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?
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?
This is about the problem of evil and the question we all ask at some point in our lives:
Why is there evil? Where does evil come from?
This assumes that you’ll not give yourself a free-pass and say that
This kind of answer shows the same logical fallacy as seen in the eternally-receding type of answer to the question:
Q: How did the world come about?
A: God made it.
Q: Okay, who made God?
With this answer, you never reach a point of explaining something, although people are very eager to use it to explain something away (in order to be able to get on with our daily business).
When we employ supernatural explanations to account for the “root of all (evil or things)”, we are not answering anything:
With supernatural explanations we are just giving ourselves a break from reasoning it out.
Coming back to the problem of evil, the question then arises as to how we can discuss it in a rational manner.
On this topic, one tends to despair if one is looking at all that’s happening in the world.
Since we are saying we are rational beings and since we are also (to a degree that is debatable) genetically-programmed and culturally-conditioned beings, we need to ask ourselves:
How does evil come about? What is the mechanism for generating/propagating evil?
I would argue that we have to think about this issue in terms of a rope-bridge.
I’m here building on several metaphors from
which all seem to converge on the idea of describing the correct path/way to live one’s life.
When we talk about a path or a way, we tend to assume that it’s a hard, solid, straight surface on which you can walk on:
Keep to the path. Keep going straight on this path. Don’t fall into the ditch.
This sounds quite easy and this is (one reason) why we find ourselves bemused by the sheer weight, diversity and proliferation of evil around us. It does appear that at any given time, a great number of people are happily jumping in the ditch whenever there’s the slightest temptation to do so.
So we have to ask ourselves:
Is the path-metaphor a true metaphor?
Yes, it is true that there is a golden middle path, but it is NOT the hard surface we tend to think it would be.
Well, it’s not unless you’ve been training yourself and you’ve dedicated your whole life to walking the path of life very carefully.
In reality it’s more like a rope-bridge following the course of a wild river, a rope-bridge bracketed by canyon-like walls on either side.
Clarification: This is not a bridge across the canyon, but rather a bridge from the spring to the sea.
During our lives we are busy walking this rope-bridge and we’re swinging this way and that way.
Whenever we appear to be swinging towards a wall of tears, we become afraid of the looming crash and we exert ourselves to the utmost in the opposite direction, which makes the whole rope-bridge sway more violently.
This jerky movement does not stop with ourselves:
It affects everybody near us.
Accordingly, it doesn’t take long for everybody to find themselves violently thrown this way and that way by this movement (for which they may not be able to identify an immediate cause).
Everybody feels the rope-bridge swinging madly from side to side, but nobody can readily identify the villain. In this situation, everybody will also react by trying to control the swinging in one direction or another. So we have a lot of people
Then again, there are also some people who are just trying to achieve balance:
We see this in every human (historical) event. We see people jumping from a belief that I-don’t-know-who is the savior (the Messiah) to vilifying the same person as the incarnation of evil.
We see this in our own individual lives. We see people who are faced with a difficult time in their lives:
They don’t see it as a problem of balancing, but rather as a problem of finding the quickest, most forceful way to push away from this difficulty.
When we end up on the other side, bruising ourselves (and perhaps other people around us), we don’t see that it is our own actions which have led to this situation.
I am not saying that evil should be ignored, that we should just lie passive, although non-violent resistance (a la Gandhi) is perhaps one of the most effective balancing acts in history (in terms of mass movements) because people just sit down and refused to be pushed away.
People sit down in the Middle and refuse
The Indians refused
This was genius insight, even if the British type of pushing was different from what was attempted by those behind a person like Hitler.
The push from those standing behind a Hitler is essentially different, since that type of oppressor is actively engaged in throwing others off the rope-bridge.
If my rope-bridge analogy strikes a chord with you, you may come to understand many of the current issues (tragedies, really) we now see in the Islamic world.
Most of these issues continue as an extreme pushing-away from whatever is done by the invading-crusader army or whatever name is given to the NATO, UN or US forces, which (in turn) started as an extreme pushing-against a small minority of
delusional minds who schemed to shake the rope-bridge by cutting off the planks under their own feet in order to plunge others into the abyss below.
Shoving others aside because
turns out to have the opposite effect in reality.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for the aggressor to feel justified in his aggression because people soon start pushing back (cf. self-fulfilling prophecy).
We have people pushing back and forth and the whole bridge swings ever more violently simply because neither side is willing to calm down to achieve balance.
Why? Because the Middle-Way is the most difficult way and it appears to be the most irrational way:
When the others are still pushing, you can’t just sit down (of course)!
However, this is the only way to go forward. This will require a lot of patience as people need to be educated into becoming aware of the Middle-Way, of the Golden-Path.
This path is not paved, it is not cut in stone so that we can just step on it and go straight.
No, living is a much more unstable path and we make it more unstable with each attempt to change it radically.
So how do we change it? Through small improvements, small Changes-into-the-Better: kaizen (改善) trying to bring this rope-bridge
so that we can continue on our journey in this life.
Speaking of epiphanies (again in the Religion category), there are moments in our lives when
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
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
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
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 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:
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.
We may often feel engulfed in silence, but usually we live within a lack of silence (the sound of the washing machine, or a cooler, etc.).
We are nearly always interacting with sound waves and, at times, these waves come from others like us in the form of dialogue waves.
In case you haven’t realised this already, I am describing here a dialogue philosophy that attempts to introduce a basic norm of getting us out of the mess in which we find ourselves right now.
The current mess is different from past crises because
the numbers used to not count so much;
whatever the problem, it would have been more local.
Nowadays, a very small group of people seems to decide many things in a manner that is bound to spell disaster for nearly everyone on the planet.
However, this is not a conspiracy.
At the very least, it’s not a conscious conspiracy (We are not that smart, okay?)
Maybe there is some psychological human drive towards destruction, but I don’t believe this.
Perhaps at a given time, a certain society goes through such a self-destructive mood period, but that’s not everybody. We haven’t asked everybody.
This self-destruction-apocalypse mood is probably not shared by many Native Americans tribes (North American and South American “Indians”), despite their horrible experience at the hands of White, Christian people.
Then we got the (Black) slaves, hauled on ships from Africa, which is another depressing story…
Some horrible things have been done in the past, but thank God (=our good conscience) we managed to stop some bad things:
We abolished slavery.
When was slavery abolished in Romania, by the way? Do you know?
Slobozirea (“the emancipation”), right?
Do you know the year, or the century? Was it before the Blacks in America? Think 19th century, the second half.
What was the situation here, in Romania, towards Gypsies (=Roma people)?
What is the situation now?
We’ve come forward by putting some bad ideas away from our minds, through dialogues, by recognising the Others’ right to (equal) dialogue. We said
“Oh, okay, we’re equal, we can have a dialogue”
The idea that the Others are like animals, or things, different from us, essentially different, has been eliminated. Up to a point.
Remember that we have “self-fulfilling prophecies” which see in the current deplorable status of minorities the fulfilment of certain stereotypes projected unto them by the (White) majority.
See the case of Aboriginal Australians in the court system; Eades is the author you want to Google right now, and read a little bit, especially if you’re Australian.
I noticed that I have people from Australia sometimes checking my blog: Here’s some homework for you, in case you find some free time.
Australia… I have a special relation, a special dialogue with Australia, and New Zealand.
Lots of commonalities, lots of differences.
The biggest difference being that one had a Maori population, whereas the other had Aboriginals (when the Whites arrived). So the interaction style was different:
the Maori fought back much more organised, whereas the Australian Aboriginals didn’t seem to be able to fight back in an organised manner.
What does this tell us about our civilisation? The stronger (race) wins? That’s what everybody believed at that time, they thought it’s an evolutionary principle (eugenics), the stronger killing off the weaker. But then somebody stood up and said:
“Dude, dude, stop, because the more in-group you become, the more the genes get messed up, and it will be bad for us as well.”
So you don’t have to kill everybody. It’s better to have a dialogue with Them.
Let’s talk, let’s recognise each other as humans and see what the Others have learned, in this place, on the same planet.
What do you guys think?
What do you guys talk about?
How is your language?
What is important?
What is of value?
What is the Good in your society?
What’s the Good in Aboriginal Australian society? The Dreaming is good; read a little about the Dreaming now. Not the museum caption stuff, but just go into a slightly more profound understanding, in that
the Dreaming consists of songs associated with travelling a certain path, and knowing the songs, the verses for each spot, the names for things.
Think how complex it must have been to sing all these songs, to know all these songs, to pass down generation after generation all these songs.
Each song was about a sacred place in Nature, where we would go as tourists now.
They had songs about the Dreaming, right? But they didn’t have rules for property.
So, what happened? The Queen happened!
(Later: Actually, the King (George the 3rd) around this time: 1770.)
God bless the Queen.
The Queen claimed the land and the rest is History.
Who does the Queen represent? Us, Europeans, at least Western Europeans.
The Eastern Europeans were busy fighting each other or the Turks at this time. We (=Eastern Europeans) had our own thing, we were (usually) fighting with the Turks, the Ottoman Empire.
Romanian history basically starts with fighting (the Hungarians at the Battle of Posada, 1330); then we’re fighting the Turks, and then the Hungarians, then the Turks, and then the Turks, the Turks, so the Turks are pretty clearly our favourite sparring partners, although we sometimes sparred with the Polish.
It gets complicated for other people; it’s a small area where various groups were fighting each other.
It helps (if you’re an American or Australian) to think of it in Huntington’s terms (the Clash of Civilisations):
You have the Western (Catholic) Christianity versus Eastern (Orthodox) Christianity versus Islam (Ottoman empire).
All these civilisations come together in a place, which was often (on the current territory of) Romania.
So 3 giants and they fought for most of the Middle Ages until World War One.
The First World War One was not religious any more, but as late as 1877 it was still a lot framed in religious terms (following Samuel Huntington’s thesis):
Civilisations clashing at the edges, and the edges are often in (what is now called) Romania.
I don’t see how else we can make a change (towards the Good) other than by engaging in honest dialogue.
Where this is possible, of course.
Where evil exists (e.g., mass shootings), where you have these demented guys immersed so completely in a hallucinated reality, I don’t think you can have a dialogue with them because they would rather kill everybody.
That’s their one dialogue line: Boom, boom, boom.
Until they run out of choices (bullets, energy, victims?), and then they kill themselves.
Basically this is suicidal behaviour.
This happens in Japan as well, although the weapons tend to be knives (as opposed to guns).
These are deeply disturbed people, who just want to become famous for a minute and they take the short path because they have been living for so long in God-knows what psychotic world that they cannot tell what’s Real and what’s Good any more.
These are evil and these must be stopped, and that’s why we need aikido (Ki-Merging Path) as we need to learn how to protect ourselves against evil, which in Japan means crazy people with knives, mostly.
We don’t learn how to deal with crazy people with guns; it’s a question I hope I don’t have to ask myself. For Americans the meme of guns has developed into a huge thing, because all of the scenarios we see playing out right now (on the screen and in reality) are not of normal dialogues:
They’re scenarios of very short dialogues, with a very bad ending for a lot of humanity.
It’s just about survival, about the survivors.
This tells us that fear is the greatest enemy.
“Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration”
We’re talking about a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The American fear of crime causes an increase of gun sales (meaning an increase in gun ownership)
To fully grasp how idiotic this behaviour pattern is, remember what happens with the Hunter going after the Bear with a big gun.
It’s suicidal behaviour:
Fear, fear, fear, which at some point evolves into paranoia and psychosis:
a belief in a reality that is so malefic that all we can see around us are objects of fear.
Well, you can try to live like that, but it will leave scars.
How big scars? Think “scars on the scale of amputations”:
You will lose parts of yourself because you deny yourself dialogue with those parts, with all these other people, all these other humans around you.
We’ve got to resist the fear. We’ve got to act rationally through dialogue (where possible) and act at a national level (where necessary) like Japan has done in terms of gun control.
People don’t have guns in Japan, you know? I read this piece of news the other day, about a teacher confiscating a gun from a student, who somehow got it from his dad. Anyway, the teacher (who confiscated it) was convinced that it was a fake, like a toy, and he accidentally fired it at a chair. Luckily nobody got killed or hurt.
Now, everybody (in the comment section) is going on about the teacher who was so stupid and careless. But my point is:
This is the kind of society you want to live in:
A society where people don’t know much about guns because there aren’t many guns lying around.
The only thing that gets shot is a chair.
How many accidental shootings occurred in America at the same time, on the day this guy shot a chair.
I want you (and this is your homework if you’re American), I want you to go and check what happened on this date (Nov. 26, 2013) in the US, look at the statistics for accidental shootings.
What’s the population difference? 100 plus million in Japan, 300 something million in the US, so divide by 3 if you cannot do it with “how many in 100,000?” as they do in sociology.
You might get a statistically significant difference, which might inform national policy about guns, as we have in Japan.
This is just a proposal of kaizen (Change-into-the-Good 改善) from Japan; I hope you can hear it.
The news for Americans right now is that Bob Dylan’s verses come true “A hard rain’s a-gonna fall”.
Masters of war have now taken control of what’s going on in the US, masters of fear and war.
Let’s remember the other Bob, the Black Bob.
Did Bob Dylan and Bob Marley touch zen? Did they partake of zen? As much as they insisted on dialogue and on pointing out the Bad, yes, they did, of course. But more so in the amazing shape they’ve given their dialogue forms with us; sometimes I wish I had their talent.
Sorry my song is lacking so much melody.
There is a strange aspect of modern humans (by which I mean “post WW2 humans”): In democratic societies, in which things have been improved to a point where you’d think
all we have to do now is to continue on this path and gradually make things better
people find themselves paralyzed, stumped as it were, by the sheer weight of an awareness of our mortality not as individuals, but as entire nations.
During the Cold War, this was manifested as the threat of nuclear war. Nowadays, it’s asteroids, or some random epidemic such as Ebola, but the fear is there that
all the work that you might put into making small improvements over a lifetime can come to nothing.
This fear is so pervasive as to make it (semantically) inappropriate to say “it may come to nothing” since we are so sure that it will come to nothing when some entity, some body, some organisation, some microorganism (if we’re talking about a virus), when some physical object in outer space happens to hit us, when the temperatures rise and create extremely severe weather events.
So then, the question becomes “Why bother?”
As long as natural disasters, diseases or wars have tended to be quite small in terms of their impact: 5 people in a town, 10,000 people in a bigger city and so on, when the number of victims stops at that (high number if you live there, but pretty low if you live elsewhere) you can still hope.
However, when the threat is that of complete annihilation, when we’re talking about modern war in a way that is easily imaginable post-Hiroshima, at this point we feel that it is no longer wise to bet on it not happening (hence the incredible appeal enjoyed by end-of-the-world religions/cults/movies/TV series).
So everybody is living from hand to mouth, from today until tomorrow.
In turn, this means that we give up on making the small improvements we could make because we are afraid.
Even now, when the Cold War has ended, we have these small crises which are hyped up as existential crises and their main effect on us is not so much to trigger a certain kind of behaviour (i.e., make us act in a certain manner, such as buying security-related equipment, guns etc.); rather
these very real (albeit inflated) threats serve to block our actions and keep us stuck in the ruts of the path we are currently walking.
This makes any small change-into-Good appear superfluous, out-of-touch with reality, gratuitous in the face of this massive potential for disaster just around the corner.
Here I see a very good explanation for our laziness, our inertia, our inability to change.
It is certainly true that the great majority of people are not doing much. However, this is not because people are by their nature lazy or stupid.
No, this happens because people are paralysed
[Note: By “we” I mean those of us living the good life, the comfortable life. These observations do not apply to those too busy carrying water from the well located 2 km away from the village]
The whole world feels like it may come crushing on our heads at any time, so why buy a helmet?
Why bother with small changes, when it could all end up in a big cloud of smoke?
Some people think that this would result in mass suicide, but that is not what we see because the survival instinct is strong enough in most people to guarantee our ability to continue living and only few would succumb to the anomie feeling, to the feeling of futility of going on with our lives.
Of course, more will succumb in a psychological sense and more will experience depression, obsessive-compulsive behaviour, self-destructive behaviour and so on.
For many of us the most visible effect is that we’re inhibited from taking action, from attempting small changes in our lives and in the world around us because we’re saving our energy for the big trial ahead which
So that’s why we just keep on shuffling through life and through this world.
Of course, there are some brave or lucky souls who can break through: Those who are fortunate enough to be endowed perhaps with the right genes to display fortitude and resist this onslaught of fear. Fear not of actual things, but rather expressed as a vague feeling that things will turn out really bad (e.g., World War 3).
What is really demoralizing is the knowledge that (as long as this situation continues) things actually get worse as the great mass of people is acting as a huge bundle of inertia, resisting any attempt to change (not because of our intrinsic conservative values, but rather) because
we don’t see any meaning which can be projected into the future other than conserving one’s energy for the real test to come.
This has happened for so many years now that we are actually worse off than if we’d had the psychological makeup of incurable optimists (i.e., people who keep on plunging ahead no matter what).
A minority of people have this personality, this set of traits to press ahead in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, but the great majority don’t have it and then we end up being where we are:
in the ruts of a path which is digging itself deeper and deeper into the ground with no horizon to speak of
despite our (very real) potential to achieve improvements, small changes-into-Good, which would take years to materialize, which would require the concerted efforts of millions, especially in the initial stages before this movement gathers momentum.
This is where we are right now, with this kaizen (Change-into-Good 改善) proposal:
We are at a point where we cannot guarantee the momentum, since we don’t have enough mass behind it,
because hope is not as strong a feeling as fear,
because trust is much more risky (in evolutionary terms) than suspicion,
This is another self-fulfilling prophecy, in the end.