Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Free Speech: The G-word, the B-word and the U-word

If you were unable to decrypt the title, you have presently succumbed to one of the core difficulties of censorship, the subsequent loss of clarity in communicating ideas.

Of course many would argue that restricting offensive speech is where the core issue lies.  The powers that be would prefer I omit the F-word, the N-word and the C-word; they would prefer I not comment on the silly need for a G-word whether he be the J-word, the A-word, or the Z-word (or she the I-word). They would prefer I not discuss why the other C-word is a zany myth and Darwin's E-word is an E-based strong T-word.   I think you get the P-word.

Actually a little bit more about the F-word.  I mean "Fire," of course!!!  (C'mon I stopped [frequently] dropping F-bombs in my twenties.)  Which is to say let's take a closer look at the yelling fire in a theater scenario.  Is doing so really that reprehensible?  At a level, it is exactly the practice the public needs, both in the literal and figurative sense.  In this modern era, with fire safety codes, my initial reaction to someone yelling FIRE would be a reasonably skeptical one.  I would look around,  listen for fire alarms, exchange swift queries with my peers and then, if warranted, exit the theater safely.  If it is a false alarm then the person responsible should be questioned by appropriate authorities and treated with just standards.  Needless to say, the perceived trampling danger, or a ruined feature film experience warrants the banning of yelling fire in a theater.  The audience may be peeved, but in the spectrum of misbehavior, it ranks pretty low.

The recent events in Paris run home the idea that "violence" is the real culprit.  Preventing people from lampooning ideas, whether it be resurrection or the big bang theory, the lift of an actress's face or the diminutiveness of a president's penis; so long as only words are used, it permits discourse, including the verbal response as to how hateful, how undermining, how illogical a statement was.  In this way individuals and human kind in general mature.

Free speech, without exception, is so necessary to permit exploration of ideas that the existing regime of ideas might very well find dangerous to their established order.  You have the right to challenge my ideas peacefully and it's my task to counter peacefully.

The hope, of course is, that the truest and best ideas, when shared clearly and thoughtfully, win in the end.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Influence: A Casual Primer

There's a timeless quandary (that I like to think I reformulated rather well): if the speed demon on your rear bumper is an asshole, and the Sunday driver in front of you is an idiot, what does that make you?

In the least this conundrum gives me a bridge from awareness of self toward discussing influence on the external world.

Our presence in the world has direct effects, more or less governed by the laws of physics.  The fact that our actions are influenced by ideas might be seen as more subtle, and I think it important to consider the how and when of passing advice or insight on to someone, be they friend, foe, or stranger.  How one influences and how one is influenced will vary greatly from person to person, and at least in my blog, I have some comfort in the fact that you've chosen to come here, and have the full opportunity to simply ignore the contents or to respond with a public comment or by contacting me directly to challenge the positions I present.  Most positively this creates an exchange of ideas.

In real time an act of influence can be received very badly especially if it wasn't requested.  One might fall back to the philosophy of live and let live, alas though that may serve at best as a baseline, it certainly isn't an honorable course of action when a parent is abusing their child in public, when two people are about to start a fight, or when one sees someone bringing harm to persons, property or society.  The Universe inherits our actions; I think it obvious that those actions should on whole be responsibly motivated.

Now I'm not saying one should intervene without reflection.  Jumping between two brutes is foolish when calling the police is a better option, at least for a middle class white person like myself.  Still, calling the authorities, or challenging a person or group to think more deeply upon their imminent actions, one ought to step forward, in safe fashion, to influence the situation with perspective and heartfelt goodness in mind.

My recent attempt to influence what I saw as improper involved sending a letter to an organization who I felt overstepped proper behavior (the letter in its entirety follows this post).  I contacted LAHIA (Love and Hope In Action), a proverbial soup kitchen, with the hope to improve the services they advertised.  Whether they will take heed of my gentle chastising or ignore it entirely, only time and perhaps telepathic omniscience can tell.

In the end, it is positively prudent to take sufficient time to ruminate upon the possible effects of our influence in the world, and then take courage to implement them, with reflection along the way. Indeed, live and let live is probably sufficient for most of the benign situations.  Nevertheless, there will be time when immediate intervention to prevent harm is called for and there will be times when we ought to consider, with compassion, planting shared seeds, that build upon the common ground of a better world for all.

As an afterthought, perhaps a new adage will serve:  when you expect traffic, perhaps it's better not to drive at all if only because you're more likely to talk with others on the same footpath.

Who's the fool
Where apathy rules?

You've got to want it
You've got to want it

If you don't want it

It remains the same
It's a heart of darkness
That wants to play that game
If there's no defiance
It remains insane
If it's all compliance
It's a runaway train
                                                                                                             -- Runaway Train (Geddy Lee)

To the LAHIA Management, 
      Having participated at Manna on Main Street in Pennsylvania, a food kitchen and pantry for those in need, I was looking forward to my volunteer experience at LAHIA so that I might help out the local community in need.
      Boy was I surprised.  I was saddened to witness an intimidating prelude to providing food to a roomful of people that were looking for a friendly meal.  For at least 30 minutes a LAHIA volunteer lectured these waiting, hungry people on the necessity of bringing Jesus and God into their lives.
     Please recognize the potential psychological damage you are doing by treating these people like children who must learn their religious lesson before they are permitted to eat.
      I suggest you look within your Christian belief and find true kindness.  I believe it would be appropriate to open with a minute to announce the generosity of LAHIA, volunteers and sponsors, and even to suggest these people consider attending a service.
      I am in process of writing a journalistic article about LAHIA on my blog.  I welcome your response that I might include it in the article, and hope a little input from me might have you reconsider how LAHIA treats the people they serve.
Brian Bohmueller

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Consciousness: The Journey Within

Now that we have 2015 rolling, let's start off with some basics.

It seems to me you can't get any more basic than consciousness itself; without it we would not be able to have any experience of the world let alone follow up those experiences with creative discourse to hone our execution of goodness.

The book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris most recently encouraged me to further explore the foundations of consciousness. Throughout my life, I have explored a number of avenues of inquiry: by rote learning and religious inquiry of moral absolutes has given way for me to ongoing and expansive scientific inquiry of the Universe and humanistic/naturalistic inquiry of an evolving ethical stance.

What lies beneath?
[Douglas Harding's Headless Self Portrait]
The path of investigating my own consciousness seems to me to be an entirely different direction of inquiry from any other. The meditative journey seeks to provide an immersion in the most basic levels associated with our sapience.  Within our minds numerous thoughts from the truly chaotic to the tediously ordered are born, dance and die as we go about our everyday tasks.  I use the term "thoughts" here in the most basic sense, as in anything that causes neural activity (ideas, sensations, emotions, unconscious brain to body signals, et al).

Meditation is a path to examine the conscious landscape.  I am currently a beginner meditator, so my intent here is primarily to stir your interest in pursuing consciousness exploration for yourself.  The simplest mindfulness meditation requires only that you set aside some peaceful time to pay attention to your mind, listening without judgment to its activity.  In practice, this usually entails entering a relaxing posture and focusing on your natural, recurring breath.  The subsequent observations gradually expose you to the waves and whitecaps within the ocean of minds, and perhaps a sense of the water itself.

Personally, I have meditated many times over the past year and I have found growing peacefulness in building a greater awareness of self, or rather the layer beneath self.  At first I noticed a lot of distracting ideas, sensations, and emotions; there is definitely import to observing these for what they are, but also to simply let them go and not focus on them.  (focusing on these would result in "contemplation" of the very thoughts meditation seeks to observe beneath).

Now one might label this pursuit of consciousness as a strain of mysticism.  I am convinced there is nothing supernatural involved, no union with an imagined, collective universal existence, no shared insight with a contrived deity.  Instead, I feel the meditative observation of our inner minds brings us closer to the most basic mystery of our mortal existence.  In this exploration, we may be able to temporarily peel away the  onion skin of brain function to examine the gift of consciousness that evolution has provided all sentient creatures.

Your exploration of consciousness may vary, of course, as you are your own individual. Nevertheless, the natural progression has delivered to us a common operating system.  Finding time to explore the inner most mind at a personal level seems an obvious place to not only find a joyfulness in the simplicity of being, but to also understand a commonality between all of us to further support empathy and compassion in our lives.


(As for Sam Harris' book overall, I give it a solid "okay."   Though interesting at times, the first third lurches with academic neuroscience knottiness.  Still I found the later chapters a down-to-earth collection of mindfulness meditation guidelines and numerous personal anecdotes.  In particular, Harris relates his experiences (both grand and grotesque) with gurus, psychedelics and other landmarks in his search for his root consciousness.   Still I recommend it, if only to stir your intrigue; another meditation book I verily enjoyed is  Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Resolution MMXV!!!

Happy New Year!!!
Possibly the Fluffiest Goodness First Post of 2015

Once again the annual integer change requires the resolution generation ritual.   Truly, resolutions have merit in that they can give us goals to obsess over focus on!

As such I feel obliged to make my Goodness First resolutions public.

Resolution One: I will strive to bring my readers thought provoking weekly articles here on my Goodness First blog all year long! (yes, this one counts.)

Resolution Two:  I will strive to respond mindfully to each comment posted or emailed to me.  (Privacy preserved as requested though I reserve the right to share subsequent inspirations without substantial remuneration )

Resolution Three: I will strive to include any requested topic in a Goodness First weekly post. (As such, a discussion of Fairness is in the works... and possibly Upside Down 2-liter Bottle Storage Efficacy)

Happy Resolution Making To Anthropomorphized Viral Felines All!