Ethics and Fantasy

There are two broad aspects to all religions. On the one hand there are the stories and texts that tell the story upon which the religion is based and which form the ‘holy writ’ of the original event or events. On the other are the works, redactions and thoughts, of the theologians and others who have studied and thought about these original works. And the reason these other works exist is because the high degree of fantasy, oral tradition and sometimes plain obscurity of the original fantasy stories need to be ‘interpreted’ and discussed for ‘modern’ generations of followers. Hence the rise of the traditionalists.

This is the point where human actions meet religions and ethics are born. It is a tragedy, but obvious in the extreme, why ethics has become bound up with religion but it is equally obvious that ethics is a human discussion we have with ourselves that has nothing to do with religion. It is absurd to think that killing is anything but objectionable, theft anything but divisive,  intolerance anything but unacceptable; without any reference to a god’s prescriptive ordinances.

Religious ethics are in fact, human ethics filtered through a belief system. And it is dangerous nonsense for atheists to throw out the ethics with the religion. Without religion we still have to work with other people, work with nature and understand ourselves.

If ethical behaviour is not a description of our lives we are as much hypocrites as the religious.

The Stuff Of Nightmares

I doubt there can be more than a very few people in the world who have not experienced nightmares, or pressure dreams that have left them nervous, sweating, unsettled when awaking. Nor do I suppose most of us have not ascribed it to some serious worries in our lives to do with work, family or experiences.

But the ‘ability’ to be scared – and I know it is not usually described as an ability – has given rise to the practice of scaring ourselves. The facility in the brain to relive or anticipate nightmarish experiences for whatever reasons it does so, has been made into a relish. Why we visit nightmares deliberately I would not know but we seem fascinated by horror stories of all kinds, from sitting wrapped in attention as dancers in macabre costumes bring stories to life round village fires, to endless films made to scare and debilitate and give us real nightmares when we are alone with the shadows.

But there is the real stuff of nightmare. To be alone in whatever the situation. Facing unbeatable odds, horrific creatures or even less ugly things like being in love but not loved and the worst of all things watching someone you love die. To be alone and face the whole scenario without help, without hope.

For some of us these things are not nightmares, but reality. Sorrow is after all, the greatest of all nightmares.

Epics

The great stories of the nations, from Monkey to King Arthur not only often mix religion with mythical times and places, but they describe attributes and characteristics we think of as espousing the best and worst in human beings. They are all there from the Odyssey to Genesis, the Mahabharata to Turkic Shaman tales. And always there are heroes and anti-heroes and these stories have not changed so much in thousands of years that we redraw them in modern movies.

Here you will find the young hot head, the wise, the great fighter, the traitor. Here you will find talk of duty, honour and friendship, the ways of women, the art of children, the journey of the heart as well as of the mind. These stories which we tell our children and tell them they are fables, fantasies made up in past times contain within them the great lessons of life.

Lancelot never meant to betray Arthur,  Helen did not intend to betray Agamemnon, Monkey did not start out to help a monk of his own free will, Biblical giants are often told what to do by a god even against their wishes.

And this is the great unknown, this is why people have come to believe in destiny and fate. The path we live is never the one we chose.

Precarious Irrelevance

It is only when tragedy strikes, or in the heat of a crisis, that everything gets stripped away and the people and actions that are really important present themselves to us in brutal clarity. I thought of this when my father got in touch with me last year after ignoring me for thirty years, in his debilitating illness, and wondered then what it was he wanted to know. Why he suddenly wanted to meet me.

And in my mother’s illness I have been scanning in all her work and asking her questions to make sure that I know everything I can about her life. But luckily I have always had a clear vision of what is important to my life, and my mother’s work has always been significant and something of a treasure. I have been immensely fortunate in being brought up with an artist because the world of money never intrudes upon our minds but as a nuisance and never draws us away from feelings being centre stage.

It is as natural for me to live through my loves as for the rain to fall from rain clouds, as important for me to know that it is the nature of love to suffer for in suffering you know it is love, and to long for peace with something approaching reverence whilst understanding it will never come to us.

As  Shelley said, some of us bleed from the thorns of life and I have watched one such since I was a child.

When It Is Too Late

There has always been much discussion about forgiveness. Even when people come down on the side of being unforgiving they usually do so from a deep sense of injustice or hurt and see the lack of forgiveness as justice. After all countries are appallingly bad at forgiveness which is why they go to war so readily. But then you cannot institutionalise forgiveness, can you?

Some laws are written to set a standard after which someone is deemed to have ‘served’ a term punishment. But just because they have been imprisoned and set free does not mean the State has forgiven them. Penalties are not there for someone to redeem themselves, that is done, if at all, on a wholly different level.

Because to be forgiven you have to learn to forgive, you have to be a person capable of seeing not only what you have done but what others do and to understand why they do so. Redemption is not about a god dying on a cross or about you dying to yourself and being reborn, it is about what these things represent: realisation. Understanding that a selfless world does not exist and will not exist until human beings create it, which is our supreme challenge.

It is probable that we need to evolve into such a world and not make it because our ‘nature’ will not permit our reason to override it. But I wonder if future generations could forgive us our laxity and selfishness and I wonder how many of us are sophisticated thinkers enough to care whether they do or not.

New Birth

I know this isn’t usually an Autumn subject, though Shelley once famously said that ‘If Winter Comes can Spring be far behind?’, but having now been accepted by my friend’s two year old son to the extent I have been cuddled and then had a mouthful of juice spat in my face (Oh how I pity his girlfriends), and watched my friends two month old daughter intensely looking at coloured plastic and returning my smile with her gummy grim, the ideas of birth are in my mind.

I cannot recapture my own youngest years mainly because most of the toys I had I broke in an effort to see what was inside them, or how they worked I am not sure which, but having two children to buy Christmas presents for is an eye opener. The shops are strewn with them of course, and the offers pop out at you as soon as you enter. Some of these toys are larger than the children and the whole idea of gender is very much in evidence. I wonder what would be wrong with a pink truck for a boy aged three or a rocket ship for a girl aged five?

It is interesting to me though that this age of wonder of which they are only vaguely aware themselves is, for me, a whole new age of wonder of which I am only too aware. The pre-fives are definitely the ages for adults:)

Life On Life

It is, of course, almost an adage whilst being wholly true, that life feeds upon life. We may argue about its efficacy, its ethics and even the desirability of the facts but none-the-less it stands that to live, one thing must predate another. You can take this a bit far by suggesting that microbes that derive sustenance from the elements in the air are also feeding on life because of the  convoluted way creatures break down in their constituent parts and then merge with gases.

The real discussion though centres around how far we are to accept this fact of life as a dictate to our own actions. Given that most of life may be supposed not to think deeply about ethics, it is given to the human being to argue amongst themselves. Some accept our natures, some revel in them, and some dissociate themselves from this way of living in as far as a higher animal is able to. And there, as they also say, is the rub. For to live we must kill something to derive its energy giving elements which come to us a sugars, carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins and so forth.

This argument has been going on for millenniums,  and won’t ever totally go away because we know that killing is not an ethical action and our civilisation has been a continuous debate upon ethics. Feeding both our religions and our laws.

But then even the Universe may recycle everything to maintain its energy levels,  so we should not be surprised if we never reach a conclusion.

Voice Overs

It is perfectly normal for people to have sounds and voices in their heads – we all have someone reading away when we read and some of us read novels and even have different voices for different characters. I am not sure if this is a natural facility or one we learn from our parents who tend to enjoy acting out our first, early-read books when we learn how trains sound when they talk English and what a big elephant sounds like as opposed to a baby elephant.

Whatever the roots this voice or series of voices follows us in our lives and since we know ‘things’ have voices what we also tend to do is ascribe characteristics to them to associate them with kinds of voices. Done so silently we don’t even think about it. And have you ever thought of yourself in a movie or a play or somewhere at work doing what you really want and the kinds of things you would say and how people would react to you? Is it your voice and are those really the things you would say?

It would be interesting if human beings has less made-up voices in their heads and more of the real voices of the world, the real animals and the real sounds and better still, if we had an innate understanding of the kinds of things they are saying.

I want to know if dogs have egos.

FootSteps Press

We have created a new publishing house called FootSteps Press. We hope to make excellent, digitally published works available and we have a series of fine art work books and past best sellers no longer in print on the schedule for the coming year.

The digital evolution has brought publishing back to the individual where one person can oversee the entire process of their book. With Farmer Fisher (A picture book for children)  we have worked throughout to the wishes of the artist Jonathon Coudrille, from the size of the book to the new text and font choices and we went through three proofs – one in black and white and two in full colour. The music was digitally transferred by Mark Omori and the whole process has been both rewarding and educational. More than that this book will never be out of print again.

We also hope to get some letter press fonts and book presses and other useful things for the day we find a printing press so that some of our artist can make their own books for limited editions.

As long as we take the reading public with us the benefits to artists of this process are also financial because the days of only being given 6% of the revenue from book sales are over. It is very much down to how good the book is, how well written and how much energy the writer puts into self promotion.

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What Is Entertainment?

Someone I once knew told me that if you want to know where Fascism began you should look at the Colosseum in Rome. A place where men and women were slaughtered, where Cicero said he felt sick at the sight of the murder of fifty elephants in one day and a place where the things that happened were glorified by the people and called ‘games’.

Quite opposite to the Greeks who structured the plays in their amphitheaters with such rigid rules that is was an innovation to go from one actor to two and then to three. And we can be assured that the Aztec ritual of cutting their enemy prisoners to pieces so their blood flowed on an altar had not just a religious significance to those watching.

It is because we know of the fascination of watching death that many thinkers see television action films as no more than the Colosseum in a new guise. The modern equivalent of an arena where one can imagine one sees more blood than there actually is and, interestingly, see very little that is new from the Roman days who imported every animal and invented every cruelty to audiences who were eating and drinking.

I am sure as we watch these films we don’t think about our natures and what these films are tapping into just as I am sure we don’t think of ourselves an inherently cruel or fascist  for doing so.

If everyone lives it can’t be wrong can it?

Families

It is a joke that we cannot relate to the people we are related too, but it is a very common occurrence. Somehow we believe that the saying ‘black sheep of the family has some relevance. Actually it is a pretty appalling and ignorant saying which presupposes that there is some standard to which we must adhere. The obvious question arises, who set the standard?

Because that standard hides chauvinism, arranged marriages, the Mafia and many other assaults upon human freedom of mind. It certainly is not one to which we should ascribe. Because if we do we are saying the family acts like nothing more than a mini-tribe – with a leader and a set of rules that makes it stand against other families; in other words it is a recipe for civil dissension.

Far better to have a viewpoint that accepts genetic ties but allows that human freedom of mind supersedes any ‘inherited’ attitudes such as these because then you will have families that depend upon conscience for the way in which members commit to each other, and not have them see the family as a bulwark against the world which we do at the moment.

My family is actually larger than those I am directly related too. They are those who love the world of nature, who hate injustice to the point of death, who create and think, and in their mind’s-eye can see all that humanity could be if only it were not blinded by baubles.

Learning Curves

It is a fascinating question: why are we all different? What choices are involved in the different things we all choose to learn, and what lack of choice is there in the things we have no choice but to learn. And when are those choices made?

Locke thought we were born with nothing imprinted on our brains whatsoever, so if you think like him you may assume those early unknown influences are the ones that dictate if you are good at mathematics or literature. My mother grew up to know she was a poet and it cannot be a coincidence that during my grandmother’s pregnancy with her, my grandfather recited endless reams of poetry he had learned in Reform School and beyond. His love was imparted to his daughter.

There may also be  innate skills which is why some people study a career to please their parents but all their lives really want to be painters. In actual fact you might have to study millions of people and discuss their lives in detail to have the full range of answers. The fact remains that brains are different for all their similarity and something obvious to you will be difficult for me to grasp.

And perhaps we don’t need an answer, except to allow people to be who they are without let-or-hindrance as long as they harm no one else. Perhaps we are all different because the hardest thing to learn is to allow difference to flourish.

Childhood

Childhood is a pleasant invention. I recall reading about Elizabethans dressing their children like miniature adults and on one occasion a four year old boy crying for its mother as it was hanged on the scaffold for stealing bread. It is hard to pinpoint exactly when we gained an idea of childhood, for as late as the Grimm fairytales, the original fairytales were not anodyne as they are today: the prince rapes sleeping beauty and Hansel and Gretal is about child abuse and cannibalism.

But at some stage relatively recently we evolved to understand children’s brains are developing to understand the world around them, and then we gave them different legal status, stopped them working all hours of the day, decided to educate them (though some think that latter is akin to brainwashing) and even gave them different clothes to adults.

This is not universal. When I was last in Aurangabad they had five year old boys working the threads on looms for their silk ware because they had delicate hands. And today we see arguments over the age of ten being the age of criminal liability, and girls of eleven dressing as teenagers. Childhood like everything else is in flux.

But as I age I realise that at twenty human beings are still child like. And I finally see why George Bernard Shaw said no one should leave school until they are thirty.

Because childhood is about everything you aren’t yet and ‘becoming’ takes many more years than we readily realise.

Electronic Wars

I was fascinated recently to read how the Iranian nuclear reactor complex was ‘attacked’ by a highly targeted virus in their computer systems. It reminds me of the Kosovo conflict when NATO revealed some of their command posts were receiving similar attempts to upset their command-and-control structures. Now if like me, you have an anti-virus on your computer that updates itself, and you were horrified to find you actually need a trojan hunter and a malware hunter, and would have no chance if these things were not automatic of knowing what was happening where; it gets to be interesting to think that national security is now concentrated upon groups of programmers in airy rooms sitting at screens.

The speed with which computers can handle complex situations and make decisions means they are now the foundation of modern defence and war strategy. That they themselves have become a battle ground should not surprise us,  and I am sure the men and women manning these cyber castles will be as well trained and capable as any in the armed forces.

But though this would make awfully dull  cinema, real people are involved outside the screens,  and real deaths are being avoided or created by the successes or otherwise of binary imagination. It isn’t a game, but it is a logical system we can never be released from so welcome to the new age when computers can do your thinking for you, but not your dying.

Ways To Measure Poverty

We could look at the amount of money people have relative to each other, which is the main way we measure poverty between countries. We could look at the opportunities afforded citizens in different countries and mark those with easier health care, better education, healthier foods. We could look at the politics and the life expectancy due to the general climate of the country – politically stable or prone to civil wars? We could look at the past and judge what countries have raised standards and which have not and which have fallen. And we could, which I think international agencies tend to do, do all of these and give slightly different weight to then in their finds.

Or we could look at the earth and the minute variances in physics that would make the planet impossible, we could look at our mere existence  and the brilliance of a world where we have everything we could possibly want right at our feet, and consider that everyone is wealthy to be born, to have self-awareness, to know of life.

And then poverty would be reserved as a determination of suffering and nothing else. In the deprivations of mind and the deprivations of what the Earth has to offer us, not what money can buy. In fact poverty could become only a determination of how much ignorance exists in the human race because life makes us rich. We don’t have to point a finger and say ‘you are poor’, all we have to do, to be honest, is look at those we think are poor and realise humanity is ignorant to allow this to be so.

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