Sunday, March 31, 2013

Resurrection

Every moment of a life of practice is an opportunity for resurrection. Every moment holds the potential for change, intentional and/or accidental. Grasping each moment with a trained mind is the hope of practice. It is not about control. It is about conscious development within a real life's environment, naturally influenced by interaction, coincidence and intent.
 
Rolling the stone back from the crypt of mindless habit to emerge into the light of liberation and compassion is the moment-by-moment resurrection of the practicing humanist. Parting the Red Sea of doubts and fears to walk into a future of mindful development and compassionate interaction with environment is the moment-by-moment passing over from slavery to freedom.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Suffering

The stories of crucifixion of Christ for Christians and the slavery of Jews under Pharaoh are annual rituals designed to honor suffering and human transcendence over it. Unfortunately, woven into these stories of sacrifice and courage in the face of oppression, is the mythology of "faith" in a divine patriarchy. Abstracted away from religion, both stories are inspirational from a humanist perspective. 

If I simply imagine a historic humanist, Christ, whose values clash against materialism, usury and violence, I can relate him to today's brave Occupy protesters, who faced down police to say that the social injustice of corporate capitalism must be resisted. If I think of Moses as a single person who stood up to an imperial authority in Egypt to say his people were not going to stay in slavery willingly, I can relate him to Martin Luther King and others, marching through the American South in times of violent segregation. 

Religion is not a requirement for courage in the face of brutality. Today's young atheists stand up to enforced religion in schools across America. Today's LGBTQ youth come out in high schools in communities where the religious condemn them as less than human. The voluntary suffering of these courageous people will eventually ease the suffering of others to come. It does more in real terms than an "It Gets Better" video on Youtube. 

The intelligent person can separate symbolism from message in religious indoctrination. The uneducated and near-sighted use religious stories as justification for their tribalism and aggression. This is the division caused by doctrinal religions to propagate their own agendas for power, money and control. This breeds suffering. It does not liberate. The Easter story and the Passover story are about liberation in the face of subjugation by government, by religion, by family, by community. They are stories about unchaining the mind and heart to achieve actualization as a whole, free and happy person in the face of suffering.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Underneath

There is a current love affair with designer underwear in the young gay male demographic. When I was a young gale male, the International Male postal underwear catalog was a rave. That was nearly 40 years ago. Things do run in cycles.

Heavy-duty construction tractors are grinding on metal tracks outside my window. Boston's sewer system is undergoing major renovations. A 15-foot deep trench is making its way up my street, which sits on the ridge of an obscured urban hill. Amazing things lie under there. 

I'm not expecting to see ancient ruins. This was a pear orchard for generations before being developed into a suburban neighborhood in the 19th century. Whatever Indian artifacts remained from earlier times have long ago been unearthed, I'm sure. They are not digging low enough to find mastodon tusks. Thank goodness.

Yet there is a lot of newer stuff down there. Our electric lines, telephone lines and gas lines are neatly tucked away down there. Our water comes in from down there. Our waste exits. The new system will route the rain water away from the raw sewage. This is meant to keep the harbor cleaner, because too much rain water now floods out the treatment plant which has to discharge unprocessed sewage into Massachusetts Bay. Nasty stuff. Tough on the whales and the shellfish, to name a few.

The infrastructure under my street reminds me of my own infrastructure. Lungs that breathe without conscious effort, when I am lucky. Hormones which regulate body temperature, metabolism, emotions. Veins and arteries that silently run the fluids and living cells of my life here and there, like flexible subway tunnels. 

How much of me is always unconscious? Quite a bit...and happily so. I have experienced intentional breathing. It's no fun. I have to take quite a few chemicals to assist my automatic processes. While this is a wonderful break for me in terms of pure survival, it makes me very aware of how much hard work of being me is done without my awareness or volition. 

As a proponent of mindfulness, I often sound like a detractor of the unconscious. I realize today that mindfulness, while a wonderful and practical experience, pales next to the many intricate unconscious functions my body performs minute by minute every day. This renews my wonder at life, at evolution and at the involuntary nature of my own existence. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Skepticism

I have to applaud Chief Justice Elena Kagan for cutting through some of the legalistic morass yesterday during arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). While Pro-DOMA lawyers wriggled around the real issues involved, Elena Kagan had the courage to wonder aloud whether the act's passage in 1996 might have been "infected by dislike, by fear, by animus” toward gays. In other words, she dared to wonder if Congress had passed homophobic bigotry into law with DOMA. Brava!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bigotry

There is no real cover in the double-speak of the Salvatore Cordileone, Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, and William Owens, Founder/President of the Coalition of African American Pastors. They are bigots. They are the same bigots who opposed equal rights for American Indians, women and African Americans throughout our nation's history. The supposedly celibate Cordileone and the divorced Owens are no experts on sexuality, love and commitment between adult human beings. Yet they garner national press for their howling bigotry. This confirms that America itself is still homophobic to its roots. 

Some human beings are simply born homosexual, as they are born Caucasian, Black, Asian, American Indian, etc.. Imposing restrictions on their human rights to the same treatment under law as all other human beings is bigotry, whether it is done in refined legalese or at the end of a threatening weapon. 


Bigot Cordileone
Bigot Owens

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Marriage

Eyes are on the U.S. Supreme Court as it considers a lower-court ruling in California which declared a referendum ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. I am not a proponent of gay marriage. I am not a proponent of marriage in general. 

I find one false argument against gay marriage quite offensive. I find it equally offensive that all mainstream media allow the argument without dispute. The argument starts with an assumption that marriage's origins were associated with proper child-rearing. This is a lie.

Marriage's roots as a legal entity are in land and property. Plain and simple. Children's rights had absolutely nothing to do with the evolution of the institution in Greco-Roman-based societies of Europe, from which we derive our legal system. Marriage is about the rights of adults to inherit and control land and property. And, with this understanding, the prohibition of gay marriage is a legal dehumanization of homosexuals. It implies that homosexuals are not adults to be considered equal under the laws of land and property transmission.

Why the media, even the most balanced media, do not assert this when some born-again yahoo rants against homosexuals on the basis of child protection is beyond my comprehension. This lapse of clarification propagates ignorance of history and the law. President Obama repeatedly states, "We are a nation of laws." Perhaps this was the turning point of his own recognition of the injustice of banned gay marriages. 

Legal marriage is merely the inky shadow of a living commitment between two loving people of any kind. Legal marriage complicates lives, as do money and property. Legal marriage itself has never protected one child from parental abuse. Legal marriage does not prevent the production of numerous unwanted children. Legal marriage inhibits the government from acquiring commensurate revenue for proper health care and education for the children produced in heterosexual marriage.

I find myself strangely siding with extreme Libertarians in their belief that no marriage should be involved at all with government. I would encourage any adults who so wish to freely seek out whatever holy person they admire to help them celebrate vows of commitment to each other. Have a party. Have a shower to accumulate gifts and adulation. If you wish to transmit land and property, hire a lawyer. Leave the rest of us out of it. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Ripples

There is no need to be a drum-beating missionary to change the world. Gently lapping ripples on a lake against a stone ledge at the shore will eventually make a deep impression. Learning to accept time and the incremental nature of change is vital to having peace of mind as an ethical person. 

There are those among us who are talented at making their voices heard over mass media, for good or bad. They have their part to play in human evolution. But I am convinced that the everyday behaviors of people in the world determine the actual quality of human life. The good person, driven by mindful compassion in all things, makes ripples in his/her own environment which have inevitable effect. 

My hope is to support the humanist practice of other individuals. While community groups and community meetings are valuable, they can only be as valuable ultimately as the practice of the individuals within them. Their net value is often somewhat compromised by the lack of daily practice of the many despite the vigorous daily practice of the few. The tokenism of religion, in which the truly good are seen as a clergy or an ordained few, is ineffectual at promoting universal peace and justice. The history of religions and wars is evidence in support of this assumption.

When I become overwhelmed by my own inability to change myself or my environment, I try to think of the ripple effect of small change. This encourages me to do something, however minimal or seemingly unimportant, to change my life or my environment for the better. Expecting immediate results is futile in most enterprises in the real world, despite our virtual tablet world where apps light up screens at a tap. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Silence

Silence is medicine at times. When the stress of life invades peaceful consciousness, quiet meditation or reflection is helpful. Allowing the soup of the mind to swirl can feel confusing, but sometimes it yields eventual clarity of perception. Not always, but sometimes. There are no guarantees of 'faith' for an inquiring or struggling mind. The secular humanist does not explain away suffering as part of divine purpose. Skepticism, awareness, patience... these are the tools of the secular mind. Silence often facilitates understanding or coping for the mindful secular person. It is more proactive than prayer, which is often simple begging to a non-existent audience. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

New

Technology has re-ignited the American romance with The New. People wind around city blocks for the latest opportunity to throw money at Apple. The computing world quakes at the release of the newest Windows operating system. All that quaking is quite wise. A new Windows operating system throws a new wrench into the world of computing usually.

Is the quality of life actually improved with all these new gadgets? I have a general opinion about this. I can testify that my own recent experience with new technology has diminished my own happiness considerably.

Convenience is not happiness. It may contribute to the process of being truly happy, but it does not generate happiness. The selling point of most new technology is convenience. This convenience can be a detriment to personal development.

Sometimes doing things the old hard way yields new insights and a better product. I remember when everyone went out and bought automatic bread machines. This had a devastating effect of neighborhood bakeries. I sat at many tables where a machine-produced loaf was presented with great pride. Most tasted like dried paste. Others had the rubbery consistency of the worst store-bought bread. I smiled and remained the good guest, but I did not buy a bread machine. I still make bread the old-fashioned way every week. Each loaf is different in some way. Each loaf represents patience, timing and creativity. My timing and y creativity, not a machine's.

I am a child of the 1950's and 1960's. The American romance with the new was booming then. We live with the results today. A country-wide network of buses, trains and urban trolley lines was decimated by the automobile industry in cahoots with government officials. Whole neighborhoods of historic and serviceable buildings were leveled to build useless concrete plazas and ugly concrete high-rise boxes, which are now crumbling and not worth retrofitting. The new romance with the Space Race sucked public money away from conservation, poverty-alleviation and infrastructural development right here on our planet. The Arms Race to develop new nuclear weapons and subsequent nuclear power sucked money from the same areas of human need.

Now we have an ongoing Technology Race. Obsession with Android vs Apple occupies some of our brightest minds. Meanwhile the human population swells, the poverty-gap grows, the atmosphere and climate reel out of balance. I imagine a hand sticking out of human-induced flood waters to protect a smart phone from short-circuiting.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Ignorance

Buddhist-Muslim riots in Myanmar are an example of the pollution of goodness by religion. A Buddhist rioter is not a Buddhist in the sense of following the teachings of Gautama, the man who is now referred to as Buddha. Buddhism, as originated, is a form of personal practice, not a religion. Intrinsic to that personal practice is nonviolence toward all living beings. 

The roots of religious hatred in Myanmar and much of Southeast Asia stems from the Mongol invasions of the 13th century which led to the destruction of an evolved Buddhist culture of monasteries and libraries. The Mongols, a culturally warlike people, incorporated Islam into their society as part of their earlier conquests of Muslim countries. They may well have been inspired by Muhammad's own military conquests. When the Mongols invaded, they practiced rampant murder of Buddhist monks and razing of all Buddhist institutions.

None of this history justifies the violence in Myanmar today. In the words of Gautama Buddha,

All beings tremble before violence
All fear death
All love life.

See yourself in others.
Then whom can you hurt?
What harm can you do?

He who seeks happiness
By hurting those who seek happiness
Will never find happiness.

Shambhala Pocket Dhammapada, Verse 10, p36




Thursday, March 21, 2013

Models

Anna and James Creeden
This entry is about Anna Goodman (a.k.a. von Gutmann) Creeden. She has been dead for many years. She was my paternal grandmother. 

Anna was a first-generation American, born in the 1890's to German-Dutch immigrants in Wilmington, Delaware. Her parents were born to wealth. They came from Amsterdam as part of an imported executive class of burgeoning American industry. Anna had a maid and a governess as a child. She summered at a luxury hotel in Atlantic City, where family and staff moved to escape the heat of Wilmington. 

Anna's father came from a Jewish banking family, which once owned the Bank of Dresden in the mid-19th century. They had converted to Catholicism in Prussia as a matter of practicality. The "von" in her German name was bestowed on the family by Otto von Bismarck, before the family sold the bank during the Franco-Prussian War to avoid losing their sons to Bismarck's ruthless military draft. The von Gutmanns fled to Amsterdam. 

Anna's mother is something of a family mystery. Anna told me that she had been the daughter of a wealthy mercantile family in Amsterdam. She said her parents' marriage had been arranged and consummated in Amsterdam prior to their coming to the U.S.. My great grandmother was consumptive, frail. The only ancient photograph of her I can recall was of a shadowy figure with a white veil, flowing from a wide hat. 

I am the product of Anna's adventurous love for my grandfather, James Andrew Creeden, a traveling salesman for the John Hancock Insurance Company, who drove into Wilmington on his Stanley Steamer on his way back from the Far West around 1917. James, a young widower with seven children back in Massachusetts who were in the care of his many siblings, swept Anna off her feet somewhat inappropriately for the time. They met on the street, despite the objections of Anna's chaperon/governess. James later had himself barred from Anna's family manse by a male servant when he boldly called on her without proper credentials or introductions. Anna eloped with James and left Wilmington in his Stanley Steamer. That was that. She was disowned by her family and never looked back. 

Anna's story, as she told it to me as a young boy, was a lesson in identity and courage in the face of prejudice and injustice. She was not histrionic in the telling. On the contrary, she told her exceptional history with thoughtful pauses and reminiscences. 

Anna faced an unpleasant welcome when she returned as James' bride to a small town north of Boston. She told me people stopped on the street and gawked at her as she and James drove through town. She heard mutterings about "The German" whom James had married. World War I was still raging in Europe. She got a cold shoulder from most of James' family, who felt burdened with the seven children from his first marriage. James' children did not warm to her either. But she stayed steadfast in her love for her traveling salesman.

They left the small town after a short visit. Back on the road after a brief check-in at John Hancock Headquarters in Boston. My grandfather was one of few Irish-Americans with a good job at that august Yankee institution. I remember a wonderful photograph of a John Hancock meeting in an auditorium at its headquarters. The auditorium was filled with hundreds of men in dark suits and one woman in a dark suit with a bright white blouse...Anna Goodman Creeden, apparently the only wife in attendance.

Anna and James were a team. They both traveled across the United States in the company automobile. My father, their oldest of three, was born in Albia, Iowa. Yes, Anna traveled while pregnant across unpaved prairies from cow town to cow town. They did this for several years before settling down outside of Boston.

The Anna I knew was always reading. Newspapers, novels, even the encyclopedia. She wasn't much of a cook or housekeeper. She and James lived in the same broken-down apartment in an old farmhouse until James died and she eventually went to a nursing home nearby. They were the two happiest people I have ever known. I spent many weekends with them when I was little. Those were the shining days of my early childhood. 

When I look at today's world and its values, I often have a short conversation in my head with these two mentors. Money, celebrity, materialism...the very things they found befuddling and amusing...now rule. While my grandfather was a devout Roman Catholic, my grandmother cared little for it. I never heard them argue over, or even discuss, religion. Their humblest of homes was a seat of mutual respect, intelligent conversation and selfless hospitality. 

Anna was perhaps the first person to instill humanist values in me by sharing her stories of her life. She gave me the ability to understand prejudice without hatred or violence. She had made peace with the injustices of her own life. She had no conceit in her accomplishments. She offered present and mindful consideration to anyone who came into her path. Her compassion was quiet and sustained. I feel very fortunate to have had her as a model for my humanist practice. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Apartheid


President Obama is visiting Israel. There will be endless talk of peace and resolution of the "Palestinian Situation". This will skirt the real issue: Ethnocentric apartheid in reaction to violent ethnocentrism, supported by all major religions.

Religion and racialism are the real problems in Israel. These will not be examined  with any scientific skepticism. These will go ignored by Obama and others as justifiable assumptions. This is wrong. Frankly, this is stupid. 

How many conflicts around the world are fueled by religious and ethno-racial prejudices? Israel is yet another example. However, unlike the quest for fairness in Rwanda, Bosnia and Northern Ireland, ethnocentric Judaism and Christianity are given a pass while the prejudices and resentments of the Palestinians are demonized by international authorities.  This is simply wrong.

Why shouldn't Israel be expected to resolve its internal security issues without socioeconomic and territorial apartheid? Why does the world dance around Israel's rigid ethnocentrism? 

The answers might lie in history. The answers might lie in the current structure and composition of global finance. Wherever the answers lie for this injustice, it is still injustice. And those who support Israel in it are unjust. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spring

wet snow drizzles down
clear black driveway runs with melt
march makes up its mind

Monday, March 18, 2013

Microsoft

I am in the midst of a computer meltdown, thanks to Windows 8 and Norton 360. What a mess. I began working with computers in 1989. I started with a DOS system, the precursor to Windows. I'm not one to throw up my hands on technical issues.
 
Windows 8, Microsoft's attempt to bridge the PC-touchpad gap, is a dysfunctional hybrid. It has made my perfectly well-powered computer slow and problem-ridden. It has also interfered with the smooth functioning of my network.
 
I am working on the issues. Tomorrow I hope to blog about something else.

 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Daily

The key to any health process, physical or mental, is its daily application. I certainly have re-learned this over my 17 years of taking daily antiviral medications to stay alive. Prior to that I was accustomed to a daily regime of running, proper diet and various forms of meditation. I think that history has much to do with my relative well being and survival with HIV for nearly 30 years and cancer for 10 years. 

Any on-line computer holds a world of helpful information to anyone who wishes to set up a daily process of health promotion. Stay away from infomercials. Concentrate on information. Learn how your body works. Learn how your brain works. Watch some interesting videos on the subject. It isn't boring once you get into it. It is fascinating. It is much more important than knowing how your car works, yet most human beings know more about machines than they do about their own bodies.

This is not just about sweaty exercise. This is about a compassionate and mindful commitment to yourself. How can anyone extend true mindful compassion to anyone else without learning what it means to bestow it internally? I hold the opinion that I must practice applying mindful and compassionate behavior toward myself as a first step to extending that process to my environment and those in it. 


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Ethnocentrism

Tomorrow is the height of ethnocentric celebration in Boston, Massachusetts. A famous, perhaps infamous, parade flows down Broadway in South Boston. Drunkenness is the popular mental state of the day. Hooligans inevitably get involved in fist fights. Frankly, this event represents the lowest denominator of bog Irish culture. 

This rabid ethnocentrism evolved out of an horrific history of colonial English heartlessness, famine and forced diaspora. In Boston, the horror continued as Anglo-Americans greeted the starving Irish immigrants with clubs, strong-armed enlistment in the Union Army, the worst slavish labor in exchange for a pittance wage. The Irish, like the Latinos of today, were the beasts of burden of their day. 

I am sickened when Irish-American politicians try to be encouraging by suggesting that today's immigrants should expect to go through the same gauntlet of upward mobility that they suffered. That this is the "American Way". In other words, they are admitting that American culture is one of institutionalized ethnocentric exploitation. This belies the hollowness of the word "freedom" when touted by the likes of George Bush.

I grew up in a home divided by ethnocentrism. My mother and her mother were Russian-speakers, immersed in my grandmother's Belarus peasant heritage. My mother's alcoholic father was Lithuanian, and his ethnicity was cursed frequently by his widowed wife. My father was an American mongrel. His father was the son of an Irish immigrant and an Anglo-American. His mother was first-generation American from a German-Dutch family of Catholic-convert Jews. 

Our small city (one square mile) was in the 1950's and 1960's the most densely populated in the United States with over 50,000 people, mostly immigrants and their first-generation American offspring. There were several synagogues, several large Catholic parishes, several Protestant congregations. That city was bound together by its working class homogeneity, not by one ethnicity. While each ethnic group had its own club, church or other institution, the city held people together. The first topic of introduction was a person's Chelsea provenance, which trumped any other personal characteristic. Citizenship, not ethnicity, was the glue. 

The recent wave of well-meaning multiculturalism has deteriorated into a Balkanizing ethnocentrism. When this is challenged by a universal human rights issue, like homosexual rights, the new American refuge for homophobic people is their ethnicity. The courts in Boston upheld the right of the Irish-American groups which sponsor the Saint Patrick's Day Parade on city streets to exclude self-identified homosexuals in organized groups. This is overt, state-supported, ethnocentric bigotry in the public space. 

There is a vast difference between being at peace with my accidental ethnicity, imposed on me by birth, and somehow endowing that ethnicity with some sacrosanct meaning. To do the later is simply a form of racialism, which is institutionalized all over the planet with the aid of religion in most cases. A rational human being understands the place of ethnic conditioning in his/her life. A rational human being does not see some holy significance that the new Pope was an Italian born in an Hispanic country. So what? He is simply a human being who can evolve beyond his ethnic conditioning ...or not. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Process

Have you ever had a relationship with a skunk? A real skunk? This is my first, and I'm a little shaky.

He looked prettier the first time I saw him in the shadowy area between the glow of two floodlights in my driveway. Our second spontaneous encounter ended with me driving him off by beating my steel bar against a nearby cement block. He looked smaller, shabbier, as he ran away down the driveway. 

I heard him scratching last evening after I had eaten my supper. I was sitting in the kitchen. It had been a hard day. The house had to be cleaned and then I tacked up wire mesh around the base of the deck and adjoining porch. I'll admit I wasn't in the mood for company.

I threw back the slider and stepped out onto the deck. He was there in the corner between the deck and the main house. He was trying to excavate his way past my complex masonry work, done to keep him out. He had found the one twelve-inch span which was not solidly meshed, due to the way the porch meets the deck.    He was crunched into a ball between garden implements I had stacked there as obstacles. Crafty bugger!

I had a big flashlight. It was twilight, so the beam was not stunningly strong. He didn't even notice it or me. I cleared my throat in my practiced pedagogical manner, which always worked with my pesky high school students forty years ago. He looked up at me. His triangular face held no expression. He went back to trying to dig. His claws screeched annoyingly on brick and tile. I winced.

My steel bar was nearby. I fetched it and poked him with it gently. He looked up with an expression which I would guess was puzzlement. After all, few humans are stupid enough to stand their ground with a big skunk.  His face seemed to say, "You still there?" I poked him harder with the bar. This led to a complicated maneuver which enabled him to back out from the nest of tools which surrounded him without knocking one of them askew. I was impressed at his limberness. He seemed impressed with my quiet stance. We stared at each other for a few moments. 

"Well, buzz off! I don't want you living under this house." My voice was deep, firm and unequivocal. 

He gave what looked like a shrug. I was the kind of shrug a panhandler gives you at a stop light when you don't roll down your car window. The nothing-ventured-nothing-gained shrug. Then he turned slowly. I watched his huge tail closely for any sign of lift. It hung limply. I relaxed and watched him waddled past the bulkhead to the corner of the house. He rounded the corner and stopped. Just the very end of his tail was visible to me. I knew he was trying to fake me out. Make me believe he had gone, so he could get back to work. This really annoyed me.

I took pole and flashlight and walked off the deck, into the yard and up to the corner. He must have heard my stomp. He moved along in the narrow space between my house and a high fence. I followed. As I looked around the corner of the house, I saw he had stopped again and was listening. It became obvious to me that this is no kit. This is a wise old one. He looked over his shoulder and saw me. Then he waddled slowly away to the sidewalk in front of my house. 

"Phew!" I was relieved. I didn't want to be sprayed, but I knew he had to be told to leave. 

My mind and attention were focused for the next few minutes on bringing a concrete block from the driveway to the excavation site. I piled that on and eliminated the cozy nest of garden tools. I brushed my hands together with some satisfaction. It was as secured as I could conceive. 

I returned to the driveway where I had set down my flashlight and steel bar. I briefly admired my mesh work from the afternoon. I stood and turned to discover the skunk behind me. He was under my car watching me. This creeped me out. A stalker! Before I could finish saying, "What the fu...", he was waddling down the driveway and up the street. 

So, what have a learned in this process? Well, I learned that skunks can be incredibly compulsive and persistently so, not unlike certain humans I know and have even seen in my own mirror. I learned that even a skunk responds well to relatively nonviolent assertion without responding aggressively in retaliation. This really impressed me. He never once twitched his tail in my direction. I also learned that a human and a skunk relate together on somewhat basic animal terms. He was an aggressor in my space. I defended my space. I had the size advantage, but he had the long-distance weaponry advantage. Neither of us crossed the line to violence. 

I won't say this skunk hasn't been a nuisance. He has, but not intentionally. I won't say I feel a God-given right to expel him from my property. I don't. I simply have to be the animal I am within my territory with the least amount of conflict or violence. This is all the process of humanist practice, as I see it. It takes time and often unpleasant work. The rewards are commensurate to the toil. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Difference

Top-down morality comes from religion. Bottom-up morality comes from individual practice. This is the difference. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Genetics

We had 1.5 feet of snow last week. When it melted over the last several days, three cheerful clumps of deep purple crocus lit up our front yard. They had opened under the snow. They are vibrant and hardy. Their genes got them doing what they were programmed to do by eons off evolution. 

How much of what I do is genetic? As I grow older, I realize more and more how much of who I am is genetically determined, but I also know that much of what I do and think is far from genetic. This supports my belief that genetics may make the man, but the man makes up his own mind, commensurate to his intelligence, practice and education. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Artifice

I am not a fan of optional cosmetic surgery or tattooing. I would not ban such things, if I were king. After all, I believe the baseline human right is the right of the individual to control his/her own body. I simply believe that cosmetic surgery distorts the individual's self-perception and thereby interferes with psychological/mental development. It promotes materialism and hedonism. It supports narcissism. Just my opinion.

Tattooing is another matter. Proponents wax on about the ancient provenance of the tattoo. However, in modern times, tattoos are associated as well with prisons, Goth mass murderers and neo-Nazis. Not much provenance of merit there. Tattoos are a form of signal, a sign language, for many. For others, tattoos are just another way of playing with themselves. Tattooing can become compulsive and masturbatory. Again, my objection comes from a concern that this interferes with psychological development. 

Accepting my own body was a major step in my own psychological development. When I was a young gay man, being six-foot-three was a cause for many critical comments from my gay peers and the older men I desired. The ideal gay man was five-foot-eight, thin and natural muscular, in a mesomorph fashion. My peers who were so gifted were popular and were required to do little to attract the men I desired. I had to try harder, I thought. I lost weight. I exercised. My popularity increased, but I was still not as popular as my more diminutive peers.

Light eventually dawned on my dim horizon. I would never be five-foot-eight again. I accepted my size as a given. I woke up to the attentions of those who wanted me for being who I was. Suddenly I felt more popular than I had imagined possible. Perhaps too popular. 

All this came to mind today after one of my dental crowns fell off last evening while I was eating crackers and cheese. It replaced a front tooth, and now I have a hillbilly smile. I see the dentist later. The smile is less important than maintaining my oral health by plugging the hole I now have up into my upper jaw. 

The effect of this change on my mental body image has irked me. When I look at a mirror, an activity I generally avoid, I see a man of my age certainly. Now I see a man in decay. In other words, the presence of that false tooth was enabling my denial of my obvious and natural decay to some very basic degree, of which I was unaware. While I am happy to be reminded of who I really am, I am disappointed in myself for this residual vanity at 63. I had hoped I was beyond this.

It is never easy to be frankly honest with myself about my aging and the inevitable effects of chronic disease on my body. However, I believe it is an absolutely necessary process for me to be an honest person. This sense of personal honesty was learned the hard way thirty years ago when I became infected with HIV. Carrying a lethal virus brings its own lessons and developmental demands in order to remain an honest and ethical person. 

Practice, as I see it, is never about maintaining illusion. It is quite the opposite: It is a constant process of piercing the bubbles of illusion to get at the truth of my existence. No plastic smile can cover this truth. No tattoo can glamorize what is not truly glamorous. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Corruption

I heard a Republican candidate for U.S. Senator lie on the radio this morning. An outright, glibly stated, lie, unchallenged by the interviewer. I found this both chilling and aggravating. What has become of any semblance of honesty in politics?

The candidate declared, "I have always been a member of the working class." He is a lawyer, a corporate executive and a high-ranking Federal appointee. I was more strongly annoyed when I read his bio and found he had attended the same Jesuit prep school and college I attended. His home town, unlike my own, was a wealthier suburb, even in the 1960's. He is not working class now and it is questionable whether he ever was. 

This incident speaks to the blurring of facts by the media as well as politicians for financial or political gain. As a humanist, who respects scientific method and facts over speculation and fiction, I find this trend of anti-scientific, politically correct and politically corrupt speech offensive. I also find the public apathy in the face of this corruption of the values of government and authority equally offensive. 

My practice dictates that I will be writing a comment on this piece at the radio station's Web site after I complete this essay. My practice dictates that I will lend greater support to the political opponents of this candidate. My practice dictates that I will also write to his campaign machine to express my questions about his statement. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Hackers

One of my email accounts was recently hacked from a mobile phone in Turkey. The hacker used my email address book to generate spam about a site with a German Web domain name. My several score of contacts were bombarded with this trash under my name. A person sent me an email on Facebook which alerted me to the problem. 

When I went to the host site of my email account, I found there was quite an elaborate page for just this occurrence. In other words, happens all the time. Nice.

A lot is said about "Web presence". Little is said about Web ethics or etiquette. Perhaps because there is little or none of either. This is an unfortunate evolution of a technology which has the potential for such good for humanity. Dishonesty, I suppose, is also a basic part of the human condition. 

The net result of reacting to unethical behavior is its corrosion of trust in other human beings. This reactionary behavior has become commonplace in the technological world we now inhabit. More people means more good people as well as more bad people. Simple fact of life in an overpopulating species. The pressures of overpopulation accelerate bad behavior when people find themselves at the bottom of the crushing socioeconomic pyramid of free-market capitalism. 

So, as a humanist, I have to work harder to see and elicit the good in people. My best approach is to elicit the good in my own nature and display it behaviorally whenever possible. Respect gains respect...sometimes.  The problem in the technological world is faceless anonymity. Here we are digits. It is easy, I can imagine, to do bad things to a bunch of digits, if you do not take the step to acknowledge that each set of digits represents a person. Do mass murderers see people as digits? Perhaps. 

Immersion in real life always entails risk. What is the worst that can happen? Loss of life itself? Well, frankly, that is inevitable at some time under some circumstances anyway. I do not use this attitude to absolve nasty behavior towards me by others. Quite the opposite: I address nastiness directly when I can see the perpetrator. But the Web is different. Here I must practice harder to let go of insult and injury by the anonymous without becoming a passive victim or an enraged depressive. Here I must be smarter, more involved, more informed. After all, this is all part of being a mindful and compassionate person anywhere. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Community

Today I will attend a community meeting sponsored by our local civic association. The meeting will be focused on plans for development in our neighborhood. Major urban development on a large piece of available turf. This development will determine the quality of life of the thousands who now live here and the new residents who may populate the new buildings.

How exciting! This is a form of social democracy in action. My skepticism warns my enthusiasm: The exploiters also see this as an opportunity for fast profits with little regard for the public welfare. We recently fought the cramming in of three units on a tiny lot already occupied by six units of overcrowded rental housing, exploited for profit by an absentee landlord with a less-than-impressive reputation in the neighborhood.

Yesterday it snowed heavily here. I am tired from clearing paths and driveway. I could easily relax into a leisurely morning here. But this would not be living my humanist ideals. As a new resident, an older gay man who looks world-worn, I know I will not be readily included in the discussions. I will have to actively participate, if I want to add my opinion, knowledge or objection to the outrageous. This is the work of humanist practice.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Shoveling

Just shoveled out from a snow storm here in Boston. Uncovering concrete pavement, wooden stairs and asphalt driveway. All man's work concealed relentlessly. Large gentle flakes, composed of millions of various crystal formations. Pure whiteness cleaning smoggy city air. Breathing is sharp, clean, invigorating. 

Those who groan about New England weather often sound like the customer at a restaurant whose steak is overcooked. A bit whiny in the great scheme of life and the Universe. But I do not begrudge the person who aches all over after shoveling eighteen inches of snow from a long stretch of sidewalk or driveway. It is hard work, especially for older and stringier muscles.

My secret to enjoying Winter is enjoying Winter's work: Using my chores to appreciate what exactly I am doing in relation to myself, society, my environment and the Universe. My own body benefits from the work, if it is done consciously and carefully with the right tools. I benefit human society by making a clear and safe path for pedestrians to travel off the city street. I pile the snow where it will thoroughly water mt garden for the upcoming Spring burst of life. I clear down to pavement and stair tread to avoid using salt or other chemicals. I learn my place in the gravity of the Universe in the snow, the wind and the sharp cold. 

This is one small part of what I call practice. Bringing full awareness to every activity erases drudgery. It is all practice at maintaining that full awareness throughout wakeful life. It is intentional thinking. It is using my human mind in concert with my human body. It is relating to the elements and my fellow shoveler. This is not religion. This is living. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Writing


Andrew Sullivan, a noted blogger, is a professional writer, a political commentator, a Roman Catholic and a gay man. His politics have varied from rabid Bush-ism to rabid anti-Bushism in the previous decade. In other words, he is a Republican, allied with wealth and libertarian ideals. Like many Brits and Canadians who come to America, he seems to be attracted to the rough trade of the Right Wing. The mystery of Mr. Sullivan's politics and religious views is his own status as an HIV-positive person. 

Mr. Sullivan is trying to make a living as a membership-site writer. So far he has succeeded quite well at getting readers to subscribe to his site for $19.95. May he live and prosper.

As a person who blogs about my own humanist practice, I do not consider myself a writer. In other words, I am not peddling my words here. Never have. Never will. There are no ads in my sidebars. Any links I post here are not done so as part of any monetary relationship. 

This is the difference between this blog and many others. I am not aspiring to a career path by writing my daily thoughts here. I am using this vehicle to sort out those thoughts in public as an attempt to show others the value of mental process, put into writing. Using the brain and the fingers to give form to my own ideas and principles. That is the point of this exercise for me. 

Writers like Mr. Sullivan and others who write for various commercial blogs are in the business of writing about ideas. Mostly, they write about their reactions to the ideas of others. They are commentators, critics and opinion-makers. I cannot help thinking that the money factor corrupts the personal honesty of this form of writing. In an age during which populist celebrity is currency, this is probably unavoidable. 

It has been helpful for me to consider these aspects in relation to writing this blog. This is post 1,461 between The Practical Humanist and the previous Buddha's Pillow. I have no idea how many pages of ideas I have written in those posts over the years. I do know that I have spent approximately 3 months, about 2200 hours, of my life in writing this blog. It has been well worth it. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Syria













Listening to a BBC report on Syrian homeless refugees in Jordan. A woman who is 105 was forced to leave her home village for the first time in her life due to the violence. She is confused, sick and desperate.What does this say about the humanity of Syrian politicians? What does it say about the humanity of the international elites who run governments and corporations? What does this say about the Russians and Iranians, who have propped up the Syrian regime? What does this say about the United Nations?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Android

What do I do when my new version of  Norton Antivirus screws up my PC?

I pull out my Android tablet. These little machines are great fun for an old man like me. After all, I can recall the novelty of flying.

Trouble is the same as the convenience of it. It's small.

I have never been what we gay men call a "size queen". But I was born myopic. I have relied on thick lenses since I was 10. I also have big fingers. So I am typing with a stylus. Most tedious.

This is a practice opportunity, of course. Turning annoyance into learning is an important element of my practical humanism. I cannot say I am enjoying this particilar lesson, but it has more value than walking away from the challenge to my blogging.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Point

Staying on point is a practiced skill for many human beings. My science education was very helpful in developing this skill. My study of Latin and German were also helpful, since they are languages less idiomatic than some. They require rational structuring of words to make the proper point. 

Nuance has its value in diplomatically or sensitively dealing with people or situations. But we are becoming a culture of all nuance and little pointed discussion. This is related to media fixation on abstract political and social ideas, such as "safety net", "government overspending", "entitlements" and so on. Inane statements like "It's all good." cloud the skeptical and logical assessment of the quality of daily life. Such assessment yields a very different result: It ain't all good. Increasing discrepancy in wealth, climate change, deteriorating natural resources, human overpopulation, deteriorating public education, etc.. 

As individuals, we can practice staying on point. What is the point of your daily life? I frequently ask the question of myself. There is, of course, no real existential "point" to my life. I have no delusions of grandeur. I was not ordained by some supernatural patriarch to save the human race, to rule or to live in aristocratic luxury. I am simply the result of the sexual enthusiasm of my parents. That is why I am here.

I make points in conversation and in action. I have daily goals. I have my own master plan for the quality of my daily life. I assess and maintain a point of my humanist practice: Mental and physical health within a peaceful and harmonious environment. That is the point of my humanist practice. It is not about saving the planet, anyone else or even myself. I am mortal. I am aging. I will die. The scope of my life span limits my impact on my environment. I am satisfied to work within that realistic scope. 

Many people lead pointless lives while thinking they are on point by following the scripts of parents, bosses, politicians and religions. They constantly drink someone else's Koolaid. They consequently lose the pointlessness of their individual being. Rediscovering that pointlessness ironically liberates. This last statement makes me feel very French.

I encourage you to find the point, or pointlessness, of your own life. It's quite a quest if you have been living an existence dictated by the points (agendas) of others. Finding the point of my daily existence brings me firmly back onto my path of mindful living with evolving compassion. 


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Practice

Human beings have the amazing capacity to consciously feel. Our emotions extend beyond ourselves, our species and all other living beings. We can feel affection for objects which are inanimate. We can be saddened by the destruction of a precious object. We can be moved by printed words. We can be amused by lines on paper in the form of a cartoon.

Last evening I was impressed by my own ability to feel. I was preparing supper at 7 PM when I heard an unusual scratching on the wall of the kitchen. I went out to the deck off the kitchen and peered around the corner of the house. There in the driveway Skunkie was trying to get past my barriers and lattice to get under my back porch, which is an extension of the kitchen.

"Hey!" I yelled. Skunkie looked up at me with a skunkish shrug. Skunkie resumed scratching.

I went to the other side of the deck for a metal pole I leave there for just these situations. I banged the pole on a cinder block near Skunkie's work site.  "Hey, buzz off!" I growled. I was trying to be the portrait of an aggressive predator. The metal on concrete got Skunkie's attention.  As Skunkie backed from the lattice and turned to run under my car, I was impressed by Skunkie's size and beauty. Yes, beauty. This skunk was very clean, Shiny black fur and bright white stripes. I also noted that Skunkie is huge.

Skunkie's triangular head peeped out from under the car after a few seconds. Those onyx black eyes peered into my brain. I felt like Skunkie was casting a spell. I actually felt a wave of affection for the face in front of me. I reminded myself of my purpose. I acted out angry determination to keep Skunkie away with another round of metal bangs. Skunkie withdrew under the car and eventually left.

'Wow,' I thought when I returned to cooking supper after a thorough spraying of pepper spray around the house.  I realized I admired Skunkie's beauty and soulful eyes. I felt true affection for this intruder. Am I a masochist? Hardly.

I was reminded of the power I  have as a human being to reach out emotionally beyond my own needs. This is the basis of compassion. While I am not about to open a hole in the lattice around my porch for Skunkie to move in,  I understand Skunkie's need to try to get in. Upon reflection, I realized her rather large size most likely means Skunkie is pregnant. It is even likely that Skunkie was born under this porch which I now claim to be mine.

My neighborhood is rife with skunk habitats. My intellect enables me to rationalize my emotions to balance my compassion with my own best interests. This is the work of my humanist practice. I can coexist with Skunkie. There is no need to poison Skunkie. There is no need to strike out at Skunkie. I accept my responsibility to myself to keep her from stinking up my house without becoming unnecessarily aggressive or violent against this other being. This has required some patience, major engineering and labor.

I am grateful to Skunkie for this lesson. My gratitude is at times outweighed by my annoyance when Skunkie seems close to breaching my defenses. Learning to live in this misty mindscape between thought, emotion and instinct is a major part of the business of humanist practice as I experience it.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Sharks

It is becoming hard to discern where the true sharks lie, in the boats or in the water. The latest estimates tally 100 million sharks killed last year globally by fisherman. Sharks are among the largest predators on the planet. Their place in the aquatic ecosystem is indispensable. 

In an age when global fishing stocks are becoming depleted by human overpopulation, this marker of shark deaths is significant. It tolls the bell for human suffering in the near future, as food and environment become corrupted to a point of no remedy.

An overpopulating species ruled by money, denial and superstition has no future. No human technology can renew the natural balance of the planet. It is too complex, too vast. The lack of understanding of the sudden disappearance of some critical species, like bees and frogs, makes this point obvious. 

While politicians dither over sequestration, while religious zealots fight for control with guns and rape, while techies obsess on the latest Apple release, the world's ecology is being decimated for short-term human profit. Isn't it time for every conscious person to pay close attention? Why aren't those who have brought children into this world standing in protest by the millions at every national capital? These are questions that puzzle this practical humanist.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Violence

A taxi driver, Mido Macia, in Johannesburg, SA, was beaten by police and dragged behind a police van. He eventually died. He had violated a parking restriction. The arrest was filmed by a bystander.

Power can corrupt. Violence can also corrupt. These were not white racist police. They were wearing uniforms and carrying guns. Johannesburg has been rated one of the most dangerous cities on the planet. Gun violence is rife.

The large crowd did not intervene on behalf of the taxi driver. They watched. They groaned. At least one of them filmed. Perhaps this person was the most courageous bystander in the crowd. I can imagine the risk of documenting this scene in a violent and corrupt society.

As a secular humanist, I see a crowd of people who are conditioned to fear authority to the point of no compassionate action on behalf of a victimized peer. I see a crowd of people who have been made less human by the violence around them. This is very sad to see.

Government and religion have often deprived people of their humanity as separate institutions and in collusion with each other. These incidents of inhumane treatment and the equally inhumane inaction of bystanders are symptoms of the rule of violence in a society. Ignorance, poverty and overpopulation combine to make this level of inhumanity more likely.