Monthly Archives: April 2013

A revolution on the scale of Stone Age to Iron Age or greater?

In talking to my friend Matthias recently while staying with him in Luxembourg, I was thinking about the scale of change we are going through.  He was describing the approach his daughters take to learning.  His eldest daughter is only 11 and her sister 9 yet already they take learning into their own hands, practicing new languages using tutorials on the internet.  In a similar way, if my own children (some 4 and 9 years older) want to find out about something new they look it up on the internet, as most of us do.  Much of the learning for the younger generation is done through peers using social media.  Matthias was also telling me about a series of wonderful tutorials that are freely available from universities in the USA  that his eldest daughter was going to look at.  Teachers now suggest that they are more like facilitators helping kids to understand where to access knowledge rather than the providers of it.  If their facts or presentations are wrong then the kids will look it up on the internet and correct them.  I wonder if in the future, education will shift to be more self-directed rather than controlled by an educational establishment.  In fact, I think it is already happening, it’s just that the formal systems have not caught up with it yet.

My own generation has lived through the introduction of these profound changes, perhaps this is the continuing impact of the Pluto-Uranus opposite Saturn generation of the sixties which has taken social revolution to a whole new scale.  I remember being at school when the very first computers came out and my family buying a sinclair programmable calculator which took an age to do relatively simple sums.  Yet within years Casio were making sophisticated calculators which we were using in Maths lessons.  When I entered the world of work, computers had still not really arrived and electric typewriters and word processors were the norm.  The phenomenon of email began to take hold over my early years of work and I remember the first brick sized mobile phones.  Now companies are virtual, employees often work from home or in multiple locations etc.

I suspect Historians might look back in the future and see this period as one which involved a scale of change for humanity like potentially no other period before it.  There may be others, for instance when we finally set up colonies off the Earth, but, with the first man in space and on the moon having happened in the last fifty years perhaps the seeds of this have already been sown.  I think there are many areas which will change.  Education appears to be one which is already changing, as is social interaction and the way we do business, shop, watch video, access music.  In fact everywhere we look there is quite seismic change taking place.  Looking back on my own life, I find it hard to imagine what it was like before mobile phones, the internet et al.  I know I lived through such times, but even in such a relatively short period, it is difficult to remember or imagine.

I suspect that I am already a fossil compared to the younger generation that have grown up immersed in this new world and cannot remember a time before the internet.  Before I pop off though, it is going to be interesting to watch how the next few steps evolve.

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Self Righteousness – am I the only one who can see this??

In my last blog a few days ago, I was alluding to self-rigtheousness and our need for a sense of humour in this regard.  This is something I have been giving thought to over the last few months and it cropped up again this evening in a conversation with my friend and colleague as we were dining together.  In watching Have I Got News For You recently following the death of Maggie Thatcher and with public attention on her funeral and legacy, I was horrified by the tone.  The whole programme was devoted to vitriolic attacks on almost everyone and everything including Margaret Thatcher.

Self-righteousness and it’s bedfellow hypocrisy seem to be topics which are particular favourites of ours as human beings.  We all seem prey to this and it produces some pretty horrendous results.  We poke fun quite cruelly and incredulously at what we see as other people’s hypocrisy, safe in the knowledge that we would never suffer from such weaknesses.  How do we get away with such hypocrisy?  Jonathan Haidt describes this brilliantly in his book The Happiness Hypothesis where he uses the analogy of a small human rider sitting on top of an elephant.  The elephant, he says, is the mammal brain – sophisticated, millions of years old and operating almost exclusively unconsciously.  Atop this sits the rational brain, like a small human rider; this brain is only thousands of years old, but it is convinced that it is running the show and making decisions.  In reality, the elephant is making all the decisions – imagine a small human rider trying to control an elephant should it decide it is going to move in a particular direction…

However, as Haidt points out, the rational brain wants to maintain the illusion that it is in control and running the show so it indulges in rationalisation and justification to maintain this illusion.  Haidt’s point was that this creates the sense for all of us that we are the only rational being in a sea of irrationality.  We can see the way that other people act on jealousy, fear, anger, competition; the ways in which they are hypocritical or corrupt but we cannot see this in ourselves (other people can see it in us but we are blind to it).  What Haidt challenges us to see is that the role of the rational brain is actually to turn it’s conscious awareness on ourselves and that it is only through this that we can truly “tame” or influence our elephant.  I recognise that self-righteousness is a step on the way to self-development, in that seeing things in others is at least part of the stage of recognising it in ourselves.  What appalls me is that other people cannot see their own self-righteousness and hypocrisy when it is so glaringly obvious, what idiots………..oh dear!

In discussing this this evening with my friend, we were discussing the topic of bankers.  My colleague felt there was a line that he would not transgress and that what saddened him was that they did not even see the anger people felt but dismissed it as jealousy.  I was suggesting that I could understand how they would feel like that and that, in our case, since we both ran training and coaching businesses which had as clients, banks and professional advsiors who had profited from banks we were complicit.  I was arguing that I could see it was a matter of scale – we might think nothing of not correcting a petty amount of money or paying someone in cash on the odd occasion without seeing ourselves as being corrupt, yet if our actions were subject to the scrutiny of the media and spun in the right way we could easily be accused of being corrupt materialists out for ends.  He could not help but smile and agree at the fact that the temptation was there to fiddle the expenses slightly for clients who had messed us around, or taken advantage of us and that we have to challenge ourselves at times to think “would we be happy to be charged this”  to prevent us unconsciously justifiying these temptations.  Somehow though, in our minds, our deviations from our good intentions are small justifiable affairs; we are convinced we are intrinsically good.  The more we got into the argument the more it emerged how easy it is, if we identify with being good, to feel that our actions are different, that others simply aren’t motivated by the same quality of “goodness” that we are.  In the end he accepted the point I was making (difficult to do otherwise as he was arguing on his unconscious emotions and I don’t suffer from competition and self-righteousness) but challenged me by asking how we then deal with the dangerous actions of others; he felt we had to draw a line.  This reminded me of a hexagram I had recently thrown in the I-Ching – 61 Inner Truth which says:

Thus the superior man, when obliged to 
judge the mistakes of men, tries to penetrate their minds with understanding, 
in order to gain a sympathetic appreciation of the circumstances. In ancient 
China, the entire administration of justice was guided by this principle. A 
deep understanding that knows how to pardon was considered the highest 
form of justice. This system was not without success, for its aim was to make 
so strong a moral impression that there was no reason to fear abuse of such 
mildness. For it sprang not from weakness but from a superior clarity.

I was struck by the fact that we need to deal with such corruptions and hold people accountable at times, but if we are aware of our own fallibility it does not mean we do not act but allows us to do so with compassion and understanding rather than self-righteous judgement and moral pomposity.  In watching Having I Got News For You and the vitriol poured out towards someone who had died (Margaret Thatcher), the lack of humanity was deeply saddening and shocking for me, yet, whilst I might be saddened and not wish to condone the lack of humanity, I could not but help recognise that in my late-teens I felt exactly the same way and at the time of the IRA bombing remarked to my then girlfriend that I wished they had succeeded in killing Maggie.  Her disgust at my comment made me feel more ashamed of myself than I think I have ever felt since.  I still wince now to think I could have been so heartless and inhuman, whether I liked someone or not.

If my friend Chrissy’s model of the brain is correct (and the evidence from the New Scientist seems to support it more and more strongly) then the rational brain (or pre-fontal lobes) is represented by Uranus (Aquarius) and Saturn (Capricorn) and these in turn correlate to the top lines of Hexagram 1 (The Creative) and Hexagram 2 (The Receptive).  Given the dangers of self-righteousness and judgmental enforcement of rules without “penetrating their minds with understanding”, perhaps this is why the I-Ching provides such strong warnings in these lines.  For Aquarius:

Arrogant dragon will have cause to repent.

When a man seeks to climb so high that he loses touch with the rest of 
mankind, he becomes isolated, and this necessarily leads to failure.

for Capricorn:

Dragons fight in the meadow.
Their blood is black and yellow.

In the top place the dark element should yield to the light. If it attempts to 
maintain a position to which it is not entitled and to rule instead of serving, 
it draws down upon itself the anger of the strong.

Lastly, I can only say that I am glad, having understood all this, that it has freed me from ever falling prey to hypocrisy and self-righteousness as so many other less enlightened people seem to do.

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Who debunks the debunkers?

Watching TED talks yesterday evening, I came across a talk by someone called Michael Shermer.  He is the publisher of Skeptic magazine and he was illustrating the way that people are taken in by people claiming knowledge or products that do amazing things when there is no scientific evidence to support them.  He illustrated this by bringing along a device which claimed to be a modern dowsing device for detecting whether students had cannabis in their lockers.  This device cost $900.  He pointed out that if you go to enough student lockers you will find cannabis, so that the device is bound to work on some occasions.  He went on to say that it is the times that it doesn’t work that are critical and he and people like him are out to count these and debunk these myths.  So his point was that in examining sweeping claims we need to be very careful to look at the detail to ensure that we actually weigh and sift the facts to ascertain whether grand claims are accurate.  What was surprising was that he went on to say that this is the way that psychics and astrologers work – but that they were there to count the times it does not work.  Now, this is a very grand and sweeping statement.  Applying Michael’s own methods of skepticism, I would like to understand where the factual data lies to make such a sweeping statement.  There might be one or two cases where Michael might be accurate with this statement but, following his methods, I would like to count the times where this is not the case before taking such a grandiose claim at face value.  He is right we must be careful when people make large claims based on untested beliefs and he is also right to assert that it pays to be skeptical.  These people who make such claims with little evidence or direct research to back them up should be debunked.  So I would like to ask – who is going to debunk the grandiose and sweeping claims made by debunkers?  Whether astrology is true (personally I find it difficult to disbelieve given the overwhelming data I have that suggests it is accurate but I may be deluded) or not is not the point.  The point is that we cannot have double-standards.  Either we really do keep our statements accurate and factual (which means we are careful to acknowledge how little we know for certain) or we accept that we do not, but then we cannot accuse others of being inaccurate.  When I described this to my friend Sam this morning, he pointed out that I was lumping all debunkers in together in a sweeping generalisation – damn!  I think we had all better have a very good sense of humour about how we are all hoist by our own petards otherwise our self-righteousness is going to explode in our faces.

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Further thoughts on Chiron from Sam

My friend Sam, a fellow student of Chrissy’s, wrote to me after reading my blog on Chiron so he is going to be my guest blogger and here are his thoughts on Chiron.  If Chrissy is right (which I think she is) and Chiron rules Virgo then Chiron/Neptune is the Pisces/Virgo axis of boundless and discrete – the comsos and the individual (ever ailing and dying) body.

 

Chiron/Neptune

 There are two forces in the universe, two ways of approach to life

 We are separate

 Or

 We are one

In the Tao te ching Lao Tsu says

All problems come from having a body.

Our body is separate, discrete, individual.

Our consciousness rooted in our physical brains also feels separate and individual

Yet we can sometimes feel that we are more; that our identity can dissolve and we are one with all things

This is the contrary pulling we experience.

We protect our bodies, our boundaries, our time, our property, our reputation.

But this work is never over.  As soon as a house is built nature starts pulling it down with rain from above, damp from below, insects, fungus and living things banging and battering from all around.

This is the way with everything we do and often we feel the opposing forces of the world are so strong we must fight to the death; some may use a philosophy for survival.  There is a useful rhyme in the film Cloud Atlas:

 

The weak are meat

And the strong do eat.

 

This is how we view the vegetation and animals of the world.  This is how we view other people when we fight wars or legalise slavery or take from another because we can.

Yet, we may sometimes imagine ourselves into the skin of another life, big or small, from a human to a microbe, that also fights for the integrity of its being.

This may shake our conviction.  It is hard to take the life of something once you feel its beating will to live is the same as your own. You may feel that you love this thing as yourself.

Next is another complication.  You realise that if neither of you kills then both will starve.  The chain of being is the food chain.

If you follow the links in this chain you see that the whole thing is a way of mixing atoms up into new combinations.  It’s a game of simultaneous killing and co-operation.

This leaves us in an awkward situation.  Whether we kill or be killed we are doing our job for the universe.  Yet, as conscious beings aware of the struggling individuality of all bodies, we don’t want to kill or be killed.

So, our separateness and our love for all things gives us a holy conundrum.

We may find some horrid problems as we work this out.  We all read or hear harrowing stories.  Many people experience these things sometime in their lives.

If you are a social worker, policeman or nurse you may come across, for example, a young baby cold, hungry and dehydrated covered in shit and cigarette burns.  You may find later the baby has cracked ribs, broken limbs and brain damage and will live a life of otherness.

You may open your eyes one day and find that you are the person who has done this to their child.  Or you may be the child living your life with this inheritance.

Everyone will have some story that is unbearable for them to contemplate; that makes them unable to feel love or union.  They may feel angry as Bob Dylan:

You who philosophise disgrace

And criticise all fears

Bury the rag most deep in your face

For now is the time for your tears.

 

What can be done with this?  You may strengthen your barricades and gather your weapons to attack the strong who harm the weak.

Yet still, your imagination and empathy may get the better of you and put you unexpectedly into the skin of the abuser.  You may feel their weakness and struggle for strength. Or you may notice yourself taking from another because you can. Or remember a moment you came close to doing something unforgiveable. You may feel you have actually done the unforgiveable.

Clearly our hearts cry out to protect the weak and we must be strong to do this.  But every so often we feel a sympathy, an understanding for the strong we are fighting against.

It is very awkward.  Are we separate or are we one?

But put your imagination back to the weak and innocent.  How would it feel to be the babies tortured and killed by their parents; the children starving around the world; the diseased everywhere; the animals living nasty, caged lives; the caterpillars eaten alive by the wasp lavae and countless other brutal examples from the natural world: all of the creatures suffering without the adequatio to take consolation from philosophy, simply suffering moment to moment till death?

It is hard to be in those skins.  We jump straight back out.  But we can’t forget them or put them behind walls where we can’t see them.  We return over and over to stories, books, films, news reports, conversations.  We know the ocean of suffering is there.  We look over the coast defences and wish we could forget the safety of our bodies and jump in.

And if you did what would you do?  Best wait till you know what you are doing. The news will be on in a minute. The authorities should be doing something about it anyway.  That includes God. How can cancer and parasitic worms be right?

To be separate or to be one is quite a problem.

Is it viable to balance in the middle?  Take an impersonal view of oneself and others as protagonists in the food chain of life while keeping ones heart open to the subjective feelings of all?

What would that be like?

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