My Theory, Your Poison

There is much discussion going on in America and in other centres of religious devotion, about Evolution versus intelligent design. On the periphery are those who accept evolution but believe it to be the mechanism used by a god to make life. And pointing to leaps in the evolutionary chain and other things, they even suggest god manipulates this mechanism when s/he is of a mind.

If you read earlier writers it is interesting to note how many of them say that everything has its place in nature. But instead of investigating that idea they put it down to their creator’s choice. And that’s the point. It is ‘their’ creator. Scientists today who want to maintain a deity say no one knows what kick-started it all off nor does science have any explanations for the meta-physicality of existence.

I am reminded of studying the history for western philosophy and a fellow student telling me most of the thinkers were anxious to put god into their explanations of existence. It was an absolutely conscious decision. From Descartes all the way through to the lucid Kant who saw explanations for god as either too easy to refute to too hard to grasp.

If, however, there really is a god, then s/he will be in the equations. There is no way they cannot be. But if there is not a god no amount of wishing, desire or belief will conjure one up.

The Older The Better

Many years ago whilst taking a foundation course at school on politics our teacher said of Aristotle that here was a man who could walk into the physics labs at school and do the four years work we were taught in one term (approximately three months). Not only is that an impressive assumption it is also a demonstrations of how close the minds of past generations are to our own. That they did not have the science we have is only an accident of history as many of the fundamental ideas that kick started Western science actually had their foundation in 6th century BCE Greek islands.

The idea that ancient thinkers are our equals is not readily accepted, not the least because the young always think they are the first to have discovered the world. Yet it is to the ancients that we look for the wisdom of all the largest religions in the world. That the wisdom of how people should treat people and how people should treat nature has never altered. ‘With respect’. The Code of Hammurabi though brutal to our eyes,  talks about punishment and lists wrongs as treachery, theft, murder etc.

The reality is that for ten thousand years the core values of the human race have not altered. They have matured with population density, but the needs of communities have been constant. So never dismiss words written thousands of years ago or more. In thousands of years time they will remain the same and still be relevant, if we are.

You’re Right.

This joke was told to me by a painter called Robert Lenkiewicz when I was fourteen, and he explained how the Hassidic Movement tried to impart knowledge and wisdom through the use of humour.

“The couple were arguing in street and their Rabbi who was passing with one of his students, came over and asked them what the argument was about. As they both started to tell him at once he stopped them and took the man to one side and asked him to tell him what the argument was about. The man told the Rabbi and the student how he felt and the Rabbi listened and then said,

“You know something, you’re right.”

The man was delighted and walked off down the road with a light step, and the Rabbi and his student walked over to the wife and the Rabbi asked her to tell him what she was arguing about. So the wife put her point of view forcefully to them and the Rabbi listened and then smiled and said,

“You know something, you’re right.”

The woman was pleased and she walked off feeling vindicated and the student looked at his Rabbi and said,

“Rev, I heard both arguments and one was definitely right and the other wrong but you said both were right!”  The Rabbi looked at his student and nodded and  said,

“You know something . . .”

Have A Good Day And Be Wise And Laugh.

How Do We Begin

Starting a novel is easy when set aside starting a life. Putting aside the ‘when and where’ of conception and the decisions (or not) our parents make, just the fact that we are born knowing nothing and having to come to grips with the world from afresh puts writing a novel firmly in second place on the difficult list. Yet for the most part those very early years are wholly lost to us. Whatever we take in we imbibe, and remember merely chance glimpses of what are in fact years of sustained information. A brief face we recall when we were eighteen months old, a voice, a dog . . . who knows.

So much of those beginnings for all of us simply cannot be recalled but we now know what we are, who we are, depends upon those years. Unlike writing a novel where we can agonise over every sentence and change single words to effect, whatever our young years were they are fixed and unalterable. We actually don’t consciously think about them at all but our attitudes and many of our reactions to events taps into those experiences more than our adult conscious minds.

Dr Bruce Perry writes that those first three years lay down characteristics that take years of work to undo or redo (if they need to be) in the older child. A time when we are so simple and utterly vulnerable, is the time that can make us a saint or a psychotic.

Which is why sometimes the simplest written of all novels carries the greatest weight for in writing as in life, you must never overlook the forgotten.

Paperweights

All a round our home there are stones. They all have a soft shape, some are multi-coloured and they sit on window sills and mantelpieces and are described as ‘paperweights’, picked up from beaches and walks around the world over the years. I am so used to them being here I sometimes forget they are mementos of a life.

But we all like to keep things from places we have been. There is a whole tourist industry in plastics making items for people to take home from places they have stayed. We like to have something more than just a memory. Something which speaks of the place or its traditions, often something handmade by the local people. Like climbing to the top of Masada where just about everyone picks up a piece of stone and zips it into their bags touching as they think, their bit of history. There are times of course, when we cannot take anything because it is all too precious so instead we leave graffiti behind like Byron’s famous name etched into the stonework at the Coliseum.

But my mother enjoyed finding stones that fitted her hand, had  a certain weight and interesting shape and look. Of course we do use them as paperweights though I understand their secondary use is to give a burglar a good hit on the head. And there is something reassuring about a piece of some foreign land becoming part of one’s home.

As if a person can go round the world, joining the dots with through merely existing.

Natural Motivations

People ask about motivation, and indeed look for motives, in all human activity. As if our desire to follow the rules of cause and effect must in some way contribute to why we think what we think, and how our thoughts contributes to our actions. It does after all make sense for a rational animal. Which is why, I suspect, when a human being does something so foul it makes us sick to our stomachs we find it so difficult to accept they actually ‘think’ rationally at all.

Many years ago when my father cut off all our money and we were homeless, my mother joked that she would start a health farm and market it under the banner ‘Come Starve With Me’.  Pointing out that circumstances often drive us, as well as proving the best diet for simply staying thin, is poverty. But one of the finest drivers of human activity I know, and one many thinkers have suggested is far more naturally human than any other, is selflessness. And I don’t mean inverted selfishness in doing things for one’s family or local community which always reflects upon oneself, but the true acts of selflessness like Shaftesbury fighting for the rights of children – things where you may or may not make a difference but you know you cannot turn away.

When so much motivation is for financial gain and therefore backward, it is refreshing to know some people can hold the whole of existence in their minds – and see their travel plans clearly.

New Generation, Old Style

It is very true when people say nothing changes. It is almost as if the great changes are so fundamental they happened a long time ago and now we are left with cosmetic changes that people think carry vast amounts of significance difference, which they do not. So the difference between the wheeled cart and an airplane is that of speed, not that of the idea that a human being can travel further than they could in one day just walking.

The huge differences, that of a hunter gather to a farmer and of a sudden realisation that scientific method can unravel what for thousands of years has been the unknown, have been taken.  Will space travel, floating cars, dual gills and lungs or other genetic modifications make any difference to who we are in the future?

There is one sphere of research that will make huge differences and no one can guess what they will be, though I am sure some writers are enjoying thinking about it. Brain research. Here we have a field of knowledge barely ploughed, and one that will go to the heart of everything we are. When they begin to make changes to our brains they will be making the first fundamental changes to the human beings since the emergence of settled tribes into countries.

I better get writing.

Does Poverty Exist?

I live in what was, two hundred years ago, the poorest dwelling you could find. Two houses put together, one-up-and-one-down with open fire places. Houses built for farm labourers who were expected to spend at least eighteen hours a day in the fields and on the land. The wives kept house and had babies. Yet this house came with enough land for each family to grow their own food, and a well for water.

Of course there was no bathroom, no drainage and no toilet inside or out. Human waste, contrary to popular opinion, can be recycled by the soil. There was no need of a garage because there were no cars. As some stage early on a barn was added to the dwellings for a horse to be stabled. At the same time as these houses were built, an Earl of the Realm was building a mansion twenty miles away or so with thousands of acres of land. And that land also produced food – and income.

And that is really the point, because when you use the land as capitalism does, only to create your own wealth, you create poverty.  When you divorce people from the land, even if that is what they want, you create poverty. Because poverty comes not with the lack of money, but with the complete loss of power over one’s destiny; and without access to fresh water and food you have no power whatsoever.

Jacques Cousteau

I always loved Jacques Cousteau and his team when I was  a child, growing up with his marine research aboard the Calypso. They always seemed a friendly bunch of people and nothing was beyond them as they investigated what was going on at all the depths and in the all the seas. And it seemed to me to be part of that strength and wonder that he along with his colleagues has invented the aqua-lung during World War 2 and tested it secretly under the noses of the Nazi Germans and managed to make sure they never discovered what they were doing. Real daring do.

But it is wise never to have heroes. When they first used the aqua lung they knew the sea was a dangerous place and the first man went down with a spear-gun. The fish had not seen men staying under water and were probably not sure what was going on so they didn’t flee. And being a good Frenchman he immediately killed a large fish and brought it back to eat. All that gifted scientific knowledge and his first act was slaughter.

And now Calypso lies almost forgotten being fought over by  Jacques Cousteau’s second wife and some of the team as to who can use it. An icon of the post war period and known to millions who watched enthralled the TV shows, now a matter of who owns what and who gets paid.

The human race became twisted a long time ago, I should not be surprised.

Lacking Skills

I love working with painters because my stick creatures never really manage to hit the mark. I recall my mother when she was younger knew the artists Sheila Fell, who tragically died quite young, and she used to pick up Sheila’s charcoal and pencil sketches from the floor and hang them on her wall. She once said to her she wished she could draw as she did and Sheila replied that she wished she could write as my mother did.

Artists in differing disciplines lack much of the ego and jealousy that can attend knowing someone in your own field, and appreciation takes over. Trying to view the world from another’s perspective, trying to understand the form and internal structures in their work, trying to understand their understanding of the history of thought in their particular art form. It becomes an expression of life which one can use when one goes back to writing.

In the same fashion when I wrote some lyrics I was interested in the background music someone else wrote for the words and one of the most difficult things I have ever done was to be given two bars of music and asked to write words to go with it. It was trying to mirror the internal music of the words with the music itself.

Marrying art forms is definitely a refined pleasure.

Watch Your Language

It is everywhere, the endemic use of language to support a particular world view. I thought about this seeing someone ask if China was the greatest threat to the USA. Look at that word. Threat. Loaded with menace. It is filled with visions of ‘yellow men’ pouring out of tunnels to invade the USA. Challenge would have been a better word because it suggests the actual work of the USA is to meet China’s economic prowess.

One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist. One person’s visionary is another person’s political nightmare. And the press are foul at the way they label people knowing the power they have to sway public opinion. The words they have to generate empathy against those to generate hostility. Psychologists and linguists understand the usage, the positive and negative words; the whole history of idiom and connotation.

Talking things up and talking things down. This is the work of people who have an axe to grind, who want you to be swayed to their opinion. They are not objective thinkers they are manipulators. And yet people the world over don’t particularly want the objective, rounded arguments so they can draw their own conclusions, they want to be spoon fed their view of the world. If someone on TV spouts what they already believe without challenging it, they love that person for being of like mind.

It seems the greatest threat to the USA is the one third of its population with so little education or so much money they think the Tea Party is about freedom and not about power.  Is about justice and not incipient racism. Is about defending a Constitution and not redefining it.

Once you know the words, you know the intent.

Can You Imagine

Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a photograph of Julius Caesar just after he landed in Briton standing with one of the ‘Prits’ by  a flag of Imperial Rome? Or to see Michelangelo hammering away at some large piece of stone out of which is emerging a hand or a head? To hold a black and white image of Chin on one his campaigns to unite China, or have Akhenaten  in all his finery surrounded by stunned priests. To see Toussaint Louverture before he lost his final battle?

We can never see Vercingetorix shackled in Rome, Pericles swaying the Ecclesia  to do away with this or that; never know what the individuals and great people looked like thousands of years ago. We have no pictures of the thirty-six women the whole human race is said to descend from over the past fifty thousand years. Would an expression tell us something more, show us something history loses? Would we see that each and every person lives every day of their lives and not just the highlights? Would we mark a tiredness or a joy, see the clothes bring their stance to life?

We have lost so many faces. They are all still there in us of course, because we are pictures of all that has gone before us. But we cannot recapture their exact likeness. And as I look at old photographs and people I never knew show their living-ness to me, I think that a heavy loss.

We All Get Tired

After all isn’t that what coffee if for? Tiredness is a part of life, just as energy is its mainstay, and there is not a lot to choose between being physically tired from too much labouring or mentally tired from too much thinking. Life is an exhausting business, even for those of is us who only need  a few hours sleep a day to stay fit.

But in the West we tend to think of being tired as something to associate with old people and something to be overcome when you are young. There are numerous pep-up drinks, and hundreds of stratagems for staying awake when you would rather be asleep and let’s admit it, sometimes you have to stay awake because the work place is not a place for sleepy-heads.

But there is a feeling that because you can spend ‘x’ amount of your life asleep you are somehow losing life. As someone who has power napped in the afternoons all his life I have to say, without sleep you have no life. To be able to turn off and rest is one of the most valuable assets of human existence, as a rested human being can take more stress and do more and be be more productive than a tired human being.

In fact is is the ability to rest that gives our wakeful hours their intensity.

Caught In The Rain

I remember a car enthusiast saying to me that given how badly people drive it is amazing how few accidents their really are on British roads. Drivers are always compensating for other drivers mistakes. Which is a skill since none of us choose who the drivers around us are or what medication they are on or where they are going. My driving instructor told me to remember that everyone else on the road is an idiot – since he probably told that to all his students it didn’t reflect well on me.

In much the same way none of us choose our generation or the place into which we re born be it town or country. None of us choose who our parents are or what problems they will face during our childhoods. In many ways we now know none of choose some of our own characteristics which emerge in our brains during vital years of early development.

Yet we are all careering around the planet making up for each other’s deficiencies,  and somehow making do with what we have and it is amazing when you think of the million, million accidents and chances that go to create a life – that every one of your ancestors survived and bred – that there are not many more accidents than there actually are. That we put up with so many hardships and antagonisms so we can stay on the road of life.

The art of living, it would seem, is knowing where the idiots are.

The Competition

Evolution is all about competing interests and (I say in an aside) the evolution of religions is proof positive evolution is a strong theory because our ideas evolve just as our bodies have done.

Social networking is all about competing for people’s time, in fact the whole Internet sales regime is trying to attract one’s interest and therefore money. A far cry from the better ideals around the birth of the Internet which were to provide free and fluid  information. But I suppose with a creature that dies, time is all important.

That is why it strikes me as strange that evolution doesn’t extend the life cycle of its animals to a greater extent. As if on the one hand it doesn’t matter or on the other it isn’t possible even for the immense power house that is Nature. Perhaps in the competition for energy we have all we can have or maybe on this planet, in this sphere of the Cosmos, competition for energy precludes anymore being assigned to an innate longevity.

Yes we extend our lives by providing comforts but the potential  span of a lifetime has been pretty stable for millennia. So too with other animals. Life seems to be an ignorance of where we came from, an ignorance of where we are going, and a certain time in between to try to figure out why.

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