Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Backlash

In the wake of the conviction of two Afghan men in Canada for an honor killing of four women, there have been statements in the media concerning "worries about an anti-Muslim backlash". Worries about an anti-Muslim backlash? What is the matter with our media? How about worries about sexism, ignorance and domestic violence, justified by any religion or culture? 

We need more intelligent backlash against ignorance, sexism and violence. Intelligent backlash led to the Reformation in reaction to the Catholic Inquisition, a movement as primitive and violent as unbridled Sharia Law. In turn, the Reformation broke the oppression of the Inquisition. This led eventually to the Age of Enlightenment, the dawn of science in Western Civilization. 

Dr. King's non-violent backlash against the violence which stood in the way of desegregation in the American South pushed forward the Civil Rights Movement. His marches of hundreds of thousands in peace upon Washington, D.C. were an intelligent backlash against ignorance, racism and violence.

The Stonewall riot was a violent backlash to timeless violent oppression of LGBT people. It sparked an intelligent backlash of Gay Pride marches across the planet. This has prompted the intelligent backlash of LGBT organizations and legislative change. 

The emptying of Roman Catholic churches across the world has been an intelligent backlash against child abuse and exploitation by holy men. It has been a backlash against hypocrisy and patriarchal exploitation. And the world is better for it.

In North America, we are being inundated with pro-Islamic propaganda at every turn. Much of this is funded by the oil money which has been earn by Saudi Arabia from our addiction to the petroleum lifestyle of automobiles and cheap heating fuel for over-sized houses. When atrocity associated with Islamic philosophy of any stripe arises, there is a rush to quell any rational outrage. There is a fear of rational backlash, instilled by those who would suppress dissent in the new Global Order of corporate domination.

Well, I would encourage intelligent backlash in the face or honor killings. I would encourage this backlash to be carried out by teachers, nurses, doctors and law enforcement officers. They have the eyes to stop violence against women and children at the hands of religiously inspired or ethnically inspired bullies. There should be a special awareness among these guardians of civility as more immigrants populate our cities. Obviously, these guardians failed these murdered women in Canada, whose lives were a daily torture before their demise at the hands of shameless bullies. The same guardians have failed abused children and LGBT young people historically. It is time to place intelligent awareness and active courage before political correctness, superficial multiculturalism and cowardice.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Compassion

When emotion is the basis for all decisions, very little progress can be made in an individual life or a societal life. Compassion is often confused with emotion in common discourse. Compassion is neither an emotion nor emotional. Compassion springs from the rational and mindful understanding of the commonality of the human, or living, condition. Emotion is likely to cloud the compassionate mind. 

I was introduced to the magnetic speaking of Brigitte Gabriel this weekend when a friend sent me a video of one of her speeches on the influence of Saudi Arabian money on American education. Among the statistics she quoted in her speeches was a claim that the Saudis donate $22.5 million dollars a year to Harvard to promote a positive presentation of Islam in the education at the institution. This is just one of many contributions which, she claims, are made annually to American universities and public school systems in an attempt to promote Islam to American children and young adults. 

I mention Ms. Gabriel as a person who raises issues of rational merit in an emotional context. As a secular humanist, I share her concern about the infiltration of an aggressive religion into our civil society. Especially into our public education system, as she claims. However, her message is imbued with fear and rage. These emotions taint her rather persuasive arguments.They make her appear to be an irrational ideologue rather than a herald of rational alarm.

On the other side of the issue of emotion and compassion, I was introduced to John S. Reed on Bill Moyers' new PBS show yesterday. Mr. Reed, a former Citigroup CEO, is now on the board of MIT in Cambridge. Mr. Reed presented the despicable facts of the financial rape of the middle class in America with the emotionless flatness, which could be construed as diagnostic of sociopathy in a psychiatric examination. His lack of emotion, suggesting his internal dissociation from any shame or guilt over his participation in setting up the conditions for this debacle which ruined millions, was stunning. 

Compassion entails the healthy integration of emotion with rationality through practice. An essential element of compassion is perspective. Perspective comes with self-exploration in the context of wide human experience. The compassionate person understands his/her emotional triggers in the face of the daily human condition. While emotion may lead a person to a practice which develops compassion, compassion itself resides in the healthy mind. It is neither emotional nor emotionless.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Guns

I heard an interesting NPR segment yesterday about guns in Mexico. Some citizens of Mexico are resorting to buying illegal guns to protect themselves against the illegal guns of the drug cartels. Mexico strictly regulates gun sales through its armed forces. Mexicans have historically chosen anarchy over central government participation and reform.

Gun scarcity is not what I consider a problem. The weapons industry has been a more influential mover of international politics than freedom or democracy. National governments make money from selling weapons. It is ballistic colonialism.

Americans know the effects of the God-Gun-Greed trinity, which has ruled for most of the last decade. Guns are key to the recession we now experience. Two over-leveraged wars have turned the government into a deadbeat mortgage holder, spending too much on violence and munitions, and saving too little for its own population's education and health. The weapons moguls are laughing all the way to the bank. 

Massacres all over the world are profitable for weapons manufacturers. A gun has no ethics, no politics, no morals. It has no lust for democracy. It can be used to suppress a popular uprising as easily as fuel one. It can kill and innocent as well as a tyrant. Its intrinsic potential for evil is its capacity to kill easily, anonymously and from a distance.

A choice to turn to guns to deal with fear is a choice of violence. Peace cannot come from violence. An armed stand-off is not peace. It is simply a temporary cease-fire. Those who equate freedom with guns equate freedom with violence. Their concept of freedom is not peaceful. Their concept of freedom is a clinging to old ways of fear and violence. Disarmament is the only true way to nonviolence and peace.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Acceptance



I often appreciatively inhale Earth's precious atmosphere and accept the utter vastness of the Universe.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Practice

A personal practice is simply that: A personal daily attempt to live my informed understanding of being a healthy and ethical person. Nobody else can prescribe in detail what this means for me. I certainly cannot prescribe what it means for anyone else. 

This daily journal of reflections on my own practice is part of my humanist practice. I resolved to write a daily essay about, or from, my practice seven years ago. Sharing it on the Web is part of my method of practice. Living with a light on my practice in this form sustains me in it. That is what this is. It is not intended as a polemic, a sermon or a guidebook for anyone else. It is a revelation of the mind of one struggling human brain.

Practice offers more questions than answers. It is frustrating in that way. The inevitable awareness of fallibility and failure which accompanies any honest humanist practice is the grist of the mill of an evolving human consciousness. This is not the symbolic humility of sack cloth and ashes. This is living with an acute sense of vulnerability and limitations while continuing the attempt to become a better person in relation to the world. 

Practice often entails saying "No". Denying the self those things which its mindless instincts crave. Denying others time and energy which would diminish or impair my own practice. Saying "No" to some things enables saying "Yes" to those things which are crucial to maintaining my practice. As a humanist, I realize that I am firstly human. I live within the limits of time, space and my own capacity. 
There is much written and presented in media about Mother Theresa, the Catholic saint. The popular misconception of her is that she was selfless and blissfully beneficent. However, this was not seem to be the case at all. It was her determined dedication to her practice which made her exemplary throughout her long life. She got her job done, as she saw it within her framework of values. My understanding of what I have read about her tells me that anyone who got in the way of her practice was soon left in the dust. This can be seen throughout human history. Those who have made the greatest advancements for humankind have been relentless practitioners, often excluding much of what is considered "normal" from their lives in favor of their practices, whether those were scientific or philosophical.

"Can't we all just get along?" can rapidly become "Let's all be the same!".  Social media enable this phenomenon just as clearly as they have enabled communication leading to revolution. Having a clear commitment to a personal practice does not facilitate conformity in any way. Internal mental skepticism is an intrinsic function of having a practice. That skepticism translates to external relationships. The great leap of the person with a commitment to a personal practice is remaining open and loving to others, while listening to the skeptical mind. This is especially true of my humanist practice, based in the belief in universal human rights, non-violence and personally responsible environmentalism.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Wisdom

There is a wide gap between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is the ingestion, interpretation and retrieval of data. Wisdom comes with wide experience, internalized comprehension and practice. Wisdom may or may not be informed by knowledge. Knowledge may or may not lead to wisdom.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Calm

Where is the center of centering? Many disciplines speak of centering as a methodology for personal integration and peace of mind. This is a little chicken-or-egg.

It is hard to center a being which has no center. If a person is scattered, plagued by mental or physical disease, there is no peaceful place to find within that person's being. Placing the expectation of a diseased person to center is just adding more stress. Center implies balance. The imbalanced have no readily accessible center.

As a health care provider, I learned early in my career that moving from disease to health requires baby steps initially. Diminishing stress means different things for different situations and diseases. It is not a one-size-fits-all situation when dealing with severe imbalance. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (illustration) is a helpful way of analyzing what level of stress a person may be undergoing, given his/her circumstances/needs.

When can I tell when stress is reduced? The experience of inner calm, even for a brief period, is the first indication of reduced stress. By inner calm I mean the feeling that there is no train to catch, no bills to pay, no calls to make. It is a feeling of absolute peace in the being of the moment. For some, this is accessed through structured meditation. For others, this is reached by simply relaxing in a chair and staring out a window at a favorite view. For others, it comes while kneading bread.

This sense of inner peace, or calm, is expandable with practice. Once discovered, it can be recognized. Once recognized, the path to accessing it at will can be identified and repeated. No fancy words like "mindfulness" are required for anyone to access his/her calm. No prescribed rituals like Zen or yoga are required. Physical well being, mental health and practice are required. Finding and maintaining inner peace is not religion. It is simply good personal development and maintenance.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Being

The fortunate in life do as they like. The unfortunate in life do as they must. The liberated in life do as they choose. These are states of being which can change within one life in an instant. 

Those fortunate in heredity, health and/or wealth may imbibe in all the world's joys without hesitation. They have energy and resources to travel, to play and to learn many pleasures unknown to the vast majority of humanity. However, loss of health or wealth can rapidly make the fortunate unfortunate.

The unfortunate in heredity, health and/or wealth meet each day with a need to survive and provide. They must work at it in some form from waking to sleeping. Exhaustion is their common companion. Yet, many unfortunates find joy and love in their lives, despite their hard lot. In this, they can become fortunate enough to find liberation.

The liberated, whether they begin as fortunate or unfortunate, find the sustaining core of what it means to be human and free. They are not bound by their desires for pleasure or their misfortunes. Their brains can lift them out of the mire and muddle of life's daily details at any moment. The liberated do not live to survive. The liberated do not live to enjoy. The liberated live life for what it is on all levels and cherish its realities as they are without being bound by them. The liberated choose to live in truth, openness and light in whatever circumstances develop in their lives.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Winning

The heart of American culture is set on winning. It is obvious in political speech. It is obvious in business speech. It is obvious in social speech. To be called a "loser" in America is a damning insult. 

Our culture is based in team sports and competitive corporate (team) capitalism, which are largely based in warfare. Winning is the alternative to being killed on the battlefield of financial or athletic prowess. This is old thinking in the face of growing new challenges to the human species and our planet.

Whether it is by jersey color or skin color, this team mentality divides and holds back progress. Team spirit is no more than mutated racism, mutated sexism and mutated elitism. The team mentality, when cast in the form of combat, is counterproductive in the big picture. Human warfare retards human progress in all forms. It is simply what humans are used to. To develop a cooperative model for human progress is a creative challenge which is being avoided in the name of nationalism, religion, culture and money.

Our international environmental crisis is an example. Recently, an American company "lost a battle" for the market share of solar panels due to China's ability to produce more for less money. The American taxpayer was a big loser in this situation, since the solar panel company was heavily subsidized. The bigger reality is that human beings are the big losers in a world choking from the use of petroleum products for energy. A joint group of international experts in solar panels could have cooperatively determined far in advance of this Pyrrhic Chinese "victory" that China would be the best source for the panel production. Similarly, an international group could have decided that the rapidly expanding deserts around the world are ripe for solar energy production for the world's human population.

Those who are winners by genetic prowess, aggression and arrogance in the world of winning feel that nationalism, religion and competitive capitalism are the penultimate form of human progress. This does not bode well for human progress. Those who base their lives in cooperation, peace and sharing are always walking a hazardous path. While they represent the hope for human progress, they threaten the status quo by their very existence. They are cast as the "team" opposed to the status quo, when, in fact, they are individuals who simply share the best of human values and intentions for all human beings, even those who would harm them for not being warlike.

Walking the path of humanism is not a battle. It is an opportunity to live life without war, without hate and without fear. The challenge is laying down the weapons of conditioning and resisting peer pressure to join in the fray of mindless competition and aggression. Opening the eyes and heart to the needlessness of winning allows the humanist to see that there are no ultimate winners or losers. There are only living beings doing what they can to live in peace and health in the short time they have to live.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Conservative

After the result of the South Carolina primary election for the Republican presidential candidate in the U.S., I have to question what "conservative" means.

Does it mean "homophobic hypocrite"? It could possibly. Newt Gingrich led the howling condemnation of Bill Clinton in 1998 over marital infidelity in the Lewinski scandal. Now we learn he is a swinger, as dubious as that would seem from the looks of him. And, he wins the South Carolina primary on a wave of religious zealots' votes. I suppose heterosexual infidelity is alright as long as a conservative still hates homosexuals, even if some of those homosexuals are more monogamous than Gingrich.

Does it mean "intentionally ignorant"? Perhaps. The rantings of Creationism still echo among conservatives in an age when our satellites are beaming back information from beyond our solar system. I grant you that there are probably no creationists among the intelligent scientists and engineers who made that satellite. Maybe "conservative" actually means "illiterate".

Does it mean "racist"? This occurred to me as I heard a South Carolina "political activist" speak in rage of wanting to see a Republican candidate who could "cut Obama off at his knees". Is sword play part of being a conservative? I thought it was something to do with wanting to be able to have a gun, not a sword. In any case, there seems to be something intrinsically wrong with President Obama in the minds of these South Carolinians, who rabidly fought to keep the Confederate flag flying over their state house not long ago.

I used to think "conservative" meant "politically reactionary". I am beginning to think it means something much darker and more dangerous in contemporary America. Whatever it means, it does not represent anything to do with humanism. It has nothing to do with human progress. It has nothing to do with universal human rights. It seems to be a repackaging of all the old hates and divisions which have plagued our species in the hands of unscrupulous leaders since the dawn of time. 


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Worth

What is the worth of a life, any life? Does life really have worth at all? Or, is life simply life, its own reason and value by way of simply being? The relative absence of life off our planet in our observable Universe plays on our animal urge to forfend deprivation. That animal urge tells the brain, "More is always better than less."

Within humanity, we tend to elevate the worth of one life in contrast to other lives. We are comparative creatures. This is the basis of our ability to do science. This also gets us into trouble. Those who can exploit fame for power often disappoint and abuse.

I think of two trees, living beings. One is the Washington Elm. The other is a single tree in a remote forest. The Washington Elm is the most-likely-mythical tree associated with George Washington (a most-likely-mythical giant of true democracy). The single tree in the forest is a tree. Both beings serve important roles in our ecology. They purify water, prevent erosion, provide oxygen and nutrients. Human beings attribute greater value to the Washington Elm. It becomes sanctified by association with human behavior, ideas and emotions. Yet, it is intrinsically no more or less than the tree in the forest. It simply is coincidentally located near human history. The single tree in the forest could be killed as part of a clear-cut massacre without any human being noting it or caring about its demise. The Washington Elm still resides in human memory by virtue of a plaque on a city sidewalk, even though its significance is still legitimately questioned.

As a humanist, I am always fascinated by what human beings cherish. I am saddened by how few human beings truly cherish themselves and others. Prizing fame and wealth above our basic humanity has never brought us peace and universal justice. Striving for more rather than better with our uniquely human brain has brought us to the brink of planetary dysfunction and our possible extinction. I am the single tree in the forest of humanity. My practice is what I bring to the species, to the planet. It does not have to be famous or profitable to have worth.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cookson

In an age of Downton Abbey, PBSs homage to the death of the Golden Age and Victorian aristocracy in England, the more appropriate choice of streaming media for these times is The Catherine Cookson Collection, a collection of movies and min-series based on Catherine Cookson's novels. Downton Abbey, the work of actor/write Julian Fellowes, himself privileged by birth, is a glowing representation of the dying Brit aristocracy. Downton's servants are stiff-upper-lip martyrs, resigned for the most part to the noble slavery of service. World War I's trenches were their reward.

Catherine Cookson, born to a single mother in her poor grandparents' home in the north of England in 1902, worked hard to become an independent woman. In her first adult job, she did laundry in a settlement house for the poor. She did not marry until she was 34. By then she had managed to scrape together enough money to run a humble boarding house for working people. Her husband, five years her junior, was a school teacher. They remained married until their deaths, days apart, in 1998. They had no children. 

Catherine Cookson is England's most read female writer at over 100 million copies. She began writing in her forties as a way to recover from a mental breakdown, following a miscarriage and diagnosis of a chronic, debilitating blood disease. She wrote from her experience of life, a life she maintained in moderation and humility to her death. As a humanist, I feel Ms. Cookson was a true humanist writer, though I am not aware of her being awarded any society trophies for her humanist sensibilities. She was made a Dame with an OBE in 1993. Perhaps this was a bow to her financial success as an author.

Unlike Downton Abbey, Catherine Cookson's work is intrinsically feminist and socialist. She was apparently apolitical in her life, but her writing portrays the evolution of female liberation over a century. Cookson's work was demeaned by male critics as "romance fiction". She rejected this entirely. Her stories are shockingly realistic. The filthy conditions and brutality of poor working class people in Britain in the early 20th century is all there. Yet, it is balanced with love, loyalty and commitment between outsiders who choose their own paths, despite social pressures and condemnation. As a gay man, I relate strongly to these themes in her work.

While the glossy splash of Downton Abbey in HD is seductive, the films of the Cookson,Collection are heartfelt. Frankly, the acting in some of them far surpasses the acting in the PBS offering. If you are a woman, a humanist and/or a fan of British acting, I think the Cookson Collection on instant-view Netflix is a treasure trove waiting for your discovery. I do not make a recommendation like this lightly. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Money

There is a gradual merging of money and politics beyond campaigning. Republican candidates are calling the office of President of the United States "The Economist in Chief". This means they see the President being in control of supreme military and economic power. That is not a democratic presidency. That is a totalitarian dictatorship. 

And what of our Congress? They are an ineffectual mob of special interests. As part of the corporately corrupted  political class, they see themselves as entitled to lifetime jobs, not as being elected officials who serve at constituents' pleasure. Money rules. Those who rule the money rule. 

These are dire developments for a world where environmental catastrophe is fast encroaching. In the words of George R.R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones, "Winter is coming." The threat to human and planetary life is magnified by the corruption and selfishness of human leaders. The Universe will not put its laws on hold while lobbyists try to bribe their way out of environmental collapse. Our current course is like that of the Costa Concordia before it hit the reef.

A practical humanist must find the courage to persist in living humanist values while understanding that some things are simply uncontrollable. After all, the planet itself will one day be vaporized by its sun's demise. Does this mean we should not try to express the finest instincts and ideals of humankind? No. Unlike those who construct religions to hypnotize themselves into being ethical, the humanist sees the potential for the best in human thought and experience within the individual organic human brain. That brain can be distracted by money, power, hedonist pleasure. But, that brain can also learn to intentionally live a moderate and generous life of service, nonviolence and compassion. That is the choice of the practical humanist.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Responsibility

What is my responsibility as a humanist in society? I carry this question with me throughout my day. This is an element of my personal practice. 

Much is made of the concept of personal responsibility in modern politics. The debates over nanny states, entitlements and universal health insurance are all about personal and social responsibility. A recent situation in Massachusetts about a severely psychotic and dysfunctional woman has raised the question of personal responsibility, personal competence and society's responsibility to intervene in individual choices and behaviors.

My work as a psychiatric nurse placed me in a position to make snap decisions to protect those who were incompetent and to protect others in their environment from violence. I have worked with patients who were incompetent and had delivered several equally incompetent human beings into the world as a consequence of psychotic sexual behaviors or rape. Some of these people you may pass on the streets. They are crouched in doorways begging or sleeping. 

It is easy to say, "Everyone should make their own decisions about everything. Government should be dismantled. All personal choice trumps the law." Is this a socially responsible viewpoint? Will this foster peace, health and joy for all human beings ultimately? I doubt it.

As a humanist, I think an ethical person with education and wealth will realize that his/her responsibility to society is greater than those with less. However, those with wealth and education rarely sacrifice fun for responsibility. Some would say this is human nature. I would say this is the nature of humans who were raised to be selfish, greedy and aggressive. Capitalism rewards these attributes.

How will the human species ever deal with overpopulation and disparity? I think it will most likely bumble along as it has for thousands of years. The human mind goes to imaginings of cataclysm whenever this issue is pondered, because human beings act most responsibly to one another in a shared disaster. Perhaps pushing ourselves to the brink of nuclear and environmental catastrophe is the subconscious push to become a socially responsible species.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tolerance

I watched a lengthy segment on tolerance presented by Deutsche Welle TV yesterday. I speculated that it was an admirable bow to Martin Luther King Day here in the U.S.. But I found the segment confusing. A sampling of Berliners on the street left me wondering if there was a translation gap between German and English. 

There seems to be a general confusion between tolerance and accommodation in the minds of many people. These are two different concepts. Tolerance is most succinctly described as "live and let live". Accommodation entails making special allowances for certain behaviors or beliefs. The U.S. is notoriously tolerant. Our failed immigration system, which works to provide near-slave labor to exploiting employers, is a prime example of American tolerance. However, there are new immigrants who are expecting and/or demanding accommodation.

This is how I see the difference. If I am using a public space peacefully, tolerance dictates anyone else is entitled to use that same public space peacefully. However, if I am using a public space peacefully, I am not required by tolerance to share everything in my pockets with anyone who solicits or aggressively demands it. I may decide to accommodate the requests or demands. That is my prerogative. However, denying a stranger the contents of my pockets on demand is not intolerance. It is common sense. I may tolerate the stranger's demand but I am perfectly entitled to deny it or debate its validity. I would be tolerant but not accommodating.

Tolerance is not accommodation. This lies at the heart of confusion about religious influence on society and the effects of some forms of aggressive cultural isolationism. Religion has been accommodated and exploited for centuries by governments. Here in the U.S., religion is given tax immunity and often undo respect. This is religious accommodation, not just tolerance. Atheists, on the other hand, have been subjected to governmental and religion-based intolerance historically and have required no accommodation from government. Atheist protests against religious ritual in publicly funded settings has been an assertion of Constitutional rights, not a demand for unreasonable accommodation. 

Many heterosexuals speak of tolerating homosexuals but see gay marriage as an accommodation. Gay marriage for American citizens is a Constitutional right, not an accommodation, on the basis of "all men (people) are created equal". However, granting a special development deal in an urban setting to build a religious structure or cultural community center is an accommodation to that religion or cultural group. Religions or cultural minorities do not have a right to governmental accommodation.

As a practical humanist, I do not believe that any nation can afford to accommodate every special interest group. I do wholeheartedly believe in tolerance, which lies at the root of nonviolent coexistence. However, tolerance can be abused and exploited by those who are aggressive, selfish and greedy. I believe it is the role of government to keep the peace, enforce the law and educate the populace to understand that there are no real special interests. There are only human interests.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Submission

Some religions, like Alcoholics Anonymous, advise or demand submission to a "higher power", or god. This seems to have evolved from the alliance of religion and state in human history. Submission has been the tool of rulers throughout the ages. Religion gets to the human mind in youth to sew the seeds of submission in the populace. Modern poly-religious states have had to control media and expand internal military control in order to replace the effects of a unified religion for indoctrination. Syria is a good current example. The conflict of modern media (information) against militarism (control) mirrors the conflict between egalitarian education (information) and religion (control) during the Reformation and subsequent Age of Enlightenment in Catholic Europe.

Submission and oppression are complementary. Within the human mind, submission to habit or addiction leads to oppression of the best human qualities of health, personal growth and social responsibility. Voluntary submission of an adult to an external authority beyond civil and criminal law is a form of self limitation. When an entire society submits to unjust control, disaster always follows. The post-911 era in the U.S. is one example.

Those who submit to external control of their behavior are usually frightened people. Their fear is based in ignorance or dependence. The dependence could be based in psychological habits, developed in an unhealthy family environment. The dependence could be related to ignorance, which prevents them from gaining their own financial freedom. In any case, submission to the will of another is a choice of the adult human mind. Submission to habit or addiction is a choice of the adult human mind. Submission to powerlessness out of fear of harm is a choice of the adult human mind.

As a humanist, I have always felt an obligation to support the healthy independence and freedom of the oppressed. As a professional nurse, I have worked with those oppressed by the voices of hateful parents, to whom the tortured adult has submitted long after those parents were no longer physically powerful or present in his/her life. I have worked with those whose sexual identity had been turned to daily torture by submitting to hateful religious bigotry. I have worked with those who were tortured by fear of death, which was part of their submission to a hateful belief system which condemned them to an imaginary hell for being simply human.

In practice, I must sometimes submit to an understanding of my own limitations as one human being. This is the extent of submission in my life beyond my obligations as a lawful and nonviolent citizen. I do not submit to the values of others, even within Humanism, as an organized movement. I may agree or cooperate with those with whom I disagree, but I will not submit. This is a vast difference between humanism and religion. Humanism is a personal process, a practice, as I see it. Religion is a submission to constructed external dogma. Humanism is a practice of personal freedom in a compassionate and socially responsible way. Religion is a conformity of belief which requires little individual personal development.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Utilities

Do you know that major cities in the United States have tens of thousands of active gas pipe leaks which utilities have chosen not to repair due to cost and capability? In a materialistic and superficial urban landscape, citizens live with illusion of cleanliness and safety. Think of a homeowner who sees new furniture and electronics as evidence of prosperity and security, while the foundation of his home deteriorates and collapses.

We live in a time of true environmental crisis. Pollution has damaged the function of our atmosphere. There is only one, irreplaceable atmosphere. The species continues to overpopulate. Urban environments swell. Utility providers are making decisions based on profits rather than responsibility to public health and safety. Natural gas usage and marketing is increasing. Rural environments are being sacrificed to extract more. Meanwhile, the utility companies are intentionally allowing unused methane, a greenhouse gas, to pollute the city air, threaten the populace with explosions and ultimately contribute to atmospheric deterioration. Government is allowing this to happen without regulation.

There is no better example of the cost of unbridled corporate capitalism in a poorly educated society. There is no better argument against idealized Libertarian free markets. There is no better example of corporate expropriation and abuse of precious natural resources which belong to all living beings on the planet.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Perspective

I want to share a video today. This video does a good job of explaining what it feels like to grow up gay/lesbian in America. This is the drumbeat that conditions us. This is the drumbeat that is always punctuating our relationships with each other and with heterosexual friends, family and coworkers. No other group of human beings could be discussed this way in modern media or society without a deafening outcry of most thinking people.
 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Gambling

Life is a gamble. The unknown awaits each of us every day when we get out of bed. We lull ourselves into a false sense of control. The best laid plans are folly in a Universe where coincidence is as important as the laws of physics. 

When human beings gamble with money, I think they are whistling in the dark. A human being sitting in front of a slot machine is comparable to a cat playing with a piece of yarn. Actually the cat shows more creativity in its play and also reaps the benefit of exercise. Gambling at casinos serves no greater good. It simply makes exploiters richer. The odds are always with the house.

If human beings were educated from childhood to understand the true nature of their position in the Universe, as animals within an ecology whose very existence is ephemeral and constantly at risk, I doubt they would spend their time handing over money to hucksters for little or no value in return. If sciences were taught as enthusiastically as religion, human beings would wake up and see that their existence as a species is a great gamble, which can be influenced by seeking knowledge and working toward a greater good for all.

The odds of life are always with the Universe and its laws. The humanist understands this. The humanist knows that investing love and labor in improving the lot of all human beings entails wagering his/her own life for the possibility of a better life for all human beings and their environment. This is a worthwhile gamble. It may not bring a rattling jackpot of coins, but it will predictably foster peace and liberation in the lives of those who engage in the game.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Stillness

As I look around me on the subway or in a waiting room, I see a general discomfort with stillness in human behavior. Occasionally I meet a pair of open eyes, a fellow mindful observer, whose glance is steady, often accompanied by a gentle smile. We tacitly connect in a forest of flickering screens and loud monologues.

Stillness is an inner state. It is the state that exists when the mind and body are freed from tension and racing thoughts. It is achievable with practice. It is initially a fleeting state for the beginner.

Regular meditation develops the mind's capability to find stillness at will. Recognizing the difference between the still mind and the rambling mind is a first step. Meditating on a mantra or on relaxed abdominal breathing produces an intentional stillness of the mind and body. Experiencing that state provides a reference point for the mind with which the mind can compare its other states. The mind knows, "This is how I am in stillness and that is how I am when I am not still." It is that simple.

I believe that the ability to practice humanist values in daily life requires the ability to first achieve stillness of the mind. How else can I access my humanist values in the moment? It is necessary to be focused and clear to avoid distraction by impulse and hormonally driven needs. Stillness is a place from which the humanist can access his/her core values to progress in any given situation. It can all happen in the blink of an eye with practice. Learning to access the stillness of the mind under duress is the way to mastering the ego to find the better self.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Warfare

American politics are entrenched in a warfare model, inherited from its 18th Century founders. Two parties engaged in pitched battles for territory and power. This a gaping flaw in the American political system. The conceptual overlap between professional sports and politics is obvious. Is it any wonder that U.S. politics have become more and more about winning and money?

As I hear Mitt Romney rail against Obama's respect for European social democracy, which has provided the United States with invaluable support in its foreign policy, I become more pessimistic about the future of the United States. The European multi-party parliamentary model, while less melodramatic and more complex, is about detente and getting the job done for the people. No informed person can deny that the overall quality of daily life in Europe for its average citizen far surpasses that of the average American.

Political science in America is an oxymoron. The American political system is displaying the classic symptom of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The American political system is not based on the science of progress for humanity. It may well be based in the science of fleecing the public. It is basically an expensive version of high school popularity contests. Is it any wonder that things are not getting done for the benefit of all the people?


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hope

Hope was a major product vended by the Obama campaign in 2008. "Yes we can." The words sound silly now, because he couldn't, as it turned out. 

This illustrates an aspect of hope which comes to my mind often. Hope can be a sustaining incentive or a defeating denial of reality. Hope can be a symptom of an optimistic personality. Hope can be a symptom of insanity.

Hope which is unfounded in some substantial knowledge of reality is simply whistling in the dark. Selling hope to others when it is unfounded in knowledge of reality is dishonest. This is the province of the preacher, not the healer. This explains why churches are more often populated by the impaired than by the resourceful.

Hope can be sustaining when all else fails. However, hope based in education and information is more sustaining than hope based in delusion. The former is an acceptance of the human condition. The latter is a denial of the human condition. Being fully aware of the nature of coincidence and chance in a world which can be better understood through education brings a special kind of peace which sustains even when hopes are not realized.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Looking

Opening the inner eye starts with opening the outer eyes. Watching TV or iPhone screen provides information which has been processed for you by others. Look up and out at the world for yourself. 

I grew up in a small city across the river from Boston. That city is as much a part of what Boston is about as is Back Bay or Beacon Hill. However, many people who say they know Boston have no idea what lies beyond its privileged conclaves. East Boston, Mattapan and Roxbury could be on the other side of the moon to many self-declared experts on Boston.

Life does not work by remote control. Changing real lives is not like pushing a button to get a new channel. Raising money for non-profits is not the same as getting on a bus or subway train to help people in a poor neighborhood. Armchair Liberals and anti-government Republicans share ignorance of real poverty, real prejudice, real human suffering. This is a root cause of the dysfunction of our government. Expounding in politically correct terms about social problems in comfortable classrooms, city halls or lecture venues is useless hot air. 

If a humanist wants to put his/her values into action, he/she must go out and look at what needs to be helped by those values in action. If a humanist organization wants to develop a humanist community where it can promote the most good, then that community must be effective where the need resides, where it can be seen and addressed. Humanism, as it now exists organizationally, is a pursuit of the wealthy for self-validation. If Humanism is to be a values-based social movement, it must leap the barriers of class. It must go to where the work must be done to promote humanism for the greater good.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Convictions

With the rise of Rick Santorum as the new champion of religious medievalism, there are renewed cries of persecution from religious extremists in the Roman Catholic Church and other institutions of dogmatic control of human minds. The Health Care Reform Act is one of the targets of these extremists. They maintain that requiring all Federally funded health providers to provide health services such as sexual education, fertility counseling and abortion violates their religious convictions. They also feel that having to treat homosexual patients for STDs with proper respect and counseling is against their religious convictions. I would speculate that being required to treat gay men with HIV with respect and proper health education would also violate their convictions.

The word "conviction" coming from the Roman Catholic Church reminds me of all the convictions of Roman Catholic priests for child abuse that should have happened but did not because of government collusion with that institution. It also reminds me of all the convictions of evangelical extremists for child abuse against their LGBT children for generations which did not happen because of the collusion of government with evangelical churches and parents. 

Conviction is another word for a rigidly held belief system. If the convictions of religious people were rigidly held beliefs in respect, love and understanding of truly human needs and differences, they would have no problem with the Health Care Reform Act or with LGBT organizations. If the convictions of religious people were rigidly held beliefs in the U.S. Constitution's wisdom in separating Church and State, they would have no problem with the U.S. government tending to the medical needs of the entire population, regardless of religion.

The sad fact is that the religious organizations of the United States have benefited for three decades by a corrosion of Constitutional values by politics and money. Ronald Reagan exploited religion to come to power as the figurehead of a corporate agenda to limit true personal freedoms in the name of financial expansion of the wealthy. Religious organizations have done their damage in those three decades. They have seriously stripped money from public education. They have held back the forty-year struggle for LGBT equality. They have negatively affected medical treatment and research in the U.S.. And they are still trying to hold on to their power in government. 

Cries of government persecution by organized religions in the U.S. are frankly absurd. They are lies. Organized religions are privileged organizations in the U.S. beyond any Constitutional right. They are exempt from taxes. They have managed to cushion themselves from equal law enforcement. They have seriously damaged public science education. I hope to see the U.S. government pursue convictions of those in religion who use their 'faith' to cover up corruption, exploitation and abuse.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Euphemisms

As the Republican Party resurrect their reactionary anti-Gay, pro-Gun, pro-God platforms yet again, they are refining their obfuscation in order to seduce the electorate to vote against its general interests. They just can't believe that the gimmicks that worked for Ronald Reagan thirty years ago won't still work in 2012. And, they may be right. 

"Social conservative" is the new cover word for homophobic bigot. "Person of faith" is the new word for religious extremist. "Pro-life" is the old standard cover for sexist control freak. "Fiscal conservative" is a nice way of saying wealthy capitalist. 

The American two-party system is rapidly becoming a one-trick pony. Wealth controls political power. Corporate power increasingly controls the people by indoctrinating them from childhood through biased media. National security is used as an excuse to prosecute whistle-blowers. Police are deployed in great numbers immediately whenever there is any sign of urban protest. This is not democracy.

As a gay man, subjected to the daily indignity of watching Rick Santorum being given a respectful ear by all media outlets, I see through euphemisms quite clearly. You can call yourself a "social conservative", but you are still a bigot. You can call yourself a "birther" but you are still a racist. Tolerating these voices is different from encouraging them to aspire to national political power with extensive media coverage.

I believe wholeheartedly in free speech and practice it. Men and women of my generation took our free speech to the streets at great risk to achieve some measure of social respect in this country. Respect for peace and basic human rights for all. The social regression of the past decade and longer has brought us back to attending to those who would restrain us from creating peace in the world. Those who would restrain us from cleaning up the environment. Those whose personal greed for money and power trumps their humanity.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Habits

Habits are simply part of animal life. Spend several days with a cat or dog. You will get the point. Habits are hard-wired behaviors, developed from genetic program or environmental conditioning.
 
As humans, we have the ability to initiate or change intentional habits, or repetitive thoughts/behaviors. Our frontal lobes allow us to construct habits for various purposes. Our less evolved brain areas still carry unintentional habit commands as well. This causes inevitable conflict within our minds. As I inspect my habits carefully, I am amazed at the complexity of motivation that goes into the simplest of repeated thoughts or behaviors. 

Habitual living can range from the mindless roving of the drug addict to the ascetic contemplation of the monastic. Quantitatively the junky and the monk may have much in common, in terms of material poverty. Qualitatively, they have widely disparate life experiences. Slavery to the unintentional habituation in the one is a sharp contrast to the mindful submission to discipline of the other.

As a person with a manageable form of obsessive compulsive disorder, I have had to sort out the intentional and unintentional habits in my own life. This was an early chapter in my discovery of daily personal practice for greater personal health and peace. Learning to wrestle with my genetic and conditioned responses to stress was a very profound personal journey and educational experience. Incorporating this learning into my work as a psychiatric nurse and later as a hospice nurse was very helpful to my personal and professional practice.

Habits are too often equated with addiction alone. Habits of hygiene and exercise keep all animals healthier. Unaddressed addiction is a conscious or unconscious surrendering to genetic predisposition and conditioning. Intentional habits of mindful self-exploration bring tremendous benefits. Intentional habits of learning and understanding my environment brings a sense of secure identity within my own world.  Intentional habits of compassionate generosity bring love and peace.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Commerce

There is a confusion in modern U.S. society over what constitutes 'good works' in the sense of individual generosity stemming from personal values. Those engaged in working for non-profits and receiving a salary may be doing good in the world, but a job is still a form of commerce. I myself worked as a professional nurse in difficult settings. I always considered this work a form of commerce, an exchange of labor for money/benefits. Firemen, for instance, are often lionized as heroes. However, firemen are very well compensated public employees. Their work, though risky and often demanding self-endangerment, is a form of commerce. 

Some forms of commerce are better for society than others. Those who work on Wall Street, for example, are agents of greed and materialism. Their commerce cannot be remotely confused with humanist generosity. 

Philanthropy promotes progressive work, however it too is a form of commerce. It is an exchange of money for inclusion in the good work of those who actually perform it. Since those who perform the works of philanthropy-sponsored non-profits are also salaried employees, the philanthropist is two degrees removed from actually touching human need. There are often financial incentives behind philanthropy. This diminishes its worth as generosity and increases its value as commerce. 

The confusion between commerce and doing good is growing as the U.S. becomes more immersed in materialism. The lines between commerce and human generosity are blurred by convenience. Generosity requires time and energy which does not reap financial gain or gain of social status. This form of giving is personal. It requires being there, extending a hand and addressing need directly. Raising money for a non-profit, doing piece work for an foreign-focused NGO and walking in a cause-athon are worthwhile activities for participants, however they do not directly touch the greater human need in their own families and neighborhoods. These activities are wrapped up in commerce and are remote forms of doing good at best. At their worst, they are businesses that reap privileged lives for those who devise them.

Part of being a practicing humanist is divorcing human values from money. While commerce may be necessary at times to address large-scale human problems, developed by the general lack of humanist values in the world, I think it is necessary for the humanist to keep the line between commerce and humanism sharply defined. As long as commerce trumps humanist values, human greed will undermine those values and sabotage true social and political progress within the human condition.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

F's

"Faith, Family and Freedom." These words pronounced by Presidential candidate Rick "The Homophobic Bigot" Santorum in Iowa forecasts yet another season of gay-bashing, creationism and railing against the rights of women to control their own bodies. Here we go again. 

Those who are enthralled with Faith should stop and consider what it is like to be a homosexual person listening repeatedly to powerful men threaten his/her human rights with impunity in the media day in and day out. Those enthralled with Faith should also consider that back-tracking in education to creationist debates will just put American children further behind in global educational ratings. Those who are enthralled with Faith may also work out for themselves why the God of Mormon edged out the God of Evangelism by eight votes in Iowa. 

Family and Freedom are often two phenomena which are antagonistic. It is the rare Family which raises its children to have Freedom of Thought. Rarer by far among those who are enthralled with Faith. Santorum's Freedom is actually religious isolationism. Freedom from Science. Freedom from Independent Thought. Freedom from cooperation in a socially responsive society.

Mr. Romney, while less evangelical, screams about how awful European social democracies are. Perhaps he is still upset by his experiences as a Mormon missionary in Paris in his youth. That must have been a trying time for him. The reality is that Faith, Family and Freedom are empty concepts in this rapidly unifying human species. Religion, Genetic Narcissism and Intellectual Isolationism will not improve the living of Americans in the evolving world.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Peace

What does personal peace mean to you? What would constitute World Peace? How is peace achieved and maintained within a single life? 

I have spent some time trying to sort out the answers to these questions in my own mind. I grew up in a chaotic and violence-poisoned home which was located in a poor, highly congested city. My home city was voted most densely populated city of the United States in the 1950s. Not a lot of elbow-room for quiet reflection. 

I am at peace, as I experience it, right now in my apartment. I feel that there is nothing on my mind that is unfinished or pressing. I see the span of my life in a general sense. I know who I am. I can leave this life at any moment without a clinging sense of the unaccomplished or unsatisfied. My life is what it is. I can breathe deeply with acceptance and be in the moment. 

This sense of peace is challenged when I leave my space, internal or external. One point of my practice is to carry my personal peace into my environment as it changes. This requires some mindful effort. Finding the touchstone of my inner peace in many routine life situations requires practice and conscious intent. 

I think World Peace is unattainable until all human beings are at peace with themselves and their environment. Now, with 7 billion people and growing, the species is far off from my vision of World Peace. In fact, it may well be that human beings will never achieve World Peace before the species destroys itself or morphs into another species altogether. Perhaps beings which are hybrids of rational machinery and flesh will fare better with achieving a planet-wide peace. Perhaps.

All I can do is maintain my own peaceful internal environment while trying to promote peace in my external environment. This tests my best abilities all the time. Peace does not mean placidity. Peace is an active process. Getting to peace often involves turmoil, dissent and confrontation. However, a commitment to non-violence is key to starting on the road to peace. There is no peace when survival instincts are stimulated by rational fear. 

As long as war is considered an acceptable form of conflict resolution among human beings, there will be no planet-wide peace on Earth. As long as personal violence is accepted in a relationship, that relationship will never be a peaceful one. Those who participate in violence in any aspect of their lives cannot achieve inner peace, in my opinion. 

Personal peace is invaluable. It is rooted in self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-love. As long as I am not at peace with myself, I cannot promote peace in my environment. Practice is the first step to being a person who promotes peace and understanding. I believe this is the core of putting humanist values into action.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Censorship

I have been in the habit of posting a link to my daily blog posts to The Practical Humanist Facebook page. Part of my routine has been drawing or culling an illustration for my post which would be appealing as an icon for my link on Facebook. A touch of color and whimsy added to usually abstract concepts in my essays.

This changed last week when I was apparently blocked from posting links on Facebook. The blocking has persisted through the weekend. I hesitate to test my ability to post now. Facebook's instructions indicate that their blocking mechanism is cumulative: If you try to post once you are blocked, you get more blocked time added to your exile. This is like being placed in a Southern U.S. jail, where you can get a life sentence for trying to escape, even if the original alleged offense was a misdemeanor.

This is all done in the most anonymous and cowardly way, of course. I have received no notification or response from Facebook other than an acknowledgment, generated automatically, that I did write seeking some information concerning my situation. In other words, it seems anyone can get you blocked without anyone seriously investigating this and responding to objections about being blocked.

This is how dictatorships or totalitarian bureaucracies work, of course. It is indeed ironic. Facebook is often credited with facilitating revolution against this same behavior in parts of the world where dictators and juntas rule. The technology itself is apparently capable of promoting networking for good. However, there is obviously something amiss with the human administration of a company which must operate by shadowy methods to maintain its standards.

I do not depend on Facebook for expressing my ideas. I do not advertise on Facebook. I make no money from using Facebook's services. I have generally appreciated the opportunity afforded by Facebook to network with people. Despite this current situation, I think Facebook is a good idea.

This all illustrates to me how corporate capitalism, aided by technology, inevitably becomes impersonal. Yet, its impact on individual lives can be highly personal. It can also be manipulated by those who wish to practice anonymous harassment or to silence ideas with which they disagree. My own daily practice will persist with or without Facebook. I have been publishing on the Web since 1998. The writing aspect of my practice is something I do as practice, not as publicity.

Censorship by a large institution without recourse can be a symptom of disease and/or corruption. This form of censorship on Facebook echoes the hypocrisy which comes with peer pressure to be 'politically correct' in any conformist organization. The use of shunning or gagging controversial speech to prevent the exposure of injustice, irrationality or unfairness is an ancient technique to obstruct true progress. Anyone who has a committed humanist practice will encounter disapproval in a world where war, greed, superstition and inequality are accepted as norms.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Resolution

Practice is founded on daily resolve. The determination to develop a better consciousness, a clearer mind, is at the base of any practice for progressive life change. Stepping off the threshold of the past into the light of the future requires a commitment to informed ideals and a great deal of courage. Every morning is a new opportunity to make a resolution to live humanist values. Starting with a resolution to live healthily and in good faith with my own body and mind is the first step of my day. Sustaining this resolve throughout the random events of my conscious life day to day builds a process of resilience and creativity in the face of life's inevitable crises and pain.