Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Smileful of Thanks

The carnivorous human bearing of teeth (aka smile)
is said by some to harken from a toothy display of  healthiness!
Spending time with family over the Thanksgiving holiday has me thinking (and ostensibly feeling) upon what being thankful is really all about.  On the surface, it seems self evident that gratefulness is a positive mental state to aspire to, but what exactly does being thankful mean?

I feel thankfulness exists as part of the process of being aware of self and other.  When we have a positive experience (perhaps mixed with negative and neutral experiences), we then recognize internally this experience (ideally isolated to a single precious thing) for that which it is, something which has the quality of being positive, and then, most importantly, we mindfully acknowledge the experience, bathing in the endorphin buzz results.  That last bit is the truly thankful moment and it does seem to me to be fully internal.

Of course, if we choose to communicate our experienced thanks externally to others, well then, that is an added plus, which perhaps can cause a whole series of thankful moments, domino effect style riding out across the planetary sphere and forward into time immemorial.

And so as I ride the cusp of the current moment, I am thankful for the ability to develop and share my sometimes grandiose and sometimes piddling ideas here on this blog with you.

(Thank you for reading and responding!)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Cusp of Being

The Present is all there is.

The Past is a continuum of often deathly silent Presents that can haunt, inspire and distract.

The Future is a pyramid of possible Presents to imagine ahead with bittersweet uncertainty.

Be Present.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Overcoming Despair

Know thy enemy.

If Goodness were to have an enemy, I believe it would be Despair.

Despair (the incarnation thereof, from Neil Gaiman's Sandman)
Evil, if it exists is a psychotic aberration, a storybook concoction to distract us from the true horror around us, among us and even within us.  Despair, on the other hand, is all too real, whether in the form of an unhappy professional's Monday morning commute, a monthly mortgage on a lonely house, or an itchy scalp that won't go away.  In life, the multitudes of challenges we face, from ticks to terrorists, not a single one is inherently evil, they are merely dark facets of reality, the requisite shadows of anyone who seeks light.

In a previous blog post I commented on that eventual state of darkness, we must all one day face, death.  There are many who will cite scripture and authority to support the delusional position of an afterlife to combat such a despairing destination.  In my opinion such a delusional position distracts us from the challenges in our lives, in building towards a "heaven" here on Earth.  Still, there is an element of merit in such a belief in a second chance, if only that if we fuck up our one true chance in life we can feel good in those moments that are otherwise rife with despair.

Death in all likelihood actually holds for us the ultimate peace of nonexistence, an assured peace once we have lived our whole life, a tapestry woven of threads of joy and suffering.  At first blush, we might think being positive in every moment and ignoring the dark patches is a worthy way to live.  If one is to live with integrity, however, one must confront the presence of suffering by other living things, so long as we don't permit it to drown us in an ocean of despair.

Dare to stare despair in the face!  Indeed, there is so much contradiction in this life that living sincerely can make staying on a sane path difficult at times.  Too many examples shatter the idea that Goodness occurs naturally and of its own accord in this world.  We celebrate the immensely expensive military killing machines and the humans who wield them ostensibly to seek peace, hardly considering the despair and hatred we stir in our  fellow humans.  At an even more fundamental level we destroy life to sustain our nutritional lives, rarely taking a moment to contemplate the plants and animals that were confined, killed and converted into delicious food.

And so we live in constant suspension of disbelief, trying to see only the Goodness in the walk through the world while forgetting the suffering we cause with each footfall.  We pretty much ignore every planetary issue that is obviously driven by human population, reveling in increasing our numbers while our planet cries at every additional billion humans we add to its overladen environment.

I wish I could provide a better light at the end of this dark tunnel.  Alas, the hard truth is living as individuals and groups with the most positive intentions will never result in a despair free existence.  Perhaps being honest with oneself about the state of despair is the ultimate irony, as sometimes I do wonder if the religionists are wielding evolution's gift of self delusion to their advantage, by potentially living happier lives for the benefit of the human species and at the cost of all others.

Still, I believe conscious existence is the silver lining facet in an otherwise despair seeded world.  Sure, at any moment we can opt for ultimate silence, alas once invoked you will lose any chance at the rainbow glimmers that permit us to dance on the head of Despair.

Life is problems. Living is solving problems.  One of those problems is Despair.

(Endnote: I contemplated holding off posting this until Monday, to avoid adding a downer to the weekend, alas, better to present Despair on a Friday, methinks, if only because the glorious promise of a weekend has the best chance to confront such darkness)

Friday, November 7, 2014

Thought Transfer Protocol X

Often taken for granted, humans have evolved and developed this magical thing we call language, Since getting the Goodness word out is critical to living life fully, I think it's worthwhile to highlight the various language mediums we use everyday to communicate, each providing advantages and pitfalls along the way.

Face-to Face-Talking:  As old school as it gets.  Tens of thousands of years of invested ancestral research layered on top of our evolved senses and processing power lets you speak vocally and importantly integrate hand, face and body gestures to get across the point to your listeners.  This mode of communication is still popular in the modern day for those of us who aren't total shut-ins.  Of all the implementations of language, talking face-to-face is inherently the most satisfying, as it provides reward feedback loops wired for millions of years by evolution and further programmed by cultural upbringing.  Its biggest disadvantage is its ephemeral nature; "whisper down the lane" unreliability added  to "foot-in-mouth" inaccuracy hinder its effectiveness.  Still it remains the truest real-time use of language humans use in the current day.

Letter writing: Victorian in essence, but surprisingly popular up until the dot com expansionist era.  Surprising how many post cards, holiday cards, romantic notes and other written thoughts were shared pre-2000 as the primary method of communicating with people too distant geographically or temporally.  There is an art to constructing a written letter that is joyful at its core; sadly the art of cursive handwriting itself is definitely on the extinction list given the current Millennial Generation's addiction to the QWERTY interface.  Writing in general has the advantage of providing the writer an opportunity to reflect before bringing pen to paper.  Books in essence are organized letters to unknown future readers and have served as the foundation of cumulative understanding until the more recent digital days,   The semi-permanence of the written word can also be a disadvantage as one (or a group) can be held accountable for their statements, as they should, especially when updated information contradicts older ideas.

Telephony:  Fully implemented in the 20th century, this convenient mode of vocal conversation sought to emulate FtF talking, sans the presence of gestures, eye contact and physicality.  Sound quality can greatly effect the conversation, and unless you have an agenda or a personal knack in holding a deeper conversation, I find this medium can devolve to "how's the weather?" pretty quickly.  Still, this near instant ability to converse with people at great distances permits coordination of good works and rapid spread of big and small ideas.  Given so many have mobile phones nowadays, I would love to see true voice conversations regain a foothold in our culture.

Email:  The electronic letter was both the savior of written correspondence and the ruin of the handwritten letter.  Email's double-edged sword has definitely increased the amount of non-realtime communication, with all the written letter benefits of being able to be reflective, and easily edit ones words.  Since the late 90's people across the world have discovered this free, near instant, spell-checkable medium.  Too bad 90% of email has gone spam; still if you want to share a deep thought or a brief anecdote with a friend, it can't be beat for convenience, even if the artistry of the email is pretty much relegated to ones choice of font.  Done right, and email exchange can be an effective way at sharing meaningful, personal information.

Texting:  The age of smartphones infected us with the need for greater instant gratification.  Where a phone ringing could be ignored or an email silently filtered to trash, texting inherently requests a near immediate reply in our current culture.  Absolutely great for quick "I'll be theres" and "Pick up milks" alas the tendency for text blurbs to be terse makes them horribly inadequate for deeper conversation.  Unfortunately, the ease of texting use has strong armed its domination of the conversational paradigm.  The result is a dramatic loss of conversation quality, especially when someone misses your text or by choice ignores replying for days.  One can only hope texting will find its way to a place where it simply seeds the beginning of a conversation through a more appropriate channel.  On the other hand the flirtatious use of sexting can be just what the doctor ordered in a romantic exchange.

Blogs and Facebook:  These are the partylines of the 21st century.  Facebook in particular is the collective blog for the masses, having all the makings for a massively detailed, broadly shared multimedia journal. Sadly FB can also be an idea scrambler and even a thought black hole.  Aggregating hundreds of friends' posts into one magazine layout is at the same time enjoyable as it is frustrating for reader and author both.  By design it is not a one-on-one interface; instead, it is a customizable "what's up with my friends and family" space.  As such, it actually permits people to share deeper messages in a well thought out manner.  The major drawback is the messages are untargeted, and a shared, mindful thought may get totally ignored. In FB, one lives for the LIKE, the smallest bit of acknowledgement that what was shared was actually read.  Comments are even more treasured for their relative scarcity, as a typed response gives the author more feedback to go on, whether positive or negative.  FB also suffers from media spamming, and re-re-shared posts that too often have no added creativity by the sender, further diluting the meaningful posts that are actually accessed.  Blogs on the other hand can achieve more successful localized sharing, if only because the readership is more topically targeted.

Twitter: I've tried to use Twitter, alas the streaming idea fragments it generates has been too much of an anonymous jigsaw puzzle for me to assess accurately.  It certainly is used a lot, so I imagine it fills a gap the other mediums lack, particularly in specialized situations like national coups and TV series real-time commentary.  Personally I have eschewed Twitter if only because FB, email and texting have informationally satisfied my communication wants.

In the end, the challenge for each one of us is to utilize these mediums to the best of our ability, whether to improve our relationships with others or to increase the productive outcome for personal and group projects or to otherwise assist us in pursuing good works.

In what ways do you leverage language creatively and effectively?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Epitaph du Jour

Autumn is in the air creating that deathly ambiance that we in the deciduous zone associate with leaves turning a full array of torpid colors.  Gravity exerts her patient horrific force pulling these dead plant appendages in languid spirals to the ground where ancient decomposition processes devour their papery flesh, particularly when our fire breathing, dioxide emitting mulch engines have shred them. Some people actually wallow in gathering these dendrogenous corpses into piles and revel in leaping upon and rolling amidst their crunchy, crumbling bodies.
Chiseling With Abandon!

Appropriately, Halloween approaches where we dare to laugh Death in the face by exposing ourselves to terroriffic simulations, role-playing the undead, and generally embracing numerous acts that celebrate the macabre with an open toothy smile.

Morbid satire aside, I wonder whether our subconscious minds thrill at the darker phases of the natural cycle for the same reason a toddler enjoys the tickling of uncles and aunts.  Perhaps, our minds yearn for variable stimulation to thrive, and were we to actually attain that idyllic permanent vacation with the pleasures of massages, poolside relaxation and infinite food access, we would likely become the potatoes of the sedentary variety that would simply rot our minds and bodies from inside out.

Might we turn this fascination with the shadow side of live into a mindful exercise.  Imagining our own death is perhaps the most morbid, self-facing act there is.  Certainly, mulling over the details of how our bodies might suffer along the way to death through to decomposition surely is unsettling.

A practical person might simply focus upon the details of disposal and funeral ceremony to reduce those concerns for friends and family.  Further, might considering ones prospective eulogy and epitaph inspire us to write our life story with deeper meaning?  Imagine if each morning once we've broken through the cobwebs to momentarily exclaim "Wow, I'm still alive! Now what am I going to do today to make what may be my last day of existence amazing!"

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ruling Ourselves

Each person's journey is their very own.  (as is the journey of each living organism)
Melting Down the Golden Rule for Recalibration

Personally, I think the idea of selfishness gets a bad rap.  Our experiences are by their nature centered about our individual existence, and much soul searching can and should go on in that circle of one.  We all find psychological and energy and ethical insight from being alone, meditating, reading, walking in the woods, or whatever the task or untask may be.

Selflessness, on the other hand, can be extravagant and superficial to the extreme. Sacrificing ones life chained to a single tree at a construction site, planning ones suicide to cash in an insurance claim to give ones destitute beneficiaries a windfall, or more realistically devoting ones life to a cause or belief that you were taught by rote from birth, without bringing your own mindful analysis into play.

Nevertheless, reality presents a landscape within which we seek to thrive for ourselves and for others. Selfishness, when tempered with selflessness can bring this pursuit into balance.  It is the day dedicated to finding joy for yourself, while simultaneously achieving deep satisfaction by bringing joy to others that brings fullness to life.  

One might even concoct a Golden Rule Living Ethic to flesh it out:

Strive to do unto living things (Endeavor in thought and action...)
as they would have done unto themselves (to be empathic) 
while being true to yourself (to be selfish) 
while being open to adjust your positions and actions given sufficient evidence (to be scientific) 
toward an agreeably malleable definition of Goodness (toward doing Good)

Not bad for a first iteration, methinks.  I present it as an open source starting point for all who seek truer life satisfaction.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Wake Up All You Zombies -- Eat More Veggies!

Want some BBQ sauce with that?
Halloween month is here and the zombie rage is holding firm in Western culture!  In the past I honestly haven't been much of a zombie fan, with the exception of Zombieland (Harrelson at his best!), alas I now sense why zombies have become so omnipresent in our culture.  No, it's not that Jesus serves as the archetypal undead godman ruling secretly over the Christian right in our country; in fact, it's because at a base level we consumerist Americans cringe at the reality behind consuming the dead meat parts that we otherwise blindly enjoy.

I've been contemplating how to write a Goodness First article on vegetarianism for a while now, so ready or not, here we go.  Perhaps it's simply best to walk through my gradual transformation and challenge you to honestly confront these talking points for yourself.   I welcome your counterpoints, that is, if your zombie flesh-eating inner-self can stomach the gristle of integrity.

For decades I subscribed to an omnivorous diet having been indoctrinated since childhood by my family, marketed to by animal slaughtering businesses, and I most happily cooked and ate the wide variety of animal products western society makes available wrapped bloodless at the supermarket. Sadly, time is irreversible; I cannot ressurect the animals I've gnawed on, I can only move forward and minimize their future harm.

My recognition of being a zombie meat eater only came to me gradually over the course of two decades of adult life.  I realized that eating too much meat is unhealthy,  The preponderance of scientific studies indicate eating more fruits and vegetables is healthier than a diet overladen with meat. As as rational person, I subsequently reduced my animal flesh consumption and increased the amount of delicious plants in my life.  Eating vegetarian is nutritionally excellent!

Then, over the past few years I contemplated the morality of eating animals period. In spite of being conditioned to have meat a part of every meal, I decided to swear off the horror of killing near sapient creatures for my nutritional needs.  Of course the flesh of whale, dolphin, chimpanzee, and dog didn't show up in the grocery store very often, so it was a conviction easy to adhere to.  Eating vegetarian avoids eating creatures that are obviously intelligent!

As global warming surfaced as a dominant issue, it became quite evident to me humans were having a huge impact on the overall health of our living planet.  For example, wild animal species are going extinct at a rate a million time faster in recent centuries due to human expansion.  One of the most wasteful practices of our species is feeding billions of chickens, pigs, cattle and other enslaved creatures with plants we could instead harvest and eat directly.  Depending on the particular animal chunks you chew, the square footage of land needed to feed you can be reduced by nearly ten times.  Eating vegetarian is environmentally superior to eating omnivorous.

Nearly one year ago I stopped eating animals abruptly.  I had just finished reading the novel The Knife of Never Letting Go, a fictional telling of a planet colonized by humans.  In that tale a virus permitted all creatures to psychically read each others thoughts.  I enjoyed this pulp YA novel immensely and as any good story can, I was subsequently influenced to view my world differently.  I share a planet where animals have brains and can think.  They might not think like I do as a human, some might not even have a consciousness anything close to human, still all of these evolutionary cousins of mine were thinking and thriving in the life they led.  Certainly, plants also thrive in my world, alas one must draw a line in the sand someplace (perhaps one day I will be able to create delicious, nutritious food using a 3-d printer, alas not today)  Eating vegetarian prevents creatures that think from being killed!

And that's my story of how I defeated the zombie who lived within me.  Believe me, I fully understand the conundrum that omnivores face, since I was one so recently.  Like a religious cult, if you're told something often enough you will believe it without question.

Personally, I think the biggest obstacle to people reducing and eliminating animal parts in our lives is the mesmerizing idea that "meat tastes so good!" Vengeance, jealousy, anger and numerous other human traits equally feel good in the moment, alas, I dare to think we are better than such mindless evolutionary and societal programming.  There really is no rational reason to continue eating animal flesh, only misguided irrational ones.

Zombie culture will not change overnight, I admit; still, one by one, we can confront horrific arcane behaviors like animal consumption and slowly transform the abattoir behind the scenes of our society into a more ethical repertoire, and leave the killing for Hollywood to entertain us fictionally

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Butt of the Joke And Related Ponderings on Empathy

I have too often found myself sharing what I thought was wry humor, and yet the receiver found my comment offensive.  Such is the challenge of ethical relativism, in particular when jokes contain body parts or religion, or worse, by the gods' gonads, both!   As such, we should strive to be aware that everyone has a slightly different perspective.

Empathy, the ability to sense another's feelings in advance, is a hard won behavior.  Sure, evolution has dealt us a starting hand of behaviors that reinforces positive social interaction, inclusive of a certain level of sensitivity to the various needs and wants of others.  Nonetheless, our instinctive (and often unconscious) drive to survive and seek joy for ourselves can involuntarily trump the scene as we participate real time in our personal relationships and society.

Self-reflection as a mindful activity can assist as an ongoing journey of improving ourselves and positively influencing society and the world as a whole.  By engaging an empathy feedback loop we can continually calibrate our behavior with a goal of improving our empathy factor.  Which is to say judging ourselves with compassion and integrity is part and parcel to our human journey.

From a practical standpoint, engaging empathy in real time can be tricky.  Like so much else, mindful practice can improve our abilities enormously.  Listening with an open mind to friends thoughts, journaling without being too hard on ourselves, and simply reflecting on how others feel can empower our empathy implementation in the future.  Having an earnest "I'm sorry" at the ready is also an imperfect solution.  Indeed, the journey to wisdom and maturity comes with time and perseverance.

Does this mean we have to water down the spiciness of our satire, the acidity of mockery well deserved, or the outright sewage sourced material that provides counterpoint to a delusional apple pie Universe ?  Of course not, esoteric topics can be brought to bare in moderation, but we certainly should be more attentive as to whether the people we're interacting with are actually laughing.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Until Death Do We Part

It can happen to you, it can happen to me,
just as it happened to T-Rex and all its progeny
One of the most sobering thoughts I've contemplated is the idea that once we die we lose EVERYTHING.  We lose our lives, we lose our possessions, we lose our connection to everyone we've ever known, we lose every memory of the past, every opportunity to interact in the present and every chance to creatively shape the future.

It's no wonder once humans acquired a deeper sense of our individual mortality that we imagined an afterlife, at the very least, as a vision of hope that we might continue on and have an opportunity to reunite with those we love.  It also would give us a second chance to live better in a heavenly realm, particularly if we royally screwed up in the real world.

For me this contemplation of such total loss permits me to face the shadow of non-existence in the eye and then ratchet up my participation in the world.  It should be cathartic, rather than numbing, to realize this life is the only chance I get to make a difference, to experience the amazingness of human life and to build a bit of heaven on Earth for myself, my species, and the entire world.

Might we as a species take this one step further.  Humanity might take a day annually to imagine its own ultimate extinction, whether it be by the Sun's expansion into a red giant in another five billion years, by a random gamma ray burst from a distant supernova (an event that could happen at any moment without warning), or by the all more likely by an environmental collapse event that we self impose, such as runaway climate change or total nuclear war.

Envision however, if humanity can join together to acknowledge with great reverence the mortality our species shares with all our cousin species, those both anciently extinct and currently extant alongside us.  Perhaps, just perhaps, we as a world society can then focus on a long term management plan that listens to nature as best that science can, and listens to our dreams as our hearts and minds best can. Many challenges confront us along the way, the greatest of which just might be uniting as an empathic species to face the challenges that can enhance balance in the world as a whole.

With darkness our eventual inheritance, let us build a life now as full of light for all as best we can.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Silence: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Silence occurs across a spectrum, like so much else in reality, still it might be helpful to categorize three arenas of silence that we encounter in our lives.

The Good: Ahh...the precious solace of a quiet moment outdoors away from it all, the comfortable time of hanging out with someone between shared words, the peacefulness of a smile while sleeping. Our lives are patched together with so much busyness sometimes, our minds savor these times of tranquility.

The Bad: Shhh....then, there are the silences which radiate awkwardness.  The times we choke on sharing our thoughts with a friend or when we are intrigued by a stranger and instinctive inhibition keeps us from starting a conversation. At these times we can search inside ourselves for wit and gentleness to inspire worthy conversation.

The Ugly: Aughh!!!!  and finally there is that devastating arena of silence that can arise after we lose someone to death or, perhaps even worse, through abandonment.  When our heart is screaming and we stay silent, few things challenge us more.   One path to handling such deathly silence is to gather what courage we can and seek sincere dialogue with a good friend.

Feel free to share how you generally seek out good silences in your life while leaving bad and ugly silences behind?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mustering Courage Without Mustering Troops

Thirteen years have passed since the heinous tragedy of September 11, 2001.  Over three thousand human lives were violently destroyed that horrible day.  In hindsight, I find the response mounted seems only to have stirred the whirlwinds of further violence and chaos.  Striking back resulted in more than thirty thousand additional civilian deaths and trillions of dollars expended on warfare that could have been spent on education, infrastructure and diplomacy.

Part of me wants to blame my country's vengeance on the cognitive dissonance of religious belief.  As a nation of a high percentage of Christians one would think the Humanist principles of Thou Shalt Not Kill, Turn the Other Cheek and Love Thy Neighbor touted by biblical mythos would come into play significantly.  Instead, Smite Thine Enemy is the atavistic vengeance (rebranded as "justice") that my hawkish country chooses to embrace.

Part of me wants to blame my country's violent behavior on our evolutionary inheritance.  We are the genes that our parents' parents won for us.  Since Nature is the landscape of survival of the fittest, individuals and social networks that have made it this far by demonstrating physical strength will continue to do so, unless we press for Humanistic morals to trump brutish territory and resource disputes

At my core, I feel empathy for all who have lost loved ones to violence whether on September 11th or any other day of the year.   Overall, I am deeply troubled that our governments are not working harder to expand diplomacy, infrastructure and education.  Instead they seem caught in a political cycle of violence which rewards military strength and profitable industrial weapon complexes at the cost of millions of human lives.

Still, I realize Goodness is a slowly won cause that will take great courage to move towards. Humanity has the potential to rise above our inherited dogma and genetic desires and to plan long term using all the understanding and perseverance we can muster.  Our reward is a world that is either increasingly stable and thriving or increasingly chaotic and divisive.  Which world will we choose?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Poetic Interlude

Verse for Heart and Mind...both!

A poet who reads his verse in public may have other nasty habits. 

--Robert Heinlein 
(Time Enough for Love, 1978)

irrational-Me, meet rational-Me
until Death do us part may we Live in internal synchronicity I conjecture absence of evidence is evidence for the need of a refined hypothesis i Imagine a world that cannot exist infuse it with whipped dreams then write it tRue

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Book of Mormon: A Very Meta Review

(Somehow I don't see getting through this review without using a smattering of curse words...well the C word won't be used; that I'll guarantee.  Still, Mom and "you know who you ares," best to consider forgiving, forgetting in advance and move on to your Tea Party Gazette post haste.

(If you have plans to see The Book of Mormon, you may want to skip this Goodness First least until you have seen it...then read it twice :)

An HIV Innoculation, Book of Mormon Style
Okay, enough preamble. I recently saw The Book of Mormon (TBoM) at the Forrest Theater with a few friends this past weekend.  For those of you who are unfamiliar and have chosen to read this anyway in spite of my disclaimers, TBoM is the successful, irreverent, Tony-award winning musical created by the South Park duo, Tray Parker and Matt Stone.  The basic premise of TBoM has two Mormon elders, both teens freshly indoctrinated to save the world, being sent to Uganda to save the pagan people there with the Book of Mormon's particular vision of Christ.

My expectations going into this performance were rather in line with catching a live South Park episode (there actually is one on Mormonism) that pokes fun at religion through song and dance.   In fact, I expected something akin to Spamalot!, the Monty Python spoof inspired musical which rehashed much of the troupe's skit-based antics for fan benefit.  Now, I verily enjoyed Spamalot!, alas I also found it personally like watching Flying Circus reruns in 3D with the sound turned up to eleven.  TBoM, on the other hand, was creatively original through and through, yes delivering irreverent humor in spades, but also creating a well crafted story arc and many amazing moments that knocked my socks off.

To be sure, the production wasn't perfect, which might be expected since this was a cloned performance from New York...kind of like getting a Philly pretzel when you were expecting a New York sourdough bagel; your taste buds do still end up fairly happy, in spite of the bait and switch.  There were no celebrity headliners, which in itself is a little disappointing, and still the stupid insert sheet in my program indicated several understudies were standing in at this particular show.  This tacky behavior seems to be prevalent across Broadway and it always leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth;  I mean, when you pay over a hundred bucks for your mezzanine seat, you kinda expect the first run performers to be on stage.  And sure enough, as the opening numbers unfurled I found myself sneering a bit at the fact that some of the cast was obviously lip-syncing the songs like too many Caribbean cruise musicals I've had the misfortune of suffering through.

Nevertheless, I got past my nit-picking rather quickly.  The tapestry of the story integrated plot threads, stage magic and the musical and dance performance medium amazingly well.  Oh, did I mention South Parkian irreverence; well this show implemented said irreverence to the MAX!  Which normally is more than fine with me, yet I even wondered if they went too far once I saw the dazzling, Lion King inspired, African rhythmic number "Hasa Diga Eebowai."  The primal rhythms transported me into a childlike "Hakuna Matata" vision of African culture, that is until, the visiting Mormon elders on stage discovered the English translation equated to "Fuck You God."  Need I say more, this musical wasn't pulling punches; it was sucker punching its audience for added effect.

As I noted, normally I wouldn't think twice when it comes to such a display of religious irreverence.  Laughing at the everyday religious beliefs kind of comes with the territory when you've come to the conclusion all the gods and goddesses out there are lies that have survived like a hangover after a few too many drinks the night before.  This time around I actually felt rather sensitive to what believers in the audience might be feeling at the religious effrontery to Mr. Monotheism himself.  I became very aware of the demographic of the audience, which was pretty much the same as any mainstream play: a shuffling of middle class suburbia of all ages, with a triple handful of "blue hairs" on top.  And perhaps it was this elder generation present, the couples that could have been my parents in addition to the presence of a friend of mine I felt found the content more offensive than expected, which added to my own discomfort.  Then, I thought, WOW, I actually have a streak of empathy in me, intellectualized empathy, but empathy nonetheless.

After the first act, I expected about twenty percent of the audience to abandon the show.  I had a premonition it would be like the time I saw Pulp Fiction with a buddy of mine and halfway through he walked out of the theater saying this is just wrong, I'll meet you later. Now if that had been a date, I might have followed, but I had forked over good money to see the movie, so I grudgingly sat through the rest, not entirely enjoying myself at least in part because I felt my friend had abandoned me, but also wondering if I had slighted him by staying put. (Pulp Fiction imho does take a second viewing and a bit of film history hindsight to appreciate fully).

TBoM was not to be a repeat of this abandonment circumstance; every seat was filled for Act II, and though it's possible the high ticket price was the force that kept the audience in their seats, I was overwhelmed as the audience reaction to the irreverent humor continued to rise to an ever higher crescendo.  During these cavalcades of laughter and applause there were moments when I felt like I had found my church of irreligion; the multitudes around me understood that religion was all a ruse, and that we were laughing in epiphany at society and ourselves for being fooled in the first place.

Oh wait, I promised you SPOILERS and EXPLETIVES.  Suffice it to say The Book of Mormon features numerous choreographies of Mormons with their white shirts and black ties, a neon-lit Jesus spouting eloquent insults, a visit to hell complete with a Satan inspired ballad, messianic frog-fucking on-stage to cure AIDS, and even super-sized black balloon cocks (errr, I meant the other C-word, Mom) wielded with orgiastic aplomb to celebrate the Mormon faith.

Importantly, the performance does end with a signature South Park hidden agenda moral, one that pokes unabashedly at being anti-religious.  Alas, if you thrive on modern, no holds barred satire then you should catch this fantastic musical and discover TBoM's spurt-in-your-face nuance for yourself.

Amen. (Awomen too!)

[what does this post have to do with Goodness First?  Laughing at ridiculous ideas for one!  And generally accepting those who (peacefully) hold ridiculous ideas for two.  Life's a hey, we are in it together...let's bring a little laughter and a few effin' hugs along the way!!!]

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

to-MAH-to, po-TAH-to: the distinction between Morals and Ethics

As we strive toward creating Goodness in our personal lives and the world around us, we frequently assess whether the values and actions of ourselves and others are morally and ethically sound.  Yet is there really a difference between something that is moral and ethical? In one moment I have found myself sharing my belief that capital punishment is wrong for "moral" reasons while in another I'd share my conviction that killing animals for food is wrong for "ethical" reasons.

At first blush both terms seem fairly synonymous.  The word "moral" seems to apply when a value is universally true, whereas the "ethical" label seems best used in conjunction with values aligned with professional integrity.  Still, I've generally found the semantic distinction fuzzy at best; that is, until I recently stumbled upon a discussion that presented morals and ethics more succinctly.   In short, morals are values derived from an internal source, whereas ethics are values derived from an external source.

For example, one might value having a clean bedroom.  At a moral level, one is internally driven to keep the room clean, changing linens when they begin to smell and keeping the room fairly neat according to ones aesthetic inclinations.  On the other hand, ethically one might be influenced by external forces such as culture, research and superstition to act specifically; thus, changing the linens every third day at 5:30am, piling dirty clothing in a hermetically sealed hamper with a sprinkle of baking soda, and keeping the room scented with the Better Homes and Gardens sponsored fragrance of the month.

I feel describing behaviors as moral and/or ethical according to this definition to be extremely useful.  It permits one to recognize that moral values arise from the heart, that metaphorical place which initially tells us what is Good.  On the other hand, that which is ethical can be of a higher (or misguided) standard, ideally one that arises from critical thinking permitting Goodness to be pursued more effectively with the mind's careful consideration.  Of course, people are influenced by many external sources: ones profession, family and religion, etc.  Each of which may wield ulterior motives other than the greater Good.

Importantly, I find rational ethics to hold the promise of permitting us to override our pre-programmed animalistic nature, as needed.  Certainly, we shouldn't disown the beautiful part of the human beast that evolution has crafted.  In fact, humans and humanity are continually at a tipping point, where we get to decide what is Good and to integrate our best knowledge into behaving better.

Thus, it is most possible to integrate a variety of ideas presented by a curmudgeonly Dawkins AND a biblical Jesus alongside a fictional Mary Poppins to derive a personal ethic built upon a universe-provided, albeit imperfect, moral foundation.

Journeying on a path of Goodness, therefore, boils down to evaluating the merit of internal and external ideas in our minds and hearts and then implementing them with integrity and compassion
to create the best world we can.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Spectrum: Insight into Seeing Gradations of Light

An old tradesmen's adage goes something like this: "When you add a drop of wine to a barrel of sewage you have a barrel of sewage. When you add a drop of sewage to a barrel of wine you have <dramatic pause> a barrel of sewage."

Drink up! I dare you!
On the surface, these words of wisdom speak to the secret of maintaining a quality product.  Alas, the deeper message encourages the purity of diametric opposites (sewage and wine, in this case) highlighting how human perception is often colored by two allegedly distinct states.

Pick your favorite pair: black and white; true or false, good and evil; sweet and sour; right and wrong; and yes even dead and living. Each of these allegedly binary conditions pervade our everyday conversations and internal contemplations.

In most every case (which falls in frequency somewhere closer to always than to never) these positions are statements of convenience, never quite entirely accurate; a truer assessment will pretty much always fall on a spectrum between the extremes.

For instance, let's consider dead and alive. At first blush this seems like something that must either be one or the other, and never anything else. Yet, consider these: an unfertilized ova, a person in deep coma on life support, the individual tissue cells of a plant or animal, the DNA strand on a particular chromosome, the Earth as a rocky sphere thinly coated with life, one of the estimated 2.5 million people currently caught in human trafficking, a close friend whose body has long since decomposed but whose memory lives on strongly within us, or even a beloved fictional character.  In all these cases, I would argue the assessment of being alive or dead falls somewhere between the extremes of being fully alive and fully dead.

Spectrums better express the complex reality we live in.  Complexity by definition implies that a simple, pure description will not suffice, and yet it is useful to make these succinct black and white assessments in conversation.  Which is to say, I'm not suggesting we censor such words, but instead that we realize their use should be inferred to indicate a condition state is close to an extreme point on the spectrum.

Statistical science thrives on this understanding.  When we test a claim empirically, the evidence at best will give us high confidence of something, and at worst will give us cause to dismiss the claim as extremely unlikely.  This may seem like I'm giving support for disbelief in Evolution and opening up the floodgates for the rational belief in the god or goddess of your choice, alas there is a great divide between having a 99.99% confidence that Evolution is at at work in the world and less than 0.01% confidence that the existence of said deities is true. (hypothetical confidence levels presented are my personal estimates only)

Back to that vintage glass of wine.  It most certainly contains a bit of dirt residue from your wineglass, second hand smoke particles that have landed on the surface, and billions of molecules of water that were all too recently in some creature's urinary system.  And so, when it comes each sip of minutely tainted wine, we simply ignore the trace amounts of sewage present and enjoy the joyous flavors in the moment. (to do otherwise is to subscribe to the inanity of homeopathy)

In the realm between good and evil that is our complex reality, recognizing neither end state actually exists or even could exist should not deter us, as the knowledge informs us on how we can better strive toward that positive end of the spectrum which is Goodness.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Podcast Power!

So here we are in the twenty-teens; the Interweb is increasingly an integral part of our global culture and streaming media is commonplace in bringing education, entertainment and all things quirky and questionable thru whatever media device we have at hand.  Content flows from torrents, wikis, websites and, of course, media giant sources, old and new.

Personally, when it comes to getting the latest news, entertainment or inspirational ideas to inform my pursuit of Goodness, audio podcasts have dominated the landscape for me.  These podcasts are on demand and they're perfect to listen to during your daily commute, while working out, or while relaxing wherever you are.

Today, I review briefly a few of my favorite podcasts, which you can stream for free, without commitment, regularly or on occasion as life permits.   (search for them on Stitcher, iTunes or your favorite podcast app) The links  I provide all point to the podcast's main website.

NPR Hourly News Podcast:   This is on the top of my Stitcher Favorite playlist.  In under 5 minutes NPR provides an excellent update of the biggest news in the United States and across the world.  In my opinion, NPR coverage maintains solid journalistic standards.  Augment this news brief podcast with whatever in depth coverage you like, NPR Money, World News, Environmental News, and you won't be disappointed.

The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe:  Steve Novella, neurologist and skeptic figurehead, leads his crew in reporting the latest on the pseudoscience and science fronts.  His medical credentials and communication skillset are brought to bear consistently in the discussion of topics ranging from evidence based positions on vaccines to GMO food healthiness.  The rest of his team effectively complements Steve's leadership to bring humorous, friendly, and mildly irreverent conversation in their weekly broadcast.

Food for Thought: As a fairly new vegetarian I scoured the Interweb for a podcast that could inform me on the latest topics on plant-based food nutrition and animal compassion.    Colleen Patrick Goudreau does a great job at creating a friendly tone while covering a variety of topics.  The opinions in this weekly podcast aren't always as assiduously evidence based as I'd prefer, so keep that in mind; however, the empathy and common sense suggestions she makes, are fully worth listening to and considering when building a nutritious meal plan that is also mindful of environment and our animal cousins.

The Reality Check: this weekly, Canadian podcast does a great job of researching and presenting the facts behind myths and pseudoscience topics.  Topics covered have ranged from camping myths like does it make sense to try to suck venom from a snake bite to debunking full blown conspiracy theories.  Listening to this podcast makes me feel as if I'm hanging with a few buddies over a brew as we chat up interesting things about the world and whether or not they are indeed fact, fiction, or somewhere in between.

The Best of the Left:  This podcast is the epitome of progressive podcasts out there.  Jay Tomlinson is the media guru of this show who three times weekly presents a progressive issue in depth.  His method is to stitch together numerous other talk show vignettes and sound byte moments in a meaningful way.  The aggregation of left and right positions to inform is capped off with his insights and listener calls that he adroitly defends or destroys as reason merits.

The Humanist Hour: Perhaps most aligned with my world view of seeking Goodness, the American Humanist Society's podcast offers a rounded look at building an honest ethical world view.  The heart of secular humanism lies within the idea that we can find Goodness in life more effectively by dispensing with the mythological beliefs of our forbears. Interviews and discussion of secular topics that help individuals and societies live well together comprise the regular fare on this friendly podcast.

Of course, there are plenty of other podcasts out there (Sound OpinionsCar TalkIntelligence Squared, and Star Talk are ones high on my list), Those reviewed here, I believe, effectively contribute to informing a world view that mindfully and supports taking peaceful action along toward building a better world. Check them out, let me know what you think, and by all means, share your favorite podcasts!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Three Hardest Words to Say???

Three Words Can Be Powerful!

Communication is so integral to bringing Goodness into this world.  If H. Sapiens (certainly the most powerful species on Earth) is to successfully implement planetary, societal and personal Goodness, then we better be good at honest and effective discourse.

To this ends, over time I have encountered three 3-word phrases, that though very meaningful in their own ways, seem to prove quite difficult for people to say.  "I don't know."  
"I was wrong."  and "I love you."  Before you read the follwing commentary, I invite you to chime in on the anonymous poll on the sidebar to vote for the phrase that proves most challenging for you to say.

In my opinion, the difficulty of voicing "I was wrong," most harmfully interferes with humanity's efforts to move forward on so many fronts.  Perhaps it is difficult because saying so is self-effacing at the most foundational level.  Nothing causes more criticism (spoken and unspoken) than a reversed national position, than a waffling political leader, than a fickle colleague or friend.   So much better to say nothing than to admit fault.  If we could overcome this aversion and see the phrase for its more positive valence: that we wisely examined other options and considered all the best and current information to redefine our position, we could make such amazing progress.  Perhaps the better rhetoric to wield in this case is "I stand corrected."  Once stated, we can move forward toward a better position.

I actually find "I don't know" the easiest of the three phrases to say myself.  Perhaps, because I have caught myself (and others) saying it frequently in casual conversation as a rhetorical filler response.  I have generally countered that rhetorical phrase with the retort "Don't say might actually start believing it."  There is a heartfelt sentiment in that response; to be sure, we shouldn't chide ourselves for being ignorant of a fact, or indecisive of what activity or task we might want to accomplish next.  We certainly should be more mindful of the words we use; as such, the phrase "I don't know" can be most amazingly meaningful when wielded consciously.  The phrase is at the very heart of beginning a search for true knowledge and wisdom. Admitting up front that we don't have the information to answer a particular question confidently permits us to begin the fact finding mission, discuss ideas with others, and eventually find the best answer possible.

"I love you."  The third phrase of the trio seems quite unrelated to her two brothers.  And yes, we stereotypically associate "I love you" with an effeminate stance.  For years, I had personally held this phrase sacred, to be shared with the woman who would be my true love.  Alas, I'm not a young naif any longer, and over the years I've come to be sure I end a phone conversation with my family members with this ultimate of epithets or the more casual "luv ya," if only because that could be the last words they ever hear from me.  This phrase carries such a diverse spectrum of meanings, however, that I leave it to you as individuals to figure out where it belongs in your friendships, romances and solo meditations.  Still, it would seem a better world where that phrase gets spoken more often, or at the very least, that we let the people that we care about know it, whatever the phrase may be.

Whichever phrase you selected in the poll, I now challenge you to think a little deeper about why and perhaps consider sharing in a comment why you chose it.

Goodness to you!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Serenity of Home

Over the last couple weeks I watched the fourteen episodes of the single season of the celebrated, nay heralded, series Firefly (2003) and followed it up promptly with the capstone film Serenity (2005). Joss Whedon of Buffy, Dr. Horrible and Avengers fame was at the helm of this space-western series.

Wuh duh ma huh tah
duh fong kwong duh wai shung!!!
At the risk of offending Firefly devotees everywhere, my honest opinion of the series overall is that it was decent....ohhhkayyy, let's upgrade that to pretty good and all in all worth watching. (methinks I may want to set my self apart from the ubergeekdom masses, alas that's probably self-deceptive on my part)

I would sum up the Firefly series as a mad scientist's mix between The A Team and Buck Rogers with a pinch of Gilligan's Island and Bonanza thrown in for good measure. The ragtag sci-fi-fantasy crew members of Serenity, a Firefly-class transport spacecraft, perform a series of crimes salted with sufficient compassion, humor and self-aware aplomb to make the over-the-top gratuitous violence palatable. And yes, there is substantial nuance brought to bear, which will permit the true fans (Browncoats) to cite the facets of this show and its characters to support their devotion.

Personally, I found the series worthy for a couple reasons in particular. Foremost, the characters in the series create an imperfect family that in spite of their imperfections, find a way to stay together and support each other through thick and thin. Throughout the fourteen episodes (available on Netflix) the strength of their connections grow, ultimately creating a solid backbone for the rest of the show (antics, tropes and conflict) to anchor upon. They make Serenity their home in spite of their internal differences and their external challenges, which is laudable.

My second reason for appreciating Firefly is indeed there are many layers at work, often with imperfect grittiness. Which is to say, there are a number of topics developed in the show that would bear further discussion with a fellow fan. For instance, in the culminating film, the idea that eliminating evil from society might lead to unexpected (and dire) consequences is highlighted. Any artistic work which foments the deeper discussion of moral issues and the real world rates high in my book.

So yes, I recommend you check out Firefly, if you haven't seen the series already. By all means, acknowledge the plot holes, the scientific inaccuracies and unnecessary Hollywood violence for what they are. I think you'll find the connection the characters have in context with their predicament will merit further discussion, and perhaps in doing so you'll find a bit of solace yourself within your own circle of nerdy friends.

Home is Serenity.

(still..... can someone please explain to me why the Alliance (after a sustained and costly effort through the entire story arc) wouldn't bother to capture the still very dangerous and secret laden River when she is surrounded at the end of the movie!!! <<groan>> )

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Planet of the Humans

"Take your stinking paws off me,
you damn, dirty MEME!
Computer-generated visuals, particularly in movies, have created worlds which suspend our disbelief.  From the Wizard of Oz to Star Wars, we lose ourselves in the fantasy, in part to escape, but also in part to look at the real world through an abstract lens.  Perhaps such experiences permit us to attain a sensitivity to diverse perspectives that might otherwise go ignored.

In the most recent installment of the Planet of the Apes re-rebooted franchise, the film's tale, in spite of various flaws, was quite successful in illustrating one real-world phenomena: the fact that humans too often see other humans as sub-human.

Pick your favorite, real-world tragic rivalry, Palestinian versus Israeli, Black versus White, Blue Collar versus White Collar, Straight versus Gay, Old versus Young, Secularist versus Religionist, Republican versus Democrat....they each map quite well onto the (intelligent) Ape versus (sometimes not so intelligent) Human conflict conveyed in The Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  (fyi I intentionally randomized the firsts and seconds in the versus entries...order too often indicates favoritism)

So here we are in a veritable world of Spy versus Spy battles.  Each camp entrenched in some belief that labels the other camp subhuman.  These groups of people are sufficiently less-than-human that we readily ignore the three hundred civilians masacred in an insurgent attack yesterday, such that we barely blink when another trillion dollars is allocated to build the next installment of human slaughtering machines, such that we help ourselves to a second helping of ice cream while less educated human populations struggle to feed large numbers of unplanned offspring.

All too often complex issues bigger than ourselves and more distant than the local post ofice seem unpreventable.  Who am I to think my tiny blog will have any impact, let alone my vote come November.  In hard, cold fact, we each have to contemplate how we can best influence the world at large toward a balance of collective and individual goodness when it comes to these issues.

Still, I would propose we all can start by acknowledging the "We versus Them" paradigm is an inherited belief that has outlived its usefulness.  Such tribal thinking is how biological and cultural evolution (both indifferent mechanisms) slaughtered the genes and memes that favored NOT slaughtering other tribes.  I believe we are at a point where we've begun to transcend what evolutionary and cultural programming tells us explicitly to do.

The meaningful battle isn't Me versus You, it is the battle between Ideals of a Higher Humanity versus those of a Lower Humanity!

It's a war we must win on numerous fronts, if humans, apes AND all our biological cousins are to survive.... and thrive on our shared planet!!!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Amazing Movement: Evidence Based Decision Making

Magician, Skeptic, Star of "An Honest Liar" and
All Around Affable Human Being, James Randi (and me)
I am fresh back from Las Vegas where I attended this year's national centerpiece conference on skepticism: The Amazing Meeting.   For those untouched by James Randi's brainchild, this conference consisted of four days of serious discussions on science and evidence based thinking.  Additionally there were opportunities to socialize with celebrity skeptics, and numerous workshops and other fun events generally highlighting the skeptic movement, its progress and its challenges toward increasing evidence-based decision-making into our world at large. (in brief, a skeptic is someone who wants to discover and journey the path that is Reality, a reality that evidence supports; fictitious ideas are grand, so long as we recognize and treat those ideas as the fiction they are!)

The topics at TAM were varied and most were excellent.  I walked away with numerous bits of knowledge from various skeptics who host their own blogs (The Arizona History Chick,The Kazoo Sutra and Skeptical Medicine), podcasts (SGU), artists (manga artista Sarah Mayhew and webcomic artist Kyle Saunders) and great thinkers and personalities (Michael Shermer, Bill Nye, and James Randi to name a few).  The Interweb is your obvious path to find out more about any of these great people.

In addition to thought provoking sessions, there was plenty of time to meet, chat and laugh with skeptics from all over the world.  Perhaps some of the people I met are reading this blog right now.  I encourage my fellow TAM 2014 attendees to chime in and share their favorite moments at the conference. week I'll be back with yet another mindful Goodness First fact, if you have a question or an idea for a topic on how we might move closer to a world full of greater Goodness,feel free to email it to me with "GF Suggestion" in the subject line and I will gladly respond, and perhaps make it the centerpiece of an upcoming blog post.

Peace out!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Christmas in July

I’ve always found it interesting that the Christian faith (and much of the secular western world) has religiously adopted the pagan ritual of tree decoration.  The ancient practice celebrates the spirit within those trees that thrive in Winter in conjunction with a Sun deity returning to begin warming the Land anew.  The fact that early Christian missionaries permitted their targeted pagan converts to continue this tradition alongside the belief that Christ was a god made flesh sacrificed for their moral good seems quite ironic.  In hindsight, this conversion technique of permitting people to continue celebrating their beliefs turned out to be a practical and effective conversion technique.

To this day come the chilly days of northern hemisphere Winter, people the world over bring inside their homes dying conifers or erect plastic facsimiles, or with environmental mindfulness decorate living trees outside to make dreary gray days a bit more colorful and cheerful.  The varied glittery objects, strings of light and popcorn, not to mention model trains at their base, artfully humanize an already beautiful tree.  

"The Sun is a Star!" 
--Anaxagoras, circa 450 BCE
Similarly, we as humans decorate ourselves with ethical ideas that we import from hundreds of cultures, often unknowing of their mysterious origins.  We select numerous and varied traditions from the families we grew up with, the countries we call home, the friendships we’ve cherished, the fictional novels and movies we’ve loved, and yes, even the religious doctrines we have either escaped from or continue to have faith in.

Ideally, throughout our lives we adjust our moral selves as we consider new ideas imported from our ever growing life experience.  We could simply trash the ones that no longer make sense given our accumulated wisdom and knowledge.  A better choice might be to hang them lower on the tree of the mind as a reference to what we used to believe, a recognition that many things are fact and many fiction, and that with integrity we as individuals and civilization at large can continue the tradition of updating our understanding of what is true, and perhaps laugh a bit at the fictions we thought were true in the childhood of our being.

In July right now, the southern hemisphere begins its Winter with Rio, in particular hosts the global soccer extravaganza that is the World Cup. The capitalist infused, sports crazed populace glitters like tinsel in the wind beneath a towering mountain with a Christ figure ornament built by humans, beneath a sky a bit too high in carbon dioxide for our liking, all wrapped within a galaxy of stars including one medium size star that laughs at our silly rituals. Perhaps we'll laugh back once Sol has fused her Hydrogen supply fully into Helium five or six billion years from now.

Perhaps. In the meantime, humankind has a chance to decorate the Cosmic Tree with much and ever more beautiful, progressive understanding!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Progress on the Creation Front: from Myth to the Age of Reason to Cosmos

Progress can seem evolutionarily slow on the human understanding front.  Ideas can be so powerful that they live on as ostensible truth for thousands of years in spite of evidence to the contrary (or sufficient lack of evidence to warrant looking elsewhere).  Human hubris, more specifically the belief that we know a thing entirely, can slow down further the approach toward truth (knowledge and wisdom both).

In my opinion, myths and other fictions have and do serve a purpose.  In modern times fiction allows us to explore ideas creatively; similarly, our ancestors benefited from the myths they created.  At their most joyfully productive, these myths encapsulate survival information and moral wisdom in stories which entertain (joyfully and scarefully) and thus are more easily remembered and then facilely accessed and brought to bear on real life challenges.  At their worst, the myths grew into religious and political power structures that organized populaces to march under, creating a (quasi) unified ethic that endorses the slaughter of their neighbors in biblical fashion. Often in disregard of  Goodness or Truthfulness, myths succeeded in assisting the next generation of humans to succeed reproductively and territorially.

Alas, Humanity has progressed modestly beyond its mythical influenced roots (and arguably the pure need to survive as a species).  Still, myths survive within our cultural and religious traditions.  As the civilization process continues, mythical deities and economic whims continue to battle our progressive efforts at understanding the world, how it works, where its going and where it came from.  To this end, I'll make two brief stops on our ongoing journey of understanding.  The first with Thomas Paine's Age of Reason, which I read recently; and the second with Carl Sagan's and Neil Degrasse Tyson's installements of Cosmos, the latter of which I recently finished watching.

Thomas Paine's Age of Reason surprised me very much which underscores the adage to never reduce a book to its cover art or title.  Frankly, Paine's book would be more accurately titled The Age of Reason and How I Debunked the Christian Bible Using 18th Century Logic and Replaced the Corrupt God Therein with my Own Vision of a God Creator Whose Word is Written as the Cosmos Itself Yet Remains Patriarchal, Almighty and Worthy of Worship Through Enlightened Human Moral Action.  It's not surprising that Paine's work influenced Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, particularly in making the leap that human rights are self evident.  Nevertheless, although I found Paine's ideas historically interesting, it felt like he was in love with his own Deistic preconceptions to the point he failed to see the flaws in his own anthropomorphic god visions.

Fast forward and we see how science in the past three hundred years has unraveled much on the physical truth front as the installments of the ongoing Cosmos TV Saga demonstrate.  Carl Sagan and Neil Degrasse Tyson arguably have been the most prominent spokespersons (salespersons?) for scientific awe in the last fifty years.  The Cosmos series both presented a chronology of scientific discovery and invention, and informed the era of engineering marvel where scientific applications dazzle us daily, not to mention have solved countless challenges indifferent Nature has set before us.  Such developments have spurred on such economic prosperity (on average) across the world that we often forget what an awesome world lies beneath.  The most recent Cosmos series successfully implements computer generated and artistic animation alongside thoughtful narrative to help us remember the amazing progress we have made in understanding the physical world.  Additionally, the series as a whole indicates how being better informed of the physical world enables us to implement the moral ideals we set for ourselves.

Peeking Beyond the Observable Universe?
Progress toward the future unfolds at the same rate it always has, one second at a time.  In ancient times, the human species creatively confronted the mysteries of the universe by inventing mythological and fantastical hypotheses of how the world works and how it began.  Moving past the kings that leveraged mythical god decrees from birth, the likes of Thomas Paine inspired us to flush the biblical baggage and replace it with iterative, improved idealism, idealism which ironically clung to first cause imaginings connected to an Almighty Powerful (usually Male) Designer of Physical and Moral Truth.  In this modern day, progress continues as humans further wield integrity alongside seasoned techniques of seeking and finding truth, leaving pat myth-based answers behind .  Together we step forward with daring
aplomb, looking inward, and outward, forward and backward, and yes, even prior to the Big Bang moment, while declaring with deep a joyful honesty "we don't know"......"yet!"

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Art of Listening

There is Goodness in taking a step back from the conversation and drinking in what the world is sharing with you, whether it be the spoken thoughts of friends, current news, or the whispering of nature wherever you happen to be.

Sometimes it takes all ones concentration to find and sometimes one simply stumbles upon that shut up and listen state-of-mind.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


“No man is an island” --John Donne

Goodness being a subjective assessment implies there are many individuals personally assessing what exactly Goodness is for themselves, for the ones they are surrounded, and for the actions along the journey that ostensibly will bring greater Goodness personally, for others and the world at large.  

Troy and Abed Connect!
(Community RIP)
That being said, I think it is absolutely important to highlight the mediums themselves within which we seek to nurture diverse Goodness, our communities.

Having evolved as social animals, we are predisposed to communicating with those close to us.  Evolution itself is indifferent to what exactly is being communicated, so long as a thriving next generation adapts sufficiently to its surroundings to reproduce once more.  

From the perspective of human individuals on the other hand (and arguably many other species), we find it useful to exchange a whole range of specific ideas that aren't necessarily concerned with our survival. Humans in particular exchange a wide variety of thoughts that have very little to do with continuing the species, and instead address thriving as individuals and groups for our own sakes, not necessarily our progeny's.

There are many levels of community. At its simplest we communicate with ourselves, perhaps through journaling, contemplating our next life move, or simply reflecting on being grateful (or ungrateful) for what our lives have become or promise to be.  An inner circle of very close friends further permits one to share a unique assortment of private ideas to the benefit of all involved. Slightly larger circles composed of family members or comfortable friends provides a rich zone within which once can celebrate traditions, conversations, and just hanging out, as the moment requires.  Even larger community groups bind us together in cultural ways that can be unifying or divisive.  And so on....the largest groups become global, crossing interests, world views and even in the extreme including species that we keep as pets, harvest for food, or simply occupy the same geographic location or planet. In fact, we may not even be consciously aware that we are members of some of these communities.

At the end of the day, we find ourselves belonging to many diverse, overlapping communities, which one might label Community, an assemblage of numerous and hopefully positive alliances in which we consider carefully, or not, what our next act of Goodness might be.