Tuesday, March 7, 2017


The term "operating principle" (similar to Latin's modus operandi) implies movement. This is the crucial difference between having principles and following absolutes. Principles are evolving, living processes. Absolutes are prescribed commands or rules to be followed as devised and handed down. This may explain why so many religious people are sadly unprincipled. 

Principles are not given or handed down from above. To have principles, a person must actively commit to some consciously chosen standards of thought and behavior. This takes education and work. Yesterday's principle can easily turn into stale stubbornness for lack of its being nourished by fresh information and thoughtful challenges. 

The two great commandments of the Biblical Christ illustrate the difference between religion and principles. I have always been impressed with these as the symbol of the Christian revolution against Old Testament absolutism. The first cardinal directive from that Christ reinforces Old Testament monotheism, the foundation of Jewish identity: Love the Lord, your God, above all else. However, the second is revolutionary: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. This second commandment stabs at the heart of a hierarchic, absolutist society, based on hereditary provenance and economic status. It is a principle by which to live daily life outside the temple of absolutes. Its elevation to equal monotheism by the Biblical Christ is perhaps the best thing in all Christendom because it is an exhortation to nonviolence and compassion simply on the basis of shared humanity. 

Human beings appear to naturally prefer absolute directives over individual principles. Two thousand years after this suggestion of principled living by the supposed icon of morality in The West, human beings are still living selfishly and greedily while justifying that behavior through hollow theology, cleverly devised over centuries to absolve disregard for Christianity's basic message. Even secularists are slowly sliding back into those shadows of conformist denial of principles in favor of popularity and acceptance. Top-down economics simply reflect top-down morality, practiced by the educated elite to control/exploit the uneducated masses. This isn't Marxism. This is simply an observation of modern life.

Principles are integral to science. The scientific method is based on principled behavior, based on agreed conditions for research, experimentation and reporting within disciplines. What some scientists do with their scientific discoveries may be totally unprincipled. This usually entails using their discoveries for profit or politics. I back this up by pointing out that the Soviet Union, a dysfunctional mess economically and politically, was far more scientific than The West in its time. The quarantining of Russia by Western capitalists has deprived and still does deprive The West easy access to some of the world's great scientific minds.

Dogmatic ideologies, based in absolutes, are meant to bend individual principles to a common purpose, usually involving violence and power historically. For example, the Biblical message of the Christ of Christians is explicitly nonviolent and anti-capitalist. The Christian West is greedily capitalist and violent by political will. Capitalism is rapidly evolving toward totalitarian absolute as the global economic model. No wonder truly Christian Vatican pronouncements are seldom given much air time, as opposed to the papal announcements which support globalist-capitalist politics. 

Non-religious Buddhism, "Source Buddhism", accessed by individual reading and practice based on that reading, is perhaps the most credible principled ideology alive in today's world. It is amazingly atheistic and non-dogmatic for its time. It speaks to the individual without any prescribed reliance on rabbi, priest or imam. Its closest thing to an absolute is this: "Unintentional human life in a material world is suffering." And this has been substantiated scientifically thousands of years later. We are all inevitably doomed to decay and death, but we know mental health and physical well being are achievable through mindful living in practice. 

Developing principles through any chosen means is the process of maturing as an open and educated human being. Learning about our ancient forebears' prescriptions for behavior is helpful as long as it is not twisted into a method for subjugating minds to some group-think purpose. Studying religions, without falling prey to their seductive laziness of mind, is a good start for becoming a person of principles. Dawdling there, however, is counterproductive and corrupting.  Education without application is selfish, in my opinion. "Do as I say, not as I do." is the height of hypocritical lack of principles. This is the disease that comes with religious fundamentalism of any kind. 

Whether human beings will turn from their current course toward absolutism (and away from individual principles) is most likely the test of whether we grow as a species or devise our own decline. The seemingly unavoidable pressures of mindless capitalism, overpopulation and environmental decline may simply push most humans into the waiting arms of those who wish to dictate and control. This may be an inherent flaw of our species, part of a an evolutionary balance. It may also be an unnecessary waste of an exceptional evolutionary development, the human brain, on this once-beautiful and very rare planet. 

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