July 2012

Can We Talk?

When did it occur to you that maybe, perhaps, humans weren’t so good for the planet? This is not a particular popular subject in Republican circles for two primary reasons. One is religion, the other is money. But both, however, are based on exploitation.

In Genesis 1:28 it is noted that God instructed Adam and Eve to, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

In the 1960s and 1970s a certain religious system developed out of that Biblical command called Dominion Theology. Regardless of your specific Fundamentalist beliefs the earth is an orchard to be plucked. Some mix in (of course) that diabolical Satan. In the mean time, if Earth is left a plundered, barren desert, well, it’ll all get worked out after the Rapture.

A much more time-honored justification for raping the planet is based strictly on the economic behavior of greed and profits. Exploiting the environment is hardly a new human phenomenon. Whenever or wherever humans have concentrated the environment has suffered. There have been countless historical extinctions (or near extinctions) tied to overpopulation, land exploitation and inclement weather. From the Tigris-Euphrates River valley civilizations to China to Easter Island to the Ancient Mesoamerican cultures, humans have come and gone predicated on ill-informed behavior and poor decisions.

We might cut our ancestors a little slack because they did not have our extensive knowledge, based on science, of exactly how inter-connected human behavior and the environment truly is. That cannot be said of 21st century mankind, however.

It dawned on me when I was in my 30s of exactly how lethal humans are to our planet. We are the first generation of human beings to fully comprehend that we are unequivocally murdering our Mother. We are causing the extinction of countless species. It was recently announced that within my daughter’s lifetime all the coral in all our seas will be dead. Go ahead, shed a tear. Gone. I am confident much of the world’s rain forest will be logged. Every month it is said China brings on line yet another coal powered electrical plant with the resulting environmental degradation.

The question becomes, “What should we do about it?” Actually, a more honest question is, “Is there anything we can do about it?”

This is where I differ with my more optimistic friends. Oh, humanity will survive, of that I am confident.

This is the problem. Every attempt at a realistic planet-wide environmental solution to limit climate change and species extinction(s) will essentially be met with one word: jobs. We’ve billions of human beings here and billions more on the way, all requiring housing, food and clean water (that’s at a minimum). Add any modern amenities (AC, color TVs, cell phones, cheeseburgers, a Prius or toilet paper) and for every human added, the planet incrementally suffers. It’s a fact, Jack.

One of the best scenes in the movie “The Matrix” is when the villain, Agent Smith (ironically, a software program) compares humanity to a virus, a disease organism that would replicate uncontrollably until our environment (Earth) was destroyed. Which, if art imitates nature, pretty much sums-up our future.

Is that, indeed, Earth’s prospects? With the two types of Republicans in control, any different outcome is, well, doubtful.

Less Brute in the Beast.

I’ve had two recent Facebook exchanges with good folks who see God’s infinite planning and handiwork everywhere. It’s simply a canard to me. We were just reminded of exactly how far afield people go seeing themselves as agents of God’s handiwork. George Zimmerman, the self-appointed neighborhood protector (as well as judge and executioner) attributed his killing of Travon Martin as being a part of “God’s plan.”

This presents, to me, the rich dichotomy of seeing God’s work in all that personally touches us. It is sweet that your faith finds the touch of God in all that is beautiful, righteous and inspirational. But an innocent lad has a hole blown in his chest because he is black and suspicious. That, too, is God’s plan? Or, last week’s Colorado movie massacre?

My normal response is one of incredulity. How can anyone rationally rejoice in God’s handiwork in the intricate, complex beauty of, say, a diaphanous butterfly wing yet dismiss Zimmerman’s brutality as not attributable to the same source. I miss the disconnect.

Before considering free will, I’d like my more clear-thinking believers in a personal God to explain the following. Go back to a “time” before anything has yet been created. God in His omniscience and omnipotence knows all that ever was and all that will ever be. He knows the last gust of wind that will land Columbus in the New World and that in less than 100 years most of the uncomprehending native populations will be wiped out by disease and many survivors will be enslaved. God knows that during the Vietnam War napalm will drop and melt the skin off children. He knows this.

My question is, having all this horror in mind, why not tweak humanity ever so slightly? Why not take a little of the brute out of the beast? You’re designing the cog (humans) to be “key” in your intricate wheel of life. Why not put more humanity in humans? Arguably, why not put more of yourself in your “ultimate” product? Hmmm?

The counter argument is always the same. It’s a two-part response. We, as mere mortals cannot know the mind (intentions) of God and human beings were given a free will. For the sake of this discussion, I’ll concede the first point, yet if cause & effect are in play, one might seriously question the cause (the Creator) because of the murderous impact of His creation.

But free will? I’ve never subscribed to this argument because, as limited as my mind is, if I were tackling the task of creating a species from scratch and knew exactly the beast I was creating, I’d still include “free will” but with a whole hell of a lot more humanity, too. Less brute in the beast.

But now even free will is suspect. I’m reading an unsettling new book by Sam Harris titled “Free Will.” According to Harris, “People are mistaken in believing that they are free in the usual sense. I claim that this realization has consequences—good ones, for the most part.”

Consciousness is “literally” separate from other brain functions. Science demonstrates that the brain’s motor cortex, for example, is active prior to a person determining to (willfully) move. Also, we are all products of our genetic make-up and all the a priori events forming our lives.

This discussion on free will is just beginning.

Please, freely join in. God willing?

Where I Spend My Mind.

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. Henry David Thoreau

Some suggest that the study of philosophy is to prepare one to die. Gracefully, I might add. A rational rejoinder might be, “No, Chris, such inquiry is to facilitate the graceful life.” Ah, nuance. One and the same, perhaps, much as Thalia and Melpomene are the balancing faces of drama, of life.

I’ve concluded that what the world (life) has quite enough of is sorrow. There is pain a-plenty for all. Few walk into a bar and order a round of sorrow for the house. Yet that is what is served up “fresh” daily. Sorrow is relentless. Decay and death is the human condition and depending on the individual, at some point our mental tickers all start “tocking,” and the literal countdown is recognized for the inevitable finality it represents. Arguably, this is when grace matters most.

If you have enough (life’s necessities) and are at all reflective, at some point in your life you reasonably ask, “How do I want to spend my time?” I phrase it a little differently, “How do I want to spend my mind?” This is where the insidious nature of sorrow intervenes; it consumes your mind. You can be experiencing a most joyful moment and the smallest prompt will redirect your revelry to dark, maddening thoughts of disappointment, disheartenment or despair. Sorrow, by any other name. Oh, and as so many understand, there are much more sorrowful events in life than death.

And, who among us wants to dock their boat very long at that port? Much of life is a redirect. What’s the expression? When handed a lemon—make lemonade out of it. Vomit. My natural inclination is to slap (vigorously resisted) such simplistic sentiments out of the purveyor. But I do understand the necessity for such an outlook. I do.

Sorrow is not the only unavoidable intrusion that saps one’s time, one’s mind. Pettifogery. Banality. Insipidness. Depending on your tolerance, any number of life’s everyday experiences will and do regularly intrude upon your mind, yet as duly noted, “time is fleeting” (please read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 15).

So where shall one ultimately spend her mind? I find pleasure (diversion) in art (all forms). Beauty. And words.

Topics I will explore in upcoming columns: Are redneck zombies worse than Manhattan zombies?; Bridges I have crossed; Waiter! Waiter! I’ll have a round of apologies; Is a religion different than what is done in its name?; Dangley-Down-Parts; The “take” I took; Cloning one’s self; Prosperity gospel; My son applying to be the Nightshift Jesus; Life—it’s a receipt book that keeps getting thinner; Meet your maker party–location/time to be announced; Reason—what are you going to place above it?; Babies—better than dawgs sometimes; Life goes on while you’re dying; The double-bubbler; Schwanz & Tucker – Winter Park lawyers and, I have no schedule but I do have an agenda.

Another topic is all time great lines husbands have given wives. Remember when Homer’s Odysseus returned home after 10 years (following the fall of Troy) to his wife Penelope. He had spent seven of those 10 years on an island with the exquisite goddess Calypso. How well would that explanation go today? Is that an illustration of unfaithful but loyal?

Perhaps Odysseus merely explained he was fishing. In the stream of life.

What Do Women Want?

I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
Until someone tears it off me.

Kim Addonizio from her poem, “What Do Women Want”

Over the decades I have earnestly considered just that question. Sigmund Freud famously asked, “The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is “What does a woman want?” I find Freud a stereotypical joke, rather simplistic, chauvinistic and clueless.

One might legitimately ask if women want different things than men? I raised my only daughter to feel/think that that was not the case. That anything a man aspired to, she, as a female, could also attain. That biology was not necessarily destiny. That grit, determination, intelligence and will were just as much feminine as masculine qualities. So, what does a woman want? Besides equal pay for equal work, respect, a man with a slow hand and free pedicures?

Oh, our literature abounds with what modern women want. Sleep. A break from the kids. A man who will clean the toilet. Genuine equal opportunity. A safe, nonthreatening environment (culture). The list of universal wants is not particularly surprising yet each woman’s “wants” are unique to her.

Let me relate my most recent movie experience. I saw “Magic Mike” opening night and I was one of maybe three men in a theater full of “Ooohing” and “Awwing” women who enthusiastically applauded the lean pulsating pelvises of the male strippers featured in the film. Couple (no pun intended) that with the success of the E.L. James’ book trilogy “50 Shades of Gray” which features sexuality, submissiveness and orgasms and, well, as Cindi Lauper so presciently cooed, “Girls, just wanna have fun.” Indeed.

Desire. A woman wants to be desired. Add that to the list. There is a growing field of female researchers who are exploring female sexuality, particularly from the perspective of what women want sexually. Key in that discussion is the function of desire.

Meredith Chivers is a psychology professor at Canada’s Queen’s University. She is on the editorial board of a leading journal on sexual research, the “Archives of Sexual Behavior.” She describes the male/female dynamic as “One part is pumped full of testosterone, is more interested in risk taking, is probably more aggressive, you’ve got a very strong motivational force. It wouldn’t make sense to have another similar force. You need something complementary. And I’ve often thought that there is something really powerful for women’s sexuality about being desired. That receptivity element.”

Another prominent researcher, Marta Meana, a professor of psychology at the University of Nevada said that for women, “being desired is the orgasm.” Hmmm, as a man, I wonder about that. Yet I do agree with Meana’s summation on the nature of female desire, “It is at once the thing craved and the spark of craving.”

What do women want? Oh, everything. Just like men. Yet, as has been suggested, “Didn’t a longing for erotic tenderness coexist with a yearning for alley ravishing?” What? Both ways, women want it both ways?

Indeed. And modern men please take note. By all means let the ravishing begin. But first . . .

“May I get a hanger for that dazzling red dress?”