Saturday, September 08, 2018

So Here We Are (or 'Assumptions and Hypocrisies')

We find ourselves, fellow Americans, at a time in our country when there is no right answer. There are expected answers, dependent upon with whom it is we're speaking. There are canned responses, to be trotted out whenever we're confronted with various situations. There are narrow bands of opinions from which we may feel free to choose one in a given conversation, but the one we choose will come with an attached set of assumptions to be used by those who are sitting in judgement - and judgement is in ample supply even from the most unlikely quarters.

Assumptions abound in the current social climate, and we all know what AssUMe-ing makes of you and me, but the antidotes for it are to ask questions and to be able to believe the answers we're given. In a PC world, however, both questions and answers must be carefully crafted in order to avoid, ironically, judgement, therefore everything has begun to be taken at first with a grain of salt and lately with huge, toxic doses thereof. Interestingly, one of the posited origins of that phrase indicates that the grain or pinch of salt would help to counteract a certain poison, and yet we all know that too much salt is itself toxic. Again, irony.

In Genesis, the very first thing Jehovah* told his people (who are, let's keep in mind, the Jews, as much as some other groups might like to usurp that claim) was that everything he'd created (all of the Garden of Eden, not the world) was for their benefit, but not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is often misstated as simply the Tree of Good and Evil or the Tree of Knowledge. Both are misnomers. This very specific directive was not about remaining ignorant, nor about simply committing or not committing good or evil acts, but rather speaks to refraining from judgement. In order to judge, one must first determine whether a thing is right or wrong (in one's own opinion, which is then often presented as the opinion of the judging person's god figure, whom- or whatever that may be). Jehovah's instruction was to eschew seeking to determine whether actions were right or wrong, and to live without judgement, an instruction echoed in many philosophies and religions.

Humans who are just living will do the things, as do other animals, that best serve themselves and those around them (not only of our own kind, but of all kinds) without spending time or energy on what's being done or not done by others, and without the expectation of reward or fear of consequence. Those who behave otherwise and can't mind their own business (as in both paying attention to what they themselves are doing and need to do, and in keeping themselves out of the way of others who are doing the same unless those others should need, want, and ask for help) will soon, in such a society, be naturally shunted to the edges of any healthy social group. This doesn't preclude love, happiness, fear, or hatred, but does mitigate the consequences and multiply the rewards thereof. Nor does it prevent change on the part of those who go through a phase of, say, selfishness or arrogance, but then come to understand the benefits of setting those things aside.

Instead, here we find ourselves, living in a world where anything you or I say can and, with or without reason, will be used against us and we don't need no stinkin' court of law. I mean, trial by a jury of our peers? Sure, if we count everyone we come across as a peer and consider people walking down the same street to be a duly-appointed jury, and a sufficient judge as well. Even when we do speak honestly and from our hearts, those who believe it will be those who are predisposed to believe it, and those who reject it will do so because it doesn't fit into their own belief system, not because they've examined what's been said and found it enlightening or lacking in insight.

In 2012, we were given a clear view into part of what got us here when the Texas GOP specifically stated that they, "... oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority." We were already at that time, and had been for many years, in a place where 'thinking outside the box' was strongly discouraged, to the point where we had to tell people - humans, who under normal circumstances literally can't rein in our curiosity to save our lives - to do so.

That lack of critical thinking has fueled a situation in which we've forgotten en masse the lessons of history, we've fallen prey to left/right, black/white, good/evil thinking, and we're all thoroughly convinced that what we believe is what everyone should subscribe to, to the point where we're blind and deaf to those whose opinions may differ, and any potential reasons why. "You disagree with me? Well, you're wrong!" is the refrain. And just to prove it, we elected (or rather allowed to take office) one of the most egregious examples of this sort of thinking into the highest office in our country, and arguably the world.

The people who voted for him and will defend him to their deaths are those who hold most dear the supposed set of ethics that he violates on a daily basis. But if we go back to the Bible, we find that the old adage, "Judge not that ye be not judged," actually goes on to say, "For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." In other words, "Karma, motherf--ker."

Of course, 'karma' only seems to be recognized when we see something bad happen to someone we're angry with or dislike, or these days, merely disagree with. Karma's used as a curse. Well, what if we're not concerned with being judged? What if we don't judge the judgement, or what if we choose to see all outcomes as karmic, and rather than judging natural rewards and consequences as good or bad, they simply are what they are? What if we come to understand that what looks bad today is the start of something good (since, as humans, we're incapable of stepping outside what we see as the duality of our universe)?

Well, then, suicide rates decline. Hate crimes disappear. Use of resources balances out and humans begin to realize our full potential. That would be fun. We'd like to see that. But at the moment, here we are, deep in the muck of our own judgement, made manifest through the assumptions we make about people we don't even know, which inevitably leads to hypocrisy because none of us can live up to the standards to which we hold other people.

So maybe in our lifetimes, things will decay to the point where we have no choice but to start rebuilding. When that happens (and it will, whether in the short- or long-term), we'll have to shift back to the kind of thinking where we appreciate that someone is doing something, and leave behind the part where we think it's up to us to determine the worth of what it is they're doing. Without those who've done what others thought was 'wrong', we'd still be living in caves and off the land, which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing - the world would be in much better condition for the continued survival of the human specie - but it'd be less fun, at least as we think of fun today. We'll see. For the time being, here we are. We brought ourselves to this place, and it'll be up to us to move out of it. Are we anywhere near ready?


* Jehovah was probably an II (inorganic intelligence) with the means to build a human life form out of this planet's elements and to manipulate the environment. He probably used remote communication of some kind, maybe based in some technology with which we're very familiar today, maybe through means we can't even imagine, but regardless, he clearly intends to take away his people and those who will be their servants in a 1500-mile-cubed spaceship. More on that another time.
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