When someone speaks negatively about you, you usually feel that you need to retaliate. Every time you react, you create certain neural-pathways in your brain. The more you react, the more you strengthen those same pathways, while weakening others.
Overtime you build the habit of always reacting in a particular way whenever someone is negative toward you. These habitual reactions then lead you into more anger, fear, and hatred. Your need to punish whoever is causing you suffering, so you can find some sense of relief, only makes you suffer more.
Although habits are challenging to break, your mind is capable of changing. You can water the seeds of kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and love in your inner garden. You don’t have to water the seeds of anger, fear, hatred, delusion, and craving. When you are aware of what you are doing, of how you’re thinking and feeling and perceiving, you won’t react as blindly to the events of your life.
When someone is unpleasant, you want to react. You want to cause them the same amount of suffering that they caused in you. Only then, you believe, will you be satisfied, but you never are for long. While it is common to react when you feel angry, misunderstood, unloved, and so on, there is another option.
You can pause instead.
When you pause, you can use those few seconds to make peace with yourself. You can be mindful of your anger, fear, sadness, and uncertainty. You can be aware of what may happen if you do react.
All you need to do is return to your breath.
Counting deeply, notice what is happening: your heart beating, your head aching, your shoulders tensing. When you stop to breathe in and out, in and out, you can transform your destructive energy into compassionate energy.
Every irritation will be a chance for you to come back to yourself.
When you are angry with someone, you are usually more focused on them than on your own feelings. Your house is on fire, but rather than putting out the flames, you want to burn everything down.
If you can find the inner-space to tend to your own anger first, you will begin to feel relief. When you embrace your feelings, when you do not add fuel to the raging fire, you will gain insight into who you are. Then you can make more skillful choices.
You can acknowledge to yourself, “Breathing in, I feel anger. Breathing out, I feel anger.”
You kill your anger when you smile to it.
When you show compassion to yourself, you can turn what is destructive into what is healing. You don’t need to hide from anger or pretend that it doesn’t exist or judge yourself so harshly. Your tender care of your anger will make you a more peaceful person.
Sometimes when your emotions are loud, you cannot hear what other people are saying to you. When you can sit quietly with yourself — neither judging, expecting, nor condemning — then you can hear the world again. You and the world are one.
As you look at your thoughts, you can let go of your thoughts. As you look at your feelings, you can let go of your feelings. You can see what arises and passes.
When you are in a conversation, you don’t need to interrupt, justify yourself, or blame. You can just hear what someone is saying. Even if they are hateful, greedy, or full of wrong perceptions, you can listen to them deeply.
You can help them, even if only through your presence, your loving words, or your small actions. When you see their humanity in yourself, you want them to be free from their suffering.
Through a regular practice of mindful breathing, you can make peace with yourself.
When you are kind to your suffering, you can relieve the suffering of others.
Often when people listen to each other, they don’t really listen to each other. They only hear their own interpretations, opinions, and beliefs.
When you are not calm, when your mind is muddied by thoughts and feelings, then you are not aware. You react to events blindly then, lost in your stories. When you are present, you sink into stillness, connected to your mind-body. Muddy water clears when you are still.
If you feel upset, you don’t have to speak or act out. Return to your body instead. Breathe in and out. Listen to the other person’s perspective without internally commenting on whether they are right or wrong, good or bad. Speak truthfully, but compassionately, trying to understand what they mean.
Will your speech cause more suffering or will it bring harmony to your relationships?
When you make a mistake, apologize. You don’t have to conjure up excuses to justify yourself. Apologies can relieve a lot of suffering in the other person. At the same time, don’t abuse yourself either.
Practice forgiveness so you can let go of your burdens and begin again.
When you suffer, your suffering will affect others.
When you are peaceful, your peace will radiate out from within.
There is already a lot of violence in civilization. You have to be mindful of your thoughts, feelings, and actions, so that you do not contribute to more hatred, fear, anger, greed, and ignorance. Violence only creates more violence. To prevent the next war, you must practice peace now.
Epictetus (50–135 CE) was born as a slave in Hierapolis, Phrygia. After Emperor Nero’s death, he eventually gained his freedom and taught Stoic philosophy in Rome for close to 25 years. Emperor Domitian, who feared the dissenting influence of philosophers, banished Epictetus from his home. He traveled to Nicopolis in the northwest of Greece and developed his own school, teaching in exile until his death. His ideas impacted historical figures such as Emperor Hadrian and Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Although Epictetus never wrote down his teachings, his disciple Arrian, who was a famous historian, recorded what he had said.
Epictetus’s main works are the Discourses and the Enchiridion.
Sharon Lebell has interpreted his timeless philosophy in “A Manual for Living.” She is the author of such inspiring works as “The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness” and “The Music of Silence: Entering the Sacred Space of Monastic Experience.”
Lessons of Epictetus:
1.) Some things are in your control and other things are not. Some of the things in your control are your opinions, aspirations, desires, aversions, and actions. These things are under your influence to a certain degree. Some of the things that are not in your control are the body you are born with, who your parents are, and your status.
Once you have learned what is in your control, don’t concern yourself with what is not in your control. Your death, for example, is not in your control, but your attitude toward the idea of death is in your control. Your response to your fleeting time on earth, to the death of a family member and friend, to how you communicate with those who are grieving, is in your control.
2.) Events are as they are. Your interpretation of different events is what gives them meaning, value, and significance. If you’re undisciplined, you will divide your experiences into rigid categories of right and wrong, good and bad, true and false.
Your judgements create heaven and hell.
3.) What matters is what you can do with what you are given. Look for opportunities in every obstacle you encounter and respond in an appropriate manner. You may need patience for adversity, self-restraint for lust, humility for criticism, compassion for the suffering of others.
4.) You cannot be expected to give what you do not have, whether that is money, power, time, or skills. If you can help, do so without any expectations. If you can become powerful and rich and famous while still maintaining your integrity, then do so.
At the same time, you will be challenged throughout your life. To preserve your integrity, to make the right moral choices, you may need to let go of a certain level of comfort, status, and money. You may even be ridiculed or persecuted for holding onto what you value as true and ethical. When you focus on what you can do with what you have, you will live harmoniously. When you neglect what is in your control and resist what is natural, you’ll never be at peace.
5.) Events are impersonal — neither good nor bad. They will unfold as they do, despite all your wishes and expectations. Undisciplined people will look for signs that reinforce their beliefs, prejudices and opinions, while disciplined people will adapt to nature and act from their own moral principles.
Events will reveal their hidden lessons to you when you are humble enough to receive them. You must remain open and honest, while not sticking to the rigidity of your own conclusions.
6.)Wise people do not blame others or beat up on themselves. They look inside themselves for useful answers.
It is easy to label the universe in black-and-white categories, judging events as successful and unsuccessful, right and wrong, good and bad. It is far more courageous to look within yourself — examining your motives, intentions, desires, and aversions — while deciding on what action is the best one to take in each situation. Always ask yourself, “What is the right thing to do?” Then do it.
7.) Think about the purpose behind your speech. Many people express any passing thought that enters into their minds without concerning themselves with the consequences of their words. Unchecked speech can run away from you. You can fall into unthinking habits that disrespect yourself and others.
Speech is neither good nor bad but people often talk to each other in a careless manner. It’s seductive to prattle on about nothing, to chat about trivial matters, to gossip about another person when they are not nearby, to laugh at someone else’s misfortunes rather than laughing with them. Speaking in this way degrades you as a person and strains your relationships. It is better to remain silent than to indulge in harmful speech. You become what you focus on.
8.) Life is too short for you to indulge in mindless consumption. Be aware of what you absorb, whether it’s from a TV show, songs on the radio, political speeches, or arguments. Discover what nourishes you, what enhances your well-being, rather than what feeds your ignorance, greed, and anger.
When you don’t choose for yourself, someone else will choose for you. And they always have their own agenda.
9.) You are influenced by the communities you are in. Without realizing it, you’ll adopt their values, opinions, aspirations, and habits. You’ll learn how they interpret the world. Be careful about the people you are around, even if they are kind, talk about wanting to improve themselves, and desire to know you more. They may not be a healthy influence on you due to their ignorance, destructive behavior, and prejudices. Seek out those who uplift you, who make you a better person, not those who diminish you.
10.) Do not feel compelled to justify yourself. Let your worthy deeds speak for themselves. You cannot control what others think about you, but you can control the development of your character.
Children are conditioned to accept the codes of their given society. They are reinforced with different symbol-systems from their parents, religions, schools, communities, cultures, peer groups, and so on, internalizing these systems (to varying degrees) overtime. They eventually think, feel, and act in accordance with these “reality tunnels,” despite whether they rebel against or conform with them. Ultimately, they will assimilate certain “realities” into their identities.
One of the first symbol-systems they learn is language. They learn what the agreed upon symbols to designate meaning are. Different cultures have different tacit agreements over not only what some words mean but what should be said and not said, what should be in one category and not another — essentially how their chosen realities are to be divided to make sense.
Children not only have to learn the codes of language, but they learn, whether consciously or not, many other forms of agreement.
“For the necessities of living together require agreement as to codes of law and ethics, of etiquette and art, of weights, measures, and numbers, and, above all, of role. We have difficulty in communicating with each other unless we can identify ourselves in terms of roles — father, teacher, worker, artist, ‘regular guy,’ gentleman, sportsman, and so forth.” (Watts, Alan)
People identify with the categories, and sometimes stereotypes, chosen and placed upon them. They aren’t merely one role, but a multitude of related roles. Father and son, laborer and high-school drop-out. Daughter and sister, amputee and white veteran. Son and brother and fatherless. Methodist and Japanese. Out of the innumerable roles available, people learn to identify with a conventional view of “self.” They believe that they have a persistent identity with a history, apart from everything and everyone else.
“According to convention, I am not simply what I am doing now. I am also what I have done, and my conventionally edited version of my past is made to seem almost more the real ‘me’ than what I am at this moment. For what I am seems so fleeting and intangible, but what I was is fixed and final. It is a firm basis for predictions of what I will be in the future, and so it comes about that I am more closely identified with what no longer exists than with what actually is!” (Watts, Alan)
The history of a person’s identity, of their memories of past events, is continuously selected for and interpreted (often without conscious awareness, depending on the emotional intensity and regularity of those events). Out of an infinitude of events that transpire in one’s life, some are chosen as significant while others are not. Experiences that are seen as insignificant, nonsensical, irrelevant, and so on, are discarded overtime.
People interpret the events of their lives using the different symbol-systems that they have internalized. Experiences are processed through their mental filters to make sense to their perspectives. They select one type of past and not another. One event is seen as good or bad, right or wrong, scary or pleasant, but not another. Some experiences are chopped up into familiar signs, while other experiences are forgotten. These signs represent only a narrow spectrum of “reality” out of all the information that exists.
What is represented is only a finger pointing to the moon. As Alfred Korzybski wrote, “The map is not the territory.”
Furthermore, people communicate their realities with language. Their language is an “abstract, one-at-a-time translation of a universe in which things are happening altogether-at-once — a universe whose concrete reality always escapes perfect description in these abstract terms.” (Watts, Alan)
To account for all that happens in the universe, to even perfectly describe a “a particle of dust,” would take an infinite amount of time. Thinking (communicating with ourselves), speaking (communicating with others), using a string of symbols abstracted from the past, will never fully grasp “every breath, every beat of the heart, every neural impulse.” (Watts, Alan)
“Taoism [on the other hand] concerns itself with unconventional knowledge — with knowing life directly, instead of in the abstract, linear terms of representational thinking.” (Watts, Alan)
Conventional thinking isn’t shunned, but rather, is used as a tool and not as the Truth. Taoism is based on a hunch, an intuitive state. Peripheral vision of the mind. Taoists will “feel” a situation and know it, without limiting it. While the intellect is trying to box the world into rigid categories, and grasp at the past and future, the Taoist doesn’t cling to their experiences. The intellect will exhaust itself in seeking the Tao, in its need to define it.
Chaung-Tzu once said, “The perfect man employs his mind as a mirror. It grasps nothing; it refuses nothing. It receives but does not keep.”
The mind isn’t reduced to idiocy, although those who are conditioned to accept Western systems as true may believe that to be the case. The Taoist plays with his innate intelligence, spontaneous and aware. Instead of forcing out a solution, she lets go of her mind until stilling into a pure naturalness. Then he directly knows the Tao, unconscious of good and bad, moral and immoral, black and white, up and down.
Rather than darkness or light, there are infinite shades of the Tao. To define the Tao is to not know the Tao. To grasp it is not to grasp it. In the doctrine of Mahayana Buddhism, as in Taoism (which heavily influenced Zen), there is no “true” division in life. Human beings, but not nature itself, are the ones to separate “things, facts and events” into categories. These categories are relative to different perspectives, but they are never truly fixed, permanent, or absolute.
“Ordinarily a human organism is counted as one thing, though from a physiological standpoint it is as many things as it has parts or organs, and from a sociological standpoint it is merely part of a larger thing called a group.” (Watts, Alan)
For a Buddhist, to describe “reality” in a fixed, linear manner with symbols, is not to know “reality.” To describe it, or the self, as permanent and separate, is to not grasp the changing ineffability of life. There is no enduring self that persists, for “the ego exists in an abstract sense alone, being an abstraction from memory, somewhat like the illusory circle of fire made by a whirling torch.” (Watts, Alan)
Every moment is a rebirth, a coming back to the present. Buddhism above all is a practice, seeing the world with clear awareness. “Such awareness is a lively attention to one’s direct experience, to the world as immediately sensed, so as not to be misled by names and labels.” (Watts, Alan)
There is a watching of sensations, feelings, thoughts, without any purpose or judgement. Like a mirror, the mind is “passively active,” purely reflecting what arises and falls away. When there is nothing to be grasped, there is no one to grasp it. When there is no one to grasp, then there is no division, no subject and object.
The Buddha did not try to create a philosophical system to satisfy the questions of restless minds. He often maintained a “noble silence” about questions dealing with gods and the origins of the universe and absolute reality, because to him, they were irrelevant when understanding the way to liberation from suffering (dukkha).
To seek such answers is to cling to abstractions again. Lost in the perpetual cycle. Many of the questions that people ask about meaning, life and death, are merely subtle ways of trying to categorize the world, turning their uncertainty and fear into familiar ideas. “Thus the world that we know, when understood as the world as classified, is a product of the mind, and as the sound ‘water’ is not actually water,’ the classified world is not the real world.” (Watts, Alan)
To be liberated is to have no intention of liberation. To try to become someone important, to achieve something outside of oneself, to adhere to some dogma of ultimate truth, is to be confused with the compulsive habit of symbolizing. The more one tries to figure out the Answer, the more frustrated he or she becomes.
“I have no peace of mind,” said Hui-k’o. “Please pacify my mind.”
“Bring out your mind here before me,” replied Bodhidharma, “and I will pacify it!”
“But when I seek my own mind,” said Hui-k’o, “I cannot find it.”
“There!” snapped Bodhidharma, “I have pacified your mind!”
To try to empty the mind is to get caught up in the mind again. To let go of the mind, of thoughts and impressions, “neither repressing them, holding them, nor interfering with them” is to free the mind. To practice no-thought is not to block all thoughts from coming in. Then one would be as good as a stone. Thoughts come and go. That is all. To let go is to trust in one’s natural spontaneity. There is no effort.
Línjì Yìxuán said, “There is no place in Buddhism for using effort. Just be ordinary and nothing special. Relieve your bowels, pass water, put on your clothes, and eat your food. When you’re tired, go and lie down. Ignorant people may laugh at me, but the wise will understand…. As you go from place to place, if you regard each one as your own home, they will all be genuine, for when circumstances come you must not try to change them.”
One doesn’t try to silence one’s feelings, thoughts, impressions. One is not trying to be indifferent or removed from the world. There is an awareness of what is. Subject and object, knower and known, white and black, arises relative to everything else. Everything depends on everything else to be.
Thich Nhat Hanh said, “If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. ‘Interbeing’ is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix ‘inter-’ with the verb ‘to be,’ we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.
If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.
Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here-time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. ‘To be’ is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.
Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper will be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of ‘non-paper elements.’ And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without ‘non-paper elements,’ like mind, logger, sunshine and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.”
There is no such thing as a separate self. Everything relies on everything else to be given a shape, even non-shapes. One’s mind-body gives structure to experience, while there isn’t experience without one’s mind-body. Sunlight makes sight as sight makes sunlight. The “individual” and “external universe” are simply abstract limits that one has set up. There is no “between” between the two, because the division is not truly there. People give importance to their ideas of what is “me” and “mine” in contrast to the experiences that they have, as if they are apart from them, as if they “have” them. They identify with narrowly selected memories and social roles and feel as if they are permanent. Meanwhile life passes them by and they don’t notice. They have become so fixated on their ideas of what life is rather than seeing what is happening to them.
To even get caught up in ideas about what Zen is, and what Zen isn’t, is to stink of Zen. One can be as attached to their spiritual self as to their material self, believing they are a certain type of person and not another.
“For this reason the masters talk about Zen as little as possible, and throw its concrete reality straight at us. This reality is the ‘suchness’ (tathata) of our natural, nonverbal world. If we see this just as it is, there is nothing good, nothing bad, nothing inherently long or short, nothing subjective and nothing objective. There is no symbolic self to be forgotten, and no need for any idea of a concrete reality to be remembered.” (Watts, Alan)
Once a master drank tea with his two students. Then he suddenly tossed a fan at one of them.
“What’s this?” he said.
The student opened it and fanned himself.
“Not bad,” he said.
He passed the fan to his other student.
His other student placed a piece of cake on it and offered it back to his master.
When there are no longer any names, the world isn’t “classified in limits and bounds.” While most people want to classify things in their proper places, a master trusts in spontaneity, in “no second thought.” Zen masters are not emotionless beings without pain or hunger pangs. They can be sad, jealous, angry, and so on. The difference between them and others is that they are wholehearted, neither blocking out nor indulging in what they are aware of.
Zen is not to “confuse spirituality with thinking about God while peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.” (Watts, Alan)
Thoughts fall away when they’re not necessary anymore. Muddy water is best cleared when left alone. Zen is about seeing reality concretely — undivided by labels and titles and names and numbers and right and wrong. To sit in quiet awareness is to let the distinctions of me and other, subject and object, come go and come again. Without commentary, without purpose, there only is. Zen masters are neither gods nor are they perfect. They are simply human. Nothing special.
As Ikkyu said:
“We eat, excrete, sleep, and get up;
This is our world.
All we have to do after that —
Is to die.”
One awakens to what reality isn’t. Ideas of what one is, of what the universe is, seem more nonsensical the deeper one goes into it. Reality is ineffable, despite whether someone claims that “they are nothing” or “they are something” or “they are everything.” Rather than flitting from system to system, all people are already here, their “senses fully open to receive the world.”
There is nothing to be achieved, no one to blame, no past, no future, no birth, no death.
Only here, only now.
To some Westerners, the present seems like “nothing more than the infinitesimal hairline,” dividing the past from the future. For the linear-minded, for those who only know about reality through their compulsive thinking, the world will rush past them. Their ideas seem all-important to them, but their symbolizing can never sustain their heart beating, their breath, or the operation of their muscles, glands, senses, and organs.
They believe they are consciously in charge, but their minds only grasp at slivers of experience, which they are constantly interpreting and analyzing, dividing and separating. Yet in only a moment, they can see life as it truly is. The past and future, which they are so preoccupied with, is an abstraction. There is only this moment, moving but still. it’s here for everyone. Precious and timeless.
We are already at home in this moment. Yet we spend so much of our lives denying what is here. We get lost in all our storylines, believing that we are permanent, that we are separate from other beings in the world.
We chase after ideas of happiness while fearing to lose what we have. We buy a fancy convertible, work in an office with a window, marry our high-school sweetheart, drink alcohol on Friday nights, climb up a mountain, write a book, study for a bachelor’s degree, make money on the stock market, and on and on. Nothing is ever enough to satisfy our growing desire. In the end, no matter how much we resist, we are all subject to old age, sickness, and death. We cannot capture life. It slips through our fingers, drifting away.
Rather than facing ourselves directly, we repress what causes us to suffer. We act out. We project our personal issues onto others. It is so hard for us to sit with our confusion, fear, and loss. It is so hard for us to soften our hearts to our grief.
“When we find ourselves in a situation in which our buttons are being pushed, we can choose to repress or act out, or we can choose to practice. If we can start to do the exchange, breathing in with the intention of keeping our hearts open to the embarrassment or fear or anger that we feel, then to our surprise we find that we’re also open to what the other person is feeling. Open heart is open heart. Once it’s open, your eyes and your mind are also open, and you can see what’s happening in the faces and hearts of other people. If you’re walking down the street and way off in the distance — so far away that you can’t possibly do anything about it — you see a man beating his dog, and you feel helpless, you can start to do the exchange. You start out doing it for the dog, then you find you’re doing it for the man. Then you’re also doing it for your own heartbreak and for all the animals and people who are abusing and abused, and for all the people like you who are watching and don’t know what to do. Simply by doing this exchange you have made the world a larger, more loving place.” (Chödrön, Pema)
We can react to suffering by hardening or softening our hearts. When we are genuine with ourselves, we can look deeply at our sorrow, our fear, our irritation, and transform that energy into compassion. Every moment, we are being tested.
“If we are wholehearted about wanting to be there for other people without shutting anybody or anything out of our hearts, our pretty little self-image of how kind or compassionate we are gets completely blown. We’re always being tested and we’re always meeting our match. The more you’re willing to open your heart, the more challenges come along that make you want to shut it.” (Chödrön, Pema)
There is no true distinction between what is within us and what is outside of us. When we cause other beings to suffer, we are suffering. When we love others, we love ourselves. When we are aware of life, we can use all of life as a humble lesson for our growth.
Our mistakes are opportunities for us to be more vulnerable and honest and kind. An irritating person is our teacher, a mosquito is our teacher, a crying baby is our teacher. We cannot be in this world without encountering the suffering of others. Rather than reacting, we can mindfully tend to where we are and who we are. We are gardeners who are planting seeds of compassion and love and peace. We can turn our compost into a bloom of flowers.
“We make a lot of mistakes. If you ask people whom you consider to be wise and courageous about their lives, you may find that they have hurt a lot of people and made a lot of mistakes, but that they used those occasions as opportunities to humble themselves and open their hearts. We don’t get wise by staying in a room with all the doors and windows closed.” (Chödrön, Pema)
When we understand our own suffering, we can understand another’s suffering as well. We practice not only for ourselves, but for all the beings who have felt pain, sadness, hatred, envy, and anger, because we have been them. We are them.
When we blame and repress and protect our hearts, we alienate ourselves from the world. We stick to limited notions of who we are, categorizing existence into conceptual frameworks. We water the seeds of suffering in ourselves, which harm everyone around us. Rather than moving toward what is true, we resist what is unpleasant. We cling to our expectations and suffer through our ignorance, attachment, and aversion.
“It seems that we do attack our own image continually and usually that image appears to be ‘out there.’ We want to blame men or we want to blame women or we want to blame white people or black people, or we want to blame politicians or the police; we want to blame somebody. There’s some tendency to always put it out there, even if ‘out there’ is our own body. Instead of working with, there is the tendency to struggle against. As a result, we become alienated. Then we take the wrong medicine for our illness by armoring ourselves in all these different ways, somehow not getting back to the soft spot.” (Chödrön, Pema)
We are not separate from nature. We are not separate from other beings. Rather than pushing others away, we can share who we are, even from our presence alone. We often want to escape from being aware of who we are, of where we are, distracting ourselves with TV and drugs and jobs and sex. We miss the sacredness of our ordinary experience when we look outside ourselves for happiness, truth, permanence, and security.
“Because we escape, we keep missing being right here, being right on the dot. We keep missing the moment we’re in. Yet if we can experience the moment we’re in, we discover that it is unique, precious, and completely fresh. It never happens twice. One can appreciate and celebrate each moment — there’s nothing more sacred. There’s nothing more vast or absolute. In fact, there’s nothing more!” (Chödrön, Pema)
We begin to heal when we stop hiding from ourselves. When we are right here, right now, we are no longer resisting our confusion, our fear, our pain. Our tendency is to cling to certainty while hiding from uncertainty. We waste so many years of our lives running after achievements and rewards and goals, never feeling entirely satisfied.
“This moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted, and shaky — that’s called enlightenment, liberation.” (Chödrön, Pema)
We do not have to eliminate our thoughts and feelings and perceptions. We can accept them as they are and then let them go. Trungpa Rinpoche said, “Good and bad, happy and sad, all thoughts vanish into emptiness like the imprint of a bird in the sky.”
We can kindly be with our vulnerabilities. As we learn more, we open up more. Life is a dance, an ever-changing movement. We are “willing to give, willing to open, willing not to hold back. It is described as letting go of holding on to yourself, letting your stronghold of ego go. Instead of collecting things for yourself, you open and give them away.” (Chödrön, Pema)
We can be gentle with ourselves. We can be curious about the moment we’re in. Our maturity comes from being with what is unfolding, while releasing it. Giving without holding on. We don’t have to judge ourselves as winners or losers, right or wrong, good or bad. Our practice is to be ourselves completely.
“The truth sinks in like rain into very hard earth. The rain is very gentle, and we soften up slowly at our own speed. But when that happens, something has fundamentally changed in us. That hard earth has softened. It doesn’t seem to happen by trying to get it or capture it. It happens by letting go; it happens by relaxing your mind, and it happens by the aspiration and the longing to want to communicate with yourself and others. Each of us finds our own way.” (Chödrön, Pema)
“The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts. They alter patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance.”
Our nervous systems are plastic. We are always in the process of forming new neural connections while losing old ones. In the microscopic spaces in between our neurons — whenever we perform a task, experience an event, or think a thought — chemical reactions “register and record experiences in neural pathways.” (Carr, Nicholas)
Certain sets of neurons in our brains are activated. They join together and exchange neurotransmitters with each other. When our experiences are repeated, synaptic links between our neurons strengthen while irrelevant synaptic links weaken overtime. Our brains are constantly growing, reorganizing, and developing “ever-changing cellular connections inside our heads.” (Carr, Nicholas)
Our nervous systems adapt to different environments. How we think and feel and perceive reality is not entirely determined by our genes or childhood experiences. We’re capable of changing our nervous systems through what we do, how we learn, how other people treat us, what we think, how we feel, where we live, and even the tools that we use.
While our neuroplasticity gives us a chance to recreate ourselves, we can also develop bad habits. We can be stuck in rigid behaviors, repeating what causes ourselves and others suffering. While certain neurons strengthen overtime, others are pruned away. If we are not careful, we can become more efficient at what hurts us than at what helps us.
The tools that we use are also using us. They are molding us, shaping us, the more that we use them. Some of these tools, such as intellectual technologies, impact our brains far more than other tools.
Nicholas Carr, technology writer and author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” wrote, “Although the use of any kind of tool can influence our thoughts and perspectives — the plow changed the outlook of the farmer, the microscope opened new worlds of mental exploration for the scientist — it is our intellectual technologies that have the greatest and most lasting power over what and how we think. They are our most intimate tools, the ones we use for self-expression, for shaping personal and public identity, and for cultivating relations with others.”
We aren’t yet aware of the total effect of our intellectual tools and how they will change us as a species. Some tools, such as the printing press and Internet, have moved beyond our control. We cannot predict how far they will technologically progress.
Intellectual technologies are not merely our aids. They have the power to reshape our lives. They change our activities and meanings and identities. They extend our capacities. These tools are developed with a certain set of rules while we also adapt to the rules of what we create. As we manipulate information, as we interpret our world through the logic of the tools that we use, our brains change. The more closely that we use these tools, the more our senses, thoughts, feelings, and actions are fused into what we create.
While the clock, map, printing press, and television have all revolutionized our existence, the Internet has dominated us on an unprecedent scale. “It’s becoming our typewriter and our printing press, our map and our clock, our calculator and our telephone, our post office and our library, our radio and our TV. It’s even taking over the functions of other computers.” (Carr, Nicholas)
We can send and receive messages every hour of every day. We can connect for commerce and business purposes: placing orders, tracking shipments, banking, advertising, selling, searching through catalogues, and reviewing products.
We can also connect with other people socially. We can upload and download. We can post our videos, blogs, music, paintings, poems, and podcasts. Our creations can be liked and commented on. They can be edited and reuploaded and blogged about and tweeted. Users can gossip and share and argue and show off and chat and like. Communities can unite, political causes can gain traction, and news about our daily happenings can spread to other people.
We use the Internet far more than other intellectual technologies such as the television and newspaper and radio. Our Internet usage has risen every year while our offline reading has diminished. With so many options available to us in one tool, we’ve become endlessly distracted by what is offered to us, sacrificing our attention for hyper-stimulation.
“By combining many different kinds of information on a single screen, the multimedia Net further fragments content and disrupts our concentration. A single Web page may contain a few chunks of text, a video or audio stream, a set of navigational tools, various advertisements, and several small software applications, or ‘widgets,’ running in their own windows… Whenever we turn on our computer, we are plunged into an ‘ecosystem of interruption technologies,’ as the blogger and science fiction writer Cory Doctorow terms it.” (Carr, Nicholas)
The Internet is a medium that is made to attract us while distracting us. While the book is an intellectual technology that supports our calmness and attentiveness, letting us develop our ideas in a sacred space of silence, the Internet is designed to compete for our attention all the time. As we enter into an online environment, we are conditioned to rush through our thoughts and scan for relevant information and seek our next reward.
“The Net delivers a steady stream of inputs to our visual, somatosensory, and auditory cortices. There are the sensations that come through our hands and fingers as we click and scroll, type and touch. There are the many audio signals delivered through our ears, such as the chime that announces the arrival of a new e-mail or instant message and the various ringtones that our mobile phones use to alert us to different events. And, of course, there are the myriad visual cues that flash across our retinas as we navigate the online world: not just the ever-changing arrays of text and pictures and videos but also the hyperlinks distinguished by underlining or colored text, the cursors that change shape depending on their function, the new e-mail subject lines highlighted in bold type, the virtual buttons that call out to be clicked, the icons and other screen elements that beg to be dragged and dropped, the forms that require filling out, the pop-up ads and windows that need to be read or dismissed. The Net engages all of our senses — except, so far, those of smell and taste — and it engages them simultaneously.” (Carr, Nicholas)
The Net immerses us in a universe of fast-paced stimuli. Whenever we click on a link, we are rewarded with Web pages, videos, articles, comments, posts, etc. Whenever we Google a topic, we are provided with pages of answers. We send texts and receive replies, we post on Facebook and notifications pop up, we blog daily and gain new followers. The hyper-interactivity of the Internet reinforces us with so much dopamine that we’ve become “lab rats constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment.” (Carr, Nicholas).
The more that we go online, the more the “real world recedes as we process the flood of symbols and stimuli coming through our devices.” As we become oblivious to what is around us, we use this hyper-interactive tool to engage with each other online. We create profiles of our identities and update our statuses, evaluating our social standings. The more that we use the Net, the more self-conscious we become. We judge others and compare our lives to their lives and fear losing our preferred status.
The Internet is designed to keep our attention for as long as possible. The more time we spend on it, the more distracted we are, which ruins our ability to concentrate for long. This medium distracts us with its competing messages and stimuli. We’re seduced because we are constantly seeking out more novelty, complexity, and information. The Net indulges us with stimulation. We are overloaded with fleeting information, seeking more and more.
“What we’re not doing when we’re online also has neurological consequences. Just as neurons that fire together wire together, neurons that don’t fire together don’t wire together. As the time we spend scanning Web pages crowds out the time we spend reading books, as the time we spend exchanging bite-sized text messages crowds out the time we spend composing sentences and paragraphs, as the time we spend hopping across links crowds out the time we devote to quiet reflection and contemplation, the circuits that support those old intellectual functions and pursuits weaken and begin to break apart. The brain recycles the disused neurons and synapses for other, more pressing work. We gain new skills and perspectives but lose old ones.” (Carr, Nicholas)
Net users experience extensive activity across all regions of their brains. Book readers experience neural-activity in “regions associated with language, memory, and visual processing, but they don’t display much activity in the prefrontal regions associated with decision making and problem solving.” Net users mentally coordinate through a swarm of competing distractions, all while making judgements in seconds. While readers digest information at a slower pace, they are comprehending what they are learning at a deeper level. Internet users, on the other hand, are overtaxing their brains and learning superficially.
Our brains need a lot of space and time to process information. We have to transfer information from our working memories to our long-term memories, intertwining what we have just learned with what we knew before. We store this information in our conceptual schemas. Our schemas are interwoven with our long-term memories. They are organizational frameworks that enable us to look into new patterns and deepen our understanding.
“Imagine filling a bathtub with a thimble; that’s the challenge involved in transferring information from working memory into long-term memory. By regulating the velocity and intensity of information flow, media exert a strong influence on this process. When we read a book, the information faucet provides a steady drip, which we can control by the pace of our reading. Through our single-minded concentration on the text, we can transfer all or most of the information, thimbleful by thimbleful, into long-term memory and forge the rich associations essential to the creation of schemas. With the Net, we face many information faucets, all going full blast. Our little thimble overflows as we rush from one faucet to the next. We’re able to transfer only a small portion of the information to long-term memory, and what we do transfer is a jumble of drops from different faucets, not a continuous, coherent stream from one source.” (Carr, Nicholas)
When we are distracted, we cannot remember much. When we cannot remember, we cannot develop rich networks of connections in our brains. Our understanding then becomes shallower. When we can read a linear text without links, ads, retweets, likes, comments, tabs, and other potential distractions, we can retain more, reflect more, and develop our knowledge. Frequent interruptions, on the other hand, scatter our thoughts, make us feel anxious, and weaken our memories.
We gain skills with the Net but those skills generally involve our “lower-level, or more primitive, mental functions such as hand-eye coordination, reflex response, and the processing of visual cues.” We’re also better able to scan through a lot of information to find what we are pursuing. By repetitively clicking on links and headlines, we are adapting into quicker problem-solvers, looking for relevant patterns in data. While we are better at multi-tasking, we have sacrificed our ability to think creatively, concentrate for longer periods of time, and process information.
“Given our brain’s plasticity, we know that our online habits continue to reverberate in the workings of our synapses when we’re not online. We can assume that the neural circuits devoted to scanning, skimming, and multitasking are expanding and strengthening, while those used for reading and thinking deeply, with sustained concentration, are weakening or eroding.” (Carr, Nicholas)
We are given more information than we can handle. “We are forever inundated by information of immediate interest to us,” so we are conditioned to crave more, while never feeling fully satisfied. Rather than developing our knowledge, we are skimming through the Net, barely registering what enters into our nervous systems.
“The Web places more pressure on our working memory, not only diverting resources from our higher reasoning faculties but obstructing the consolidation of long-term memories and the development of schemas. The calculator, a powerful but highly specialized tool, turned out to be an aid to memory. The Web is a technology of forgetfulness.” (Carr, Nicholas)
We need to be attentive to consolidate the information that we have learned. Forming connections between our memories “requires strong mental concentration, amplified by repetition or by intense intellectual or emotional engagement. The sharper the attention, the sharper the memory.” (Carr, Nicholas)
The more time we spend on the Internet, the more we will unlearn our former intellectual skills. As we replace our deep knowledge with efficiency, we will depend on a tool that grows stronger as we are made weaker. While our dependence on the Net heightens our capabilities when we use it, we are diminished even more without it.
“Our growing dependence on the Web’s information stores may in fact be the product of a self-perpetuating, self-amplifying loop. As our use of the Web makes it harder for us to lock information into our biological memory, we’re forced to rely more and more on the Net’s capacious and easily searchable artificial memory, even if it makes us shallower thinkers.” (Carr, Nicholas)
We not only become shallower thinkers on the Net, but we lose our capacity for higher emotions too. Our higher emotions, such as compassion and empathy, come from a calm and attentive mind. We need time to reflect on our moral decisions. When we are constantly interrupted, we have more trouble processing the subtle emotional states in ourselves and others.
As we meld with our tools, we become more like them. When we pick up a sword, that sword stretches to feel like part of our arm. When we wear a pair of glasses, we look forward with new eyes. When we study a map, we examine abstractions drawn in space.
When we go online, we adapt to an algorithmic logic written in hidden code. We follow the scripts that the designers have made for us to follow. We consume ourselves with mindless online rituals until they are burned into our neural pathways. We now have smartphones as well as personal computers, which are with us everywhere we go: at home, at work, in school, on the sidewalk, in the car, at the doctor’s office, in bed, in the bathroom, in nature. We have over-stuffed ourselves with stimuli, craving ever more. But there is a cost.
— An absent husband and father, who occasionally burst with warmth and tenderness toward those closest to him, even though he was often wryly detached in his life.
After cheating on his first wife, Mileva Marić, he eventually convinced her to divorce him in exchange for half of his Nobel Prize winnings. He desired to marry his cousin Elsa, who he became romantically involved with during his first marriage. In his second marriage, he still had relationships with other women. Despite Einstein’s infidelity, Albert and Elsa shared a deep bond together, raising two stepchildren as their own. Elsa supported his scientific work, nursed him back to health, guarded him against intrusions, shared the glamor of his celebrity, and moved with him to the United States.
— A brilliantly intuitive theoretical physicist who developed the theories of general and special relativity, which led to radically new understandings of matter, energy, space and time.
— A visual thinker known for his famous thought-experiments.
— A revolutionary scientist early in his career, but a conservative later in his career.
He defended epistemological realism and often attacked the findings of quantum mechanics. He believed in an underlying reality, one that followed elegantly predictable laws, but was unknown to theoretical understanding. He failed to find a Grand Unified Theory.
— A loner, rebel, and non-conformist.
— A playful man with a childlike curiosity.
— A gifted violinist.
— A slacker in his youth.
— A patent clerk.
— An absentminded intellectual who focused so intently on the ideas that stimulated his imagination that every other concern was blocked out.
— An aloof man who delved into scientific ideas to escape from the emotional turmoil of his life.
— A German-Jewish secular humanist.
While Einstein was proud of his Jewish heritage, especially during periods of rampant antisemitism, he wrote that he was free from attachments to nationality, class, state, religion, and so on. Einstein considered himself to be a human being first. He stated that even though he was dimly aware of the laws of physics, he was too limited in his knowledge to believe or not believe in a God. He honored the mystery of the universe above all.
— A disorganized teacher who often improvised his lectures.
— A democratic socialist who denounced the atomic bomb, war, class inequality, racism, militarism, nationalism, and authoritarianism.
— An international celebrity who loved to complain about his status, but secretly enjoyed the attention.
— A German-Swiss-American citizen who criticized fascistic ideas, whether in the form of Nazism or McCarthyism.
He was considered to be a national security threat, and a Communist sympathizer, by some officials in the American government.
Some of Einstein’s Contributions to Science:
— Light is made up of small packets of energy called photons. Photons can behave both like particles and like waves, depending on what experiments are used to measure them.
— E = mc², which expresses that energy is equal to mass times the speed of light in a vacuum squared. From this formula, particles are shown to have rest, kinetic, and potential energy. Mass and energy are not separate entities, but can change into each other. Additionally, any change in an object’s energy changes its mass and any change in an object’s mass changes its energy. Knowledge of the inseparable relationship between mass and energy led scientists to develop nuclear energy, and to eventually build the atomic bomb.
— Motion in time is relative to the position and velocity of the observer, while light is constant and the laws of the universe are the same. Time itself is not absolute, but dependent on how fast an object travels, what direction that object travels in, and where it is relative to the mass and the position of other objects around it.
— Space and time are not separate entities, but rather, are interwoven in four dimensions (three dimensions for space and one dimension for time). Mass causes spacetime to curve, and the more massive an object is, the more curvature there is. Gravity is no longer a mere force in the Newtonian sense, but causes a warping of spacetime. Spacetime is not flat, but curved. Light (or photons) travels along a curved path.
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.’ In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.”
Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in 1953, less than a decade after WWII. During this period, there were book burnings and banned books and a Great Purge. There were blacklists and mass propaganda mediums and censorship and imprisonments and executions. There were fears of an impending nuclear war. The annihilation of all humanity in a mushroom cloud.
Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 after expanding themes from two of his short stories and one novella. He finished his first draft in only nine days. Since his novel’s original publication, a number of schools have censored, redacted, and banned his work.
In Fahrenheit 451, Guy Montag is a fireman who exists in a dystopian future. Rather than putting out fires, he burns books. People in his society are consumed with vapid entertainment, distracted from critical thinking and wonder, alienated and lost and alone, unable to express themselves, unable to speak to each other meaningfully.
They don’t sense the miracle of life in a blooming flower, in a breath, in each other.
They lumber around with seashell radios embedded in their earwax. They consume life from inside a prism (or prison) of screens. Then when they are tired (they are tired all day), they swallow a sleep of pills, drifting into dreamlessness. They are force-fed the regurgitated information of the State. There isn’t any time to think, to sit in silence, to contemplate the flowers and trees and clouds. To be alive, meditating on the world in quiet, is not a consideration. They gaze at an amnesia of images, barren within.
Montag is at first like the Others, lifeless, married to a wife who doesn’t love him, brash in his opinions, stinking of kerosene and ignorance. Then he meets a curious teenager. Her name is Clarisse McClellan and she is unique and alive and radiating out through her youth. She sparks an awakening in Montag.
She shows him that there is more to reality than in his mechanized worldview. There is a mystery that he cannot grasp. In his realization that life is more, more than consumption, more than subservience, more than a routine until death, he desires to awaken others.
Knowledge is a fire that “illuminates away the darkness of ignorance.” It catches in the hearts of those who dare to learn. Montag is a fireman who burns books to snuff out the fires within others. Books are dangerous. They are dangerous to those who wish to control, who wish to suppress certain ideas from coming to light. When people are capable of critical thinking, they will question and consider new ideas. They will rebel against what is unjust. Their fires will expand from inside them, reaching others. They will seek their own unique meanings. They will take action.
Those who control a population, who manipulate to secure their power, money, and status, always want more for themselves, while feeling insecure about losing what they have stolen. They fear uprisings that burn for the truth. To maintain their power and control, they will distract, censor, and divide. They will use violence when they can, but if the people internalize the values of the system, then the oppressors will not need physical violence all the time.
As George Orwell said, “All tyrannies rule through fraud and force, but once the fraud is exposed, they must rely exclusively on force.”
People in Montag’s society are taught to be obedient. They desire what they are conditioned to desire. They are given the slimmest choices for personal freedom and believe that they are free. Life feels like it is free to the enslaved when they do not know any other way to be. For those who know of more but do nothing, who remain silent at times of injustice, suffer in cowardice. They could have helped, but didn’t.
Montag is reborn like the salamander of his firetrucks. In folklore, salamanders make their homes in the flames without being consumed. Montag once lived from inner darkness. Now he lives through his own glow, aware for the first time.
Many members of his society confuse their darkness for light. Their souls have withered away so much that they are only flesh on skeletons. They do not want to be freed because they desire the comfort of their ignorance. They live automatically, unable to think, to choose how they will authentically be. They do not want to challenge themselves to learn because they fear what is unknown. They fear their own inferiority in comparison to those who are educated. Beyond all their petty dramas, an entire universe stretches infinitely over them. Knowledge is their insignificance.
They huddle together in hate because they are numb to the suffering within themselves. These people plug themselves into the dominator system, addicted to the violence of the media. They’re conditioned to passively accept themselves as separate creatures with egotistical wants. They don’t realize that they live in a community, except through their shared consumption of technological entertainment, a hidden form of mass indoctrination. There’s no unity, compassion, or caring between them anymore, because any humane organization is a threat to the system. There is only a city of lost people.
In Fahrenheit 451, love is a commercial product, happiness is sold as a pill. People are not only watched, but want to be watched, under constant surveillance. Clouds choke over the black butterflies of dreams. Dissidents are silenced until their language is felt dimly but not spoken. Never spoken. Once the flames are all put out, there is absence.
Love in modern capitalistic societies is often treated shallowly. People are seen as commodities to be used. Each person has a specific package of qualities, which when depending on the value-judgements of others, make them appear as favorable or unfavorable.
They perceive other perspective members of their groups as objects to be possessed, but not as actual human beings.
Once a potential match is made on the market of personality, an individual will enter into an arrangement where they’ll hope to gain some sort of benefit. If their expectations are not fulfilled, then they’ll no longer see the point in giving their “love” to the other person.
People market themselves based on their attractiveness, popularity, status, financial security, and whatever other sets of traits are trending at the time. Opinions change as to what is acceptable. The masses will adapt themselves to what is in favor and promote themselves for future success.
Many people in materialistic societies become infatuated and then mistake their infatuation for love. The intensity of their initial intimacy soon becomes antagonism and boredom, especially once the mirage of passion is gone. As they enter into their relationships with expectations of having perfect partners and ideal mates, they are often led to more failures than successes.
2. Alienation and False Unity
As people grow and become more aware of themselves as individuals, they eventually sense their separateness from others as well. This alienation makes them feel anxious, fearful in their loneliness, and confused about what the purpose of their existence is. They seek out a meaningful direction for their lives that can transcend their loneliness and cosmic insignificance.
People seek to transcend their anxiety of separateness through drugs, orgasms, and conformity to the practices and values of a group.
In many totalitarian societies, conformity is forced on the general population through fear, imprisonment, torture, execution, starvation, and repressive controls in the media. In democratic societies, mass propaganda, political corruption, and expensive marketing is often used to manipulate the masses into servitude.
Many members of capitalistic societies feel that they’re non-conformists, even though their opinions are strikingly similar to the opinions of the rest of their group. They all go to the same schools, work at the same jobs, read the same books, watch the same movies, and share the same favorable ideas with each other.
They have been indoctrinated into certain social, religious, and political groups from the time of their birth, not realizing that their desires have been carefully molded. They genuinely believe in what they do, and who they are, but they don’t realize that if they believed in something different, they wouldn’t have their preferred status.
Conformity is not true unity, but rather, a relinquishing of one’s free thought to the shackles of group rule. In conformity, one seeks an illusion of security while fearing exclusion.
Any unity formed through only sex and drugs is a pseudo sense of unity. Those who seek the highs of either will become attached to expectations of more and more pleasure, which will diminish overtime, after having been temporarily gained.
3. Immature Love and Mature Love
When one person submits to another to escape from their feeling of alienation, they’ve surrendered their integrity for dependence.
They have given up their boundaries to be exploited by the other. Just as that person enters into a masochistic relationship, the one who they’ve come to depend upon is dependent on them as well. The sadist is attached to the masochist just as much as the masochist is attached to the sadist.
In mature love, people unite while still maintaining their integrity. In immature love, people form false-unions in a passive relationship based on mutual exploitation.
Love is active and growing. It is ultimately done in the spirit of giving. To give is not to give away one’s principles or dignity. It is not to forgo one’s values either.
Those who are raised in modern industrial society often expect to receive because they have given. To give without getting anything for their effort makes them feel impoverished. They may even give out of a mistaken belief in sacrifice, and out of a grim obligation to the group, rather than from any sense of joy.
When a person is giving, they are showing what is alive within themselves. They’re genuinely expressing who they are. A giving person cares for the world with active interest, not passive narcissism.
They help other people to grow rather than forcing them to become carbon copies of themselves. They respect the individuality in other people, while also feeling responsible for their own well-being.
Respect is built on the foundation of freedom, not dependence. Only with freedom can there be authentic love.
With love comes acceptance. One learns to accept each unique person as they are, and not judge them.
It’s impossible to know anyone fully, to penetrate into their deepest hearts, but even in the uncertainty between people, there’s appreciation in intimacy, in being together, in learning about each other.
In the act of love, one not only learns about others, but about oneself. The mature person is humble about their incapacity to know the secrets of life, while being in awe of all its mystery.
They’re committed to caring for the world, but don’t cling onto the world greedily. To love is to let go as much as it is to care, to accept as much as it is to change, to grow as much as it is to know the limitations of knowing.
4. Sex and Love
Sexual intimacy can be a manifestation of love. At its height, two selves merge into one, immersed in the present. During sex, one forgets oneself temporarily in a bliss of togetherness.
When the masculine and feminine are distorted in a relationship, then those in that relationship overcompensate for their insecurities. They exploit though lies and manipulations and force. The masculine descends into sadism while the feminine falls back into masochism.
5. Development into Adulthood
While inside the womb, the fetus is entirely dependent on its mother for survival. Then when that baby is born, he or she depends on their mother (or guardian) for milk and warmth and shelter and water and food. As the baby develops into a toddler and child and teenager and so on, they learn of their separateness from other people and things.
During their early development, they’re unconditionally loved by their mother or guardian simply for existing. They receive love for being alive, not necessarily for anything that they have done.
The child, at first, passively accepts love for being who they are. It is only later in their development that they consider giving back.
When a person matures out of their old habits of childish egocentricity, they learn to love in another way. They learn the freedom of independence in newfound knowledge.
As they grow, they figure out how to walk and talk and dress themselves and share and laugh at jokes and write and on and on. They learn the way of the world and how to act properly in that world to be successful. They gain acceptance from others based on what they do and how they think. They fear the absence of warmth that comes from not being accepted.
Mature parents care for their children while also teaching those children how to be independent from them. They do not drag their children down into a state of perpetual dependency.
If parents are successful in their roles, then their children will have internalized their lessons, growing into unique people, engaging their lives with competence and confidence. Parents have to make sure that they are not transferring their own anxieties and prejudices onto their kids. Everything that they think and say and do will influence their children’s development.
6. Brotherly Love
Love is an orientation toward life. To love one person while neglecting the rest of humanity is only an inflated egotism of two.
To truly love one person is to love all of life.
There is no exclusiveness in love, but rather, a deep oneness with all that is.
To love is to love everyone, even those who are helpless, weak, and poor. One gives without thinking of giving and helps only to help. People are neither judged as superior nor inferior. They are viewed only as equals, worthy of affection and dignity.
In western culture, love is often seen as a spontaneous grip of intense feeling, or a clinging devotion to the life of another.
Love is not merely a feeling, but an expression, a commitment, and a promise. Feelings come and go. Love is as much an acceptance of oneself as that of another.
Self-love is not narcissism either. Those who cannot love themselves cannot love others.
The selfish person only desires more for themselves while never being satisfied with what they have or who they are. They take without any consideration for others. Those who are selfish are insecure and devoid of any creative purpose, lacking the capacity to enjoy anything for long.
To love oneself is to love others and vice versa. There’s no true difference between the two.
7. Mythological Symbolism
Matriarchal religions usually emphasize the equality of all life coexisting together. Patriarchal religions are often dominated by hierarchical structures.
In mythology, the mother-figure is one of unconditional love and interdependence, whereas the father-figure is one of justice and truth. There are often hidden mother-figures in patriarchal religions and hidden father-figures in matriarchal religions. An acceptance of these symbols, and their prevalence, depends on the conditions within a given society.
In the deepest mystical parts of religion, God is nameless, or cannot be named, because God is infinite, and there’s no way to contain what is infinite.
Many people view the idea of God as that of a helping father. They expect that God should give them what they desire, such as a partner, a happy life, enlightenment, bliss in the afterlife, a job, and so on. They perceive their religion through a childish dependency instead of though a mature love.
When people realize their ignorance, and no longer assume that they know the truth about all of life, then they become wise in the knowledge of knowing that they don’t know.
Symbols are useful but limited tools that represent aspects of life, while never being life in itself. The ultimate mystery cannot be named. It cannot be described with any accuracy. Models of reality are not reality. Some religions try to define reality, others try to define through claiming what reality is not, while others deny both the denial and the definition. Meanwhile reality, in all its endless mystery, escapes the grasp of intellectualization.
In western religions, love often comes in the form of belief and faith. In eastern religions, love often comes through a feeling of oneness with all that is.
Interwoven in most of these mythological systems are the stages of development in all of humanity, from worshiping a mother protector to obeying a father authority to being fully one with a namelessness that transcends the ego.
8. Modern Capitalistic Societies
Contemporary capitalistic societies place the idea of love in the market. People are conditioned to be productive members of the systems that they are embedded in. They are taught to obey those in power and to play acceptable roles in the social machine. Most people in western societies are alienated from their work, from their communities, and mostly from nature.
These people feel alone while longing for unity. They fill their desperate alienation with the consumption of books, movies, music, cigarettes, phones, religions, and other people, as if these were disposable products.
Everything is a refuge, a distraction, from underlying feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and fear. People are judged by how they can satisfy each other while they don’t really know each other.
Modern western societies often encourage infantile forms of love though mediums such as movies, romance novels, and magazines. Consumers are taught to chase after abstractions of love, to idolize their partners, and to depend on rituals of manipulative seduction to win over attractive mates.
All too often, many people transfer the dependencies of their childhoods onto their partners. They see their mates as another form of their parents or other authority figures. They expect to gain security and love and care and so on, usually until they grow bored, or their partner fails to fulfill their unrealistic expectations.
They live in the past and future, never the present, projecting all their problems onto others. Often they avoid real conflicts with their partners, and settle instead for petty dramas, because they fear being alone more than anything.
Individuals often sacrifice their integrity for apathy in conformity. They no longer seek truth, but rather, copy others for success in the market of personality.
Their lives are routines in a system where they must comply. They wake up to work from 9–5, marry, raise 2.5 children, listen to the radio hits, surf the web, post on social media, and consume, consume, consume in a state of idleness.
In order to learn how to love, people need solitude. No television, no phone, nothing but themselves. If people cannot be alone, then they will never know the vitality of their thoughts, feelings, and sensations. They’ll never learn how to listen to their inner voices.
Mature people take care of themselves. They are aware of unhealthy people and unhealthy environments and avoid those situations when they can. They listen more than they speak. When they do listen, they absorb what is being said from a place of deep openness, rather than waiting to respond.
They are fully present in what they do, whether they’re eating a bowl of rice or driving a car or sitting in a waiting room.
When people deeply concentrate as a habit, they learn to be sensitive to the changes within themselves and others. They’re not tense, but alert, not worried with doubts, but open to what may come.
10. Transcendence in Love
As people learn to love, they gradually transcend their narcissistic orientations. Rather than thinking only of themselves, they’re sensitive to the inner-worlds of others.
Those who love are humble. They strive for objectivity in every situation, while knowing how much they don’t know.
Love comes not only from each individual’s independence but from their deep trust in who they are, despite what anyone else thinks or says or does. They are faithful, not merely to their opinions, but to their dignity as human beings. They’re present, open to the world, while never betraying their inner worth.
Love can permeate every aspect of life. It is ever bountiful, passing from neighbors to strangers.
As people trust in themselves, they learn to see the value in serving others. They do not find love in any system or group, but only in themselves, and in each other.
“NOAM CHOMSKY is widely regarded as the most influential intellectual of our time. Filmed over four years, these are his final long-form documentary interviews.”
Inequality in America is unprecedented. A fraction of one percent of the population have super wealth. Because of this unequal wealth distribution, there is a corrosive effect on the principles of democracy.
The notion of class mobility is now antiquated. While back in the Great Depression, there was an expectation of future prosperity, of idealized success. In this modern period, the American Dream has collapsed.
In a real democracy, the public has influence over policy decisions. For privileged elites, however, democracy takes power out of their hands and puts it into the general population’s. They desire a concentration of wealth for themselves, so they can have more power, more influence. If politicians want to win elections or even to run, they’ll need ever-increasing sums of money. In order to get funded, candidates must serve corporate interests that financially support their campaigns. Corporate power becomes legislation through their influence on those running and elected. Legislation passed protects the rich, helping them to gain even more power, often at the expense of taxpayers.
This cycle is inherent in the United States. Adam Smith, in “The Wealth of Nations,” wrote that in England, the “principal architects of policy are the people who own the society.” In the 1770s, the merchants and manufacturers were the architects. Despite the impact on other members of the population, their interests were always taken care of. Nowadays, instead of manufacturers and merchants, financial institutions and multinational corporations are in control.
They are the “Masters of Mankind.”
PRINCIPLE #1: REDUCE DEMOCRACY
James Madison believed that the United States should be structured. He wanted most of the power to transfer to the senate at a time when the senate wasn’t elected. Senate members were selected from an elite class of white men in the population.
In debates of the Constitutional Convention, Madison said that “the major concern of society has to be to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” He wanted the constitution to prevent the majority from taking the property of the rich. Whereas Aristotle wrote that a democracy should reduce inequality, Madison wrote that an unequal society should reduce democracy.
The general population often pushes for more democratization, such as in the 1960s with civil rights, environmental rights, and anti-war activism, while the masters want the population to be apathetic, subservient, and powerless.
PRINCIPLE #2: SHAPE IDEOLOGY
There has been a coordinated effort to undermine democracy. When “previously passive and obedient” members of the population, who are sometimes called “special interest groups,” have tried to become politically active, the state resists them. Private businesses can lobby, buy elections, staff the executive branch, but when young people are “too independent and free” and not responsive to indoctrination, they’re deemed as dangerous and must be subdued.
PRINCIPLE #3: REDESIGN THE ECONOMY
Since the 1970s, financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies, have gained more power. For example, in 2007, before the economic crash, they had 40% of corporate profits. The United States once was the greatest “manufacturing center of the world.” Financial institutions had a smaller part in society, performing roles like distributing unused assets. They were regulated with more control over their risky investments. By the ’70s, there was an increase in speculative capital, risky investments, money manipulations, and so on. Manufacturing was exported out to third world countries, putting workers from different countries in competition with each other, which reduced their wages while exploiting the poorest of workers. Top managerial positions have shifted to more business graduates than graduates from other departments, financializing the country even more.
“Workers can’t move, labor can’t move, but capital can.”
While highly-paid professionals are secure, workers are made insecure. They fear losing their jobs, discouraged from attaining livable wages, better health and safety conditions, and unionization.
PRINCIPLE #4: SHIFT THE BURDEN
Dissidents are often vilified. Depending on the society, critics are imprisoned, abused, executed, tortured, or censored. The United States has a high degree of freedom, compared to other countries. Yet terms of abuse, such as anti-American and Marxist, still arise when one criticizes corporate state power. Abusing critics in a developed democratic country, such as the United States, is a sign of the influence of elite culture on the general population.
During “The Golden Age” of the ’50s and ’60s, there was a high period of relatively egalitarian economic growth. The lowest fifth of the population was improving about as much as the upper fifth. When the U.S. was considered the largest manufacturing center in the world, businesses were made to be more concerned with consumers domestically.
When only a small percentage of the population owns an increasing amount of wealth, however, what happens to American consumers matters far less. What matters to the wealthy is their quarterly profit, even if it is due to money manipulation, higher salaries for their top executives, and decreases in taxes for multinational corporations.
“Taxes on the wealthy has reduced, while the tax burden on the rest of the population’s increased.” The pretext for this drastic shift is so there will be more jobs and investment. Despite the lack of evidence for this poor rhetoric, to truly stimulate production and job growth, money should go to poor and working people. The reality is far different, however. Corporations pay little to no taxes, receive exponential profits, while sending their manufacturing work offshore. They shift “the burden of sustaining the society on the rest of the population.”
PRINCIPLE #5: ATTACK SOLIDARITY
The masters want to indoctrinate people to only care about themselves. To care about other people is dangerous. They have put in a lot of effort to undermine people’s instincts for compassion and generosity, such as with the attack on social security. Social security is about helping others. “I pay payroll taxes so that the widow across the street can get something to live on.” A lot of the population survives on social security. The rich don’t need it, so they want to destroy it. They will first defund it, eventually privatizing it. A similar attack has happened to public education. The United States used to be a leader in funding mass pubic education. Now most college students are burdened with tuition. If they don’t come from wealthy families, they are trapped in debt.
PRINCIPLE #6: RUN THE REGULATORS
“The business being regulated is often running the regulators. Bank lobbyists are actually writing the laws of financial regulation; it’s gotten to that extreme.” The business world has worked steadily against the welfare measures of the sixties, ending with Nixon as the last “New Deal” president. Businesses didn’t like “consumer safety legislation, safety and health regulations in the workplace, the EPA,” and so on, because of high taxes and regulation. They began a coordinated effort, through lobbying, to overcome it. When regulations started to become dismantled, there were more economic crashes. Then the government bailed out the banks, over and again, under the Reagan, Bush, and Obama administrations. Taxpayers were forced to bail out the institutions that started the crisis. These financial institutions had become “too big to fail,” not responsible for their risky investments. Instead, they were chosen to fix the crises that they created.
PRINCIPLE #7: ENGINEER ELECTIONS
“Corporations are state-created legal fictions” that have manipulated the fourteenth amendment to be considered persons. They use their “persons” status to have personal rights and the right to due process under the law. This notion of “persons” is expanded for corporations, but not for actual people. If taking the amendment literally, undocumented immigrants would not be deprived of rights because they are persons. In the U.S., however, General Electric is more of a person than someone from another country.
In Buckley V. Valeo (1970), “the courts decided that money was a form of speech.” Later, in Citizens United V. Federal Electric Commission, a corporation’s free speech couldn’t be curtailed anymore, because they could spend as much money as they wanted. Now, corporations can buy elections, completely unrestricted.
PRINCIPLE #8: KEEP THE RABBLE IN LINE
“Organized labor is a barrier to corporate tyranny.”
Because organized labor is a democratizing force, leading to worker’s rights and those of the general population, it has been consistently attacked. The United States, in comparison to other developed countries, has had a long history of violently opposing organized labor. The core principle of free association, of political pressure through the masses, is a threat to business interests. Violence against workers, campaigns of propaganda, threats, and imprisonment, has drastically reduced unions.
PRINCIPLE #9: MANUFACTURE CONSENT
It is not easy to control a population by force alone, especially in developed countries like the United States and Britain. Manipulating a population’s beliefs and attitudes is far more effective. To control what the public wants, turning people into consumers is the goal of business. The masses are taught to crave superficial things, distracted from meaningful change. They spend their lives buying what they don’t need and wanting what they don’t have. They are seduced by advertisements, uninformed about desires, persuaded against their own interests.
Ever since Reagan, the PR industry has been marketing candidates like toothpaste. There is little discussion of policy issues and more discussion of personality. Meanwhile, private interests are marginalizing the public, while securing their selected candidates into office.
PRINCIPLE #10: MARGINALIZE THE POPULATION
Most of the population doesn’t influence policy. People are increasingly frustrated with institutions, alienated, demoralized, but are often lost for answers. The manufacturers want the population to turn on each other, to hate and fear each other. They want activist groups to fragment. They want people to care only about themselves and not about others. If a society is controlled by private institutions, it will reflect those values. A society based on the value of greed will not last.
To progress as a society, institutions should be under a participatory democratic control. All structures should be questioned for legitimacy. If they’re not just, then they should be dismantled or improved upon. If there are oppressive structures, the public must come together and not accept them. They must organize and challenge what is unjust. To become a better citizen, to change the world, people need to learn, to contribute, to find opportunities for speech and direct action. As Howard Zinn once said, “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”
A skeptic will believe in an idea when there is sufficient evidence for that idea being true. Until then, depending on the quality of evidence and the probability of that idea’s truth, a skeptic will either suspend their judgement or lack a belief in such an idea.
Skeptics are open to many diverse — even seemingly paradoxical — ideas, but they will not accept those ideas as being true until there is empirical evidence and logic, which supports those ideas.
People who are intelligent and well-educated can still believe in strange, illogical ideas.
Just because a person is smart in one area doesn’t mean that they are smart in another. People are prone to believing in many superstitious ideas like ghosts and fortune telling, elusive fairies and demons and telepathy, knocking on wood for good luck, and peeing on a wart for its removal.
Smart people not only can believe in strange ideas, but they often argue for their beliefs much better than the average person, rationalizing for their side, while being resistant to any counter arguments.
Often someone will claim a supernatural event happened to them, such as one of their dreams predicting a future event, while ignoring all those times when their premonitions did not occur.
It is normal to remember a significant event while ignoring an insignificant event.
Such events, which may feel personally unique, may occur regularly in a probabilistic sense. All insignificant events, however, are often not accounted for, when considering the totality of such events. The hits are recorded but the misses are not.
Science is a method that leads to provisional conclusions. The scientific method aims at objectivity under external validation. Science is based on rational thought and logic and evidence.
There is a tension in science between skepticism and credulity. For paradigm shifts to occur in the field, scientists need to be willing to challenge established views. They need to criticize the cherished beliefs of civilization as well.
What distinguishes science from pseudoscience is the validity of each claim, the consistency of those claims with other theories, the quality of the evidence presented, the ability of each claim to be tested, and so on.
It is important to be rigorous when investigating claims because people are deeply flawed thinkers, prone to biases, misconceptions, and perceptual mistakes.
Many people are seduced by compelling anecdotes while never considering the evidence behind those anecdotes. Anecdotes are not data, no matter how many people believe in them, unless they are backed by sufficient evidence.
The burden of proof is on those who make claims rather than on those who do not agree with the claims presented. One doesn’t have to disprove every story invented.
When confronted with claims, a skeptical person should look for sound reasoning. It is all too common for proponents of a belief to argue on irrational, self-contradictory grounds, based on enthusiasm and tradition and appeals to emotion.
One fallacy that individuals use is the argument from ignorance. They may say that if they or anyone else cannot explain X, then their proposed explanation must be true. It is much more rational to say “I don’t know” than to assume a conclusion.
Another fallacy comes from equating correlation to causation. The human mind naturally seeks relationships and patterns. At the same time, many events may be coincidental, or probable, but not necessarily connected.
Often during heated arguments, people use ad hominem fallacies. They insult their opponents rather than addressing their arguments directly.
Even if such insults are true, that still doesn’t invalidate the other person’s argument. An ad hominem argument, rather than dealing with the substance of the argument, acts to distract.
Along with these fallacies, among others, people have cognitive biases.
Many biases aren’t conscious.
Individuals look for ideas that confirm their belief systems while filtering out, neglecting, and ignoring contrary evidence.
They may form conspiracies about past events once they’ve been given the benefit of hindsight.
They may justify poor choices with rationalizations while ignoring any opposing evidence.
It is common for individuals to consider their views to be rational. They will see their opponents, however, as emotional.
There are many cognitive biases such as trusting in authorities only because they are authorities, generalizing a trait of one person to all people of that same group, and focusing on negative ideas much more than positive ideas.
Scientists are as prone to wrong thinking and biases as everyone else. That is why there needs to be a rigorous standard for evidence.
People have evolved to find patterns, even when there are none, and look for threats, even when none exist.
Scientific thinkers must be able to distinguish what is real from what is an illusion, while not being seduced by the appearance of patterns.
It’s normal for people to ascribe agency to natural patterns (like the constellations) and find great significance in probability (like a pair of dice landing on the same number three times in a row).
When something that is unexplained, mysterious, or unknown gains validity through evidence, it will eventually be incorporated into science. Ideas that cannot be tested, or analyzed, under peer-reviewed standards, will still be considered unknown, meaningless, or unexplained, until there is reason and evidence in support of them.
Science is a method that filters good ideas from bad ideas. It is a long, self-correcting process.
Even the most obvious, ordinary, basic phenomena, which are assumed as true by most people, must still undergo the same amount of scrutiny as the wildest ideas. Even ideas that appear to have evidentiary support, overtime, may be falsified. Superior models may replace outdated models, new evidence may challenge an existing paradigm.
With so many claims about what reality is, it is important to be skeptical. As Carl Sagan, a famous scientist and public educator and author, once said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
Scientists don’t have the burden of proof to disprove every idea. It is up to those who make positive assertions to prove themselves.
At the same time, scientific thinkers must be aware of the vast number of biases that interfere with how people determine what evidence is credible. Hindsight bias, confirmation bias, and other such biases, affect all people to a degree. Science is a method that cuts down on these biases overtime.
No scientific principles are absolute. All scientific principles must be tested and theories must lead to predictable results. It is important to question what is seen as acceptable and challenge the premises for any given conclusion.
Claims about reality should always be taken as false, meaningless, or unknown, until those claims gain enough evidence in support of them being true. Then they should be accepted tentatively. They may later be shown to be outdated, false, limited, full of errors, and so on.
Not all claims are created equal. Many claims are often misperceptions, misconceptions, hallucinations, lies, manipulations to serve ideological motives, speculations, opinions, untestable ideas, and so on, and so on.
Those who believe in irrational ideas can influence not only themselves, but those around them. They can form groups, which are destructive to the well-being of others. Their groups can create divisions in society, where the out-group is seen as less than human. Groups tend to conform to in-group values, while being hostile to outsiders.
They will listen to authorities that support their views, even when those authorities are wrong. Eloquent speakers can persuade uncritical people to follow them, even when their words are manipulations.
People can be convinced of outlandish ideas. Even smart people can fool themselves. There are no exceptions.
It is common for humans to believe in supernatural events because humans are hardwired to be social creatures, to feel good when they believe in transcendent ideas, following what those in their closest environments follow. There may even be a genetic predisposition toward believing in supernatural ideas, inherited from past ancestors. Culture then shapes what is passed down, providing a structure for what is already there.
People are natural-born believers. While it is crucial for individuals to be open to the unknown, to novelty and a future of what could be, they must not be so open that they neglect to critically think about issues that affect their well-being and the well-being of others.
To be duped into joining cults and stupid fads, into voting for politicians who promote disastrous policies for the environment, to be fooled into ordering sham products, donating life savings to charlatans, and wasting years on false solutions, while spreading misinformation to those who are nearest, is not only unwise.