The West is in a constant war with reality: perpetually dissatisfied with what is, we are desperately trying to perfect it. This one and only reality seems never enough and we feel ever entitled to more: bigger houses, bigger (hybrid) cars, bigger (Anime-sized) eyes, bigger market shares, bigger tax deductions, bigger incomes, bigger bonuses, bigger breasts, bigger penises, bigger egos, and bigger wars. We have been culturally programmed to endlessly optimize and supersize, and to constantly perfect ourselves and everyone else around us.
Our appetite for more has been kindled to the level of insatiability. No wonder we feel psychologically starved and existentially empty.
We have been taught to chase the unattainable: to be more than what we are at any given point in time. We are a culture of idealistically naive strivers unable to be content with what is if only for a moment. This absurdly unrealistic goal (to be more than what we are at any given point in time) comes with the high cost of psychological dependence. Feeling chronically imperfect, we sell out for reassurance, validation and approval. Feeling chronically incomplete, we compete in consumption and stuff ourselves beyond measure.
This chronic deficit of self-acceptance becomes a matter of national deficit and undermines the socio-political independence of our society. Long-term sovereignty of a nation rests with psychological independence of its constituents. A nation of psychologically insecure denizens is at war with itself, and is, thus, divided.
Blind justice (that doesn’t see the inevitable context of any given event) isn’t justice. Such blind justice is plain old ignorance.
But the justice that sees (the justice that factors in the context) is no justice either. The justice without the blindfold – the justice that looks at you, sees you as you, and then judges you according to your perfectly imperfect limitations – is simply the bias of compassion.
To restate: blind justice is ignorance and justice that sees is bias.
So, what do we have here? A word “justice.” An empty word and a bit of old poetry: “Justice is just what is” (1).
The word “forgiveness” has a lot more existential resonance to my ear than the empty legalistic echo of the word “justice.”
(1) Totem of Tautology: From a Sense of “i” to a Sense of Awe! (P. Somov)
There is no evil. Do an inventory of this planet and you will find no living, breathing, menacing evil. There is just human behavior, in all its self-serving short-sightedness. Evil is a concept, a reification of an observed pattern. It is a useful semantic short-cut to flag dangerous (as in “unsafe”) people. But there is no evil per se.
The topic of evil has been a long-standing interest of mine and this writing is to acknowledge that a major cultural milestone has been reached in the discussion of evil. Read Simon-Baron Cohen’s “The Science of Evil” or at least a review of it by NY Times.
Much of what I have been blogging and writing about has been focused on compassion and forgiveness. As I see it, all human behavior breaks down to two elements of psychology: motive and effort. Motive is universal: we are all pursuing wellbeing, moving from minus to plus, operating – at core – on the pleasure principle. So, in this sense, we are all motivationally-innocent. No evil here. Just living. Effort-wise, we are all doing the best we can at any given moment in time. Of course, one’s best is safe and beneficial to others but another’s best is dangerous and even possibly sadistic. Why is that?
Summertime means bugs (particularly, stink bugs in Eastern US). Bugs bug us. We don’t like to be bugged so we kill bugs. We are playing gods, taking it upon ourselves to decide matters of life and death. No big deal, right? After all, it’s just a bug, right? Right, it is just a bug.
Where am I going with this? Right here, to this thought: you are missing an opportunity for compassion-training. Get yourself a $30 dollar BugZooka (which is a battery-free, catch-and-release, pump action hand-vac) and spend this summer practicing compassion.
Let me clarify a couple of things. First, I am not advocating for bugs. I am advocating for myself. I live in the world that is more of a jungle than it theoretically has to be, in a world that plays mindless god left and right, in a world that could certainly benefit from a bit of compassion-training. This kind of world is unsafe, for me, for you, for anyone. So, my interest in compassion-training is entirely self-serving. Sure, I care about the bugs too.
Case in point, one recent morning as I got up to wash my face there was a moth in the sink on its back, flapping its wings. It was stuck. Its wings were “glued” to the walls of the sink by the moisture. I opened the trashcan and rummaged for something thin yet hard to help the moth peel off away from the surface of the sink. I found the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper and tried to use this. It didn’t work: as I tried to scoop up the moth, I kept damaging its wings and it would flap wiggle its body in desperate agony. I felt like Saddam Hussein in a torture chamber with a captive audience.
I knew the BugZooka wouldn’t work in this situation because the wet moth would be stuck inside the capture chamber and I’d have to scrape it out somehow. So, I opened the faucet, hoping that as the water fills up the moth might be able to flip over on its stomach at which point I could try to scoop it out once again. It didn’t work. It got sucked into the drain to its death. I felt bummed out for a moment: as primitive of a life as it was, it ended. There was no lingering guilt (after all, I did the best I could) just a moment of regret, a moment of identification, a moment of compassion, a moment of humanity.
Knowing how to forgive is an essential, if not the essential skill of mindful loving. I’d like to offer you an example of betrayal and forgiveness, from Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a very complex work with multiple layers of meaning. To date, the book has been translated into 65 languages – more than any other novel. So, for those of you who aren’t familiar with this work, I will only summarize the part of the story that is relevant to the topic of betrayal and compassion.
Winston Smith, a civil servant/bureaucrat responsible for maintaining the propaganda of the Party, is a citizen of the Big-Brother totalitarian regime. He falls in love with Julia, a mechanic that repairs novel-writing machines. They develop a romantic-dissident relationship in a society that had banned both love and freedom of thought.
They are set up by a party member, O’Brian, and are eventually captured by Thought Police. They are interrogated and tortured. O’Brian explains that the Party wants power for the sake of power and aims to extinguish any form of free thought and individual partiality (such as romantic attachments; love, after all, is a form of partiality and individual bias). During this psychologically and physically trying re-programming and re-education, Winston quickly breaks down – he confesses anything just to escape further turmoil. O’Brian, who is personally responsible for this re-education, however, is not convinced. He believes that Winston still loves Julia. To help Winston break through this attachment, he designs a custom-made torture for Winston.
When “the body is but the foam of a wave” (as Dhammapada teaches), the mouth has nothing to do but to foam with words.
It’s always been like that. What’s a haiku but a medieval tweet?! Mind watches its own passing and mourns itself with verbal sentimentality. Community through communication.
This constant communication-compulsion to rejoin the stream of “what is” is what makes this communal life-stream flow in the first place. Pour out!
Thoughts on today’s article in the New York Times, Today’s Lab Rats of Obesity Studies: Fattened Monkeys.
A year – astronomically – is a spin of a celestial object around a center of gravity. In our – Earthly – case, a year is, of course, a spin around the Sun.
As we yearn for stability and balance in our lives, we are zipping around the Sun at an orbital speed of 30 kilometers per second (that’s 108,000 kilometers per hour) – and not down some well-paved straight line, but on a perpetual curve, without any chance of ever getting off this mind-boggling ride!
Ponder this as well: a straight line is but a geometrical abstraction. We live in the world of tremendous centripetal/ego-centric forces and inevitable curvatures.
Lean into the sky with your stare.
See all of its black infinity behind the azure blue of the familiar.
Realize that all, all, all of that is you!
I know, I know
You thought it was just you.
I know you thought it was all quite simple:
That there was you and not-you,
That there was this you here and all that not-you there.
All of it is you.
Greed is the real dirt, not dust;
Greed is the term for real dirt.
The wise have shaken off this dirt.