Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

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The Valiant Never Taste of Death But Once

March 30, 2009

“I do not fear death. I fear that I may somehow inadvertently or purposefully bring it about.” – My paraphrasing of Timothy Holmes.

I wish I could take credit for this extreme lucidity and eloquence when I responded to the same question… I cannot. Though I did answer the question in a similar way: “No I do not fear death. I fear the deaths of others”. I for one have always confronted the idea of death with more curiosity than fear – even the darkest hours of my atheism whereupon I still agreed that the deaths of my loved ones was far more painful than my own death.

This question did arise rather suddenly and externally when myself and Mr. Holmes participated in an interview wherein the subject of death was discussed in relation to spirituality and politics. It is important, beyond the urging of my words, that we understand the entirety of modern politics is based around death and the complete desire to avoid it at all costs. Beginning with Machiavelli, and then Hobbes, and finally with Locke the idea of death becomes the foundation of rights. Natural rights flow from the nature of death.

Death’s introduction to the political order makes any answer extreme. Since our idea of life, and it’s rights, are based on death – killing becomes either grim natural reality or perverse execution. In reality it is neither.

“Death is the respite from life. It is possibly joyous and maybe even preferred.” (again another paraphrase – Tim please send me the actual quotes if you can remember them and I will errata this entry). Death as respite is something I could never believe as an atheist (though many have tried to put forward a similar concept). This understanding does come about it is in the esoteric writings of select secular philosophers who then get misquoted and misunderstood by others. It is equally important that we understand that such a concept can never be the popular understanding of the masses in a secular state.

This is not a defense or justification of religion – it is reality. The post-enlightenment birth of secular states coincides with political revolution based on the concept of death. The two need each other. If we are to understand death in a Hobbesean or Lockean way then we must see it as flowing from nature and to be the subject of reason. Thus the state shouldn’t indulge itself in the particular mythologies of churches. Thus we arrive at our modern state.

Modern religious freedom creates an accepting environment by refusing to have any religious beliefs. Thus when confronting issues of death the state must make decisions without metaphysical guide posts. This has a tendency to make the regime either act too brutally or too late. Almost every war since the Enlightenment has been a total war, an ideological war, and a devastating war. The wars have been so gruesome that even the “good guy’s” virtue was often clouded or downright abandoned. America entered the war late to save American lives – then they ended it early by dropping two nuclear weapons. Again to save American lives. Here is not the time to discuss just war theory but it is important to point out this phenomenon historically.

But here is the not the time to talk about such politics either. It is the time to point out the reasoning of a secular state. Reason, as it turns out, is no different than blind faith. It indulges itself, justifies itself, and is often used to do all sorts of bad things. Is fighting over democracy abroad any different than fighting for the glory of God? Our love of democracy is based only on post-enlightenment reason that is ultimately based on a new death theology.

What I am about to say is perhaps the most extreme thing I have ever committed to public dissection. Perhaps death isn’t all that big of a deal. Perhaps life (as we know it) isn’t all that big of a deal. It seems the greatest virtues eventually push individuals to put their own lives out of the picture. Ultimate humility, ultimate courage, and even ultimate justice sometimes demand a lack of regard for one’s own life. We are going to die. So don’t waste time fearing your death but rather fear you have not lived. Fear that you will die alone sitting watching the TV. Fear that you will have never changed another person’s life for the better. Fear that no one will mourn your death.

This idea is also dangerous. For once you realize the meaningless of death you no longer have the whip of the slave driver. The clear direction to the stars is cut short of its gravity and you’re left to drift in an apparent void. The temptation is to dive into meaningless and arbitrary faith – do not do this. This is not a justification for such irresponsibility. The fight is hard and it may flirt with that old slave driver like a mistress. It may find the bitter sting of the whip pleasant and what was once your master is now your ally. This is the most tempting and problematic effect of this new belief – one that for ages lead antiquity to the heights of greatness.

In the end, it is most likely our proximity to death that allows us to transcend and understand the things beyond our body. Only in the comfort of science could we embrace cold unfeeling atheism. Only with the soft despotism of the television could we finally give up the freedom we fought for. Only in the age of medicine and health could we devote our lives to living healthily only to realize too late that we never did anything with our 75 years. This proximity fueled our pre-science ancestors in the Renaissance who watched a great empire fall, a plague strangle Europe, and a 100 year war over a holy land they’d never see. They saw it every day and they clawed with clenched hands at the dark sky to let some light through.

The enlightenment itself started in the mild rumblings of an Earthquake in Lisbon. Such tremors have shaken the world and crumbled entire foundations. We now fear death or worse, we ignore it. But why? For what good does all this fretting and worrying do? Do we not shake the earth so badly that the ghosts of Lisbon pity us? Do those wraiths sit somewhere beyond it all fearing that one day they will be thrown back into a body and reintroduced into the fear of our skin? Perhaps I will ask them when I meet them. Perhaps they don’t even know the movement that started in their name. In which case I won’t tell them, I won’t make them worry about us, I’ll just ask about the weather or how the weather used to be.

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A Forest Through the Trees

March 9, 2009

It’s about time for another crazy rant. Here we go.

I hate supporters of the ancient astronaut theory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_astronauts). I also hate supporters of panspermia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panspermia), but that is for another post. For now let us concentrate on the Ancient Astronaut Theory (here forth known as AA).

AA claims that at some point in prehistory aliens came to earth and gifted us with knowledge and technology. This gifting accounts for our culture, our tools, and our religions. Most support for this theory comes from cave paintings, ancient architecture, and early written accounts. The theory is that such massive creations, such pointless creations, would not be created without another purpose.

AA’s absurdity is more offensive than its illogical leaps. How does one look at religious centers and doubt man’s ability to create something for no reason other than worship. We still do it today. It is, of course, unscientific to assume we do it for God, but are aliens any better? Why do people find it more comforting to assume aliens over a benevolent God? This is what I talk about when I say ‘modernity’. We’ve got our heads jammed so far up our scientific assholes that we assume just because technology is involved that it must be more true. But isn’t this the same argument as the world resting on a tortoises back? When does the ‘seeding’ end? When does man \ alien get credited for doing something on its own? Something creative and without purpose? Or something spiritual? I assume the answer is never, for a believer in AA, one would speculate that the same thing happened to those aliens and so on.

There are other problems, other than its fanatical modernism. It bases its theory on ancient depictions of aliens. It then says “See! It looks just like how we picture aliens?” Ok, genius, and how many people that draw aliens have actually seen one? How many worship them? Of course they look similar! We do the same things to aliens that they did to Gods…we make them look human. So of course they all look similar because they all look like us! So they have a dome on their head? Cyclopes had one eye, maybe they were relatives of Mike Wazowski. AA basically rapes man’s ability to be creative and discounts it as merely experiential but fails to realize that the real cause of this is our imagination being too similar to those of our ancestors. We simply can’t picture things not being like us.

Then, worst of all, AA discredits what could be their only allies. In many cases they simply contradict or deny the accounts given to them by archeologist (hence the closest we get to firsthand accounts). Why were the pyramids built? To house the dead. Not to position some space mother ship. Firsthand accounts tell us of a love for astronomy, not because of visitors from another realm, but because it was so huge! Sure a sky God might be a plausible (though ridiculous) alien, but what of Hades lord of the underworld. I suppose we have mole people too.

To add to this most ancient deities were cruel. They killed, tortured, and sometimes raped people. If these aliens are like that, why didn’t they conquer our globe. AA likes to say aliens helped us along and that this caused our ideas of a benevolent God, but let us ask the Indians about what happens when aliens visit their shores with other intent. The ancients did believe that Gods did such things as well… or are those stories magically made up while the other stories are inspired by historical fact (alien visitation)?

How screwed up is our society? We have become so modern that a belief in God is nearing impossible so to indulge our spiritual side we comfort ourselves with aliens? We have to give it a material cause, don’t we? It can’t be something greater, something more than matter, it must be something we can eventually find and study and conquer. It must be something we can ‘figure out’. How can AA look for clues in the pyramids, the bible, and cave paintings and not see the God that is so clearly in them? Like not seeing a forest through the trees.

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Give Thy Thoughts No Tongue

September 22, 2008

A question was recently brought to me by the mind of HollyMatrin on the nature of public and private property and the nature of thought. Most importantly, and at the heart of his comments, where do these two notions meet? The answer to which must remain far from our minds until we pin down what exactly the phenomenon of public property entails and what our concept of ‘ideas’ entail. First let us begin with the less mundane… the world of ideas.

Ideas are solely private phenomena. You can never share, give, or even steal an idea from anyone unless it is committed to an external media: speech, writing, etc. Unlike some other forms of property ideas are completely invisible and undetectable outside of your mind unless you will it to become external from you. The question is whether or not this choice to externalize thoughts makes the thoughts public.

On the other end of things you also have this question: Is it possible to NOT steal an idea? Once the idea or thought is committed to an external source and you obtain it from that external source is their anyway you can opt not to steal it. If the idea is a good one you would want to keep it and make it part of your own philosophy and if the idea is bad then you would want to use it as an especially poor example of those things that you do not believe in. Once you internalize the external media into your mind is the idea yours or not? If not, then aren’t we demanding our ideas be stolen… asking for them to be stolen… by putting them on external media. We cannot logically expect that after we say something it won’t be repeated, changed, or amended after our saying it by the ears that hear it. Can such be considered stealing? Or is it merely the nature of man?

So we have two extremes: The first is the thinker who comes up with the idea who willingly reveals that internal phenomena to external listeners (through speech in this example). On the other we have the listener who, if he is functioning in accordance with human nature, will internalize that external media and bring it into himself in some way. Yet, unlike in most cases of theft, the idea remains also within the original thinkers head. Can you even steal what somebody still owns after your done? We shall throw this thought aside as a mistake of language rather than an actual aid in our discussion. What we call ‘stealing’ cannot at all be used to describe this phenomenon but perhaps plagiarism or some other word could. So we remove this criticism even as it leaves my mind onto this page.

What plagiarism and stealing have in common is the idea of property. Property relies on a concept of ownership which is derived by some method of taking something to be one’s own and nobody else’s. When a person owns a thing they decide its destiny by matter of law not by nature necessarily. So hence we step away from nature while keeping it in mind. Our investigation so far has shown that ideas are naturally internal and their external manifestation is natural and perhaps even the impulse to take those ideas and make them our own is natural but such does not necessarily determine law. With that thought permanently etched into the internet, I will retire and leave whatever readers to ponder our procession thus far, but I advise anyone who questions, contemplates, or even discusses this post outside of this forum to realize what their reaction may say about the nature of this post. Even as your eyes travel across this field of letters can you be thought of as a thief?

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Out Damned Spot

April 29, 2008

Isn’t funny how the mind makes things more real than they actually are. We worry about the future, about offensive words, about things we have absolutely no control over – yet the things we can control are ephemeral, passing without notice. We have come to a cross-road in our culture where we believe in the mind and its powers but refuse to accept its panacea because of its difficulty. Buddhist monks use their minds to break steel, smash stone, and light themselves on fire without pain – yet in America we need pills to get through the night, to wake up in the morning, and to enjoy our lives. What caused this to happen? Is it merely cultural? I can barely withstand a hangnail – never mind being on fire. If all these problems: pain, depression, ADD, and despair can be solved by the mind (which is a HUGE assumption that has some proof behind it) then why do we waste our time on pills? Shouldn’t we be training ourselves to raise above these trivial concerns of the body? Do we choose our attitude – or are we hard-wired? Can we control our own beings or not? Are we subject to ADD in the same way we suffer from cancer? Is it an outside physical entity intruding on our health? What of alcoholism? Do we have a choice to drink or not? It certainly seems that every sober person can choose NOT to drink – so what’s the difference? Have we imbued temptation with so much power that it is not insurmountable – an absolute physical necessity? Or are we demonizing our enemy in order to make ourselves stronger? Hell is murky. 

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Solzhenitsyn, Czeslaw Milosz, and Tocqueville: An Eternal Golden Braid

January 19, 2008

“Moreover, since I have lived a long time in exile, I may be legitimately claimed by all those who had to leave their native villages and provinces because of misery of persecution and to adapt themselves to new ways of life; we are millions all over the Earth, for this is a century of exile.” – Czeslaw Milosz Banquet Speech 1980

I now return to anthropocentricity, and in particular evaluate the 20th century (‘the century of exile’) and how these strange sons of the enlightenment became distasteful of the direction that Western Civilization is heading in. In particular the role of extreme oppression, totalitarian regimes, and genocide on all sides turned the minds of Solzhenitsyn and Milosz toward democracy with a critical eye – but first lets turn several centuries back to a man heavily admired by Milosz: Dante Allegeri.

Why Dante? Why do we trun centuries back to Italy to discover our current dilemma? “A patron saint of all poets in exile, who visit their towns and provinces only in remembrance, is always Dante” (Milosz, Nobel Prize Lecture 1980). Dante not only embodies poetics but he was also an exile, who, unlike Milosz, could not find solace in being in the century of exile. Dante also understood anthropocentricity as he placed pride in the bottom two layers of hell, as well as the first layer of purgatory. It is the proud who become traitors, as we see Judas, Brutus, and Cassius in the mouth of the devil himself. But alas, Milosz is not talking about the pride of just one man against his fellow man, but the pride of Man against God (or anything higher than man, for that fact).

This anthropocentricity arrives as a product of the same movement that brings modern democracy – the enlightenment. Note here a delineation between modern and ancient democracies – this will be explored later. Ironically, the enlightenment also makes way for the two greatest opponents of democracy – communism and fascism (fanatical nationalism). All three governments share a commonality, which shows best their relation to anthropocentricity and the enlightenment.

Democracy is founded on the principle that man can logically understand what is best for him and that in groups his desires are checked by others to form a common good created through the fulfillment of contrary private goods. It is man who makes laws which reflect what is best for man and only through this communal process can he create a government which is just. Here anthropocentricity appears as man’s ability to rule over himself – through law.

Communism is the belief that true utopia can be created on earth by the sharing of all, and is not far from Christian Theology. However, Communism puts heaven on earth by creating an ultimate and absolute end to history whereupon all social classes are equal and all conflicts cease. Any aim short of this absolute end is deemed political heresy, and what arrives is the belief in man’s unlimited possibility to achieve this end; a faith in mankind over God.

Fascism is the bond one has with his nation – and its absolute leader and speaker. Here we see cold efficiency of tyranny combine with ideology to create a super state whose goal is the consumption of all. Fascism’s close ties to nature and scientific realism allow it to set aside justice as something higher than man, and rather embrace the cold power of the will to achieve ends – for what else is there for man other than ends – the belief in anything higher than man himself is deemed a dream.

All three were born from a single principle of the enlightenment – that man’s reason (and his reason alone) is what gives him his identity – and furthermore – his power. This power, if properly aimed, could and SHOULD master nature to make it his slave. It is cold reason which rejects anything higher (anything beyond reasoning, i.e. epiphany, faith, belief, or revelation), it is mechanical reason which applies lifeless history to known future in an attempt to reach a paradise within man’s mind, and it is short-sighted reason which dictates the new laws.

Triplets of the Enlightenment. Of whom, 1 has risen from the ashes of two world wars and one cold war. Democracy, the child of liberalism, of the ill-fated French revolution, of Locke, has stretched the globe like the once great English Empire. Democracy, the study of Tocqueville, the asylum of Solzhenitsyn, the linguistic prison of Milosz, offers freedom of the body, and enslavement of the soul. So is the contention of these three authors, who see in the world’s most prolific political institution a problem only visible from outside its persuasive walls.

Inside its walls nothing is clearer than the supremacy of democratic Western ideas – it is enough to fuel wars and commit atrocities so long as democracy is preserved and is allowed to metastasize. Allowed to escape criticism by being in the shadows of its two brothers for an entire century, it has now emerged as a beast too big to be fed, but it eats and it is still hungry. The two biggest modern critics of this beast are already layer before you (Solzhenitsyn and Milosz), and interestingly, grew up under the oppressive weight of democracy’s twin; communism (Milosz having experienced all three triplets of the Enlightenment when Nazi Germany invaded Poland).

How could these two writers be so critical of democracy? The answer lies in exile, and in Dante Allegeri. 

More on Dante’s role, and role of Exile, in the criticism of Democracy to come… but I feel enough head way has been made to warrant a rest to better distance ourselves from this material for a short while.

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Rome Wasn’t Burned in a Day

September 21, 2007

We didn’t start the fire – Billy Joel

Every once and a while you need a forest fire. You have to set things right again, back to the start, bathed in ashes. Aristotle once said that man is the only animal who can be sad after sex. Sex is a reminder than you will die. We must have sex because we must die so we must make replacements for ourselves. It is in this manner that the first sprouts of life first break the thick black ash reminder of a forest fire.

Heraclitus, who believed that the only constant was change, thought that the world was made of fire. Modern science has brought us back to this classical position. It seems that energy is at the bottom of everything. The entire universe is change. We expand, we contract, we live, we die. We see our mortality in the eyes of our children. Those tiny little lanterns carry the fire of the soul onto into the world.

There is an idea out there that our entire history has been a progress. The idea, despite its clear faults, has found tremendous support in the technological age. Medicine allows us to waste twice as much time as any of our ancestors could’ve dreamed of. I ask this: What good is a long life unless you are a Shakespeare? a Michelangelo? We just delay the fire, we set it against the horizon and let the bright neon lights of the city drown out its beautiful purple and pink hues.

Death, that ever present spark, has found ways of reminding us of our frail human lives. Despite our childish invincibility we still watch the undeserving die. We say “they are going to a better place” while we are dressed in the black suits of mourning but we worship Bertrand Russell around the water cooler in our posh suit and tie. Nietzsche smiles, but we blink, and we miss it.

Isn’t it strange how every person believes that the time they live in is the best. Everything around them is the greatest (in evil or good). It is the best of times it is the worst of times. Nobody is ready to admit that they condition they live in is actually bland and normal. Every condition is unique and peculiar. Every trial is harrowing, every achievement is the greatest. Tradition and history have been outstripped by progress.

An Example:

Verizon’s slogan “progress every day”. We are driven. We are going forward but not in any direction. Progress means something different to everyone yet everyone believes we are making it. Progress means abandoning the things you have, the past, the history, the tradition. Progress carries an automatic validation that does not allow for question. Things are labeled as progress before their results can truly be seen. Unfortunately progress is seen in past tense. Like a child looking through the back seat of a Volkswagen, or a man watching the sun set behind New York City, or a man dressed in ill-fitting uncomfortable cotton linens in a hospital bed who has finally made the choice to throw in the towel. Tell the dead and dying about progress and the silence will laugh the loudest.

We can now turn ashes into diamonds. A cremated loved one can now be a piece of jewelry. The once mysterious rebirth of a phoenix has a price tag. Ashes were once part of vital Native American ceremonies and Catholic dogmatic practice. Now they are sold to the highest bidder. Try growing a tree in a pit of diamonds and it will die. The circle is being interrupted. Everyone wants eternity, immortality, irresponsibility. 

Thought: Morality is inherently tied to Mortality – Read Hans Jonas.

Who are we to be? Prometheus? Nero? Billy Joel? Perhaps even Guy Montag? Has the problem grown out of our control? Are we little children setting ants on fire with a magnifying glass? Or are we the ants? No answers this time around. Only more questions