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Email From a Nephew

I've been doing email since all I had to do it with was a command-line Compuserve account in 1992. Then Prodigy; then Compuserve went graphical with a release for Windows 3.0; I tried AOL. Then I discovered the Internet under the "internet," as served up by all these services and used whatever email client and USENET newsreader I wanted -- and later a web browser.

But I'd been writing in journals, writing long letters to people, and then writing in a word-processor after I acquired my first computer in 1990. One friend (see previous blog entry) once received a 13-page, single-spaced letter written in Word 1.0, in 1991 -- in response to his one-pager written on some Mac thingy. That's how long that discussion has been going on.

I just like to write. And when I think about that, I always think of two power-company engineers who went to our church when I was a kid; I looked up to them both. They both had advanced engineering degrees and important jobs. One was clearly smarter than the other in technical terms. As a hobby, he built HAM radios and all sorts of other things. He was the kind of guy who could invent something electronic. The other could apply it.

But the other could do something else. He could communicate verbally and in writing. He could write. This means that he could do more than what his 24-hours per day allow him, because he can direct others and communicate to them in an effective manner, leveraging his time and delivering to his employer far more value than the other, smarter guy who was a bit shy, self-conscious, and not a good communicator. Consequently, this guy, though less of an engineer, had a far more important (and high-paying) job directing (by communicating) other engineers.

The human condition is such that we have little choice but to communicate in some fashion. Those who do it the best, and the most, get ahead of those who don't. It's just that simple. If you can't communicate, you can't compete with someone who can. They will run circles around you.

Alright. I have two unusually bright and intelligent nephews. I'm not just saying that. These two brothers -- only a couple of years apart -- are just different in terms of smarts. One's a little geeky (in the sweetest way), and one's salt-of-the-Earth, but both are smart as whips. I could keep you reading all day just describing the things that used to come out of their mouths at the age of 4 and 5.

At the same time, I've been prodding the both of them to write. It's of critical importance. Today, I get an email from Tim, the older of the two.

Hi, it's Tim.  I remember when you said that I should start writing to improve my skills in this area so I was wondering if you if you could please send me an e-mail telling me how I can start a blog like yours.  One of my favorite things to do is to discuss politics, so I'm thinking of doing this so I can voice my opinion while practicing my writing about something for which I have deep passion.  Thank you very much.

I'd call that a start, and it warms my heart to no end.

Tim:

the next thing I write will be that email. I think Google/Blogger ought to suit you just fine.

Now, what you want to write is completely up in the air. I don't write fiction. I haven't even taken a serious stab at it, though I do have the desire to try my had at some short stories someday. From my perspective, it's magnitudes more difficult -- as it includes many more elements than does non-fiction, opinion, or technical writing. I'd say that if you can competently write fiction, then you can write anything. The converse is not necessarily true. But it's up to you, and if you were to have a passion for writing fiction (difficult), that would probably end up better for you than writing non-fiction (less difficult) if you don't care for writing it. At your stage of formation, the important thing is to write about something.

An aside; in college I knew I kinda liked to write, but didn't have much experience at it. By that time, I'd read quite a lot of fiction, but mostly non-fiction -- and a lot of the non-fiction was things like auto mags, science mags, and books on amateur cosmology and physics. There was a required course for my business degree: Technical Report Writing. The funny thing is that I didn't think a lot about the course, or give it an unusual effort, but I was pulling down almost effortless 'A's on all the reports. And then for the grand finale, I wrote a large report on the Navy's new (in 1984!) F/A-18. I was an NROTC Midshipman, so I had access to lots of unclassified information and I wrote a report. Another 'A' with raving nice comments from the professor. He really liked my heavy use of (pre-defined) acronyms. Hey, it was a technical report, and what's a technical report without copious use of acronyms?

Well, perhaps the professor was off his rocker for flattering me as he did, but I think that experience is what really solidified my lifelong passion to write. There will come a time in like when it's time to stop seeking approval, but when you're being educated, it's an essential part of gaining the confidence that leads to competence.

But for you? Just write. Write about whatever you want to write about, because that's the only thing that will keep you at it. You'll need to read a lot, too. I look at it this way: I can study how to write, or I can read and kinda get it by "osmosis." Hell, I don't know, Tim, but it seems to work. And I don't overly worry about meticulously correct grammar and structure either. It's the words you use. String them together and punctuate them in your own developed style. That's what I do, 90% of the time. Just make sure it's good. Read what you write over and over. Edit it continuously. Some may not realize this, but I edit blog posts that are already published, and on the longer, more complex posts. sometimes a dozen edits over time. If it's an edit for style, I just change and republish. If it's a factual element or correction, then integrity demands that I post a correction or update.

Alright, then. Get to it, and email me something. I don't want you to be tentative about it, so after this, I'll only talk about it here if you want me to. But if you email me something really sensational, I might publish it anyway. No firm deals.

Differentiation, Not Separation; Integration, Not Dichotomization

[An email out. Just another in a discussion going back years.]

P:

> "They are simply abstracts of reality that you and others have
> come up with." This is the post-modern idea that there is no truth.

On the contrary. Truth is real and absolute. Nonetheless, all concepts are abstractions. You understand this; recall the "dissecting a brain to find ideas" analogy. You can't dissect it and find truth, either.

I'm not saying there's no truth. I'm saying that an integrated abstract model of reality (existence / body / mind / consciousness) is closer to the truth than a dualist abstract model (two sides of reality). The truth is that if you are looking for a philosophy in which to live life as a natural human being, then it ought to integrate body and mind, not separate it.

In my view, this is the primary source of your frustration (and your book is filled with frustration and hand-wringing).

In the hierarchical, authoritarian civilization in which humanity arose, the dualist approach was probably reasonably suited. But today's technology -- a natural outgrowth of man acting naturally -- is ushering in decentralization, rejection of say-so authority, individualism, free agency. In short, people are less constrained by guilt and are going and forming their own complex values systems without much regard to tradition, ritual, antiquity, etc.

You can't put the genie back in the bottle. People don't regard life as serving material pleasures or serving spiritual ones, as an almost mutually exclusive mandate. They want both, and they are going to have it. We are in a transition, and what's going to come out of it is not the collapse of spiritual values to the material, but rather, an uplifting of material values to the spiritual -- but the spiritual as primarily defined individually or in small groups. Spirituality is going to be as simple as the creation and sharing of values between individuals who place that [whatever] at a high value. It can even be something material, primarily pleasurable, wholly spiritual, or some combination and it can serve as the foundation of spiritual communion.

Mark my words. There's some way yet to go, but this is the destiny of humanity. In the process, dualism will be left in the dust. I'm certain of it. And good riddance.

> I don't think you are cut out for esoterism.  If the WIE path
> is helpful to you, follow it.

I don't follow, P. I'm just arrogant enough to suffer the illusion that I can choose my own values and act upon my own authority without a following-like regard for purported wisdoms. I will be the judge, for me, of what's wise counsel and what's not.

But I also understand the necessity of being just humble enough to realize that I don't come close to knowing it all. I know what I know, but it's not all, or enough. And so I continue to seek. But, there is a profound difference from the notion of following. I seek not something to follow, but to integrate. Get that, P: integrate. It is not a matter of which system is right, which is wrong; it's what elements and gems can be integrated into one's own path of one's own making.

There is also a profound difference of perspective. I love humanity; I love the progress it has made and I consider that progress wonderful. I'm a worshiper of man, P., and my standard of value is my sense of what I envision as the ideal man. Such an ideal includes core virtues such as pride, accomplishment, individuality, productivity, guiltlessness, benevolence towards innocence. My heroes are those who have lifted mankind on a material level. I regard most religious traditions as fundamentally parasitic -- authoritarian structures that conjure and propagate false illusions in order to foist guilt upon the unsuspecting masses in the never-ending attempt to escape the (body-mind) integrated effort required to produce objective values for survival and the pursuit of happiness.

> Somehow, you need to escape from the flat reality that
> defines the modern worldview.

Well, that seems to be your catch-all assessment for just about everything you see as wrong with the world. Don't worry. I have them too. A little advice: stop and evaluate such catch-alls from time-to-time to see if they still reflect truth, in your honest assessment.

I've said this before: it's too simple; too pat. I don't personally know a single person who doesn't have and act upon spiritual concerns or higher values. Oh, I know there are some, but it's a red herring. I also know that people are unbalanced. I tend to agree with you about balance, but from an integrated and not a separated perspective. I believe -- because it is my personal experience -- that people can experience spiritual uplifting through material endeavors, provided they approach them from the right perspective. Frankly, I'm forever astonished -- astonished! -- that you make no allowance that I can detect for any sort of spiritual-level experience that doesn't completely exclude material concerns.

...

Never Going Back

Warren Meyer puts a finger on something I've been thinking about a lot, lately.

Unfortunately, Mr. Gore's only goal last night was not just to rally
the TV audience to change its lifestyle.  The more important goal was
to increase the likelihood that government will compel Americans to do
what Mr. Gore wants.  And this is what makes me cringe nowadays when I
hear the term "activist."  I don't want to cringe, because passionately
advocating for you cause, even if I disagree with it, should be part of
the rich fabric of a free society.  Unfortunately, though, at the heart
of nearly every modern activist's agenda is compulsion -- the desire to
use the coercive power of the government to force you to do something
you would not otherwise choose to do.  It is the very unusual activist
today who is not trying, whether they admit it or not, to chisel away
at individual freedom for some "higher cause."

Exactly. In just about everything I read, see, hear, discuss...there is at root an undercurrent centering on whose will gets to be imposed. The issue is very nearly never whether the will of one person or group ought to be prescribed and imposed upon others or not -- only which set or mix of values to prescribe and impose, and why. Freedom, no longer a real value, is never an issue anymore. What passes for "freedom" is an illusion: it's the prisoner's "freedom" to choose whether go to sleep, read a book, use the toilet, or do some push-ups -- all in the confines of one's cell. And, thus, the policy-talk now and in recent years has been about "choice." Yea: a choice from their menu, not one of your own making. The entirely of the argument is: within which prison walls do you get to exercise your "freedom?"

Underlying all of it is the arrogant presumption that you know what's best for me, or him, or her -- in short -- everyone. Underlying all of that is the primitive collective notion (rooted in tribalism) that people are obligated to fulfill and serve some set of "higher" values as a member of some unified body of constituent parts like family, then some ethnic group, then some religion, some neighborhood, some clan or tribe, some region, some political party, some nation. You were "born a Christian?" Oh, well, here's the prescription for your life; what you are to serve and be. There was a time -- and there still is in many parts of the world -- where not following the prescription for your life handed down by privileged authorities was the equivalent of suicide.

Since such notions contemplate very nearly nothing of the quotidian life of modern man, such perennial notions are primitive, though certainly understandable. It's equally understandable that so many today lament and wring hands over what is an equally natural pushing back by people who, like me, unequivocally reject the notion that you have the slightest authority to tell me what my "highest values" -- or anyone's -- ought to be. The mechanism of guilt as a means of influence is slipping away. Ever so slightly, still, but it is slipping away.

And do you know what the good part is? The good part is that this antagonism isn't going away. All you busy-bodies and worry-warts are fighting a losing battle in my estimation. I don't know how long it will take, but that cat's already out of the bag, and few who have ever tasted the guiltless freedom and authority to choose their own values -- with no consideration whatsoever to the arbitrary demands of anyone else -- are ever going back. This is something -- really -- far more profound than the (important) freedom to produce and trade, around which the debate is primarily focussed. I'm talking about looking at a whole Universe, and without the slightest sense of foreboding or guilt, freely picking your own values for your own sake to begin with -- without a single thought to any sort of obligation, tradition, custom, or belief you don't freely and enthusiastically embrace.

Hell...daily...even fewer are paying attention to you. Why should they? What do you offer? Listen: if all of your so-great ancient traditions -- traditions that arise from contemplation by men who didn't even have the luxury of toilet paper -- can't compete with an iPod, color TV, xBox, or dreams of a guy's first car and his first date, how terribly great can they be? Oh, that's right; the dichotomy again. Such "profound" values are of a "different part" of reality (and thus oh-so-conveniently insulated) to compare them to -- so-called -- "material" values that, somehow, seem to offer lots of people more of what they desire.

But I also don't mean to be mean. I fully understand that ideas exist that are crucially important for human beings to apprehend, and on the surface, they often don't seem appealing or all that important, especially to the young and unformed.

Well, I've got news for you: the world is a changin' and it's a changin' faster and faster, and if you want to get your ideas across, then you really, ultimately, have no choice but to compete with the iPod, or, in some years hence, a fully 3-D virtual-reality environment or whatever happens to be happnin'.

It aint gettin' any easier. It's going to get harder; much harder.

Thankfully, I have no real desire to participate. See, I really care not if everyone or everything is going to hell or not by your standard of values and I sense that more and more people are taking life at the same stride. Sure, I'm perplexed by how so many lead what I consider meaningless and shallow lives, by my particular values. But I'll tell you something: I have one hell of a lot less fear surrounding their choices in values than I do in the propensity of certain others to impose theirs on me.

And before you get started: make whatever case you want that certain values chosen by some are destroying this, that, and the other thing. I get that there's a grain of valid concern here and there, but mostly, it's just more fire & brimstone preaching, same as it ever was.

Your Government

Your government. Your government on drugs.

“Liberty” vs. Liberty

Got it?

It was less than a year ago that Virginia lawmakers admirably outlawed red light cameras, citing--believe it or not--"liberty" as their reason.

How fleeting liberty can be.  Yesterday, the state senate gave the okay to traffic cameras.

This is the sort "liberty" most everyone deals with. This is the sort of "liberty" you exercise, dear voter, every time you cast. Your "liberty" goes only so far as the next election cycle or legislative session, where it is thereby held for ransom.

Real liberty is a recognition of a natural human condition which no man, majority of voters, legislature or executive has a moral right to mess with. It is for this basic and simple reason that governments are immoral at all levels -- and so are most of its voting subjects.

Kill the Dog

Get your kicks. We'll, I can't argue that it's the same as murdering a human being.

It's not.

On the other hand, what it is is the destruction of a highly prized value; a value that someone has pursued, acquired, nurtured, loved, admired, enjoyed, and reflected upon countless times.

We don't have kids. We have dogs, and I'd not presume in a million years to assert to someone that our dogs are on any level commensurate with their children. Still, such logic doesn't begin to penetrate the wall of loss and rage I would personally feel if my values were dealt with in such a cavalier manner -- just so that someone of G.I. fashion can get their jollies.

Fuck them all to hell. My hate and loathing for such "people" -- every single one -- knows no bounds.

Kind of a Mess

If you can get through the maze of this post by Balko, here's really the only thing that comes close to the point.

Medved is also misguided in
stating that for one to subscribe to natural rights theory, one must
believe those rights are conferred by a deity.  Kant most famously
arrived at natural rights theory without acknowledging a creator.  But
even Locke, while not a deist, showed that one could arrive at natural
rights through reason, not religious faith in the idea that innate
rights have to come from a divinity.

It's simple. Really. You choose your own values, right? Stop and think about it. Right? Do you perceive that capacity in other people? You do, right? Well, if you do, and they do, then it's a natural attribute of the human condition, right? Note emphasis on natural.

That's all there is to it. Really. The fact that you can't tread on others and they can't tread on you in pursuing your all's various values is simply a logical consequence of non-contradiction.

We're done here.