Friday, May 31, 2013

Syria

Assad, the Dictator.
The evil of war is clearly evident in Syria. The myths of peaceful religiosity and of the "human family" are also clearly unveiled as far-off ideals and possibly lies.
 
The human propensity to patriarchy, the cornerstone of most theologies, invests absolute power in murderous leaders like Assad. International conventions assure him of his life by outlawing surgical assassination of him and his government, while it commits atrocities. Nothing was learned from totalitarianism of the past. The international men's club of leaders would rather sacrifice the lives of millions than turn on one of their own. Assad, even as a murderous aristocrat, is still an aristocrat to be protected.
 
Syria is about people over aristocracy and dynasty. While I detest violence, I also detest the hypocrisy of international power, practiced by the Obamas and Putins of the world. There is no human justice in the policy of U.N., E.U., U.S. or Russia toward Syria. There is a constant bowing to the power of business, such as arms dealing, and the privileges of power.



Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cheating

Chinese Beach: Orderly Crowding, The Future.
The much-maligned Protestant Ethic, which was refined by socially responsive Wesleyan Methodism in the 19th Century, guided early American capitalism away from selfish opportunism and toward a socially equitable social model. An honest day's work for an honest day's pay. Goods priced fairly in proportion to cost. Value set by practical worth. This is far from the Prosperity Gospel of today's born-again hucksters, parlaying on-line ministry licenses into mega-churches with mega-profits.
 
No more. The current Free Market capitalism, touted by rabid Tea Party tax evaders, is based in opportunism and social irresponsibility. The gods of this capitalism, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, were both opportunists to the core. Young Thatcher learned how to cheat people by whipping ice cream with air (soft-serve) and thereby selling less for more. Reagan turned his coat from union leader to union-buster in response to McCarthyism. It was good for his personal career.
 
I have worked within capitalism on many levels. I have been a manager in heath care facilities. I have had two small businesses. I have bought and sold real estate. My experience taught me that no person who works ethically in capitalism immediately accumulates great wealth. The operative word in that sentence is "ethically".
 
Capitalism of today works on the "anything goes" model. Rants against government are basically rants against regulation and taxation, the two government processes that guarantee civilization in any society. The capitalists of today in collusion with paid-off government officials have cheated the general public out of mental health facilities, for example. The deranged and chronically addicted roam our streets, break into our homes, shoot each other in ritualized gang warfare, shoot children in elementary schools, place bombs on public streets. Capitalism has cheated us of true homeland security.
 
The concentration of wealth in a tiny segment of the U.S. population is cheating. That cadre owns state houses and the nation's capital. Lobbying is cheating. It represents the interests of the wealthy over the interests of the society. Street people do not have lobbyists in Washington, yet they are those in the greatest need of advocacy for themselves and for the general benefit of society.
 
Wealthy cheaters, the Donald Trumps, are shameless. They are emboldened by the hypnotized stupor of a media-driven population. They make sure they are in households by constantly appearing on television or the Web. They are the grinning sociopaths who have always charmed their victims while picking their pockets. Nothing new there.
 
Not cheating gets harder and harder in an overpopulated and undereducated  society which is corrupted by greed and money. Some South American cities afford ample examples of this. Paying a policeman to drive down your own street can become commonplace, for example.
 
I reject the notion that a person can be a humanist and a cheater in this new "game" of greed-driven capitalism, just as I rejected the notion that a true Christian can reject a person purely on the basis of their natural sexuality or gender. Some may disagree. Some may see Humanism, with a capital "H", as just another way to make money and gain celebrity. They may see their work as creating some inevitable collateral good. Good is indeed inevitable, even in concentration camps, but this is not humanism in action. Humanism in practice, as I see it, lies in each individual humanist being good and ethical in all aspects of life. This requires sacrifice, responsibility, compassion and mindful consideration of each action in life, whether it is business or personal.
 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Planting

Good gardening requires looking forward. The tiny shrub that is planted today can become a tree-like nuisance which undermines the foundation of a house. Planting a flower bed over a buried gas line or electric line can lead to a mess later on if emergency repairs are necessary. Placing a plant in the wrong light will simply stunt or kill it.
 
We plant words and ideas in our relationships with each other. Some of these may grow to de facto commitments through day-by-day evolution. Some of these may become untended weeds which undermine our sense of integrity or sabotage our ability to change in healthy ways.
 
Communication is the gardening tool of friendship. It can be left to rust as relationships simply become habit. It can be wielded irresponsibly with resulting alienation and hurt. It can be used regularly to shape and nurture the growth of love and respect between individuals and groups.
 
Mindfulness is a valuable process when planting shrubs or friendships in my life. Communication is a necessary component of any relationship in my life with other human beings and with my general environment. Compassion grows with open and regular communication. These are all components of my humanist practice.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Alcohol

Alcohol is not part of any health-promoting diet. Alcohol does provide calories. That's just about the best that can be said for it. Some components of red wine have been touted as heart-friendly. However, a low animal-fat diet is heart-friendlier and not intoxicating.

Clearness of mind and purpose is clouded by alcohol usage, simply put. Observation of alcohol-related behaviors in any environment will support my claim. Mountains of medical research support that hypothesis. A few random studies, usually funded directly or indirectly by alcohol vendors, make claims that drinking alcohol is "good for you".

Why is alcohol usage promoted in any society? Think about it. The obvious answer is great profit for some. In the case of the U.S.S.R., cheap vodka kept down an already depressed and underfed population. Current alcohol use in the U.S. is higher than it has been in decades. Only 13.6% 0f the U.S. population reports infrequent alcohol consumption.
 
From my perspective of daily practice, regularly drinking alcohol has serious deleterious effects. These effects take years to surface for the routine drinker, but they are inevitable. Slowed intellectual response, serious damage to liver, pancreas and kidneys, distention of veins, dulling of normal reflexes. Alcohol diminishes health in small or large increments.
 
I am not a prohibitionist. Trying to impose health on anyone is a waste of time. I know this quite well from my nursing career. I do try to promote health and healthy living in my own life and the lives in my environment. I do not take seriously any claim to a daily practice of health from anyone who regularly drinks alcohol. This is self-delusion.

Monday, May 27, 2013

War

There is no beauty in war. War is killing to suit the purposes of men and women in power. Whether it be religious power, political power or monetary power which inspires war, war is intentional death. Intentional death of healthy young human beings is a diseased condition of the human species. Banners and parades are forms of covering the black abyss of war.  The rot of dead bodies. The horror of truncated limbs. Sentimental speeches about sacrifice by those who could end war for all time are cynical advertisements for future war. If the smell of war, the gore of war, the truth of war were displayed on Memorial Day, perhaps war would be pushed back into the shadows. War is evil. Those who participate in war are stained by that evil for their entire lives.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Magpies

I think of the human species in terms of global ecology. Homo sapiens does not hold a deed to Earth in some Universal registry. If our species owns the planet, we would have to be seen as a derelict property owners. It is more realistic to see our species as an evolved  invasive predatory species, which degrades ecologies by overpopulation and unrestrained predation. This is a hard pill to swallow for those humans who feel narcissistically entitled to their place in the food chain. They cling to the delusion that they have been ordained by some extraterrestrial authority (god) to just carry on as usual.

This "Living On Earth" piece on magpies is a wonderful window into the human-to-environment relationship.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memorials

The atheist or agnostic has little use for memorials to the dead other than to assuage personal grief for the living. As a gesture, the memorial is was way of working through the process of loss and grief. There is no delusion that the dead are watching or somehow comforted by this physical manifestation of their passing.
 
Any human memorial is a grain of sand in The Universe. It will be washed away by time. The sentimentalism which often accompanies memorials can be self-indulgence rather than grief. Memorials are also commonly used by governments to perpetrate the idea that murderous conflict is a human necessity. This makes any public memorial related to war suspect to anyone who believes in nonviolence and a quest for global peace.
 
Those who reproduce often misconceive their children as living memorials. This atavistic approach to reproduction is self-centered and unfair to the unique personhood of every new human being. Children bear the burden of their genetic heritage, unwillingly. Those who are fortunate enough to be genetically descended from the healthy or the wealthy tend to buy into the child-as-memorial paradigm. Those for whom life is a struggle are more skeptical. Rightly so.
 
I believe that humanism in action requires a great deal of letting go. First, mindfulness enlightens the humanist to the basic commonality of all living existence. Birth, age, death. Acceptance of this entails letting go of concepts of being "special" or deserving of more. Growing up means letting go of the need for attention from others in favor of attending to others. This is the first step to becoming compassionate in a practical and active way. Would a true humanist have a need to create a memorial to his own egoism? No.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Humanism


 
 

“Humanism is about the world, not about humanism.”
– Harold Blackham

A young activist for secular humanism posted this recently on his Facebook page. "Bravo, " I thought when I read it.

 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Animals

Homo sapiens is an animal species. Yes, we are animals. We have a wider range of brain function than many other animals, but we are animals. We have instincts, impulses and resulting behaviors which are not controlled by thought or intention. Our bodies exist and survive by means of purely unconscious and unintentional neuro-muscular contractions. We breathe without intent. Our hearts beat without intentional control, if we are fortunate.
 
We are now acutely aware of behavioral anomalies and behavioral norms due to electronic media. Even taboos about sexually explicit information are being shattered by the Web and video. Unfortunately, we are also being exposed to the ruthless violence of which all people are capable when the frontal lobe becomes polluted, diseased or deranged by life's circumstances.
 
Those in power would be wise to look closely at human animal behavior under stress. The social bulwark which contains human stress against impulsive violence is falling with routine environmental stress caused by overpopulation and resultant climate change. Religion will not succeed to raise the bar of nonviolence. It is religion, after all, which has enabled violence in the name of "God's chosen" of various stripes. Civil government, even in pacifist and generous Sweden, is unable to counteract the irritability that comes with constant environmental deterioration. The riots of the past few days are evidence.
 
In Oklahoma, after a most deadly tornado took its toll on a badly constructed and overpopulated area (given the known natural environment there), the city manager stated for media, when questioned about the value of prevention, that lives could not be valued in dollars but construction costs could. Therefore, he would not push for higher, tornado-proofing building codes in his city. He also indicated he was a religious person.
 
Animals in a deteriorating environment will react to survive. If obstructed or repressed, they will become violent. If they become violent in sufficient numbers, many lives will be lost and the environment will be further deteriorated. This is all biology. It has nothing to do with an all-powerful entity. It is measurable by science. It is treatable by scientific application of sex education, environmentalism and appropriate government intervention. Homo sapiens is an animal species, and we are the only scientific animals. This increases our responsibility for our planet and to each other.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

If

If The Prophet of Islam were alive today, he would most likely be a jihadist.

If the Buddha were alive today, he would most likely be a secular Buddhist.

If the Christ of the Bible were alive today, he would most likely be a secular humanist and socialist.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Parable

 
A single woman retreated to the country to live a life in harmony with Nature. She lived in a small cabin without electricity. She pumped her water with a bicycle-powered  pump into a cistern which also collected rain.  She fueled the cabin by carefully gleaning wood from the surrounding forest. She installed a highly efficient wood stove with some alterations made to her chimney to accelerate burning and diminish ash. In a clearing, she planted a garden for food. She dug a root cellar in the shade of her cabin. She built a hen house and got some chickens and a rooster. And she took a piglet from a neighbor to raise for cooking fat, winter meat and summer bacon. Her old car was seldom used. The bicycle got her to the nearby village for mail and dry goods. Her life was the work of living. She rose early and retired early. Her neighbors respected her lifestyle and visited her often to offer what they could. She did likewise for those whom she respected.

A married man with an MBA lived in Manhattan with his wife and three children. He worked in banking. His family had made a fortune raising millions of chickens for slaughter in cramped commercial chicken barns. He was educated in Ivy League schools. His family occupied a large four -bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side. His children went to school every morning in a hired car with the au pair, a young woman from Haiti with a college education. On weekends, he and his family often took the garaged Lexus SUV up to the country to their large country house, which was maintained by a live-in caretaker, a poor divorced farmer from the local area who had little education and had lost his farm.

The banker's property abutted the single woman's small land holding. The wooded area of the properties were not formally divided by wall or fence. The banker and woman met occasionally while walking in the woods. They exchanged neighborly greetings from a distance.

The banker's children grew to adolescence. They took to drinking and smoking dope in the woods where they drove their all-terrain vehicles. On several occasions, they disturbed the sleep of the single woman by prowling around her cabin and stirring up her animals in the middle of the night. She decided to complain to the banker and walked over to his country house one weekend.

The banker was annoyed that she had walked up to his house unannounced and had rung his bell. "Why didn't you call me first?" he growled without inviting her in. "I have no phone," she said blandly. The banker grudgingly asked her in and looked skeptically at her soiled boots as she walked across his Italian-tiled foyer. He offered her a seat in the foyer while he stood above her. "What's this about?" he asked.

The single woman was surprised by the banker's immediate coldness. Her local friends were cordial and hospitable whenever she visited on a whim. "I'm sorry if this is a bad time, but I have to tell you that your children have been coming over to my place in the middle of the night and disturbing me and my animals. It has happened several times now, so I wanted to nip it in the bud. I thought you should know so you could take care of it."

The banker smiled at the woman with a pitying look, the look he reserved for panhandlers in the city. "What makes you think it's my kids?" he said slyly. The single woman answered neutrally,"I know your kids. I see them all the time and their ATVs in the woods."

The banker took a deep breath and exhaled with exasperation. "Look. I've been wanting to talk to you for a while, so I'm glad you came over. I think we can come to a mutual solution. I've been wanting to buy you out. We can smell your wood smoke and your pig when we walk in the woods. I can hear your rooster some mornings off in the distance. It's annoying. I could give you more than the market price per acre. It's a win-win. Besides, a single woman like you has no business living out there alone in the middle of nowhere."

The woman had not expected his callousness. Her life was surrounded with a Nature she loved and respected. Her neighbors and friends were a tough lot, but they were honest, respectful and hard-working. Her own life was hard, but it was a life she chose and wanted to keep. It was a life she could feel good about in relation to her environment. This banker's dissatisfaction with her proximity on the basis of his occasional walks in their woods  and a polite complaint about his spoiled brats stunned her.

She stood. "No," she said. "But I will warn you that I will defend my property and my animals in the middle of the night if we are disturbed again. I will also let the local police know about the problem, just so there's no confusion if some unfortunate accident befalls a forewarned malicious trespasser. As for your money, I have absolutely no need of it. Good day." The woman walked out of the house and off the man's property.

The banker poured himself a drink in his paneled study. He sat in his leather office chair and used the remote to turn on his wall-size TV. "I'll get her to sell out to me...it's just a matter of time," he thought to console himself.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Duplicity

The interplay between thoughts and words often leaves us feeling we must be duplicitous to function socially and ethically. The current social practice of politically correct speech, even when it is inane, is an example of duplicity. Pretending, for example, that I do not notice the difference in skin color between myself and a brown person may avert discomfort in superficial circumstances, but it may also obstruct candor and mutual learning over time. Skin color dynamics are hard-wired into most human societies, whether we choose to acknowledge this or not. Denial does not lead to any substantial resolution of a human problem.
 
The recent debacle of the Tea Party crying foul over IRS applications for non-profit status is an example of a more sinister form of duplicity. The abuse of non-profit status is omnipresent in the U.S.. Many savvy folks make themselves a charity to provide themselves with a posh lifestyle as CEO while getting volunteers to do the hard work of actually doing some socially responsible activity. The Lance Armstrong example is quite stunning. By becoming a brand, Mr. Armstrong became a media celebrity with an international aristocratic lifestyle. While hiding behind his yellow-band charity, he cheated at his sport to stay in the spotlight. This kind of duplicity is harmful to the cause of human development for individuals and for society. It breeds cynicism and hypocrisy.
 
Internal recognition and open acknowledgment of feelings of duplicity are courageous behaviors in a society which pushes to repress and deny in the name of some holy conformity of manners. Refusing to participate in a life of duplicity, rationalized by some grand ideal, is the stuff of coming out, of liberation, of true personal salvation.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Perspective

I often do a simple perspective exercise, especially when frustrated or angry. I use memory of satellite imagery to zoom out from my location to a space view of Earth. Then I zoom out further and further, until this galaxy is barely visible from deep space. I relish my feeling of liberation among the distant stars. I breathe deeply as I do this visualization. I have gotten good enough at this to be able to use it in a stagnant supermarket line. Rather than watch the octogenarian lady count out the thirty-seven pennies from her coin purse, I do this visualization.
 
Perspective is mutable. This is perhaps the most important survival skill of the human frontal lobe. Changing perspective can make the difference between violent rage and compassionate understanding with practice. Changing perspective keeps us from getting stuck and depressed. Some rely on expensive travel vacations to change their perspective. This must be nice, but it is the wealthy and lazy person's method. Changing perspective in the loud shared bedroom of an urban tenement takes courage and practice. It is much easier to turn to religion.
 
In a way, I am my perspective from moment to moment. My perspective could be grounded in a negative self image, for example. Then I would be defensive and possibly aggressive as a defense. If I maintain some control of my perspective by practicing the use of my own brain, I can proactively affect my perception and mood. This is all part of the foundation of practicing compassion in everyday life.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Gardening

Walnut tree flower by Peter Petraitis
 
Anyone, except the rare green-thumbed savant, who has planted an urban garden knows it takes work. The initial work is just observation. Logging the light on the imagined garden plot is essential. Buying the right seeds/plants for the right light saves time, frustration and money. While logging the light, preparing the soil for planting saves time. I'm a fan of cow manure, rotted leaf mulch and a little new soil. I stay away from commercial fertilizers whenever possible.
 
I planted a random wildflower garden this year with a bag of pre-mixed varietal seeds. It is about 2-3 inches high now. I see little cosmos babies, and there are already full-grown violets, blue and white. The rest will be a surprise. Around the base of the red maple in front of the house I have boxed the sidewalk-cut to discourage irresponsible, law-breaking dog owners from using it as a depository for dog feces. One such phantom vandal had taken to toileting his huge dog there daily. I felt like I was tending a horse barn. No more.
 
Using large amounts of processed city water is unnecessary, if planting is done wisely. A bucket under a drain pipe is a common site in my neighborhood. I have found that plants do just fine when left on their own in an area that gets at least some shade every day. I'm not growing leafy vegetables of fruit trees. Mine is an urban garden, a collection of postage-stamp areas. My goal is to beautify, to provide insects with some habitat and reduce the amount of pollution and carbon dioxide. It's a minor contribution, but millions of minor contributions could make a significant difference in the environment.
 
Plants, like animals, in my opinion, have their own lives, quite independent of mine. They are not simply there for my enjoyment. They are life forms. I try to afford them some respect as a caretaker by reading up on what they need. The same applies to the animals which have symbiotic relationships with the plants in my garden plots. I don't use industrial insecticides or weed killers. These things are poison for the whole environment. I love watching the bumble bees weave their impossible flights around my property. Peskier critters can be discouraged with all kinds of gentle methods. Again, it's just a matter of practical education.
 
My battle with intrusive skunks under my deck and porch earlier this year made me more appreciative than ever of my place in my environment here in the city. Solving that problem nonviolently and non-toxically increased my optimism for my own ability to live in an urban environment as a relatively responsible person. So much of simply being human in this northern urban environment is destructive to it: Petro-chemical heating and electricity, petro-chemical transport, mass-produced food, plastics, etc..
 
Gardening is a practice of learning more about that urban life. Its results bring something to my environment. It is an extension of my internal process of development within my human social environment. Gardening is a practice of learning, of paying attention, of nurturing, of contributing. It is a practical form of what I consider my humanism.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Dreams

I enjoy examining the chaos of my dreams. The dreaming brain is a hard drive working without an operating system. Different programs intermingle. Mothers merge with strangers. Strangers morph into animals. Animals speak French or gibberish at will.
 
The chaos of dreams enforces my enthusiasm for the development of consciousness. The value of working with my hard-drive (brain) with an operating system (practice) is immense in the scope of evolution. Yet so much of this value is wasted on homo sapiens.
 
I know from working with those who are mentally distressed that tracking and discussing dreams are methods toward recovery. Dream journals are established tools of therapists, writers and visual artists. The wealth of random thought in dreams can provide clues which can lead to insight and behavioral change.
 
Last night I dreamt of some Humanists I have known. We were engaged in a meeting. The dialogues in the dream have left me with much to consider... about myself, my practice and those with whom I have interacted. Isn't this marvelous? I feel my brain's full work is often done in the background of my awareness. Meditation, which I do daily, is one way of accessing the fruit of that labor. Dreams are also a valuable channel for accessing what is going on beneath the surface of my awareness.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Openness

A personal practice of trying to be more mindful and compassionate is a moment-by-moment attempt at being all that which I think is good and right. Being my ethics is not easy. It entails facing my weaknesses, my prejudices and my arrogance constantly. While I do not always succeed against the great odds of my own inadequacy to measure up to my own ideals, I have learned to embrace humility in the face of my own arrogance. This is the key to being nonviolent and open to others.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Power

"Power" is a frequently used word. Electrical power, the power of positive thinking, horsepower. In its most benign usages, power simply indicates a measurement of energy and force. One horsepower equals 746 watts of electricity, for example.
 
Political power is by definition something to be wary of. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. In the light of this, the recent IRS affair in Cincinnati is interesting. Some would argue that the IRS has too much power in its ability to issue or refuse non-profit status to politically active organizations. Others would see the wisdom in having a government agency regulating the way money is applied to politics, given the Supreme Court's opening the flood gates for unlimited corporate money for influencing elections.
 
My some of my emails have the following signature attached: “The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” This quotation is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi.
 
Having a personal daily practice of increasing mindfulness and compassion is a contribution to a peaceful environment in itself. It is a turning away from power dynamics. It is a focusing on personal integrity, responsibility and generosity. This is a path away from attaining power and control outside my own personal boundaries. The power of love which develops from this focus sends out ripples of good into my environment without creating conflict. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Bees

Bees are not reproducing as they have been depended upon to do by bee-keepers who work with large-scale agriculture. Bee reproduction in the U.S. is down by 33%. This is most likely due to insecticide poisoning. Why are bee-lethal insecticides used? Human overpopulation has a lot to do with it. Food producers need to get high yields on smaller and smaller pieces of land to provide their supply. High-nitrogen fertilizers, which are poisoning water supplies, are also part of this skewed ecology.
 
Perhaps the bees are working at saving the planet from a globally invasive species...homo sapiens. I have always liked bees and have appreciated what they do for the planet.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Strength

Here in my city there is a new slogan, found everywhere on merchandise and billboards. "Boston Strong". The colors of many items have been designed to coincide with the logo of the One Fund, which is intended to aid the people injured by the Marathon bombings. The blue-and-yellow color scheme is oddly reminiscent of Best Buy or IKEA branding. I find this pretty creepy.
 
Of course, the "Boston Strong" brand is not quite as disconcerting as the flashing "We Are One" marquees on buses and electronic highway signs. "Really?" I think to myself. Is that why we have to lobby for equal marriage rights in this society?  Is this why the wealth distribution is so skewed to the tiny top of the pyramid? Hmm.
 
"Boston Strong" is the kind of cowboy-up nonsense that high school football coaches scream at youngsters to beat out whatever humanity they may have left while participating in violence on the field. It is the hollow chant of a bully who has a bloodied nose. It has nothing to do with actual human strength.
 
Humans are strong because they can use their frontal lobes to work out problems, to take responsibility, to forgive, to get on with the work of life with proactive design. Human strength is the strength of understanding beyond selfish animal impulses for vengeance or aggression. Human strength is the strength inherent in thinking before acting and then acting thoughtfully.
 
Bumper stickers don't teach us anything. They are simply tools of mass hypnosis or cries for attention. Using the illusion of strength to raise money is simply cynical social manipulation. It is the stuff of totalitarianism and Fascism. It is Orwell's 1984 in action. These are strange times when there is so much nonsense in the media about hatred of government while citizens are so willingly manipulated by government and the corporations which control it.  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mothers

Women were once defined by their ability to produce and nourish children. Children were once defined by what wealth they could bring to a family or tribe. So women were a vehicle for the accumulation of wealth by and for men.
 
I have used the past tense. This is inaccurate in today's world, where women and children are still chattel in some societies. This is changing, but all too slowly due to the violent resistance of men and women who enslave. Think Taliban.
 
While I admire women who are talented at nourishing the minds and bodies of their children, I am also stunned by the rarity of good mothering in the world. In many cases, supporting good mothering would entail the decision to not be a mother. This makes the star-mom shine more brightly.
 
The single woman who decides not to have children faces many challenges, some subtle and some not so subtle, to her integrity under the oppression of conformity. This is a weakness in our species. The childless woman should be appreciated for her contribution to the possibilities for women of the future. The childless woman should be appreciated for her liberation and courage. Finally, the childless woman should be seen as contributing to the survival of the species and the planet by helping to diminish overpopulation.
 
I firmly believe in a woman's right to choose. Especially the right to choose not to have children. Today I celebrate that choice in this society. Today I also consider my appreciation of those women who are not mothers.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Goals

Goals change throughout a life. Goals differ between those with resources and those without. Understanding these processes is a road to mindful compassion.
 
Our American culture is currently driven by commercial materialism, bolstered by constant media indoctrination. Hawkers on TV, radio and the Web make huge assumptions about the needs and goals of listeners. The poor are encouraged to go into debt to ride the same wave of consumption as the well-off. The well-off are encouraged to flaunt their prosperity, not share it. They are lulled by the capitalist myth that super-wealth for the few leads to general prosperity for the most without the aid of socially responsible government.
 
Pulling my goals away from consumerism and materialism was the best process of my life. Considering what I need, as opposed to what I want, is key to my responsible humanist practice as I perceive it. What I need is relatively simple. What I want is often unimportant to my actual happiness.
 
My goals now are those of an older man. Relative health, mobility, financial stability. These are not the goals of the young in a materialistic world. They have the luxury of taking health and mobility for granted. Therefore, financial stability seems less important than making money to enjoy the world's many pleasures, such as travel, entertainment, partying and accumulating goodies. Few young people see the value of developing a daily practice of health maintenance, financial responsibility and social action for positive change. Those few are the precious jewels of our species.
 
Being conscious of my motivation, my goals, is essential to staying on course with my humanist practice, my process of trying to be the best human being I can be from moment to moment. I must maintain flexibility in my goals to be considerate, compassionate. And I must carefully choose the partners with whom I share certain goals. Fear of change will sabotage any chance to accomplish the chief goal of practice, staying on my path to greater awareness and compassion in all things.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Neighbors

I live in an urban neighborhood. It is not just a collection of buildings. There is a civic association. The population at one end of my street is very stable. The other end has more transient tenants. But the street life is quiet and people are recognizable when they pass by.
 
I walk around my neighborhood at least once every day. I walk to the local shopping center frequently. I am getting to know faces. I make eye contact and say 'hello' whenever possible.
 
I am not a politician or a salesman. My humanism dictates that I practice integration into my environment through daily effort. This entails taking responsibility for the interface between my own property and the surrounding environment. I consciously attempt to contribute to the quality of life on the street. As an older gay man this has its challenges, but I persist.
 
The recent exposure of a neighborhood in Cleveland illustrates what happens when people do not include awareness of and responsibility for their environment in their daily behaviors. The house which served as a prison for kidnapped children for many years was described by one neighbor this way, "The windows were boarded up. I thought it was vacant." The absurdity of this lack of interest was exposed by several other observations of more reliable neighbors, who said they saw the perpetrators coming and going frequently.
 
What else was seen over a decade and not reported to police? I would speculate that plenty of clues to the horror within were visible in that length of time. It was ignored most likely. Neighbors did not want to get involved.
 
The U.S. is reported as a hyper-religious society on paper. Our politics have been tainted with religion for thirty years, since Ronald Reagan's handlers learned how to exploit hollow moralism for votes. And, predictably, as moralism rises in a society, individual creativity and responsibility declines. More hypocrisy, less ethical action on an individual human level. The rise of thuggery and gangsterism in the popular media testifies to this cultural trend.
 
Humanism must be a personal commitment in order to be effectual and ethical. Once the humanist takes responsibility for personal development and responsibility, inside and out, being a good neighbor becomes part of daily practice. A practicing humanist would not ignore a house with boarded windows in a neighborhood where children have been abducted.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Terrorism

Cleveland kidnapping house.
I am fascinated by the difference and similarity in media between their reaction to the Boston Marathon bombing and their reaction to the Cleveland abduction case. While the Marathon bombing was portrayed as an unquestionable atrocity by media through interviews and reports, the Cleveland case is being treated with prurient curiosity and reservation by the male establishment. The similarity in coverage is giving law enforcement a free pass on its dereliction of duty to the individuals affected.
 
Just what is terrorism in the U.S.? I commented yesterday to Peter, as we were passed on our neighborhood sidewalk by a young man who appeared enraged and deranged on drugs, that I felt terrorized frequently in a society where there is inadequate mental health care, rampant illegal drug activity untouched by policing, and uninhibited armed gangster activity aided by the government's lack of sane gun control. But this is not new for me.
 
When I was a young gay man, I felt terrorized by police and by gay-bashers who were given free rein by the society to beat me up and perhaps even to kill me. I was threatened by police for being in the vicinity of a gay venue many times. I aided the repelling of violent gay-bashers with other gay men several times. The media was silent about this terror. In fact, the media aided in terrorizing gay men by publishing their pictures and names in the newspaper as a way of shaming whenever a gay bar was raided or when any gay meeting place was busted. Suicides of those exposed often resulted.
 
Homeland Security is an establishment to prevent losses from political terrorism. Yet, through its insistence on corrupting the privacy rights of citizens, it also terrorizes. The general social response to this terror has been wishy-washy at best. The media have been quick to present the upside of losing personal rights in favor of government surveillance or 'lockdown' as we experienced here in Boston after the Marathon.
 
I will speculate here that the prevailing terror here in the U.S. is the terror of the haves in the conventional male-dominated social paradigm of capitalism as they look at spiraling overpopulation of the poor and devastating, now inevitable, climate deterioration. I speculate that this terror lies deep at the back of the minds of most of those who live privileged lives in comparative global terms. This group encompasses most Americans by far.
 
If my speculation is accurate, the trigger for response and outrage to terror is more sensitive when the prevailing establishment is attacked than when fragile female children are abducted, imprisoned and raped.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Burials

There is a spiteful and uncivilized battle going on here in Massachusetts. Even Governor Patrick has participated. Boston's Mayor Menino has also made his proclamation on the matter. All this is about a burial. Politicians weighing in on the disposal of remains.
 
The body of the slain Marathon bomber has been held at a Worcester funeral home under police guard. The funeral home's owner is a man known for his compassion due to his history of burying society's pariahs. He took in the bodies of dead AIDS patients when other funeral homes would not. Now he is being harassed by government officials in response to his kindness. The city of Worcester is considering billing him thousands of dollars for police protection rather than apologizing to him for the potential violence of the citizenry they represent.
 
Perhaps the need to demonize this violent lunatic's body in death stems from the ongoing investigation into the manner of his death. For example, some bullet wounds inflicted on Transit Police during the gun fight which led to his death have now been reported as caused by 'friendly fire' by other police. There are questions from the post mortem investigation. Was he subdued while still alive? Was he intentionally dragged by a vehicle while alive? Was he perhaps kicked to death by police? In other words, was he executed by police without possible due process? These are routine questions when investigating these matters after the fact.
 
When politicians play Pontius Pilot, there is reason for concern. When the governor of a state proclaims that  obstructing any citizen's burial in a city cemetery (Cambridge, MA) is not a matter for government, there is something wrong. Why wouldn't that be a matter for government to consider?
 
I do not believe in the value of ritualized burials. I believe this form of disposing of human remains is archaic and unscientific, especially in an age of human overpopulation. However, I deplore injustice and hypocrisy, even when bestowed on the dead. And I certainly deplore victimizing a good Samaritan, like the man who holds the body in his Worcester establishment.
 
Courage under fire is always part of militarist propaganda in times of disaster. The real story here is the cowardice of reactionaries in times of disaster. Torturing those who wish to do the right thing by a family which has been shamed and humiliated by the actions of one of their own is certainly not courageous. It is not ethical. It is not moral. It sets a despicable example of petty vengeance which makes us less as a culture and a society.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Science

I seldom feel 'bipartisan' these days, since both political parties have turned their backs on reason in favor of a corporate-media populism. However, today I find myself impressed by a Heritage Foundation study which has drawn heavy criticism from both sides of the anti-scientific political spectrum. Bottom line of that study: Illegal, undereducated immigrants would cost taxpayers significant cash if given amnesty, as proposed in the current immigration bills in Congress.
 
Europeans figured this out decades ago. The Swedes, the French and the Germans have all paid dearly for importing cheap foreign labor. And their immigrations were more controlled and monitored than the current invasion of the United States by undereducated, undertrained immigrants. Our own President's relatives, an aunt and uncle, have come and stayed here illegally and reaped government benefits.
 
As long as nationalism is the model by which nations pay their bills, legal immigration of qualified workers or refugees, monitored closely by government, is the practical approach, based on simple balance sheets to account for citizen tax revenues. The forces which are currently promoting the insane notion that undereducated and undertrained immigrants contribute to society's orderly and equitable function are motivated by political ideology or some other dubious ideology. Their premise is unscientific and irresponsible to those of us who pay the bills with our taxes.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Charity

National Pubic Radio this morning reported that there were as many as 4,000 fake charities generated after the Boston Marathon bombing weeks ago. Four thousand low-life schemers decided to take advantage of human misery and human compassion. What does this say about materialism, money and ethics in our current society?
 
In another report on a museum in Chicago which committed to an exorbitant expansion before the financial collapse of the U.S economy, the museum's CEO said it was like deciding to go to a restaurant on the other side of the road and being hit by a car. Taking his analogy, the museum had decided to dine eloquently without looking both ways before crossing the street. They had counted on the philanthropy of their donors without taking economics and caution into account.
 
The general lack of financial practicality and responsibility in the U.S. is glaringly obvious in all aspects of our culture. The Federal Reserve is "saving" the economy by offering cheap loans, the bait which plunged the economy into a crevasse after the recent loan-binging bubble burst. The Congress takes a paring knife to minuscule portions of the Federal budget while leaving the largest exploiters of tax money virtually untouched...the defense (war machine) contractors. Media portray ideals of selfish and boorish materialism incessantly.
 
Meanwhile, we dither as the Syrian government gasses its civilian population. Where is the charity in that?
 
Charity in the U.S. has become equated with money. We have become a nation of non-profits, many of which are personal scams to avoid taxes and/or support one individual's elaborate lifestyle of travel in luxury. The conference is the great vehicle of these non-profit pros. Like the conventions of an earlier age, where frustrated businessmen went to splashy locations to indulge in prostitution and drunken acting-out, the international non-profit conference has become the oasis of those who exploit compassion for personal gain.
 
Is there any question as to why the One Fund here in Boston is administered by a bank, as opposed to a government agency with oversight and accountability? Charity is a business.
 
By yielding to propaganda against socialism and "big government", doled out daily by corporate media, the American populace has been duped into believing they must be on their own in everything. They have been cajoled into believing they are part of a benign free market capitalism, a myth. It does not surprise me that 4,000 people who have swallowed this poison have decided they are entitled to rip off the compassionate with a fake charity. I wonder how many of them are Tea Party supporters.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Mystery

Here's a mystery for those who crave mysticism: Why do  human beings with cognition choose ignorance and stagnation over enlightenment and creative response to inevitable change? It is easy to shrug and say, "We cannot find the answer to everything?" It is more difficult to look at the reality of our lives as mortal animals. Our bodies constantly strive for homeostasis: Constant temperature, regular blood sugar, hormonal balance. But, a constant temperature of 98.6'F does absolutely nothing to stop the changes of maturing, aging and eventually dying. Yes, it is easier to pray to the heavens than to take the ultimate responsibility for my one moment-by-moment human life.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Guns

 
Why do media, all forms of news media, afford much more attention to the N.R.A. than the vast majority of Americans who opposed gun violence and demand reform?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Trash

One symptom of lack of respect for the environment is the amount of litter strewn over my neighborhood's streets daily by people in cars and on foot. I am fortunate to live among people who generally pick up in front of their property. But this is a daily struggle due to the irresponsibility of those who pass through our neighborhood. For example, this morning I was treated to half-full take-out food containers from the bistro down the street. Someone discarded the containers and the bag that contained them in front of my house.
 
We live with an elderly black cat who is more meticulous with her environment than these humans, who would surely say they are superior in intelligence and evolution to our feline friend. Is there any wonder why the government which represents this population  are blasé about climate change and other human-caused environmental issues like fracking?
 
I believe my attitude and behavior toward my personal environment reflects my internal environment. In other words, I would be prone to believe a littering slob probably has little going on in his/her mind other than his/her next donut or hamburger. We live in a time when the lowest materialistic minds scream against taxation for vital human and civic services, yet demand emergency assistance from government at every turn. This belies a concerning level of society-wide immaturity.
 
I see humanism as encompassing these simplest of behaviors in the human environment. Mindfulness which leads to compassion is far more advanced than the mindfulness that causes a driver to dispose of his/her Dunkin Donuts trash responsibly. One form of mindfulness, beginning with the simplest things, leads to the other forms of mindfulness in more complicated situations. Practicing the simplest daily forms of mindfulness and responsible behavior in any environment leads to a mind which is focused and more likely to pay attention to life's greater questions.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Gawking

Yesterday Peter and I walked to Copley Square here in Boston. It is not my favorite destination, but Peter wanted to photograph some flower beds he had seen the previous evening on his way to a meeting. I find the area alienating as a native Bostonian. It is now a Manhattan transplant.
 
The recent bombing was not on my mind until we began walking around Copley. Foreign and local tourists with cameras were everywhere. They were obviously looking for any gruesome sign of the recent madness here. Yes, I saw people with cameras looking for blood stains on the pavement at the site of the bombing. They seemed frustrated. The sidewalk has been thoroughly cleaned.
 
Terror tourists. This is perhaps one of the sickest aftermaths of that heinous violence. The media are flooded with stories of surviving amputees getting on with their lives. These tourists are relishing the memorializing of gore. The ersatz memorial of bric-a-brac, cheap flower bouquets sold by street vendors for the purpose, and all kinds of sentimental tokens looks like a market stall with aisles, populated by tourists with cameras. TV vans were parked at the curb. People pushed there way in with their narcissistic expressions of something. Some faces bore masks of determined aggression, neither sadness nor mindfulness of the true horror of violence. Others had the demeanor of Walmart shoppers. Would they want to tour the ruins of a garment factory in Bangladesh?
 
Nearby a twenty-foot length of park bench was occupied by a row of sleeping homeless men. The elaborate fountain in front of them was not in operation, as usual. It was being used by arrogant skateboarders, routinely chipping away at the structure with their little wheels. A hefty Boston cop trudged over to them. They ignored his silent waving. He eventually told them to get off. They complied grudgingly.
 
We sat on a bench at our bus stop for the return journey. The many passers-by were carrying fresh purchases from expensive shops in glossy little bags embossed with their logos. These were a richly dressed international bunch, most likely populating the posh hotels and condos nearby. They were not going anywhere near the memorial or the homeless sleepers.
 
The concept of this form of public grief is a media invention, fostered since the Princess Di memorials at Buckingham Palace forced the Royal Family to publically respond to that celebrity death. This was as much an implicit protest against aristocratic pomposity. It sells soap and cars on TV, on the Web and in magazines. The reality is that human beings, unless sensitized against violence, are drawn to it. Sitting in a traffic jam caused by accident gawkers brings this to light. Schadenfreude is a human weakness in those who are less conscious of their motivations. As a survivor of the AIDS pandemic and a nurse I can testify to this.
 
My walk with Peter yesterday has enhanced my practice. I am struggling with my own anger and disgust at what I have seen as callous curiosity. It has reminded me that the work against human violence is endless. The actions of and reactions to violence are embedded in the animal nature of our brains and bodies. Raising consciousness about the process of violence, even in the outwardly nonviolent, is part of my own humanist practice.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Questions

If you want to explore what it means to be a humanist, bathe your mind in questions...about everything. Yes, question everything. Start with questioning yourself, your motives, your actions. This will start you on a road to amazing discoveries.