Friday, December 31, 2010

Mentors, Protégés, & Printers

”The success of the reformers was due in large part to the invention of the printing press, which not only helped to propagate the new ideas but also changed people's relationship to the text”.“The Case for God”, Karen Armstrong, pg. 171

”Printing helped to secularize the relationship of the reader to the truth that he was trying to acquire. In the past, the Church had – to an extent – been able to supervise the flow of ideas and information, but the proliferation of books and pamphlets after the middle of the sixteenth century made this censorship far more difficult. As the printed book began to replace oral methods of communication, the information it provided was depersonalized and, perhaps, became more fixed and less flexible than in the old days, when truth had developed in dynamic relation between master and pupil”. “The Case for God”, Karen Armstrong, pg. 172

Outside of the lack of control (which in and of itself isn't necessarily bad) it dehumanized the process; the human relationship of mentor-protégé was removed.

And as the technology advanced, the printed page itself became an icon of precision and exactitude, even shaping a certain mental outlook. A precursor to science. This cold Knowledge was more of a definite call sign of Modernity itself.

Macleans Magazine had listed the top 10 inventions of all time a few years back. The printing press made the list (as I believe it should). The Internet also made this list. Not everyone agreed however. The dissenters had claimed that the Internet didn't actually do anything new; it only did the same things but faster.

I think, at least certain aspects of the Internet did to the Postmodern day what the printing press did for the Reformation's Modernity.

Even less control, Anyone and everyone has their soapbox to preach from (and this most definitely includes this blog! Have you ever asked yourself what qualifications I do or do not have?)

The concept of Library and (real) Research has been near obliterated. The personal relationship of the Mentor and Protégé has been completely removed.
...maybe not removed; replaced possibly. With the advent of the printing press and the depersonalized exchange of information (data?) and zeal for Knowledge of Modernity, I believe what was lost via the removed of the human mentor-protégé relationship was Wisdom. And Wisdom cannot be learn from a book.

I very much like how The Tao of Pooh (Benjamin Hoff) makes the distinction between knowledge and wisdom.
”'From caring comes courage'. We might add that from it also comes wisdom. It's rather significant, we think, that those who have no compassion have no wisdom. Knowledge, yes; cleverness, maybe; wisdom, no. A clever mind is not a heart. Knowledge doesn't really care. Wisdom does.

Now this is something the Internet, blog sites like this one and others, discussion forums and the like differ from. Although nothing is immune to the depersonalization of Knowledge over Wisdom, these environments are relational and interactive.

The nature of our Knowledge has taken a step back towards Wisdom.
Where the printing press may have done away with the Mentor-Protégé system of learning, the Internet has – at least potentially – replaced it with a different system. Discussion, debate, argument even. The all powerful authority of the institution has been all but removed. Although there are challenges and pitfall present, if nothing else we have at least moved towards a people-focused paradigm again; we have re-embraced Relationship, even if it is in a imaginary cyberspace sort of way. (And please remember, Imagination and Make-believe are not the same things).

Monday, December 27, 2010

The “M” in Morality.

My dictionary defines the word “Morality” as follows:
The degree of conformity of an idea, practice, etc., to moral principles. Right moral conduct.
I realize one of the most obvious questions that should strike us is the question of whose ideas or whose moral principles?

But that isn't the point that stays with me.
The point that jumps off the page to me is the simple fact that this whole confusing issues of morality and ethics is simply a byproduct of humanity being gregarious. We are an extremely social animal. In fact, I might even debate whether we could live (I deliberately chose the word live and not survive) in total and prolonged isolation. My point being, from a certain point of view, we are not really individuals.

Ethics, Morality, right and wrong; these things are of absolutely no value to a creature who does not depend on anything other than itself. Unfortunately for the human race, this does not apply.

So, morality is what? Is it the glue that binds us into this necessary social conglomerate? Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that it is the conglomerate itself? Either way, it provides the necessities of life.

Now, and only now, do we come to that first thought to be most obvious question; Whose ideas and whose moral principles?


I prefer not to use the term “religion” for the simple reason that it can – to some people's definitions – be misleading. I would rather use the term “Belief-System”. For many “religion” is strictly reserved for the traditional organized religions of the world; many of which would include a belief in a supernatural deity or deities.

A “Belief-System” is a bit more broader. It would include Agnosticism and Atheism, to name a few. A Belief-System does not necessitate moral belief in deity, but yet an adherent to a given Belief-System is still vulnerable to the disease of religiosity; and that is the defining difference (or possibly similarity) between the two. Religions would fall under the umbrella of Belief-Systems.
When the question is asked, ”Whose ideas and whose moral principles?” the answer is a Belief-System's


The Belief-System that is the “M” in morality, that governs society's morality itself, ultimately controls the very nature of that society's life. No, I don't mean the society's way of life. I mean life itself. The ability to live. (And again, I deliberately chose the word live and not survive).

Every religion, every Belief-System that I can think of has taken it upon themselves that this – that becoming the “M” in morality – is their very purpose, their goal. Whether it is in reaction to another's religion or belief-system or morality or through a direct statement of belief.

But at the end of the day, regardless of what we are told, Religions and Belief-Systems are not about morality, are they?… it is a subtle and elusive battle for supremacy, isn't it? It is about control. Whether we like it or not it is about control. The real issue becomes if control is a deliberate focus or simply a byproduct of morality. Whether said given Belief-System is about governance or engineering; are they focused on meeting the needs of their population or shaping the needs of their population?

... Let's not get side tracked here. Although it may sound like I am speaking of government, I am not. (Although a government could fall under the umbrella term of a "Belief-System").

We all adhere and follow some sort of Belief-System. Some of us can name and clearly identify it. Others may not so easily do so. Some of us may claim to be one thing but in truth be another. Some ruling Belief-Systems do not belong in the realm of the more common and traditional ones. Some may not even as of yet have a title. Some (as I suspect, many) are a sort of hybrid synthesis. Some are within contantly growing and evolving systems. Some are trapped within prison-systems incapable of growth. None of us are outside of a Belief-System. We'd no longer be alive if we were. (And there are poor souls who exist in this state also).

I think a few important questions we need to ask ourselves is whether we can clearly identify what and which Belief-System we belong to. Another is to question our Belief-System itself. Is it focused on being our society's, our culture's, our sub-culture's engineer? ...or the more humbling roll of its maintainer?

Is everything it sees in dichotic terms? Is everything either with it or against it? How does it view different or other perspectives and opinions? Does it demonize disagreeing or dissenting views as Evil? I should rather think this would be a warning sign.

Does it allow one's spiritual growth to exceed itself? (And I do believe Atheists have a spiritual aspect, btw). Or does it cripple one's ability to grow, maintaining its subjects as prisoners?

More importantly, can it be questioned?

Where do you belong?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tattoo: Solace In Pain

I have been questioned by some as to why I wear tattoos.

All of my tattoos have deeply personal and spiritual significance. Each has a story to tell.

Our greatest moments of growth are often during our most painful experiences. The only difference between myself and the "un-inked" is that I wear my scars on my sleeve; literally on my skin.

But this tattoo is a summation of my 'journey' and not such a simple story to explain.

"The highest form of goodness is like water.
Water knows how to benefit all things without striving with them; nourishing life effortlessly.
It stays in places loathed by all men. Flowing without prejudice
to the lowliest places. Therefore, it comes near the Tao"

Excerpt from Tao Te Ching, verse 8, by Lao Tzu

Although both goodness and badness coexist, it is goodness that flows effortlessly like water, because it is goodness that is more at the core of nature.
I see this 'action' of goodness as the Taoist sees Wu Wei.
Wu Wei literally means 'without action', but often meaning 'action without action', or 'effortlessly doing'. As planets revolve around the sun, they "do" this revolving, but without "doing" it; or as trees grow, they "do", but without "doing".

Goodness, like water, is similar to a valley. All surrounding water naturally flows towards this depression, eventually forming a reservoir; rivers running and flowing into a pond, lake, sea, or ocean, and it is the ocean that is by far and away one of the most powerful forces I have personally ever experienced – whether placid and at rest, or during violent storms.

This passiveness strikes me as more of the Yin; the feminine, inaction so to speak. Nature - as Man - is innately good. Not Fallen, not corrupt, not depraved.

There is no need for me to abandon my cultural references to the bible and/or the book of Genesis either. Outside of the option of allowing for a metaphor rather than a literal historical story, there are other interpretations with this same source material (the book of Genesis) that do not necessitate Original Sin, the Fall of Man, or Total (or even partial) Depravity. For further reading see Gnostique: Genesis Reinterpreted.

If we are honest with ourselves, we can never know which is ultimately true. Innately good, or depraved. I prefer to believe Man is innately good, not 'fallen' and necessarily corrupt. The problem with choosing to believe in these Christian doctrines (the doctrine of Original Sin, or Total Depravity, or TULIP) is that, in day to day life and activities, we really shouldn't trust anybody. They're all corrupt and out to screw me. Now that is a way of life and not a very good one.

I choose to live my life trusting people know right from wrong, and in the most part, attempting to do good. Whether it's correct or incorrect I think choosing to see people as innately good is a better and more respectful way of living life. And if nothing else, at least I stand a chance of being a good example. (Jungshin Sooyang). Ultimately with goals of making a better world.

...thus the water in the tattoo.
The fifth oath in Taekwon-do is “I shall build a more peaceful world”.

Easier said than done. The question is, how do I even attempt to accomplish this?

"Tao gave birth to One,
One gave birth to Two,
Two gave birth to Three,
Three gave birth to all the myriads things of the universe".
Excerpt from Tao Te Ching, verse 42, by Lao Tzu

This basically says that Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis. But this in itself is somewhat useless. I like calling this the Purple Plasticine Problem.
 In the Purple Plasticine Problem, I have a piece of red plasticine in one hand and a piece of blue plasticine in the other. I mix them and work them into each other. In the end, I end up with a large piece of purple plasticine. Few would argue this point. However, it means little by itself. ( Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis).
  So, let's look at it from another perspective:
I believe the sky is blue. So, I go around 'preaching' to everyone and anyone who'll listen why and how the sky is blue. (I can prove it too!) On my proselytizing journeys I stumble across another who's 'preaching' to anyone and everyone how they believe the sky is paisley.
The two of us sit down and have a nice long discussion and come to the agreed conclusion that the sky is really paisley-blue (or maybe sometimes bluish-paisley). Then, the two of us part ways spreading the word of the newly discovered Bluish-paisley sky!
The problem is, it's simply not true.
Okay. Let's start again.

I believe the sky is blue. So, I go around 'preaching' to everyone and anyone who'll listen why and how the sky is blue. (I can prove it too!) On my proselytizing journeys I stumble across another who's 'preaching' to anyone and everyone how they believe the sky is black (And this time they can prove it too!!)

The two of us sit down and have a long discussion and discover a previously unknown truth! Night and Day. It isn't so much that we were both right (or both wrong) but that there was a larger truth we've both missed. Then, the two of us part ways spreading the word of the newly discovered Night-and-Day!

To fundamentalists, the first example (The Paisley-blue Sky Doctrine) is why we cannot enter discussions because, ultimately, the truth - their truth – can only ever suffer being watered-down. Thesis + Antitheses = Synthesis is always a derogatory thing and a movement away from the truth. Ultimately, they are not looking for the truth, but are looking to defend the truth as they know it. This only works assuming that their position is completely and absolutely valid and true.

On the other side of the coin. The Night-and-Day Doctrine people, do not believe they know or hold the entire truth, and are searching for it, rather than defending what little they know.

I belong to the latter, my “religion” best being described as a Non-institutional Syncretist... and Syncretism is akin to wringing the truth out of 10,000 lies.

~ ~

The Dragon is Yang - action, the masculine – to the water's Yin. A good friend of my wife's is from Taipei, Taiwan, and she tells me that, in her culture, the dragon (especially as a tattoo) represents a sort of protection from harm and fear (but only on a man, because the dragon is a masculine power of Yang). However, it isn't that the dragon is tattooed on one's body that gives it its 'power' but that it exists within one's heart.

The Asian Dragon represents many things.

The dragon often symbolizes power, strength, courage, and also Indomitable spirit ("Baekjul Bulgul", in Taekwon-do):
To strive to have indomitable spirit means to have the courage to stand up for what you believe in, no matter what odds you are up against and always give 100% effort in whatever you do.
It symbolizes a protector of hidden treasures (see the above mentioned Gnostique: Genesis Reinterpreted.)

It represents a sort of freedom. ("A piece of Burlap. Strong and tightly bound, yet unbound in my liberty").
~ ~

Worry, anxiety; Fear of what might yet be. Fear kills the Future; murder's its potential; Slays the perpetual Now, for it is in the Now that Fear's price is paid...

Fear, my greatest enemy.
It is a battle I've fought my entire life and one I continue to wage war with.

I have battled and struggled with worry, anxiety, and Fear for far too long. One of the driving reasons why I choose to study the martial art of Taekwon-do under one of the world's Masters (Master Florin Fratean) was to at least attempt to combat this internal Fear. Through Taekwon-do I can see this desire and growth with the meanings of its belt colours:
  • White is innocence
  • Yellow is the fertile earth from which a plant sprouts and takes root.
  • Green signifies the plant's growth.
  • Blue signifies the heavens or sky towards which the plant matures into a towering tree.
  • Red is the colour of the plant's first fruits. Red indicates danger. The student has sufficient skill to inflict injury to an opponent so must exercise caution and control (Guk Gi). The red also acts as a warning to opponents.
  • The Black belt is the exact opposite of white. The black colour represents the student's ability to overcome Fear and triumph over Darkness.
The dragon represents this fearlessness; the confrontation and triumph over Darkness. This Darkness is not only the absence of Light, but includes triumph over ignorance. Some traditions believe that to journey past a dragon is to answer its riddles. But some things cannot be known, therefore defeating this Darkness - overcoming this ignorance - sometimes means actually embracing its unknowability. What might prove to be the most divisive issue on this planet is the question of God. A Question of Theism. I have embraced this divisive issue and have found a peace with the non-answer to this question: The Zen of Contemplating God.

~ ~
 And finally there is an important symbolism of the symbol. The imagery and symbolism of the dragon is most definitely a non-Western one. It is a step outside of what we are and what we know. It is the willingness to embrace a different mind-set; a willingness to challenge and question ourselves before anyone and anything else.
I have sat for 25 hours for this piece, with the artistic talent and company of the tattooist and artist, Milena Fusco. (And if it wasn't for her pleasant company and conversation, it would have been a brutal 25 hours). In my personal, private, and spiritual battle with darkness and Fear I have found Solace in Pain. This tattoo carries Martial Arts, Taoist, Hegelian (or is it Kantian?), and even Gnostic influences. It is not a simple thing to explain. It is a summation of sorts.

(For more see Personal Mara)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Walking Dead

I thoroughly enjoy watching and attempting to see the shadows and echoes of our society's, our culture's concerns, fears, and beliefs in our fictions – because they are truth.

And I think this is also true with the new AMC series The Walking Dead.
If we look at the small band of survivors as the whole of society or civilization we can see two conflicting leaders.

Shane (the cop's partner), whose underlying agenda seems to be survival (not living), and potentially and more accurately, self-survival, embodying little more than an animalistic nature.
But it is within the leadership of Rick Grimes (main character) that we see the dichotomy set up.

A willingness (nay, a need) to help a potentially threatening and dangerous stranger (Merle Dixon). He is told by numerous people that Merle doesn't deserve it, to which he answers, it isn't for Merle, it's for me.

He doesn't necessarily embody the survival of the group, but survival of the very sense of morality itself. He juxtaposes to Shane's animalistic nature.

What I find so interesting about The Walking Dead is that it really is not a story about zombies, or survival or post-apocalypse world. Neither is it a reflection or commentary of consumerism like the entire George Romero's zombie-genre has been.

This story could be told as a Western with cowboys as the main characters; the zombies being replaced by the obstacles and threat of Indians and wild animals.

Ironically, The Walking Dead, really isn't about zombies at all. (And on a side note, I don't believe the title is referring to the zombies, but rather to the survivors).

It poses the question of the moral state of our society. It questions the moral fiber of our society. Are we innately altruistic and good? Or are we nothing more than savage animals in need of being kept in check?
...or maybe it's making the statement that there needs to be some sort of balance betwixt the two...

Christianity has attempted repeatedly, in times past and present, to question the moral fiber of our society and has most often times failed – or at worst been ignored. (Often taking a finger-pointing and accusational tone).

I think that may very well be the defining difference between Spiritual Growth and Religious Growth.
When we question the moral fiber of our society we are really inviting spiritual growth. However, I don't believe this is what Christianity has attempted. Religious growth questions the world around us and is an attempt to change that world into what we are. Spiritual growth questions ourselves.

...and if we are only interested in Religious growth (proselytizing) and not at all with spiritual growth, we become dead on the inside. How funny – how ironic – that the lifeless and walking dead – zombies – have succeeded where God's chosen people have failed...