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Conversations on Philosophy

This is the post excerpt.

This blog will be a series of philosophical themes, with the goal of starting a conversation or dialogue.  We will cover death, politics, evolution, and society – along with anything else that comes to mind.  I will take a position on a particular topic – a theory, if you will –  and I will invite readers to weigh in with their thoughts.  The idea here is to make philosophical thought accessible to everyone, even those who have not studied philosophy; in fact, the only educational requirement will be that you speak English.  If I don’t bring home the topic statement in a way that can be understood by everybody, then that’s a failure.  And I don’t aim to fail.  Our first topic, in the next blog post, will be about death.  Because today I had a personal epiphany about it and I would like to share.  We all think about this topic from time to time.  It is an experience shared by all of us.  So it’s a fitting start.

What does “secular spiritual human” mean to me? Why do I use the handle?  Because I tend to use earthly or human tools like mathematics, philosophical thinking, and science, to bring a new understanding to spiritual issues.  It’s a blending of the mundane and the spiritual which makes us human.  At least that’s how I understand it.

I also want to say a word about higher-level philosophical study.  This course carries an honoured place in higher educational institutions around the world.  What philosophy students do is to reach higher and higher levels of thought and analysis.  This is great exercise for the reasoning faculties.  Of course nothing that I write here could possibly replace that.  This is rudimentary level philosophy, presented in a way that can possibly make people think and perhaps even have a discussion together.  That’s the goal.

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TMI and the benefits of privacy

Many years back, while practising law, I got a a very unfortunate phonecall from another lawyer.  “Your client came in to consult with me today. She was looking for a second opinion. I thought you’d want to know.”

He assumed he was doing me a big favour. But he was not. The next time that particular client came in to see me, I couldn’t help but notice a change in my attitude. I struggled with it. I had no reason to feel differently. Talking to another lawyer is, of course, her right to do. She didn’t pull her case from me and the other consultation was never mentioned. But I just didn’t like her quite as much as I did before. I felt betrayed. It was unnecessary, and unfair to her, for me to feel that way. But I just couldn’t help it.

My new, unwanted feelings made me wish that the other lawyer had just kept it to himself. TMI! Not only did he violate her privacy, he poisoned my own relationship with her in the process. If I could have cut him off before he said it, I definitely would have. If only I’d known what he was about to tell me, I would have hung up the phone before he had the chance .

How many times have you found out some fact about a person, which should have been private, and then wish that you just didn’t know? You can’t “un-know” it. It can negatively change how you feel, without giving you any benefit at all.

We each have, or should have, a public veneer. That’s the image that we present once we step outside our front door, and go out there into the world. This is everybody’s basic right. Other than what we choose to share publicly, the rest of our information is, and should remain, private. There’s supposed to be a wall of privacy around our homes. But when this is invaded, all kinds of unfortunate and unnecessary things can and do happen.

We must honour the sanctity of the home and allow people to keep private their private information. We must keep our “data input” about other people strictly to what is in front of us, through ordinary means. And we have to fight the impulse to find out more.

But one thing that people rarely consider, is that to honour the privacy of other people protects YOU. This point is directed at those who might say, “I know that’s an invasion of their privacy. But I need to protect myself! So I have to find out everything I can.” Well, if this is you, then you’re absolutely wrong. The best way to protect yourself is NOT TO KNOW what you have no right to know.

Personally, I never try to find out any private information about others. I prefer to know only what’s being offered to me via regular channels – that is, whatever I see, hear, read, and experience directly. If somebody told me that they had a private file on another person who is involved with my life, such as their medical file or their financial profile, I would quickly tell them to take a hike. I don’t want to know! I don’t need to know. And this attitude of honouring the privacy of others, protects me.

It protects me against unwanted and unfortunate facts, which I never should have found out about about. It protects me from having my existing relationship poisoned for no good reason at all. It allows me to have natural, honest relationships, where I can quickly decide how I’d like to interact, without having to go and check something first.

Most importantly, always honouring the privacy of others allows me to keep giving people the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say that someone has said something bad about me. If I never find out about it, then the next time I see them, that information won’t colour our interaction. This way, they can get a second chance to be a decent human being. And I’ll be none the wiser. So I won’t need to waste my energy by disliking them. I’d rather not.

Now, how about this for something irrational and bizarre: a person finds out a private fact about somebody. They shouldn’t know about that at all – but somehow, they do. And then, they take some action based on what they’ve found out.  Then, when it all goes sour on them, they blame the victim of the privacy invasion, for their own decision to act! Yes – it does happen. Blaming somebody else for what YOU did, when that person doesn’t even have a clue, is worse than stupid. It’s insane.

Things have gotten very toxic out there, and I believe that the growing erosion of privacy is the basic reason. The best thing that you can do for yourself, in order to have peace of mind and be a trusting human being, is to quit helping yourself to information which is not rightly yours to have. You’ll sleep better. If everybody did that, I’m sure that we’d all be much better off.

Movie review (caution: spoilers)

I just saw “World’s End” again. It’s the third in a trilogy with Brits Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It got mixed reviews. To me, the critics who didn’t enjoy it seem to have missed the overall message – which is quite clever and some food for thought.

At first blush, it’s just another “aliens taking over the planet” story like so many others. You have to examine it more closely after seeing it, to appreciate all the subtle nuances. It’s actually quite deep.

I will warn you again that there are spoilers here. If you haven’t seen the film, and you’d like to see it, please don’t read any further until after you’ve seen the movie. I don’t want to ruin your experience.

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If you’ve scrolled down this far, first let me first say that I’m amazed you’re reading this. You must be very bored! Now please remember that below is my own personal take on the movie’s true meaning. Here’s what I think the overall statement might be. Others, even the filmmakers, may disagree.

Outline: The move is about five middle-aged men who used to be teenage pals in a small town. The ringleader (Simon Pegg), called Gary King, decides to get the gang together and go on a pub crawl called “the golden mile” – twelve pubs, twelve pints. His four friends are all married and professionally successful, while Gary is having trouble.

Along the way while doing this pub crawl, they begin to discover that most of the townspeople have been replaced by humanoid-like creatures which are physically identical, but which are very easily busted, yielding blue goo instead of blood. A few other people are still human, but they are hush-hush about what’s going on. The mystery deepens. As an aside, the characters discuss how the replacements which look like people are NOT to be called robots, because “robot” actually means “slave” and is therefore a misnomer.

When night falls, the replacements emanate blue light out of their open mouths. And they’re coming to get Gary and his pals.

Gary is determined to finish the pub crawl, however, despite all the dangers. At Pub #12, called “The World’s End”, the whole thing comes tumbling down. Two of their friends have been replaced – there are only three left. One of the three left, however, is missing. So we’re down to Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Of course.

And then the movie gets into a plot device which some people don’t like: a narrator-like character explains everything. An unseen  “head alien”, with a booming voice, explains the entire plot to Gary King and his buddy. But that’s not what you’re supposed to do, in the Hollywood-blockbuster genre. “Show, don’t tell!” admonishes the disappointed critic. You aren’t supposed to just explain it all like that. As one disgruntled viewer put it, you aren’t supposed to “just shove the message right into everybody’s face”.

The thing is, there’s a ton of sub-text, which is perhaps lost on the non-discerning viewer. The sub-text is so subtle and nuanced, it isn’t apparent until you’re finished watching, and you sit and think about it. Because while the movie is going on, you’re too distracted by the special effects and the characters to really get what they mean. So you have to think about it later. Perhaps there are people who don’t want to do that. They don’t want to have to think; hence, the disappointment from all those who didn’t like the movie.

Here’s what the booming, unseen head alien tells the two buds:

  1. There’s an inter-planetary association of civilizations, comprising the galaxy – and the other planets are very disappointed with planet earth. Humans keep killing eachother off, and overall, we’re very immature. The other planets are all “up here”, while earth is “down there” (the alien shows a diagram with the earth located well below the other civilizations).
  2. The other planets all want humans to improve themselves, and join the interplanetary association as equals. So, these aliens are here to improve us.
  3. The only “small sacrifice” necessary is that any humans who do not comply and refuse to improve, have to be destroyed and turned into mulch, replaced by identical units. But it’s a small price to pay, for all the advantages of joining the interplanetary association.
  4. The benefits that the aliens have brought to earth are very good and are in fact necessary, such as communications and all other technology. They get the credit for all of that.

Gary King responds with anger. He says, “All we humans want, is our freedom” and “Go back to your lego-land” and “Don’t come here and tell US what to do!”

The head alien asks if he speaks for all humans. Gary says that yes, he does. He knows that everybody else on earth feels the same way that he does – he’s a real human. All humans want is freedom. And nobody wants to be told what to do, especially not by a bunch of aliens who don’t even belong here.

The alien then says, “F__k it” and indicates that they’re leaving. They pull out. Everything explodes, then it all goes dark. In the end, all of earth’s technology is gone. Nobody can communicate with anybody else. Nobody knows how many people have survived. Planet earth is back to the dark ages.

Now, here’s the sub-text, at least from my point of view.

The aliens are total arseholes. They are, in fact, well below us, in all the important ways. They have no integrity whatsoever. Just because they’re clever and they know how to make technology, does NOT make them better than us. In fact, there’s ample proof that they’re much worse than the best of humans. And they’re about equal to the worst of humans. Here’s why.

  1. They’ve quietly embedded themselves all over our planet, allowing us to believe that we’re the ones who invented all the technology. We think it’s ours. But it’s apparently not. And they’re prepared to withdraw all the tech, if we don’t do exactly as they say. That’s nothing short of blackmail. It’s manipulation.
  2. They never told us that they’ve been here at all. They just quietly integrated themselves, without letting on. That’s completely dishonest.
  3. After integrating and embedding themselves with all their tech, while completely misleading us by hiding themselves, they give us a choice: “improve” yourselves, to the way that WE want you to be, or else, it will all go “kaboom” and you’ll be in the dark. Some choice! They’ve eliminated freedom completely and have backed the human race right into the corner. That’s aggressive.
  4. The worst part of all, is that they allow Gary King to speak for everyone. Gary King?! That’s not a fair process. He is not representative, and nobody else on the planet chose him. This means that these aliens have no concept of what “justice” means at all. Therefore, they’re the ones who are uncivilized. Not us. They don’t even know how to conduct a trial properly. Their methods are completely unfair.
  5. Finally, not only have they hid themselves and secretly backed the human race right into the corner, and then allowed Gary King to speak for the entire planet, they don’t even TELL him that if they go away, it will all explode and then go dark. They don’t even mention these consequences. They don’t give him all the information that he would need, in order to make an informed decision. They keep all the crucial bits of information from him and allow him to choose, without even realizing what he’s choosing. This is worse than unfair. This is amazingly corrupt. These aliens are complete jerks, even though apparently they are clever.

So, the upshot is, while you’re watching the movie, you become fooled. You think, oh no, Gary King blew it. He said the wrong things. It’s HIS fault the earth went dark. Wow, it might have been nice to join that planetary assocation – it sounds cool. But no. He blew it. Interesting – planet earth is still so primitive, while all the other planets are so advanced.

But then, if you think about it later, it’s THEM who are really the primitive ones. Look at everything the aliens have done, how they treat us. Even though the technology they “gave” us (while letting us think that it’s ours) is pretty neat, and has become necessary, they’re corrupt, dishonest, aggressive, unfair, and clearly they have no morals at all.

Conclusion? In this film, humans are, in fact, much better than the aliens. The planet is their victim. It was never Gary’s fault. The end.

(There are also biblical / religious overtones as well. The head alien, unseen with booming voice, smacks of what some people have as an image of God. This alien is about as nice, kind, and benevolent as the God of the Old Testament. As an aside, notice that the New Testament God is much nicer. Maybe the Gary King figure is supposed to be Jesus. This would mean that the filmmakers want us to think about this: what if Jesus actually tamed God, who was kind of a jerk, into being nicer? This could be the reason he was adopted as a “son” by the almighty. The fact that everything goes dark in the film, because Gary pissed off the head alien, is kind of like the great flood in the Noah story. Just food for thought there.)

P.S. I like how Simon Pegg wrote in a reason to show off his washboard abs. They didn’t go unnoticed 🙂

 

The day after …

My first self-published novel was released as a paperback yesterday … I emailed several friends to let them know. One responded, “OK. It takes an old guy like me to know what you meant by ‘Paperback Writer’.” (That had been my email subject line for him.) Most did not respond at all. I’d emailed last week to let them know that the ebook was out. At first, this morning, I felt a bit crushed. Then I realized – oh yeah, everybody has their own life. Hello.

I’m not sure what I expected. But this morning I felt … dismayed, worried, let down, and a bit jangly. It isn’t going to sell! I have to hire a promoter, apparently. The book will not sell itself. There are many massive tons of books out there. I have to do something about it. But I don’t know what to do.

Then I found a solution to all these uncomfortable feelings.

I went into Facebook. A friend’s son just had his first open mic session – I watched it. It was charming … I could see his resemblance to his mother and it reminded me a bit of my own son. Kids. Doing wonderful charming things. I saw another friend’s stunning photograph of his new dog, meeting another dog nose-to-nose at the beach. Beautiful. Then I came in here and read some things by other authors. I learned a few things about the platform on which I published my ebook … bit o’ yikes. I opened up to other authors a bit, checking out their thoughts, feeling respect for them.

Now I feel so much better, I can actually go and work on my third novel. It’s almost half done. It’s about a family who falls on hard financial times and loses their home. I’m having writer’s block because it taps into some of my own fears. But I still want to do it, because I’ve come to like the characters by now.

The point of this little story here is that I’ve been focusing on mySELF too much, and it was beginning to paralyze me. I may have annoyed some of my friends by emailing them one too many times about my new novel. That is NOT proper promo. And just look at the first word of this blog post: “My”. Me. I. I have to stop it.

Life is one big massive collaboration, after all. We’re all in this together. So whenever I start feeling all jangly and worried again (and I know it’ll happen again), I will open up to what other authors are doing, enjoy their thought and ideas, and remind myself how many artists there are. I am one tiny little speck in the author/artist universe. Reminding myself of this creates the right energy, for being able to immerse myself in the parallel universe of the current novel I’m writing.

There’s plenty of time for promo of the first novel. It’s only been one week. *breathe* ***Write***

Eureka #2!

Ever make a decision that feels SO right, that your whole body feels more settled? I just did that and I’m very glad. I’ve decided NOT to publish the second book I wrote.

I wrote it, I polished it, I polished it some more. It’s 387 pages long. I love the main character – her spirit, her personality. She sparkles. But, I think that when you are your own publisher, when you don’t have that gatekeeper function of an editor, you have a different set of responsibilities.

I have a responsibility not to undermine the achievement of the first book, by putting the second one out there. The main characters are related – they’re cousins. I explored some painful themes. Although I’m caucasian (in appearance, if not in genetic heritage), I have experienced my share of prejudice and unfair recrimination. I have been shouted at in public, for no reason other than that the shouter has anger issues and I somehow served as lightning rod.

In the second book, I was hoping to translate how this felt – to be shouted at in public with an unfair adjective – into something that could help white people to understand racism better. I was exploring emotions – anger, hurt, defiance. But I suspect, on reflection, that there may be people who are so traumatized, that they might take my efforts as somehow hurtful to them. I have no intention of hurting anybody. There have been a few indications that this second novel could be controversial, and maybe even taken as hurtful. So, that seals it.

It feels wonderful to know that just because I wrote it, doesn’t mean that I have to publish. I feels very freeing. Now, I can write without putting obligations on myself to make my work public. I can keep it private – and I shall, in the case of my second novel. It was still a very cathartic exercise to write it, and I’m glad I did. But it shall remain an unpublished work.

Now, on to novel #3, which will be finished soon. I’m very happy with this one. I think it will be a high-quality offering. That was my issue with novel  #2 – I just wasn’t sure if the quality is high enough. I only want to put what I feel are good things out there. If I have any doubts, then into the “unpublished” folder it goes.

I guess the spectre of publishing something I’m not thrilled with, was hanging over my head. Because I feel so much better having made this decision. That’s why I know that it’s right.

As for Novel #1, it remains to be seen if I can move it out there. It will require a lot of work. Once the paperback is available, I’ll initiate an advertising campaign, and I’ll order a set of the books to give away. It will cost me some money. But that’s how it works. You have to spend money to make money, and self-publishing is no exception. I might put together a book launch as well, if I think that it’s worthwhile and if I’m able to find some help with that.

If this book is ever a success, this could only happen organically – i.e. because people like the book. I don’t believe that you can force that. You have to honour the reader, in my opinion, by just letting it happen. But by the same token, it will require a real effort to provide the information that the book exists. Otherwise, who will know?

It is scary.

Well, three people have now bought my ebook. These are friends of mine. A few other people are awaiting the paperback version to come out.

I will have to find a way to just move on to other things, and let this flow in whatever way it may. I don’t control other people, and would never aspire to that. I’ve done my bit, and now it’s up to people, as to whether or not they want to read it.

Above all, I hope that I get at least a few younger readers – teens, young adults, even pre-teens. That’s who the book was aimed at.

Time to let it go, and keep on creating.

My first novel

Well, I took the plunge and self-published my first piece of fiction. It’s up live on Amazon Kindle today. I have a lot of mixed feelings … it’s scary. Trying not to be excited.

I wrote it in January, and the first draft went very quickly. Aspects of this story were in my head for many years, so it all poured out very fast. Then I went back a couple of times and polished it up. I am happy with it.

The tone of the book is unusual. There’s a feeling of innocence, but yet, some of the themes are things that many adults face in their lives. Addiction. Loneliness. Fear. But there is also joy, love, reconciliation, and forgiveness.

I wanted to write something that anybody could read, so I kept it simple. But it does deal with metaphysics and logic, hopefully explained in a way that makes the ideas accessible to everybody who wants to read it.

I guess this blog post is me engaging in marketing or advertising, but I also wanted to chronicle what it feels like to put yourself out there. I’ve never tried to get paid for anything I’ve written before. This is a first. I’m not asking you to buy it. I’m just saying that I wrote it. And I think that I need somewhere to journal the whole experience, so that’s what this blog will be for, from now on.

I also wrote another novel, which is a “prequel” to this one. The second book is all about the cousin of this book’s main character. I don’t like that book as much as this one though. I wasn’t as happy with it. It deals with some things that are very personal to me, so it was more uncomfortable for me to write. And I’m not sure about the trajectory of that story either. But since I’m going to keep the price low, maybe people will give it a try anyway. We shall see. I will put that one up for sale in a month or two.

So I am torn about whether or not to also offer a paperback version. You see, this book is kind of about trees and the woods. There is a real woodland aspect to it. How can I write about trees, and then sell it in a paperback? Isn’t that being a hypocrite or inconsistent? I love trees. To me, they are real creatures with personalities. But … I would need to use paper. So I don’t know what to do. For now, I’ll just leave it as an ebook.

I love REAL books though. I love book stores. I need to figure out the formatting for the paperback version, i.e. page numbering, Table of Contents, and get a proper hard book cover done. Luckily I found a great artist who helped me with the ebook cover – Cherie Street. So, all things considered, I’m going to do it – offer a paperback option. Eventually.

I hope this isn’t too boring. It’s all about “me” and my experience as a self-published author. But maybe writing about it could help somebody else out there, who also wants to publish a book. It wasn’t hard to do, after the writing part was done.

So here’s the link to the book.  https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B073V6BKCJ

Spock like

Spock was no fun, right? Always so serious. If there were any logical flaws in what a person was saying, he was always quick to point it out. The overall goal of everything “making sense” was worth it to him. It was worth it to keep correcting people, even though the rest of the crew thought that he was a drag. There were even episodes of the original ST series where they examined how the other crew members disliked him. Awesome stuff. That’s why he was always my favourite character.

Similarly, Data is my fave character on STNG. He takes the Spock-like behaviour to new heights, sometimes to hilarious effect. Data is the most logical one, and yet, he’s often the comic relief too. Great combination.

Me, I’m more Spock-like than Data-like. Because I don’t see anything funny about this alarming trend towards non-logical, “results-driven” analysis. But then again, I’m not like Spock or Data at all. Because unlike those two, bad unthinking gets my blood boiling.

If a drunk driver has a terrible accident and a child dies as a result, is he a much worse person than every other drunk driver? Why? Because of the bad results. This piece of illogical reasoning was shoved at everyone two years ago, media quoting the grieving family as if they had a good point. They were grieving and I am sympathetic. But they did not have a good point.

Every drunk driver is arguably an idiot. They are all negligent. Whether they have a terrible accident or not, is a matter of luck, the weather, road conditions, and what all the other drivers are doing out there. The amount of liquor that they consumed before driving, affects the degree of their negligence and their carelessness. If they drank a lot, their carelessness reaches criminal levels. But ALL people who drank at that level, are morally the same – regardless of results.

Legally and morally speaking, there is a very sharp line between deliberate actions, and accidents. This much is obvious. But then we have the “results-driven” analysis which throws all logic right out the window. It makes no sense. But yet, many people simply parrot it without thinking it all through.

The “results-driven” analysis goes like this. A child died. Therefore, what THAT drunk driver did, was murder. He is guilty of murderous intent, for getting behind the wheel drunk – because a child died. But, if a child hadn’t died, then he would not be guilty (retroactively) of murderous intent, which works backwards – after the fact. If a child hadn’t died, then he’d be just the same as any other drunk driver – stupid, negligent, careless. But not murderous. This guy is different – only because of the results. (Throw in a few irrelevant facts, like, for example, the fact that he’s wealthy – and voila. You have a great example of how to do a flawed, incorrect moral analysis, which everyone buys into. The ship’s crew support one another in this wrongness, much to Spock’s great chagrin.)

Surely, when you break it down, everybody can see that the analysis of calling him “murderous” strictly because of the results, is incorrect on every level – morally, ethically, legally, and logically.

Yet, this type of backwards non-logical thinking is being flogged all over the place. And intelligent people are being fooled by it.

The worst part of pointing all of this out, for me, is to be accused of being non-compassionate. “You don’t care that a child died!” Well, that is not true. I care just as much, if not more, than anyone else. But I can’t just sit back and allow this type of brain-killing unthinking to seep out there and be spread around, without saying anything.

People would hate Spock just for pointing out whenever somebody was wrong. I know how that feels. But he would simply point out the illogic of being accused of bad character. He figured that correcting errors was his job, so he did it. Similarly, to say that I don’t care about this child or her family isn’t fair or accurate. The negligent person who drove drunk is NOT any worse of a human being than every other drunk driver who drank as much as he did. His moral culpability should NOT be determined after-the-fact, due only to the results that he did not fully control or intend. What I say is the truth. And it should not mean that I am unlikeable just for saying that. But it does. Like Spock, being disliked won’t stop me. But unlike Spock, all of this makes me very sad. Because on top of losing their child, these good people were made into spokespersons for unthinking. These good, grieving people were converted into character assassins. And that’s just wrong.

I speak up about this, even though it makes me unlikeable, because the dangers of retroactive application of guilt based solely on results, are very serious. People can be framed in this manner. People can be finished by this sort of thing, even though they are just the same as many other people who are simply more lucky. Retroactive application of moral guilt, based on results, is a dangerous tool wielded by would-be character assassins who deploy vast segments of the unwitting population. And so I will always fight back against that. Simply because it’s wrong.

Something tells me that not everybody is fooled by that type of  unthinking. But many highly intelligent people ARE fooled by it. So I hope that somehow, I can help with that.