Metaphysics 101 Part 3

(Part 3 of Ten)

(continued from Part 2 of Ten)

Determinism and Free Will

There are two chronicles, one from the Old Testament, the other from the New Testament of the Bible, each of which implicitly demonstrates a metaphysical enigma that pervades the Bible and many other oral or written chronicles of the world’s religions. I submit these two chronicles as examples of determinism, a major topic of philosophy.

The first is the chronicle in which God asks Abraham to prove his fealty to Him by sacrificing his son, Isaac. As the story goes, just as Abraham is about to comply, an angel intervenes and Abraham sacrifices a lamb instead of his son.

The second is the chronicle of the Crucifixion of Christ. At the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples that one of them will betray Him. He also tells Peter that he will deny his association with Jesus three times before the cock crows. Of course, all this comes to pass.

In the former event, we have God asking a man to sacrifice his son. In the latter, God’s plan is to sacrifice His Son, Jesus. Why the sacrifice of Isaac or Jesus—or, for that matter, why the sacrifice of a lamb, or the intercession of an angel at the moment when Abraham was about to strike the fatal blow? Were these events predetermined?

A free will theist might respond that the actions of Abraham, Judas (who betrayed Jesus), and Peter were perfectly compatible with free will because God knew what was to happen in each chronicle only because of His omniscience, but that the choices made by Abraham, Judas, and Peter were made by their free will. However, I can’t help wondering why Abraham was required to show his fealty to God when God already knew what Abraham would do. Or why God, omniscient and omnipotent, created a world in which sacrifice and betrayal are possible in the first place. If God were omniscient and omnipotent, why would He create a world in which the crucifixion itself was inevitable, with or without free will?

Also incompatible with the absolute prescience of Jesus, is His cry on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Why would Jesus ask a question for which He already knew the answer—a question about the essence of His sacrificial mission on earth?

Millions of people have asked that same question through the centuries as they’ve been crushed under the hoofs of the four horsemen. In light of this, the theist has an insurmountable burden to prove the existence of a God. The atheist has a much simpler task of presenting his case against the existence of God, let alone a benevolent God. He might merely cite the Bubonic and Ebola Plagues and rest his case.

Those two chronicles from the Bible pale when we contemplate the Aztec practice of cutting the heart out of a living human being as an “offering” to their god (religions, like politics, are big on sacrifice). No religious practice can excel the horror of Aztec “piety,” but the following examples come close.

Hinduism is a potpourri of five basic divisions. Its origins can be traced to sacrificial Vedic scriptures and the Máhabhárata and Rámáyana epics. The central Hindu premise is the transmigration of souls, a concept usually referred to as “reincarnation.”

Some Sikhs brush away insects as they walk so that they might avoid stepping on an ant that may be the reincarnation of their aunt who still has a long way to go toward Nirvána. Most Hindu sects believe that all life is precious—unfortunately, some lives more precious than others when we consider the Hindu treatment of Untouchables. For example, two young “untouchable” men (Ramprasad and Ramlakhan) “will never…forget the day they dared fish in a pond used by upper cast villagers in Utta Prades” [India]… “A mob doused the two Untouchables with acid.” (see: National Geographic, June 2003, Page 29) Ramprasad’s facial disfigurement, shown on that same page, exceeds that of any Hollywood horror make-up creation. Ironically, the Untouchables themselves practice Hinduism.

The Caste System was tacked on to Hinduism 1,500 years ago. Disguised as a religious practice, it is designed to provide upper class Hindus with slaves. What is pertinent to this article, however, is the Hindu notion that people are born “untouchable,” another example of deterministic dogma.

Predetermination is basic to the Caste System. Even one’s line of work is predetermined! And, to add misery to injustice, only menial work is assigned to Untouchables. This is particularly inhumane in a country where sewers are cleaned by the lowest class of Untouchables (Bhangis) who, with no more than a brief tunic, immerse themselves in excrement, blood, and other bodily fluids: This, while being derided by the “clean” citizens of India whom they serve.

Unlike anti-theists, I don’t express my views about religions with the intention of “railing against God” or taunting theists. That is not my purpose at all. I have religious friends and atheist friends: we have no problem respecting and loving each other. I also note the absurdity of anti-theists railing against a god in whom they do not believe exists!

But since religion is virtually always an integral part of metaphysics, which in turn includes a discussion on determinism vs. free will, I think it appropriate to highlight the subject here. Of course an extensive discourse on religion is far deeper and more complex than what I’ve presented here. For example, St. Thomas of Aquinas was an ardent advocate for free will!

(to be continued in Part 4 of Ten)

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Metaphysics 101 Part 2

(Part 2 of Ten)

(continued from Part 1 of Ten)

Instinct and Thought

Stones, bones, and microbial impressions tell us a narrative of life that began on earth eons ago. That story weaves millions of species into and out of existence. But whatever the similarities and differences among species may be, instinct is built into all living things, even if that ‘instinct’ is that of a virus at the border of life ‘replicating’ itself by entering a living cell.

Having no life of their own, viruses are quintessential parasites. I read somewhere that a mass of viruses behaves as one (!) as though it ‘knows’ when it may or may not advance against the resistance level of a host organism. Not being alive, a virus is absent of volition as we know it, yet the virus’s movement into a cell and the resulting ‘re-arrangement’ of the living cell’s molecules is probably a purely chemical phenomenon. But I think that the movement resembles an instinct. The same may be true of vegetative life when it works against gravity in the photosynthetic process. Perhaps microbiologists have a better explanation for what it is that makes viruses do what they do (including mutate), but at the more complex level of multi-celled life, instinct is a clear and universal property of life.

What is significant in the context of this article is that the phenomenon of thought sharply distinguishes itself from instinct. When a living organism recoils from heat or cold, its movement is instinctive. When it thinks, it transcends instinct. The interaction of instinct and thought varies from species to species, some of whom have no thought at all (insects) to sporadic thought (land and aquatic mammals). When thought is at a metaphysical level, it is exclusively human.

Oooooops! Now, I hear the shrill voices of relativists of all stripes admonishing me for my “anthropocentric” view of humankind. But the fact is that humans write books, study stars, and split atoms. Apes don’t.

We are told that we owe our dominance to the opposing thumb, which enables us to extensively engage in tool-making. That, they say, is the major reason for humankind’s dominance. Although I’m sure that tools and thumbs greatly helped us achieve dominance, they are not the primary factors in our rise from caves to skyscrapers: brains are.

Thought is the crown jewel of the universe. Thought can be silent, yet you can hear it. It makes you hear music without sound—sometimes even when you want to stop the music but cannot. You hear the word “elephant” and you cannot avoid ‘seeing’ an image of an elephant without the aid of light. And you cannot stop thinking while you are conscious. You know what thought is, but you cannot define it.

If thought is no more than an ongoing activity primordially initiated eons ago when particles came into being; if it is no more than the activity of a macabre dance of particles that began at the first attosecond of time—then, all cerebral activity is irrelevant. Yet, that is the underlying concept of determinism. Its counterpart is free will. No metaphysical issue has been more discussed and none is more profound than that of determinism vs. free will.

(to be continued in Part 3 of Ten)

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Metaphysics 101 Part 1

(Part 1 of Ten)

I’ve never needed proof that a stone is a stone. Nor have I ever accepted the notion that the stone doesn’t exist if I don’t perceive it. I also have no doubt that I’m conscious (at least, most of the time). It follows that any attempt to disprove the existence of matter or consciousness is in itself proof of their existence. Speculation that matter and consciousness are illusions is sophomoric, tedious, and a waste of time.

Life profoundly differs from stones, stars, and galaxies, notwithstanding the fact that stardust is the matter that makes life possible. When a plant draws water up against the force of gravity, that is an event that unequivocally distinguishes life from inanimate matter.

Moreover, life straddles the twin pillars of the universe: It is at once rooted in both matter and consciousness. Consciousness is the unique characteristic of life as distinct from matter. Integrated with universal space/time and the four universal forces, especially electromagnetism, life is a band of existence in the universe that exclusively includes Will.

The Essence of Will

When a stone (inanimate) and a man (animate) roll down a hill, the stone does so in absolute conformity with the ‘laws’ of physics. The man—as long as he is conscious and to whatever extent he can—engages in willful action to minimize injury. That action is the instinctive Will to survive. Will is a universal phenomenon applicable exclusively to life.

We are all familiar with Darwin’s brilliant concept of evolution and its principal tenet, Natural Selection. For example, giraffes that have longer necks are more apt to be ‘selected’ by nature to survive in the long run. His concept maintains that the origin and survival of a species primarily depends on chance in an erratic biosphere that determines which species shall survive and which shall not. His concept implicitly describes a deterministic pattern for life that somewhat mirrors the passive state of inanimate matter.

Lamarck, Darwin’s predecessor, posited an earlier concept of evolution. He stated that evolution is driven by the use or disuse of limbs and organs in willful response to an ever-changing biosphere. That process eventually leads to a new species that has acquired (or inherited) characteristics from its progenitors. His theory explicitly describes a pattern of evolution that is primarily generated by Will, not chance. The taller giraffes are not selected by chance; rather, they strive (or Will) for longer necks over generations. Therefore, the evolution of new species (and their subdivisions) is significantly driven by species willing themselves to survive in an ever-changing biosphere. Darwin’s concept of evolution is circumstantial; Lamarck’s concept of evolution is purposeful.

Of course there are several less celebrated concepts for the evolution of life, whether based on chance or Will. The Darwinian concept of chance is clear on the face of it. Theories that are based on purpose are significantly more complex. For example, although it significantly strains credibility, there is a theory that suggests evolution is a process through which the universe is striving to “understand itself”! It maintains that the fundamental agents driving evolution are genomes. Are we therefore sub-automatons in the service of genomes?

Scientists of considerable scientific reputation posit variations on that theme, but their central concept neither rises above the level of pure conjecture nor fundamentally differs from the two basic concepts of evolution. Note that although Lamarck’s concept of evolution is heavily flawed in respect to factors not cited here, his concept of heredity does smack of modern genetics.

Darwin’s concept prevails in the realm of science, as well it should. But no philosophical reference to human behavior is more significant than the difference between Determinism and Free Will when placed in the context of metaphysics.

To begin with, there is the huge metaphysical question about the origin of life. The current scientific consensus is that it was carried here by cosmic debris that collided with earth eons ago. The concept of a primordial homemade soup right here on earth as the progenitor of life on earth is still on the list of life’s possible progenitors.

And then there is the hotly debated issue of creationism. For now, please remember that however life originated and whatever its evolutionary history, no concept of life’s genesis and evolution is in itself incompatible with the concept of a God as the progenitor of life. Faith is a valid subject in a discussion about metaphysics. Much more on that later.

Please note that an exploration of metaphysics virtually always includes the incidence of religious faith. Religious faith, in turn, is intimately associated with ethics, a branch of metaphysics about which I’m particularly concerned. Much more on that later.

Please also note that I’ve used the words ‘concept’ and ‘theory’ in this introductory segment to differentiate between what is now self-evident (evolution) and what is conceptual only (unproved theories). The reason for that distinction on my part is that metaphysics is extremely tricky. It is loaded with “conceptual IEDs!” At the risk of seeming pedantic, I tread slowly, carefully, and humbly in the vast labyrinth of metaphysics. For the sake of the article’s integrity, I find it impossible to avoid repetition of concepts I’ve posted elsewhere on this website over the years.

I suppose that my motivation and qualification for scaling the heights of metaphysics is my age. At eighty-eight years of age, I feel compelled to express my thoughts about life, especially to the young who are exposed to the clutter of current relativistic metaphysics.

So, here goes!

(to be continued in Part 2 of Ten)

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Euphemisms and Other Lies

It is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy.

                     ─ Susan Collins, in her address to the United States Senate

Something appalling is happening in America. A man has been driven to prove his innocence thereby shattering the legal and moral axiom that an individual is presumed innocent until (and unless) proven guilty. The Senate Judiciary Committee compounded the unfairness of that profound legal anomaly by reversing the axiom’s corollary, i.e., there was to be a ‘hearing’ for Judge Kavanaugh and his accuser at which the judge’s accuser was to be heard by the committee after (!) the judge’s own defense, thereby denying the judge the time-honored and humanitarian tradition of granting an accused individual the last word at a trial.

Just days before Judge Kavanaugh was to be confirmed as justice at the Supreme Court, a leak from a senator’s office suddenly introduced uncorroborated allegations to the committee that the judge had engaged in ‘gang rape’ when he was 17 years old. The virtually completed confirmation process suddenly shifted to a last minute ‘hearing.’ Several democratic members in the Senate Judiciary Committee and political commentators who opposed the judge’s Supreme Court confirmation repeatedly declared that the judge’s ‘hearing’ would not be a trial. Although that is technically true, it was a trial.

The trial consisted of two parts. Part one engaged the judge and his accuser in a brief Q&A interrogation session. At that session the judge exhibited the cool deliberation required of a judge. But his ‘reviews’ were negative. The consensus of social media may best be characterized by, “He should have demonstrated outrage at being falsely accused!” (Implication: He hadn’t proven himself innocent.)

In Part Two of the trial, the judge literally ‘acquitted’ himself with an extensive and impassioned not-guilty plea. His outrage was genuine and not necessarily prompted by the criticism he received for his measured and cool deliberation in the first part of his defense. Did that satisfy the social media jury and senators who opposed his confirmation? No. This time, his fervent outrage was described by his opponents as over-the-top and indicative of a man who is unfit to serve as a justice at the Supreme Court. Judgment based on feeling has always been a thorn in the heart of justice, but it has reached a new dimension. The judge found himself in a crucible mainly fueled by feeling rather than reason.   

When the trials were over, the unofficial consensus of both social media and most Americans was that the judge and his accuser were equally sincere in their testimony. The voting logistics of the full senate were such that deciding votes would hinge on three senators.

There followed a week of intense political activity in the streets, at the pivotal senators’ hallways, and at the closed Senate doors which were banged upon by over-the-top protesters.  One of them vigorously attempted to open the huge twin Senate doors with her fingers. In that moment of black humor, a vision of the storming of the Bastille ─ pitchforks in hand ─ crossed my mind.

Euphemisms are words or phrases used to avoid or diminish the impact of words that are too direct or harsh or embarrassing. Somewhat akin to lies ─ big or small ─ euphemisms are handy in the art of deceit. For example most socialist professors, particularly in prestigious universities, disguise their political convictions as social studies, e.g., they’ll assign students material to read or they’ll conduct ‘debates,’ the purpose of which is to subtly promote their socialist beliefs.

At Berkeley, rioters protested in Nazi style even though their brand is antifascism (Antifa); those at St. Lawrence University protested in socialist style. The Nazi types at Berkeley featured shattered glass, a throwback to Nazi Kristallnacht; the socialist types at St. Lawrence University featured anarchism.

An ominous note

I’ve read the full transcript of Senator Susan Collins’ speech in which she explained her ’yes’ vote for the confirmation of the now confirmed, Justice Kavanaugh. Her conciliatory speech  defines rationality, fairness, and compassion. Yet, 100 professors and 1300 St. Lawrence University alumni demanded that an honorary degree awarded the senator (in 2016) be rescinded because of her vote in favor of confirming Judge Cavanaugh. A purported academic institution severely chastised Senator Susan Collins for “deviating from the path” and abandoning the “core values” of the university. For me, that smacks of totalitarianism, Nazi or Socialist.

Unbelievably, in America ‘the presumption of innocence until ─ and unless ─ proven guilty’ was totally absent from judge Cavanaugh’s trial ─ a trial (I insist), without corroboration of allegations, without sworn testimony or any evidence, and with an attempt to abort the judge’s immanent confirmation based on hollow interpretations extracted from a high school yearbook!

With her pivotal ‘yes’ vote, Senator Susan Collins assured Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation. 

The Internet ignited. In typical partisan invective, blogs appeared on the Internet that postured as simple social discourse about Senator Susan Collins, but in fact were mainly ad hominem attacks, which include swipes at her health, among which are Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Lyme Disease, and Spasmodic Dysphonia. The last item on that list, often referred to as a ‘speech defect,’ reveals an amateur attempt to portray and intensify the impact of vocal spasms.

One blog highlighted, “head tremors and broken speech.” The centerpiece of those blogs reads, “…psych-neurological [sic: I think the author meant ‘neuropsychological’] condition caused by unresolved anger from early childhood trauma…” Oooops! That’s what I call “a reverse euphemism,” in this case used not to diminish whatever health problems the senator may or may not have, but rather to falsely and powerfully imply that the senator is an angry child. (Especially note the operative word: ‘unresolved’!)

And how about Alzheimer’s disease? Er…not very likely. What are the chances that Senator Susan Collins suffers from Alzheimer’s but manages to compose a masterful speech to confirm the judge as a Justice of the Supreme Court. I doubt that many students listened to or read the full transcript of Senator Collins’ speech.  Instead of focusing on a ‘speech defect’ ─ in fact, a vocal defect ─ the students might have focused, as I did, on the content of the speech. They might have learned something.

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Please…Not again!

History is filled with tragic accounts of people being accused of mental incompetence or worse when their beliefs are counter to mainstream opinions. Some accusers genuinely believe that the victim is mentally unfit, as in those instances where the victim is an apostate against the prevalent religion. There is another kind of accuser: his accusations are disingenuous.

In the severely polluted atmosphere of current American politics, the accusation of mental unfitness leveled against President Trump is disingenuous. I doubt that anyone, including his accusers, really believes that Trump is mentally challenged. But the accusations serve a double purpose: they relieve the accuser’s anguish about an enormous political defeat for the Democratic Party and pave the way to probable impeachment.

Before I continue, it’s important to emphasize that I’m not a political partisan. Nor is this article in defense of President Trump or an endorsement of any political party, political organization, or politician.

Only three presidents have been impeached (Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton).  Andrew Johnson was narrowly acquitted after a Senate trial, Richard Nixon chose to resign because a trial would undoubtedly result in a conviction, and Bill Clinton was acquitted by the Senate ‘jury’ despite his equivocal responses to questions which at least suggested ‘perjury’ and ‘obstruction of justice.’

All three presidential impeachments were traumatic for most Americans. All three included painfully extensive and convoluted legal entanglements. All three included titanic battles between the Legislative and Executive branches of our democracy or ─ more precisely ─ our republic.

The creators of the Constitution made it difficult to remove a sitting president: and for good reason. Wisely, their criteria for impeachment are not complex. “Treason, bribery, and high crimes and misdemeanors” are not ambiguous words. Despite that, all kinds of specious arguments are being bandied about to promote President Trump’s impeachment, including treason, bribery, and high crimes.

My age gives me the advantage of remembering when Barry Goldwater, a famous conservative in a highly liberal society, was said to be mentally unstable. A magazine (titled Fact) headlined, “1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater is Psychologically Unfit to be President.” In reality, any psychologically fit individual who reads Goldwater’s quotes today may or may not agree with him, but would know there was nothing unfit about Goldwater’s mind.  (Of course Goldwater sued for libel, and won.) 

Moreover, the American Psychiatric Association declared, “It’s unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.” That became known as the “Goldwater Rule.”  The rule was in place until 33 psychiatrists and psychologists cited Trump’s inauguration speech as proof (!) of Trump’s “grave emotional instability” and that Trump was “incapable of safely serving as president.”  In addition, several ‘significant’ psychiatrists resigned from the APA to protest the “Goldwater Rule” itself as a restriction on their freedom of speech! With tongue in cheek, I submit that perhaps it was they who suffered from “grave emotional instability.”

I watched a segment of the proceedings when the United States House of Representatives  deliberated on President Clinton’s impeachment. The one instance that stands out in my memory is when one of the House’s representatives rose above the ‘politics as usual’ claptrap and asked his fellow congressmen to consider the fundamental issue: Did Clinton’s obvious perjury (to the Grand Jury) and obstruction of justice (to cover his sexual activities) legally merit his removal from office? His reasonable question was ignored by the House, and President Clinton was tried by the Senate. It was an ugly trial that may have been avoided had the members of the House taken that senator’s advice.

Sweeping aside the perennial battles amongst the three branches of government, I submit that reduced to its essentials, the entire Clinton impeachment event was not really about perjury or obstruction of justice as it was purported to be. It was about politics, just as the Goldwater incident was not about his mental health but about politics.

For about a year at once a month Clinton had sex with a government intern. At least on one occasion she fellated him in the Oval Office while he was on the phone and she under his desk, a common sexual fantasy wherein one partner engages in an activity other than direct sex: e.g., while casually flipping through a pornographic magazine or watching a sports event or engaging in a phone conversation as Clinton did ─ a perfectly realized fantasy when we consider who they were at the time ─ he, the President of the United States and she, a young Whitehouse intern.

Clinton’s impeachment had the authenticity of a scandal or movie magazine. Its saga is extensively documented: it includes leaks, investigations endlessly proliferating into other tenuously related investigations, media feeding frenzy, and heightened political division between partisans in government and amongst average Americans. Does that sound familiar?

Clinton was acquitted by the Senate because, like him or not, everyone knows that consensual sex is the most private of all human activities. And perhaps more significantly, because a sort of subliminal ‘checks and balances’ phenomenon developed amongst the public, Senate, and the President.

Clinton was acquitted because he was liked. Trump is not liked: so much so that prominent governmental politicians and celebrities were calling for his impeachment on his inauguration day! To put it mildly, that is bizarre. Purportedly, the 33 ‘psychiatrists and psychologists’ derived their warnings about Trump’s “grave emotional disability” and that he is “incapable of safely serving as President” from Trump’s inauguration speech. I read that speech moments ago. It’s a typical political speech. I won’t be leaving the country any time soon based on the purported opinions of those ‘psychiatrists’ and ‘psychologists.’ It was certainly not as professionals that they spoke, but as devout partisans.

I’ve seen this political pattern just before (and after) other national elections: a spike in already saturated partisan vitriol, celebrities threatening to leave the country if their choice for president is not realized, and then remaining in the United States despite their threats to leave the country.

So far, the call for impeachment is a replay of Clinton’s impeachment ─ investigations proliferating to other investigations which, in turn, lead to other investigations, special councils, committees, and so on and on, and ─ as demonstrated by Mario Cuomo ─ a great opportunity to begin their campaign for the next presidency.  Other career politicians jostle for visibility in the light of which they can promote their agendas and careers. Have you noticed that when they are engaged in hearings they are soft to heavyweight witnesses who can extract revenge on them in the future but hard and sanctimonious when they question a lightweight witness for whom they have no future use?

Reflecting the rapid decline of precise language, many words no longer have the same meaning as they did when the Constitution of the United States was written. Unfortunately, that has resulted in the far too casual meaning of words like ‘perjury, obstruction of justice, and high crimes.’  Those words should send shivers down the spines of Americans: that’s what the founding fathers meant them to do, not just serve as traps to unseat a President.  A blue dress stained with semen does not qualify as an instance of treason, bribery, or high crimes despite a legal trap designated as ‘perjury’ at Clinton’s Grand Jury hearing.

Once again, a president’s adversaries are relentlessly setting traps to remove him from office.  This time, the accusations are far more complex than those leveled against Clinton, but they are just as devious ─ if not more so ─ than those faced by Bill Clinton.

There are larger issues beyond political intrigue: Despite their magnificent benefits for humanity, the Information Age and unprecedented technological advances are impotent against the dissemination and misinformation about every major human issue.

In Academia, virtually all professors of history and the humanities are spewing the same

decadent political philosophy I heard from their predecessors when I was a student at New York University.  I’m especially concerned about our youth flirting with socialism.

In News and Social Media, I observe an amazing phenomenon. Before television, there were brief radio news broadcasts and daily newspapers, all of which strictly separated news from commentary. Now, television provides Americans with the ultimate form of transparency. Yet, many Americans are not nearly as knowledgeable as they should be about the horrors of socialism.    

On the street, we have the spectacle of people misbehaving as if this were the French and Russian revolutions when peasants were forced to do violence to the aristocracy. Tragically, they indiscriminately killed benign aristocrats along with despots simply because they feared aristocratic resurgence. How wise and compassionate was Britain’s Bloodless Revolution! And how irresponsible are the thugs in the streets of America whose protest tactics emulate those of Kristallnacht!

In a sea of political confusion, our nation is being badgered by a group that is purportedly against Fascism (Antifa) but is in itself an example of extreme Fascist activism. Loyalties are on political quicksand: former admirers of Russia for its Union of Socialist ‘Republics’ now uncharacteristically denounce it for its interference in the American electoral process.

I decry America’s shift towards European political attitudes. For example, I suspect that the  term, The Resistance, was conceived ─ I think not quite by chance ─ because it is reminiscent of the resistance to the Nazi occupation of most of Europe in World war ll. That might be far-fetched on my part, but since the pen is mightier than the sword, I’m wary of the subtlest subjective suggestions in an atmosphere of blatant political hyperbole. Words, not necessarily laws, will determine whether or not Trump will be impeached and possibly be removed from office.

Partisan wars of words are at their optimum. Parallels to Clinton’s impeachment are heavily cited (today’s political red meat is Deep State Throat). I’m shocked but not surprised that odds-makers are taking bets on whether Trump will or will not be impeached as though they are dealing with a sports event.

All this will fade into the dustbin of history, but I’m alarmed by the possibility that history will once again repeat itself with the common fate that political turmoil engenders: It would be profoundly tragic if Americans are lured to socialism, and deeply regret it “Like the base Indian, [who] threw a pearl away richer than all his tribe.”

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A Stream of Random Thoughts

In many ways, a society’s characteristics are not plainly visible to its contemporaries ─ at least not by its overwhelming majority. But at my age I’m not exactly contemporary and have never been part of the majority. Perhaps some of the following thoughts may be of use to you.

AI is a contradiction in terms despite its tremendous current and potential technological value, but by definition there is nothing artificial about intelligence ─  the ABCs of the alphabet are the result of  human concepts, as are numbers ─ the source of language and mathematics is living tissue we call the brain ─ it is not reasonable to attribute intelligence to a machine created by human intelligence no matter how spectacular the machine’s capabilities, including self-correction and self-advancement of its functions ─ denying the exclusive concept and reality of intelligent life on the one hand and applying it to inanimate machines on the other, violates the axiom that nothing can be and not be at the same time ─ if the dreams of AI’s staunchest advocates were to be realized, over time the human brain would retrograde as an accessory to automated consciousness ─ that’s not bloody likely…

…and, about the rage for robots in the first place: a major distinction between humans and all other lifeforms is that human beings have the exclusive ability to willfully alter their environment as part of their survival skills and unlike bird nest and beaver constructions, which are products of instinct alone, human environmental adjustments combine instinct and creative thought, a function that includes imagination ─ robots can’t hack that, only humans can ─ computer engineers tell us that they have or shortly will have ‘thinking machines with imagination,’ the fact is that they haven’t a clue about how an artist creates art ─ I know, because I’m an artist…

…and, if Genetic Engineering isn’t exclusively limited to the eradication of diseases and preventative physical anomalies, the human race will face a whole new set of personal and social problems, not the least of which will be ferocious commercial cosmetic competition and even ─ God forbid ─ a race for a super race (other than robots, of course)…

…and, there have always been premature or unfounded or contradictory theories and failed predictions about humankind’s direction ─ in the large theater of human experience and its reportage, historians and anthropologists have extensively noted the BIG stories of human existence, those include wars, political movements, economic circumstances, and so on ─ titles are given to periods, ages, and eras ─ that will also be so about our time ─ whatever those big stories and grand titles may be, they will not reflect the core of life as it is lived at the daily level ─ I’ve done that one day at a time for almost a century…

…and, a sort of malaise pervades our society ─ it’s characterized by crammed work schedules, laptops on workers’ laps in transit to and from work and, I suppose, in the bathroom, never- ending acquisitions of electronic devices, their maintenance and updating, over-the-top cell phone and E-mail communications (all ostensibly urgent), and an extensive list of other activities (all ostensibly important), an obsession for brevity (ad absurdum) and breakneck speed when speaking, an inordinate volume of things being communicated in both social media and private conversations, ads screaming at us online: our lifestyle is like that of hamsters on a spinner…

…and, when people encounter friends walking towards each other but who are headed in  different directions or getting in or out of cabs or elevators, their body language and facial expressions are tense, their speech almost a blur for maximum speed, their anxiety to keep moving obvious ─  when an acquaintance whizzes past me, I feel that my quick “hello, how are you?” is being timed by an Olympic Games stopwatch ─ there is a constant sense of urgency that we used to reserve for emergencies only, ”can’t talk now! gotta go! seeyalater!” or, for maximum brevity, simply: “later!”…

…and, the worst of it, at least for me, are those instances when I must speak to people about a matter that can’t wait, but even when just a few words need to be said and my message is for their advantage, I feel pressed by them to speak more rapidly ─ I sense their impatience before they know what I need to tell them ─ I know that is somewhat my fault because I find it difficult to edit my thoughts for the sake of brevity without adherence to linear thought and communication, the form of thinking and communicating to which I’m accustomed ─ the frantic dynamic of today’s mass speed obsession is exacerbated by mental blank spots and misunderstandings within the reluctant listener’s mind: that, in itself, sets off a whole set of extra thoughts and words I must find just so that I might keep my message on track for the listener whose mind is elsewhere ─ just about everyone is continuously distracted, in effect, a victim of attention deficit…

…and, despite the blinding glare of the Information Age and its exponential advancement of technology ─ including communication devices ─ rational  and meaningful conversations are in extraordinary decline, a phenomenon that exacerbates the very isolation that millions of people who seek to escape while paradoxically and voluntarily dedicating themselves to machine  “companionship,” a dark forecast of advanced ‘artificial’ intelligence and robotic rigged ‘conversations’ with humans: that would not lead to a revolt of machines against humans physically ─ which is merely a death wish ─ but it would further reverse the combined legacy of the Classic Age, Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Information Age: that could be the death of the only intelligence possible, which ─ for want of a better word ─ is natural intelligence.

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The Tyranny of Conformity

If I were to author a film about the following real-life story, the opening scene would depict the experience I had about two years ago. I came home from a grocery store and saw a small package at the foot of my front door. Laden with grocery bags, I elbowed my way into the house to free my arms of groceries before returning to the unmarked package. As I picked it up, a familiar young man appeared and told me that the package contained a pair of his shoes. I then asked him, “What are they doing here?” In a quiet, unemotional, and as-a-matter-of-fact tone, he responded, “I don’t like my house.” My imagined film then cuts to a flashback that begins two years ago and continues to this day. Of course the names of real people and most locations are fictitious.

‘John’ is severely autistic. I didn’t know that until I first saw him at the narrow exit of a store. He was hugging each lady in a group of four as they passed single-file through the exit. Each of them disdainfully pushed him away. Sadly, he was baffled by their rejection. It was also evident to me that this was a recurring event. A few days later I noticed that John hugged passersby, many of whom knew him and some who did not. Gender was not a factor: his hugs are sheer affection, not at all sexual. Some males who know him briefly return his affection, others do not. The same is true of females. A few gently welcome his affection and will even genuinely smile and say a word or two to him before they move on or, more likely, pleasantly greet him without stopping at all, just as many ordinary people do during their hurried daily rounds. In a roundabout way John is a sort of celebrity in the neighborhood!

But no one ever stops to talk to him except neighbors who have known him since he was born. I’m told that his mother abandoned him when he was an infant and that his father is in jail. And with no presumption about John’s psychological state of mind or any medical assumptions at all on my part, I think that the reason for his proclivity to hug strangers is at least in part a function of his early childhood abandonment (although I believe that autism is primarily genetic).  In any case, what I can posit because of my overall view of life is that individuality is capable of trumping  heredity and environment at the core of one’s being. For example, medical science and ‘studies’ assume that John is indifferent to the suffering of others, and that he cannot relate to other human beings. I know otherwise. John belies many of the characteristics that are generally associated with if not central to the “autistic spectrum.”

One warm summer day, I sat on a ledge just outside my front door and saw John and two other men working directly across my street. The three men had no facilities to eat lunch during their break and asked me if it would be okay to use my home’s masonry as tables and chairs. Of course I consented and offered them paper cups, napkins, and a box of cookies as dessert. The cups and napkins were appreciated but ignored, but the men devoured the cookies. That brief association with them was reassuring: it countered the sting I had felt when John had been summarily rejected by the ladies at the grocery store. I was pleased when one of the men warmly offered John additional French fries.

I continued my role as host until their job was finished. But John came back for more. He’d come at about the same time in the afternoon and we’d chat. When the fall weather made it too cold to continue our Tea and Sympathy ritual outdoors, I took it into my home. Then, at a one-on-one basis it became possible for me to teach John elementary facts, e.g., the days of the week in order.

I live in one room at ground level. The room is large and haply is surrounded by three large windows and two huge bay windows. I have no window shades because I can pull curtains open and see the sky all day, quite a feat in Brooklyn.  Having no doorbell, I answer visitors when they tap on the nearest window to my door.

One evening, long after our break, John tapped on that window. I reminded him that I work on my computer in the evening and that I would be glad to see him the following day. He left. But about a half hour later tapped on the window again. Firmly but gently I told him that I would be glad to see him the next day at the usual hour. He left again. But shortly after, he began tapping the window again. In order to avoid a precedent, I did not go to the window. The tapping continued intermittently for about fifteen minutes. It was difficult to keep myself from responding but when the taps finally stopped, I was relieved.

About three hours later I was jolted by a devastating experience. One of my windows had an old air conditioner that had a mobile accordion-like accessory attached to it so that the AC could fit snugly within the larger window frame.  Just before putting my lights out, I saw John’s limp arm hanging out of the fully opened aperture of the AC accessory. That uncanny image was compounded by the sight of John drenched by pouring rain. Autism has a way of throwing a piercing light on its brand of human tragedy.

Always striving to live life as it should be rather than as it is, I always consider the other’s state of being. In part, that means that within my moral parameters and his, I enter John’s world. The depth to which one is able/willing to enter another’s inner world is the fundamental factor that defines the level of any relationship. On the other hand, the ‘herd instinct’ (nature’s design for group survival in animals) is counter to the individuation of humans. That conflict is at the root of prejudices ─ racial, political, religious, or social.

Autism ─ a severe communications handicap ─ is very low on the Handicap Tolerance Scale (as I call it). The HTS registers even greater intolerance for autism than the intolerance that is aroused by the hearing impaired. For just about everyone, it’s one thing to have to repeat a word or (God forbid) a whole sentence to someone who has difficulty hearing, but it’s another to hear pathologically repeated words, the hallmark symptom of autism.

Prejudices, including racism, are spawned and fed by mindless intolerance combined with ignorance. Autism is no exception. John is confronted daily by prejudice. Although baffled by marginalization and raw rejection, he continues to pleasantly greet people on the street. That attitude combined with street smarts assures me that in the long run he’ll be okay. But it’s a serious matter when prejudice hinders someone from social equality, as John has been.

About six months ago, John came to me with a Driver’s Manual issued by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. He was ─ and still is ─ seeking a Driver’s Permit, the first step required to be admitted to a driving school. Without hesitation, I thought, “Why not?” So we began.

Background

John can’t read. On the back cover of the driving manual are printed 16 road signs. The road signs have words and pictures. For example, the words “slippery when wet” are written beneath the picture of a car with skid marks in the wake of its back tires.

On white cardboard, I cut out the shapes of each sign (and a few others not on that cover, e.g., “one way street”) and applied the colors assigned for each of those signs as they appear on the road. But I omitted all words. Then, I provided John with spoken words beneath the signs and a pantomimic gesture for each of the signs. For example, on sight John would say, “Slippery when wet” while he pantomimed falling snow followed by rain and then ice; then he grabbed an imaginary steering wheel and swayed from side to side as though he were a driver struggling to control a skid.

I repeatedly tested him by randomly placing all the cardboard pieces face-down, then choosing one piece at a time and asking him to name and describe the meaning of each sign. He now does that without hesitation and to perfection.

I also taught and drilled him about dozens of rules of the road, some of which even seasoned experienced drivers don’t know, e.g., “In what position should your car’s front wheels be while you are waiting to complete a left turn at an intersection of a two way highway?”

In addition to knowing the manual’s content thoroughly, I’ve drawn on my experience as a driving instructor at a school where I was also chosen as the instructor for the school classes.

The Test

When I thought John was ready to be tested for a driving permit, we went to the DMV. It was then that I learned that the test is given on a computer. Although there is a version of the test for illiterate candidates, John has virtually no idea how to work a computer. To exacerbate matters he had never known the concept of multiple choice questions. The very concept of multiple choice is antithetical to the structure of John’s mind which is dedicated to sameness. Yet, John can correctly and easily answer direct questions, e.g., “When is the only time that you are legally allowed to pass a car on its RIGHT?” Using a diagram of two intersecting roads and a group of pennies to represent cars, John can demonstrate the safe and legal manner to pass on the right. He can do the same in answer to many other questions about the rules of the road.

In addition to that, I’ve observed John’s head movements: instinctively they respond to traffic and pedestrian movement all about us (a combination of “safety first” and “defensive driving”).

Catch 22

But there is a problem.

Despite being highly informed about driving, John is prohibited from earning a driving permit only because he does not know how to handle a computer. The DMV is a governmental institution. Therefore, its workers are forced to be robotic. As a result: No computer skill, no permit possible.

Various devices have been designed to make it possible for physically handicapped people to drive. Why must John be deprived of an opportunity for independence just because he must prove he  can learn to drive only through a computer?

If he were granted the opportunity to have a one-on-one test with a human being, he would have a shot at acquiring a driver’s permit making him eligible as a student in a driving school. At the school he would ‘learn’ most of what he already knows, plus how to park a car, a skill that requires him to be at the wheel. Why not afford him the same opportunity that millions of others are granted?

So far, representatives at the DMV have not favorably responded to my request that John is granted a one-on-one interview to demonstrate his knowledge about driving. After all, the test’s only function is presumed to ascertain the extent of John’s (theoretical) knowledge about driving, not his computer skills.

Ironically, many people who easily pass the computer test will be the cause of fatal accidents because they are drinkers. On the other hand, John, who does not drink, will almost certainly be denied a driver permit because of a subliminal prejudice against individuals who are autistic.

But, like Don Quixote, I will continue to struggle for his impossible dream.

Stay tuned.

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