Fall In Love, Join the Revolution*

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of love recently, and how it can simultaneously propel someone to greatness, but also induce massive anxiety. Does the object of my love feel the same way? Do they love someone else? Am I loving too soon (or even too late)?

While my propensity to love, quote, and praise CrimethInc is not hidden, it’s often through their anarchistic lens that I find so much to comfort myself when it comes to love. “Love like you’ve never lost” graces their gift wrap when they mail you books (along with the follow-up: “Fight like you’ve never won”). Isn’t that a novel concept? To love like you’ve never lost. Meaning, simply, to not dwell on past relationships that may have failed or gotten fucked up; to get back up and try again – move on! – NOT, as was immortalized in the 1995 movie Hackers “mess with the best, die like the rest.” No, you don’t die, silly: you learn and grow stronger!

I can’t miss this opportunity to critique Christianity, and will do with the eloquent words of A.C. Grayling whom my mother has been a fan of recently and loves to quote. When speaking about his book “The Choice of Hercules,” Grayling responds a to comment about “moral failure”:

It’s one theme and one very dominant strand of Christian morality that if you commit a sin it’s an almost ineradicable stain on your soul and you may well have to pay for it, especially in a posthumous dispensation. It might be millions of years in purgatory or something. Whereas the Greeks had a much healthier attitude to this; they thought of doing something wrong as a mistake, as a sort of misfired shot. They likened it, in fact, to shooting an arrow at a target and if you miss, well, you just simply try better next time, you learn the lesson, pick yourself up and you move on. This very, very practical and I think rather healthy attitude means that people can regard the experience of trying to be moral, trying to live an ethical life that is full of satisfactions and achievements in the end is one that you can get better at rather than get worse at.

To me, the idea of a “moral failure” lives deep within someone who has failed relationships; a relationship where they took a chance, loved hard, and fell flat on their face. If this happens just a few times, the idea of falling in love with someone new can become perniciously avoided, even to the extreme that a walled stone fortress lives around the heart of such person. While my path of love has earned me enough to live without this bastion, such a guarded life doesn’t seem like the existence of someone – man, women, or otherwise – in their fullness (a phrase I’ll borrow from the writings of Robert Moore and archetype-based psychology).

In the modern age, love should be reveled in, and given as freely as possible. Science backs this, although from the traditional standpoint of a monogamous relationship, but also offers clues about how to keep the “spark” alive and fall in love all over again. See “The Psychology Of Loves That Last A Lifetime” on HuffPo recently. Science isn’t biased, however, and researchers from the other end of the spectrum are working on an anti-love drug (a la Eternal Sunshine) with uses from erasing a bad memory to treating trauma victims. But what if it has a bad reaction…? Ah, the possibilities.

CrimethInc’s chapter on “Love” from Days of War, Nights of Love, is worth a read, and reading 10-15 years after its original publication makes me enjoy the ethos evermore. Love is rebellion, love is revolution, love is an act that we can truly engage in without commodification, without interference from capitalism. That is, if we are honest and open, anyway. That sounds like an environment that I can support, and wish to create for myself, my lover, my family, and friends…

One might say that it is ridiculous to implore others to fall in love—one either falls in love or one does not, it is not a choice that can be made consciously. Emotions do not follow the instructions of the rational mind. But the environment in which we must live out our lives has a great influence on our emotions, and we can make rational decisions that will affect this environment. It should be possible to work to change an environment that is hostile to love into an environment that will encourage it. Our task must be to engineer our world so that it is a world in which people can and do fall in love, and thus to reconstitute human beings so that we will be ready for the “revolution” spoken of in these pages—so that we will be able to find meaning and happiness in our lives.

 

*I must attribute this phrase to Shane Becker, the “veganstraightedge” on all social media ever, who likely “stole” (not really, see the copyright of this blog) it from CrimethInc, and I’ve actually modified it to say “revolution” as perhaps a new way of loving, without fear of failure or harm, can be a revolution of sorts.

Photo: Daniela Hartmann, Flickr

A Post-Religion World

Ah, Facebook. A place to share photos, silly photos of cats, and bash religion. While the Dalai Lama wasn’t necessarily “bashing” religion, his status update last week raised a few eyebrows and prompted this excellent io9 article, “Dalai Lama tells his Facebook friends that religion ‘is no longer adequate’.” When I shared the article on my Facebook, I garnered quite a few likes as well (though, admittedly, I have a lot of non-religious friends). The specific words of the Dalai Lama were, to be clear:

All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.

As io9 (who, if you are not aware, are basically the futuristic/sci-fi/transhumanist wing of Gawker/Gizmodo/Lifehacker) points out, this is sounds an awful lot like Sam Harris with his morality-should-be-decided-by-science approach. Hear, hear!

As the Alaska Dispatch (yeah, huh?) points out, tweets from the spiritual leader mirror this sentiment:

(Side note: WordPress did a damn good job of those tweet embeds! More on that here.)

So where do we go from here? Comments from my friend circle find the Dalai Lama’s remarks not altogether surprising, but I think that’s also because many of us in America typically look at him as a source good quotes, not a spiritual leader like millions of other Buddhists around the world. And at the same time, is Buddhism not a religion? By some counts, sure, by others it’s merely a philosophical practice, or a way of living. As The Onion so succinctly put, “No One Was Murdered Because Of This Image” which indeed includes the Buddha being “violated.” Sadly we cannot say the same for satire of Muhammed.

In light of the recent outrage about a mere comedic film, which included mass rioting, injuries, and death, how much longer can we tolerate extreme faith? Or any faith, for that matter; the moment we begin to criticize irrational, god-first-and-foremost, “praise be to him” thinking, the moment we can speak clearly about much of this violence, be it from an Islamic or other religious basis. From the NY Times article:

Raising banners with Islamic slogans and denouncing the United States and Israel, Iraqis called for the expulsion of American diplomats from the country and demanded that the American government apologize for the incendiary film and take legal action against it’s creators.

This is simply ridiculous, and highlights the continuing issue with Islamic politics and their faith-crazed viewpoints. Trying to be as unbiased as possible here: holding an entire country accountable for the offensive film created by a few within it, is just ludicrous.

At least some Libyans disagree, as evinced by these photos. And I think many of us see these events unfold as evidence that a portion of Muslims are just wacky, deluded into violence by some promise that it will bring them salvation in the end if they live up to the creed of following the Quran as they interpret it. But I think we need a broader picture: the same faith that they use to fuel these attacks is the faith that causes irrational belief in any god, be it Allah, Yahweh, or Jesus. We have to confront the source: that faith, and religion, are no basis to make these moral and real-world decisions when the teachings inscribed within their books are from an archaic time long ago.

Sam Harris puts it well in his TED Talk from 2010, where he drives home the point that we don’t tolerate “differences of opinion” in other areas of science, where facts are facts and bullshit is bullshit. So why should we do it with morality?

[T]here are right and wrong answers to questions of human flourishing. And morality relates to that domain of facts. It is possible for individuals and even for whole cultures, to care about the wrong things. Which is to say, it’s possible for them to have beliefs and desires that reliable lead to needless human suffering. Just admitting this will transform our discourse about human morality. […]

We can no more respect and tolerate vast difference in notions of human wellbeing than we can tolerate vast differences in the notions of how disease spreads, or the safety standards of buildings and airplanes. We simply must converge on the answers we give on the most important questions in human life. And to do that, we have to admit that these questions have answers.

Photo: Wikipedia

We Who Are Not As Others

Great piece by Sam Harris a few weeks ago on his blog where he interviews researcher Bruce Hood about his new book, “The Self Illusion: How the Brain Creates Social Identity.” Hood argues, as the hypnotic Sepultura song quoted in the title does, that we may not be who “we” think we are:

There is conscious awareness of the present moment that he called the “I,” but there is also a self that reflects upon who we are in terms of our history, our current activities and our future plans. James called this aspect of the self, “me” which most of us would recognize as our personal identity—who we think we are. However, I think that both the “I” and the “me” are actually ever-changing narratives generated by our brain to provide a coherent framework to organize the output of all the factors that contribute to our thoughts and behaviors.

Hood goes on to summarize that while this realization may not be as fun as coming to term with Achor’s happiness philosophies, it’s necessary: “[b]y rejecting the notion of a core self and considering how we are a multitude of competing urges and impulses, I think it is easier to understand why we suddenly go off the rails.” This leads into some deep thought quickly: who are “we?” who am “I?” Are we a mirror of our five closest friends, as some have suggested, or merely “competing urges and impulses?”

Moreover, Hood has some interesting ideas about social networks and their capacity to form us. Naively, I believe that Facebook, Twitter, and the like allow us to become exposed to new ideas and spread interesting ones. While I don’t always seek out opposing views, they’re still present, albeit sometimes “hidden.” Hood argues we subconsciously associate and group our ideas conservatively, with extremity being the result:

There is evidence of homophily – the grouping together of individuals who share a common perspective, which is not too surprising. More interesting is evidence of polarization. Rather than opening up and exposing us to different perspectives, social networking on the Internet can foster more radicalization as we seek out others who share our positions. The more others validate our opinions, the more extreme we become.

My partner and I like to joke, “validation?” whenever one of us says something remotely emotional. But this isn’t a joke on the Internet – with every like and re-tweet we receive, we are both consciously and subconsciously being validated about our beliefs, whether those beliefs are good, bad, or somewhere in between. Again, this is a lot of meta-talk about a status update, but I found Hood’s point intriguing. In the admirable quest of activism, with its heavy online component, are merely becoming more militant, and exclusive? I like to think not. What’s your take?

Photo: Marcus Vegas

Be Strong, Write Haikus! (#HAWMC Day 6)

Be strong and do good
Act as if it were your last
Seek truth and reason

Today’s haiku, and consequent writing prompt, is inspired by none other than Marcus Aurelius, one of the most famous stoic philosophers of all time, and the last of the “five good emperors” in Roman history. His writings are in inspiration to us all, and between wading through Meditations and a wealth of his finest quotes, I came up with the above 5/7/5 (haiku) tribute to Aurelius and his stoic beliefs.

Meditations, which is a collection of 12 short “books” that Marcus Aurelius wrote in the 2nd century CE., is a powerful work. It implores one to “analyze your judgement of self and others and developing a cosmic perspective,” and Aurelius “advocates finding one’s place in the universe and sees that everything came from nature, and so everything shall return to it in due time” (wiki). When I found the book in my collection, I was intrigued, and also reminded of Tim Ferriss’ love of stoicism (mostly Seneca), which prompted me to investigate further.

What I love about the writings of Aurelius especially is the pragmatism and real, concrete advice, written thousands of years before the drama of Facebook or the interruption of a cell phone. Assuming we can believe the translation, he was on to something: put aside all the bullshit, and get at what’s really bugging you: you. If we were to really focus on health, shouldn’t we, as the individual, be the starting point? Yes, we’re all in “this” together, but if you’re pissed off, angry, if something just isn’t quite right, it’s mostly like you, and not them. My favorite self-help writer Don Miguel Ruiz echoes this in The Four Agreements, and I couldn’t agree more.

My haiku speaks to this: be strong, in your actions, your words, your thoughts, and your life. Do good, to yourself first and foremost (self-love is crucial!) but also to others, and to animals. “Act as it if were your last” – this may be cliche advice, but the thought is worth contemplating. If today were your last day with someone, or in town, or on earth, what would you do? Waste time squabbling about stupid stuff? Worry about things we can’t control? Hell no – we’d act, enjoy, experience, and love. Love is crucial to all of this, mind you. Seek truth and reason: don’t fear an imaginary god and eternal damnation, don’t be plagued by societal guilt that you aren’t living up to what you’re “supposed to be.” Seeking truth goes hand in hand with what Ruiz called his “Fifth Agreement:” Be Skeptical. Absolutely. With reason, we can determine what is real, and what is not – what is a human-construct, and what must logically be. Be skeptical, but loving, truthful, but caring.

Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones. (Marcus Aurelius)*

Photo: Jungle_Boy (thanks for the CC license!)

*Apparently there is controversy as to whether he actually said this or not. Who cares? It’s a great quote and the foundation of the Atheist’s Wager.

Man Is The Animal (#HAWMC Day 2)

The devils of past religions have always, at least in part, had animal characteristics, evidence of man’s constant need to deny that he too is an animal, for to do so would serve a mighty blow to his impoverished ego. -Anton LaVey

Today’s quote comes from the founder of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey. LaVey was an eccentric character; he easily took the aesthetic value of Satanism to its extremes to grab headlines and get attention, while still preaching the anti-Christian, anti-theist nature of Satanism and its accompanying decadence. Whether Satanism (LaVeyan satanism, that is, not Luciferianism) is valid is not something I want to debate right now. While there may be merit to some of its principles, the quote above deftly sums up the resistance most people have to veganism: our long held belief that we must be above the animals, or else our precious ego might suffer, as LaVey alludes.

Why else is the devil a goat? Why are pigs and pork products considered “unclean” in Muslim and Jewish tradition? If the devil is in them, then it cannot be in “us.” But are we really that much different from the goat, the pig, or the animal with the “cloven hoof?” No, of course not. Sentience is the criteria for moral consideration – whether pain matters – not some arbitrary maxim on high from a divine entity. LaVey’s quote is inspiration to me because it cuts through the bullshit about our relationship to the world. We are just another species, another group of mammals trying to survive, and while we may have done a “decent” job by some standards, we’re wrecking the world for the rest of our fellow animals. Orangutans are being murdered for palm oil, bees are dying from crop pesticides, and the fish of the world continue to die off in massive numbers. Some will say, “so what?” but a healthy earth relies on a diversity of species – us included – and humans have a penchant for saying “me first” almost exclusively.

So remember, we are animals. We love, and want love, just like dogs and cats, pigs and chickens, cows and whales. If we’re going to pet one (see: dogs and cats), why it is okay to breed, abuse, and kill others (see: all farm animals ever)? I would argue it’s not, and to believe otherwise is speciesism. If that topic sounds interesting to you (as it did to me!) then keep an eye out for Speciesism The Movie which should debut later this year.

Note: This is Day 2 of WEGOHealth’s “Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge!” I’m 2/2! Today’s prompt was to pick a quote that inspires me and “free write” for fifteen minutes. Mine  turned into an hour…oh well! Here’s to staying on track! Photo via f. bearclaw.