Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Priorities


We in the U.S. live during an age of skewed priorities. The recent and current financial mess caused by money men with no ethical compass is a constant reminder. Money, fame and luxury have replaced ethics, social responsibility and moderation.

Media indoctrination which is nearly unavoidable touts all the wrong values. Patriotism overshadows peace-making. Religion overshadows compassion. Political power overshadows citizenship.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Establishing and remembering personal priorities is part of my daily practice. This is not a do-it-once proposition. Life is not a controlled experiment. Life is more coincidence than it is control. With the energy of youth, I did not really notice this. I felt invincible, equal to anything life brought to me. My challenges were tough, but so was I. With aging comes understanding that the stream of coincidence and challenges is endless. It is part of the human condition.

Knowing my own priorities helps me sift through the day's events more easily to get to the kernel of what is happening and what can or cannot be done about it. Creativity in handling problems and knowing when to let go are skills linked to priorities.

Self-preservation is the most immediate priority in most situations. This is pure animal response. However, when this animal response is paired with materialistic priorities, greed overshadows self-preservation in decision-making. The untamed mind addicted to luxury and privilege demands luxury and privilege, despite any cognitive understanding of the injustice which may provide the luxury and privilege.

Mining the wells of my own consciousness has made me aware of how dominating wish and fear can be. Chasing the unconscious wishes born of fear or perceived deprivation can prevent mindful rationality about my true life condition. I open my eyes and the eyes of my mind. I see that I am neither endangered nor deprived. In fact, I see that I am lucky, well fed and housed. This opens my mind to being more outgoing and generous. The act of compassion brings with it healing and more security in the world.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Grounding

Meditation has many positive effects. The most basic is grounding. By sitting or lying down for fifteen or twenty minutes at a stretch, I ground myself in my own life of the moment. I am a human being, appreciating my external and internal environment as it really is.

Sure footing is essential in any form of mobility through life. Athletes will understand this. Anyone who has lost the ability to walk will understand this. Regaining sure footing once it is lost can be an arduous process. It is always based in physical and mental well being.

Sure footing in a more holistic sense includes the conscious mind. Mental mobility or progress requires grounding in the reality of the now. Finding the footing of my now often includes understanding my history and applying the lessons of it. Fluid movement within the now comes with daily practice.

If I am grounded, I am relaxed. I do not invest to much significance to any one life event. I do not become tethered to the past or obsessed with the future. All things become secondary to my own sense of well being in mind and body. This is the core of my practice. My humanism can only be as healthy and as progressive as my own being in the moment.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Space

I live alone. I am fortunate to be able to afford my small attic apartment. It is my space.

The pressures of the human species on the planet are making aggregate living more necessary. The trend will continue to be building up. Eventually, massive cities, made up of consolidate urban and suburban areas, will edge against arable farm lands with climate change and desertification. Water recycling for human consumption will make this form of living more practical.

My need for individual space has been obvious to me since childhood. I was raised in a 7-room house occupied by six people. There was seldom a moment when I was alone to study or draw or read for pleasure. I remember yearning for privacy and cherishing any time I could spend in quiet solitude.

In my current urban environment, there is little quiet, even in my private space. Train horns, delivery trucks, contractors all contribute to a fairly constant background of man-made noise. At night, helicopters rattle overhead on their way to patrol the nearby highway. The white noise of my neighbors' televisions and sound systems is a constant. Recently, I was alone in the building and was stunned and thrilled by the quiet.

I believe that human beings, while being social creatures, need space. Obviously we need collective space to raise healthier food and to have clean drinking water. However, individual space is necessary for meditation, reflection and concentration. Retreating to a bathroom in a crowded living situation does not cut it for very long.

Hong Kong Apartments
There was a time, now lost, when experiencing individual human space within Nature was part of the normal human experience. Is there any wonder at our estrangement from Nature? As rich and poor alike get crammed into metro-urban environments, we deny the fact that our planet's atmosphere, the thing which supports our existence, is being degraded without care. In reaction to a lack of quiet solitude, the young generations are plugging their ears with personal noise, generated by electronics. This is treating one toxin to the mind with another.

Space, like air and water, is an element of human experience which goes unappreciated until it is no longer available. The cumulative effects of lack of personal space are obvious in overpopulated environments. The use of personal space for meditation, reflection and education has its obvious effects as well. As human beings, we have the ability to choose to a point. Once the planet becomes overpopulated to a tipping point, there will no longer be as many options.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sometime

Sometime
it is enough
to breathe in
and appreciate
the morning light.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Trends

There is a current trend in organizational thinking that enshrines anarchy (libertarian entrepreneurship) and group-think (corporate conformity) as useful tools to brilliant solutions to big social problems. This is history repeating itself. The first third of the 20th century was a booming technological age of increased prosperity for the few. The new availability of printing technology to leaflet writers and political ideologues of all stripes. Some of those who did not share in the Golden Age advocated anarchy as a method of erasing the rigged economic and political system for a new start. Others, like the Leninists and Trotskyites, turned to committees.

These movements are harnessed by charismatic ideologues. Historically, the Lenins and Hitlers of society have risen to ride the harnessed wave of disillusioned rage. Today, the likes of Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain are trying to ride this wave of anarchic discontent to the White House.

The problem with anarchy in a society without adequate public education and health systems is its propensity to violence. Perhaps this is the difference between the Arab Spring movements in Libya and Egypt. Violent change in the hands of an ideologue with no humanist ideals inevitably leads to atrocity and war.

We live on the brink of cataclysmic change. Climate change will place stress on the human species which exceeds the current capacity of technology to cope. Petroleum-based energy production worsens the problem. Technology is currently petroleum-based. The more technology diverges from solutions to basic human needs of all in order to seek profits from fulfilling the wants of the elite, the closer the human species comes to the precipice.

Ideologues are now trying to marshal forces in the U.S. to eliminate social entitlements to basic needs. Grover Norquist is the dark wizard behind these cowed politicians whose lust for personal power and affluence trumps their sense of duty to the public they are supposed to represent. Post-WWI Germany and post Roaring-20s America are models for an America ruled by Grover Norquist and his minions. This would be fertile ground for a new age of violence and class warfare.

In an age where the society is in turmoil, it is very important for me as a humanist to maintain my own focus and path. By engaging in my personal practice and encouraging others to do so, I am doing what I can do to promote peace and well being. However, I have no control over the wave of human history. Attempts to control others by violence, propaganda or subtle manipulation are useless in promoting general peace and well being in the great span of human experience. Group action for peace and well being are only as effective as the individual life practices within the group.  



Friday, November 25, 2011

Consumerism

Black Friday, the much-hyped retail sales day after Thanksgiving in the U.S., inevitably brings news of stampedes at Walmarts and violence over the latest kiddie toy on sale. Mind you, this is about Christmas shopping. Christmas. You know, that Christian myth about the birth of a Prince of Peace.

Our media, our schools and our social conversations are poisoned by consumerism. In the height of the 2008 collapse of the U.S. economy, caused largely by idiotic consumerism in the housing sector, the media tried to convince the American public that buying things for Christmas would be patriotic. Curing toxicity with more poison does not work.

Dedicated protesters live in tents in the capitals of the developed world to bring attention to the failed capitalist system based on corporate materialism. Manipulated pawns of that system camp out in front of Walmarts to grab things on discount for their brainwashed children. They perpetuate the cycle of their own exploitation by corporate greed. 

There is an inevitable endpoint to this madness. Our feet rest on a real planet with real physical limitations. We need to breathe clean air. We need real clean water to drink. Our food can either nourish us or kill us. Our human species now numbers at 7 billion with geometric growth projected. How many plastic gadgets will it take to eventually choke the beast of consumerism? There is probably an algorithm for figuring this out, but nobody seems to be paying attention.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving

It is hard for me to be cheerful about a holiday which was begun as a commemoration of genocidal religious zealots. In fact, I find the tradition somewhat offensive. It is the epitome of WASP narcissism, the victor gloating over his spoils.

I practice mindful thanksgiving on a daily basis. I cherish many things which the luckier take for granted. I could innumerate them here, but I will not. Sappy Thanksgiving Day lists irk me more than the basis of the holiday itself. They are often woven with an unconscious weave of competitiveness and superiority.

The daily practice of thankfulness is another matter. It does not entail surveying treasure brought by circumstance. It entails being connected with other human beings wherever I am. It entails truthfully and intentionally thanking the young woman who holds a door open for me as we are leaving a building. Noticing what she looks like and making sure to make eye contact in that moment. It entails acknowledging the personal effort extended by a friendly cashier who is making a lousy wage to stand on his feet all day to serve me. Making it personal and friendly in that moment without holding up the line.

Thankfulness when practiced intentionally throughout a normal day is an affirmation of our human dignity and human relationships, especially with strangers. It has nothing to do with eating too much or having things. It has everything to do with humanism and integrity. Thankfulness is an acknowledgment that we live in and depend on a civilized human society to be happy and at peace.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Rain

The loud sound of rain on my skylight reminds me that I am on a whirling rock with an atmosphere in the middle of dark airless space. I breathe in deeply. The scent of moisture in my nostrils. A shadow of sadness arises when I think of what my fellow human beings have done to this marvelous green planet. I experience awe at my own ability to appreciate my minuscule existence in this vast Universe. I resolve to continue to use my consciousness to promote health and well being in myself, in others and in my environment. The sound of rain and the beating of my heart merge in my mind. I am one with my world.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mystery

The unique situation of the human condition is the human mind's ability to examine its own origin and demise. This is the well from which all mystery arose in the human mind. As the human mind awoke to its powers to investigate and explain the basis of its own existence, mystery gradually lost its power. Mystery's power was supplanted by the power of solving mystery. 

The power of religion was based in its naive explanation of the cosmos to unsophisticated minds. By investing these explanations with financial, political and military power, religion has had its eras of control. Now there is little power in naive explanations of the Universe. There is great power in science in an age when human existence is threatened by overpopulation and natural degradation of the planet which sustains the species.

Science does not seek to eliminate mystery. It seeks to further examine mystery. Science without mystery would be like carpentry without wood. As long as there are unanswered questions in the human mind, there will be mystery. However, in a scientific age, creating mystery from that which is scientifically known is a waste of time. An understanding of what science has already revealed confirms that there is a great deal of mystery in our Universe. Rather than making up uniformed explanations for the unknown scientists accept what is as it is until there is a better explanation. Seeking the better explanation of mystery is the motivation of the scientific mind.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Reminders

I learned over the weekend that and old acquaintance had suffered a cardiac arrest while alone at home. He is not doing well. 

These reminders of what life is really like are important. None of us is guaranteed this afternoon or tomorrow or the next.day. This is heard as abstract philosophy by those who have not suffered significant personal loss. However, they are as vulnerable as any of us to sudden death or disability. 

Living life as though all will always be as it is lies at the root of many human problems. My life is changing on the most elemental level every moment of every day. My environment is a sea of change all around me. Each body has a limited amount of heart beats. We are physical beings, living machines, which have limited ability to sustain trauma and aging. Believing otherwise is simply delusion. 

Getting on with what matters every day is one way of using this awareness of life's fragility. Is making money worth losing the time to enjoy those people whom you love? Is an image or a career worth anything when you are dying? I can testify that the worth of a life at its end is measured by what a person has done throughout a life to be at peace within. 

I am grateful for this most recent reminder as I experience sadness over my friend's suffering. I look ahead and practice. Much of my life is not within my conscious control. I can only control my practice for as long as I can do so.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Place

There is a growing awareness of the large number of homeless LGBT youth. These are children of bigots who have either ejected their children from their homes or made life so miserable for them that their children has escaped to the streets. These are not the upper middle class LGBT youth who watch "It Gets Better" videos on their new iPads.

The reality on the ground is that it isn't getting that much better for LGBT youth in America. The demographic shift to larger Latino-American, Asian-American, African-American and immigrant families simply means that there are more LGBT youth of color, born into communities and subcultures with lower education levels and prejudice against LGBT people. These populations were the deciding factor in the Prop 8 struggle in California, for example. The "It Gets Better" campaign is largely cast in the ideologies and context of white, middle-class America.

One common side effect of being displaced psychologically as an LGBT person in adolescence is a lifelong yearning for a place where there is security and acceptance. But, as it has been said, you cannot go home again, especially if home was never there for you in the first place.

LGBT people grapple with this search for social context throughout their lives. Extended families develop. Ex-lovers become brothers and sisters. Conglomerates of intermingled relationships become fragile networks of support. Typically, the club life became the center of early LGBT family development. However, with the decline of the gay bar culture, LGBT youth face harder challenges in finding a place to be where they can safely interact with their peers. Web-sex does not promote community.

America is gradually warming to the idea of being a safe place for LGBT people. Very gradually, thanks to fundamentalist ideologues in politics and media. Meanwhile, the best thing we can do for each other as LGBT people is to open out hearts and doors to each other, especially to those LGBT youth who are struggling to find a safe place from which to get on with developing fulfilling lives. By growing beyond sexualizing every aspect of our lives together, we can construct family and community which supports and sustains. We did this during the AIDS epidemic's darkest days. We should be able to do it when times are less catastrophic for us.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Shadows

As a gay man in my sixties, I know all too well what living in the shadows is like. It stunts the human mind and twists human emotions. The shadows of my adolescent closet never felt safe. While living there I was fearful, defensive and dishonest. My relationships were stunted or poisoned.

Emerging from the shadows was just as terrible as I feared it would be. Perhaps worse. For years in the shadows my inner voice told me my parents would kill me if they found out I was homosexual. This turned out to be nearly true in reality. Several previously good friends turned their backs on me when I revealed myself to them after lecturing me on how I had offended them by being in the closet.  In other words, they told me they would never have associated with me in the first place if they had known I was gay. Their voiced disappointment in me was simply embarrassment and shame that they had let themselves feel warmly toward someone they considered less than equal.

I learned an important lesson from all this. The shadow life is never worth it in the big picture.

The daily cost of living dishonestly is bad enough for the individual. However, the cost of a life in shadow which impacts many other lives can be devastating. Look at the current Penn State case of child molestation. Look at the state of the U.S. Congress.

One of the joys of secular humanism is breaking away from the imagined dark forces which encourage living in the darkness with normal human thoughts and feelings. Fundamentalists are the enforcers of shadow living. Demagogues of any stripe offer conformity as an alternative to shame about normal individuality.

I consider being honest with myself and others the core of humanist practice. This is the great liberation, explained as The Truth over The Lie by thinkers as far back as Zoroaster. When the light of truth is taken up by a committed group of liberated people, human rights and dignity are always fostered. When those in power feel threatened, they always reach for The Lie. They rule and oppress the human impulse to do good from the shadows.



Friday, November 18, 2011

Economics

What differentiates modern capitalist Economics from religion? Some would say that Economics is based in mathematics, unlike religion. The mathematics of capitalist Economics, however, like religion, are based on dogmatic prescriptions: prescriptions about the worth of currency and prescriptions about the conditions of exchange of goods and money.

Religions have various dogmatic currencies. The currency of Christianity is salvation. The currency of Islam is conversion and ascension to an afterlife. The currency of Judaism is racial ascendancy and prosperity. The currency of many Eastern religions is transmigration based on Karma.

Capitalist Economics are unconcerned with universal human justice or social equality. These are not currencies of modern capitalist Economics. In fact, universal human justice and social equality are feared in capitalist Economics. These ideals are labelled "socialist" or "communist" quite readily by those who are acolytes of capitalist Economics. There is a priesthood of capitalist Economics, the Economists, who like their religious counterparts are divided by theories and schisms. They are simply unified in their adoration of money and wealth accumulation as the cure of all human ills.

I suppose humanism, as I see it, has a currency. True human progress is the currency of my humanism. I strongly believe that shared individual humanist practice, a practice of self-knowledge and promotion of health and peace for others, is the way to promote universal human justice and social equality. A world peopled by humanists would need no monetary currency to guide its choices. Every social decision would be based on peace, health and well being. The methods for attaining these would start with the premise that every human being has equal worth and equal rights to health, education, housing and satisfying work for the common good.

Economics and other forms of science are still restricted by their reactive models. They are based in fix-it models, which react to observed micro-realities. My view of humanism is proactive. By starting with the promotion of individual physical and mental health for all human beings as a premise, based on what is known by science now, human beings would develop exponentially as a species. Science would advance faster with more active and educated minds to power it. The obstacle to reaching our potential as a species is our misplaced confidence in the power of money to advance us.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Spin

There is a media-prompted delusion among those who would presume to govern that developing benign euphemisms for complex problems fixes those problems. This magical thinking is cost-effective, of course. If you are strapped for cash, as most political office-holders are currently, pretending you are doing something about problems in your community by 'reframing the conversation' may make you feel better about stuffing your own pockets with the public's limited resources.

Joseph Goebbels: Father of Modern Spin
State legislators in Massachusetts proclaiming how casinos will be a great solution for the state economy are stunning examples of this phenomenon. Another example was a recent local PBS show which highlighted my own home town, Chelsea, Massachusetts. Men in suits grinned as they described Chelsea as a "gateway community" in glowing terms. Perhaps they were grinning because they themselves do not have to live in Chelsea.

"Gateway community" is apparently the new euphemism for slum. For those of you who do not know what a slum is, let me explain. A slum is a community in which poor people live in substandard housing because of low rents. The owners of the properties in these communities are called slum lords. These are now called "investment property owners" or "property investors" or "property developers". But, they are still slum lords. The distinguishing characteristic of slum lords is that they never live in the slums they create by avoiding taxes, neglecting their properties and ignoring municipal health/safety ordinances.

The "gateway" in "gateway community" refers to the fact that the tenants who are being exploited are poor immigrants. In communities like Chelsea, deteriorating flats are filled with extended families to capacity. Cleanliness and the conditions for psychological health are nearly impossible to attain in these environments where every square foot is occupied by belongings and beds. Child neglect and child abuse are much more likely to occur in these environments. Domestic violence and alcoholism are common side effects of the stress in these environments.

The beauty of isolating the poor in "gateway communities" is that they are not living next door to wealthier people. The wealthy internationals in Cambridge and Back Bay can live in peace. They can be satisfied that the poor are behind the doors of restaurant kitchens, are cleaning up their offices after they leave for the day or are babysitting their children when they want to go out and enjoy themselves. The poor are in their place. They are being given an amazing leg up by being allowed to live in poverty in a slum here in America, as opposed to a slum in their home country.

The spin of multiculturalism and diversity by those in the media and in politics is an old ploy in new packaging. It is a veneer of respect for those immigrants and people of color who stay in their place, who play the game of those who control society with money. The same hypocrites who hire accountants to avoid paying taxes wax poetic at cocktail parties about the charm of the immigrants whose real-life needs they do not wish to address through adequate government education, government regulation and health care.

As a humanist, I deplore the current control of the political and social fabric of the U.S. and the world by capitalist greed. However, I find the hypocrisy of all those who are supporting this trend as they live lives of luxury even more distasteful. While preaching hollow politically crafted language of tolerance and liberalism, they have consistently voted for politicians who have instituted policies which exploit greed and deny the responsibility of all citizens for the well being of each other.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

100,000

My eleven-year-old Toyota has 100,000 miles on its odometer as of yesterday afternoon. I watched the zeros come up on the LCD screen. Memories of the rolling numbers of odometers past flew through my mind. I have driven more old cars than new.

Four trips around the world. That's about 100,000 miles. My little car hasn't gone any farther than Watertown, N.Y., at one go. So all those miles were spent going small distances within my own routine world.

The car has carried friends, groceries and lumber. It has helped me move house more than once. Since I know people without wheels, my little car has taken passengers on car trips, to the airport and to do errands.

I dislike everything about the American automotive culture. Unlike my father, who identified with his cars in a way which made me cringe, I respect my vehicle as a valued possession with pragmatic utility. I take it for regular maintenance, despite my distaste for garage waiting rooms. Once a year I apply plastic polymer to its finish to prevent rust. Its patina of dings and chips does not concern me. Badges of a life of good service. Perhaps that is the only way in which I identify with it.

As I was reflecting on my car's mileage, I heard a radio story about Iraq, in which a journalist quoted the death toll of Iraqis since the U.S. invasion at 100,000. I thought of the small changing digits on my car's odometer and the immensity of time and distance represented by 100,000 miles in my one life.  Then I remembered standing in a crowd of 100,000 in 1969 during a peace demonstration. In a world of 7,000,000,000 people, 100,000 people killed in war may seem a forgettable number to some. I am acutely aware of what that number means.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Disconnect

For over a decade, the Federal government has been disconnected from the people. That lack of care or understanding of the true human needs of the people is becoming quite evident in the actions of candidates and legislators. While committed protesters brave humiliation, disease and police brutality in public parks, legislators here in Massachusetts are obsessed with a casino bill which will keep their bulging pockets padded. An African-American Republican candidate for the Presidency nonchalantly denies sexual harassment allegations and says that torture isn't torture. Our President tells China, the nation which has enabled childishly irresponsible financial behavior in the U.S. at the request of the American political and business classes, to "grow up".

The fabric of our middle-class communities is deteriorating visibly due to the mismanagement of local politicians. Economically gated cities, like feudal castles, are developing wall towns, occupied by the underpaid service workers who support the privileged lifestyles of the 5% who hold the great majority of wealth. This is fine in the minds of the politicians, who preach a hollow gospel of diversity and multiculturalism. On the ground, the reality is ghetto formation and Balkanism in poorer communities.

The wheel of history revolves. The poor must suffer and speak for the many. They must endure living in tents, being hustled by criminals, being roughed up by police. The comfortable turn a blind eye or scorn the afflicted. Religion encourages the sense that some god is on the side of the prosperous. That the poor just do not believe strongly enough or are simply being punished for being evil.

Internalizing the disconnect of society is poison. Accepting the status quo as inevitable is a form of death of the mind. Education is the key to understanding. Understanding is the key to mindful practice. Mindful practice is the key to internal peace and balance. The person who walks in peace through chaos can be compassionate.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Practice

Yesterday I caught up with the 2010 Cannes favorite, "Of Gods and Men", a film by Xavier Beauvois. The story is based on the experience of Benedictine monks during the Islamic uprising in Algeria in the mid-1990s. It is a story of individual practice within a committed community. I highly recommend seeing it. The film addresses the fundamental realities of practice and committed relationships.

The film reminded me that doing good in the real world is never easy or entertaining for very long. In fact, I would suggest that anyone who feels that being a humanist is one big party does not really have a humanist practice. A well-meaning hedonist perhaps, but not a humanist in the true sense of the word. Part of being a mindful and compassionate human being is experiencing suffering as well as happiness. Unless a humanist recognizes the suffering of the basic human condition, his/her efforts at becoming a liberated actor for universal human rights and justice will ring hollow.

This is the plight of the showman-cleric. The pedophile priest is not a humanist. The preacher of the gospel of greed cannot be a humanist. The buyer of status through patronage of 'good causes' is not necessarily a humanist. Humanism, as I practice it, is a state of being, not a hobby, a career path or a religion. Humanism is a way of living that has nothing to do with recognition or money.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Italy

As I watched street interviews in Rome on Al Jazeera English last evening, I reflected on the Murdoch empire in America and U.K.. The jubilation I witnessed was displayed by intelligent young people who clearly described a type of Fascism, headed by the entertainment industry of Berlusconi. "We are free after twenty years." one young man explained tearfully. When asked by the interviewer how he could say that since Italy is a democracy, the young man said that the democracy had been undermined and controlled by Berlusconi's media domination, propaganda and brutal corruption.

Italy is broke. Parts of the nation are ruled by mafia gangs. The public sector was plundered and stripped of much of its regulatory power by the thugs who ruled through Berlusconi's media. Berlusconi became a wealthy international personality, living like Nero or Calligula.

The Murdoch version of this is playing out in the political class of America. A stunning example is Herman Cain, a man who still polls well among Republican voters, despite his affected homey style and arrogant defense of his sexist advances against women under his power. He is a media celebrity, a talk radio huckster. Nothing more. Prior to this, he was a ruthless business executive, not a public servant, not even a lawyer.

Our so-called democracy needs an injection of the spirit of the Arab Spring, a spirit which some Italians last evening cited as partially responsible for Berlusconi's fall. Occupy demonstrators across the U.S. are being faced with the wrath of the media politicians, who have most likely read the recent manipulated polls that the Occupy protesters have the approval of about one third of the population. This seems preposterous to me in a nation plagued by record unemployment, dysfunctional banks and a shameless elite who are living the high life on money stolen from Americans by Wall Street manipulations.

Italy lived under Berlusconi's hypnosis for twenty years. How long will the Murdoch empire pollute the politics in the U.S.? How long will the conservative I.T. and advertising sectors feed the media machine with ways to further inoculate and isolate citizens rather than wake them up? The election in 2012 is an opportunity for Americans to assert their refusal to be dominated by those who wish to strip government of its proper and ethical place in the life of its constituents. The media will probably not lead the way to this assertion of truly democratic action. This lays the responsibility on the people themselves to awaken and take back their government for their own well being.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Warming

Image: Live the Solution
We were driving along yesterday in a suburb north of the city. I looked to the curb and saw a woman raking leaves into a pile. I remembered it was the middle of November, not the middle of October. Yes, a month later than usual for this activity in eastern Massachusetts. It would be easy to shrug and say, "Well, Fall is late this year." But we had a major snow storm nearly a month ago.

I have heard the research reports that say that all the pollution in the atmosphere is slowing atmospheric heating by reflecting sunlight back into space. Other scientists observe that the pollutants also precipitate out of the atmosphere and act as fertilizer, which promotes the plant growth which could eat up more carbon dioxide. These optimists don't go on to observe that the 'fertilizer' also contains toxic chemicals which poison the food chain. If that is the case, then I would say the planet is truly screwed up by human activity.

Yes, there are sages in the bedrock states of ignorance who will look up from making crosses to burn on fertility-clinic lawns and say, "There ain't no setch thang as global warmin'." I invite them to come up to New England and see the green leaves on deciduous trees in November.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Paterno

Some day there may be a cure for brutal stupidity. We are not there yet. Watching the reactions of the students at Penn State after the firing of Joe Paterno made me feel like I was in a time warp. No, I was simply in Middle America.

Paterno and Sandusky. ESPN Photo
In this time of regimented political correctness among the young, there is a disturbing flip side of cynicism and suppressed violence. When combined with alcohol abuse, another commonly accepted behavior among today's college students, that rage surfaces readily. Violent behavior after sports tournaments has become commonplace in cities with large student populations.

However, the student reactions to the Paterno firing are disgusting and disturbing. That hundreds of students would race to vehemently defend a man involved in unreported child abuse without waiting for the outcome of the full investigation speaks to a stupidity and impulsiveness which usually fuels the worst of causes in the hands of demagogues.

I am not unfamiliar with this mentality. I was recently shown a three-unit building by a real estate agent. The building was a rat trap. Filthy hallways. Trashy grounds. Structural dangers. This building was inhabited by three families which included small children. I saw five children under twelve during my showing. I was told there were more. Some of the tenants were getting rental assistance (Federal tax dollars) through a local city housing authority.

The building was recently inspected by a private home inspector who pointed out that one side of the building was not being fully supported by its sagging foundation. My head was spinning as the agent glibly explained that this was the way it is. She shrugged. My mind raced to an image of the building collapsing with the children inside.

I wrote a letter to the local public health department. It is my legal responsibility as a nurse to report any situation in which I feel a child is at risk. It was clear by the response I received that the matter would be reported to the building department of the city by the public health nurse I contacted. However, there was a bureaucratic undertone in that response that implied I was being annoying. I am planning to follow up soon to see what is happening. I did note that the building's sale price was significantly reduced.

Refusing to take responsibility can lead to denial that evil things do happen to innocent people. This is a great way to continue to avoid taking responsibility or holding those in authority responsible. Denial enables those who are irresponsible and those who take advantage of no accountability. The denial in the Penn State case may have resulted in many young boys dealing with life-long scars in their sexual lives. For gay boys, they may have been introduced to a sordid and confusing form of sexuality that fed their fear of being gay. For the other boys, they may have been set on a road of a lifetime of homophobic hatred and hatred of older men.

It is just as disturbing to realize there are hundreds of drunken bullies in a state university who would not even stop to consider the plight of the victims of this abuse. These morons would rather act out violently for an octogenarian who has lived a wealthy and adulated life while denying his responsibility to molested young boys. The cult of celebrity and egocentric power once again trumping mindfulness and compassion.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Delusions

A recent conversation with a friend brought to my mind a very basic belief I hold about humanism. I do not usually think of it, because I assume it. Assuming, as the old saying goes, makes an ass out of you and me.

I believe that humanism is unlike religion in a very fundamental way. A religious person pays homage to the god-of-choice as a form of obeisance or absolution for the results of the original sin of being the less moral or responsible than a human can or should be, depending on the dogmatic base of the religion. This is not humanism at all. This is also why I do not feel that a religious person is prone to be as effective a humanist as a secular person.

Humanism, as I perceive it at its best, is a lifestyle. It is a commitment to a life of working for the actualization of human ideals in the personal and professional aspects of life. This means that a humanist chooses work that actualizes humanist ideals. It does not mean that a person who does work that supports injustice, avarice or brutality can be called a humanist. For a person to believe he/she is a humanist while selling people bogus mortgages or enlightenment is delusional.

The delusions promoted by religion are largely responsible for the sad state of humanity. Hasidim diamond dealers, who consider themselves the most pious of Jews, profit from human misery and live off economic injustice. Pious Saudi Muslims live hedonistic lives while poisoning the planet with petroleum for great profits. The Catholic Church promotes socialism in Third World nations to gather in malleable supporters, but hoards great wealth in Rome. Pious Tibetan monks supported a theocracy for centuries which maintained an aristocratic social structure supported by impoverished peasants. Fundamentalist Christian ministers in the U.S. have been shown to be the most outrageous frauds while promoting a gospel of materialism, sexism and homophobia.

A humanist, by definition, is committed to progressive change to improve the universal human condition. Therefore, it is impossible to be either a Republican or a Democrat in the U.S. and to then consider myself a practicing humanist. It would be impossible for me to support exorbitantly over- funded sports teams, a jock elite, and to then consider myself a practicing humanist. It would be impossible for me to support awards to celebrity humanists who subscribe to the status quo in order to support extravagant lifestyles. I think it would be delusional for me to consider myself a humanist if I behaved in these ways.

I am suspicious of any organization that calls itself Humanist if it mimics the behaviors of religion or business. Despite the new non-profit industry's provenance among the wealthy, who benefit financially from tax-deductible giving, I know that many non-profits are primarily businesses to support comfortable lifestyles for those who run them. Pink ribbons, red ribbons, yellow ribbons...all are advertising gimmicks which do not translate to improvements on the ground which are commensurate to the money taken in. And, testing of the politics of those who succeed in creating a profitable 'charity' will often yield a conservative result, far from any humanist ideals.

Perhaps it is my delusion that working to raise consciousness and lending a helping hand one person at a time through individual humanist practice is the key to human liberation. I may be delusional to believe that a true humanist practices humanism in as much of his/her life as he/she can. It may be delusional to think that a day trader, a corporate banker or computer whiz who writes algorithms to rip people off  can not possibly be true humanists. They may all be well-meaning human beings. They cannot seriously be considered humanists, in my opinion.

These are times which will require increasingly more difficult choices. The tipping point of overpopulation, the deteriorating planetary environment and a raised consciousness of the poor at their oppression by the status quo will lead to significant challenges to those with education and awareness of their own privilege. I believe that practicing humanism in daily life will be a way to making an impact in these difficult times ahead. Striving daily to be a human being doing my best by other human beings and my planet home brings me peace and happiness. It is also what I consider my practice of humanism.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Deregulation

I am wondering how the 650,000 people in Massachusetts are feeling about deregulation after they lived without electricity for over a week in some cases after an October snow storm. The communities which suffered the most were the same communities which rallied to support Tea Party candidate Scott Brown for U.S. Senate. Senator Brown is a strong proponent of deregulation and privatization.

The utilities threw up their hands and shrugged. "Nothing could have prevented this," they whined. This is a bold-faced lie, of course. The true statement would have been, "Nothing could have prevented this and assured us of our huge annual profits." In other words, the utility companies could be burying wires all over the Commonwealth but do not do so unless the taxpayers of cities and towns foot the bill. They will do their job responsibly as long as they are paid to do it by the governments to which they refuse to be accountable by financing politicians who protect them from regulation.

After decades of building the best utility infrastructure in the world, the American public was sold deregulation by Huckster-in-Chief, Ronald Reagan, in the 1980s. Reagan was a puppet of the military-industrial complex, which included the petro-energy industries. Since deregulation, infrastructure has deteriorated all over the United States. The shell game created by dividing out energy production from energy delivery allowed the utility companies to shrug off responsibility over and over again.

The fact that the electric grid failed for over a week in October in New England in 2011 speaks for itself, no matter what rationalizations are offered by the wealthy utility executives. A religious person might see this "act of God" as retribution for the American destruction of the electric grid of Iraq. I simply see it as another political choice of corporate greed over progress by government and business.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Acccomplishment

What do you consider an accomplishment in your life?  Listening to stories of friends has made me question my own evaluation of accomplishment in my own life. I wonder what kind of accomplishment is the point of life.

I have listened to many personal travelogues. These, second only to the minute details of attending a rock concert, are among my least favorite conversations. Yet, for some, these are obviously life accomplishments worthy of recounting in great detail.

I myself am prone to identify the product of mundane activity as accomplishment. The craft of improving a home or the establishment of a perennial garden. These are labors which yield a concrete end result. The result is often seen as the accomplishment. Actually, I believe the accomplishment is the development of the skills which devise the finished product.

More and more I see accomplishment as a dynamic process. I consider those dynamic processes which deepen my appreciation and understanding of the human condition to be major accomplishments. Accomplishment as process versus product. Becoming a virtuoso of mindful and compassionate living is an accomplishment which yields no award at a black-tie ceremony, but is perhaps the most difficult human accomplishment.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Living

Are you living in your mind or with your mind? The dynamic state of living... ideas, choices and actions in the moments of life...passes so quickly in relation to our environment. An ancient tree can seem unchanged in the span of several human generations. Well designed buildings stand proudly for centuries after their builders are reduced to dust. 

I find that living with my mind requires constant vigilance. As I age, the pace of life around me seems to be speeding up. I know this is largely perceptual, not actual. If I live in my mind, I can feel hassled by the wide gap between my ideals and what I see around me. If I live with my mind, I can happily participate in the process of life as I live it. This is often a conscious momentary choice. I work through practice at making it an ongoing state of living.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Insight

Insight cannot be achieved by simply accepting the superficial. Complacency is the enemy of insight. Peeling back the layers of experience by observation and experimentation leads to greater depth of human experience.

I find it tempting to go with the flow when I am materially comfortable. Holding on to comfort can become an unconscious priority when unquestioned or unchallenged. I am discovering that aging raises the value of simple comforts. Freedom from pain and freedom from anxiety over what the future may hold become driving forces. I believe this lies at the root of the conservatism common among many older people who have managed to secure a comfortable lifestyle. 

The other side of aging is an unavoidable insight into the things which make me uncomfortable. This insight is perhaps more voluntarily conscious in my case, since I incorporate self-awareness into my daily practice. I know from experience that many simply stop doing those things that make them uncomfortable without thinking much about it. This often includes conversations about some of the most basic realities of life and aging. 

By beginning with the exploration of insight into my own thoughts and behavior, I develop greater ability to sift out my subjective filters of perception from the more objective, surface reality around me. This naturally leads to compassion. It also leads to a greater ability to avoid negativity in myself and coming from others. This is the paradox of self-confidence. Increased skepticism about my own motives actually increases my self-confidence as I gain greater understanding of them. Intentional, inquisitive self-doubt increases my self-trust. The resulting self-confidence allows me to feel safer (less defensive) and more emotionally generous (compassionate) in my environment.

Meditation, psychotherapy and meaningful group interaction are all methods which have helped me to develop insight. Reading about the way the brain works and about the psychology of individuals and groups is very helpful as well. Insight is a natural product of this kind of brain development.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Money

Why has money become the focus of all media publications and broadcasts? The struggles of labor against corporate greed, the terrors of war and the civil strife in many parts of the world are fare for page two. The answer isn't hard to figure out. The media is owned by those who seek to rule the world through money manipulation. 

The inevitable effects of this are disturbing. There are those who say that money is the neutral object which will overshadow national, ethnic or racial divides. This may be true, but at what human cost? Capitalism has no conscience. Money has no ultimate value. You cannot eat it. You cannot cook with it. You cannot drink it. Money has never brought forth humanist values in those engaged in its pursuit. If it did, the wealthy of the world would have been the fixers of poverty, famine and drought all over the planet. Thousands of years of monetary obsession have not yielded this result.

Money is the refuge of those who do not wish to get their hands dirty with human problems. Few capitalists amass a fortune in order to give it all away. Most of those who do dispense their wealth to good causes have ulterior motives. This is the way it has been, and the way it is. But is it the way it must always be? The fiscal failure of the great socialist movements of the early twentieth century have set back the cause of universal social justice considerably. However, it must be acknowledged that these movements were brought down by corruption of personal avarice from within as well as by sabotage by capitalist nations, led by the U.S. and the U.K., which did their best to abolish socialist movements for economic justice and equality for all people. 

The capitalist victors, in their minds, against socialist ideals see themselves as morally and ethically superior. Thus the merging of capitalism with fundamentalism across belief systems. The socialism of the early twentieth century was atheist and agnostic. It held humanist ideals above religious dogma, which is a tool of political and social control by the wealthy. 

Money may make the world go 'round, as the camp song from Cabaret asserts, but can the way the world is going 'round at present be satisfactory to any humanist? I do not think so. The heavy-handed assertion of monetary control over politics and social institutions is taking us back to an age of aristocracy and oppression. This is an old cycle of history. How seriously it sets back social progress is in the hands of those who are awakened to it. As a humanist, I am pleased to see the young faces protesting against corporate oppression across the planet. They represent the finest instincts of human intelligence and compassion.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Redistribution

Those in power wish to describe the current resistance to the corporate class domination of government as Soviet Communism. This is ludicrous. It is simply unintelligent manipulation of a populace whom they see as stupid and easily fooled. They describe increased taxation on the wealthy as redistribution of wealth. Well, let's consider that.

Where does their wealth come from? Their wealth comes from the labor of those who produce the services and products they sell. Their wealth comes from the labor of foreign workers who make less than a subsistence wage. Their wealth comes from exploitation of natural resources in the U.S. and other countries. These natural resources, including labor resources, are exploited at great expense to communities and the environment. 

The powerful live in mansions surrounded by peaceful grounds or condominium towers in the luxurious centers of the best cities. They travel in comfort around the globe in private jets or the first class compartments of commercial jets. They have servants who cook their meals, raise their children and tend their gardens. They are lauded for giving money to good causes, while their accountants see to it that those donations absolve them from tax payments.

Redistribution? I agree that the issue should not be redistribution. The issue is one of regulation. Regulation of their greed and regulation of our education systems to adjust the focus from greed to good. 

The walk-out this week at Harvard University was a good sign. Students walked out of a lecture by an economist who was preaching the gospel of selfishness, also known as Reaganite economics. These students saw the lie. Selfish capitalism is not a solution for anything. It is an enforcement of the status quo by those on top. "Free market", when used by today's Republicans and Liberals, is code for "the same old same" of capitalist Darwinism. He with the most toys wins.

Well, we all know that the boy who hoards all the toys is simply a bully and needs to be taught a lesson in sharing. He is not a brilliant entrepreneur or a contributor to his environment. The wealth of the planet belongs to the planet. As human beings, we have the intelligence to understand this if we choose. Or we can turn our backs on our humanity in favor of power and avarice. Those who are controlling the governments of the so-called developed world have not been choosing justice over power. This is not a matter of simple redistribution. This is a matter of the many asserting their power over the few.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Greece

How odd that the European political aristocracy is surprised that the Greeks have called for a referendum on their financial crisis. The Greeks developed the earliest recorded model of democracy. A referendum is the small remnant of true democracy found in most so-called democratic governments on the planet. Why would so-called democracies want to squash a referendum? I believe the answer is obvious.

Money rules. And those with money are becoming the rulers of us all. A golden coup d'etat has occurred with the support of politicians and major media propaganda. Whenever the dragon of human anger against unfairness and oppression raises its head, those who hold the power close ranks to beat it down. The G20 is a euphemism for a Fascist hierarchy, who typically feel they know what is best for 'the little people'. Is it surprising that the Germans are at the head of the table?

Squelching a referendum in Greece is just the beginning. In the U.S., the lapses into overt violence by police against Occupy Wall Street supporters in various cities belies the panic and fear of those who see their grasp on political power threatened. Why else would police feel entitled to smash nonviolent, unarmed demonstrators for economic justice?

The result of a Greek referendum is not what is feared. The referendum itself is what scares those who feel they have secured corporate control of world governments. The corporate ruling class, living in luxury in multiple residences around the globe, will not give up their hold on world government without popular resistance on the streets. They have a plan. The plan is to keep things just as they are for themselves and their families. It is simply a slick repackaging of feudalism on a global scale.

The Euro Zone is named for a currency. This says it all. As a humanist, I applaud those who dare to stand up to those who claim to own the planet, bought and paid for by corporate manipulation of money. As a humanist, I see absolutely no threat in a popular referendum about the financial future of a nation. I do see a great threat in the actions of those who vehemently seek to silence the popular voice.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Karachi

Kolkata, India
While the great minds of Mississippi try to figure out how to get blastocysts to sign petitions for their rights, The people of Karachi try to squeeze into a city already overpopulated. This NPR story sheds bright light on issues of overpopulation, poverty and capitalism. We are seven billion and growing. However, humans still focus on how to make a profit off the potential demise of the species as its supporting environment collapses under its weight.

Mind-numbing contrast in this morning's reports on NPR came with the piece on the dwindling moose population in Wyoming, a state whose largest city has  approximately 2500 people per square mile, as opposed to Karachi's 9500 people per square mile or Kolkata's 62,000 per square mile. The fragility of our ecology is secondary in the moose report. The focus of the piece was the hardship of big-game hunters, deprived of their prey by parasites, wolves and grisly bears.

The thread here is fairly clear. Imbalance. Human population is out of balance with its natural environment. The environment is seeking balance through its own natural mechanisms. Nature's balance will inevitably determine the future of the human species. Not the other way around.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Mississippi

The state of Mississippi, one the the poorest, least educated states in the United States, may take it upon itself to define the beginning of citizenship as the moment of biological conception in an attempt to placate loud pro-life religious zealots who wish to control the sexuality of all. The American equivalent of the Taliban.

Underlying this position on what they consider human rights is an attempt to prevent women from having control over their reproductive and sexual lives. This is very evident when the proponents are revealed as supporters of Tea Party principles which would deny sex education, prenatal care assistance, preschool child care and overall medical care to the women they would control. Mississippi ranks 5th out of 50 states in unwanted teenage pregnancies in the U.S., according to a 2010 Guttmacher Institute report.

Why is our political process still polluted by this kind of stupidity? In part, the political exploitation of fanatic religion, especially in the South, has been successful at disrupting progressive political change in national politics. Those who are invested in a petroleum economy and corporate domination of the political process have discovered that religious zealotry is a good substitute for overt racism and rabid homophobia. Pro-life movements are just another form of pointing a finger at perceived evil-doers to distract from economic and political issues of injustice. It is a method of gathering the ignorant and bewildered around a cause. They can then be manipulated more subtly on other matters. This was the ploy of the Christian Coalition of the 1980s. Then LGBT people were in their sights as well as abortion clinics. 

This current initiative in Mississippi is simply a bugle blast to those religious fanatics who have no real reasoned ethical or moral compass of their own. It is time to marshal their raw anger for the 2012 Presidential election. After all, two of the main challengers in the Republican party are declared religious extremists. One is a fundamentalist Christian. The other is a Mormon.

Those who oppose progressive change are powerful, though few in number. They rely on manipulating the uneducated to maintain their power, to divide and conquer. They manipulate Alabama legislators to enact immigration law which works to undermine proper national immigration reform. Now they manipulate Mississippi legislators to enact an attack on a woman's right to control her own body. These are the same old emotionally charged issues which have been dragged out every four years for three decades with no real resolution or advancement. And that is the point: Those in power would confound positive change to suit their own purposes.