Self love and love for others, according to Navid Kermani

“The love of one’s own – one’s own culture, one’s own country and also one’s own person – manifests itself in self-criticism. The love of the other – of another person, another culture and even another religion – can be far more effusive; it can be unreserved. It is true that the prerequisite for love of the other is love of oneself. But one can only fall in love, as Father Paolo and Father Jacques did with Islam, with the other. Self-love must be a struggling, doubting, constantly questioning love if it is to avoid falling prey to narcissism, self-praise, self-satisfaction. How true that is of Islam today! Any Muslim who does not struggle with it, does not doubt it and does not critically question it does not love Islam.”

Navid Kermani

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Notes on religion and Socialism

Do the problems within Socialism and religion necessarily invalidate concepts of kindness and fairness? The inter-relatedness of life on Earth is scientific fact, not an article of religious faith or political dogma, though ‘brotherhood’ and ‘sisterhood’ is more metaphorical than literal.

Both religion and Socialism fail in so far as proponents lose sight of fairness and goodwill. Committing atrocities in the name of Socialism or religion indicates a loss of perspective, obviously.

In some unintentionally ironic way, one could argue that organized religion is ‘anti-god’ in its idolatry, that is, its fixation on systematic attempts to define the absolute according to patterns of human comprehension.

So, maybe a conception of reality on par with non-belief/skepticism would be to simply think that a divine intelligence may exist. However that view is lightyears short of supporting any form of organized religion.

As for ‘super-sized atheism’, it seems implicitly theological in that thru it one seeks to oppose what one claims does not exist. ‘Super-sized atheism’ also shares with religion the problem of excessive certainty, aka close-mindedness and arrogance. An aphorism from Nietsche comes to mind: “convictions are greater enemies to truth than lies.”

Perhaps ironically, the ‘death of God’ is a crisis only in so far as we subconsciously hold on to religious habits of thought, that is, assume that the disbelief in a god necessitates a moral vacuum.
We don’t need religion, and certainly don’t need rigid political ideology to have values. Granted, the philosophical materialist view is that purpose does not exist in the universe intrinsically, whether, for example, in the life and death of stars or in the life and death of trees.

But humans create meaning for ourselves, unavoidably in one form or another, due to how our brains have evolved. All due respect, your views on ‘absurdity’ and the ‘death of God’ come across as bravado. Have we any choice other than trying to make sense of our existence? Consciousness does not have to be eternal for it to have meaning.

As you likely know, my view is that pleasing gods is not the aim of human life; our aim is maximal fulfillment or what Maslow would call self-actualization, in my opinion. For me, the means to that is striving to meet my needs with as little harm and as much benefit as possible to lifekind. At least that’s my formulation so far, subject to revision, of course.

I relate to Michael Shermer when he writes that there is a significant degree of moral coherence across cultures, throughout millennia that apply in the majority, if not most situations, though, ( I would add) there are gross violations of those principles via systemic forms of unkindness.

We obviously don’t need religion to have values, and we don’t need to treat Socialism as a religion, to formulate and apply principles of kindness and fairness.

A problem with Marxism and Socialism is that, thru it, people have sought unity (of the the working classes) via othering (regarding the ruling class and the capitalists). Granted, that has been a form of depersonalization toward those higher up on the social strata, but it was nonetheless s a form of othering.

The othering has been more self-defeating to those socioeconomically ‘below’ thru political fragmentation than it has been harmful to those socioeconomically ‘above’ who generally are immune to being affected by depersonalization.

With political ideology including Socialism, and with religious doctrines, it seems inevitable that seeking unity that involves excluding particular classes or categories of others becomes a factor.

A problem with religion—whether it’s Buddhism with it’s notions of reincarnation and karma, or Christianity with it’s notions of heaven, hell, and sacrificial salvation—-is that it skews the moral calculus of weighing certain or potential harm against certain or potential benefits, regarding the consequences our actions have for ourselves and others (including nonhuman beings).

The inhumane excesses of supposed socialist thought, whether under Stalin or Mao (were all those historians who depicted atrocities working for the CIA ?) seemed to have resulted from treating Marxism, ironically, as a religion, in the sense of excessive certainty and confusing the map with the territory.

Marx was brilliant, but his formulations are conceptual maps, not the actual reality. He was a sort of philosopher and social scientist, not a fortune teller, as those who believe(d) in the historical inevitability of Communism would have it.

Small good acts are better than doing nothing to help

There might be a tendency within some or all of us whereby we think there are many wrongs in the world to be fixed and that various imperfect means to making things at least a little better are beneath us. There is a tendency to dismiss a remedy because we think it does not go far enough, even though we have no alternative remedy, and may end up doing nothing to address the problem.

We can get into a mentality such that we don’t do small things that would help humans and other lifekind because we think it’s not good enough. There seems an attitude among some would-be or formerly politically involved people such that we end up withdrawing and doing very little to address problems, even though we might express radical ideas about what’s wrong with the world and about how to fix it.

If there is nothing better going on, why not get involved with modest efforts to address social and ecological problems? If we have a radical critique of society, why not develop ways to put those ideas into practice, and where we don’t have the means to do that, why not help out with less radical efforts, in the meantime ?

This is related to the ideas in Humility: doing small good things is better than doing big bad things

Questions, not accusations, regarding being 'vegan'

What happens when we look deeply at the entire process of growing food, fiber, medicine, and other things to meet human needs–from how it’s grown, how it’s harvested, how it’s processed, packaged, and transported ?

To what extent can we still call a plant-based product ‘vegan’ when we account for the entire cycle, and account for the affects on living beings, given that much of the ‘vegan’ foods are the products of industrialized agriculture?

Regarding specific issues, are plant-based products that contain palm oil ‘vegan’ ? How about clothing and accessories that contain polyurethane, a material that’s harmful to marine life as it breaks down in landfills ?

Because of these questions, I’ve loosened my embrace of the label ‘vegan.’ I intend to engage people about how we can “meet our needs with as little harm and as much benefit to lifekind as possible.” Can you think of a better formulation ?

To what extent do you think a person can apply that formulation according to her own lights, doing the best with what she has where she’s at ?

To what extent do you think that labels are ‘spiritually’ constraining, leading one to either ignore other social justice issues or requiring one to do mental acrobatics regarding social justice ‘intersectionality’ ?

Questions about the 2016 presidential campaign

Former Trump supporters seeing Sanders as the next-best thing ? That’s what a friend said to me. That sounds far-fetched. Trump supporters probably see Sanders as a socialist, as a promoter of ‘big government.’

That aside, this calls to mind how populism can pivot, either toward democratizing directions or toward something ugly—oops, almost said the F word, and it isn’t ‘fuck.’

Where’s Sanders getting his campaign money ? Talk among disappointed supporters of Obama had it that the “powers that be” (the military-industrial-complex, and so on) threatened him and his family, disabusing him of his pre-election notions of presiding over a democracy.

That’s a bit of a conspiracy theory, but I don’t understand how Sanders can effectuate positive change, given the hold that campaign financing and lobbying have over public policy, and the so-called ‘military-industrial complex. All due respect, but how can Sanders possibly put into action his talk about political revolution and challenging oligarchy?

Grassroots movements can counter that influence. We got strength in numbers, that is, if we organize. But so far, the requisite degree of grassroots organization is barely a rumor. Sorry if I’m coming across as pessimistic.

In the absence of a national manifestation of the Global Justice Movement, I don’t see positive populism in the US as being a sure thing. I’m not trying to be pessimistic, but given who buys public policy thru campaign finance and lobbying, entrenched regulatory conflicts-of-interest, and the misinformation in the mainstream media, it’s unfortunately not far-fetched that demagoguery could take hold.

As a result of fear-mongering and intolerant rhetoric ( for example, toward Muslims and undocumented immigrants, ) the critical mass of populism in this country may be channeled not into social justice and ecological responsibility, but instead into scapegoating and increased militarism and nationalism.

I spoke with a couple dozen Trump supporters a few weeks ago at a rally. I was puzzled by how person after person told me that Obama is letting the world walk all over us, and that we need to strengthen our military and get serious about addressing terrorism and illegal immigration. Where do these folk get such ideas?

More recently, this week Republican candidates, not just Trump, engaged in mendacious fear-mongering, with one of them saying that Obama has deliberately undermined our national security, and another saying, ridiculously, that many Americans “don’t recognize their own country anymore.”

They’re promoting xenophobia and other fears (as it pertains to Muslims and immigrants), and it’s a nod to that segment of our society that thinks Obama is a radical socialist Muslim who is secretly collaborating with terrorists.

In the middle of coordinating visits with a former drinking buddy of my friend who was hospitalized, she told about Obama’s evil-doings. When I pressed her for details, she said, “Newt Gingrich wrote a good article about it.”

This is anecdotal, but her views were similar to those of people at the Trump rally I was at. Hopefully that segment of society is a small, unorganized, unmotivated minority.

But what if they are not a small minority? The political involvement (voting) of scared, frustrated, and misinformed people who number in the millions and who are enchanted by a charismatic person who makes recklessly overgeneralized statements does not help to push things in the direction of a democratizing grassroots movement with a positive vision for the future.

Correct me on this maybe, but if it’s the case that moderate Republicans and moderate conservatives are continuing to lose credibility among Republican voters, and a radical candidate appeals to their frustration, what does that spell, if, at the same time, centrist Democratic candidates such as Hillary don’t have enough support to get elected ?

I am going to quit this for now. I’ll keep an open mind. But, what I’m more certain of is that I’m leaning toward Sanders. Even if we doesn’t win, helping with his campaign could form working ties useful for grass roots movement building.

That’s work I plan to do regardless of the general election outcome. As before, my challenge is connecting my livelihood with helping to build grassroots movements. I plan to start by standing on street corners with signs “Organize kindness, random acts aren’t enough.” and “Maximize kindness on Earth.”

Fascism or Democratic Socialism ?

(1) In light of Bernie Sanders saying our nation needs a political revolution, to what extent do you think we face two main options: democratic socialism or fascism ?

(2) Given the “defeat of Communism” at the end of the Cold War, to what degree do you think fascism is more likely than leftist totalitarianism, leaving us with the two main options of democratic socialism or fascism ?

(3) To what extent do you think that, without an intensification of social movements for undoing the concentration of political and economic power, the drift toward fascism seems our nation’s default setting ?

(4) In so far as you follow the line of reasoning stated in (3), to what extent would you say, perhaps counter-intuitively, that we’re only making matters worse if we play it safe for fear of provoking a right wing populist backlash or if we play it safe for fear of provoking a government crackdown ?

(5) In other words, to what extent would you say there is no viable alternative to an intensification of social movements for political and economic democratization ?

Notes on ecology, religion, and humanism

The comments in quotations are from a friend. My remarks are written after his.

“Yes, I did criticize the ‘New Atheists’ and of course, I was also criticizing 99% of all the atheists I’ve ever spoke with for their lack of philosophical awareness, which makes them not an alternative to religious fundamentalism but the other side of the coin, the secular side let’s say. Of course, that criticism still stands. The great Christian, Dostoyevsky, once expressed, speaking of the ‘puny’ atheists of his time, that he could, with his little finger, make an argument against God that would eclipse anything the ‘so-called’ atheists could come up with. What is interesting about that little story is it shows this sense of disappointment with the common throng of atheists.

“In terms of embracing the views of the ‘new atheists’, that is a little tricky. In terms of ’embracing’ anything I was saying, it is more accurate to say that they are propositions that I’m leaning toward, but it is not yet a slam dunk. As I mentioned, I’m intrigued by the questions. All too often I feel the weight of the question is not fully ascertained before one rushes headlong for a solution, then they speak eloquently of the solution without taking the question to its limits. Thus the point gets missed, in addition to the point that their solution is flawed and not up to the magnitude of the job, for example a child with a water hose trying to extinguish a 4 alarm fire. The ‘Death of God’ is a good example. The full magnitude of this seems to evade most people. I’m not saying I get the full magnitude of this but it has indeed become a ponderous abyss the more I stare into it, something difficult to convey to most people caught up in the flow of their busy lives.

“You’ve heard the quote by Voltaire that goes, ‘if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him’. I find the implications of this terrifying. What if it is the case that we cannot live without God? That as human beings we need God, the concept of God, the illusion of God, and without it we become miserable. No one seems to be content remaining in the abyss. In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan vanquished to the abyss and he is not content there. He must live in constant rebellion. He entices Adam and Eve to rebel against God, thus the Fall of humanity. For thinking they could live outside of the law of God, they are expelled from Eden and death enters the world. But, the question raised by The Iceman Cometh, are human beings dependent upon illusion and lying to oneself in order to be happy. That new gods arise here and there as people cannot stand the full nothingness that their freedom entails, and rush to enslave themselves to this idol and that. Can we live without lying to ourselves?”

My response :

(1) we can live without lying to ourselves, though occasionally it’s necessary to lie to others;

(2) fallibility is not the same as lying;

(3) ‘atheism’ isn’t, in that the lack of belief does not constitute a belief, though there needs to be a word for a habit of thinking such that we don’t believe, but instead adopt reasonable standards for what we know, as opposed to what we’d believe;

(4) Dostoyesky exaggerated, in that credible atheists predated him and also were among his contemporaries;

(5) the solution to religious fundamentalism, if not also religion in general, involves expanding ‘secular humanism’ ( probably losing its name) so that it includes all lifekind, and dispenses with the notion of humanity as the measure of all things, so as to see ourselves (as individuals, communities, societies, and as a species), as a very small part of something—the universe(s)—incomprehensibly vast and complex;

(6) secular humanism and religion, are two sides of a coin, so to speak, of our collective over-estimation of the importance of our species. Atheism falls short if it bogs down in scientistic rationalism, and fails to come to terms of our dependence on nature. As you know, my own attempt to address this is to frame matters in terms of maximizing kindness on Earth; in my opinion, ‘atheism’ is far too much AGAINST religion, and far too little FOR a comprehensive philosophy thru which to, if you will, “maximize kindness” with a breadth of scope that includes all lifekind.

(7) it seems you’re reifying the so-called ‘death of God,’ and maybe forgetting that it’s a metaphor, and that metaphors can illuminate facts, but not establish them; skepticism regarding gods does not necessarily result of the absence of human purpose; I’d say the point of Existentialism is not that life is absurd and meaningless, but rather that human beings are better off to exert effort for creating our sense of meaning, as individuals, communities, and societies. A related point of Existentialism, in my estimation, is that meaning does not exist in the universe independent of living, (as far as we know) flesh and blood beings; that view occurs within the broader perspective of Philosophical Materialism; by contrast, non-materialists see purpose behind all phenomena of the universe, whereby there are not only patterns in nature, but conscious design;

(8) in light of that formulation in (7), it would seem to follow that humans can achieve a deeper sense of purpose thru thinking that the universe itself does not have purpose, but that seeking purpose is something that humans and other conscious beings do;

(9) but I’ll keep an open mind, and not be rigid or scientistic in my Philosophical Materialism; I can imagine some of the intensely rigorous perspectives on Earth’s living systems challenging the philosophical materialist view that (a) nature has patterns necessary for it’s functioning, though (b) it has no intrinsic, conscious design;

Notes related to the mass murder in Paris

It is a mistake to blame and hate people who had nothing to do with the mass murders in Paris, but who are Muslims and/or Arab or Persian.

Blaming all 800,000,000 or so Muslims is erroneous, and serves to gloss over the political motivations of ISIS or whoever might have committed the mass murders.

Me personally, as an atheist, I don’t relate to the idea of loving enemies that Christians talk about, but I strive to base my actions on loving kindness, and to not allow myself to hate.

Hatred probably is self-defeating and mentally blinding. Overly simplified views of the world and hatred are mutually reinforcing. Mainstream media propaganda that spreads hate and fear tends to dumb us down, if we’re not careful to think critically.

In the wake of the mass murders in Paris I thought of the bumper sticker that reads”One human family.” (Why not include our non-human kin? ) Human beings do great and beautiful things. We also do ugly things, to one another as humans, to other species, and to Planet Earth as a whole.—

Human beings also make erroneous generalizations. The generalizations about Muslims enable some of us non-Muslims to not come to terms with the political motivations of those who engage in ‘asymmetrical warfare’ (aka ‘terrorism’) of which the mass murders in Paris are an example. —

Whether in our own minds or in the minds of our enemies, hatred detracts from our human ability to grasp reality. —As a result of our hatred, we focus on the wrongdoing of others against ‘us’ while being oblivious to our own possible connection to wrong doing. —

I’m not telling anyone what to think. I’m asking questions. If we’re upset about the loss of life and suffering in Paris, to what extent might our empathy and kindness apply also to the suffering of civilians at the receiving end of US military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, or to the suffering of Palestinians at the receiving end of US-funded policies of the government of Israel?

To what extent might our empathy and kindness also apply to the suffering of animals on ‘factory farms’, or to indigenous people being murdered and pushed off their lands; or to people suffering in sweatshops connected to our consumer culture, or apply also to our racist, classist ‘criminal justice’ system? —

I am not making light of the tragedy in Paris, and I’m not suggesting a person can be involved in correcting every injustice. My point is to emphasize an ethic of global solidarity as beings on this planet, as a mentality that is better than confining our empathy to national, ethnic, or religious loyalty. In other words, the tragedy in Paris is an occasion to remind ourselves to work hard on putting our concern (‘loving kindness’, if you will) for one another into practice, instead of going down the destructive path of hatred.

—But as for US national interest, our nation and its allies can defend ourselves by killing those who intend to spread terror thru their various forms of asymmetrical warfare, without hate-mongering and without fear-mongering. Pacifism, whether on the part of our government or on the part of social movements, isn’t the solution.

—The way forward is an ethic of global solidarity that in at least some cases is more important than religious, ethnic, or national loyalties. —War and other forms of violence can’t be entirely avoided. But I suspect that a value system that emphasizes the fact that we are all in this together as beings on this sacred planet is more beneficial than a mentality of nationalism, racism, and religious intolerance.

Demagoguery involves using hatred and fear to manipulate the general population. The process of blaming all Muslims for the murderous attacks in Paris is related to the ongoing concentration of political and economic power within the US, whereby (1)big money buys public policy; (2) tax cuts and tax evasion by big corporations gut revenue for states and cities, closing schools and cutting social services; (3) police become more militarized; (4) millions of people are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses thru the War on Drugs; and so on.

—Islamophobia is part of the process of using fear and hatred to blind the general population to the fact that the United States is flirting with fascism. Part of the solution is solidarity across race, nationality, class, sexuality, religion and so on. The challenge is figuring out the basis of that global solidarity. Maybe the basic component is loving kindness with organized expressions of that taking place within social movements for improved democracy as well social movements for living in harmony with the Earth. I don’t have all the answers, obviously, but it’s reasonable to assume that fear and hatred, which further enables the concentration of political and economic power is not the solution; and that solidarity as one family of life on this beautiful planet is worth striving for.

Guess you could call such striving toward organized loving kindness ‘spiritual’ given its idealism. Maybe a spirituality of seeking harmony among all lifekind is a collective step toward something better than religion? Maybe, to collaboratively build that new spirituality, a person will on some occasions make her or his sense of Earth-based solidarity more important than her or his national, ethnic, class or other identities. At the same time, nation states, as modes of social organization, might become less important, due to things such as radical climate change or increased scarcity of energy or water. Within that hypothetical milieu, an Earth-based identity might make more sense. But is that the same thing as a tribal mentality (for those of us who admire “primitive’ societies?) ….Just some ideas here related, perhaps tangentially, to the folly of hating and having irrational fear of Muslims, and the folly of excessive patriotism. Of course, those who hate and seek to harm US civilians are similarly foolish.

Maximize kindness instead of trying to love unconditionally or universally

 

If evolution hardwired, in our species in general, with variations from individual to individual, elements of aggression and of lust for revenge and sadism, then we might ask, within the conceptual framework of Naturalism, how it is that we think aggression and hatred are bad and cooperation, empathy, and compassion are good? I’ll keep an open mind, but so far my own answer is that the evolutionary hard wiring of our brains is such that we cannot live by the Christian idea of loving our enemies, nor can we actually love each and every being of each and every species of Earth, as some religions and philosophies claim. But, within the evolutionary constraints of human psychological makeup, we can control what emotions occupy our minds. As such we can base our lives on maximal kindness, and thru a philosophical or ‘spiritual’ self-discipline, not allow hatred to motivate us.

It’s a matter of maximizing kindness, not a matter of universal or unconditional love or kindness, which probably doesn’t exist, even among mothers. To me, it’s a philosophy of enlightened self-interest, not self-abnegation, with benefits to ‘survival efficiency’, politically and interpersonally. Philosophically, it’s Existential, not Platonic. Instead of being mystical, it’s pursued within rationalism, as, if you will, a science of morality, as John Stuart Mill and Auguste Comte suggested

Notes on social progress

If we’re better at finding common ground, we’ll have more strength in numbers. Systems of exploitation and oppression require masses of people to make it function, whether it’s a matter of high-tech surveillance, high-tech weapons, complex financial schemes, and so on. The abuse of power depends on the consent of people at many levels within society. With the right type of social movement, people within the ranks of the military, police, and economic and media institutions defect, withdrawing their support for an abusive system. If that comes, it’ll be from a set of values gaining ever wider currency, and not from any top-down political party promising reform or revolution

It’s problem solving, whether you’re a web developer or doing something else. Much of our social system operates on our unspoken, inadvertent consent. What happens in society affects us and those in our immediate social circles. Recognizing strangers on the subway, and people on the other side of the planet or nearby in the county jail as our brothers and sisters, is key to societal problem solving. ‘Organized kindness’ , and not power-envy, propels social progress. Without an ethic of ‘spiritual love’ or kindness, we tend to be angry not so much because power is being abused, but instead because we aren’t the ones who have the power. Without an ethic of organized kindness the power envy, egotism , and internecine jealousy make social movements prone to infiltration and cooptation.

And this involves not just “fist shaking” but also strategic ties of mutual aid which in some cases defy or at least don’t rely on the ‘state’ , in regards to setting the terms of engagement, whether it pertains to physical security, food, housing, medicine, information, and so on. I think it’s absurd to advocate for the nonexistence of ‘the state. ‘ Instead, I’d say people can expect better bargaining power with the state if we’ve gone some distance with meeting our needs without heavy reliance on ‘the state’

As you know probably better than me, the Black Panthers ( not the black supremacist New Black Panthers) made strides toward ‘strategic interdependence’