Monday, September 18, 2017
As a member of the group Homo Sapiens, I want to make clear how I see myself and the rest of humanity. First of all I do not identify as an Atlantan. Atlanta is a big, mediocre city that is more liberal than not. Fine. I could just as well live in Seattle, Big Sur, Hawaii, Ireland, Scotland, or New Zealand...
I do not identify, therefore, as Georgian, or Southern, or American in the narrow sense of the U.S. or the broad sense of North and South American. Geographic origin is unimportant to me. I don't care what region of the world my ancestors inhabited.
My grandmother told me I have all races in me. That was good enough for me when I was a child, and it is good enough for me now. Others see me as white, though I am flesh colored with a hint of salmon (Lord knows I eat enough salmon). Naive, or not, I find that "White" or Caucasian means nothing to me. Perhaps if I were clearly Black or Jewish or some other historically persecuted minority, I would think differently. Perhaps not, for there are Jews and Blacks in my family. I do feel that the persecution of gays throughout history has something to do with me. Yet, I abhor all racial, sexual, and religious persecution. In the history of the world, there have been great and marvelous people of every race; and there have been even more villains, knaves, bigots, and hateful people in every race. Genocide has been the rule over and over again; it still is. Look at Myanmar, for example. As a human being I feel proud of the good and loving people in each race as I am ashamed of the evil or bigoted beings.
I do identify as bisexual; in part because I think being bisexual is part of being fully human. Are we born with a tendency to be more straight or gay? I honestly don't know. I've generally held to the Kinsey Scale on that subject. I have loved people of all the major races and both sexes. I love the diversity of humanity. The torture and murder conducted by the Inquisition and by all similar religious or nationalist societies that show no religious, ethnic, or moral tolerance horrify me. That is why I repeat often the view of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights authored in part by Eleanor Roosevelt. Human rights over-ride religious rites.
There is another form of prejudice that it is essential to recognize: Ageism. At 70 I am aware of this often subtle discrimination. Not so subtle is a hatred of old white males because of the evil done by many old white males. But that is just as much bigotry as any other form. Simone De Beauvoir wrote a moving and brilliant book on how society, especially Western society, perpetuates ageism.
Simone de Beauvoir's Philosophy of Age: Gender, Ethics, Time
Because of hatred, bigotry and genocide; because of our overall disregard of other life forms and nature; it is my view that we shall not survive as a species. Climate change, pollution, wars, and over-population will all eventually destroy us. All the more reason to enjoy the beauty and love, the joy of life as much as we are able, with compassion for other humans and for nature.
Thursday, September 07, 2017
My grandmother died when I was 16; I could not understand how things just went on as before. I wrote a poem about the world spinning on without a wince of grief. The thought was naive and self-centered. Yet now, as the catastrophes in India barely make the news, as the Western wildfires rage hardly noticed, as even the death and destruction of Harvey fade before the current news stories and awe over Irma, I think what I wrote might have touched the tip of an iceberg of social consciousness concerning loss and suffering. Not only are we deficient in our attention to world disasters, we are quick to forget most of the horrors we witness. Witness Nazi and Confederate flags in our streets today. The people with memory, compassion, understanding, and willingness to help, to change the very causes of suffering are rare. We are mentally and physically limited and can only endure so much before turning away completely. We do not learn. Not most of us, anyway. Jung's Collective Unconscious has that flaw, it is not conscious, not as morally aware as we need. My grandmother lived and died, had joys and pain, cared for her grandchildren. She disappears into Death's dateless night. So shall we all.
Tuesday, September 05, 2017
Evening Orchid on our screen porch.
Today feels like the first day of autumn. The French doors are open to the cool breeze. Sunlight and shadow from the Crepe Myrtle form a dancing pattern on the living room curtains. The leaves of the oaks are pure green. The sky is pure blue.
The climate disasters happening around the world, from India to Texas, to the Caribbean, have weighed on my mind the past weeks. How is it possible to be indifferent to the suffering and the loss faced by millions of people? What should my response be to this destruction of human existence and livelihood by the forces of Nature? It is tempting to do what so many do: give a little money to the Red Cross or other charity, and go about my business. I haven't the means to do more. Right? Could I roll up my sleeves, quit my job, and take my 70-year-old self to Texas to help rebuild Houston? Alas, I am not Jimmy Carter.
Yet, I cannot ignore what is happening, either. As a philosopher, I am driven by the question of a mindful response. How do I reconcile sitting on my porch, sipping my coffee, eating something with cinnamon and honey, enjoying the cool breeze when such horrors are taking place ?
There is no ethical answer for me. There is only the wider perspective. I see civilization as a Mandala, as a sand painting:
Chenrezig sand mandala created at the House of Commons of the United Kingdom on the occasion of the Dalai Lama's visit in May 2008
The Buddhists who create such beauty in the form of mandalas are aware of impermanence. They do not try to keep what by nature cannot last. The mandala has been known and used in the creation of art and religious symbols in virtually all civilizations. Psychologists have studied the relationship of the mandala to the human psyche. Jung was especially enchanted by mandalas and their universality. In its own way, the Total Eclipse we saw in August was a perfect Mandala.
Photograph by Steve Killian
By accepting impermanence, by knowing that the world of becoming will perish -- unlike Plato's world of being, of pure forms-- we can more fully appreciate and love what beauty there is, what wonders we experience. The orchid above will wither and decay. Flawed humans, bent on development, over-population, wars, materialism, and competition, will bring about the destruction of the very habitat they need to survive. Humans will undermine their own existence, taking with them countless other species. Given our present conditions, given the facts presented by the scientists and those enlightened enough to follow their reason from what is happening to the approaching future, the inevitability of our death is certain. Knowing the sublime Mandala's erasure, its scattering, is at hand, I return to my porch, to the lovely morning, to the timely sound of the wind-chime.
Fresh flames rage at Texas chemical plant flooded by Harvey
Tonight, the strongest storm ever to arise from the Atlantic Ocean brings terror to the Islands and eventually, it seems, to Florida. Its winds near 200 mph. portend even more climate disaster. This time it may be the Mandala that wipes us away, rather than the other way around.