Saturday, November 25, 2017

Suppose . . .

I have begun thinking lately about a world without religion. Recently, my wife and I watched Spotlight, the devastating film about the role of the Catholic Church in the priestly pedophile scandal. It seemed clear at the time, and the film makes it very clear, that the entire Catholic Church, all the way to the top, knew of its priestly criminal behavior, and not only did nothing, but actively worked to cover up the scandalous behavior.  And I came away thinking, why is this basically immoral institution still in existence? Of course, I realize one might say the same thing about virtually every global bank on the planet, but still, the Church stands out for chutzpah.
And then I began thinking . . . suppose, just suppose, that this scandal so rocked the world of organized religion that the entire edifice came crashing down, bringing with it not only the Catholic Church, but all religious entities everywhere. That people worldwide saw this as evidence that the rulers of organized religion everywhere were simply amoral scoundrels, and they should be cast aside.
Suppose . . .
Then what would follow?
Would the world suddenly become moral and highly principled? One could make a case for that scenario I assume. People globally, would begin to understand that morality and human kindness must after all begin with them, individually. That they must now begin operating according to commonly understood standards of decency.
It could happen. After all, many people do that right now, without the aid of a churchly admonition.
Then I thought, but on the other hand . . .
Suppose, just suppose, one removed the threat of eternal damnation from the world of ordinary humans. That all humans everywhere finally understood the likely truth, that there would be no eternal anything, either damnation or heavenly rewards.  That the mostly likely scenario for death is this:

You are still alert, but your breathing becomes shallow, slows, and your awareness begins to drift off. You now only vaguely sense that you are still in the world. Then, suddenly, your heart stops beating, and your brain is deprived of oxygen. So, after a very brief time, your brain loses awareness. And then, it is over, this thing we call LIFE. And we do not know it’s over, because we have no awareness. We do not see a light off in the distance. We do not “see” anything. Because our brain no longer functions.  We do not awaken to find ourselves on a bus, or a train to heaven, or even to hell.  We do not do or perceive anything, because, again, our brain no longer functions.  And, as it turns out, there is no brain substitute or alternative called the Soul.  So, nothing follows. No journey, no arrival at the gates of heaven or the gates of hell.  Nothing.  We simply stop “Being”.  And, again, we are unaware that we have stopped Being. And we are never again aware of anything.

Then of course, the rot sets in, but we are unaware of that also. And whether our earthly remains are buried in a nice casket, or burned into ashes, we remain unaware, because we are no longer anywhere. It is difficult to describe what being dead is all about. Mainly, because we are here and aware, it is difficult, perhaps not possible, to conceive being unaware. I know I have great difficulty. I will simply stop “Being” some day, and I will not know I have stopped “Being”.

But that is where my mind has taken me, however uneasy such a condition makes me.
Now, having reached such a terrible conclusion, how does that change my being, my ability to interact with other human beings?

Well, it seems not to change anything for me. I react with kindness toward others when kindness seems appropriate. I react with hostility when that seems appropriate. And the fact that I will go neither to heaven nor to hell, seems an irrelevancy to me.

But how would such an awareness be greeted by others?
Well, we have the greedy humans, the Donald Trumps of the world .. . the global bankers, the mob bosses, the authoritarians like Vlad the Impaler, or Duterte. Such a realization doubtless would not compel them to become more awful towards other humans, because “more awful” seems not possible.  Mostly, I imagine, such humans have no personal basis for acting kindly, or fairly towards other humans. They act the way they do, because their personalities condition them to act the way they do. So, for them, I would expect no change.
And for the Haters around the world, those who despise others they deem “less worthy”, i.e., racists, or misogynists, or anti-semitic, or anti-any of dozens of human characterizations, they might not change either. They might instead, feel a bit more secure, knowing that their hatreds would not in any ultimate sense, matter.

But then we have the rest of humanity, just ordinary folks, who now attend some church, or not, but who might be occasionally guided by a sense that what they do, or how they act today, will matter in the ultimate sense.  That their actions will/may push them upwards or downwards after it is all over. 

Will they now change, and always act to benefit themselves, even if their actions may hurt others? Aye, there’s the rub . . . they might change, or they might not, depending on how their belief system predetermines their daily behavior.  And that is what gives me pause in wishing that organized religion would simply disappear because it is more evil than good.

I am not sure.  Not that my relative certainty matters, because largely whatever I speculate here is almost wholly irrelevant to the future of humankind.  Maybe the inherent design of the human being is simply a flawed creation, and maybe it is the best evidence for evolution, rather than intelligent design. For surely, no superhuman, a God, could possibly design this thing we call humankind so flawed.

Nope, not possible. And the winner is . . . EVOLUTION. Yay!!!!!

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Drumpf as one of Life's SemiColons

Gotta hand it to the Drumpf. He certainly causes folks to think. For example, a record number of people are now thinking of leaving the USA for some other country.  I assume we would be also thinking of leaving, except we are really old, so it isn’t a serious option. Iceland anyone??

But even beyond deciding to depart, his very presence in our daily lives causes me to think about life differently. I have in the past characterized my life as something sandwiched between bookends.  At the one side, at the beginning, is immense stupidity--the great depression, brought about by bankers and stockbrokers acting stupidly, as they are wont to do.  That great event brought about great change in the world. Many people just gave up and leaped off tall buildings. Some, like my folks and grandfolks, just quietly gave into despair. Grandma and grandpa Inglis, having migrated from Scotland to the US of A at the turn of the century in order to build a better life, now just went broke, like several million others. But that, in any case constituted the start of my life.  Then a Democrat named Franklin Delano Roosevelt took over from the do-nothing republican Herbert Hoover and began rebuilding America. Republicans don’t seem too good at this nation-building thing.  Mainly, I guess, their focus is on building their own stock portfolios and their own bank accounts, which is fine, I guess if you’re a rich republican.

And then came that second Great War, our second “War to end all Wars”.  Although I was still pretty little when it began, it seemed even to me, that life had acquired a different and more powerful meaning. And that there were more good guys than bad guys in charge of America.  I assume the “meaning” attached to the simple fact that we were battling classic evil. The fascists, defined by Hitler, his Nazi henchmen and the ignorant tyrant Benito Mussolini were so clearly evil that it gave new force to all of our actions. People in America united themselves in opposition to this evil. It had to be defeated and by God, everyone was going to assist in that endeavor.

Then I grew up and the detritus of that Great War lingered and helped to define my era.  We were still more or less united against the forces of evil defined now by the Soviet Union in that great replacement for the war, now called the Cold War.

That Cold War, though, introduced complexity and ambiguity into our lives. Our world began dividing itself into competing, if not warring factions—East and West, with the West defining the “good guys”.   Partly, the divisions focused on competing economic models—“capitalism” vs.  “communism”.  But eventually nationalism began playing a role that stretched beyond these competing economic models. And nationalism gives way easily to authoritarianism (see Germany in the 1930s).  Joe McCarthy paved a path of ugliness, showing us the worst, most destructive form of nationalism.

But McCarthy clearly was not alone in his ugliness.  Perhaps there is something inherent in humans that moves from insecurity to dominance to murderous.  The Cold War gave us a lot of murder. We only let a few years pass after WW II before we re-engaged, this time in Korea—can’t let those commie bastards take over Korea. But there we learned a new lesson. We stopped short of total annihilation and simply gave into a compromise—an armistice if you will. But that allowed us to remain on guard, with claws fully outstretched. And then, barely a few years thereafter, we succumbed again to the battle, when Ike, the victor in WW II, began supporting the French in their zeal to regain their colonial empire in south Asia. I guess it was just irresistible.  Happily, we ignored Britain’s post-war colonialism and so we stayed out of India.

And so we engaged in a twenty-year warlike effort in Vietnam, first French-inspired, but then wholly American.  And there, in Vietnam, I believe we sowed the seeds of our current colonial outlook, now focused in the Middle East.

We now seem to have no clue what we are doing, beyond simply killing Muslims.  We were attacked, to be sure, with 911 sounding the clarion call, “To Horse . . . To Arms . . .” But where, and against whom? Ahhh, there’s the rub.

So, one president after another sought to achieve dominance, partly still out of that old Cold War spirit (we must surely be better than those old Soviets and their Chinese buddies), and partly because we seem to need the dominance thing. If we aren’t dominant, after all, then we would be subservient to someone, and that we cannot tolerate.

So began this never-ending war that now consumes our lives, one that we cannot win, but dare not lose.

And the wars that seem to bounce from one country to another seem also to confuse our leaders, to the point that they no longer lead. Instead, they simply talk a lot, or, some of them, yell a lot.

And our growing population grows ever more confused, and ever more seeking of that dominance thing. If we aren’t dominant, then we are pathetic. And so, one pseudo-leader gives way to the next, with nary a Roosevelt anywhere in sight.  When I worked briefly for the Federal government, from 1979 to 1986, Carter, a decent man but not a leader, gave way to Ronald Reagan, St. Ronald we called him. And St. Ronald played the game well. He was an ignorant man, but he knew how to play to the crowd, especially the crowd of disaffected yearning to be mighty. He actually made it ok again to be a racist, that long smothered trait that was also yearning to be free. 

And St. Ronnie yielded to Poppie Bush, who yielded to the Clinton clan, who in turn yielded to Shrub the clueless. Shrub didn’t understand much, but his gang of thugs knew how to throw armies around.  And so our never-ending war began.

But the real change occurred when we elected a multiracial man, an intelligent, decent, thoughtful man. And that was apparently more than our closeted racists could stand—see St. Ronald had opened the closet door, but largely the racists remained within. Now, with Obama at the helm, the Tea Party could no longer control itself and emerged in full battle armor.  And then we arrived at 2016, and I had entered my 8th decade.  Now I was old, by any definition. And, instead of looking forward to inspired leaders pointing the way to greatness, I observed our nation deteriorating into hordes of fools yelling about greatness, but having no idea what that meant.

Greatness. Imagine that. Greatness being defined by a man who had failed at virtually everything he had ever attempted. Think of his record. Three marriages. Six corporate bankruptcies. A man so steeped in corruption and spiteful behavior that he refused to pay people who did work for him. He bragged about his corrupt behavior with women. He lied every time he opened his mouth and words came tumbling out. He had no clue how anything operated, since he never learned to operate anything himself.  And yet, somehow, through the power of TV, he emerged as the winner, via another apparently corrupt process called the Electoral College. But that’s an argument for another time.  Many people learned of his record, deleted the bad parts and hooked onto the fake parts—he was a successful businessman, ergo surely he could run a better government and bring us back to more Greatness than that Black man from Kenya.  And so they voted him into office.  They did not know that businessmen operate on different standards than public policy leaders, so a “successful businessman” (which he was not) had no relevance and might well be counterproductive as a government leader.

And their ability to ignore the well-publicized reality of Donald Trump and support him anyway began to make me wonder what country I now lived in. Were I 30, like my grandparents of olde, I too might well depart this land for another. For ending this life with an idiot at the helm, and gun-toting racists running wild all around us is looking like a dismal way to end life. I had hoped for more. I even expected more. I thought somehow, we might really grow into this global leadership thing. Instead, we seem to be sinking into some abyss of awfulness.  The inferiors have invaded our land and now claim ownership.

And I have been wondering why.

And I have begun imagining that the ability of my countrymen to believe in the Drumpf, is not materially different than the ability of the hordes to believe in a bearded old man sitting on a cloud up in the sky, directing everything while still pretending that he has given us free will, so he isn’t to blame for our asinine behavior. Daily, this concept gains strength, as the 36% supporters (his core) continue to mouth their unbelievable views that the Drumpf is not the corrupt loser he actually seems to be. How else can I explain it, this “suspension of disbelief” thing? Imagine we are all watching a Shakespearean tragedy unfolding. Oh, that makes me wonder whether this other belief from folks like Elon Musk that our entire universe is merely a simulation in someone’s grand computer—a staged play-- might be correct.  Maybe aliens (Gods??) are watching us perform and are daily amazed and amused at our ability to continue carrying out these really, really stupid acts.

And so my slowly fading life continues to be defined, the final set of bookends to match that other 1930s beginning bookends. Maybe depression is the definition of life.  Maybe we stage happy chapters like the giggle of a baby, or the warmth of a kiss from a loved one to give meaning to this depression that seems to define so many lives.  

Well, maybe I need to reinvent my bookends. Maybe I need to stage new bookends consisting of beautiful sunsets, falling on my darling wife’s smile.  Have another glass of wine Richard, and ignore the destructive fat bastard who occupies the current White House. Hopefully, he will fade into oblivion, along with his sneering children. Drink on, me hearty. Life will end, but perhaps we should not let The Drumpf define its end quite so completely. Let’s make him a semicolon in life.