Monday, February 28, 2011

Community

Totally  scientific and objective application of reason in human groups runs up against human emotion and individual differences, which the most progressive groups feel compelled to value. This presents a challenge for progressive political and economic groups. As we have seen too frequently in the recent political environment in much of the U.S., the loud, monolithic and nasty win elections over the moderate, diverse and rational.

So, how do we form humanist communities which are self-sustaining and open to new members and ideas without marching in lock-step behind one reactionary banner or without wearing a uniform? I am finding in my humanist community that not focusing on unity of purpose has been helpful. Under the leadership of Greg Epstein, the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard, the humanist community at Harvard Square's Humanist Center at 12 Eliot Street seems to be thriving upon a lack of linear or rational direction. Instead, a diversity of directions and talents have come together to form a progressive meeting place for the exchange of ideas and fellowship.

There is truth in the "If you build it, they will come" philosophy of business or service industries. It's hard to form a self-sustaining community in a parking lot on the odd Saturday. So, the the process of building a community from scratch does require space, which requires money, people-hours and direction. The money issue is always a challenge and inevitably comes down to finding humanists with resources which they are willing to contribute to starting the ball rolling. The people-hours often come before the money in the form of dedicated volunteers and those who have committed themselves to the rather sketchy future of making a living as a humanist leader, the person who maintains the direction of mission and pays the light bill from whatever funds can be gathered as the community grows.

Once there is a place, the next challenge seems to be consistency. Humanists, being committed to science and progress/evolution, are a very creative bunch. The same-old seems to tarnish very quickly in a humanist community. This works both for and against the community's maintenance.While the new and experimental is wonderful in the programming of discussions and entertainment, a certain mundane consistency and repetition is necessary to mop the floors, empty the waste baskets and prepare the food for community meals. This has been evolving at my Humanist center by volunteers and staff seeking some consistency by open conversation about procedures Center etiquette. It is sometimes reminiscent of a joke: How many humanists does it take to sweep a floor? But, to our credit as a community, staff and volunteers alike work together at the most mundane tasks.

I am learning from my experience at the Humanist Center that the most basic human comforts provide the incentive for humanists to come together in community. And, the inclusion of as many members of the community as possible in the provision of the community's needs helps to sustain the community itself in concrete and psychological terms. We recently began to have a Sunday Meeting which lasts from noon until 4:30 PM every Sunday. This was a leap toward consistency from a previous menu of activities which occurred every other week and on different days. We began with very little preparation time. The staff worked hard to get the new space set up before we began the program. We have folding chairs and folding conference tables and little else. But, after a month, we have a regular community of people who come on Sundays. Many of them bring food for the community table at noon. Some volunteer to organize menus for each week. Other volunteer to help clean, set up chairs, facilitate groups. Volunteers, staff and guests present food for the mind. We have volunteer musicians who come to share their talent for the benefit of the community.

The key to the development of this community is utilizing the creative energies within the community with minimal structure and basic predictability of a safe, friendly and nourishing environment. Inclusion is essential. Every effort must be made to include each individual member by learning what that member both needs from and may bring to the community's growth and health. That growth and health entails massive creativity and a predictably clean rest room. Balancing creativity in community and dedicated consistency is part of my own humanist practice, and I feel I have seen that this Middle Path is a method of building and sustaining humanist community. Vibrant, self-sustaining humanist community can channel great energy for promoting the greater good.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Unions

The current flap-up over government employee unions, as seen in Wisconsin and Indiana, illustrates the ineffectiveness of current economics to deal with real issues on the ground. The raise-or-cut paradigm is no way to go about running a society, composed of real people with real needs. This is the failure of current economic models, which inform political and government policies, as well as the position of labor unions.

"The science of economics is over 200 years old and it first developed as a theoretical justification for capitalism. Its major branches have either explicitly supported or opposed capitalist values, exemplified by classical and neo-classical schools of economic thought and Marxism respectively." Jayanta Kumar, "Capitalism, Marxism and Neo-humanist Economics"

Unions still operate with an organizational version of PTSD, rooted in the brutal and murderous reaction of early 20th century capitalists to their evolution. Violence of the sort practiced on both sides of the development of unions leads to a cycle of grudge matches, not rational negotiation. Neo-cons and Libertarians today represent a return to unbridled capitalism, which led to the development of unions in self-defensive reaction. Public employee unions today are infected with the greed of the elites they once despised. Their demands threaten to bankrupt average citizens whose taxes can no longer support the cost of union pensions and benefits. 

"The essential link between neo-humanism and economics is that neo-humanism provides an ethical framework and value system within which all economic activity can be directly related to human welfare. The major schools of economic thought, whether capitalist or Marxist, are based upon materialist values and vested interests, which prevent them actuating the fullest possibilities of human welfare." J. Kumar

Think of it: Economic decisions based on human need, instead of human greed or idealistic domination of humans. Has it really taken the human species tens of thousands of years to get back to this humanist concept?  The ongoing choice of human greed or idealistic domination over holistically scientific rationality, fed by population pressures and a natural competitiveness for resources, could jeopardize the ecological survival of the human species or, at the very least, the cumulative advancements of the human species.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Purpose

Religions have utilized the concept of purpose over the ages to motivate and subjugate. By instilling fear and stress, hierarchies have directed their followers to their own purposes: The accumulation of property and political power. By refusing to address real human conditions and not sharing the wealth accumulated, hierarchies maintain control. The poor, ignorant and hungry are much easier to motivate with a crust or a whip.

It seems the growing unrest in Islamic countries is the result of increased general education, provided in part through oil wealth and the needs of the growing hierarchies in those nations for doctors and other skilled technicians. Religion's grip will inevitably deteriorate where science and free thought emerge. Sitting in a limo that was speeding through Cairo in 1984, I was told by a Stanford-educated Saudi prince, "Do you hear the muezzins, Paul? Listen. That is how we keep the masses in check, under our control." Mecca and Rome have used the same methodology for centuries.

Maintaining general, relative poverty and overpopulation is a sure recipe for maintaining an aristocracy. Yesterday's serfs are replaced by today's illegal or legal migrants worldwide. No longer building mosques and cathedrals, these economically subjugated masses are told they are supporting the aging populations of the developing world with their sweat and underpaid production for consumerism. That is their purpose, dictated by ivory-tower economists and politicians, the secular hierarchy, some of whom may consider themselves Humanists.

I think there is no intrinsic purpose to human existence. Humans may fill a niche in the ecology of The Universe, but that's it. No grand design. No place card at some New Age banquet. Telling a human being  born into poverty to slave for six decades to satisfy the comfort of a more aggressive and powerful human that he has a purpose is a manipulation and a lie to assuage the conscience of the oppressors, who do usually know better. It is indeed more compassionate to shrug in the face of disparity than to try to justify it for your own comfort or self-opinion.

Purpose is replaced by cause in those who develop an awareness of their ability to shape their lives through practice. This is cause in the sense of Buddhist cause and effect, which are consistent with scientific concepts. To awaken to the ability to shape consciousness and behavior is to reject predestination, social caste or purpose. To turn consciousness and behavior toward living a healthy and socially responsible life is to enhance one's humanity within the ecology of The Universe. It is to live creatively and without regret.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Association

The Stone-Age mindlessness that is fostered by professional, violent sports is not helpful to society, in my opinion. The loyalty and conformity of fans to their teams approaches Fascist thuggery. Walking through the lobby of the local professional hockey venue on a game night will amply illustrate my point for you. A sea of yellow Bruins jerseys here in Boston. These jerseys are occupied by the overweight and partially inebriated, far from the ideals of good-spirited, health-minded competition. Walking through the crowd, which I must do to access my subway stop, is not an experience that inspires any sense of commonality, joy or social progress in me.

I am reminded of these fans when I attend other events, sponsored by various associations. Logo-printed T-shirts of one matching color send a chill through me. Sampling conversation with various members of these crowds usually informs me that few of these enthusiasts for the cause-of-the-day have a grasp on the philosophy, funding or leadership motivation of the event they are attending.

Association is becoming merged with a kind of conformity of correctness, which requires little thought or critical analysis: Belonging for belonging's sake or belonging in a desperate attempt to form a personal identity. Unfortunately, for many in these crowds, a personal identity does not come in the form of a cotton T-shirt, ribbon pin or elastic wrist band. Personal identity formation and, more importantly, maintenance comes with education, reflection, truthful communication and other forms of very hard, daily work.

Conformity feels safe for those who are otherwise adrift. Healthy association is not conformity in intimate relationships or community relationships. Association is an interactive and creative process in its best form. It is not a building or a passive audience for a group of ideologues. Healthy association of diverse opinions toward a common purpose can be very powerful, but it is seldom easy or tranquil. The fire of debate and disagreement, brought into eventually shared understanding and consensus upon action, are the fuel of healthy association.

I think healthy association is a natural fit for for those who maintain an individual practice, based on personal truth and principles. My own experience with many associations in my sixty-one years has taught me to mistrust apparent conformity in any organization I encounter. The culture of an organization based on conformity is by its very nature oppressive. Whether subtly encouraged or strictly enforced, the choice of passive conformity is evil, in my opinion. 

Being your own human being, committed to promoting the greater good in consciousness and action, based on your personal ideals and principles, is another way of defining humanist practice. But, that is my definition, related to my practice. I encourage anyone interested in committing themselves to a practice of healthy and progressive living to work out a definition of that practice. Refine it. Share it. Associate with others who are doing similar personal development. Turn away from conformity in favor of being your own human being in association with others who are also individual seekers.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Truth

The core of my humanist practice is my interior truth. In my opinion, the point of meditation and mindfulness exercise is the discovery and ongoing awareness of personal truth in life's moments. My personal truth, I strongly believe, is rooted in a desire to promote the greater good. My sense of personal truth led me to reject a career in dentistry when I was twenty. I knew I would be no good to anyone if I forced myself to continue in a career path dictated to me by well-meaning-but-narcissistic parents. The subsequent poverty and struggle to find a place in the world was filled with joy after that liberation from living a life on the conditions of others. Like Siddhartha, who left his prison-palace and experienced the world for what is was, I was suddenly open-eyed to the world, my world, where I needed to find a path which would help to alleviate the shared human suffering around me.

My focus has become sharper with age. While outright economic survival shared my attention with my desire to do good in my early years, I managed to merge my livelihood with my desire to focus on improving the human condition personally and directly with the work of my hands. I learned to live without those things which many of my peers craved. Funky apartments, furnished with things salvaged from the streets, suited me fine. Trips abroad were beyond my means, so I consciously sought the company of foreign visitors in my own environment to learn about their cultures, their countries, from them. My daily work, tending to the educational needs of students, the security needs of psychiatric patients, the physical needs of medical patients, was filled with satisfaction which balanced its grueling energy requirements and poor monetary compensation.

My discovery of my personal truth also fueled my self-discovery as a gay man unwilling to be treated as a second-class human being. As I lived and worked among society's poor and disenfranchised, as I advocated daily for them, I also advocated for my own civil and human rights. I did not seek to lead. I sought to do. I was an openly gay nurse in the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health at a time when there were still gay men imprisoned in locked mental hospitals, where the state and their families had consigned them to hide "the shame" of their homosexuality.  I came out to my family. I came out in every social and vocational situation. My personal truth told me that this was the way to be free and to do good for others, gay and straight. When faced with living with HIV and AIDS, I did the same, where it was relevant. When faced with living with cancer, I did the same, where it was relevant.

The leaders of movements can deal with The Truth. They can package it in books or films. They can sell it. They can run banquets and galas to line their pockets by peddling The Truth. This has never been my personal truth. I have not sought to lead or be a poster-child for any cause.  Most of those who have, in my experience, have done so for their own cause above the cause of the greater good. I have simply done my work to the best of my ability for the greater good of whatever community I have served. I have done it to serve my personal truth. This is my practice. When I have been asked to lead within organizations, my adherence to my personal truth has often put me in conflict with those in authority whose ethics were inconsistent with my own.

When I speak here or anywhere, I am trying to speak as best I can from my personal truth. I do not ask for agreement. I do not mind criticism of what I write, as long as the critic seems to understand that I am only speaking from my personal truth. I am not trying to convert. I am trying to encourage personal humanist practice in anyone interested. I have nothing to gain from this process other than the progressive development of my own humanist practice with the daily effort.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Compassion


The greatest test of humanist compassion comes when we are confronted with our own narcissism. Sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia stem from an inability or unwillingness to place aside ego in favor of understanding and vulnerability. Fear of surrendering ego displays itself in many ways. Sometimes it is subtle. Sometimes it is violent. It is always thoughtless.

Last evening I sat in a church with 900 others and listened to the inspiring words of a humanist icon, Stephen Fry, who happens to be a gay man. The speaker was quite frank about his development into a humanist as a gay man. He also specifically referred to his view that humanism, unlike religion, does not seek to own or control people. The organizers of the event had arranged for a female, heterosexual songwriter to sing a song to Mr. Fry about bearing him a child. Her motivation, according to the lyrics, was to preserve Mr. Fry's genetics, which she sees as a benefit to the species. It was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and Mr. Fry bore up rather well. He is a professional actor, after all, and he was being honored by a prestigious university, and paid.

As young women all around me hooted and cheered, I looked around me at several gay men in the audience, who, like me, were less than amused. One young gay man near me looked like he was on the verge of tears, wooden in self-control. I knew immediately what his posture meant. He was bracing defensively against this brash public display of egocentric heterosexuality in dominance over the gay icon on stage. Perhaps this was a subconscious attempt by the organization to wash away the stain of Mr. Fry's overt homosexuality from the stage. Perhaps it is just too hard for people in the majority to understand what this could mean to gay men in the audience. Perhaps these humanists do not really care about the implications of this behavior, presented as a joke, a joke about a sexual majority and a sexual minority. If the song had been about swaying a humanist into Christianity, I believe it would not have gone over so well.

Humanism, as I see it, is not show business. Compassion is seldom found on the stage or screen. Mr. Fry is the rare example of a public performer who has opened the pain and joy of his specific life to his public. I see this as his humanist practice. I respect him for this. Last evening, he was on the job, performing for his living, as well as presenting himself as a fit example of a practicing humanist. Unfortunately, the organizers of the event, in my opinion, were unable to raise themselves to the bar of Mr. Fry's excellence. They chose instead to assert the heterosexual norm under the guise of a joke. It certainly was a big hit among the loudest and most reassured heterosexual women in the audience. The reactions of the gay men I observed went unobserved by most, I am sure.

As Mr. Fry asserted last evening, being part of the minority without any personal choice opens the eyes early in life. Sharing the vision of someone in a minority is painful for those of us in a majority, because it shines harsh light on the egocentric carelessness that comes with domination. The underside of this "anything goes" age is a certain amount of callousness. If something like the song about having Mr. Fry's baby is successful on  Youtube, it is deemed to be acceptable to everyone. When the song comes from the consciousness of the dominating majority, it is somewhat inevitable that it will achieve some popularity, but it may well offend or hurt a sizable minority, who will be ignored, it seems, even in the halls of Humanism.

Compassion is not about being politically correct. However, compassion does entail mindfulness. What may be a private joke between one heterosexual woman and one gay man ceases to be that on a public stage. It becomes a statement of the organization that presents it. It becomes part of the organizational culture. In other words, it states: "This is an OK thing to do here." A slippery slope, and one which seldom encourages a culture of inclusive compassion for all members of an organization.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Action

Right action, or acting for the greater good with mindfulness and compassion in the Buddhist sense, is morphing into a corporate activity in the developed, capitalist world. A board of directors and corporate lawyers seem prerequisite to helping a disabled person cross the street. The pedestrian concept of action for social justice is throwing a quarter in an empty coffee cup on the street, while trying to avoid the talkative huckster, selling Spare Change newspapers.

The more materialistic and hedonistic society becomes, the more distanced those with resources become from the actual needs of the society, relegated to hired help. Many middlemen turn right action into a highly profitable livelihood under the cover of non-profit balance sheets. This further depletes tax revenues for public social action, which, in turn, makes government look ineffectual at serving the needs of the people. Privatization becomes the problem, not the solution.

My bias, based in my years in providing hands-on human services in government agencies and in private agencies, is in favor of incorporating right action into my own daily practice and encouraging other humanists to do the same. This right action includes assisting others in my environment to address their needs and the needs of others. This right action includes paying my taxes without trying to evade what is my share of maintaining a socially responsible government. This right action includes joining in community with those who are socially responsible to work in society to promote universal human rights, lawful responsibility and economic justice.

I recognize the value of non-profit organizations, which spend the bulk of their revenues on addressing social needs. However, I do not perceive the token contribution of money to non-profits by the wealthy as right action in itself. The richer the contributor, the more likely the motivation is polluted by tax evasion, encouraged by a CPA or trust lawyer. Giving to pet non-profits at the expense of tax revenues for the public welfare is not, in my opinion, right action. This, I believe, can be just another exercise of privileged egotism.

Faith-based initiatives by humble religious communities were traditional forms of right action in small towns across the U.S.. However, the faith-based industry, evidenced by mega-churches and millionaire TV pastors, has gone the way of the non-profit-for-profit model. Manipulation of government by these groups is particularly heinous, in my opinion. It is not right action. It is corruption of the public's trust in its own ability to serve its own needs through responsible, elected governance.

Participating in direct service to those in your life is the simplest form of right action. If more personal energy and time is directed to this activity and away from consumption of material goods, the whole society benefits at minimal additional cost. Those doing this right action benefit from appreciation and their own sense of accomplishment for the greater good. For those who do not have the inclination or skill to care for a sick family member or work with disabled children at a local school, right action may entail personally supporting those who do have the inclination and skill within their own family or community.

I encourage anyone interested in developing a personal humanist practice to begin with hands-on human service. Every local hospice agency, nursing home, hospital, school, rehab center, library or senior center has a volunteer program or needs one, which you could start by simply showing up and offering your time. Keep your mind open. Keep your worries about getting your needs met in check. Focus on the giving. Just show up when you say you will. This is a good first step.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Dogma

Yesterday I had an opportunity to sit with some fellow Humanists in a discussion of the Humanist Manifesto. We shared our thoughts and reactions to this weighty, yet very abstract, document, which seeks to define the essence of Humanist ideology, according to the American Humanist Association.

While I admire the idealism of those who are drawn to committee work of the kind that led to the publishing of this document, I feel that these attempts in most movements for the greater good fall short of their objectives. In the most benign cases, they serve as nebulous mission statements for evolving, democratic movements. In the most malignant cases, they solidify into individual-crushing dogma. I believe the former is true of the Humanist Manifesto.

The true test of Humanism's worth will be the efficacy of Humanist communities in their greater communities. The efficacy of Humanist communities, in my opinion will depend of the humanist practice of each humanist in Humanist communities. Again, I differentiate between Humanism, with a capital H, and humanism, with a small h. I do this because I believe each individual humanism is unique and undefinable by the aggregate term, Humanism. The validation and inclusion of all these uniquely humanist practices, in my opinion, is the very strength of Humanism as a movement for social change.

I would like to see Humanism built from the ground up by blossoming and different Humanist communities worldwide. Perhaps this would be more confederation than homogeneous organization. The avoidance of solidifying mission into dogma is not easy, especially in a materialist world where rents, light bills and salaries of organizers need to be paid. Solidifying against "the other" has been the trademark of religion and counter-religious movements, like radical atheist movements. Appealing to a certain innate human xenophobia is an easy method to promote group cohesion. But, it is not a humanist value, as I see it.

I continue individually with this blog and hopefully in practice to promote the ideal of individual humanist practice. The creative act of being mindfully humanist to the best of my ability in the moment is, in my opinion, the most powerful way I can promote the greater good in my life and my environment. When I join with other humanist practitioners, I feel the power of our community in itself. By carefully and lovingly nurturing our communities, I believe, the greater good of Humanism and the world will be well served in time.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

H's

I was thinking this morning that the three h's of my humanist practice are holistic, healthy and happy. I know, I often wince when I open a Youtube video and it starts like this, but bear with me.

In order to bring mindfulness into action in the moment, I have developed these filters for my decision-making processes. How am I to be in this particular moment? How am I to act in this particular situation? How am I to interact in this momentary relationship? How is my relationship with myself right now?

I use the word holistic to describe my application of sciences, technologies and analysis (logic) in the moment. Is my process multidimensional, multifaceted? Am I basing my decision or action on the rational and intentional use of one or more scientific, logical premise(s)? Am I considering my biological, psychological, sociological, economic realities and capabilities? If not, where should I go to get more information before I react or decide on anything in the situation. Do I need to say simply, "I don't know yet." and do nothing?

I use the word healthy in a fairly conventional sense, but including health to mean physical, psychological, sexual and social health, sometimes all at once in a particular situation. Am I acting in a way that promotes my own health, not just sustains the health I have now? Am I conscious of the implications my decisions/actions may have on the health promotion of others? Am I maintaining an awareness in every moment of what is healthy for me, my companions and my environment?

Finally, the happy in my practice is based on a concept of the deep joy of liberation. Are my thoughts and actions taking me toward detachment from greed and possessiveness? Are my thoughts and actions less about control and more about generosity? Am I at peace with my own truthfulness and openness with myself and others? Do I bring an awareness of my own mortality and freedom from attachment to my own desires into my relationships?

As you may be thinking, this is very hard work. I have never maintained that having a serious daily practice is easy. I would also be a fool to think myself anything other than a bumbling novice at it. It is the quest, the journey of practice that is its own reward. It is the intense liveliness of the relationship with my own mind that refreshes me, even when I wonder if I can continue trying.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Flow

Balancing commitment to my humanist practice while riding with the flow of my environment in time and space is the key to my human happiness and my greatest challenge.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Birthdays

I have always had issues about birthdays. Even as a child, I had difficulty understanding why everyone made such a big deal about them. Maybe this is a function of my being innately homosexual and not at all drawn to the process of human reproduction. Maybe it has deep Freudian roots associated with a difficult birth. Maybe it is a function of sharing a birthday time, within two days, with my mother, who was notoriously stressed by her own birthdays. Maybe it is about all these things.

I have struggled to be gracious in response to birthday attention from friends. I'm afraid I have not always been so good about it. It is an ongoing process of acceptance and understanding that their sharing their own enthusiasm for birthdays is well intentioned. I do not think they are necessarily as understanding or accepting of my distaste for obsession over my natal date. This is the lot of the nonconformist.

As I have aged into a present awareness of my own ending, my distaste for birthdays has also mellowed and aged into an appreciation of good reason for eschewing birthday obsession. The aging brain is drawn to its past like a falling body is drawn to earth. Birthdays only accelerate this process. Reminiscence is the poison of aging minds, in my opinion. Remaining focused on the road ahead is daunting, for it promises pain, deteriorating health and death. Walking backwards is not a viable alternative in my mind. It inevitably leads to a bad end.

So, I now approach birthdays as another threshold, a reminder that I am traveling on. What is completed and done can fall away to history, good or ill. What is important is what I can do in and from this moment to be a better human being. In my opinion, that is all I have to hope for on my journey to its end.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Systems

You may try to game a system, but remember: As long as you are part of a system, the system may also game you. Forming a daily personal practice, based on ethics and common sense, is not about gaming any system or ideology. It isn't about what you can get by doing steps A through Z. It is about what you can do with your mind and personal being to become a better contributor to any system or group.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Needs

Human beings need air, water, food, exercise, sleep, sex, and shelter to maintain health. That's it. Human beings do not need computers, cars or designer clothing. Technology, driven by capitalism, promotes unessential materials as needs and minimizes the worth of basic needs. Air is polluted. Water is polluted. Exercise is deemed irrelevant. Sex is packaged with romance or breeding to sell products. Sleep disturbances are promoted to sell sleep aides. Technology, corrupted by capitalist greed, promotes as much illness (want) as health (need).

When Humanists praise science and technology, I believe it is wise to be very specific where the praise is being directed. "It's all good." is a slogan for the flippant, inebriated or mesmerized.  I would prefer to be seen as a pro-Humanism Scientist than as a pro-Science Humanist. There is a profound difference between the two.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Budgets

The news of the day is peppered with stentorian Washingtonians  blowing air about America's bare wallet. Aside from noting that the stingier and meaner the proposal, the prettier the political face that presents it, I am noticing a lack of discussion about one element of the Federal budget which is never brought up as exorbitant, ludicrous and corrupt. That element is the Military Budget!

Granny can't heat her house? Let her knit herself another blanket. Jose's school can't afford a computer lab? Teach him how to cut lettuce. Alphonse can't work because he has no public transportation? Let him grow wings. The Air Force wants another $10 million dollar jet by the dozen? Let's buy a hundred.

The Republicans in Congress are expected to fight against dropping the tax cuts for the wealthy which helped bring down the Federal economy.  They are also expected to fight against increased taxes on foreign corporations in the United States, like those owned by the Chinese perhaps. Yet, they grudgingly voted for the extension of unemployment benefits when unemployment was near 10%. That, they cried, was passing an unbearable burden on to their children and grandchildren.

Of course, it is indeed about their children and grandchildren. It is always about the children and grandchildren of the elite. It has been for thousands of years of human history. They control the government and the wealth. They pretend to be working for the greater good of the people.

As a humanist, I see politics as pathetically unscientific. Political science, describing the current state of statesmanship, is an oxymoron. Truly scientific politics would be based on matching the scientific assessments of human and environmental needs with technological (applied scientific) solutions with little regard for the Almighty Dollar. I firmly believe that political decisions made in this way would cost much less than those made to please elite capitalists.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Change

One basic, observable aspect of The Universe is inertia. Another is entropy. Inertia is the resistance of physical objects to change of state. Entropy is the tendency of energy in systems to dissipate or the tendency of systems to disorder.The advanced mathematics of these concepts elude my mathematical talents, but I tend to see these facts of physics in social systems and relationships. It reminds me of our physical place in our Universe.

Bringing any group together for a common purpose will acquaint the organizer with the concept of social inertia. Keeping a group on track, healthy and growing will acquaint the organizer with social entropy. Understanding  and accepting the concepts of social inertia and social entropy can keep the organizer sane.

The energy needed to overcome the inertia in a human group lies within the group itself. Groups are usually organized for a purpose, a journey. The naive organizer gathers a group in a vehicle and tries to push the it up a hill to some conceptual destination. The organizer holds the map. The organizer attempts to own the vehicle, and the members are willing to take a ride, as long as the organizer pushes it fast enough to afford them a pleasant view. Usually, in this situation, the organizer is flattened by exhaustion relatively soon. The vehicle slows and stops. The members get off and search for a faster and more pleasant vehicle. A radical attempt at overcoming group inertia leads to radical entropy, dissipation of the group. The Universe has its own balance.

The wise organizer devises an attractive vehicle to go to an inviting destination. This organizer points out the health benefits of sharing the pushing of the vehicle in turns, while also enjoying the ride in turns. The organizer organizes. Teams of pushers are organized. Those who have no intention of pushing leave. Shifts of pushers and riders are chosen by the members. Sometimes the organizer pushes, but the organizer more often steers the vehicle toward the desired destination through pleasant scenery, since he/she holds the map. Some members get off and new members get on over the course of the journey. Everyone pushes. Everyone enjoys the ride.

Letting go of controlling the way in which the members divide tasks and do the pushing allows the organizer to avoid radical dissipation of the group's energy, radical entropy. By allowing the group to adapt within itself to remain functional and healthy by arranging its parts to its best efficiency, the organizer can objectively assess the overall functionality and health of the group. Suggestions can be made. Struggles can be minimized. The energy of the group can be effectively focused to actualize its purposes.

This is another way of looking at the social nature of human beings. An organizer who fails to see that he/she is part of a system, not a controller of a system, will inevitably create dysfunction and havoc, personally and socially. Humanism, by rejecting clerical hierarchy and rigid liturgy, can enhance social activism in a way that religions have failed. Humanist groups, based in equality and equanimity, have the use of greater energy to achieve their goals. Inclusion diminishes entropy and harnesses more power for progressive change.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Connection

We live in an age of personal expression: Twitter, Blogger, Youtube. Thousands of beaming Facebook icons arrayed on Walls as Friends, like antlered trophies of another age. "This is me. This is who I am." How much actual human connection underlies all this expression? I wonder.

Watching the jubilant Egyptians in Cairo as they celebrate the ousting of Mubarak this week, I experience some envy. While the relatively peaceful overturn of totalitarianism there was facilitated by social media, by expression, the actual liberation of Egypt was accomplished by human community, people connected on the streets by a determination to promote their common well being. 

Liv Tyler and Charlie Hunnam in The Ledge
Last evening I attended a screening of Matthew Chapman's "The Ledge", a film I recommend to anyone interested in humanism.. I realized that Mr. Chapman's art had brought together a community of mindful participants in that auditorium. It was a community not unlike the protesters in Cairo. His expression had promoted connections, upon which community can be built for a greater good. This was a rare media event and a rare expression of humanism, in my opinion.

Meaningful connection requires truthfulness, just as meaningful expression requires truthfulness.Whether it is on Facebook or a canvas or a screen, the quality of our expression will determine the quality of our connection to our world. Making our expression truthful requires seeking our own truth without self-deception in every moment, to the best of our ability. I think this development of mindfulness is an important part of humanist practice. The closer we get to our personal truths, the closer we get to meaningful dialogue and connection with others. These meaningful connections are the basis of a community which can promote the greater good for all human beings.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Darwin

Part of finding your way back to your true self is learning your place in the world. This requires a certain amount of education and a certain amount of unlearning by the mind which has been poisoned by superstition and misconceptions about human supremacy. This unlearning, or deprogramming, seems to challenge even the educated human mind. I believe this lies at the core of our current environmental catastrophe, to which the leaders of world governments are slow to respond.

Charles Darwin, 1868
This day, February 12, is the date of Charles Darwin's birth 202 years ago. And, after nearly two centuries, his work on the science of human origins has inspired subsequent scientists to make great advances in a relatively short period of time. But, his work also threatened the foundations of religions and political systems across the planet. That threat stimulated an opposite and equal reaction of stubborn resistance to science and education.

What is so horrifying about understanding that we are all animals, born with lucky and unlucky traits or situations? Well, for one thing, realization that so much of life is simply coincidence of birth and location deflates the ego of those who see their material success or worldly prowess as somehow predetermined by an invisible supernatural force, which grants absolution for greed, corruption and antisocial behaviors. Being simply an animal in a timescape of change and coincidence, like all other animals, frightens those who are unwilling to accept who they are or who their ancestors were. Some never stop running from this acceptance. Others can think of little else.

The choice of ignorance over education can be blissful indeed. However, it does not lead to a happy ending. The ending inevitably comes for us all. To achieve sustaining happiness after awakening to your real place in the real world takes work and courage. Turning from the cow path of conformist views and pop culture requires an awakening to your own mortality and the preciousness of your limited lifespan.

Science, rather than flattening human experience, provides a model for living which constantly tests assumptions and embraces changes of approach. Science embraces failure as a step closer to success. Understanding the scientific method and applying it to your life provides you with coping mechanisms far superior to those offered by any religion or superstition.

So much of my own humanist practice is based in my education in the sciences. Learning that living the intentional life demands constant intentional change is crucial. Each moment of the awakened life is an opportunity to experiment, to learn, to grow. The choice is there for more and more people in this age of information technology. Hopefully, human beings will embrace the concept that we are fortunate to be able to intentionally shape our own progress and evolution as a species for the common good and the good of the planet.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Population

The daily news is peppered with stories which can be traced back to problems rooted in the human mind's misunderstanding of its own impact on its environment. The most salient impact of human beings on any environment is the impact of its population. Human beings are large omnivorous predators with extended lifespans and increasing infant survival rates.

An example of human mental dysfunction is the current abhorrence of socialism in the United States. Socialism is an adaptive social mechanism which is simple common sense in the face of the population pressures the species places on its environments. More people cooperating and pooling resources more effectively can actually improve the general human condition. When the general human condition in a society improves, violence, crime and social unrest diminish. Common sense. Barring gross corruption, as we have seen in Greece, socialism is an effective way of dealing with population stress.

In the United States and other developed nations, the religious Right has decided to meld pro-life (more population) politics with anti-socialist Libertarianism (egocentric self-determinism). Perhaps this is an application of divide-and-conquer politics by religious and political leaders. After all, if you are chained to a conservative past, what was good enough for Julius Caesar in Gaul over two thousand years ago would probably seem good enough for you. However, Libertarianism is hardly progressive.

The stress of human population on environment is a core human issue, going largely ignored by the education and political establishments in favor of free market capitalism in countries ruled by financial elites, like the United States. This is a no-win tactic for the whole human species, despite the short-term gains it brings to the wealthy and greedy. I believe it is necessary for humanists to be in favor of drastically increasing sex and reproductive education as part of any agreed-upon progressive agenda.

Beyond that, I believe we have reached a point in human history when the onus of intentionally bring new life into the world should be placed on those who engage in reproduction. I believe that any person or pair of persons who decide to bring a new human being onto the planet should be expected to take full financial and ethical responsibility for the whole of that new human life. It is time, I believe, in developed countries to throw off the outmoded serfdom of children to parents. Rather than parents seeing their children as investments in their future to take care of them in old age, it is time for parents to be educated to see that they are responsible for the quality of the life on the planet well into the future, beyond their own selfish needs.

I understand this is rough going for those who have been raised in traditional heterosexual models of parenting and reproduction. After all, my own grandparents were serf-descended farmers from Eastern Europe. As the younger child in my family, I was expected to be the designated caretaker for life. Things have come along way among the educated since I was a child, but I think a large segment of the population still operates on ancient models of reproduction and child-rearing. Unfortunately, due to lack of education and manipulation by those with wealth, they are encouraged through religion and media propaganda to support political and educational policies against their interests, the interests of their children and the interests of the planet.

The key to living happily with change is beginning with honest understanding of where and who you are. As a species, this consciousness must be achieved to progress from being a drain on our environments to being active participants in a healthy planetary environment. In my opinion, how we deal with reproduction and the issue of our own population will determine our failure or success as a species.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Love

My local Public Radio station in Boston peddles roses before Valentine's Day (February 14) to raise funds for its news programs. On the surface, this seems harmless enough. A win-win, by the standards of American materialism. I do not view it this way. The destructive effect of the rose-growing economy on labor rights in South America aside, the patter of the announcers reveals a deep immaturity in the popular concepts of love in the Athens of America.

Tying love to money, in the form of a tax-deductible charitable purchase, is probably the most honest part of this campaign. The institution of state-sanctioned marriage, as we know it, was founded on the transmission of money and property, not love. The Valentine's campaign is focused on sexual coupling, which has become entwined with the modern marriage concept, even among GLBT people. So, inevitably, sex is also tied to money. At the same time, sex for money in Massachusetts is verboten, as evidenced by the public outrage over the Craig's List Killer Case.

Let me pull some of these concepts together. It's fine for a bourgeois radio station to peddle roses for enhancing sexual relationships (romance). It's bad for poor women or men to sell sex itself to survive. And, none of this really has anything to do with love.

Love is not about selling things or buying things. Love is not sex. Sex is sex. At best, sex is a shared expression of affection and/or attraction between human beings, based in physiological need. Coupling itself is not love, though it may be based in love and respect. Coupling, usually initiated with sex, is often based in reproduction and social convenience. Reproduction is not love. Reproduction is reproduction. Much of what is called love between parents and children is physiological and hormonal response. The proof of love between parents and children comes with their development of intentional relationships as the children mature to adulthood.

Loving cannot be bought with money or manipulative behavior. Loving has nothing to do with money. It is a challenge to love freely. It is a challenge to accept love freely. Being a loving person entails accepting and caring for real people with real individual personalities and needs in each moment. Loving entails mindful sensitivity to your own needs and the needs of others. Loving yourself and others is the intentional work of becoming a truly good human being.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mindfulness

sit. visit with me.
sit. naked with me.
be. no angel to me.
be. no devil to me.
be. my lover, my self.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Labels

At a recent gathering of Humanists, I heard a presenter say, "Of course, Walt Whitman wasn't a Humanist." Whitman's poetry had been quoted by a Humanist in a project the speaker has been coordinating. This was a reminder to me. I was reminded of the reason I consistently refer to myself as humanist, with a small "h".

Walt Whitman may not have been a Humanist in the current philosophical jargon, but he was a humanist giant of his age. His words have always been an inspiration to my own humanist practice and my whole being. Like his English counterpart, Edward Carpenter, Whitman lived in pre-scientific, pre-technological world. Their respective mysticism was contemporary metaphor for what we now bluntly call Humanism, in my opinion. Applying "Humanist" as a label might come with more caution in circles of people trying to be humanist.

My own practice, based in mindfulness, is to avoid labels as much as possible. Exclusion is the enemy of love and peace. Labels exclude as much as they include. Offering harbor to some by erecting a label wall, rejects others whose minds may be open to your ideas.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Pace

Making your Way along the Middle Path should be done with mindfulness of your pace. Maintaining balance on the rocky terrain of life requires concentration and flexibility. It is easier to maintain your balance if you travel at a pace which is in tune with your capabilities and stamina. Trying to travel at a pace too fast for your nature creates counterproductive stress.

A society which offers constant distraction from technology and media presents a great challenge to the mindful practitioner. While technology enables efficiency, it can also accelerate the pace of life and overwhelm with options. Controlling the device is sometimes a challenge. Some people become controlled by their devices.

Meditation is very helpful with the process of determining your natural pace. Meditation can calm the mind and allow you to experience yourself in a clearer way. This enables you to approach your life from a more mindful and proactive perspective. Allotting fifteen or twenty minutes routinely in your day for a simple breath-focused mediation in a relaxed sitting or reclining posture will convince you of the usefulness of this practice.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Meritocracy

A little false praise can be helpful. Too much false praise is worse than no praise at all.

To have a true meritocracy, a society must promote true merit. A society based on a currency of false merit simply becomes an immense kindergarten, filled with narcissistic (childish) adults. We cannot all be brain surgeons or astronauts. We cannot all be leaders and innovators. If society encourages true merit on all levels, we can all feel valued and potentially excellent in whatever we can do with education and experience.

Our current, politically correct culture in the U.S. has blurred the line between true merit and false merit. In an admirable attempt to overcome prejudice and encourage equality in our educational systems, the value of honest and critical assessment of performance has been demonized in many circles. The furor over national achievement testing in public schools is an example.

Critique of performance is absolutely necessary in a progressive society. Honest critique of the society's performance in the U.S. has fallen prey to rabid nationalism after 911. Critique of police and fire departments has fallen prey to the sentimentality toward the first responders at 911 to the point that government officials find it hard to require basic competence testing and drug screening in their public safety departments. I could go on.

Many people in supervisory authority seem to have lost the ability to make basic, ongoing performance assessments of their employees. Incompetence in all segments of our service economy is becoming commonplace and somewhat accepted. The result is a deteriorating quality of life, relevant to the expense of daily living. For an applicable test of this observation, call your local cable provider or your local neighborhood health center.

My humanist practice is based, in part, in maintaining truthful relationships in my daily life. If I am consuming a service, I feel it is my responsibility to do what I can to ensure the efficiency and merit of that service. I participate honestly in customer surveys. I utilize and contribute to Web-based review sites. When I was an employer in the field of health services, I felt I had been entrusted with a responsibility to perform daily assessments of the work of my employees for their patients. That was fifteen years ago, when the current trend against truthful assessments was just beginning. I do not envy those in comparable positions today.

Performance assessment should begin in the home, but it is apparently seen now as punitive or even abusive. Performance assessment in relationships of all kinds should be mutual, but the current defensiveness around honest criticism makes this extremely challenging. How do we get back to an honest meritocracy?

Well, on a personal level, I would say there are several possible ways to deal with performance assessment. Poor performance can be observed in silence and noted. A supervisor, family member or teacher can then make the commitment to personally mentor the poor performer without first heaping on false praise for mediocre or poor performance. If the poor performer receives any false praise, this only makes teaching that poor performer more difficult in the future. Another behavioral approach to poor performance is to critique it unemotionally and precisely in the moment. This is a moment-by-moment approach which can be effective over time, especially with a poor performer with attention or memory issues. This method tends to keep assessment focused purely on behavior in the moment, thereby avoiding personalizing the criticism. This method requires vigilance and consistency. It is best used in a work or learning culture where everyone, including supervisors/parents/teachers, subscribe to the method for critiques of their performance as well. There are book shelves packed with other, more elaborate methodologies, but they all have in common a belief that honest assessment is the basis for encouraging merit, learning and peak performance.

Truthful praise is a powerful tool for helping family, friends, students or employees to excel and achieve happiness with their places in our lives and in society. False praise can be truly destructive and undermining to ourselves and to society. Happiness based in an illusion is not self-sustaining. To achieve happiness with yourself, it is important to have a realistic assessment of yourself, aided by those with whom you live and interact. Seeking this, as well as offering it to others, is a worthwhile daily practice.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Indolence

Human indolence, or laziness, can have any number of causes. Indolence can stem from malnutrition. It can also stem from sated complacency. Indolence can be a symptom of addiction. Opiates can cause a metabolic indolence. Hangovers from alcohol often cause indolence. Depression is another case of indolence.

Whatever the cause of indolence, one remedy is effective. That remedy is structure, tempered with peer expectations and encouragement. By stimulating the brain of the indolent person and encouraging programmed activity, supervisors and peers can make a great difference. This takes persistence and commitment on the part of those who care for the indolent person. Ignoring indolence is the surest way of making it and its causes worse.

Depression and addiction are common causes of indolent behavior, but there seems to be an increasing trend toward indolence in the more affluent youth in America. In creative enterprises, there is a glut of repackaging of the past. This has been very apparent in the film industry. Actualizing an original idea takes tremendous energy and dedication. Perhaps information technology is partly to blame by enabling more sedentary behavior, associated with electronic media.

In my own experience, indolence has been a problem only when I have lost the pulse of my daily practice. If I over-commit or do not commit enough to my physical well being,  I experience metabolic and psychological lethargy. I have conditioned myself to respond to this cue immediately with a walk in fresh air or an increase in my daily structure. Indulging laziness is fruitless. Living in cycles of lethargy in combination with reactive hyperactivity is self-defeating. Maintaining a healthy daily practice leads to consistent energy to maintain mindfulness and compassion.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Courage

Think of the courage of the unarmed Egyptian protester who sits nonviolently in a square of a major city 24 hours a day with no assurance of personal safety from government or fellow citizens. Now think of overfed Americans who cling to gun ownership and refuse to support any progress on human rights and economic justice in their own country. Or, consider the smug European Social Democrat who does little to foster truly democratic socialism in the United States and elsewhere. Who best represents the height of humanism? Who best represents the democratic spirit? Who best represents what it means to be a human being?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Expression

Human expression of feelings is a key developmental element of our evolution to mindful existence. Our capacity to identify and express emotions and ideas with language separates us from other species. It has made us the dominant predator on the planet. Being the dominant predator on the planet has enabled us to exploit the planet's resources to increase our population and life spans. As we know, we have done this at the expense of the atmosphere and the existence of other species.

The Face of Repression
Perhaps we can use human expression as a remedy, as well as a weapon. The outpouring of human expression in Egypt, Tunisia, Ukraine, and other nations, where revolutions have begun with peaceful mass expression of dissatisfaction with the ruling regime, illustrates the potential of nonviolent expression to change the world. The forces of repression in these situations revert inevitably to violence, as we see in Egypt.

Our own President and Secretary of State in the U.S. are being accused of poor expression of support for peaceful protest in Egypt. By aligning for years with the forces of the oppressive Mubarak, the American government has stifled its own expression of support of human rights and justice in Egypt. This repression of proper expression of support for the greater good in Egypt to protect our selfish, materialistic interests in America was and is wrong policy, developed out of fear of instability of oil supplies and profits.

The Mubarak's of the world will always seek to bottle human expression. They understand how powerful human expression is. They will try to stifle the freedom of expression on the Internet. They will chip away at it for profit and power. One Senator in the U.S. Congress is already taking on this issue by suggesting our President have Mubarak-like power over the Internet in a "national emergency".

As a humanist, I see the limiting of nonviolent human expression in any form as repressive and unethical. I also feel a great personal responsibility to use my clear, nonviolent expression for promoting the greater good in my life and in society from moment to moment. This is part of my humanist practice.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

For-Against

The aggression-reaction cycle is typically human. It appears to be wired into our animal brains. However, our frontal lobes, if developed mindfully through education and practice, can break free from the aggression-reaction cycle. If you tie your life to the aggression-reaction cycle, you will live an emotionally tidal life, which may well bring you material success but will not bring you happiness.

Freedom from the aggression-reaction cycle comes with finding the center of your personal truth and happiness. This is called finding your Way. It is achieved by practicing meditation, practicing healthy living and practicing compassion for yourself and others in your daily moments. The simple act of pausing and breathing deeply when you feel yourself reacting to aggression can make all the difference in a life situation. I often visualize my hand on the rudder of my life force in these situations. I steer my life around the aggression and past it. Practically, I simply ignore the insult and walk away from it.

Learning to not engage in the aggression-reaction cycle brings you into nonviolent being. Gradually, you are able to see aggression approaching before it is overt. Steering clear of it becomes easier with mindfulness and practice. Your own propensity for being reactionary diminishes. Peace descends upon you naturally from your own peaceful consciousness.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Repeat

My January 31st post, Entitlement, required many edits. For reasons I am still figuring out, this topic really threw a brain-wrench into my writing machine. I have edited it to a readable state. I am referring today's blog readers back to it, because I feel it is a very import subject in our time. I see the battle over entitlements in the U.S. as the representative battle between Good and Evil in the world today. The outcome of this battle, I believe, will determine the sustainability and quality of human life on Earth.