I live on the edge. A keen ever-present sense that the ‘worst’ could fall at any moment. One tiny instant of time irrevocably alters life’s path. It can be global, such as a shooting that triggers global war; or local, such as an earthquake; or individual: a heart attack.

It can be sudden, but so often it’s a matter of a tipping point. We rock back and forth, and suddenly, we don’t come right again. Instead, we fall into whatever awaits below.

Global warming. Overpopulation. Ignorant populace. Religious domination of a supposedly free state. All too easily we could topple into a new dark ages – after massive violence and decimation. Not pretty.

How does one live, knowing how close horror is to us – just the other side of a thin veil that both is, and is not reality.

Reality is what actually happens. We aren’t at war today. But it could so easily have been that reality was war.

I could not wake up tomorrow. I could die at any moment, from any miraculous connivance of autos, meteorites, fire, slippings – any number of things could end my life in an instant.

So far, reality has been that I have woken up. I have made it through each day.

Humans, alas, cling to patterns like this and make assumptions off them. If I always have woken up, I always will. Oh, I know I’ll die, but – I DON’T BELIEVE IT. I don’t live according to that reality, but according to the alternative reality I’ve constructed – I, and every other human. I will not die. At least, not today. Not tomorrow. Probably not this year.

The world will not change such that my life will be inconvenienced. Why should I inconvenience myself today to prevent something I DON’T BELIEVE will happen. Science? Data? Tests? Wtf? Why should I believe something that makes me uncomfortable?

How do we survive? Mostly, we wrap ourselves in a comfy blanket of beliefs. The more we fear, the thicker our blankets. Hence the violent, vehement reaction when someone’s blanket is tugged. Religious outrage to atheism, for example. Or worse.

If we are at all aware of others, and of our very real inter-connectivity to the rest of our species and our planet, we carefully select a few causes to support, and feel we have done what we can. But again, if anyone tries to point out we aren’t actually doing any good, or are creating more problems – at the very least wars of rhetoric erupt.  / George Monbiot’s posts  / on the green movement’s blindness to the real issues around energy production are a perfect example.

I’m not criticizing. Just the other day I was telling my sister that I couldn’t think about something, because I’m spread too thin already. There’s only so much I can focus on, and only so much potential disaster my mind can cope with. I am but human.

So what can we do? At best, try to keep the blanket as thin as you can, so you aren’t impervious to the needs of others. The republican budget that devastates aid to women and children is a perfect example of a way-too insulating blanket.

Accept that you can’t change everything you’d like to. Don’t give yourself a hard time for not being active for everything you know is critical to our survival (am I listening to myself here? I am way too prone to guilt).

Mostly, though, just check yourself occasionally. Ask yourself why you’ve chosen to care actively about this and not that. Have you actually investigated the consequences of your choices? Are you trying to keep improving your awareness and your responses?

And always, always, be wary of your own confirmation biases. They’re calling it all sorts of other fancy names now – but whatever they call it, it boils down to: we accept as true what we want to believe, and ignore all else.

Don’t do that. Try your hardest to see both sides of an issue. Recognize that what’s  important for you, personally, might not be in the best interest for most people, so don’t let your decisions be too personalized  (corporations not being taxed? prayer in school? Good for you, maybe, but what about all the people you hurt?).  Take a stand, but do it on evidence, not belief. Beliefs save us – we can’t live without them, but they are so very dangerous.

Always, always, examine your beliefs.

Don’t let what you believe hurt anyone else.

Don’t let what you want to believe control anyone else.

Only take actions based on facts. Do the research – don’t ignore global warming because your political party tells you not to. Look at the evidence. All over the world farmers – down home good old boys country folk – are noticing the effects of shifting climate. I’d rather listen to someone who actually lives off the land than some bureaucrat who lives off his hands being deep in corporate pockets.

Think. It’s our only hope. As an individual, as a species.

Think. For all our sakes.

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Disheartening To Be #1

April 21, 2011

We live in a land of awe-inspiring natural beauty. We have incredible universities, fascinating cities, and wonderful people.

But let us never forget to look at all the facts, even the ones we aren’t proud of.

from graphjam:  http://graphjam.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/usano1.jpg

Nuclear Skepticism

April 4, 2011

I repeat: to be a skeptic is to ask questions; seek answers from reputable sources; and make decisions based on that accumulated, verifiable evidence while still being open to new information.

To be a skeptic is not to be a naysayer, a denier, or a knee-jerk reactionary. It is not to accept without thought or question, nor is it to ignore evidence.

Once again / George Monbiot / addresses failings in critical thinking that severely damage credibility of people who, as recognized spokespeople, must be held to a higher accountability. If you are going to talk in public about an issue, you *must* be well-informed. (his two previous posts address his repeated and unsuccessful attempts to get Helen Caldicott to provide references for her so dramatic statements.)

People trust their chosen leaders. This is an unfortunate but absolute fact of human nature. And if leaders lie, as almost all seem to do, in pursuit of their chosen agenda, people make foolish choices. Global warming will not go away because people trust greedy, manipulative leaders. And nuclear power must be considered intelligently, not in the obscuring cloud of fact manipulations.

We must teach people how to question intelligently and how to recognize reliable sources.

We are running out of options in too many areas. Humanity may survive the coming crises and the wars and devastation that will accompany them, but wouldn’t it be better if we found ways to prevent the worst disasters? We won’t, not without cooperation and reason.

Where are the leaders and the people who seek reason, not power and emotion?

Empathic Civilisation

April 3, 2011

This /  video / presents in a cohesive, well-structured fashion ideas that I’ve long considered. Much more tidy than my rambling thoughts.

My only objection is that he doesn’t clarify an apparent coexistence of the ancestral female and male. They were  separated by up to 80,000 years. Links to / Mitochondrial Eve / and  / Y-chromosomal Adam / here.

Also, it doesn’t mean they were the only humans alive, only that through the vagaries of descent, only one line has managed to come down to modern times exclusively from mother to daughter. No woman in that lineage had only sons. Ditto for the ‘Adam’. Every other man’s line produced only daughters at some point, and the direct link was lost.

Two articles in the Guardian this morning. Both thoughtful and thought-provoking.

The first is an interview with the author / Martin Amis /. Apparently he likes to stir controversy, and is fond of the phrase  “if I lost half my brain, then I’d do… whatever the questioner had asked”. This time, he was asked if he’d ever write children’s books.

Well, of course that got a furious response from children’s authors. Rightly so – you need a very good mind to write children’s books, but it is a particular type of writing. And Amis is, in his provocative way, indicating that he hasn’t that type of mind. For him and his style, it would be a hardship. So why the fury?

I would be angry, too, I’m sure. But the fury displayed in the comments? Equal arrogance, far more vitriol.I don’t write kid’s books, but even so, if he said he couldn’t write in my style, even implying my style is a lesser style only shows his ignorance and ego. Or, more accurately, his love of stirring up wasp’s nests.

He also mentions that the fast-accelerating population shift to far greater percentage of elderly people will cause social upheaval. Again, a valid point. Again, he chooses to express it in a provocative way: euthanasia booths on every corner with a martini and a medal for those who use them.

Predictably, people react as if he’s saying “round ’em up and shoot ’em where they stand.”

He is not.

Think of the words. He’s a writer. Words matter.

A martini. A celebration. A drink associated with conviviality. So – a wake, a celebration of a life.

A medal. Why do we give medals? To acknowledge courage or achievement far beyond the ordinary. He is saying that he recognizes the extraordinary courage it would take to commit suicide, even if one is in pain and without hope of cure.

Yes, he is deliberately riling people. But underneath that irritating manner, he is stating truths. He is a writer who delights in complexity and style that children are not capable of appreciating. He would, truly, have to deny much of his way of writing to tone down the vocabulary, the plot lines, the themes to a children’s level. He’s not claiming he’s better than those who can write for children. It’s as challenging in its own way as his style is for him. But it’s not his style. So ignore him. Be glad of good writing wherever you find it – and don’t judge other styles by your own.

And don’t force other people to live when they no longer wish to. Give them the ultimate respect and dignity of allowing them to choose their time, and to die peacefully, without pain. If your religion forbids suicide, then don’t do it. But don’t you dare force others to live by your beliefs. Just don’t. That is evil.

And with all that in mind, the / second article /  is about a man who has devoted decades to compiling a ‘Good Book’ – how people can live ethically and wisely. No religion to stir hatred and violence against others, just thinking compassionately and caring about each other. Sounds good to me. He is an advocate that everyone can and should be able to study philosophy – a conclusion I have also reached. Learning to think, and to think clearly, is crucial to our being able to survive in this crowded and rapidly altering world.

Asked about religious people being offended by plain-speaking atheists, he replies,  “My rejoinder is to say when the boot was on their foot they burned us at the stake. All we’re doing is speaking very frankly and bluntly and they don’t like it.”  Absolutely true. The religious response of killing those who disagree is still around, and even in the US deliberate, malicious, vindictive actions towards non-believers are far too common – and endorsed by the government all too often.

I’ve posted about what it means / to be a skeptic /, and / to be an atheist /. Both require abandoning ideas of superiority or of having all the answers.

To let go of one’s preconceptions is essential. If you feel above others, if you think you know what’s what, you stop looking around, stop trying to understand. You never seek reconciliation.

We need to cooperate. We know to our great cost that whatever happens anywhere on this planet affects everyone on this planet.

We need to find common grounds. We have to seek ways to become one people, while still respecting our individual qualities and ideas.

A tricky balance indeed.

I have a theory that music is a possible way to show people how akin we all are.

I love ‘classical’ music – the overarching genre, not just the specific period. / Vaughn-Williams’ ‘Dives and Lazarus’ / is so evocative, so haunting. / Bach’s ‘Chaccone in Dminor’ /. / Elgar’s ‘Introduction and Allegro for Strings’ /. The ethereal themes, so like crystalline starlight in /  Beethoven’s ‘Emperor Concerto’ /. Mozart. / Wagner’s rich drama /. Dvorak. Haydn. Monteverdi. The intense emotions of / Verdi’s ‘Requiem‘ /.

But if there is a music that will unite the world, it will not be of that calibre. It will be the music people sing to, dance to, hear in their minds. Accessible, primal, simple and strong.

One can learn to love classical music – some are born loving it. Most never will even try. Like poetry and literature, if there’s too much of the mind involved, most people would rather be doing something else.

But even those who love the exquisite intricacies of Bach can dance to the beat of hip hop. Folk songs, simple rhythms, simple melodies. Still pulling at the heart, still drawing joy or sorrow, but in an immediate way; those are the songs that can people everywhere can share together.

We still have to contend with nationalism. Just prior to Eurovision 2010 Greece had caused a big financial mess for the EU. It showed in comments and voting. As well, hereditary enemies and allies tend to vote predictably.

The winning song, though, was a / quirky little tune from Germany /. Not bad, but to me the best songs were/  Greece’s ‘Opa’ /  and / Turkey’s ‘We Could Be the Same’ /. I have them on a cd in my car and listen to them regularly – they still delight me. Not bubblegum pop; this is vibrant music encompassing folk, rock, rap styles. Sounds that stimulate and inspire. Rhythm and passion any human can respond to. I’ve given links to other Eurovision songs in / this post / and a / Finnish tango in this post/, which really proves my point about music crossing cultural barriers.

Whatever lies behind globalization, it has to respect regional and national pride – perhaps sharing music would be a way to show that each country, each people have something to offer that everyone can understand and enjoy?

We need to see how we are the same, and from that, learn to appreciate the unique aspects that could enrich, not divide us as a global people.

update:  In a nice coincidence my son sent me a link this morning, adding his observation:  / “the best song ever” / . Ruslana weaves primal themes into her performances. She also fulfills the points I discussed above. In a Western presentation, with Western technology and style, she incorporates essential Ukrainian (Russian will be a more accessible description to most people) sounds and images, as well as a focus on our relationship with earth.

There are many wistful aspects in being atheist.

There are times in all lives when you are afraid, and seek courage.

When you are sad, and seek comfort.

When you are lonely, and seek companionship.

When you are angry, and seek revenge.

When you are misjudged, and seek atonement.

When you are happy, and seek to share.

When you are grateful, and seek to give thanks.

When you are confused, and seek a way to act.

When you are helpless, and must accept there is nothing you can do.

This crisis in Japan, and all like it, are times of trial. For those actively involved, it can be life or death. For those of us who watch, it is an emotional turmoil compounded of sympathy, horror, gratitude that it’s not us, and an overwhelming need to help, and to understand why people must suffer.

Religion offers an easy way out. Give it all to god. Do what you can or want to, then let god take over. You’ve done your part. You needn’t try to understand, to sympathize, to question your own life, your own values and choices. No – give it to god and you can let go.

This is not to say religious people don’t care, and don’t help. They do. But behind it all, they have the satisfaction of knowing that it’s all some ineffable plan, and they needn’t hold themselves accountable.

This is a great comfort. I know. I’ve been there. But as I realized that there was nothing more than our culturally inherited and genetically predisposed myth behind that comfort, I lost the ability to let go.

How does an atheist ever feel they’ve done enough? We know there is no larger scheme that will make things right in the end. An atheist has to have the courage to face life without illusion. We have to understand and accept our limitations with true self-knowledge, not with future promises of divine knowledge. We have to live in the world as it is, not as we want it to be. That gives us the power to make the world something better, but it means we recognize that we are all we have. There is no plan, no help, no comfort. What we give is of ourselves; how we live is through our own self-discipline and awareness, not through commandment. We see the best and the worst in humanity, and seek to be the best we can for humanity, not for an illusion of heavenly reward.

Religion is a lens that focuses the good and ill of being human. It can teach charity and it can teach hate. You have only to read the news to see both in action.Yes, religious people are kind. They give. They help. But it is the human in them that makes them do it. They’ve learned that people need to be shown, to be taught charity; they use their religions to that end; but they’ve given up their individual accountability. One prayer, and all is forgiven. This makes them safe and, all too often, intolerant. Too easily convinced that they can live in complacency, and ignore the need to change themselves and their world.

For good or ill –

We are all we have.

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