News of the week: Late August

How your brain could control my body over the Internet

Why it matters?

I have written several times on the dangers of current research being carried out that aims to fuse technology with mind, and mind with mind. Feel free to read previous posts here, here and here.

This article states that researchers at the University of Washington have carried out the first experiment where one human, using thought alone, is able to control the physical body of another separate human being. This done through the aid of technology and over the internet.

The experiment is simple enough. Person A has electrodes on his head that measure his brain activity. He has a monitor in front of him that shows a video game that Person B is “playing”, in a separate room. Person B has a special magnetic device placed over a specific region of his brain. He also has the monitor in front of him that is showing a simple video game. He has his hand on a keyboard which controls the video game, but he is not actively playing the game. What happens is Person A thinks about moving his arm to play the game, and this thought is recorded by the electrodes over his brain and carried over the internet to the device that stimulates Person B’s brain. This stimulation forces the body of Person B to submit and to press down on the video game controls.

Person B said that it felt like “a nervous tic”.

This matters to me because it is so obviously wrong and dangerous. At first glance we might think this is no big deal, but technology does not go away. Technology does not not progress. Technology does not stand still. Technology always continues forward. This technology, this field of research, is focused purely on the loss of sovereignty of ones own mind and body. This researcher, Person B, had no choice in the matter but to physically move his hand. No sovereignty. What will be the next steps of this technology? What will it be used for? Who will be using it? Do you trust any person on this planet to have a technology that could control your brain, your mind, your body? Today this technology requires the subject to wear a special hat with technology attached, but what about the future of this technology? What will happen when the technology will become wireless?

Science is completely amoral. Scientists see something that is neat, or cool or ask a question, and they don’t care if the answer, or the pursuit of the answer, or the repercussions of the answer are good or bad, are ethical or not. They operate outside of morality. They claim that they are just doing research, and that it is not their responsibility what is done with the findings of that research. There is a responsibility that comes with power, and knowledge is truly, without a doubt, power. Scientists, and anyone who asks questions and seeks answers then must always have a responsibility.

This, in my opinion, is purely irresponsible.

Knowledge such as this can never be unknown. The findings from this research can never be forgotten or undone.

There will come a day, sooner than I actually thought, when sovereignty, true sovereignty of self, of the ability to think your own thoughts, to control your own mind, to control your own  body, will become a very real issue and concern.

 

Analysis: NSA revelations undermine government’s assurances of privacy

Why it matters?

This article was fairly well done. I am quite surprised as it is a cnn article and yet they are quite critical of the US government, highlighting what has came from the NSA leaks that Snowden has produced.

It is worth a read, as it goes over, step by step, in chronological order, how the US government has continually lied, then been exposed, lied, then exposed, repeatedly, over what they do or don’t do with the NSA Prism data collection surveillance scandal.

 

DoD training manual suggests Founding Fathers followed ‘extremist ideology’

Why it matters?

I suggest you just read the article. I will post a few quotes from the article, which are quotes taken from the department of defence training manual itself:

“The first paragraph of the section entitled ‘Extremist Ideologies’ opens with a statement that has drawn heated criticism: “In US history, there are many examples of extremist ideologies and movements. The colonists who sought to free themselves from British rule and the Confederate states who sought to secede from the Northern states are just two examples.””

 

““Nowadays,” the manual continues, “instead of dressing in sheets or publicly espousing hate messages, many extremists will talk of individual liberties, states’ rights, and how to make the world a better place.””

 

““The US Congress passed a bill (on Jan. 1, 2012, known as the National Defense Authorization Act) that repeals Posse Comitatus, which means that we have now institutionalized and codified martial law,” Congressman Ron Paul told a group of supporters in June 2012, as reported by Live Leaks. “Right now the battle against terrorism involves all of us. Everybody in this country is a potential terrorist.

If you happen to visit a website, or attend a meeting that contains a particular viewpoint…you can be accused of being a terrorist and the bill says you have no right to a lawyer,” Paul added.”

 

What can I say about this issue. Extremists are being associated with people who speak of liberty, rights and making a world a better place.

 

Worldwide detox: Japan to run internet ‘fasting’ camps for addicted teens

Why it matters?

I think it is great that there are efforts being put in place to get kids, or anyone for that matter, less dependent on the internet. I want that for myself as well. It is a step in the right direction, as it demonstrates there are people out there that recognize that we are becoming too integrated and consumed with an online presence.

 

Japanese agency labels radioactive leak ‘serious’

Why it matters?

With literally hundreds of tons of extremely dangerous radioactive water leaking into the ocean every single day Fukushima isn’t a Japanese problem, it is a world problem. This is an issue that the world should collectively be dealing with.

It’s just business

It’s just business

It’s just business – has anyone ever said that to you? Have you ever said that to someone else? What does it mean? What is the intention of making that statement?

When I think about that statement, and the context that that statement is made, what comes to mind is the relationship between emotion and “business”. One should not get emotional as it is “just business”. One should not get upset or angry or offended as it is “just business”. Nobody says “it’s just business” after making lots of money. Nobody says “it’s just business” when both parties involved in the business are happy or comfortable, rather this statement is meant not as a form of consolation, but as a way of attempting to change someone’s perspective and frame of reference when dealing with “business”.

This “it’s just business” implies a call to leave emotion out of “it”. Leave emotion behind, this is just business. A separation of emotion from business is what is being asked of, what is being demanded of. But emotion is an integral part of being human. We can see this, sadly, as those devoid of emotion (ie. Psychopaths) are not as highly regarded as someone who display and feel emotion. Why else would being a psychopath be considered a disorder? Why else would we have a word for psychopath, rather than having a word for people who feel emotion? If not feeling emotion was the ‘normal’ state, then those that felt emotion would be considered outliers and they would be the ones with the disorder, with the title to categorize them and distinguish them from the norm, from those without emotion.

We value emotion. It might not be the sole thing that makes us human, but it surely completes our humanity. Without emotion a human suffers a disorder, and we as a society look to help them. Whether we find it politically correct or not to say so, we do not feel completely comfortable or at ease with the idea of psychopaths, with those that do not experience emotion. It is unnatural for a human.

Yet this is what “it’s just business” demands of us. This concept, this frame of reference, this ideology of how to conduct oneself in the world wishes to separate our valued nature, our emotions, from our doings (business).  “It’s just business” demands of us to become pyschopaths when doing business. If emotions complete us as humans and are something we value as part of human nature, then what does it mean that this “it’s just business” seeks to separate our human nature, the human aspect, and humanity itself, from business?

Does business, under this paradigm, create environments that seek to grow and foster psychopath behaviour?

I am reminded of people in my life who I won’t name, who work for a small business. The number of employees can be counted on two hands. One of the employees of this business, someone who is almost as integral as the owner themselves, asked to have a day off as this persons partner lost their father and wanted to be with their partner to console them and be there for them. This person wanted to fulfill their primary role in life, that is, to be a good human, not to accumulate money. To help restore quality in that person’s life. The business owner wouldn’t allow it. I wondered to myself why this was. To provide more information and paint a more accurate and fuller picture for this story, this person’s presence was not necessary and the store would function perfectly well without their presence for a single day.  It was simply a matter of putting business first over humanity.

But is it not our human responsibilities first and foremost that are important, only then followed by the responsibilities due to the roles that we play?

I thought about the relationship that this small business owner has to the employees. This business owner lives quite comfortable, and deservedly so. I am sure this business owner works and has worked incredibly hard and deserves all that they have received. But, this success, or rather measure of success (income, $) is completely dependent on those employees that can be counted on with just two hands. Those employees are the ones that acquire the income, the success, that the business owner gets to enjoy. Those employees create the lifestyle and career that the business owner is able to enjoy. They are all necessary and complete each other. They form an integral function in the business owners lifestyle. Without the business owner there would be no jobs, and without the employees there would be no business. They are all co-dependent and all function to each others benefit. These employees function to create, for the business owner, the business, income and life that is desired and enjoyed. How could the business owner not owe everything they have to these employees? How could someone who owes everything to those employees not show humanity to them?

It’s just business.

Of course, that is one specific single example, and there are countless number of examples when business owners are great, and also when that specific business owner is great as well.

It’s just business.

I thought some more about the relationship employees have with employers, with customers. It is this completely interconnected web of dependence. Each node is either an employee, an employer, a customer (who is themselves employees/employers). Each node is connected to other nodes in this web of interconnectivity.

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The web works because of the connections, and so each connection, each node, each person, in that web completes the other connections, completes the other nodes, completes the other person. It is quite an amazing thing when you think about it! But do we take this frame of reference and adopt this paradigm when we look at business? No, we repeat the mantra that it is just business.

This led me to think of my constant trips to the grocery store, to loblaws for example. I am guilty of being a snob. It is horrible, but I think it is something worth sharing. I became aware of this in the last couple of months, and it really hit me the last time I was getting groceries. I was walking through the produce section while a loblaws employee was watering some vegetables, putting new produce on the shelves, etc. I remember looking at him and thinking that he didn’t look happy. I didn’t think he enjoyed his job. I thought that he probably doesn’t get much respect, and he probably doesn’t view his job as that important, and that he probably doesn’t get much fulfillment out of his job, and that he probably doesn’t get much satisfaction from his job and I could see it in the way he worked.

Maybe other days he is much more joyful and happy, maybe today he was just sad or upset or down or super focussed and I was misinterpreting his demeanour. Maybe. It is possible. In that analysis, I couldn’t help but think that maybe it wasn’t a good job to have. Maybe the guy didn’t have a good education, maybe this was the best job he could get.

That was me being a judging snob.

But then I quickly realized that this guy’s job is so incredibly important, and I wondered if he really knew how important it was. It was important to me, and to anyone else that buys fresh produce from that loblaws. Can you imagine what your food would be like if it wasn’t constantly sprayed with water at the grocery store? If it wasn’t constantly shuffled around so that the freshest produce was at the front, and the rotten food taken away? Could you imagine if the food was just shipped in boxes and crates and left out in the store for customers to go through themselves? The food quality would go down, and much more would be wasted, thus driving up food prices. This person’s job is incredibly critical and valued, but why didn’t I see that before? Why doesn’t this employee carry himself with the pride that doing a completely essential role would bring? Does he know how important his job is, his function is? I wondered why it wasn’t the case as it is at farmers markets where we go and make small talk and ask questions to the various vendors that are providing us with food, why I don’t do that with this guy at loblaws. No, he doesn’t farm the food and bring it to me, but he is functioning as the guardian of the food that I will buy once it arrives in the store. Surely that is an essential and valued role.

Sometimes I catch myself idealizing other times. I can imagine a time, whether it is the past, the future or perhaps the present of another place, where people come into their grocery shops and know the employees that handle and care for their produce by name, they joke with them and ask them on updates on how they are doing, what is freshest this week, what is coming soon, etc. I wonder why I don’t function like that, and why I have absolutely no recollection of ever seeing anyone function like that, at least outside of a farmers market.

Is it a function of how the employee carries himself? Is it a function of my own social interactions? Is it a function of how I view and value other people? Is it a function of how we perceive hierarchies of values in people, jobs, services?

I don’t aspire to be the person that cleans and maintains produce at loblaws. But why is that? Is it not a valuable and critical job? Is there a reason to look down on something that you yourself value and view as essential?

I think that it might be related to hierarchy. We have, somewhere, a hierarchy of things that we value. The top are things like doctors, lawyers, scientists, athletes, political leaders, and so on. Down the hierarchy we go we come to other things, maybe police officers, maybe actors and celebrities (though I would say that today that is most likely higher than lawyers and scientists). I would say that probably lower down the pyramid of hierarchy occupations that are less valued would be farmers, construction workers, trades people, and the people that provide for us our day to day things such as the newspaper, the coffee you drink at starbucks, the gas delivery truck drivers for the gas you drive, the miners for the resources you use in your car, phones, house, the cable guy who provides a working tv for you to relax in front of.

This reminds me of the original ideology behind the caste system in Hinduism. It is the exact same as described in Plato’s Republic, in which Socrates is describing a perfect city. In each case, each person is doing their role that they are best suited for. As originally viewed in the caste system, there were no higher or lower associations in terms of importance. Each person was doing their role, their dharma, their function, and it was of complete and equal importance to every other person that was doing their role, their function. If tomorrow you took out doctors from the equation, the society would suffer. If tomorrow you took out plumbers, the society would suffer. If tomorrow you took out the police officers, the society would suffer. If tomorrow you took out the bus drives and cab drives, the society would suffer. If tomorrow you took out the farmers, the society would suffer. If tomorrow you took out the guy that shipped the food, the society would suffer. If tomorrow you took out the people that sold you the food you eat, the goods you use, the clothes you wear, the society would suffer. Each person is completely necessary, and each plays a role and a function that is meant to keep the whole thing going together.

There is a great value to be seen in each of those roles. A necessity even. But we don’t see it that way. There is this Hindu story that I will do my best to recount. It involves an argument between the head and the stomach. The head and the stomach are arguing over who is more important and valued. The head tells the stomach that it thinks that the head is more important and valued as it does all the thinking and see’s everything and even allows the food to enter the mouth for it to eventually make its way to the stomach. The stomach tells the head that it is more important as it functions to provide nutrition to the body and it does this by breaking down food. They kept arguing like this for a while, until one day the head thought that he had outsmarted the stomach and found a way to prove that the stomach was subservient to the head. The head decided to stop eating, to cut off the stomach from its function, to show the stomach that it wasn’t in control and not as important as the head. The end of the story, of course, ends with a dead body.

The story shows that everything is completely dependent and interconnected. To say that one thing is more important than another, and more valued, when they are both absolute necessities is absurd. If I need to eat food then I should value not just the food, but the farmer, the people the farmer employs and relies upon to harvest the food that I will eat, the truckers that deliver the food into the city, to the shops that I go to, the people working at the grocery store who take care of the food and maintain its quality, and so on. There isn’t a person there that doesn’t have value and that isn’t integral to the entire process.

But I don’t think, for the most part, we think like that. We have hierarchies, and we have values based on those hierarchies. Perhaps that is why the worker at loblaws seems to lack passion, satisfaction and pride in his job. He have dissociated value from the very things that we truly do value and rely upon. We have separated ourselves and our sense of worth from these people who are “just doing their jobs”.

Just. Just doing their jobs. Just business. Just- this word aims to degrade whatever word and concept that follows. It lowers its importance. This loblaws employee isn’t “just” spraying water on the vegetables, and isn’t “just” making sure the shelves are arranged from oldest to freshest foods, this loblaws employee is providing a valued service that is critical for me to eat healthy and nutritious food.

So what does this have to do with “it’s just business”? This is obviously a very heavy and loaded issue, but I can’t help but think that this “it’s just business” mantra, this “it’s just business” frame of mind and view of the world, is partly responsible. This person isn’t just doing business, isn’t just doing their job, this person is providing an invaluable service that those who eat produce reap the benefits from. And of course, it isn’t just him. It is the person that produces the goods you use, the people that ship them and sell them to you, the people that provide the services you use.

This “it’s just business” and it’s “just a job” or “just doing your job” is not a healthy paradigm to operate under. Imagine the inward emotions and inward evaluation someone has on themselves if they work at loblaws in the produce section and they themselves feel and are aware that their job is “just” a produce guy, that they aren’t as valued or important as another person with another function in society. It must affect their outlook not just on life but of their own sense of self. Their satisfaction is lower when they operate under a paradigm that “it’s just business” and it’s “just a job” at which they “just water vegetables”. How can someone feel satisfied under that frame of reference? Under that outlook? How can someone be expected to take pride in their work with that frame of reference? They have separated out the human value from their job under this paradigm, and from this separation they have removed their own sense of value and function. If you have two sets of people, one who sees value and function in their job, and the other set of people who while performing the exact same job, no matter what it is, sees less value and function in their job, what are the effects? Surely the ones who see their job with value and function will perform better, take more pride, make more of an effort, be a better contributor and experience a higher quality of life.

Perhaps this is a problem generations are experiencing today. This is simply a different way of looking at the “entitled” generation and problem they pose. The feeling of entitlement that one should work a high paying super amazing and valued job right away in life could very well be a direct consequence from adopting this paradigm that there exists a hierarchy of importance and valued jobs. This hierarchy is purely a construct and completely subjective. The whole truth is that every single function is necessary, and equally as necessary. The head is no more important than the stomach, they are both essential and should be valued as such. But we don’t value them equally. In the end, what you get is generations of people who don’t value integral and essential roles in society. They don’t value them and so refuse to function in playing those roles in society. They don’t value them and they don’t believe society values them, and so why would anyone perform a thankless and non-valued role?

People want to be valued, and people want to be experienced as a human. To not be valued is to say that you are not as good as. This is to take away from the human experience, from humanity, from being humane. To be valued less is to be less of a human (or is it a lie that no human life is more than another?). To be a lesser human, a lesser person. “It’s just business” seeks to separate our humanity, our emotion, from business. And in a world driven by the economy and the effort to maintain a functioning and growing economy, economy being the sum total of business, what we are actually subscribing to is a world driven to be less emotional, less empathetic, less sympathetic, less humane and less human.

Letting go of the US – By former Australian PM Malcolm Fraser

Here is the link to the article itself.

Here is the statement by Fraser, with my thoughts on it following:

Australia must assert its independence or risk being dragged into conflict with China.

You might think that Australia is a strategic independent nation, but in fact, we never have been. From our foundation in 1901 to World War II, we relied on Britain for defence. We thought the Empire, the British navy, would always be able to save us. After the war, the United States was coerced into agreeing to the ANZUS Treaty.

There was a rationale for our close relationship with the US, during the Cold War and until the break-up of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was regarded as an outward-looking, thrusting, aggressive force, whose invasion of Afghanistan, as late as 1979, seemed to confirm that view. Thus, the policy of strategic dependence upon the US made sense during the Cold War.

In 1990, the Soviet Union disintegrated. The threat of Soviet aggression disappeared. The ideological war appeared to be over. America emerged supreme, the absolute power, no challenger. This was an opportunity for Australia to say, ”Well, now we need to exhibit a little more strategic independence. We need to make our own decisions. We live in the western Pacific, our priority should be to carve out better and secure relationships with countries of our immediate region, east and south-east Asia.” The strategic need for a protector was no longer present.

But instead of showing some degree of strategic independence, we chose quite deliberately to tie ourselves much more closely to America’s coat-tails. This was a major strategic error, a betrayal of Australia’s national interest.

The first major reason that continuing our policy of strategic dependence on America was an error is that substantial changes have occurred within the US. America’s political make-up, attitudes and aspirations have changed in the decades since the Berlin Wall came down.

The US emerged from World War II as the world’s wealthiest and most powerful single nation. But its power was always held in check by the power of the Soviet Union. The two superpowers balanced each other. After 1990, that restraint was removed. There was no counter to US power. The European Union, Japan and the newly formed Russian Federation were no match for the world’s last remaining superpower.

With its power unchecked and a sense of triumphalism brought about by victory in the Cold War, the idea of American exceptionalism – a nation chosen by God, endowed with a manifest destiny to bring democracy and freedom to the world – has risen to new heights. The simultaneous political rise of the neo-conservative movement in the post-Cold War era, particularly under George W. Bush, has ensured these notions have become central to US foreign policy.

The second reason I believe strategic dependence is an erroneous policy is the wars of no strategic importance to Australia that we have become embroiled in as a dutiful American ally.

We followed the US blindly in the invasion of Iraq, not because of ANZUS but because we wanted to cuddle up to America. We wanted to tie ourselves to America’s coat-tails in a totally mistaken view that smaller countries can buy brownie points with major countries. So we participated in the lie about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. The British were leading proponents because prime minister Tony Blair also wanted to protect his relationship with the US. The result: an Iraq in chaos.

It is not the first time Australia committed to America’s folly. There was, of course, Vietnam. And there was Afghanistan. I supported the invasion of Afghanistan because it was authorised by the United Nations Security Council to hunt al-Qaeda. But America changed the mission to establishing democracy, American-style, in Afghanistan. That mission is an impossibility. Afghanistan has never been a country with a strong, central government. It has always been a federation or confederation of warlords with their own turf, their own power, their own interests. It will revert to that as America withdraws, just as certainly as Iraq has descended into chaos.

The third reason for my concerns about strategic dependence is we have become complicit in the immoral behaviour of America. For example, the intelligence gathered at Pine Gap is now used to target US drone attacks.

President Barack Obama says he respects the sovereignty of other states, but quite blatantly his drone program does not. We are complicit in it. Under what law does this operate? We have signed on to the International Criminal Court; are we culpable under that?

Many hoped President Obama would expose and wind back aspects of President Bush jnr’s administration. He has not done that; he has ramped them up. Are we to take it that, with Republican and Democratic support, a secret, aggressive killing force is now a permanent part of the US political machine?

Australia should be telling the US: ”We do not like these operations, we do not wish to be complicit in them. You had better establish alternative processes that do not touch Australia. You cannot use information collected at Pine Gap to support drone targeting.”

The final reason I believe strategic dependence should end is that I do not want Australia to follow America into a fourth war.

A fourth war would be in the western Pacific. It would likely involve China. America has a two-track policy on China. One track involves consultation, an attempt to understand each other better, to solve matters diplomatically. The second track, in case that doesn’t work, involves a ring of armaments from Japan to the Philippines, to Australia to Singapore. We are the southern linchpin of America’s policy of containment.

If the next war America is likely to be involved in is in the Pacific, it becomes much more important to Australia’s own security than does anything that happens in Iraq or Afghanistan. It will have far-reaching implications for our relations with our neighbours – with Japan, with China, with Indonesia.

There is no inevitability about any of this. If America is prepared to share power, then there is not going to be a problem. But all the signs since 1990 suggest that that is not the American intention. They are No.1, they intend to stay No.1 and they will fight to do so.

We have an interest in a peaceful world, and it is time we began to cut ourselves off America’s coat-tails. We do not want to be caught between the US and China. There would be no real winners in such a war. Everyone would lose. A small country allied to the US would lose most of all. We should be telling the Americans: ”We are not going to be part of any of that. We are no longer going to follow you into your wars.”

Australia needs to decide where its future lies and how it plans on getting there. We need to be aware of the domestic changes in America, the folly of engaging in conflicts of no strategic significance, being complicit in unethical tactics, and the risk of a major conflict in our region. Do we attempt to carve a role for ourselves in the region through an independent, intelligent and consultative foreign policy? Or do we continue to rely on an ally whose strategic interests and domestic political values might not directly align with our own?

 Malcolm Fraser Prime Minister of Australia from 1975 – 1983 

Why it matters?

This statement was made by a former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser. Through this statement he has made public his feelings, feelings about the past, current and future relationship his country has with the USA. He has made himself quite clear in that he doesn’t wish to ride the coattails of the USA any longer. He looks back in hindsight at the decisions made to follow the USA into unnecessary wars under false pre-tenses and he does so with regret.

This article, this statement, this plea to the world, is one that carries with it the message that enough is enough. Though Fraser is no longer the Prime Minister of Australia, to have a former PM of eight years to stand up and say ‘the world no longer supports these actions’ (my paraphrase not his words) is an act of integrity. It is something that is necessary, especially right now as the Western world is manufacturing the consent to enter once again another war that was predestined years ago.

This isn’t a call to arms but a call to reason, and a call to changing the path of a country. Though he is speaking of Australia’s future and path, his words and sentiment are universal and cross borders to any country across the globe.

There is one aspect to this article that speaks volumes and is of great importance. This aspect is one that shouldn’t be overlooked, and I believe is something nations around the world, perhaps even our own, should consider quite seriously. What I am referring to is the outlook that the world has lost its moral champion, its moral leader that the world over has aspired and modeled themselves after.

Whether some like it or not, following the second world war and following the cold war, the USA was portrayed as and seen not just as the world super power, but also as the moral authority. The USA was “the good guys”. As Fraser puts it in this article, the USA projected “the idea of American exceptionalism – a nation chosen by God, endowed with a manifest destiny to bring democracy and freedom to the world”. The story of how the United States of America came into existence with the battle for their independence and formation of their constitution by their founding fathers is nothing short of pure inspiration. But sadly, if those same proud founding fathers could see the USA as it is today, what would they say or think?

My purpose is not to speak poorly of the USA, but rather to point out and recognize that there was a time when America, Americans and Americanism were idealized. The entire concept of America was associated with liberty, justice, freedom – with virtues. The entire concept of this one single nation was one of morality and of being a moral authority. They were the world’s leading “good guys”.

Today, this isn’t the case anymore. Nations are looking to distance themselves from the USA. No longer does the USA have the same appeal and authority, at least not on the grounds of morality.

This is where I think a great opportunity exists. I believe that besides other great advantages and strengths that the USA harboured that allowed them to grow as the economic powerhouse that they were (and still are), that there was also another advantage that they had that no other nation could claim, and that was the moral authority. I believe that if this is true, then surely this played a positive role in the US economy over decades. Who would not want to support the economy of the good guys? Who would not want to do trade with the good guys? Who would not want to buy their entertainment, their goods, their anything from the good guys?

And so I believe that surely being the worlds “good guys”, the world’s moral leader and authority had its own economic benefit. A champion for freedom and justice, for virtue, was celebrated and rewarded for decades.

So, with reading this article, I am left asking the questions “Does there exist today a nation that represents a world moral authority? Who is the world’s standout ‘good guy’?” I am not sure if there is one, and if there is one, I don’t know if it is as clear cut as it might have been decades ago.

So I believe that with this void that exists, this lack of a nation or perhaps even a group of nations that is able to claim the coveted role of “good guys”, of “moral authority”, that therein lies an opportunity. I believe that the world right now, especially right now, is in need of such a thing. I think the world needs actual “good guys” and an actual leader in morality, and not just a country with the image of such things. I believe that the world might be looking for such a thing, and if it isn’t actively searching, I would like to believe that it would be quite welcoming and accepting of it.

I believe that there would not only be great quality to be gained from a nation to step up and fulfill such a role, but that it would bring with it great economic gains in the long term – and in this economic climate, an economic gain would be highly regarded.

News of the week: Syria, August 2013

Syria. Is anyone talking about Syria? Is anyone thinking critically and paying attention to what is happening around Syria? I know with certainty that people are paying attention to and talking about the indecency that Miley Cyrus displayed over the weekend at some awards show, but what about Syria?

Obama declared it a “red line” that if chemical weapons were used in Syria that US intervention would result. In the last week reports and accusations have come out that chemical weapons have been used in Syria with hundreds that have been killed.

The first questions to ask would be who used these weapons, and also were they in fact chemical weapons. The proper thing to do would be to ask a third party such as the UN to investigate into the matter. This is what happened.

However the UN were delayed five days from entry to the site. This, in the mind of the US, was evidence enough of guilt of the Assad government of Syria. The US, through John Kerry, quickly began churning out the rhetoric of war and action, of conscience and morality, of conviction and of “regimes” rather than soverign governments. The US quickly sent their machines of war towards Syria, stating they could strike within days if necessary. They quickly stated that Syrias “regime” was not credible, and that whatever the UN investigators would find would be insufficient, as they had all the evidence that they already needed. They have aligned with the UK, France and even Germany (we must not forget Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia) as the “good guys” who will carry out the “punishment” of Assad and his Syria. They make statements that they are not seeking “regime change”, that they aren’t looking to take Assad out of power, but rather just “punish them”.

They talk as if they have the moral authority to hand out punishments, and what sorts of punishments and to whom? They speak of innocent lives being taken which must be made right. The method of choice for such a correction is in the form of military force, an attack on their country. They plan on bringing about redemption and punishment for those lives of the innocent that were lost, and they plan to do this through acts of war. When has military attacks EVER been without innocent lives being taken? When has the US ever NOT killed innocent civilians? What sort of punishment is this? They will surely kill more innocent people through this “punishment”. This is a punishment for those who are already victims – the Syrian people. Are people even thinking critically of what is being presented to them? Talk of conscience, of morality, of fathers holding their dead children in their arms, innocent dead, all while the US constantly carries out illegal drone strikes overseas with a 2% accuracy rate. For every two targets killed there are 98 that die, innocent and unjustly. 

It is also funny that John Kerry’s emotional plea to the country comes on the same day that leaked CIA documents from the early 1980s show that the US was not only aware of but aided and allowed Saddam Hussein to use chemical weapons against Iran. The documents are available to be read here.

Has nobody remembered that the Syrian rebels who are bringing war to the sovereign government of Syria are Saudi backed, US trained and armed Al Qaeda terrorists? These Syrian rebels that the US is providing weapons to and training for, are Al Qaeda, the same terrorist group that the US has been fighting for 12 years since September 11, 2001. The same terrorist group that Western soldiers have been dying for. The same terrorist group that billions of US$ of tax payer money is spent fighting against. These rebels are complete savages, beheading innocent civilians and are pure cannibals, eating the hearts of those they kill in Syria.  Here is the video:

These are the people the US and the Western world have sided with. Can you imagine this in your country, in your neighborhood?

Has nobody remembered that Syria and the UN had evidence of and accused the rebels of using chemical weapons in this war?  Where was the war rhetoric then? Where was the talk of “red lines” being crossed then? Do you not remember? Were you ever aware? Have you ever wondered why some news stories stay in your face while others get no attention?

So we have an accusation and evidence of chemical weapons being used in Syria, the only thing we lack is information on who did it. The US claims to know who did it, but there is no evidence provided. We are to follow their “moral compass”, as John Kerry puts it, into another war. Just as we did with President Bush and his weapons of mass destruction.

What reason would Assad have in using chemical weapons? This is clearly someone who doesn’t want Western intervention and an all out war. He knows, as well as the world knows, that Obama has backed himself into a corner by stating that the US will intervene if the “red line” is crossed. So why would he cross such a line? Why would he even resort to using chemical weapons in a civil war that his government has been winning? More importantly, as that is just talk, what evidence do we have of who used the chemical weapons? What evidence is there?

There was an intelligence report that was leaked in the news that there was evidence that the US backed a plan to launch chemical attacks on Syria and blame it on Assads “regime”. The email leaked from a UK defense contractor Britam Defence states “a scheme ‘approved by Washington’ is outlined explaining that Qatar would fund rebel forces in Syria to use chemical weapons”. Similar less informative reports can be found here and here. But this isn’t in the mainstream media in the West. The same way the NDAA and so many important occurrences are not covered in the West. I’m tangenting.

What else do we know? We know that this fake photo was used as propaganda on the BBC home page as evidence of the dead from the Syrian chemical weapons attack.

BBC-fake-photo

 

This can be read about here, from the Telegraph. The story explains how the photographer who took the photo, originally used for an Iraq story, was falsely used for this Syrian chemical weapons attack story. Can Western mainstream media be trusted?

It is interesting that in 2007 Obama was adamant that it was unconstitutional and thus illegal for a president to attack a country unless it poses an imminent threat, found here in a Time article and here.

This video is also interesting. We have Joe Biden speaking about how the government in power in the US has no accountability and can no longer be trusted. At 5:30 Joe Biden speaks about the desire to impeach the president if he attacks Iran without the permission of congress. This video is from 2007. Funny how he, now in power, is perfectly comfortable with the similar things happening with this administration and Syria.

But that doesn’t matter. People are allowed to be hypocrites and people are allowed to lie to further their careers.

What matters is this: chemical weapons have been used in Syria. What matters are a few questions and the answers to them. Answers to questions such as who has more to gain from the use of chemical weapons? Who used them? How much can we trust the Western media when these same countries are blood thirsty and dying to go to war? Why is it not an option to wait for more results to come in from the UN investigative teams? Why isn’t there more talk in the Western mainstream media about Assads request to the UN about three other chemical weapons attacks that he hopes they can investigate? What is the rush that is driving the US? Is it because there isn’t any real basis to go to war, that if we are given time to actually think about what is happening we will see that it is so blatantly wrong? But if things are rushed and whizz by us so quickly that by the end of it, we can’t recall how we got there. How much can be trusted from the West when they are already funding, training and arming one side of the war? How credible can the West be when they are funding, arming and training the same terrorists that they have supposed to  have been fighting for the last 12 years? The same terrorists that are killing innocent people, especially those of different ideologies from their own within Syria. The same terrorists that are beheading and eating the flesh and hearts of other humans. Why is a civil war any other countries business?

I think what I have such a big problem with is the speed that things are escalating, the lack of critical thinking and rationality, and the excessive use of propaganda and rhetoric, the control of the dialogue that is completely pro-war and anti-Assad that leaves little to be debated. The West has already made up its minds. The guilt of Assad and his “regime” is a forgone conclusion, one already put in place and not up for debate. To think critically at this point, as John Kerry puts it, would be to lack a conscience. I have a problem with the word regime, as it devalues the sovereign government in question. This new word added to our consciousness is one that is associated with thugs and void of justice. “Regime” has negative associations, and its usage is purposeful in that regards. I have a problem with manufacturing consent. Apparently, I have a few problems!

Countries like Russia that have veto power in the UN, and China, are against an intervention in Syria. They are in no rush to go to war, as opposed to to some who act as if it was as natural to their existance as breathing. They are portrayed as a constant nuisance to the Westerns doings. Russia has itself its own pressures and strategic issues to deal with. They, however, are allies with Syria. Syria are close allies with Iran, with which they have a pact to defend each other if the other is attacked. Surely Russia and China won’t sit there and do nothing when their close allies are being attacked.

I have run out of steam. I know that this post wasn’t very fluid, but I have no desire to go back and edit it until it is. It is what it is. I would like to leave this video of US General Wesley Clark here.

 

 

 

Are we corrupt? (Facing your doings)

I have a horrible question to ask: are we all corrupt?

What an insulting question. So damaging to our ego that to consider the question itself would be a painful experience.

To answer this question we have to first define what being corrupt is. What corruption is. To me, I think that it has to do with a responsibility and the misuse of that responsibility. I think what corruption is is when someone has a form of power and in that form of power a responsibility exists, but that responsibility isn’t upheld and is done so with the aid of that form of power which the person has.

So if we are corrupt, then what would our powers be? What would our responsibilities be? What would the powers be that we misuse? What responsibilities might we be neglecting?

I think that at the most basic and rooted of levels the form of power that we have is choice. If we had no choices whatsoever, we could not be said to have any sort of objective power, no form of power that could be exerted outwardly on the world. It is our ability to make choices and enact those choices that we have any sense of power.

When I think of what our responsibilities are, I think that at the most basic levels we have a duty to ourselves and each other. I think this duty, this responsibility, can be said and argued in many different ways. It could be an argument that our responsibilities are to be virtuous, that it is our duty to be virtuous, both for our own benefit and the benefit of others. It could be an argument that our responsibility and duty lies in treating others as we wish to be treated ourselves- the golden rule. From that simple to understand concept we can derive from it the concepts and arguments of how we want to be treated, but without explaining this concept with symbols (language) we all intrinsically know or feel what that means.

So how then might we be corrupt?

Sadly, in the world, our lives have subscribed to a system where our exercise of power is often done so through purchases. These are how we often exercise our power, as this has grown to become a most fundamental arena in which we make choices. We no longer grow our own food, or produce things for ourselves. Essentially, we have increasingly grown less self-sustainable. Because of this lack of self-independence we have grown increasingly more dependent. We are reliant on others to produce for us each of the things we have and use in daily life. To be able to acquire things that one does not create or produce is a form of power. We exercise that power through making purchases, through consumerism, and with each purchase that we make we are telling the world “I want this, and for this amount (market price) I believe this is a good thing and want this to continue”.

Not only do our purchases represent the power of acquisition, but it is also the power of informing and shaping the world on what you want and value.

Are we being responsible with this power? I can hardly doubt that an argument could be made to counter what I have said so far. Surely we have power, and surely that power is carried out through choices. A pervasive amount of our choices are in purchases as we move into a consumerist and less self-sustained way of living. So the only question that remains is, are we being responsible with this power?

I will try to get to the answer of that question through some other questions.

Ask yourself this question: If you had to physically be present and watch each person perform the functions necessary for every single thing you have purchased to come into your possession (that is to say, to come into being), and you had to watch each person along this chain of events leading from collection of raw materials (mining, farming) to processing to shipment to retail sales, and you had to give them the amount owed as it was calculated from their share of the purchase you made, would you do it? Why, why not?

I am typing on a laptop. It cost me about $300. It consists of plastic, precious metals and precious minerals (read precious as conflict). If I had to watch the child in the Congo, or in Afghanistan or other third world countries move from their home village to live in some shanty town and dig with his bare hands in dangerous open pit mines, holes in the earth;

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run by constantly feuding factions which are purposely kept unstable by local and distant governments in order to maintain low wages and thus low costs for us, the consumers, to enjoy downstream; if I had to watch the person who mined for my nugget of coltan, of lithium, work in these conditions, and have him or her come up to me and hand me the 0.001milligrams of this precious raw material and hand to him what he gets from my purchase, perhaps a few pennies, most likely less, would I? Would I really think this is a fair transaction? A fair trade? Would I really think this is a responsible usage of my power of choice?

If I truly thought that it was, would I wish for my child, or my family or myself to be on his side of the exchange? If something was truly fair, and truly just and truly equitable, then to change sides would be without concern or hesitation. But none of us, in a second, would do such a thing. Even if the exchange was modified to our standard of living, and let’s just say that those couple of pennies was worth thousands, even millions, in that part of the world. Enough to support their village back home. Would you still exchange roles in this exchange? Would you allow it of your child? Your wife? Your brother?

Then we would have to take our precious minerals, after collecting all the other raw materials and watch as they get processed and formed, and take them to a factory, such as the one that Apple has its cell phones and ipads assembled. People in these Chinese factories move from their villages to live inside the factory itself. Their lives are nothing but work, complete submission to the acquisition of money. Their existence delegated to the production of electronics. One can understand how depressing a being might become when one is stripped of their humanity, of their existence. It is for this reason that Apple includes nets beneath the windows of their Chinese factories in order to prevent suicides. Rather than quit, these people would kill themselves; even the power of that choice is taken away from them.

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After watching your apple worker assemble your phone or laptop for you, would you truly think it was fair to exchange that service for whatever that person receives in return from your purchase, say, another few pennies?

The same questions can be asked of the clothes we wear, of all of the things that we consume. If you, yourself, had to bare witness to the entire process and physically take part in each exchange of goods or services for money for each of the things that are brought into existence, into your possession, through the power that you exercise called choice, would you still make those choices?

I don’t know if we would. I think that there is a reason why we aren’t aware of what truly goes into us getting the things that we consume, from electronics to clothing to food to diamonds. The market and companies know this too, that is another reason why we are shielded from it. We don’t ask and don’t seek to know as it is too difficult, because inherently we know that it isn’t fair. We know that we are breaking the golden rule, and we don’t wish these things on these people, the things we subject people to through the power of our choices. In fact, we want to remain ignorant from the fact that we, ourselves, are corrupt.

I am not a Prime Minister, a President, a king or a ceo. So the apparent power that I have is, on the surface, lesser in extent than those high ranking leaders. When such people of greater power are caught to be corrupt, we judge them. We hate them for it. We despise them. We hope for punishment and for retribution.

But what of ourselves?

Corruption is still corruption. Corruption doesn’t exist in the external affects of the act that allow us to come to know of corruption. The doings of corruption is what is seen. It is the external, objective manifestation of corruption. Corruption isn’t the fruit of the act, rather it exists in the character of the person, it is in the quality of the person that leads to the act. If that is true, then the form of corruption you and I may or may not take part in is of no difference than that of perhaps the bankers that rig world wide interest rates for their own gain, rather they just have a greater measure of power, and so the extent of what their corruption manifests appears greater. The corruption is the same.

Perhaps we don’t think that we really have power. Perhaps with 7 other billion people on this planet we feel that our single choice is of no consequence. Even if that was true, that wouldn’t change the fact that our own misuse of power in a non-responsible way is still corruption. It is the age-old saying, ‘if all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?’, just because an entire culture is taking part in something that is wrong, doesn’t justify you yourself taking part. The normalization of wrong, of vice, of corruption does not invert its quality or value. What is right is not open to a democratic process or opinoin.

I think there are certainly some people who would outwardly argue that if it wasn’t for these jobs, jobs that are so horrible that we in the west would never dare consider doing ourselves, then these people wouldn’t have any source of income. But two wrongs do not make a right. A source of income isn’t the highest calling of a being. In fact, a source of income only perpetuates the ideology of consumerism. It reinforces it. Now, that Congelese child, that Chinese peasant family, or that Bangladesh family can take part in being less self-sustained, more reliant, and wield their power through the choices of consumerism. The global economy. Perhaps they will use their power responsibly, ethically, or perhaps they will join in on the fun, join in on the corruption.

I do think that we have power, and that power is exercised through choice. We can make so many great choices, the choice to love the people in our lives, the choice to show compassion, the choice to relax and enjoy a good nap. I don’t think we want to make bad choices. I don’t think that we want to make unethical or irresponsible choices. It is certainly inherent in the mechanism of globalization and consumerism, though, to be illusory. What you see might not be what you get, or at least what you see might not be how you think you got it.

We have a power, and we have a responsibility. When I think of myself having to watch a child worker making a piece of clothing for me and then handing them a few pennies for their share of the purchase, but then handing perhaps a sales person from the department store a few dollars, and perhaps a ceo who simply put all of this in place several more dollars, I don’t see a responsible decision. I don’t see an equitable exchange. When I think of watching people digging on their hands and knees in mines that are susceptible to dangerous landslides, that are subjected to war lords, would I hand over a couple of pennies to that person for handing me a speck of mineral for my phone? Then hand over more money to the war lords who control the mines? Then a few pennies to the Chinese person who lives and sleeps in a factory away from their family fusing parts together on my phone, constantly inhaling toxic fumes?  Then hand over a few dollars to the clean cut teenager helping me at the Apple store, and many more dollars to people so far removed from the actual physical process?

Is that something that is responsible?

Each time I make a purchase like this I am telling the world, telling each person along this chain of interaction, of power, of hierarchy, that I want this chain of events to continue. It is only when the money stops coming in does this chain of events rust away into nothingness.

So now I have an interesting question to ask myself. Or I suppose, several to ask myself. I have to ask myself with each purchase I make if it is responsible one to make. This is in itself a very difficult and laborious task, as each purchase I am confronted with making has a laundry list of chains of events that bring it into existence. To not be aware, to remain ignorant, of each step that brings about the purchase is not an excuse or pardon for being irresponsible.  Perhaps there exists out there an ethical and responsible choice for all the things that you enjoy, that would be nice, but even if there were it might be quite difficult to find them all, and to keep track of them.

To know where your things come from and from buying locally is certainly a step in the right direction. In the end, I think that the surest correction to this problem is to alleviate reliance on consumerism, on the global market. To be more self-sustainable and independent, to remove oneself from the global economy is an undisputable way to ensure responsibility of choice.

Yesterday started over again

This is a great song by a musical artist that I really love, M83. The last words of the song are strong. They are:

“Yesterday started over again”

 

When I hear this song, and the line “yesterday started over again”, I can’t help but think of things. I think of a life of repetition. Have you ever seen the movie Groundhog day with Bill Murray? Bill Murray’s character lives the same day over and over again, stuck in a time warp of sorts. It is a funny movie, and his predicament is shown in a comedic light. But is it that funny to be stuck repeating the same day over and over again?

When I hear this song I think of someone who does the same things every day, day in and day out. Wake up, eat, go to work, eat, go home, eat, go to sleep. I am painting a bleak picture, but it could anything. It could be wake up, go bungee jumping, eat, wrestle a crocodile, party, pass out. It doesn’t matter what the day consists of. The thing that comes to mind is a question, a question I have asked before: If you were to repeat the same day over and over for, let’s say, 60 years, could you say that you had lived 60 years of life? or would it be more appropriate to say that within 60 years you have lived only a single day?

If every day has an almost endless number of possibilities to be played out, is there a duty to play those possibilities out? Is it perfectly acceptable to repeat the same single possibility over and over again?

I don’t know if there is necessarily a way one should spend there days, but this line, yesterday started over again, means something to me. I know I don’t want to live the same day over and over again. I don’t want to live one day for 60 years, I would rather live 60 years worth of different days. That doesn’t mean one day I sky dive, the next I drive a motorcycle, the next I play the drums- what it means to me is that there has to be something unique about today to differentiate it from yesterday. There has to be something that expands upon your experience. Having a new thought, learning something new, experiencing something new, anything.

No matter how amazing a single day could be, if it was repeated endlessly it would become tiresome. It would lose its amazingness. The things that make that day amazing only do so in the face of non-amazing things. You need the cold of winter to know the warmth of summer. You need a rainy and cloudy day to know the bright and dry days. It is diversity that creates the experience. If you have the taste of bitterness in your mouth and taste something bitter, the sensation isn’t as strong. But if you just ate something sweet then bite into a grapefruit, it is the difference that allows for a transition, and it is in the transition that the new taste exists.

So I think that it is important to have different experiences. Without them, we can’t possibly come to appreciate the ones we have. It is one thing to say that we appreciate things we experience every day (electricity, running water, etc), but the level of appreciation experienced could never be as strong as if you had the experience of not having those things.

So I think it would be almost a disservice to live the same day over and over, to allow yesterday to start over again. I have argued that an important aspect to cultivating happiness is to experience as many things as possible. Inherent in that viewpoint would be to not let yesterday to start over again.

Valuation of interaction

I think we are currently sitting on a very important fringe. We are currently, as a global movement, a global consciousness, setting the status quo for how we value our relationships with each other.

I suppose ever since the advent of technology this has always been the case. With the invention of the telephone there was surely a backlash as well. Two people sitting together, having a conversation, when *ring ring, ring ring* and then one person answers the phone and has a new, different, exclusive conversation that isolates the other person that was right there in front of them.

But today we have more than home phones. We have technology that is shaping the way that we interact with one another. We have home phones, cell phones, texting, skype, facebook, twitter, instagram and whatever other “social” media that exists and will exist.

Texting has become a much preferred means of communicating. I used to prefer it myself. But it has its consequences. Rather than speaking on the phone with someone (or in person) for a few minutes to bring the conversation to a conclusion, texting forces the “conversation” to take place in short chunks over a longer period of time. The consequences of this is that the person texting is constantly distracted and pulled away from the world and drawn back to their phone. This can be compounded with multiple texting conversations occurring simultaneously, and any other distraction technology can bring.

Presence. Being present. These are the important things that have quality, and whether consciously or not, we are changing how we value these things.

Being present means being where you are, “here”, in the moment. Not being present is to be “somewhere else”, figuratively of course. This has always been in existence. Someone could mentally just drift off, day dream or maybe be thinking about work or other things that occupy their mind, rather than paying attention and being present in that moment. Today, we still have this, but now we have other means to pull us away from being present. We have a phone call, a text message, an email to check, an email to send, a photo to comment or like on facebook, a facebook status to make, a tweet to make, to check… the list goes on.

There is a new phenomenon that has developed which touches on this issue, it is called the ‘Fear of missing out’. It is born from all of these constant facebook and twitter updates, posts, etc. So much is being posted online, that the sheer volume of “stuff” that “happens” (albeit, elsewhere and never present) is so great in magnitude that no “present” action could ever compare. So there is a psychological draw to constantly check what is happening online (email,text,twitter,facebook,instagram,etc) out of fear that something is happening that if you don’t see now, you will miss out.

But in doing so, what people don’t realize is that they have to make a choice. They have to make a choice between missing out on what is happening online, and what is happening in real life, in the moment. It is online vs. being present. This is the fringe we, as a culture, are coming to. This is the important stage we are at right now – do we value online “interaction” more than a real, present, in the moment interaction?

We are making decisions of whether to interact with friends on facebook rather than interacting with a human that is right in front of you.  Valuing electronic interactions over real life present interactions. I see it when two people are together at a restaurant and both of them are hunched over, their necks and shoulders slumped forward and a bluish-white haze is projected on their faces. Rather than interacting with each other, taking enjoyment in the moment they could be creating, being present, they are both elsewhere, not together.

I saw this yesterday, on a bike ride across the city. I saw two women behind Parliament sitting on big rocks on the edge of the Ottawa River. Their bodies were facing towards the water, and as I biked by them I watched as they both stared at their phones, most likely “communicating” with someone else, someone who wasn’t there in front of them, someone that was somewhere else also not being present, most likely with other people around them. I almost stopped my bike to be a dick and say “what a beautiful day to go outside and play on your phone!”, but I didn’t.

I didn’t because that would make me a hypocrite. I have been the same as those women have for the last few years. I got my iphone about three years ago, and it has been an extension of myself ever since. I have made great conscious efforts to limit my usage of my phone, to become more aware of how it shapes how I interact with people, of the quality of those interactions- but I still use it. I am guilty of not being “present” at times as well.

I think that technology is changing how we interact. I think that there will be some people who decide that this form of interaction has less value than true human to human interaction that involves being present. But I think more and more people will become engulfed in the online interaction network, especially with the coming of the singularity.

I remember when I lived with one of my buddies once. He was working at a Bell store, selling phones and plans and all that, meaning he dealt with customers and so knew of customer service values. I remember him telling me one day that he went to a store and the sales person was dealing with him in person. The phone rang, and the salesman left him to go answer it. He told me about how upset he was, that he broke a cardinal rule of customer service: always give your attention to the person that is in front of you. The person that is present has priority, has higher value than the person simply calling. My friend recognized that the person that was present, in the store, was more valuable as he was more likely to purchase something than someone who through technology could reach out to the store. It is a direct measure of value, as if the customer was more serious about making the purchase, they would necessarily have to come into the store. Why pass up a more probable sale (the person that is present) for one that is less probable (the one not present, contacting through technology)?

The analogy is a great one. Why do we take away from the time we are spending with someone who is present, who is right there in front of us, who has taken the time out of their lives to meet with us, to interact with us, to be with us, to be present with us, for someone that doesn’t value our interaction enough to physically meet with us and be present with us? From texting to facebooking to tweeting on your phone, laptop, whatever, over someone in front of you right there in the moment – every time that we do this we are making a statement about how we value our interactions. Perhaps the sales person was taking my buddy Matt, who was in the store, for granted. Perhaps that is what we do.

This article wasn’t to point fingers and to curse people, rather it was meant as a warning sign and perhaps to enlighten. Nothing in our lives could possibly have prepared us for the vastness and pervasiveness of technology. Nothing in our lives could possible have prepared us for the negative consequences technology may or may not have on our lives, and our interactions with others. Technology is changing too quickly. Technology is changing so incredibly fast, and becoming accepted, adopted and infused into our lives without much consideration at all, that we can’t help but become subjected to the adverse effects it will bring. Things moved much more slowly 100, 500, 1000, 10,000 years ago. When something new came around it would have to stand the test of time. That test would last generations before the next “something new” came around, and provided ample time for a culture, a people, to decide whether or not this “something new” was valued or dangerous. Today, however, the pace is undeniable. We don’t have those same intrinsic safeguards that come with slow paced living.

 

We don’t ‘get good’ at external things, we only ‘get good’ at the self

I had the morning free to do what I wanted today, which was really quite nice and appreciated. I took the time to have a good meditation. I tried some breathing exercises, did some chanting of Om, and eventually just sat there in mostly thought and some non-thought.

While I was trying to be void of thought, I couldn’t help but think “I am thinking”. I thought to my self ‘that is more than ok, just know that you are thinking and be aware of it, just watch yourself think’. Then I thought about how enjoyable it was, and yet this is a part of meditation that can be so difficult for some people.

Often when I thought of meditation before, and still so now, I thought of it the way I sometimes hear from people or read others say online. This thought is that meditation is hard or frustrating or stressful because it is difficult to “meditate”, to let go of thought and empty your mind. Or to relax, or to not move, or to whatever.

Then I thought how funny of a reason that was not to do something! Imagine that, to disallow yourself from accomplishing something and reaping the benefits from something because you might not be successful on your first attempt! If that mind-set was applied elsewhere in our lives, we might never try to do anything! We might never try to learn an instrument because the first time we go to play it we might no be able to play a song. We might never try to learn to play a new sport, or a new craft or do anything new.

It quickly became clear to me how crazy this would be, to not attempt something nor to enjoy it just because one wasn’t successful immediately. I find it to be a shame. I think it is sad that people would keep from themselves not just the benefits that the mastery of something can bring, but also the benefits and enjoyment the entire process of challenge and overcoming the challenge brings. The sense of accomplishment. The realization of the power of self, and what that self can do. Satisfaction. Enjoyment. Confidence. There is a strength that is found here.

I thought that everyone is capable of “being good” at something. Being good at something doesn’t really happen externally though, it happens internally. We measure how good someone is ‘at something’ by some external objective/subjective measure: how well they sing, how fast they run, how well they fight, how well they cook, how well someone speaks, how accurate they can throw a ball…whatever.

The external stuff that we see is how we measure someone to be good at something, but the being good happens internally. For example, the singer has to learn to control their connection to their vocal chords, their ability to control the vibrations they make and has to learn how to develop their lung capacity, among many other things I have no clue about I am sure. Externally, we measure those things by the output of the singer, their ‘singing’, but it is all the other things that the singer is actually being ‘good at’. But those things are not even the things that the singer “gets good at”. What the singer gets good at is the self-control, the persistence, the self-discipline, the desire, the willingness, the effort, the self-control, the patience, the work ethic, the determination, the indomitable spirit. With these qualities is how the singer becomes “good at singing”.

I don’t really think that I became “good at fighting”. I think that I became good at other things. I got pretty good at lots of those qualities and skills mentioned above, and I decided to apply it to mixed martial arts. I didn’t really have to ever worry about learning martial arts, as that was an eventuality. I already had the ability to learn, to become good at something, it was just a matter of applying it. With enough time, it would come.

And I think that is something that is true for anyone. There is no limiting factor to persistence, self-control or determination that exists besides within ones own mind. If the mind is yours, then why should you not be able to control it? If that is true, then the only person that can prevent you from accomplishing is yourself.

So, that is the way my thought went. I find it funny that people don’t wish to try things or do things because they are difficult or because they “aren’t good at them”. It is very strange indeed. I find so much enjoyment in starting at something that I am horrible at, and then improving until I am not so horrible at it. I find enjoyment and pleasure from each step along the way. It is quite the little h. I think perhaps people that are afraid to challenge themselves maybe don’t know that it isn’t the external thing that someone gets “good at”, but rather someone gets good at mastery of the self.

This mastery of the self is nothing more than you connecting to yourself, whether it is your ability to process information quickly and to manipulate your fingers accordingly (playing video games), or being able to visually detect subtle movements in other people, the ability to coordinate your limbs in a concerted effort, the development of intensely quick analytical abilities, and the ability to mentally evaporate the concept of a limit to your comfort level in order to push through what would commonly be experienced as a painful experience- meaning to tolerate pain and to alter your relationship with it (fighting).

We don’t get good at things external from ourselves, we only become more proficient at connecting to ourselves, controlling ourselves, and literally manifesting what our mind wants. That is what is actually occurring when someone becomes ‘good at something’. What we see is the external performance, but what is actually being developed can not be touched or seen. It happens internally, and is there for each of us if we so choose.

 

 

Deviant

What comes to mind when you hear the word “deviant”? I know for myself, it is associated with negativity. I think of someone I don’t want to associate with, someone not trustworthy, someone out to do harm. I think of someone not accepted.

Is this an emotional and perhaps wrong association to make with the word deviant?

I thought about the word deviant the other day, and what it means to be a deviant. A deviant is someone that deviates. The doer of the deviation. But deviate from what?

In order for someone to become a deviant they must deviate from an acceptable norm, that is what the Merriam-Webster dictionary says. It seems fitting.

I thought about what this meant. Our language and our relationship to it is quite powerful. It literally shapes our association with reality, as it is how we express our reality. I kept this in mind while thinking about what it meant to deviate from the norm. I kept this in mind while I thought that this word, deviant, a person that deviates, is associated with negativity.

We owe so much to deviants. How boring would life be if every human on the planet followed along the norm and never strayed from the herd? The concept of being exceptional or spectacular would become obsolete if nobody deviated from the norm. Diversity would crumble.

We owe so much valued thinking, discoveries and accomplishments to deviants. It was the accepted norm to believe that the earth was the center of the universe, and that the sun rotated around the earth. It was the accepted norm to believe that the earth was flat. It was the accepted norm to believe that slavery was natural. It was the accepted norm to blame everyday phenomena on superstitious beliefs such as women being witches.

There are too many accepted norms to name that we, today, are grateful for no longer being the case. Accepted norms don’t simply change without cause, without pressure from an outside source. Each of these accepted norms have disintegrated thanks to deviants. These deviants were people that saw something outside the field of view of those that subscribed to the ‘accepted norm’. These deviants had to battle an entire population that subscribed to a specific consciousness, and they did so because they saw that the accepted norm wasn’t correct.

This is where we get advances in literally any field. From Galileo to Newton to Einstein. From Beethoven to Mozart. From Gandhi to Bradley Manning to Edward Snowden. We have people that broke through the barriers of ‘accepted norms’, brought humanity past their comfort levels, to deviate from our current position to create a new accepted norm.

Do we not value these deviations? I certainly do.

Of course not all deviations are for the best. Not all deviations are good or helpful. I recognize that.

But I wonder, why such a negative association to something that has such undeniable benefits? I wonder if it is because we don’t enjoy change. I wonder if it is because we don’t like it when people try to break away from the herd. I think that is certainly a major component of it. People that deviate from the norm for some reason causes us some sort of anxiety. Perhaps anxiety isn’t the right word, but it does produce an emotion… a something. Perhaps it is jealousy, that we, ourselves, wish to change and be the change, to be different, but we fail to manifest these wishes. If that was so, then when someone else looks to deviate from our ‘accepted norm path’ we take the emotions we feel about ourselves not acting out in this way as we wish we had the quality of character to do so, and transfer and deflect them outwardly onto that person, that deviant. Perhaps that is why “haters” exist. People that just love to see successful stars go dim. People that love to see deviants that fall back in line with the accepted norm.

I am glad that deviants exist. If nothing else, no matter which direction deviants deviate towards, they show us the value (or lack thereof) of the accepted norm path that we are on and force us to ask us if we should stay on track, or change direction. If deviants deviate in a positive way, we benefit from knowing a better accepted norm path to travel down, and if deviants deviate in a negative way, we benefit from reinforcing the knowledge that the accepted norm path we are currently on is in fact the better path and worth staying on. For the time being.

From a deviant:

photo

News of the week (August 15, 2013)

Fukushima

 

Insight: After disaster, the deadliest part of Japan’s nuclear clean-up

Fukushima drainage has 20,000 tons of water with radioactive substance – TEPCO

Radioactive water overruns Fukushima barrier – TEPCO

Water leaks at Fukushima could contaminate entire Pacific Ocean

Why it matters?

Fukushima has been something that I just can’t turn away from. I have been reading about it ever since it happened over two years ago. In these articles, little bits of information reveal how bad Japans problem is. Actually, that isn’t true, this is a global problem.

300 tonnes of radioactive water is leaking into the Pacific ocean every single day. Compared to what is considered the limit in terms of radiation levels to be considered healthy, the tested water doesn’t contain radiation levels 20%, or 50% higher above the limit. The tested water doesn’t contain radiation levels 2x, 5x or 10x those of acceptable ‘healthy’ water. No, the water that is leaking into the Pacific ocean (read: the WORLD) is 16 MILLION times above the limit of what we consider to be safe levels of radiation.

It is a number so big that it becomes meaningless to us.

400 tons of highly radioactive spent fuel rods need to be removed. These 1,300+ fuel rods are 14,000 times more radioactive than the Hiroshima bomb dropped on Japan.

The whole thing is one giant catastrophe, and is so important that I don’t know why the whole world hasn’t stopped, collectively, to try and figure out a solution. This is a lot of weight for Japan to be carrying, and while the burden seems to be resting on them, the consequences are present for everyone who requires water on this planet.

Here is a quite fitting Matthew Good quote:

“Born of the sea, blink, the sea is dead”