Contrast

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Rocket science is supposed to be hard: to learn, to apply, to justify. In contrast (this is a straightforward word that doesn’t seem to hide anything) the intimate life of people, including one’s self, should at least be perceived as easy. Which, really, only begs the question: why are people so determined to compare apples and oranges? Maybe it is the “new” brain dismissing and rebelling against its forebears

If they have anything in common though, both rocket science and self/social awareness require prolonged, persistent application, taking over for a while life itself. And truly, I believe that we need to do both, just at different stages of our lives.

For instance, while rocket science is the domain of university life, the other subject belongs to the teenage years. This may seem a bit strange, given the research outlining that the brain is under construction during those years. But social and self awareness are, in my opinion, the “construction” part. Not hard to see: the reading, the all night talking, the constant challenge of rules, the risk taking. The absolute self-absorption, the realization of untold power… challenged by the painful vulnerability to each and every outside prod.

I was lucky (no, really?) that I was expected to “know thyself”, that I had books and people and an environment safe enough that I went through my teenage years while not suffering more than the minimum possible.

I emerged clutching my prize, so to speak. I had hope, I had faith, I had love, to quote one of my Christian friends. I had them literally, not in any religious sense, although religion has also played a big part in the making of this agnostic evolutionist with eyes firmly fixed on humanity.

That learning stood me in good stead. Years later, when adulthood seems too much like hard work, when I crave solitude and the meeting of souls, when conversation of any depth is much rarer than I would wish for, chafing at obsolete rules, I deem myself lucky. For I know the contrast, I know what we are capable of. I know the potential that is in us. Lost under routine and poorly understood responsibilities, there is so much more to us than just that great leveller, the daily struggle.

So the plan for today is to have deep conversations with people I love. To re-arrange the clothes’ horses to allow room in the lounge, so that the pacing can resume in glorious solitude, late at night. To read a few pages at least of a book that doesn’t expect anything less than total involvement.

And you know what? I will do it, too!

Greed

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For once, this is not from Latin 🙂

But that is not the most interesting thing about this word. This would have to go the the unification by result of two opposites (plus and minus, yin and yang) into a characteristic that ranges from humorous to fatal. I shall attempt to explain.

Stepping into the realm of ethics, most especially applied ethics, you will meet terms like vice, virtue and in religious terms, sin. Greed is one of the sins or vices that has been considered fundamental, major, capital. In other words, really, really bad.

If Aristotelian etichs looks at virtues in the middle and vices (two of them for each virtue!) stemming from taking said virtue to extreme, then greed and miserliness don’t seem to be exact opposites. The opposite of a miser would be a spendthrift, not a greedy person. The opposite of greed would be probably someone who would not reach out for necessities (I understand that eating disorders were at one stage considered a part of a sin).

But when it is considered a sin it also includes miserliness. Which it, in some way, its opposite. Looking at it mathematically, greed is a plus, miserliness is a minus. A greedy person is always seeking addition to his already existent possessions (of anything, really, not just money), while a miser is going to extremes to avoid subtraction of his already existing posessions.

You can also have a person who is both greedy and a miser. The sin of greed unifies them anyway not by intent (which is different), but by result. The result is the unavailability of resources for anyone else. Whether you take them out as miser or grasping more of them as a greedy person, you are not making them available to others who might need them. That lack of generosity, charity and consideration for others is considered a sin, rather than the more neutral wealth.

Religiously speaking, in the end, greed is a sin of the self and, as such, linked with pride. Evolutionary speaking, it is not so clear cut… up to a point. Those who grasped more (food, hunting teritory, females, other resources) had a better chance of survival so at an individual level they would have been stronger and more likely to have strong progeny. But people did not evolve as solitary animals, on the contrary, so at a species level I believe the selfish genes select for co-operation and that leads to sharing of resources. Communities of people around the world, “civilized” or not, have careful, extensive and sometimes enforceable rules around the sharing of resources.

Greed was given as an explanation for people’s disregard for their environment once community took a backstep to industry, once there was a distance between the food you eat and the place where that food originates from, once  individual values were required and the social ones were “nice-to have”, once “team building” had to be taught in workplaces…

And if you read the paragraph above, you also see what can be done about it.

A way back?

Versus

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Hm, Latin makes an appearance yet again… why is it that the interesting words almost always come from Latin? This one hasn’t even been changed much! It means turned to face something, opposite. And today, from two different areas influenced by religion (Christianity in this case), the duality it implies demands a bit of analysis.

The first area that brought duality on my mind is the environment. I remember being a very young student, taking the environment for granted but starting to realize the extent to which humans change it. I had heard about an organization that protected animals from excessive hunting and I happened to talk to a devout Christian about it. He disagreed with that organization because he thought they interfered with his fundamental religious right to do what he pleased with the environment, as said in his Holy Book, right at the beginning (Genesis). It had not occurred to me at that time that people considered themselves lords and rulers of the Earth. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up around and among people, in the world of people. I was aware from books and TV of animals and plants that exceeded human abilities by magnitudes. I suppose I just saw us as very different, sharing the same whole world but with humans interested only in the domesticated species, while leaving the others alone. I know, naïve, huh? I hadn’t thought that there might not be enough space for everybody – there are no trees in a wheat field, are there? And once we domesticated sheep, well, wolves really had to go, right?

The second area that brought duality on my mind is art. I love reading about art, especially figurative art (where I don’t have to wonder what the artist meant by it). Just as an aside, one of my friends brought home to me how Eurocentric my education really is (well, with good reason!). I remember talking to her about European history and I realized that, not being European herself, she had an idea about what I was talking about, but not necessarily the time and the significance of the time for the history, the art and even the religion. Ultimately though, being a devout Christian herself, I was able to use the religious timeframe to put it in context for her. Truly, I know much less about her timeframe than she knows about mine, and that is a sobering thought!

But back to art, this book I was reading covered very thoroughly the period on time in Europe (and neighbourhood) after Christianity became a lawful religion, therefore it could begin to truly influence art. The intensity of feeling around this new religion was quickly evident in artistic expression, even though this remained essentially figurative. Even though it was not doctrine, the conflict between Christians and non-Christians started to be assimilated to the perceived conflict between body and spirit, between Nature and Heavens. Nature and body and non-Christian (believing maybe that one god controls thunder and another the sun) needed to be subdued, conquered, put in their places. In art, it means that perspective all but disappeared, important people took front stage with stiff bodies and huge, intense, disembodied eyes and nature only took the symbolic place that showed the spirit’s purification.

Seventeen centuries later some are still struggling with this duality, still try to impose a hierarchy with people at the top, even evolutionists 🙂 We call it progress.

Maybe we need to look beyond?

Details

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The devil might be in them… have you noticed how much religion influences every day speech – that’s exactly the type of detail that I find endlessly fascinating! Detail is also the mainstay of mindfulness, and many an endeavour has depended on tiny things, often overlooked.

I usually advocate big picture thinking, great issues that still need thinking about, people being put in the wide world context, perspective. And the more I do the above, the more I realize that fitting in the details gives you a far better bigger image… like a digital photo, with size and quality of pixels give you a blur …or a masterpiece.

Our entire lives are made of details. Sometimes all you can do is go through one more breath. One minute when your lover is late is literally an age! If you are the tidying up sort, an entire day can pass without you breaking into a sweat doing anything major, just lots of tiny things. If you have a particular way of doing things, someone messing even a small thing can make you uncomfortable.

Details also take a long time to notice and to put into the big puzzle. In the days without computers, TV, telephone, trains, planes etc. observing details was the only way of figuring out things… and people. People would spend literally hours dissecting every move, every word, every intonation. A girl’s entire life, a man’s entire fortune could sometimes depend on those details being accurately assessed.

Predicting the future (should you wish to do so… I have made my opinion clear in a previous post) is also much more precise if you pay attention to the details. Patterns and generalities, assumptions and beliefs are all very nice, but a few details puzzled together have a better chance of being true… and useful!

And it’s that usefulness, or at least meaning, that makes paying attention to details either a waste of time or extremely pleasing. It is the big picture, the perspective, the story you make your brain believe that will kick start it into noticing the little things. Your brain is good at it as a rule, but you’ve got to help it out! You know the type of world we are living in. I read somewhere that we receive in one day the same amount of information people two centuries ago would receive in a lifetime. Your brain can’t possibly remember everything. It will try to filter (and it is helped by our technology) and sometimes will not register anything. I can spend two hours on Facebook (once a month) and not remember more than 2-3 things, even though I may have shared 7. By next day I will not remember any of those either. 🙂

You can spend a lifetime like this, and some do. When religious people complain about this generation losing meaning, they might be on to something, even though their solution is not general. Life times, as I said above, are made of details. Which ones to choose? Which ones to discard? Which filter, and when? But most importantly, why? How is my life better, richer, more fulfilling by paying attention to this particular detail?

I have been lucky – my pathway has been chosen for me. If you need a push, then the first thing is to make time (take “paying attention to” to mean “I will pay with time to focus on”) and, either alone, or with friends who matter, or family who care, figure out the horizon you want to ride your camel (or your Harley!) towards.

Then ride!

Love

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Yep, I have been avoiding the subject for a while, for obvious reasons. I may also have to revisit it at a later date, for the same obvious reasons. 🙂

“I love you” is possibly the most common English phrase, probably slightly behind another expression using a four letter word, “F*** off”. It is endlessly discussed, debated, analyzed, sung about and reams of paper have been used to describe various contextual narratives. It does not mean the same thing to two people, it does not exist/cannot be translated as such in all languages and is blunt and non-specific compared with the subtlety of other words it is translated as.

Yes, I know, I am still avoiding the subject. Whingeing, you could say 🙂 Lucky for me, I am not in the business of saying new things, just maybe put together some old ones in a slightly unusual way.

Let’s start with 1:13 Corinthians. Not because of any religious preference, rather from a personal preference, as I believe whoever wrote it was on to it… just maybe not in English. Modern English, that is. The Corinthians passage found in any inspirational setting is commonly known as talking about love. A short search on the internet shows this to be a very novel idea, less than half a century old. I filtered it for the languages I knew the word “love” in and the result was a bit surprising. Modern versions of the Bible talk indeed of love. Older versions of the same Bible talk about charity. This seems to hold true for Romance languages and English (compare King James with New English Standard). German uses the same word, Maori uses the same word, Russian seems to use the same word. Which just proves that what we call love means different things for different people at different times doing very different things.

It would be interesting if speakers of other languages (Asian and African especially) who know English well could check their versions.

I tend to use the older version for that particular passage for one simple reason: I am a child of my age and what I call love was not what 1:13 Corinthians is all about.

I call love the most selfish of all feelings humans are capable of.

Take the love of any God/dess. Take the love of people (parents, children, lovers, friends, neighbours, general population). Take the love of objects or animals or activities.

Now have those “objects” do unspeakable things to you. Ignore you, maim you, kill you.

Tell me, did it change any single iota of your feeling? Can you do anything to change that feeling? For me, the answer is no. They cannot change anything. I cannot change anything. Love remains. Selfish.

And yet if this love is not, the most benevolent deity, the best of people, the cutest of animals and the most useful of activities will not be able to move you. Selfish.

You want to shout it to the world, even if that world is limited to your inner one.

Justice and rule, custom and tradition, principle and wellbeing, all fall by the wayside. Love is the only , incongruous, possibility.

Powerful.

Marriage

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I would like to have a chat with an evolutionary biologist or anthropologist one day. (In fact I would like to study those subjects.) The question I have is: do you ever feel like an alien?

Do you, sitting down at your computer and sending long words into a cloud that has nothing to do with cumulonimbus, do you have that self-righteous feeling that if only “civilized” people would behave more naturally a lot of problems might just be avoided?

(Deists might ask themselves the same questions, they would probably define “naturally” in another way)

Civilized people are the only species on this planet that ignore natural rhythms for reasons other than safety (think 8 hour work day, 5 days a week for an entire year, ignoring circadian, seasonal , climatic and personal objections).

Civilized people are the only ones who insist on wearing clothes when there is no need to and contort their bodies in awkward positions like sitting on chairs or the toilet.

Civilized people are the only ones who do not know what, how and when to eat.

And of course, they are the only ones that I know of whose genders come together in close relationships that have nothing (much) to do with survival – children, food, protection, safety etc.

I have a good opinion about the above coming together. In all its many forms. Including marriage, as it happens. (And when I talk of marriage, it’s a general term, a bit easier to say than “the coming together etc.etc.).

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I never was one who wanted or wished to get married. I never dreamt of beautiful ceremonies or ritualized commitments. So of course I found myself married 🙂

The marriages I had known about before have not been inspiring. Abuse, routine, divorce, nagging, cheating, compromise, hard work, what was there to like? Reading about marriage wasn’t much better, given that people of different cultures sanction marriages for all kinds of reasons that sound odd to say the least: getting pregnant, money and property, inheritance, power, promises, religion.

So, do I have the recipe for the perfect marriage? No. I have a recipe for a good marriage, mine to be exact. So for my marriage, this holds true: you need to start from a position of strength. Please note that I didn’t say equality, just strength. I was not pressured, commanded, pushed, coerced or cajoled into marriage. Nor did I need it. It was a choice of mine, and as such I am committed to it.

If the first condition is met, I reckon you are halfway there. But wait, there’s more 🙂

The second condition: being people takes precedence over everything else. Sounds basic, but culture and religion tend to prescribe a lot of what goes on in the privacy of one’s marriage. Number of people in that marriage, for example. The gender of the people in that marriage. The sexual positions that are acceptable. Who does the cooking, washing, cleaning in that marriage. Who works, rules, counts in that marriage. And if those tenets do not suit the people in that marriage? I say that the people come first. Rules that don’t serve the people do not a good marriage make.

The third condition: lay down the rules and don’t change them unless you change. Define cheating and personal space. Clarify points of contention and acceptable forms of endearment. Argue about the important things so you can compromise on the trivial. Be sure you can live with the other one’s rules.

You can love, like, help, support, respect, admire, hate, dislike, ignore and despise the other to your heart’s content at different times of the day. Be tender, playful, generous or the opposite. Food needs to be cooked, children need to be cherished, work around the house needs to be done. You can do that with flatmates, friends, genetic family. But if I want a good marriage, it behooves me to practice what I preach 🙂