing to debate Mr. Trump.  Mr. Trump was shoring up his political base by campaigning and saying outrageous things to the glee and appeal of that base.  In hindsight, I think it is clear that Mrs. Clinton would have been better off hitting the campaign trail every hour of every day than taking time out to prepare to debate and argue with the willful ignorance being fomented by her opponents campaign.  She could have winged her way through any debate with Mr. Trump without any problem and an impromptu approach might have been more effective, appeared more genuine than rehearsed.

Having said this, I don't think Hillary Clinton lost the presidency as much as the Democratic party did.  I maintain that Hillary Clinton is probably one of the most honest and sincere people to run for the office of president.  It is not her fault that she was wrongfully targeted about her emails and Benghazi, but political pragmatism should have ruled the day rather than intellectual blindness.  What could have positively impacted her chances is if she would have chosen Bernie Sanders as her running mate.  I don't know if she offered Senator Sanders that position or if he would have accepted it, but there is a political reality that says if you're opponent in the primary for the nomination has a strong voter based you need that you make every attempt to secure that base by offering a substantive position if one wins, as was the case in JKF choosing LBJ.   Tim Kaine was undoubtedly an excellent personal choice for Mrs. Clinton and would have been a excellent Vice President, but that his choice was a personal preference demonstrated an intellectual blindness with regard to the political reality facing Mrs. Clinton.  Of course, this is all water under the bridge at present, but there are lessons to fished out of such water.

THE REPUBLICAN PARTY

Elitism is not the sole domain of the Democratic Party.  Elitism is alive and well in the Republican Party; particularly, amongst those identified as traditional Republicans who have been the mainstay and provide for its vast financial support.  As such, blind intellectualism has also found its way into the mainline branch of the Republican Party; in that, it has largely tried to avoid dealing with long range environmental and social issues in its efforts to expand its voting base in order to gain control of the congress and eventually the White House  in the short term. 

They too have turned a blind eye to political reality; to the anger that belies a social mania affecting  a large number of their voting base.  I don't believe all in the Republic party were unaware of this, but rather that their leadership appear convinced that they would in some way be able to control this once they secured power.  Blind intellectualism has led the Republican Party leadership to gamble with the sanity of this nation.  It's win-at-all-costs approach to elections has blinded them to the fact that in doing so they are willing to put at risk the fundamental structure of our nation, The Constitution.

Some of the actions of the Republican leadership belie their disdain and loathing for much of their base.  They have resorted to some of the most childish antics that one generally finds on a school playground.  The most recent being the campaign pledge during this past primary in which each candidate was to promise support to whoever the Republican Party's nominee was is a prime example of such antics.  This was a childish and obvious attempt to prevent Mr. Trump from running an independent campaign, which led to a disastrous defeat to all who pledged.  Mr. Trump who waffled on this at the beginning and who remained vaguely committed to it until assured of his primary victory benefitted from it by making those who committed to it from start to keep their word, which most foolishly struggled to do, as if to ensure their heavenly reward while placing the nation in a purgatorial state. 

THE TELEVISED NEWS MEDIA

I think it reasonable to say that President Trump would not be the president if it were not for the televised news media.  While he bashes the press and television networks today, he benefitted greatly from the attention they gave him early in the primary season and during the general election.  I discussed this fact in other posts and won't go into detail here.  What I would underscore here is the fact that the televised news media largely treated Mr. Trump as a TV personality and a form of entertainment, as someone who could boost their ratings.  In my opinion, they very much wanted a match-up between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton and therefore focused their attention on these two campaigns early in the primary cycle. 

Where blind intellectualism seemingly comes into play with the televised news media is that, in showing how erratic and narcissistic Mr. Trump could be, the citizens of this country would do the "right thing" and keep him away from the White House.  The difficulty they faced was to appear balanced in their approach.  To that end they had to portray Mr. Trump as a serious contender and had to show Mrs. Clinton as being vulnerable to attack, all the while making her and Mr. Trump appears as the only viable contenders for the White House.

To that end, they became obsessed with polls. The networks inundated us with multiple polls of varying kinds.  Polling and excessive poll analysis created an atmosphere of constant flux that made substantive reporting take a back seat.  In the end, the polls told us very little.  The polls offered fodder for the pundits who argued with each other as to what they meant, leaving one feel intellectually numb and anxiety ridden rather than enlightened.   

It is estimated that 25.5% of eligible voters voted for President Trump, enough to secure the requisite electoral votes, while Mrs. Clinton had 25.6% of the eligible voters.  Almost half of the eligible voters did not vote. The news media's portrayal of both nominees as equally unpopular worked in favor of President Trump by securing his base, whereas it had an opposite effect on Mrs. Clinton's campaign.  President Trump's popularity with his base is largely contingent on his unpopularity with the rest of the country, a fact that President Trump has a tough time coming to grips with. That his base represents only a quarter of the voters in this country appears to validate this assessment.

The televised news media and the established press seem to have come to their senses.  Now that Mr. Trump is President Trump, he is far less entertaining except on the late night television circuit.  The televised news networks seemingly have had enough of alternate facts and unreliable news sources to prevent them from interviewing some of President Trump's nominal spokespersons.



WILLFUL IGNORANCE 
Denying Reality
Willful ignorance is largely a reactive response to social change, mostly associated with the Republican Party's social conservative wing as opposed to its fiscal conservative wing.   Willful ignorance is the antithesis to logical reasoning and is adverse to adaptation and factual learning.  The willfully ignorant are not blind to social changes nor are they ignorant of factual information. Rather, to be willfully ignorant is primarily a choice that refuses to be factually informed.

The willfully ignorant deny fact based information as valid in order to live life as they always have in spite of overwhelming evidence that changes, whether liked or not, are upon us; such as environmental changes, demographic changes, etc..  For the most part, the willfully ignorant are content with the way things are or have been.  The willfully ignorant are largely composed of financially secure, white middle class individuals who are generally associated with the Christian Right and who feel their lifestyle is under attack. 

There is an edge to willful ignorance.  Willful ignorance is not to be confused with an inability to comprehend and learn or laziness and a lack of motivation.  Quite the opposite, the willfully ignorant seem to go out of their way to present arguments based on speculative information or ideological beliefs as reasoned propositions.  In other words, they are prone to treat their opinions as fact and empirical fact as opinion. In fact this opinion-as-fact and fact-as-opinion appears to border on becoming an obsessive delusion.  They have garnered a wealth of disinformation presented as fact which has reached its highest level in the recent election of  President Trump. 

As a result, the Republican Party has for, some time, seen opportunity in fostering willful ignorance to their political advantage.  Casting doubt on economic and scientific data, along with promoting the concept of Constitutional originalism (code for inerrancy amongst the Christian Right) to justify their political views has great appeal to the willfully ignorant.

DOUBLING DOWN

One of the key elements in fostering willful ignorance is to "double-down" on opinion as fact.  This approach has been successful for the most part; in that, if a person with political or religious credentials presents skeptical opinion as a concrete fact without the data to support it and that person refuses to budge regardless of how much information is given to refute that opinion, he or she appears brave in stating his or her beliefs as fact regardless of how baseless they are.  There is bestowed on such stalwart individuals a religious aura in their belief-over-fact approach to reality.  Such behavior is glorified by the willfully ignorant as "telling it like it is."  What confounds most people who are not willfully ignorant is their inability to argue against willful ignorance, which I will discuss in detail further along in this post.  

One of the things I have taught my daughters is "You can't argue with stupidity."  This is particularly true of the willfully ignorant. There is a delusional aspect in double-downed willful ignorance that will defy any proof. 

THE TALK SHOW

Willful ignorance has given rise to a vibrant news media industry, the conservative talk show, which has been assured a faithful base in the willfully ignorant, who eagerly gobble up every bit of half-truth and piece of questionable information their hosts are able to dish up.  Their provocateur style of reporting and overt criticism of "government" create a bogus tough guy image that appeals to the willfully ignorant who are attracted to the notion of the "bullshitting" strongman as recalling America's highly romanticized cowboy past that idealizes the self-made man and rugged individualism.

During this past presidential election, something strange and almost hopeful happened.  Some conservative talk show hosts, who profited from fostering willful ignorance began to see where their industry was leading and what type of leadership in the United States was beginning to emerge as a result of their negative views of government. 

Mr. Trump's meteoric rise in the Republican Primary should have resulted in a love-fest between Mr. Trump's campaign and the conservative talk show hosts, but it didn't.  Any perceived criticism of Mr. Trump by the likes of Meghan Kelly resulted in a personal attack by Mr. Trump, leaving this branch of the news media stunned and disoriented.  While some have come to conclude that critiquing President Trump is errant and have returned to supporting his every interpretation of fact, others continue to express concern over his views of the news media and are taking their jobs and role in keeping our citizens well informed seriously.

DELIBERATED OPPORTUNISM
Distorting Reality
Deliberated opportunism refers to creating a stage on which to present an agenda  by using whatever means available to do so.  Early on, Mr. Trump began the birther issue over President Obama.  This now admittedly "fake" issue by Mr. Trump was used to test the waters, to see if there was a base that would bite.  There was. 

His time on the TV show "Apprentice" afforded him familiarity as the tough guy persona that he could tap into during a presidential bid.  There were also elements in the Republican Party and on Wall Street that were willing to play along with this stage-setting endeavor.  While Republican congressional leaders were eager to foment willful ignorance as a means to undermine President Obama, Mr. Trump and his aides were seeing an opportunity in a growing base of discontented white working class people.  As I have said in other posts, Mr. Trump is a marketer who is adept at marketing himself.   
What Mr. Trump and the Republican Party had in common was a finger on the pulse of discontent; particularly among white, male, blue collar workers - voters who historically voted Democratic but who felt marginalized in a sluggish economic recovery; particularly in the area known as the Rust Belt.  Better than most of his Republican Primary rivals, Mr. Trump was able to connect with this discontent and give it voice in ways that others did not.  His tough, "tell-it-like-it-is" style was what these individuals were looking for.
From what I can tell, these are good people who have lost jobs that had sustained a comfortable moderate lifestyle and who have experienced a loss of social equity by living with persistent debt with little or no social support from the federal or state governments.  In their marginal positions they are vulnerable to believe anyone who will offer or promise them a return to the stability they once had.  These individuals are not willfully ignorant, but rather, in seeing no a way out of their current reality, they have largely abandoned their traditional alignment with the Democratic Party who seemingly had turned a blind eye to their situation and have placed their hope in way out with whoever would hold it out to them. 

In my opinion, they are also the victims of deliberated opportunism.  In the Republican held Congress's endeavor to block every agenda put forth by President Obama, they deliberately withheld the hope of any tangible funding to rebuild this nations failing infrastructure and creating new industries to replace those that are no longer viable.  Their periodic threats to close government down rendered any talk about substantive aid to such projects mute, and this appeared deliberate to me as it knowingly would foment the discontent which the willfully dysfunctional congress could pin on the Obama administration, which they wagered would help them win the White House.

Hillary Clinton's pre-campaign comments about the coal industry needing to be shut down, while accurately based on environmental data, was insensitive and did not offer a solution for those directly effected by a shutdown.  As such, these individuals were ripe for the picking and Mr. Trump was there to pick them up.  They are a patient people for the most part, but if Mr. Trump does not come through on his promise of jobs and economic stability, their patience will wear thin and much of his base of support will likely unravel.

PLAYING THE PRESIDENCY

In these early days of the Trump administration, it is apparent that  President Trump is finding it hard to transition from campaign mode to being the president. What many hoped was just a passing transitional phase between a chaotic and vitriolic campaign to the reality of being in the White House is proving not to be a phase but a continuing phantasmal reality.  President Obama and others in Washington indicated that once Mr. Trump would assume the mantel of the presidency, the responsibility and weight of the office would change him. 

While he has only been in office a little over a month, the anticipated change is not apparent and, if anything, what is becoming increasingly apparent is that President Trump's behavior is becoming more erratic to the point that he is in conflict with members of his own cabinet, including Vice President Pence who are faced with the periodic task of having to walk back  his more outlandish comments.  Our foreign allies are confused. 

In a meeting with our European allies in Munich, Germany this month, it is clear that while they want to believe Secretary Mattis and Vice President Pence who have assured our European allies of our continued fidelity, they know that President Trump has made comments that undermine such assurances.  In short, they don't know who to believe or who to trust.  This does not bode well for our and their security.

DOUBLE ENTENDRE AND SLEIGHT OF HAND

President Trump's views on the news media are troubling and borders on an attack of the First Amendment and by extension, the U.S. Constitution by calling the "fake" news media  "the enemy of the American people."  The use of double entendre in the phrase of "fake news media" affords the Trump administration the ability to accuse any news outlet or source that disagrees with him or places him or any member of his administration in a bad light as fake new.  With the notable exception of Senator McCain, few in the Republican held congress are willing to call his comment for what it is - an attempt to dismantle our constitution. The question that arises in some minds if whether the president is serious or being deliberately bogus as a way of distracting his detractors from focusing on his agenda.  If we are to take President Trump's Chief of Staff,  Reince Priebus's word on the matter in a recent "Meet the Press" interview, we would have to take what President Trump is saying seriously.


What is amazing is that Republican congressional leaders, for the most part, are acting as if they are afraid to confront President Trump about his more outrageous claims. When asked about this, they offer nervous smiles and very little comment.   In part, I think this is because some hope he will change or, if given enough latitude, he'll do something that will bring his "house of cards" down around him without having to sully their hands in the process.  A greater likelihood is that the Republican controlled congress needs him right now to complete there political goals and are therefore reluctant to call him out too strongly.  In the meantime, under the guise of what  President Trump's chief strategist, Steve Bannon referred to as the President "maniacally" keeping his campaign promises,  President Trump is also clearing the table for unknown agendas, yet to be announced. Whether all that he promised during his campaign will come to fruition is to be seen, but it will not matter if he accomplishes everything or not.  The point is, that through the power of executive action largely dealt to the presidency by six years of congressional inactivity, President Trump will be able to claim he tried and was blocked by his enemies, Democrat and Republican alike. 

President Trump's use of sleight of hand in the form of blaming others for things he, himself, has been done by twisting and turning data to satisfy his ends.  His use of nonfactual information, unnamed sources, etc. while accusing the news media of the same is one current example of this sleight of hand approach.  It's distracting.  It's blatant use is confusing to many people and confusion is what this administration is good at doing, but confront it about their mixed messages and somehow the person confronting them about it is the one giving the mixed message. 

His current bout with the First Amendment is a good example.  When the press complains that he is violating the First Amendment's protection of a free press, he complains that his First Amendment right of being able to say whatever he wants to say is being violated. This attempt at circular argumentation works to secure his base for the moment, but time will tell if its sustainable.  It is reminiscent of two children accusing each other of lying: where one accuses the other, "You're a liar!" and the accused responds, "No, you're a liar!"  The "Saturday Night Live" skits on the Trump presidency capture this use of double entendre and sleight of hand approach regarding the handling of information to great comedic effect, which at the same time highlight the serious dilemma our nation and the world faces as a result.

THE VORTEX OF DELUSION
AN ALTERNATE REALITY
Reality is a consensus of perception, as I have mentioned throughout my posts.  On one level there are perceptions that are so consistent and reliable that they are considered facts because there is no disagreement on what such perceptions mean because they are universally shared.  A chair is a chair,  no matter what language one is referring to a chair in.  Should an individual look at a chair and perceive it to be a dog and treat the chair as such, the person's sanity would be questioned. 
On another level, perceptions about events and the relation between cause and effect often vary and are fluid, such perceptions fall into the realms of speculation or theory.  Of these two categories, speculation is very unreliable in establishing what is factual, whereas, theory is tested and if found to be consistent enough will find application in a host of factual ways and over time figures into our understanding of reality to the point of being factual.  
An example of speculative reality is that Islam is the cause of radicalized Islamic terrorism and therefore all Muslims are not to be trusted in the United States.  While there are events that lead to such speculation, there is little evidence that Islam is the cause of radicalized Islamic Terrorism and that is why most of our military leaders refused to define terrorism as Islamic.  There is even less reason to suspect that all Muslims in the United States are not to be trusted any more than all people of German heritage are likely to hold white supremacist beliefs.  While there are events that link terrorism to some Muslims and white supremacists to people with a German heritage it all amounts to nothing more than speculation.
An example of  theory based reality would be the theory of evolution.  This theory is so reliable that almost every advance in modern medicine would not exist without it.  Medicines that cure and treat diseases and disorders that were considered untreatable just fifty years ago are either the direct or indirect result of evolutionary theory.  There is little doubt that those who deny the theory of evolution would refuse to give up the medicines that are prolonging their lives because they are a result of this theory, which brings me back to the topic of willful ignorance. 
There is another type of reality that is the result of a consensus of perceptions and that is the delusional state. We tend to think delusions as affecting only random individuals, but history shows us that there is a thing called mass delusion.  I would differentiate mass delusion from mass hysteria, although mass delusion can readily lead to mass hysteria.  The delusional state as it is emerging in the United States is an outcropping of willful ignorance and deliberated opportunism. 
The intrinsic danger of willful ignorance is that a persistent denial of reality makes it difficult to see reality as it truly is.  Blind intellectualism does not deny reality but tends to ignore realities that do not seem pertinent to the intellectual at the moment. There is a degree of hubris and arrogance in blind intellectualism that makes intellectualism or the intelligentsia a target of the delusional state.  

THE DELUSIONAL STATE
When I hear some politicians and some in the news media talk about getting use to this emerging state of delusion as the new normal, I'm repulsed and saddened.  Having worked in mental health all my life, I can't help but assess from a mental health perspective what is going on in the White House.  I believe the mental status of the current administration is questionable.  It's hard to determine what to make of President Trump's insistence of doubling down on erroneous information.   His apparent inability to laugh at himself on the public stage not only gives him the appearance of being thin skinned but also as dealing with self-esteem issues.  This and his doubling down on issues that appear to have little relevance to our national interests, such as, how much he won the election by, how large the crowds were at his inauguration, Sweden's problem with terrorists, etc. makes him appear somewhat delusional and narcissistic, if not paranoid. 
Steve Bannon's comment that President, Trump is "maniacally" working on fulfilling his campaign promises, did not go unnoticed.  While I doubt that Mr. Bannon was implying the president is having mental health issues, the term "maniacally" could have been phrased differently, but it was revealing.  The fact that President Trump is known to Tweet into the wee hours of the morning and obsessively watches the news channels sounds manic and can be cited as indicative of a Bipolar disorder.  The concern this brings to mind is that if President Trump's mental health is at risk or is questionable, he can be easily manipulated and influenced by those who will use his mental state to their advantage. 

Perhaps the biggest indicator that the mental atmosphere in the White House is not right is the reaction people close to the situation have regarding it.  There is an innate sense of caution that is indicative of dealing with the delusional state.  Watching how the President's cabinet members, Republican congressional leaders, and members of the press interact and react to the President's more outlandish moment is similar to those who I've seen working with mental instability.  They are cautious. 

What I know of the delusional state of mind is that it cannot be altered by pointing out of its delusions.  The more facts and reality are thrown its way to bring it to reality, the more delusional the situation becomes.  It's like throwing light at a dark hole. It will just get sucked into its inescapable vortex of darkness.  If someone dare point out the folly of  someone's delusion, the person who does so is sucked into the delusional vortex  and is identifies as part of the problem, part of the delusion - a person "out to get" the individual who is suffering from a delusional sense of reality.    There is evidence of this in the current administration, but one can only form a speculative opinion based on such evidence at this point.  As such, I cannot nor do I have any desire to state that President Trump is personally suffering from sort of personality or psychiatric disorder but rather there is an aura in the White House indicative of such disorder.  Such a determination would have to be made by a licensed professionals or those who are nearest to him and who have a responsibility to do so if such speculation becomes realized and threatens the wellbeing of our nation.

When I taught a course on how to reduce restraint and seclusion use in the mental health facility I worked at, I reminded those who were starting out in the field of mental health, that the arguing with delusion is pointless and will only suck the person into the delusional mindset of the person.  This is difficult enough to deal with in a mental health facility.  One should neither feed nor argue with the delusional mindset, but rather gently question the perception of the person in non-threatening ways, by putting the burden of the delusion upon the person who questions it rather than posing it as a direct threat to the person suffering from the delusion; as in, "I'm not seeing what you're seeing.  What I see is ..."  It's not so much a direct question as it is a rhetorical or implied one.  

I truly hope this is not the position we're in as a nation. 

Delusion can serve as a tool for the deliberate opportunist.  If a delusional perspective given by a national leader is perceived as gaining a following, the delusion can become fixed and spread quickly, especially among the willfully ignorant who are already in a state of denial about reality.  It can be fed in a way that benefits those who seek power and control, the deliberating opportunist.   As long as this delusional atmosphere exists in the White House, who President Trump surrounds himself with, who has his ear is important and it is important to watch those close to the President as long as this aura is present.  In that regard I have more trust in President Trump's family members, Ivanka and her husband Jared to speak honestly and guide his decisions.   Shutting out elements of the press does not bode well for the mental health of White House or the nation as a whole.  I do not wish President Trump's administration failure, but rather a sense of wholeness and wellness that will make the nation whole and well; that it will plant its feet in honesty and reality instead of the phantasmal surreal, the alt. reality that is not normal.

MAINTAINING A SANE STATE

Most of us have issues with the news media from time to time.  At times they are guilty of blind intellectualism and hubris and at other times they are guilty of fostering willful ignorance. When they become competitive with the news to garner ratings as opposed to ensuring balanced reporting of the news they undermine their status as the fourth estate of the United States. 
Their tampering with the election by allowing Mr. Trump a free ride, particularly, in the televised news media has exacted a price not only on their industry, but on the nation.  Hopefully,  the established, major news outlets have come to their senses and wake up and takes their role ensuring our republic seriously. 

We need a free press more than ever to maintain the sanity of the state. 

At the same time, we need less punditry, polls and their analysis. We need more straight reporting and the occasional thoughtful commentary.  In other words, we need information that makes us think as opposed to telling us what we're thinking and why.  We can figure that out on our own.

Maintaining a sane state is the responsibility of all of us, but it falls primarily upon our elected officials to be the ones to take lawful action if needed.

At the current time this is the responsibility upon those Republicans in congress who, along with their Democrat counterparts, are sworn to protect and defend of our constitutional government.  Senators McCain and Graham, along with several others in the Republican led Congress are key to preserving the constitution as are every member of the Supreme Court.

Some within the President's cabinet possess the integrity to speak truth to power and maintain a sane perspective, especially those who have served in the military; such as, Secretary Mattis and President Trump's National Security Advisor, General McMaster.  This speaks well for our military leaders, but puts them in difficult position with their Commander-in-Chief.  Vice President Pence has also demonstrated a measured degree of integrity in having to deal with the President's more outlandish comments. It is hoped that President Trump takes their advice and wise council seriously.

While we must maintain hope in the strength of our constitutional government, we must also be vigilant in its preservation through civil and reasoned discourse.
Until Next time, stay faithful.