Age of Aquarius 


With the rise of nationalism and religious fundamentalism throughout the world, many are left to wonder if the human race has lost its mind, but events across the globe seem to be signaling the end of one way of thinking and the beginning of another. Like any birth, it’s destined to be difficult and painful, as the old tribal way of life, with its patriarchal focus and “us versus them” mentality fades into the nether region of our collective consciousness. The Internet, global telecommunications networks, and the ease of international travel have combined to make the world much smaller and far more accessible. Unfortunately, the “old ways” won’t pass away easily and will be accompanied by great misfortune and turmoil for a significant number of individuals. 

One concept that’s definitely changing is the notion of work. In a tribal society, each person has a job to do, and those who don’t “pull their weight” according to established norms, are ostracized and banished. There may be room for recreation and pleasurable activities, but only after the hard work is done. We see vestiges of this thinking today, in the belief that people on public assistance are “dead beats” or “mooching” off those who are employed, when in fact, many are unemployed due to automation or the outsourcing of jobs to other countries, something over which individuals have little control. Automation is putting an end to traditional labor, as jobs once done by people are increasingly taken over by machines that can work ceaselessly, and safer. Where does this leave traditional workers?

Humanity has always been wary of catastrophic change and has looked to the stars for clues to what’s coming and how to handle what looms on the horizon. Long ago, astrologers noted a phenomenon called the progression of the equinoxes, where the constellations change over time as a different astrological symbol becomes prominent in the night sky. This process has been rounded off to occurring every 2000 years, but probably takes closer to 2170 years to complete. Sometimes these changes coincide with monumental shifts in history. Christianity, for instance, began in the early years of the Age of Pisces, which is why so much early Christian iconography depicts fish. Earlier, the Egyptians, who flourished during the Age of Taurus, used bulls for their religious icons, and the Israelites followed this, molding a golden calf to worship while Moses was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments. Mithras, another notable deity associated with a particular epoch, is said to have slain the heavenly bull, ushering in the Age of Aries. Even the Gospels make mention of astrology, when Jesus instructs his followers to seek out a man bearing water (Aquarius is the water bearer), and to follow him back to the house where they will hold their Passover seder (the Last Supper). Aquarius follows Pisces in the progression. 

The rise of nationalism and religious fundamentalism are vestiges of our tribal past which are slowly being discarded as we move toward a secular, global society. ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and the election of Donald Trump in the United States are two sides of the same coin, as adherents to the old ways struggle to stave off the changes that are coming. All progress is feared on some level, particularly by those who are happy with the old order or who benefit from it, so, when rapid progress threatens it, there’s a backlash. I believe that’s what we’re seeing now throughout the world. These movements coincide with the advent of a new age, that of Aquarius. 

The astrological event is associated with lots of negative “new age” stereotypes, but the phenomenon itself is real and has a cause rooted in natural science that our ancestors wouldn’t have known, the wobbling of Earth on its axis as it rotates. Unlike ancient astrologers, I don’t attach mystical significance to it, since a lot of world-changing events have happened outside the context of such phenomena, but just like the dawn of the Piscean age, it’s happening just as we’re undergoing changes in how we relate to the world around us. Apprehension over the dawn of the new millennium in 2000/2001 was a reflection of the fears people naturally have about change around the world, but the turn of the millennium also brought much hope and optimism. Unfortunately, it also brought strife, in particular from those, like the Taliban, and Al Qaeda, who saw their path to power being limited and who took radical measures to hold on to it. 

The world, as we know it, is changing, and there are a lot of new perspectives on how we live our lives and make use of the resources available to us. It’s within our potential to create a world in which every person has a say in where we head and what we accomplish, and a share in our combined resources, but we must have the courage to accept change and realize we may not have all the answers ourselves. We also have a challenge to not just protect our interests, but to look out for the safety and well-being of other creatures and cultures which may not have reached our strata of development. We should remain tolerant of those with different approaches and opinions than us, but we should not allow reactionary forces to stifle the advance of those willing to expand the limits of human potential. 

Universal Deism 


Science shows us what makes up the world around us, but it’s not always so concerned with the metaphysical why. Water is a basic building block for life on Earth, for instance. Does it matter why hydrogen and oxygen combine to create water? Was there some sort of divine plan underlying this behavior? A divine creator, who spoke everything into existence, wouldn’t need to worry with the details, and yet, the world we inhabit is infinitely complex. The physical realm we experience is built on top of an electrical level, where atoms and molecules are bound together by a tremendous amount of energy. If we exist simply at the whim of the creator, why is there such an enormous level of intricacy?

To question whether this creator intervenes in the universe one must first develop a clear notion of how this intervention is manifested. If a child is about to run out into a busy city street and an adult is standing nearby, any attempt by the adult to prevent the child from entering the street can be construed as intervention, but can we not also say that whoever built the road intervened in the situation, by providing the means by which it came about, or that the parents intervened by not keeping closer watch over the child? If any act which influences the situation can be considered intervention, doesn’t that include taking no action, and allowing the situation to play out as it will? Do the drivers on the road intervene by being there and reacting to what occurs?

Our ancestors came up with the idea of a divine creator because they could not conceive of a spontaneous world which sprang from nothing. They could only see the finished product without all the steps that went into it. They crafted tools and artifacts with their hands and so they assumed objects in nature had been crafted as well. They couldn’t see the cells, couldn’t observe the DNA of the plants or creatures, couldn’t peer beyond the surface to the microscopic level to see the molecules and atoms and quarks. They made the best guess they could with the information they had.

Those who maintain that the universe could not have sprung from nothing ignore the fact that being spoken into existence by a creator also constitutes springing from nothing. When we get to the molecular level, “nothing” takes on a different meaning. The most basic elements which make up all existence have lives of their own, and exhibit their own unique behavior which influences what they become. Perhaps the creator does not exist on a massive, universal scale, but in the tiniest, most imperceptible bit of that which underlies the fabric of all that is, the matter that makes up everything, including us, and the energy that binds it all together.

In contemplating our place in the cosmos, perhaps we’re looking at the process backwards, starting with the fact that humans are able to perceive the world around us and attempting to reconcile why this is. Thinking this way, however, ignores the many steps that came before, which led to our acquisition of reason. To understand the world, one must first have a means for organizing one’s thoughts, a language for defining the phenomena we experience. Language arises from the need to communicate basic ideas, find food, build shelter, fend off predators, procreate. Humans are social animals who naturally come together in tribal configurations, which necessitates coordinated efforts. We communicate to better understand one another and to avoid conflict. From simple necessity sprang more complex reasoning, eventually leading to contemplating why it all developed this way.

The Earth existed for billions of years before the earliest ancestors of humans first evolved. Numerous creatures, from trilobites to dinosaurs inhabited the world before them. Did any of them gain the capacity to contemplate the world in which they lived as we have? If so, were their conclusions the same as ours? We have only their scattered remains to provide clues to their existence. Will some future species one day examine our bones to try to sort out who we were, and why we were here?

Random Thoughts, 13 January 2017

Trees.
No one will ever write a definitive history about 2016. Those who lived it don’t want to remember and those who didn’t won’t believe it.

As intellectual as we pretend to be, at heart, all humans are animals and survival is our first priority.

Whenever I come home and find someone parked in one of my spaces, I worry someone has sold my house and taken my furniture.

We can’t rely on politicians to fix the political system. They benefit too much from it being broken.

Trust me, no one wants to know what’s involved in being a cereal sex offender.

If Salvador Dali had become murderous, would he have been considered a surreal killer?

Humans are believed to be the only species on the planet able to pull a quarter from someone’s ear.

The real tragedy of Joanie Loves Chachi is that its failure meant we would never get a Ralph Malph spinoff.

I don’t have anything against naked people; I just don’t want them running around my house if I don’t know them.

In 2017, everyone will appear in public as he or she looks first thing in the morning, for, at least, fifteen minutes.

Sometimes we like to shake things up at the library by playing Purple Haze.

I’m not one to leap out of bed, ready to take on the world. I prefer to ease into the day. It takes a while.

I wonder if any of my employers ever looked at my permanent record from high school.

Never underestimate the dark side of human nature.

Every sexual act is political.

Fixing the System

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To win, one must be willing to lose, to sacrifice the very prize one is willing to gain, leave behind the comfort of certainty and face defeat time and again until the goal is attained. Along the way, one must remain focused on the ultimate goal, and not let minor setbacks get in the way. Some of the greatest individuals in history faced defeat time and again. Lincoln was not highly regarded by politicians of his time even as president, and faced almost certain defeat in the election of 1864, had Sherman not taken Atlanta, giving the president the boost he needed. With the support of his generals in the field, Lincoln went on to save the Union, after the initial two years of defeats made the outcome of the Civil War anything but certain. Throughout it all, Lincoln remained focused on the overall goal of preserving the Union even when common sense may have dictated that he cut his losses and propose a truce.

If the Democrats want to be a viable party again, they need to start focusing on the big picture, the ultimate goal. That’s how the Republicans won the overwhelming majorities they now enjoy. Democratic voters need to emulate the Tea Party. Vote for progressive candidates even if it results in splitting the vote and losing. Force the party left. Of course, this means running more progressive Democrats in races. Stop trying to build consensus with the Republicans and fight. Trust me, the Republicans don’t care about bi-partisanship. Not that they have to anymore. My biggest disappointment with the Democrats has always been that they try to please everyone and end up pleasing no one. I believe in building consensus, too, but when one’s opponents prove to be intractable, it’s time to change tactics.

Perhaps the solution is to let the Democrats fix their own party if they can, and instead focus on forming a new party focused on Progressive ideals, that’s not corrupted by corporate money. One could argue, for instance, that the Green Party is, at least, the ideal of a new Democratic party. But just like the Libertarians are sort of the bargan basement version of Republicans, the Greens currently seem more like the K-Mart version of the Democrats. True, they support a lot of progressive causes, but they’re also overrun by anti-vaccine advocates and other fringe believers. Plus the Greens don’t seem to have much of a local strategy, only showing up during national races, and not bothering with trying to make gains in the House, the Senate, or the statehouse.

Perhaps it’s time to completely abandon the two-party tyranny that’s ruined our democracy and instead find candidates free from party idealogy to represent us at the state and national level. Politics thrives on local action. Find good people, convince them to run and hold them accountable to the constituents who elected them. They don’t have to make decisions with which the voters always agree, but they always need to be able to explain to the voters why they made the decisions they made. The current crop of corporate candidates don’t know or care what the constituents want and the constituents have made it easy for them by not holding them accountable for ignoring us. Over the past four years, Congress has had its worse approval ratings in decades, yet the voters keep rewarding them by sending them back to do more damage. This has to end. As long as elections are decided by the extremist base of each party, the politicians have no incentive to work for the people. We need to take away the certainty career politicians have of retaining their positions and once again make them work for our votes, not just campaign for them.

Our political system is badly broken and the 2016 campaign only showed how broken it is. Now we have a president-elect only a small fraction of the public wants, and a Congress totally divorced from the will of the people. We no longer need to fear the worst possible scenario, because that’s exactly what we have. The time to act is now, to shake off complacency and start planning for a better future. We need to stop acting like politics is something that happens to someone else and start being responsible for our political system. We may not get many more chances.

Eternal Present 

Clock
Most people would agree that 2016 has been a horrible year. The number of famous people who’ve died seems far out of proportion to any other year, and the political climate, culminating in the election of Donald Trump as president in the US, has been extremely bitter and hostile, leading many to fear what comes next. The world situation seems just one misunderstanding away from igniting into a major conflict on many fronts. On a personal level, 2016 has been very trying for me as well. I’ve lost family members, had very little success with my writing, my health has been questionable, and my “day job”, which pays all my bills, has been on shaky ground since July. Many people, myself included, will be happy to bid farewell to this lousy year.

As U2 reminds us in their song, New Year’s Day, however, not much actually changes when we make the arbitrary switch from one year to the next. Companies which operate on a calendar year may have more resources at the start of a new year, and therefore are in a better position to hire or expand, which can definitely affect individuals, but if it’s cold and rainy on December 31, it will most likely be so on January 1, and if one has a lingering illness or pending financial commitment, it’s unlikely to go away just because the calendar changes. However psychologically comforting ending a year might seem, the reality is that time itself, and, by extension the calendars it yields, is an artificial measurement created by people. Time is a tool, developed to help distinguish one collection of days from another. It’s ironic that so many people stress over deadlines and schedules, when the very time underlying it all has little to no meaning outside of its given context.

At one point in history, calendars were often measured in accordance with important events. Roman time was usually marked in accordance with the reign of a given emperor, such as fourth year of the reign of Augustus. This tradition continued among the monarchs of Europe after the Roman empire fell. The Western calendar once marked time from the estimated birth of Jesus, though most scholars now place his birth before the start of the current calendar. At some point, as the Western calendar became more prominent throughout the world, the religious trappings were removed to give us “before common era” and “after common era”. Jews maintain their own calendar, in addition to using the Western one, as do Muslims, and other nations, such as China, measure the years differently than those in the West.

It is said that, in writing, the best way to increase tension is to start a countdown, and consistently worrying about the passage of time certainly increases a person’s tension and stress level. For most, time serves as just this sort of stress inducing catalyst, with as many people hating the pressure imposed as there are folks who feel motivated by deadlines or the sense that “time is slipping away”. As with most human-made constructs, there is a great deal of absurdity inherent in creating a method of marking time, only to realize we don’t have enough time to accomplish what we need to do.

Many Eastern philosophies speak of existing “in the moment” and this is, perhaps good advice for us all. In reality, we all exist in the Eternal Present. While we can remember times past, and have the ability to envision a future, what we experience is the here and now. True, there are times when we may feel the passage of minutes and hours, usually while trying to meet some deadline, but it’s also very easy to lose track of time if one is engaged in some endeavor, like reading, writing, or having a stimulating conversation. Just as we often feel enslaved by the clock, we have the ability to turn off our sense of time, as many do by “unplugging” when camping or otherwise on vacation. Oftentimes, when people plan vacations around events, or scheduled activities, they come back feeling just as stressed out as when they went away.

Despite the precise measurement of days, hours, minutes, and seconds provided by the clock and calendar, most people mark time by the events they experience. Most people alive at the time of the Kennedy assassination can relate exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. I can still remember where I was when I heard of the Challenger explosion. Personally, we recall births, deaths, marriages, divorces. In such instances, it’s not the calendar which governs the moment; instead, it serves its purpose of being a marker documenting an event. My mother used to remark on how unbelievable it was that so much time had passed from some event she recalled from when she was younger. I’m sometimes amazed when I look back on events like the Olympics, and realize how far I’ve come.

For better or worse, time is a constant in our lives. It serves the purpose it’s intended to serve, but, for many, it can also become an impediment, forcing us to rush toward some imaginary goal, sapping our energy for other, more desirable activities. We should never become so caught up in the so-called “rush of time” that we allow it to dictate our lives. Always be sure to steal a few moments away for oneself.

I wish everyone a healthy and happy 2017.