Monday, October 31, 2011

Imagination

Human imagination is an evolutionary advantage and an evolutionary burden. Imagination is the seed of all innovation. Imagination is the root of much evil as well.

If I use my imagination for beauty, love and  socially responsible action, I support improvement in the human condition for myself and others. If I use my imagination for controlling, harming or greed, I demean my human condition and the human condition of others. 

In a computerized (virtual) world, imagination can often be confused with actualization. The glittering materialistic world of the computer display is seductive. I could begin to imagine that this is reality. I could begin to believe that all my Facebook friends are really my friends, for example. I could imagine that all the news feeds I read are representative of the full human reality on the ground. This would be delusional.

I have come to respect my imagination as a powerful tool for change in my life. However, I have also learned to balance my imaginings with research and scientific investigation before applying them to action. Living a life ruled by imagination without balance is treacherous. Learning to apply imagination to life's challenges is a priceless skill.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ideas

One person's great idea is another person's great folly. However, those of us in the information-driven world are now bombarded with the ideas of the few who dominate the media through celebrity. Many of these ideas are simply foolish. Others are mean-spirited. Few are brilliant.

It becomes more important to me to elicit and listen to the ideas of others in my life. This is becoming a more conscious and routine part of my practice. This is not always easy. It appears to me that the past ten years of post-911 conformity has made "opinionated" a dirty word. It seems easier to get an answer about a choice between shocking pink and fuchsia than about a choice between black and white, even when black and white are the real colors involved in a situation. This would be less frustrating if people were aware of how equivocal they have become. Most often they are not.

The culture of media celebrity has established a new rule: Your idea sucks unless you have a millions hits on your site. This is truly dangerous. It will further dumb down the culture. Intelligent conversation gives way to discussion of the ideas of celebrities. This is not intelligence. This is conformist mimicry.

Of course, the risk of voicing an original or controversial idea is also very evident in the modern media. Reading the comment page on any given Web site can be like witnessing a public stoning. The one person who voices a completely different angle from all others is frequently called "stupid" or "crazy". It is the ugly merging of mob mentality with conformist complacency.

I participate daily in this medium of Web posting. I do so as a part of my humanist practice. I do not post Google ads here because this is not about selling myself, yoga mats or massage oils. This alone is a cause of consternation, I am sure, for some who stumble upon this blog. "Why the hell is he doing this?" must be a FAQ about this site. The answer is simple. I am doing this practice to keep my own mind alive, to foster my own ideas by writing them down where others can read them. When I am given the gift of any thoughtful comment on one of my posts, I am absolutely delighted. This happens rarely, but I am not doing this to provoke. I am doing it to share ideas and invite others to do the same. I want to see a culture of ideas, not celebrity, to thrive.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pain

Adjustment to mild chronic pain is largely an unconscious process. With aging, the body begins to hurt. The joints become less effectively cushioned against stress. Arthritis and muscle fatigue are common complaints. 

Medical technology provides some help. Joint replacements are commonplace. Some people have the same joint replaced more than once in a lifetime. However, much of the pain of growing old is simply unavoidable. The grinning faces of plastic surgery cannot abolish the inevitable internal experience of growing old.

The American separation of generations by geography and ageism deprives the young from benefiting from the mundane daily experiences of the old. Complaint is also considered un-American. So, many of us come to aging as ignorant students, thinking we are experiencing all the effects of aging for the first time in human history. This can cause the development of a particularly unattractive form of self-pity and narcissism. 

In my experience, having a daily practice of self-awareness and ongoing education is a great help with adapting to the inevitable physical changes that come with age and unavoidable infirmity. I have had to confront these issues sooner than many of my fellow Boomers. Navigating life with pain is like running a race while carrying heavy suitcases that cannot be put down. Those of us who experience chronic pain focus on the pain or on life. It is nearly impossible to focus on both at the same time.

Accepting and living with the pain of aging is one of life's great passages. It is a natural process which raises our awareness of our impending ends as mortal animals. Resenting this is useless. Focusing on the avoidance of it by taking mind altering medicines can make the transitions ahead more difficult. Developing a daily practice before getting to the pains of aging is a way to maintain happiness under duress.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Succession

At a time when the world population has reached 7 billion in conjunction with increasingly catastrophic climate change, we can all relax because the succession to the British throne is no longer sexist. Doesn't that make you feel all warm and fuzzy? 

What about the succession of the children being born all over the planet. What throne or glory will they be inheriting from struggling parents? Or will they inherit a greater burden than their parents carried? 

From my humanist view, human equality means just that: Equality. Those who do not support the rights of all human beings to equal economic justice are not humanists, in my opinion. Those who support a monarchy are not humanists. Those who support an oligarchy, based in individualistic capitalism, are not humanists. The reason is simple. These institutions stand in the way of human equality intentionally.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Oppression

Glenn Greenwald's new book, "America's Lawless Elite", speaks to the leading danger to U.S.social equality and semi-democratic government. British journalist Ioan Grillo reports on the challenge to the government of Mexico by a large army of drug traffickers. Both of these men are addressing the same process in human life. Power corrupts. Corruption creates inequality and oppression. In equality and oppression create conflict and violence.

The brutal police reaction to Occupy Oakland, which left a young man nearly dead with a fractured skull, is the beginning of the violence which will unmask the social injustice in American society. The corporate media, torn between bowing to their Murdochs and reporting the truth, will be tested in this conflict. So far, they have grudgingly aired the voices of the disenfranchised. In this process, intelligent Americans will be able to see the depth of the corruption of government by money.

Oppression is inevitable in a materialistic and hedonistic society. There are not enough resources in a society driven by capitalism for everyone to have equal prosperity. Pure capitalism, the kind of capitalism now advocated by those with power in the U.S., thrives on the exploitation of the poor by the rich. It is a capitalism of social Darwinism. It is Herman Cain capitalism, a celebrity-driven egotism for more and more of everything at any expense to society. 

What is the root of this oppression? The root lies within the human mind. While greed and animal impulses of unbridled predation drive the oppressors, there is no oppression without those who submit to it. Asking the predator to be reasonable is a waste of time. Simply placating the predator is an endless and potentially fatal surrender. Resisting the predator is the only way to counteract oppression. And the sooner the better.

Bullying in the schools has become spotlighted in our society. I will suggest that this bullying is simply a reflection of the society itself. Children act out the adult behaviors which are modeled for them by parents and adult models in the media. 

Oppression by financial interests is becoming exposed in the U.S.. The Occupy movement is certainly an admirable form of resistance to it. If that form of resistance fails, then the U.S. may eventually face the form of resistance that has become an alternative movement in Mexico, the drug cartel, or the form of resistance that has developed in Afghanistan and Palestine, fanatic resistance based in religion or racialism.

The humanist strives become mindful and compassionate. The humanist seeks nonviolent cooperation. But the humanist can also become corrupted by money and alliance with power. Perhaps this is an element of President Obama's betrayal of his principles and his change-seeking constituents. In any case, he is currently on the side of the oppressors against the oppressed in America.



Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Harbor

The concept of the safe harbor appears throughout literature. At the height of the powerful British Empire, the safe harbor in literature was often a small country house away from the fray of commerce and world travel. In ancient Rome, great political men, like Cicero, happily retired to quiet villas away from the hub of that ancient world.

Most of humanity live their lives without any safe harbor. In fact, those in power with the capacity to establish their own safe harbors fight viciously to prevent the social change that would make all the world a safe harbor for all humanity. They rail against 'class warfare' whenever the people assert their need for safety and security from poverty and injustice. The beaten masses shrink from the concept of class warfare because they have been made weak by perpetual mind wash of media propaganda.

There is no safe harbor in self-deception or complacency. Denial increases vulnerability to preventable catastrophe. Self-satisfaction breeds stifling stagnation.

I find meditation and reflection are methods of building an internal safe harbor from which I can journey into the travails of my environment. By maintaining mindfulness of my own state of being, I am better able to feel a basic confidence in my ability to cope and create as my life progresses through my own causes and circumstances over which I have absolutely no control. While my mind remains anchored in its own safe harbor, I am able to sail the tricky waters of mortal reality.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Raking

Most mornings my mind feels like a New England sidewalk in Autumn, littered with the dead leaves of old habits, anxieties and baseline physical discomforts. I sweep them into a pile and slowly burn them away with the practice of exercise, relaxation and organization. I find the computer helpful for this. I go on line and seek information to rake away my obstructions to informed and logical decisions. This produces a second dawn. My mind clears. I breathe deeply. I see a better path to whatever the future holds.

Scuffing my way through the detritus of habit, anxiety and pain all day would not serve me well. Practice is the remedy. With a practice based in developing awareness and progressive action, I am able to clear my path at the beginning of each day. It is littered every morning. And every morning requires the practice of opening a better path. I believe this is simply my human condition. The only way to an effective practice to keep my way clear is more practice.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sources







If you want to learn how work against poverty, go to the poor.

If you want to learn how to lessen ignorance, go to the ignorant.

If you want to learn how to alleviate pain, go to those afflicted.

If you want to learn how to help the elderly, go to the aged.

If you want to learn how to change nothing, go to the rich man.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Biology

My undergraduate studies were in Cellular Biology in the early days of electron microscopy. With a minor in Chemistry, I soon understood that I myself am a physical being, a composite of cells, which in terms are comprised of chemical compounds in formations determined by the Physics of this planet, formed by the physical forces of the Universe. An intricate, self-motivated, self-motorized machine, or organism. Pretty amazing. 

This early understanding made it clear to me that God was an invention of this machine. Not the other way around. Gradually, I realized that all our social and psychological conventions are group inventions. Like the homicidal robots in the "Terminator" films, our conventions can become our masters or destroyers unless we constantly redesign them. As a young gay man, whose organic machinery pointed me sexually in one clear direction, this became very obvious. My sexuality was part of my machinery, built in to its genetic and hormonal drive. Convention, devised by heterosexual machines who had won superiority by numbers and aggression, was life-threatening to me as an organism. 

Understanding something about the basic biology of life has shaped my understanding of my own body and its environment. When I look at any human being, I see another organism. The layers of convention and genetic mutation that form that organism's specific features become quite secondary. By knowing and modifying myself, learning and editing my own operator's manual perhaps, I develop more intimate understanding of other organisms. This is a biological approach to developing compassion through mindfulness of the real workings of living beings. It is a layer of my humanist practice.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Future

Much of my time is now spent trying to set the stage for a practical future. Perhaps too much, considering that my future is not going to be all that long by any standard. Yet I persist. 

The challenge of the world as it now functions is maintaining a strong presence in the now, while also be responsible in planning for the future. The fortunate, who can subtract money from this equation, are free to relish the now of entertainment and travel. They can easily lapse into a hedonistic illusion that life is a party for everyone. This lies at the root of much of our social dissonance and discontent right now. 

The allure of the Buddha story is associated in part with the enlightened man's disdain for any material security. The mythological Jesus also lectures against worries about material security. Many people in my generation begged and partied their way through the 1960s and 1970s. Some of these became the ruthless entrepreneurs of the 1980s and 1990s. When their youth and beauty could no longer buy them largesse, they opened a bank account. 

My life seems very short now at sixty-one. It has whizzed by. I spent the first half of my adult life in utter denial of the future. I worked and loved and lived, very much in the present of each day. I was unconcerned with owning much. I moved like a nomad for cheap rents to compensate for modest incomes. And I was happy for most of it.

Like many of my fellow Baby-Boomers, I now look at a road to my end which needs paving, not only for myself but also for at least one special person in my life. I find myself in a country where those in power want to make life less secure for the old and infirm in the name of balancing spreadsheets.The spreadsheets are an excuse for other agendas, of course.

My attitude toward my future is part of what makes me a practical humanist. While adhering to ideals of mindfulness and compassion in the moment, I also know well that I must be practical about my future moments while I have the capability to do so. It is my practical responsibility to do this. I know that capability will diminish as I age.

I am not a Libertarian by any means. I believe in contributing to and collecting from the social security mechanisms of society. I have done both. In fact, I owe my last fifteen years of life to publicly funded medical research and the availability of assistance with medical expenses. However, I do not wish to rely on these mechanisms beyond my ethical need to. I believe it is my responsibility to minimize the impact of my needs on social security mechanisms, which exist for all of us.

My belief in the value of practice, based in mental and physical health, is strengthened as I engage in this process of planning for my future. By remembering to focus on what I am doing right now to maintain my best self, I am also laying the foundation for whatever future comes. This takes the edge of the niggling financial details and keeps me cognizant of the precarious nature of every next moment.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Libya

Faces of Oppression
The situation in Libya shows the power of anger and the inevitable effects of oppression of the many by the few. The Arab Spring is simply a normal human expression of rebellion against oppression. So is the Occupy movement in the United States. Different forms of expression to different forms of oppression.

The Libyans have the advantage of starting anew. They have fought hard against a homicidal maniac, and their own violence may prove a hard poison to remedy in their society. The cycle of violence is a difficult one to break. If they can restore civility, they could be exemplars for establishing a more egalitarian, civilized state from the ruins of dictatorship.

In the United States, civility in protest is a relatively new phenomenon. Police are less violent when dealing with nonviolent civil disobedience due to nearly microscopic visibility of all their actions in the media. Compromise between authority and protesters on the ground in local communities is a good model for creative change. Occupy demonstrators have, for the most part, been able to get their message across to society through commercial media without having to smash storefronts or overturn cars. 

I know from my experience in the gay rights struggles of the 1970s that nonviolent protest speaks loudly to oppressive power. I know from my experience during the peak of AIDS deaths in the U.S. (1988-1998) that nonviolent civil disobedience and activism breaks through society's denial of a real problem. I also know that problems denied and oppression denied become explosive over time.

Part of what I call humanist practice is addressing oppression, whenever encountered, directly and immediately. This may entail calmly interrogating a police officer when I think I see an unjust situation. This may entail writing an email or making a phone call  to an authority which is not doing its job or is abusing its power. In business, I do not tolerate being cheated or lied to. I assert my rights as a citizen, as a consumer and as a vendor. This requires education in the basic laws of citizenship and commerce, as well as developing a code of personal behavior and ethics.

A society, in order to be considered civilized,  must be composed of civil people and must be governed by civil authority, which adhere to law and a code of behavior (order). Preventing oppression by greed, authoritarian brutality or familial domination is the job of each individual in a democratic society. Being a humanist brings the additional responsibility of fighting oppression of others as well as of oneself for the greater good.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Multitasking

Walking the Middle Path in life as a humanist is a form of multitasking. Unlike texting while driving , this form of multitasking is good for you and your environment. 

The development of conscientiousness (mindfulness) and compassion requires mental multitasking. And, as with all other forms of multitasking, it takes practice. Being in the moment while being aware of the multiple planes of existence (emotional, physiological, intellectual) is a form of multitasking without keyboards or LED screens. It requires intentional and routine development as a human being.

I have found that a routine daily relaxation meditation of twenty minutes is a tremendous aid in this development process. Three weekly exercise periods at my gym are also very important. Walking with an open mind for one or more miles a day is beneficial. Maintaining a healthy whole-food diet has tremendous benefits. Avoiding alcohol and other organic toxins accelerates brain function. Writing this blog has also helped. With these practices and continuing education through reading, conversation and reflection, I have increased the depth of my moment-to-moment experience. My presence in the moment is more secure, confident. From this mindfulness, I am more capable of observing the course of right action, based in compassion and humanist ideals.

There is no need for "spiritual" foolishness and mumbo-jumbo to become enlightened in the truly human sense. Liberation comes with the release of the self from bad habits and unhealthy processes, mental or physical. Liberation is simply standing up and taking the freedom to be the best person possible, despite conventions or the oppression of the opinions of others. Attempting the multitasking of mindfulness and compassion in each moment is what I consider my humanist practice.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Racism

Can we cure the effects of racism with racism? Here in Massachusetts, the legislators are trying to divide the state into neat ghettos, so-called majority-minority districts. This a political version of trickle-down economics: By peppering the political class with people of color, all the political fortunes of minority citizens will rise.We all see how effective trickle-down economics has been at promoting universal economic justice. Not very.

My question is: Why can't politicians in office attend to the needs of all communities regardless of their color or ethnicity? The Massachusetts approach exposes the racism of the legislators and of those in minority communities who see electing politicians of their own color or native language as the only way to equal representation. If Massachusetts fostered truly diverse communities through legislative policy, would these measures make any sense. I do not think so.

It's a carrying over of a time-honored tradition of divide and conquer. The established WASP's of previous times in Massachusetts used lieutenants of various immigrant groups to garner legal and illegal votes in various ghettos. Gradually, the lieutenants became politicians themselves. The Irish-American phalanx which arose in the early twentieth century in Massachusetts overtook their WASP masters, who had once proudly proclaimed "Irish need not apply" wherever white-collar jobs were posted. Did the ascendancy of the ethnic Irish, Italian and French politicians make Massachusetts a showplace of economic and social justice? No. It simply secured fortunes for the political class and the repetition of the whole cycle all over again, as we see now. 

Trying to cure a disease with the same disease is not effective. Preventing the disease by vaccination is. In this case, vaccination is integration, not segregation. The legislature should be focusing on funding policies and programs which would spread encapsulated minority populations into economically and politically gated white communities. By enabling people of color and varied ethnicity through extra funding for public education and cultural integration wherever ghettos form, the legislature could begin today to diversify the overall face of Massachusetts. By surgically targeting areas which show symptoms of turning inward, like the city of Lawrence, for example, with educational funding and urban development funding, the legislature could begin today to address the proper representation of minority interests.

The underlying message of majority-minority political districts is: You have to be that color to take care of 'your own'. This is not the ideal of true democracy or multiculturalism. This is the same old repackaging of racism and xenophobia that politicians are known to use to secure their own power. Change requires innovation and creativity. This is not progressive change. It is clearly the same old broken paradigm.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Seven

The human population has just surpassed 7 billion. Some would shrug. "What difference does it make?" is the common attitude toward population rise by those who are either undereducated or overfed. It makes little or no difference to those who manage to live with the lion's share of natural resources, technological advances and food. To the child born today on the edge of growing desert in Africa, it means a life of continued pain and suffering. While some well-fed equivocators may calculate the sustainability of human life in the hundreds of billions based on current climate conditions and technology, the growing millions of hungry human beings will not be so glib.

Attending to the quality of life of all human beings and other cohabitants of this planet is ultimately dependent on population and the fair distribution of resources. The same care that is taken in planning the release of wolves into the wild by conservationists should be focused on human population in the planning of human habitats, but it isn't. In China, for example, architects proudly figure out how to cram tens of thousands of people into one city block of apartments. The same architects may decry the one-child policy as cruel or unfair.

One of the poisons of religious ignorance is a delusion that it will all be OK. A belief that some divine plan absolves the individual from measurable responsibility on a planet with limited and measurable resources. Some of the more educated and less religious think they are entitled to the same behaviors of reproduction everyone else is. Producing five or six children is seen as a matter of personal discretion, devoid of any social or environmental considerations. In fact, the statement "I have five children" belies the prevalent misconception that entails the possession of other human beings. Rather than seeing the profound step of producing a free and separate human being as a lifelong responsibility, many still see it as a reproductive right for their edification and enjoyment. A sad bid for immortality perhaps.

Lifespan of Our Sun
There is no immortality. There are no magical loaves and fishes. There are only arable acres of land and desert. There are potable waters and poisoned waters. The planet itself has a limited life. Our own sun is halfway through its natural life. When that is over, the planet will die.

It is easy to stretch and yawn with complacency over these realities. This is not the way of a humanist. The humanist understands that physical realities determine the quality of human existence as much as mental states. The humanist embraces the power of intelligence, education and science. The practicing humanist employees these in decisions about every aspect of life. The practice of humanism is a practice of overcoming habit and impulse through mindfulness and compassion. For those who feel the urge to sexually reproduce, this is especially challenging.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Memorials

The dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial in Washington yesterday illustrates for me a human tendency which can distract us from humanist values of universal equality and justice. 

I wept as I watched the "I have a dream" speech in 1963 on television. I wept when I heard of Dr. King's assassination in 1968. His approach to human rights and social equality inspired many of us when we were involved with early gay rights demonstrations in the face of brutal hatred. We were nonviolent and inclusive. That was the King model, as it was the Gandhi model. We believed it would overcome.

The sculpting of King into a Soviet-like monster statue stands in stark contrast to the life-size statue of Gandhi here in Boston's Dewey Square, where Occupy Boston now expresses another generation's quest for equality and justice. While it is important to carry our human history with us, idolizing one person or one period of our human history can obscure the message of the advances made by that person or period. Dr. King reminded us of the power of the one, when speaking truth on behalf of the many to unjust power. Carrying that memory does not require a stone memorial on a mall in a seat of power.

In light of this core value of Dr. King and those like him in history, the best memorial to them at any given time are those who live their message by nonviolently resisting oppression and saying "No" to unjust power and corruption. While the powerful may gloat over giant statues, perhaps in hopes that they someday will also be cast in monstrous stone, human progress is in the hands of the living who tend the fires of human equality and universal justice with their voices and nonviolent actions.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Reflection

How much time do you spend intentionally reflecting on your life? I don't mean obsessing in the background while chopping carrots. I mean sitting quietly and simply thinking about life and the path through it.

Writers do this sort of thing all the time. Keeping a journal is the first step for many people who learn the art of creative reflection. Formulating ideas into words is a method of disciplining the mind and body to produce a coherent expression of internal experience. I see glimpses of this on my Facebook feed. A few regular posters journal their lives sporadically.

Reflection is an important part of my own daily practice. It is tied to my use of daily meditation. The two processes are complementary. 

The actions and decisions to act that come out of my practice are determined by reflection and meditation rather than reflex and/or reaction. Learning to regularly reflect trains my mind to take that crucial space for thought before acting in most cases. I am an animal. I do still react reflexively sometimes, however I am finding that I am more mindful in each moment with commitment to practice. 

The intentional life begins with education and becomes practical with reflection and meditation. The life of a practical humanist is an intentional life based in peace and justice. Mindfulness in the moment and developed habits of compassion bring humanism into intention. The thoughtful and giving life is the peaceful and just life. Reflecting on the naked truth of my own capacity or incapacity to love is at the heart of my mindfulness. Reflecting on my common mortality which binds me to all living beings opens my mind to compassion, even under the most difficult circumstances.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Democracy

I smile as I listen to media wonks rationalize their hesitancy to cover the Occupy Boston protests. "There was no one person to talk to, " whined one local media aristocrat. That is the point!

I admire the true democracy of the Occupy Boston participants. I guess I have Rock-Star Fatigue. Ever since Ronald Reagan became President, it seems that every cause has been led by a person who wanted to be a celebrity or who was a celebrity already. I have encountered this in every evolving non-profit. In fact, a non-profit is often a cult of personality as well as a profitable small business for the wannabe celebrity at its head.

Occupy Boston is a democracy, as far as I can tell. This is very powerful. As major cities around the planet kick off Occupy demonstrations today, I smile in appreciation of the basic human desire to belong and to be equal while looking to bring along all who wish to join. This is the precious quality of the Occupy movement in its infancy. I hope this is not lost as it confronts the corrupting influence of a materialistic and hedonistic world, fueled by a sensationalist pro-corporate media.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Casinos

While committed citizens camp out in the rain in front of Boston's South Station to protest economic inequality, corrupt politicians feather their nests on Beacon Hill with a fat casino bill, setting the stage for pay-offs and casino-related jobs in their future. The silence of the general public on this issue is deafening, but no more imperceptible than its overall complacency with the status quo. 

The big gamble the citizens of Massachusetts and other states face is a gamble over the future of democratic process. Right now, the majority seems to be unwilling to look at their cards realistically. They are being dealt a bad hand by card sharks in government, in the banks and in corporate board rooms.

It is true that life is a continuous gamble in some ways. None of us has total control of the future or the present. But disproportionate influence by those already in power on the political process in a stressed environment bodes disaster. While not controlling the future, government can strongly influence the futures of the governed. If government is focused solely on furthering the prosperity of the prosperous, the quality of life of everyone suffers. Human beings will tolerate this kind of suffering for only so long. The Arab Spring is one way by which the suffering free themselves from political and economic subjugation.

Preachers of the Free Market and Entrepreneurship are mostly those who have already succeeded in a Skewed Market through Cronyism. And, it seems that the 2.5 million Federal employees are working more and more for the wealthiest 5% of the population. This makes America less a casino and more a factory with bad wages and no benefits for the great majority of its population. The Federal government is becoming the foreman for the owners by keeping the workers in line. The Democrats placate the ineffective and corrupt labor unions. The Republicans shamelessly kiss the asses of their corporate bosses. This is a two-party system alright, but it is one big party for the people at the top and the political class who do their bidding under the guise of democracy.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Winning

American society has fallen into a culture of winning. High-profile sports for profit, bipolar politics and rabid capitalism have created a perfect storm of competition over cooperation. Every political discourse in the media is couched in terms of winning. The winners are the wealthy, the corrupt and the greedy. The losers are the American people.

As a humanist living in a capitalist system, I have always felt challenged. In my early working years as a teacher and a nurse, I became quite accustomed to living with less. My work situations were relatively immune from the kind of avarice and back-stabbing prevalent in corporate-cubicle culture. My professions were gender-integrated. Nursing is predominantly a female occupation. However, later in my career, I began to encounter more aggression and capitalist greed within the health care industry. 

I do conduct business within the capitalist system. I have to pay to have shelter. I have to pay for food, clothing and basic needs. This has been an area of practice that has been very demanding, since I have had to deal with medical and financial challenges within this system for the past fifteen years. 

The concept of win-win has been helpful to my practice. In a recent transaction, I was able to work out a win-win with a buyer who was amazed at the whole process. "They threw away the mold when they made you," he said. I laughed. All I had done is act on my principles as a humanist seller. I had treated him fairly and had not striven to push him to my price on principle in order to win. We both got what we needed out of the transaction at a mutually satisfactory price. 

This behavior used to be a normal part of everyday transactions. The Fair Market has been replaced by the so-called Free Market. The new-Right American concept of Free Market is a repackaging of American Imperialism. It is actually Free Market by American Corporate Rules. Those rules are based on the idea that he who has the most and biggest guns wins.This is the Wild-West Libertarian view of social justice.

Winning does not promote learning. Failure does. Science and education depend on trial and failure, not winning. Yet, the recent obsession with Nobel Prizes in Science shows that capitalist avarice is working its way into professional Science. Winning the Nobel has become more important in the public eye than examining the actual advancements made by the winner. Perhaps this explains in part why a war-promoting President of the U.S. and a former Liberian dictator's minion have won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Abandoning the win for the win-win is not very hard for a humanist who is clear on his/her ethics. I am not a rocket scientist, and I have been able to figure it out readily in most situations. It helps to start in simple human transactions. Abandoning contention for conversation is a good beginning. A shrug of puzzlement rather than a boisterous defensiveness comes easily when you abandon the idea of controlling other person's mind in order to win your point. Gradually, the win-win becomes second nature. And, sometimes it entails maintaining a very separate peace by walking away.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Kameny

Frank Kameny in 2009
Franklin Edward "Frank" Kameny has died at 86. I owe a great deal to Mr. Kameny and his peers who braved rabid prejudice and came out as homosexuals in dark times, not unlike these. As a gay 19-year-old, sleeping in my car on the streets of Boston's Back Bay during weekends to escape an oppressive home, I met some of these men, who braved injustice and overt harassment daily in their jobs and families. They were my mentors and my lovers. Their strength inspired me and many like me to stand up for our human rights in a hostile society. We learned to walk quietly, be out everywhere and raise our heads high. Men like Frank Kameny gave us needed examples of liberation through adversity. I hope Frank Kameny was aware of the Occupy protests now occurring in American cities. His influence on society lives on wherever injustice is looked squarely in the eye with peaceful defiance.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Meltdown

Blogger is apparently having a meltdown this morning. I had written a brilliant essay on change. Now I find I must change the course of my day without posting my brilliance. Instead, I will try a quick summary.

Change takes a long time. Humans have had the use of fire for hundreds of thousands of years. We still don't know how to use it without polluting our environment because we haven't figured out how to limit our population to our environment. 

My practice is my minuscule contribution to change for the good in my environment. Learning to accept the limits of my effect in time and space is part of my mindfulness. Religions have attempted to control the minds of people for good for centuries without great success. Science has managed more positive change in two hundred years. Science has also caused great suffering when applied without mindfulness.

The interplay between mind, instinct and environment is the core of mindfulness. Mindfulness promotes functionality and health. Functionality and health promote positive change. Mindfulness of the one in concert with mindfulness of the many can move huge obstacles for the greater good. However, sustainable change for the greater good takes a great deal of time, because it must take root and grow voluntarily in each individual mind.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Immigration

Culture has no intrinsic value to the development of human peace and well being. In fact, culture can often be the enemy of progress and individual development. This understanding has been lost in the current American sensibility about immigration. 

Some cultures are indeed backward, impeded by superstition and sexism. These cultures cling to the past and resent any encouragement to progress into a cooperative future with other cultures. American culture, while arguably a loosely defined civil process rather than a clearly defined status quo,  has gradually progressed away from its xenophobic backwardness since the massive waves of legal immigration beginning in the nineteenth century. A stabilizing sense of America as a place of adjustment and accommodation has developed over 150 years with the acculturation of those earlier legal immigrants, who were  brought in as exploited labor for the most part. My own ancestors were among them.

America is now adjusting to new forms of immigration, legal and illegal. Legal immigrants in America are often from the more elite economic or social classes of their home countries. They are coming here to take jobs which require advanced education. Their educations were largely influenced by American and English media. They are partially acculturated to the literate American culture upon arrival.

Illegal immigrants generally have little education. The majority of them enter the country against American law in order to submit to unfair labor practices. The worst among them come to America to ply whatever criminal activity they practiced in their home country. This is made easier by our lack of adequate immigration reform. In any case, their life is shaded by their undocumented status. This impacts the lives of their children and their grandchildren. And, this burden is not the fault or fiscal responsibility of law-abiding American citizens who pay taxes and try to live decent lives. However, some corporately funded media has tried to convince Americans that it is.

The entitlement of illegal immigrants to compensation and governmental benefits is simply irrational and dysfunctional for a democratic society. The current realistic assessment of international finances supports the realization that a society must be supported from within and take care of those who contribute to it through taxes and earned membership in social security networks. Entitlements are for those who pay into entitlement systems. Distributing entitlements to those who have not contributed to their source in an accountable and legal manner is just bad business. It is charity without acknowledgment or appreciation. This process is also a form of corporate welfare. Businesses provide no benefits and substandard wages to illegal workers, who then turn to public funds for medical and educational needs.

There are those on The Left who feel there should be no limits to immigration of any kind. This would be practical in a globalized world. However, we are still living in a nationalized world. Things are paid for locally and nationally, not globally. This is not a matter of culture or race. This is a matter of dollars and cents. If the system is not financially just, a culture of corruption is inevitable. The endless scamming of systems for benefits and entitlements by those who do not qualify eats at the integrity of those systems for everyone, including those who have conscientiously followed the letter of the law. This is not economic or social justice.

There is more to immigration than the superficial cultural trappings, which we all find charming and personally enriching to some degree. The media, perhaps in an attempt to avert ethnic conflict, often overcompensate by minimizing the effects of illegal immigration. They would do well to look at the reality of our current financial situation in this country. They would do well to look at the struggling public education system, which has been additionally stressed in many communities by the demands of culturally impaired students, who were raised in this country without English in their homes. Mono-culture, whether Anglo, Latino or Chinese, is not American. A functional, reformed immigration system with established methods of intentional cultural integration would be far superior to what we are now dealing with as Americans. The corporations which have benefited for decades from illegal immigration should be called upon to foot some of the bill to put such a system into place.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Occupy

Yesterday I participated in a peaceful Occupy Boston demonstration in front of the Federal Reserve Building in Boston. It doesn't take much. Just show up. The rest is simple. Clap your hands. Chant or don't chant slogans, such as "This is what democracy looks like!" The atmosphere was inclusive, friendly and spirited.

As I crossed the street to the demonstration, a squadron of motorcycle police approached. They deployed in front of the doors of the Federal Reserve, the symbol of corporate control of our government. A cordon of policemen with riot gear soberly glared at the crowd of sitting demonstrators, who showed no sign of aggression against them or the building. Who were the provocateurs in this situation? The police, whose stance symbolized the threat of aggression and militarism in a peaceful and inclusive situation. 

The Occupy Boston demonstration of civil discontent is not what democracy should look like in an ideal democracy. In this country, controlled by religious fanatics, militarists and money-manipulators, this is what democracy must look like to salvage what little of it remains. Those who have committed to the Occupy Boston demonstrations are true defenders of democracy and peaceful freedom.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Self-Interest

Practical humanism is not about piety. It is about pursuing healthy self-interest on the road to mindfulness and compassion. By self-interest, I mean the ongoing interest in discovering, nurturing and developing myself.

Some readers of this blog seem to think I am preaching here. My anti-clergy reflex triggers a minor panic attack deep within me whenever I hear this implied. I am practicing here. I am sharing my reflections on my humanism here. That's all, folks.

The chronic association of doing good primarily with religion is unfortunate. It will take a long time for this to pass. I believe it will pass if more and more human beings ascend from fiscal and intellectual poverty through education. My practical humanism is as far from religion as I can get. And I have traveled several roads to get this far away from religion.

There is nothing selfish or greedy about self-interest unless it is pursued at the unwilling and/or unjust expense of others. The ethical psychotherapist may advance her self-interest by making a living and also by profiting from some of the insights of her patients. Her patient advances his self-interest by utilizing her skilled caring and insights. This is an exchange which benefits both, as long as it is honest and equitable.

When self-interests are centered on possessing material wealth under capitalism, this model changes. The accumulation of capital is competitive, not cooperative. The concept is: Give less to get more. This underlies the concept of profit. As a practical humanist in a capitalist society, achieving my self-interest to survive and grow is complicated. I am playing by a different set of rules than those who are materialists or hedonists. They see their self-interests as the accumulation of more and more at the expense of faceless others. Unfortunately, I am swimming with sharks while paddling along my humanist way.

The challenges posed by capitalist aggression to my humanist approach to daily life can be overcome. Mindfulness of my real needs and compassion for those consumed by materialism serve me well. By serving my self-interests in maintaining my practice every day, I am so far able to meet my needs without causing injury or engaging in materialism. When I foster my self-interests of health and well being, I am more capable to attend to the needs of others as I encounter them. Learning to do both of these things is what practice is all about for me.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Biutiful

"Biutiful" is a movie. Javier Bardem portrays an everyman, caught in a lower middle class life in modern Barcelona. After I heard the last echoes of praise for the late Steve Jobs yesterday, I sat down for this long (148 minutes) common-man epic. "Biutiful" shows a very different life from a Steve Jobs obituary.

I think the film brilliantly portrays life in an overpopulated and under-resourced world. It goes rather easy on exposing class inequality, I would say, but it shines a bright light on the lives of millions, perhaps billions, of human beings on the planet. I highly recommend it. It is widely available via streaming or DVD rental.

As a person outside the reproductive culture of heterosexuals. I was astounded once again by the lack of introspection about heterosexual reproduction among those who are incapable of being financially responsible for providing even the most basic security and health-promotion for their offspring. I was also amused by the well-worn use of homosexuals in the film as arch villains.

The film conveys an impression that the writers feel that we are all hapless victims of life. This seems consistent with the film's roots in Latino-Catholic culture. However, I viewed the film from the position of a humanist and a clinician. It is a good case study in one man's life. An uneducated man who sees his responsibility in life as solely focused on his own offspring first and the rest of the world thereafter. This is suitably instinctive, but hardly enlightened or mindful.


Taking responsibility for our decisions is perhaps the most difficult part of the human condition. Taking the bad results of our decision, regardless of their original motivations, and responsibly making the best of those consequences are the measure of our development as the best human beings we can be. As a humanist, I see Uxbal (Bardem) as struggling his way to some understanding of his condition. But, ultimately, he is weighed down by superstition, lack of education and conformity to what his society expects of him.




Thursday, October 6, 2011

Freedom

Freedom is not a granted privilege. It is a state of mind. Enslavement is also a frame of mind.
Maintaining mental freedom while also developing mindfulness and compassion is the great quest of the humanist. Addiction and hedonism can impede the hard work of being a vital, caring human being day after day. The very habits which may bring great success in the eyes of a materialistic world may well sabotage the opening of the mind to compassion.

True freedom opens the mind to sharing. The freed mind is not defensive or reactionary. The freed mind looks forward and reaches out readily.

My humanist practice is based in my freedom to be and share the person I am. I recognize this liberation in others who have broken through convention and fear to simply be the best human beings they can be. Practice is based in joining liberated minds, not following them. This is a pivotal difference between a humanist practice and religion.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Democracy

The pitfall that stumbles most movements is the development of an elite group who dominate rather than facilitate. American democracy, which is not pure democracy but representative republicanism, has fallen victim to this pitfall. As communication technology makes true democracy more possible than ever, those in power have chosen to assert their power over the people with the help of Wall Street and lobbyists representing the wealthy. Politicians seek to tell the American people what they should want.

The Defense of Marriage Act is a good example. Polling shows a majority of Americans support civil unions or marriage for same-sex couples. Consistently Right Wing politicians stir up homophobia in a minority base to defeat legislation which would bring national LGBT equality on this issue. This is about their domination of government, not morality. It is an anti-democratic process.

Why would a modern democracy have to depend on privately funded polls to determine "the will of the people"? The answer is simple, those who hold the vast majority of wealth and power in America do not want to share it with the 80% of the population who do not. This is plutocracy or oligarchy. It is not a democracy.

Religion's effect on the American political scene has left scars. Vigorous debate on real issues has narrowed to party compliance, like the inevitable sectarianism of all religions. The Tea Party movement is not reformation. This is a form of distraction from the reality of inequality and domination of the many by the few. Religions are built on the domination of the many by the few.

The founding of the United States was a form of facilitated group process. It was a long process of debate and disagreement. It quickly morphed into party politics as the group process, a more democratic process, descended into republicanism, the all-or-nothing battle for control between political elites.

Human beings, regardless of nationality, have a new paradigm within their reach. The Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movements have utilized the tools of this paradigm. Mass communication devices have made the actual will of the people available at any given time on any given issue. No need for pressing thumbs onto ink pads in elaborate and easily corrupted elections. Thumbs on touch pads can reveal the truth of popular opinion in seconds. This reality is a potential knife blade at the throat of any dictator or oligarch whose wealth and power depend on armed domination and lies. In America, it is a tool of manipulation in the hands of those who resist making this power a power of all the people for governmental action. Those who control this technology are aligned with those who dominate.

Private polling is propaganda, not democratic sounding. Why is there no government polling of the constituencies it is supposed to represent? The answer is simple, the political class, puppets of the wealthy, will not let this happen. They will not simplify legislation to a clear, readable language and post it on the Web for the populace to read and vote their preference. They will not post true debates on the issues on such a Web site available to all Americans in any public library. They have done everything possible to stand in the way of nationally available broadband communication. They are closing libraries with their fiscal decisions. They have done everything possible to stand in the way of universally excellent public education.

I experience great joy from the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Boston movements. These new activists have approached government with a facilitated group process not unlike the process that made America. No hollow yowling about canonized Founders in these ranks. No, these activists are about the hard work of democracy for the common good. They know that facilitation, not domination, is the way to keep democracy alive or to revive a democracy that is nearly suffocated by greed and hypocrisy. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Commonplace

The commonplace is commonly ignored. I looked out my bathroom window yesterday. The electric cables, suspended high over the street below between telephone poles, were adorned with large droplets of rainwater. They were breaking the sunlight into brilliant, gleaming rainbows of color. Hundreds of diamonds on black wire. Stunning.

I am aware of my own tendency to ignore the daily givens of my life. Part of my practice is to appreciate what I have in the now of my life. This includes paying attention to the commonplace and its importance in my daily life. My practice of maintaining my home environment contributes to this  awareness. Washing a worn, 19th century wooden floor on my hands and knees is a practice that builds an awareness of the labor that goes into building a house and the beauty of the trees that provided the wood for my shelter.

Flashy screens with instant information dull our appreciation of the roots of our lives. The touch of a friendly hand and the prolonged stare of a true friend surpass anything a smart phone can deliver. Looking at the real world helps. Looking away from devices helps. The commonplace will teach you what your life really is and where you are in it.

Humanism is in part a realization that what is simply is. There is no super human who will make my actual life something else. I have found that paying attention to the commonplace is a good place to inspire creativity and to deepen my appreciation of life as it really is.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Activism

The Occupy Wall Street movement is an example of productive activism that is consistent with humanist ideals, in my opinion. It is nonviolent. It is anti-materialist. It is focused on social economic justice. The focus of the movement is working against  growing economic inequality due to the endless greed of corporate capitalism's control of our government.
These brave activists have gone to the dragon's lair, where money manipulates all aspects of life in the U.S. and perhaps the world. They are calling the bluff of those capitalists who claim they are spreading 'freedom' with war and monetary manipulation. These activists are practicing true freedom of speech and dissent in the face of those who try to buy conformity and submission through Madison Avenue and lobbyists in D.C..

Humanism, as I know it, lives on the street, in the home and in the classroom. Humanism is teaching a child from poverty to read and study. It is changing soiled sheets on a sick bed. It is holding the hand of the dying. Those who stand nonviolently against materialism and the exploitation of people for money are humanists, whether they would identify with that label or not. The label itself means nothing. The good that is done for people in the face of those who seek power over them means everything to the true humanist.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Silence


The power of silence in the modern landscape is notable. As a person who meditates during the daytime in a city, I am acutely aware of the baseline noise that exists in my urban neighborhood. This sound is simply there, whether I choose to pay attention to it or not. It is part of my environment. Like anything else in my environment, it has its effects on my existence.

Many scientific studies have been done on the effects of white noise, loud noise and noise deprivation. Research has also been done on the human reaction to various volumes and tones of voice. Recently, the results of a research study suggested that the white noise in jets actually dulls the sense of taste in people who fly a great deal. Another study suggested that those who constantly listen to music are more prone to depression.

As a nurse, I have been sensitized to the effects of noise in therapeutic environments. Psychiatric patients who are deeply stressed are very sensitive to noise. Loud noise can escalate them to violence. Hospice patients who are close to death are also very sensitive to noise. Their natural defenses make them very alert to changes in the sound of their environment.

The soundscape of my own living situation has always been an important consideration when I choose a place to live. I know that sound enhances or detracts from the quality of my life. This awareness is an element of mindfulness. Learning to use this awareness to enhance my state of wellness or the quality of my human interactions is part of my practice. This may seem trivial to those accustomed to being awash in environmental noise without care, but I would suggest to them that a long dose of intentional silence will very quickly change their opinion on the matter.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fatigue

Since 1996, I have been struggling with a disease that causes a baseline weariness in my body. I have no memory of what it feels like to not have to combat this fatigue from the moment I open my eyes in the morning until I go to bed at night. It is best described as wearing lead shoes all the time.

Those who have never experienced this type of illness cannot imagine what it is like. I was a nurse for twenty years before this happened to me. It was a stunning revelation when it did. I began remembering many patients and many pep talks I delivered throughout my career in a sincere attempt to encourage. Once afflicted with this chronic weariness, I wondered if my best professional intentions simply seemed like bullying to my patients. That thought briefly caused me sadness and regret.

Fatigue is a good teacher. It certainly has prepared me for old age which is rapidly approaching me. Tolerance of this impediment to my energy level has made me generally more forgiving and more patient. Getting the important things done with whatever energy is available has become an easy selection process as life's endless contingencies continue to happen.

I am amused by those I meet who have not experienced this kind of disability. When I encourage them to conserve their energy and utilize it wisely while they have it, they look at me quizzically. They believe, as I once did, that their well of energy is inexhaustible. In my experience, these folks have the toughest time with aging or trauma when it comes along in some undeniable form. They often attach a certain morality to health or disease. They will eventually learn otherwise.

My practice of physical health maintenance and mental maintenance does not fatigue me. My practice is the treatment for what ails me in this human condition. I see going to my gym as a privilege. There have been times when I have been so immobilized that going to a gym was impossible. I see meditation as a gift to the mind. There have been times when meditation was the only process that brought me back from suicidal thoughts or excruciating pain.

I offer this reflection to alert those of you who are turbines of boundless energy as a primer on the inevitability of change in life. Too often our war-loving media frames hardship as a battle against some unnatural evil. This can encourage people to set up an unnecessary belligerence against their own bodies and minds. In my experience, acceptance of the inevitability of disease and death has yielded more incentive to make the best of what I have in the moment. It has allowed me to spend less time fighting with myself and more time to get on with the business of being my best with what I have.