Monthly Archives: July 2011

A Pinch of Longevity

The BIG questions about consciousness and the universe remain unanswered despite a continuous search for truth since the dawn of civilization. Those questions are asked at every level of human intelligence and intuition. At a formal level, they are distinguished by the category of study in which they are asked. For example, at the scientific level, cosmology asks, “How did the universe come into being?” At the intuitive level, the question is, “Why did the universe come into being?” The former seeks the “God Particle,” the latter seeks “God.” A myriad of studies have developed over the centuries, giving us various disciplines of sciences and religions, each of which is defined by its scope. Philosophy is unique in that its scope is the study of everything.

When I was in my early twenties, I had the ambition to be omniscient as soon as possible. My plan included extensive reading of the works of celebrated philosophers. Most of what I read was shocking. For example, revered philosophers not only condoned slavery but actually believed that slavery was in the natural order of human society. Many of them invented fantastic theories of reality without a shred of evidence. Through the centuries, they heatedly quibbled with each other over every ibid, op cite, vide, and passim.

I soon realized that my research was not entirely in vain, but in a totally unexpected way. I didn’t become omniscient as I had hoped, but to my amazement I realized that I had a better handle on reality than they had! No wonder they weren’t even close to a reasonable answer for any of the big questions. Yet, their voices are still heard, primarily at universities, much to the misfortune of students under the tutelage of professors who at best preserve dusty thoughts as though they are museum pieces.

If you are tired of memorizing tenets of master philosophers and writing papers about their papers, or if you are weary of convoluted arguments held by some of your colleagues, the following tips might be of use to you.

1) Reason is a prerequisite for philosophic discourse. To ‘reason’ that reason is an illusion, is the ultimate contradiction in terms. If you are engaged in a philosophic discussion, and your adversary posits a notion that disavows reason, consider further discourse automatically aborted by the disavowal itself. I mention this axiom only to urge you not to waste your time reading, discussing, or debating that popular non-issue. No matter how tempted you might be to bring the discussion back to reason, don’t waste your time. If reality is defined as some sort of dream, it’s time to wake up.

2) If you find the thoughts of a philosopher convoluted, the chances are that they are convoluted. If you find that his arguments are intrinsically not clear, the chances are that they are unclear. If you are captive to a philosophy instructor that requires you to create labored papers that our memories shred very soon after they have been graded, remember that this too shall pass.

3) Academic debates are often designed to sharpen argumentation skills. If you are required to argue on the side of your convictions, remember that you may lose the debate only because of your opponent’s rhetorical skills. Conversely, you may win a debate on either side of an issue only because of your superior rhetoric. In either case, superior rhetoric is not a substitute for truth. When someone is required to suspend his convictions in order to win a debate, he is forced to be dishonest even though that kind of ‘debate’ is just an exercise. There is an unequivocal standard when opposing views are debated: both sides may be wrong, but they cannot both be correct. A debater must be free to express what she believes is the correct side in an authentic debate.

Losing a debate does not invalidate your conviction unless you change your mind as a direct result of the debate. Even so, think beyond the debate so that you may be sure that your change of mind is not the result of persuasion, but of conviction.

4) Whenever you are confronted by a conflict between a newly learned fact and your overall philosophy, troubleshoot your mind as you would a home appliance. The analogy differs in only one respect. When troubleshooting an appliance, we check the plug first as a possible source of the problem (deductive reasoning). When faced with a philosophic conflict, we should trace its source to our fundamental philosophic tenets (inductive reasoning). Trust your judgment.

Simultaneous analysis and synthesis has always worked for me. Every new fact, concept, or experience I encounter is run through a mental process of ‘checks and balances’ that guarantees an integral philosophy at all times. I follow a simple discipline. If an irrefutable fact conflicts with any part of my philosophy, I don’t hesitate to carefully make fundamental adjustments in order to maintain the overall integrity of my philosophy.

5) Contemplating big questions and a myriad of answers to them has always been a source of pleasure for me as far back as I can remember. I’ve never understood the need for esoteric exercises, body positions, chanting, or the need for the right atmosphere to meditate. Meditation is an on-going experience. It’s always there for me: while at dinner, riding the subway, or watching a sunset.

If you are currently force-fed philosophy at college and expected to regurgitate it via meaningless papers, be comforted by the fact that there are lots of sunsets ahead for you. All you have to do is open your eyes to them and let the rays fill you with wisdom. Aging has a way of surprising us with a clarity about life we never dreamed was possible in our youth. If you develop and maintain an integrated philosophy, you’ll find that your later years are at least as vibrant as those of your youth.

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An Appeal to Youth

Republican comes in the dictionary just after reptile and just before repugnant.” This, from Julia Roberts, ‘America’s Sweetheart.’

Pat Robertson tells us that “Haiti made a pact with the devil when it broke away from France.” Hence, the earthquake. This, from a clergyman.

A face in a crowd, close to the burial services of a soldier, brandishes a placard: Thank God for dead soldiers.”

Liberals claim, “Bush is another Hitler.” Conservatives disagree with them and claim, Obama is another Hitler.” Both agree that America is not the America they once knew-but for different ‘reasons.’

A pundit sees racism everywhere. Another pundit sees racism nowhere.

And so on.

Opinions are like heirlooms. They are handed down from generation to generation. They die hard. Many, live-on for centuries. None are as recalcitrant to change as those about politics. The ‘common man’ and academicians often share the same opinion. For example, many educators are still focused on the evils of colonialism as the root of all geopolitical evil despite a half-century of the creation of sovereign states in Africa and Asia, along with sprouting island nations throughout the world. Occasionally appearing on television, there is a young college professor who teaches the politics of his grandfather, my contemporary!

Time-honored hatred for the wealthy also continues. It even takes the form of guilt among the wealthy. Rarely are distinctions made between earning money and stealing it. Many detractors of ‘the filthy rich’ enjoy a life that was considered luxurious when I was their age. That does not deter them from perpetuating the class warfare their fathers and grandfathers waged. Ironically, many of them share the same characteristic of dishonest businessmen that give trade a bad name: greed.

Politically, the “Little Guy” is still poster boy for just about every political party, especially at election time. Although ‘little guys’ (a.k.a. ‘real’ people) constantly exploit each other as they trade goods and services on a daily basis, they are one in their enmity against employers and corporations qua employers and corporations. They make no effort to distinguish between honest business and exploitation.

Youth is especially vulnerable to pre-packaged political opinions, including unrelieved skepticism. There is a fine line between skepticism and the responsibility of making a judgment. Skepticism is an integral part of the American way. That is as it should be. But skepticism is not an end in itself. It should serve as a filter for truth, not as a tool to avoid the responsibility of judgment. Skepticism often takes the form of propaganda. Comparing American presidents to Hitler betrays an inherited political prejudice, fueled by hatred. The same is true of people who display ugly placards to express their opinions. As with all types of prejudice, political bias severely distorts reality. Even sweethearts and clergymen are subject to delusions.

The quotations cited above, are all the more startling because they have been made by American celebrities! Given their access to education and broad exchange with other people, they should know better. It is mind-boggling to grasp the enormity of the gap between their opinions and reality.

The multiplicity of societal attitudes available to us on talk shows, documentaries, and other communication tools, can be better understood when we free ourselves from the illusion that current events are first-time events. When viewed from an experienced and informed perspective based on reason, seemingly new issues and heated controversies are revealed as recycled opinions. When debates disintegrate into hate-filled circular arguments, it’s time for Julia and Pat to examine the source of their opinions.

If you are young enough, you’ve probably noticed that debates tend to revolve rather than evolve into even the slightest resolutions. If you are young enough, you probably have noticed that during a debate no one says, “Oh, I hadn’t thought about that,” let alone, “You’ve changed my mind about that. Thank you.” If you are young enough, you may be able to distinguish fact from opinion. If you are young enough, you may engage in evolutionary debate in which debaters are seeking the truth together, not merely scoring points.

Remember, please, that minds close easily, but it is almost impossible to re-open them.

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S.A.D. (Societal Attention Deficit)

Colored flashing lights and animated images vibrantly enhance the hypnotic attraction of Times Square. Even native New Yorkers are excited by the dazzling panorama of surrogate motion. Natives and tourists alike plunge into an atmosphere that promises seemingly infinite choices for pleasure. One image instantly surrenders to another in competition for the attention of the square’s visitors. However it is perceivedas a crass cultural phenomenon or as ‘The Great White Way’Times Square is an international center of entertainment dedicated to the seduction of an endless stream of people flowing through an asphalt canyon.

I remember the cityscape of Times Square in the 40s through the 60s when I frequented the theater district. Outstanding in a maze of lights, is the telegraph-like moving electrical type flashing news across the Times Building. Despite the proliferation of ipods, this landmark is still useful to passers-by and still casts its spell as a symbol for a cosmopolitan city. Although necessarily short on details, it heralds headlines without distractions: Yanks win first game of World Series, 1-0…Germany invades Denmark…President Kennedy assassinated… .

What works for Times Square is anathema on television. News broadcasts, packed with details, assault us with distractions in the form of moving logos, changing backdrop colors, twinkling lights, and geometric patterns that constantly clutter the entire screen during reportage and commentary.

Fox news broadcasts are primary examples of frantic background motion during newscasts. The tactic is especially incongruous on a network whose newscasters, commentators, and guests are always at least as interesting and politically balanced as those of any other network, notwithstanding ‘liberal’ protestations to the contrary. Yet, none of the other networks displays graphics quite as annoying, irritating, and distracting as those at Fox. Incredibly, one of their news segments delineates world-news snippets by a whooshing sound that my generation described as ‘static,’ the worst of all distractions.

Apparently, the executives at Fox have a curious notion that background movement is effective for keeping viewers attentive. But abstract visual distractions draw attention to themselves, competing for the viewer’s attention. Moreover, viewers are most vulnerable to distraction when they come home tired by their daily jobs.

At an even deeper level, the growing demand for brevity and rapid speech has already diminished the comprehension skills of most viewers. “Too long, didn’t read it” in academia (of all places!) has its lethal companion on television: “Too distracting, didn’t understand it.”


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Here We Go Again

Israel became a state within a week of my twenty-first birthday. I was a full-time student at NYU and worked part-time to pay for tuition. Too busy to closely follow world events in detail at that time, I was aware only of historic highlights. These included the jubilation of Palestinian Jews, and the attack on Israel by Palestinian Arabs on the same day that Israel was recognized as a state by the United Nations.

Listening to the radio just after the war began, I remember an ominous statement from a Palestinian top official who stated (I believe at the UN) that the Palestinians would never accept the UN resolution recognizing Israel as a state. So far, his warning has proved to be true.

Israel functions as a secular parliamentary democracynotwithstanding scholarly arguments that it is a theocracy. Its neighbors are an assortment of oligarchies, theocracies, and dictatorships, the antitheses of democracies. In tacit complicity with terrorist organizations, the official rulers of those countries help terrorists wage war against Western Civilization.

It is striking to note on the net that there is ‘no Internet consensus for the definition of terrorism.’ That’s one way to legitimize, even condone, terrorism. Only a political partisan would find it ‘impossible’ to define terrorism! Apparently, political partisans in the United States make no distinction between ‘terrorists’ and ‘freedom fighters’ or the difference between a battlefield and ground zero of the former World Trade Center or a marketplace frequented by civilians. Somehow, vociferous partisans, often exquisitely fluent in English, can find no words to define terrorism. At best, some of them are naive. Most are misguided by their partisanship.

Although oil factors heavily as the geopolitical source of conflict, Middle East turmoil is profoundly ideological. Theocratic Iran has a leader who claims the holocost is a hoax. Terrorist groups are being elevated to legitimacy as political parties within governing bodies of sovereign states. The United States is ‘the Great Satan, and Israel its whore.’ The militant cry is ‘kill all Jews and Americans.’ The leader of Iran openly states that Jihad’s principal intention is to wipe Israel off the face of the earth and establish Sharia Law globally. Echoes of Mein Kampf reverberate loud and clear on radio, television, and the Internet. There are disagreements and rivalries among Middle Eastern states, their tribal constituents, and terrorist organizations, but they are all one in their hatred against Western Civilization.

Although Americans have been attacked at home and abroad by terrorists, they are not faced with the constant threat of annihilation. Israel is lethally vulnerable to defense breaches because of its geography. Ideological sophisms and niceties have no place in the realities of the landscape of Israel. Relinquishing the West Bank and the Gaza strip is ‘national suicide,’ as Netanyahu puts it.

Given the circumstances, Pakistan’s indignant protests against taking out Bin Laden without deference to Pakistan’s sovereignty may have been necessary to avoid internal reprisals. Be that as it may, it is certain that if the Pakistani government had been informed of our intent, Bin Laden would have been moved out of the compound long before the arrival of a SEAL force.

There are those who argue that the Prince of Terrorism should have been captured rather than killed. Armchair strategy is okay for sports events, but it is unseemly when it is related to on the spot, real life or death situations. Besides, it takes an inordinately dull imagination not to have some sense of what a clandestine military operation is like.

At the official level, the United States violated international law. Israel also violated international law when it took out a nuclear facility in Iraq in little over one minute. Israel will soon take out another nuclear facility, this time in Iran. In the face of genocide, international law must be suspended, especially in the heat of a simmering third world war that threatens Western Civilization. 

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