Belief in the reality you pay attention to

What you see is what it means.

What you see is what it means. Do you see what I mean?

William James, in 1894, said:

“A thing may be presented to a man a hundred times, but if he persistently fails to notice it, it cannot be said to enter his experience”

Which may explain The Varieties of Religious Experience, isn’t it?

Dialogue with Australia

This is a dialogue with UNE, by which I mean the University of New England (in Armidale, New South Wales), my Alma Mater in Australia.

 

Now, you have to understand that all of my interactions with UNE have been carried out from Tokyo, Japan.

I have yet to set a foot in Australia.

So, I’m in Japan, sitting in front of my computer (or any computer with Internet access) and

I have an online dialogue for about 3 years with people in Australia.

Who are these people in Armidale, Australia? Well, first of all, I would learn about the weather, which is (obviously) different, the Southern Hemisphere.

When they had the fall (in Australia), we had the spring (in Japan).

How come this sort of dialogue has become possible?

We live in an age when you could virtually attend courses from fairly prestigious universities and access the knowledge which used to be available only to the privileged 1%.

Of course, if you’re not a paying student, you usually don’t get the diploma; you only get the personal satisfaction of knowing and learning more.

You can do this from whatever distance: You could be living in a tent in Siberia and, if you had Internet access, you could learn what some people in North America have been thinking about.

You could be living in the bush in Australia and communicate with some random Romanian who’s in Tokyo,

if you happen to take the same course (Applied Linguistics).

The Linguistics departments of universities in Australia owe much of their success to the geographical location:

Australia is (at this incredible point in history) the country which is doing the most to recover its Aboriginal roots, with the vast majority of the current population being different from the original inhabitants.

This curiosity about one’s past history is not unique. If you’re French, you could go to the public archives and try to trace out your genealogy.

If you’re Japanese, you could go and check the family register (koseki 戸籍) scroll at the city hall.

I guess the same feeling (of having roots in the place one inhabits) exists among Chinese or Vietnamese, even though the relevant documents might not be as readily available.

However, if you’re Australian or American, the search for your family history may (very quickly) take you back to Europe:

Away from the land you currently find yourself inhabiting.

There’s a very troubling aspect in making this kind of discovery because it reminds you that the first ancestors to set foot on this land have done so in a manner that has left a huge foot-print, by which we don’t mean just the flora and the fauna, even if Aboriginal people were classed together with fauna or the fish.

Of course the story is similar in the US: We have a continuous chase to reach the last frontier.

The Wild West is a concept showing you that (some) people kept pushing westwards and that strip of western lands became wild because (some other) people were being pushed away.

Those (others) who stayed got to stay in reservations

Native American joke: “We used to like the white man, but now we have our reservations

Reservations: We shall keep them: Not in zoos, but pretty close.

How do we use the word “reservation” nowadays? We have “natural reservations” to preserve the environment, to preserve the natural habitat.

Now try to imagine that you’re the (other) people who get pushed away from your lands by these guys who then come up with the Declaration of Rights of Man.

So we all have a very mixed past. And a mixed path. We are the survivors and, when we haven’t been justifying ourselves in Darwinian terms, we have been justifying ourselves

  • in religious terms (“the chosen people”) or
  • in racist terms (“the Aryan race”)…

Darwinian-ism is still misunderstood to apply to humans by many idiots (from idios “one’s own”).

You should realize that this is idiotic because it doesn’t take into account the cultural factor, the language factor, what Richard Dawkins and others have called memes.

What are memes? Memes are the new things that seem to be fighting for survival.

A current meme is that (in this world) “You can connect with anybody”

and it’s one that I’ve tested out in my dialogue with UNE. I have found a lot of good-will on the other side of the Pacific (in the South), at the University of New England.

I also found a lot of knowledge and many smart people capable of facing our difficult inheritance.

Engaging in a dialogue with the others can offer you an insight into another way of looking at the world. An interesting aspect of the Anglo-Aboriginal connection is that the sense of humor (what is called deadpan humor) seems to have some aspects in common with the Black Fella’s way of talking.

I find it incredible that

humor can help bridge a chasm as huge as that which exists between a majority-minority population

  • with a very troubling past,
  • with a very mixed record.

UNE is a great place because it has taught me that respect for each other and dialogue with each other can (again) become possible after being absent for periods of time. This kind of recovery of the past can lead to better insights into who we (all) are and what we (all) do.

It has shown me that we should not despair, even though it is difficult to live in this world

  1. which is not perfect,
  2. where things do not work out,
  3. where the bad seem to prosper and the good seem to suffer.

There is too much bad at any given point for us to be phlegmatic about the state of things, but it doesn’t mean we should lose heart.

Australia is a good example for everybody else in the Anglo world (and not only), showing how we can surge forward from a state of bad into a state of better.

Let’s not rest on our laurels lest we slide back to that point of declaring the others unworthy as dialogue partners.

Refused dialogues: Humans and animals

Chain your dog here while you shop.

Chain your dog here while you shop.

 

A big issue (framed in terms of dialogue and equality) is how we, humans, relate to everything else:

  • other animals
  • other life forms
  • other sentient (perhaps intelligent) beings.

This problem is that we have evolved from these lower life forms and now we have come to a point where we consider those equal to us (=other humans in general, hopefully that means “all other humans, without exclusion”) as deserving respect and a degree of consideration that is not readily given to other (lower) animals.

You don’t care about what your dog has to say.

You don’t care enough to listen to what the dolphin in the “big” pool at the aquarium says to you.

What does he say to you? What does it say to you?

Do we develop a special pronoun to use for animals to show that

  1. they’re not humans
  2. they’re not equal partners in this dialogue?

When you go to an aquarium and you watch all these beings moving around, doing stuff, do you feel guilty for extracting them from their natural environment, from Nature itself, and placing them in a four-by-four box, a cage, a space which has four walls?

Caged in…

Why do we cage these animals? Because we’re more intelligent, because we can do it.

Think now about the fact that

we cage other animals, in much smaller cages, to eat them later on.

To keep them from moving while we wait for them to become big enough to be worthy of… the butcher’s knife? The butcher’s hammer?

Do we even want to know the practices that lead to that piece of meat that you have at the restaurant tonight as a steak? Do we want to know how it came to be?

This may explain why many religions have injunctions about the proper treatment of animals

  • to be sacrificed
  • to be eaten
  • to be simply ignored.

Monotheistic religions used to have (and some still do have) strict prescriptions about what animals can be eaten, about the precise ritual to be followed in killing the animal and so on.

Let’s remember the rules for kosher food or halal food (in Judaism and Islam).

How about Christians? With Christians we begin to care less.

We still have people who fast in monasteries, but for the average people, there aren’t many rules about the proper food to be eaten.

Is there a particular rule to be followed by the person who cuts the throat of the pig (or the turkey) which the Christian will partake of? We don’t know (or care much).

However, this is not the case in Islam, and it’s not the case in Judaism, and probably many other religions which may refuse to have anything to do with certain animals, as they used to feel in Japan for a long time about four-legged beasts.

To the Japanese, the land mammals were regarded as ‘four legged creatures’ and, as such, were prohibited food under the dietary constraints of Buddhism.

What could you kill to eat?

Killing is an act of cutting off dialogue at one point, an act of saying

That’s it.

I’m going to continue talking, I’m going to have more dialogues, but that’s it for you.

I’m going to finish your dialogue for you.

We probably do this to animals because we think they cannot have dialogues. They definitely don’t have language (at least not the kind that we speak).

We think we’re entitled, we have the right, and now we have the need, of course. Our nutritional needs… Do we now?

Could we switch? We might be able to switch, but the problem is we don’t want to switch because we are very comfortable where we are: There are many institutions which are very comfortable (with how things are), many corporations, many business interests which are comfortable in doing things the way things are being done right now,

comfortable in thinking about animals as things.

So there’s room for improvement, but notice that in terms of our dietary standards, our criteria for what should be eaten and what not, we have actually become more lax in some cultures, where we don’t care so much.

This is especially true in the more “developed” countries, the consumerist cultures, where people may want to improve when they hear about some bad practice about how the product they use has been created. Notice the consumer movement to

protect the rights of child-workers used by Nike in Indonesia, or I-don’t-know-what fashion designer using cloth woven in I-don’t-know-what factory in Bangladesh.

People dying because factory safety is not a big consideration

  • to keep the cost down
  • to keep us happy
  • to keep some business interest happy.

To keep the current status, we have to refuse some dialogues about safety with people in these countries.

Why do we think this is okay? We don’t think it’s okay:

  1. When this problem is brought to our attention,
  2. a lot of people feel they need to take action
  3. then the business manager feels the need to do something to keep their market share.

The hand of the market, let’s say.

Can we expect the same sort of feedback about bad conditions among animals? Is it reasonable to think this “news” would be delivered at our door-step by an animal, by another human being, by what we call “those crazy animal rights activists”? Notice that we dismiss them from the start.

Why do we dismiss them? Because it is easier.

Of course, there are some exaggerations; we don’t need to jump to the other extreme, of starving ourselves to death.

Extremes will always plunge you into the abyss; keep to the golden middle path.

We’ve learned this in many cultures: Keep your balance.

However, that doesn’t mean that we have to stay in our ignorance, which is the other extreme.

The golden path involves becoming aware and changing (towards-Good).

Think about your consciousness as a river which flows (which is beyond your control), but whose banks you can mold to a certain degree.

A river whose path you can (up to a point) change when you think that you’re eroding, when you think that you’re biting into the soil that would create more life, that would create more goodness in the world.

We could change our paths. Of course, the flow of the water, the push of the water behind us is huge:

We are but a molecule, perhaps, a drop in all this, but if a couple of drops have the power to change their course by nature of their conscious decision to change their course (their path), and more molecules, more drops change their path, then we can start to hope that the river may change its course.

  • When innocent people are dying because of our desire to keep things as they are, just because it’s convenient for us
  • When animals are dying, just because we want to have a tasty morsel and don’t want to face the stark facts…

Aquariums and zoos show us

  • how shut in our own private worlds we have become
  • how shut in from Nature
  • how much we want to box in all that’s out there
  • how much we cobble it all into a shape that’s very easy to manipulate, as objects, not as dialogue partners.

When we do this, we ignore our privilege of being the extension of all living forms on this planet.

As Tohei Koichi (藤平光一) Sensei (先生 Before-Living) has said (my translation from Japanese):

Let us be thankful like children, who receive this gift of life from the Ki of Sky-Earth.

Let us honour our privilege of being given consciousness, of being an extension of the Spirit of animals, Grass and Trees.

我が生命は天地のより氣生じたのである。

草木動物としてではなく、万物の霊長としてこの世に生を享けた事を感謝しよう。

Let us join in the great wheel of life-generating development.

Let us participate in this project of generating and developing life, and let us pledge to live our lives to that end.

天地の生成発展の大経綸に参画し、我が使命を完遂することを誓おう。

(Chapter 2 The value of our existence as human beings 我が人生の存在価値)

Let us fulfill our mission to that end, of furthering life, be it human, animal, plant, or planet itself, Gaea, our mother, whose children we are.

Our mother who has given us the gift of life.

Let us not fall into the extreme of ignorance of our mother: Earth.

Soul illusions shaping our reality

Gracias, little brother, I know it's not easy being friends with me

Gracias, little brother, I know it’s not easy being friends with me

Speaking of epiphanies (again in the Religion category), there are moments in our lives when

  • we perceive something wrongly, but
  • this helps us to perceive correctly something else.

Usually this happens when you think something is in a certain manner and the difference between your initial perception and the subsequent revelation seems to have a lot of consequences in terms of improving your understanding

  • beyond noticing the actual difference,
  • beyond the idea that presents itself as truthful and reveals your initial assumption to be mistaken.

Allow me to illustrate with an example taken from my personal experience:

I was at the seaside with my good friend, Julian, and we were enjoying life as young people do; at the same time we were blissfully ignorant of many-many other aspects of life because we’re young and ignorant (nowadays, I guess we’re just the latter).

At this point I experienced an optical illusion, a mis-perception caused by looking up for too long on a bright, beautiful day; it was a cold, cloudless spring-day, and I was watching this eagle floating above a cliff that was jutting towards the sea.

As I was watching the eagle, my eyes fell upon the cliff itself and I was not surprised to find its shadow moving across the cliff face, when I was startled by the realisation that

the eagle’s shadow, instead of being black against an illuminated green (grass) and grey (stone) background, was actually completely lit, the way you’d have if you’re shining or reflecting a light from a wrist-watch or a mirror.

I could see a bright beam of light moving across the same cliff face where the eagle’s shadow should have fallen. Naturally, this resulted into the sort of facile philosophising you can imagine:

The shadow is light and you can take it from here.

That was the initial experience which I thought very insightful at that time but I soon discovered that I was very superficial in my appraisal of

  • where we were in the world,
  • where I was in the world.

At this point, we heard these dogs (Dobermans) barking behind us; it dawned on us that we were in a place that was not meant to be used as a public beach, and now the question presented itself to us:

What do we do about these two Dobermans who look pretty menacingly as they’re barking and blocking our way back?

So we tried to find a different path to go back to where we came from, back to our safe world, when the dogs started running downhill towards us. During this chase, as we’re scrambling across stones and boulders covered in seaweed, I’m reflecting on the fact that this will probably be a very unequal fight with these dogs who seem so powerful and about whose ferocity I (thought I) knew a lot.

At this point I was engaged in a dialogue with myself where I recast myself as the hunted (fighting for his life)

so that when we reached this point where we couldn’t climb up any more and the dogs were upon us, I turned around to face them, just thinking “How are we going to fight?”

We didn’t have any weapons or sticks, so I could only envision a fight where we would just bite each other, basically devolving back to the animal fighting for survival. I was looking at these animals, at these dogs’ muscles and teeth, which appeared not so much as teeth as fangs, right? I looked at these creatures, which would soon be upon us, and I assumed this aggressive posture.

It is at this point that my good friend, Julian, saved us (“us” meaning “us = the humans and the dogs”) from a really bad experience by changing his perception, by remembering his true self:

He had a different dialogue running in his head, obviously, and he decided that these dogs would like to become friends with us.

You see, they just wanted to say hello to us.

So he starts talking (dialogue) with the dogs: “They just want to be friends”.

Of course, I had my doubts since we had just been running and we had been chased (it didn’t feel like a dialogue), but I remained passive as I just didn’t know what else we could do. I watched as my good friend Juli responded

  • with a positive feeling of openness,
  • with equal dialogue,
  • with love towards these two dogs,
  • who soon responded in kind.

I found myself staring in disbelief two minutes later, as Juli was sitting down next to one dog and patting it on the head with the dog looking very happy, and I was still trying to get rid of

the last simulation of fight-to-the-death, nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw dialogue that I had in my head.

Then it hit me: This was a very good instance of a self-fulfilling prophecy:

  • I projected death, violence, fight, bite, kill, and it came back to me;
  • Juli projected love, trust, positive feelings, let’s be friends, and it came back to him, and I saw the dog licking his hand.

I realised that the intellectual in me who was so excited to discover the play-on-words between shadow and light based on a simple optical illusion was very shallow.

I found myself stunned to discover that I suffer from a psychological illusion of control and that I’m making myself my own enemy without realising it.

You can call it a soul illusion, that my soul was blacker than I would have liked to think, and this almost got reflected back to me and could have caused a very messy episode.

So I say this to all of you out there who feel that fear is just the expression of a healthy survival instinct meant to give us early warning and ensure our safety:

  • Safety comes not from fearing and giving in to our negative feelings and projecting those onto Others;
  • Safety comes from trusting and engaging Others in dialogues, as equal partners, as partners to be trusted.

That should be our default stance when we are not sure about what is actually happening, when nothing bad has actually occurred yet.

Do not subscribe to the idiot’s [from Greek idios “one’s own] dogma of preemptive attack, who would push himself and others around him into this drama of fighting for one’s life, when this is not a fight or a competition.

It could (in fact) depend on your mindset at that time and your conscious decisions could turn it into a dialogue of love.

  • Thank god (meaning Sky-Earth) for South Americans and their spirit.
  • Contrast this with the Eastern European grimness.
  • And come out from all this with an epiphany, an (intuitive) understanding of how we can improve our world.

Dialogue with Ionescu. Eugene Ionesco.

Ionesco-rhino

Do you know the “Rhinoceros”? That amazing play written by Ionesco?

The short version would be that in a French little town you have this public servant (Berenger) who is out trying to enjoy a drink (Pernod, if memory serves me right) in the afternoon with his colleague at a café; as they’re sitting at their table they’re disturbed by the sight of a rhinoceros!

The rhinoceroses are coming!

So everybody reacts with surprise and they start talking about whether it escaped from the zoo, coming up with various theories; after all, this is a huge event in their little lives because the rhinoceros is making a lot of noise, it’s breaking things, it’s destroying stuff.

Then there’s another rhinoceros, then there’s another one, and another one, and another one, and at some point the characters realise that people around them are turning into rhinoceroses.

This turns out to be very inconvenient, as you cannot live together with a rhinoceros in the house. Imagine all the destruction of property and stuff; they step on little cats; poor cat, somebody’s cat gets trampled, along with the shopping basket (of all things!).

The rhinoceroses are everywhere and then people realise that they themselves are turning into rhinoceroses; they look at themselves in the mirror and see the transformation as their skin becomes scaly and hard and they think

“This is beautiful, I’m a rhinoceros now”

Having a horn makes people think

“I don’t want to argue, to have dialogues, I just want to rush into the problem and smash it into smithereens”.

We can see the rhinoceros’s view of the world:

Butting everything aside, smashing everything in its path…

Maybe being a rhinoceros isn’t so bad, since we’re so powerful.

So more and more people become rhinoceroses, with the original character from the café assaulted by everybody and wondering what he’s going to do with everybody turning into rhinoceroses around him.

 

 

Now, abstract drama like this is remarkable through the fact that Ionesco himself lived this experience. I believe this is an urban legend (but it’s the sort of stuff that should be true even if it ain’t):

They say that Ionesco was coming out from the university where he had been teaching when he saw the Iron Guard (the Romanian fascist movement Garda de Fier) marching, and he started to shout at the top of his voice “the Rhinoceros, the Rhinoceros”…

That’s how strongly he felt about his play, about his art.

He saw the Rhinoceros everywhere marching “Get out of our way or we’ll smash you”.

This is why Ionesco is one of my favourite Romanians:

He could definitely look truth up in the face, even when it looked like a rhinoceros.

Men, stop telling women what to do

Dilemma: Should I cover my daughter's feet? Or should I get a priest to baptise her first?

Dilemma: Should I cover my daughter’s ankles? Or should I baptise her first?

 

In a previous recording I said I don’t know if it is justifiable to make it a law that

women have to cover their bodies in order to prevent all these problems stemming from the “fact” that young men cannot control themselves.

Of course, I lied when I said “I don’t know”.

I think I know what is better.

Like everyone else, I have a very strong opinion and I’m convinced that my opinion is the more “correct” one, that there is more GOOD in it.

However, I’ll let you be the judge of that since this is a dialogue among equals.

Here’s my opinion:

It is not on us (=men) to decide.

It is not on us

  • Muslim men
  • Jewish men
  • Romanian Orthodox Christian men
  • Catholic men

to decide whether the woman’s head, face, hair, ankles etc. need to be covered.

I do not think that in all these societies, in which men have been masters for so many centuries, men should still be deciding rules for women.

I think women in each of these societies should (be able to) come forward and decide for themselves.

Call me a radical.

However, even this modest proposal presents us with a huge problem in any of the above-mentioned societies.

This is why I’m always hesitant in revealing my opinions which I hold to be better, to be superior in terms of GOOD, in terms of equality, in terms of looking at the Other as a dialogue partner.

Why do I hesitate? Why do I fear? Because a lot of people will be hurt, a lot of people will feel that their sensibilities, their tastes, their cultural learning have been offended.

Many people may feel that their beliefs have been (in some way) invalidated by what I say or somebody else says when we declare that

“Women should have the right to choose if they cover themselves or not”.

All this shows you that we live in a very strange period of our history as homo sapiens because we do not live up to our own definition of homo as including both man and woman.

Notice that in all these cases we have a religious aspect:

we don’t think about this issue as a human rights problem.

This is how sad the story is:

We think that it is a religious problem.

Now, who has come up with (and written down) these holy scriptures? Men. So of course men decide.

It is past time we had a dialogue with women and let them decide. At least in terms of what they wear. Or maybe we can have a dialogue:

We (women) will do this and we’ll do this, but you (men) will have to do this.

For example, ask men to stop telling women all the time what to do.

That would be a good start.

So yeah, I’m a radical from this point of view, and the fact that I’m a radical tells us that we’re in a really sorry state of inequality between genders because we frame it in terms of religion:

People don’t discuss religion.

It is very difficult to discuss religion, because people FEEL so strongly about religion.

I’ve had and still have (allow me to get personal here) a huge fight ahead of me just in refusing and postponing baptising my daughter. I’m Romanian and everyone is thinking:

Of course you’re going to baptise your daughter, make her a Christian.

If not, she’s going to go to hell.

It’s as basic as that. It’s as (and sorry for saying this so bluntly) mean-spirited as that:

If you’re a Christian and you believe that, you have just condemned a baby (who cannot speak yet) to hell at this point.

I’m sorry if you’re an Orthodox Christian and this comes as a shock to you:

Your belief system has just condemned my daughter (in particular) and millions and billions of others (many of them just children like my daughter who cannot yet speak), your belief system has condemned them all to hell.

Why? Because that’s what it says in the Book, right? Does it say so in the Book?

When was Jesus baptised? How old was he then?

Canon 110. (Greek cxii. bis)

That infants are baptized for the remission of sins

Likewise it seemed good that whosoever denies that infants newly from their mother’s wombs should be baptized, or says that baptism is for remission of sins, but that they derive from Adam no original sin, which needs to be removed by the laver of regeneration, from whence the conclusion follows, that in them the form of baptism for the remission of sins, is to be understood as false and not true, let him be anathema.

For no otherwise can be understood what the Apostle says, By one man sin has come into the world, and death through sin, and so death passed upon all men in that all have sinned, than the Catholic Church everywhere diffused has always understood it. For on account of this rule of faith (regulam fidei) even infants, who could have committed as yet no sin themselves, therefore are truly baptized for the remission of sins, in order that what in them is the result of generation may be cleansed by regeneration.

The following, says Surius, is found in this place in a very ancient codex. It does not occur in the Greek, nor in Dionysius. Bruns relegates it to a foot-note.

[Also it seemed good, that if anyone should say that the saying of the Lord, In my Father’s house are many mansions is to be understood as meaning that in the kingdom of heaven there will be a certain middle place, or some place somewhere, in which infants live in happiness who have gone forth from this life without baptism, without which they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, which is eternal life, let him be anathema. For after our Lord has said: Unless a man be born again of water and of the Holy Spirit he shall not enter the kingdom of heaven, what Catholic can doubt that he who has not merited to be coheir with Christ shall become a sharer with the devil: for he who fails of the right hand without doubt shall receive the left hand portion.]

So we have a whole problem in Romania (and in Christianity) because just with baptism we have already destroyed our argument for a universal brotherhood and sisterhood of men and women by being so narrow-minded.

Let me spell it out for you, Christians everywhere:

“Not baptised” means going to hell. Is it the limbo? Where do the unbaptised go?

It’s mean.

If it’s mean, can we improve it then?

I’m asking what can we do, but I’m coming from a different perspective because I haven’t baptised my daughter.

I’ve stood against the current and I’ve felt the huge pressure you have to resist simply for not carrying out this ritual forward, simply for saying:

I think she’ll be OK.

I think you hold a false belief about what is actually happening in this world.

I think you allow yourself to be deluded about the state of reality because you choose to interpret it based on a single, very old book which is no longer applicable

Raise your hands for “Stone to death those who [insert crime]”

in relation to the present reality, in relation to our current knowledge about ourselves and about Others.

This is not just a conflict with Nature, with what we know after the scientific revolution, but also with what we know about other people.

The dialogues we’ve had with other people (should) have enabled us to realise that our own religion is a peculiar incident, something that occurred with us because we were born in a particular society, culture, time, place.

It is not because we (our race, our tribe, our people) were personally chosen.

It is not because somebody has planted humankind on this planet.

We’ve started from a place and it’s in AFRICA in case you think it’s Jerusalem, or in case you think it’s New York, or in case you think it’s Kyoto, or in case you think it’s Beijing, or in case you think it’s I-don’t-know-what-place.

We’ve started in Africa.

How did it start and where were we many, many, many years ago?

What did we do in the many thousands of years before we managed to talk to each other, before we managed to write to each other, before we managed to have dialogues with each other?

Roaming this planet, coming up with our stories, our myths, our religions.

Mind you, nobody is saying

“Throw the books in the bin and burn them”.

We’re not advocating the communist approach that “religion is the opium of the people” and it needs to be destroyed. Religion is not something we need to destroy.

Religion needs to be faced with the sort of honesty that would allow us to have dialogues on an equal footing with other people.

If it does not allow equal dialogues between people on this planet, then it is not relevant because it does not reflect our current agreement about each other.

It does not reflect anything about

  • who we think we are
  • who we say we are
  • who we want to be &
  • who we want everybody else to be.

If we’re just politically correct about who we give equal status to, then we’re facing (in the near future) another cataclysm

from Greek kataklysmos “deluge, flood, inundation,” from kataklyzein “to deluge,” from kata “down” + klyzein “to wash”

and we know how cataclysms have turned out so far, we know what we’re capable of.

We’ve come up with rational dialogues and now we need to be consistent in our words and actions.

So that’s my comment on religion(s) and that’s my comment on whether women should cover their bodies:

men should just shut up and stop telling women (around the world) what to do.

 

Modern man is reachable

 

 

Modern man (by which I mean homo, both male and female) in the 21st century is a very different creature from man in times prior to the sixties, because modern man is always reachable, through a phone, probably a smart phone:

Everybody owns a smart phone nowadays or is (at least) aspiring to the status that a smart phone confers upon you (not to mention providing you with access to an enormous wealth of information).

What this means (essentially) is that even when people travel to what you’d call remote regions of the world, they could still be reached.

We have this very stark contrast between the age of (ocean) navigation before and after the development of the G(lobal) P(ositioning) S(ystem), before satellites enabled us to track what is happening and where we are.

This contrast is beautifully illustrated in a documentary about the non-stop, single-handed, round-the-world yacht race in the late 60s. These guys set off in small boats, determined never to rely on another person as they sailed around the world.

Sailing around the world can (I suppose) still be done today (depending on how good your yacht-handling skills are), but, in the present, the risks are not the same because you have at your disposal technologies which

  1. allow you to track yourself more easily (to reach others in case you run into trouble) &
  2. make it easier to be tracked (by others to reach you in case you run into trouble).

Nowadays it is even possible to track what else is going on around the world, in terms of weather-prediction and so on.

Technologies which were very primitive (from our point of view) in the sixties are now so everyday and so common-place that we don’t notice them anymore. Accordingly, modern humans are very different from humans who lived prior to the 1960s.

Humans, who walked the Earth for a period spanning not just centuries but whole millennia, were able to just go to some remote place, to cut themselves off completely from their fellow creatures, to move around in solitude of a kind that is almost unimaginable at the present time.

Not anymore.

What did this do to our psyche? Well, first of all, you should notice that as long as we are reachable at any given point (in space and time) we experience guilt when we don’t feel willing to respond to someone reaching towards us.

Imagine the phone is ringing and you cannot pick up; the question arises immediately: Why?

  • Is it because you’re taking a shower? You’re going to call them back in half-an-hour.
  • Is it because you’re working? You’re going to call them back in the evening when you finish work.
  • Is it because you’re on holiday and you don’t want to talk about work anymore?
  • Is it because you’re in the mountains and the only reason you still have a phone on you is to be able to call for help in case you run into trouble?

This is where we are and it would (of course) be foolhardy to leave everything behind, although even in such a case people would probably still be able to find you if they were concerned about you.

It would take some really careful planning to actually get lost beyond reach. You’d probably have to travel up the Amazon to leave everything behind…

Now, if you do act on this impulse and run into trouble, people will think: What a fool…

How about before the age of satellites? Well, these fools were those who would chart new territories, the fools who were looking for something else beyond what they had (which may, actually, be the same for modern fools).

However, one inescapable part of their endeavours was that they always cut themselves off from (let’s say) their roots, for a fairly extended period of time, with the full awareness that it could result in their untimely (and unknown) deaths.

Another consequence of our using modern technologies is that they allow us to present only certain aspects, only certain features of who we are.

A technology like Skype (which includes video and sound) gives you the feeling that you’re getting a very complete image of the person you’re talking with, as you would in a face-to-face interaction. Nonetheless, even then, depending on the accuracy of the microphone (the noise-filtering capacity), you could not be getting/giving the complete picture.

Maybe you decide not to click on the video-streaming button and you only present yourself as a voice.

Maybe you’re presenting yourself through a blog and that makes you known only through your writings, which you can edit and you only publish when you feel fully comfortable.

Maybe you present yourself through voice recordings, which (again) you edit and publish only when you’re comfortable.

Maybe you present yourself in pictures (such as in Instagram), when you show yourself in certain postures, in certain contexts, in certain situations in which you want to be seen (and not in others), with certain people you’d like to be seen (and not with others).

With the current technologies people are becoming very confident in their ability to present an image of themselves which they can control and edit with relative ease (using electronic media).

On the other hand, in everyday (real-life) interactions, this is not so easy; when you meet somebody you cannot start hiding your face all of a sudden. That would be (at the very least) awkward. You cannot paste on your face a picture of yourself smiling and walk around wearing this mask.

This may help you understand the huge attraction, the enormous pull exercised by these Guy Fawkes masks which allow anonymity. Again.

Is the face that important? Sometimes it’s important to see the face, but sometimes it is not; sometimes, when we just want to present an idea, we think it’s irrelevant

  • who I am,
  • how I look like,
  • what my voice sounds like.

This is when we want to present an idea free of contexts, free of a biography, which is not exactly possible in personal interactions between people located in the same physical space.

We’re definitely growing a different awareness of

  1. how we can control our self-image,
  2. how desirable it is to control the projected image of our selves, &
  3. how we would like ourselves to be versus how we actually are in the reality where we walk around, we drink and eat, we take showers, we move about with certain ease or lack thereof.

This may explain what transpires when we happen to meet in person somebody famous whom we’ve only known through electronic media. We are always surprised (or we pretend to be surprised): Oh my God, look at this chick, I saw her on TV and she had amazing skin or I-don’t-know-what, but I saw her in the supermarket and I-don’t-know-what.

That’s why these (famous) people have to wear sunglasses and hooded sweaters to cover themselves.

That’s why they need bodyguards to protect them, to screen their persons from all these eyes which insist on projecting the acquired image.

Is it the fault of the eyes which are watching? Or is it the fault of the person who is living off the projected image?

The aspiration shared by many people nowadays to become a famous person on TV stems (partially) from the mistaken assumption that the (edited-photoshopped-cropped-trimmed) images of famous people we get glimpses of are accurate, that these images are faithful reflections of what they would be like if they were our neighbours, if they were people standing next to us.

Therefore, the impact of technology on modern man does not stop at your (in)ability to be by yourself, to cut yourself off from society; (electronic media) technologies in the last 50-60 years have also altered how much control you can (or would like to) exercise over who you define yourself to be.

So, who are you?And who are we when we shed these (technology-induced) assumptions?

We’re people linking with each other in more numerous ways than ever before.

We want to be well-connected, right?

Why should you listen? Why should you talk to me? Why should I talk to you?

I talk to you because I feel we are together in this; I hope you realise that this is a dialogue which (at least unconsciously) you’ve had with your Self (=your modern self) when you contrasted it with your imagined Self 100, 200 or 300 years ago, or with your imagined Self as someone living in the Amazon forest and still hunting with a spear and a bow…

Bernard chose to remain unreachable for a bit longer

parce que je suis heureux en mer et peut-être pour sauver mon ame.

because I am happy at sea and perhaps to save my soul.

(Bernard Moitessier. 1971. La Longue route; seul entre mers et ciels. Translated as The Long Way by William Rodarmor,1973).