September 28, 2009
Maiden plucks folk tune on steel strings,
Crickets chant like monks.
I’ve walked into autumnal contenment,
Yet a young boy seeks guidance.
One may be quite far along on the path, but if one meets a beginner who sincerely seeks guidance, then one should help without reservation. If such a beginner were to come to you, what would you say? This is what I said to someone today:
“The time of beginning is one of the most precious times of all. It can be very exciting and full of wonderful growth. The first thing to do is to make up your mind that you are going to go the distance.
“When I first began, I made a lifelong commitment. I determined that I would learn from my teacher for at least seven years. Now, it has been much longer than that, but the essential element is still the same: commitment.
“But commitment needs something else in order to be perpetuated. It needs discipline. This is the perseverance to keep on when things are tough. Adversity is life’s way of testing and perfecting a person. Without that, we would never develop character.
“Rice suffers when it is milled. Jade must suffer when it is polished. But what emerges is something special. If you want to be special too, then you have to be able to stick to things ven when they are difficult.”
Commitment and discipline – these are two of the most precious words for those who would seek Tao.
September 28, 2009
Edward R. Murrow, KBE (born Egbert Roscoe Murrow; April 25, 1908 – April 27, 1965) was an American broadcast journalist who first came to prominence with a series of radio news broadcasts during World War II, which were followed by millions of listeners in the United States and Canada.
Fellow journalists Eric Sevareid, Ed Bliss and Alex Kendrick considered Murrow one of journalism’s greatest figures, noting his honesty and integrity in delivering the news.
A pioneer of television news broadcasting, Murrow produced a series of TV news reports that helped lead to the censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy.
This is the speech that Edward R. Murrow’s gave at the “Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) Convention in Chicago, October 15, 1958 after having been laid off from CBS for his activist role in Senator McCarthy’s obloquy. These are no doubt wise words that should be heeded even today… For when one country wages war against another country and does so in grave error, without even apologising for their mistake i.e. America invading Iraq after September 11th, then we are perhaps living under the inlfuence of our own self-insulated worlds…
This just might do nobody any good… At the end of this discourse a few people may accuse this reporter of fouling his own comfortable nest, and your organization may be accused of having given hospitality to heretical and even dangerous thoughts. But the elaborate structure of networks, advertising agencies and sponsors will not be shaken or altered. It is my desire, if not my duty, to try to talk to you journeymen with some candor about what is happening to radio and television.
I have no technical advice or counsel to offer those of you who labor in this vineyard that produces words and pictures. You will forgive me for not telling you that instruments with which you work are miraculous, that your responsibility is unprecedented or that your aspirations are frequently frustrated. It is not necessary to remind you that the fact that your voice is amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other does not confer upon you greater wisdom or understanding than you possessed when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other. All of these things you know.
You should also know at the outset that, in the manner of witnesses before Congressional committees, I appear here voluntarily-by invitation-that I am an employee of the Columbia Broadcasting System, that I am neither an officer nor a director of that corporation and that these remarks are of a “do-it-yourself” nature. If what I have to say is responsible, then I alone am responsible for the saying of it. Seeking neither approbation from my employers, nor new sponsors, nor acclaim from the critics of radio and television, I cannot well be disappointed. Believing that potentially the commercial system of broadcasting as practiced in this country is the best and freest yet devised, I have decided to express my concern about what I believe to be happening to radio and television. These instruments have been good to me beyond my due. There exists in mind no reasonable grounds for personal complaint. I have no feud, either with my employers, any sponsors, or with the professional critics of radio and television. But I am seized with an abiding fear regarding what these two instruments are doing to our society, our culture and our heritage.
Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. I invite your attention to the television schedules of all networks between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m., Eastern Time. Here you will find only fleeting and spasmodic reference to the fact that this nation is in mortal danger. There are, it is true, occasional informative programs presented in that intellectual ghetto on Sunday afternoons. But during the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live. If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: LOOK NOW, PAY LATER.
For surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must be faced if we are to survive. I mean the word survive literally. If there were to be a competition in indifference, or perhaps in insulation from reality, then Nero and his fiddle, Chamberlain and his umbrella, could not find a place on an early afternoon sustaining show. If Hollywood were to run out of Indians, the program schedules would be mangled beyond all recognition. Then some courageous soul with a small budget might be able to do a documentary telling what, in fact, we have done–and are still doing–to the Indians in this country. But that would be unpleasant. And we must at all costs shield the sensitive citizens from anything that is unpleasant.
I am entirely persuaded that the American public is more reasonable, restrained and more mature than most of our industry’s program planners believe. Their fear of controversy is not warranted by the evidence. I have reason to know, as do many of you, that when the evidence on a controversial subject is fairly and calmly presented, the public recognizes it for what it is–an effort to illuminate rather than to agitate.
Several years ago, when we undertook to do a program on Egypt and Israel, well-meaning, experienced and intelligent friends shook their heads and said, “This you cannot do–you will be handed your head. It is an emotion-packed controversy, and there is no room for reason in it.” We did the program. Zionists, anti-Zionists, the friends of the Middle East, Egyptian and Israeli officials said, with a faint tone of surprise, “It was a fair count. The information was there. We have no complaints.”
Our experience was similar with two half-hour programs dealing with cigarette smoking and lung cancer. Both the medical profession and the tobacco industry cooperated in a rather wary fashion. But in the end of the day they were both reasonably content. The subject of radioactive fall-out and the banning of nuclear tests was, and is, highly controversial. But according to what little evidence there is, viewers were prepared to listen to both sides with reason and restraint. This is not said to claim any special or unusual competence in the presentation of controversial subjects, but rather to indicate that timidity in these areas is not warranted by the evidence.
Recently, network spokesmen have been disposed to complain that the professional critics of television have been “rather beastly.” There have been hints that somehow competition for the advertising dollar has caused the critics of print to gang up on television and radio. This reporter has no desire to defend the critics. They have space in which to do that on their own behalf. But it remains a fact that the newspapers and magazines are the only instruments of mass communication which remain free from sustained and regular critical comment. If the network spokesmen are so anguished about what appears in print, let them come forth and engage in a little sustained and regular comment regarding newspapers and magazines. It is an ancient and sad fact that most people in network television, and radio, have an exaggerated regard for what appears in print. And there have been cases where executives have refused to make even private comment or on a program for which they were responsible until they heard’d the reviews in print. This is hardly an exhibition confidence.
The oldest excuse of the networks for their timidity is their youth. Their spokesmen say, “We are young; we have not developed the traditions nor acquired the experience of the older media.” If they but knew it, they are building those traditions, creating those precedents everyday. Each time they yield to a voice from Washington or any political pressure, each time they eliminate something that might offend some section of the community, they are creating their own body of precedent and tradition. They are, in fact, not content to be “half safe.”
Nowhere is this better illustrated than by the fact that the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission publicly prods broadcasters to engage in their legal right to editorialize. Of course, to undertake an editorial policy, overt and clearly labeled, and obviously unsponsored, requires a station or a network to be responsible. Most stations today probably do not have the manpower to assume this responsibility, but the manpower could be recruited. Editorials would not be profitable; if they had a cutting edge, they might even offend. It is much easier, much less troublesome, to use the money-making machine of television and radio merely as a conduit through which to channel anything that is not libelous, obscene or defamatory. In that way one has the illusion of power without responsibility.
So far as radio–that most satisfying and rewarding instrument–is concerned, the diagnosis of its difficulties is rather easy. And obviously I speak only of news and information. In order to progress, it need only go backward. To the time when singing commercials were not allowed on news reports, when there was no middle commercial in a 15-minute news report, when radio was rather proud, alert and fast. I recently asked a network official, “Why this great rash of five-minute news reports (including three commercials) on weekends?” He replied, “Because that seems to be the only thing we can sell.”
In this kind of complex and confusing world, you can’t tell very much about the why of the news in broadcasts where only three minutes is available for news. The only man who could do that was Elmer Davis, and his kind aren’t about any more. If radio news is to be regarded as a commodity, only acceptable when saleable, then I don’t care what you call it–I say it isn’t news.
My memory also goes back to the time when the fear of a slight reduction in business did not result in an immediate cutback in bodies in the news and public affairs department, at a time when network profits had just reached an all-time high. We would all agree, I think, that whether on a station or a network, the stapling machine is a poor substitute for a newsroom typewriter.
One of the minor tragedies of television news and information is that the networks will not even defend their vital interests. When my employer, CBS, through a combination of enterprise and good luck, did an interview with Nikita Khrushchev, the President uttered a few ill-chosen, uninformed words on the subject, and the network practically apologized. This produced a rarity. Many newspapers defended the CBS right to produce the program and commended it for initiative. But the other networks remained silent.
Likewise, when John Foster Dulles, by personal decree, banned American journalists from going to Communist China, and subsequently offered contradictory explanations, for his fiat the networks entered only a mild protest. Then they apparently forgot the unpleasantness. Can it be that this national industry is content to serve the public interest only with the trickle of news that comes out of Hong Kong, to leave its viewers in ignorance of the cataclysmic changes that are occurring in a nation of six hundred million people? I have no illusions about the difficulties reporting from a dictatorship, but our British and French allies have been better served–in their public interest–with some very useful information from their reporters in Communist China.
One of the basic troubles with radio and television news is that both instruments have grown up as an incompatible combination of show business, advertising and news. Each of the three is a rather bizarre and demanding profession. And when you get all three under one roof, the dust never settles. The top management of the networks with a few notable exceptions, has been trained in advertising, research, sales or show business. But by the nature of the coporate structure, they also make the final and crucial decisions having to do with news and public affairs. Frequently they have neither the time nor the competence to do this. It is not easy for the same small group of men to decide whether to buy a new station for millions of dollars, build a new building, alter the rate card, buy a new Western, sell a soap opera, decide what defensive line to take in connection with the latest Congressional inquiry, how much money to spend on promoting a new program, what additions or deletions should be made in the existing covey or clutch of vice-presidents, and at the same time– frequently on the same long day–to give mature, thoughtful consideration to the manifold problems that confront those who are charged with the responsibility for news and public affairs.
Sometimes there is a clash between the public interest and the corporate interest. A telephone call or a letter from the proper quarter in Washington is treated rather more seriously than a communication from an irate but not politically potent viewer. It is tempting enough to give away a little air time for frequently irresponsible and unwarranted utterances in an effort to temper the wind of criticism.
Upon occasion, economics and editorial judgment are in conflict. And there is no law which says that dollars will be defeated by duty. Not so long ago the President of the United States delivered a television address to the nation. He was discoursing on the possibility or probability of war between this nation and the Soviet Union and Communist China–a reasonably compelling subject. Two networks CBS and NBC, delayed that broadcast for an hour and fifteen minutes. If this decision was dictated by anything other than financial reasons, the networks didn’t deign to explain those reasons. That hour-and-fifteen-minute delay, by the way, is about twice the time required for an ICBM to travel from the Soviet Union to major targets in the United States. It is difficult to believe that this decision was made by men who love, respect and understand news.
So far, I have been dealing largely with the deficit side of the ledger, and the items could be expanded. But I have said, and I believe, that potentially we have in this country a free enterprise system of radio and television which is superior to any other. But to achieve its promise, it must be both free and enterprising. There is no suggestion here that networks or individual stations should operate as philanthropies. But I can find nothing in the Bill of Rights or the Communications Act which says that they must increase their net profits each year, lest the Republic collapse. I do not suggest that news and information should be subsidized by foundations or private subscriptions. I am aware that the networks have expended, and are expending, very considerable sums of money on public affairs programs from which they cannot hope to receive any financial reward. I have had the privilege at CBS of presiding over a considerable number of such programs. I testify, and am able to stand here and say, that I have never had a program turned down by my superiors because of the money it would cost.
But we all know that you cannot reach the potential maximum audience in marginal time with a sustaining program. This is so because so many stations on the network–any network–will decline to carry it. Every licensee who applies for a grant to operate in the public interest, convenience and necessity makes certain promises as to what he will do in terms of program content. Many recipients of licenses have, in blunt language, welshed on those promises. The money-making machine somehow blunts their memories. The only remedy for this is closer inspection and punitive action by the F.C.C. But in the view of many this would come perilously close to supervision of program content by a federal agency.
So it seems that we cannot rely on philanthropic support or foundation subsidies; we cannot follow the “sustaining route”–the networks cannot pay all the freight–and the F.C.C. cannot or will not discipline those who abuse the facilities that belong to the public. What, then, is the answer? Do we merely stay in our comfortable nests, concluding that the obligation of these instruments has been discharged when we work at the job of informing the public for a minimum of time? Or do we believe that the preservation of the Republic is a seven-day-a-week job, demanding more awareness, better skills and more perseverance than we have yet contemplated.
I am frightened by the imbalance, the constant striving to reach the largest possible audience for everything; by the absence of a sustained study of the state of the nation. Heywood Broun once said, “No body politic is healthy until it begins to itch.” I would like television to produce some itching pills rather than this endless outpouring of tranquilizers. It can be done. Maybe it won’t be, but it could. Let us not shoot the wrong piano player. Do not be deluded into believing that the titular heads of the networks control what appears on their networks. They all have better taste. All are responsible to stockholders, and in my experience all are honorable men. But they must schedule what they can sell in the public market.
And this brings us to the nub of the question. In one sense it rather revolves around the phrase heard frequently along Madison Avenue: The Corporate Image. I am not precisely sure what this phrase means, but I would imagine that it reflects a desire on the part of the corporations who pay the advertising bills to have the public image, or believe that they are not merely bodies with no souls, panting in pursuit of elusive dollars. They would like us to believe that they can distinguish between the public good and the private or corporate gain. So the question is this: Are the big corporations who pay the freight for radio and television programs wise to use that time exclusively for the sale of goods and services? Is it in their own interest and that of the stockholders so to do? The sponsor of an hour’s television program is not buying merely the six minutes devoted to commercial message. He is determining, within broad limits, the sum total of the impact of the entire hour. If he always, invariably, reaches for the largest possible audience, then this process of insulation, of escape from reality, will continue to be massively financed, and its apologist will continue to make winsome speeches about giving the public what it wants, or “letting the public decide.”
I refuse to believe that the presidents and chairmen of the boards of these big corporations want their corporate image to consist exclusively of a solemn voice in an echo chamber, or a pretty girl opening the door of a refrigerator, or a horse that talks. They want something better, and on occasion some of them have demonstrated it. But most of the men whose legal and moral responsibility it is to spend the stockholders’ money for advertising are removed from the realities of the mass media by five, six, or a dozen contraceptive layers of vice-presidents, public relations counsel and advertising agencies. Their business is to sell goods, and the competition is pretty tough.
But this nation is now in competition with malignant forces of evil who are using every instrument at their command to empty the minds of their subjects and fill those minds with slogans, determination and faith in the future. If we go on as we are, we are protecting the mind of the American public from any real contact with the menacing world that squeezes in upon us. We are engaged in a great experiment to discover whether a free public opinion can devise and direct methods of managing the affairs of the nation. We may fail. But we are handicapping ourselves needlessly.
Let us have a little competition. Not only in selling soap, cigarettes and automobiles, but in informing a troubled, apprehensive but receptive public. Why should not each of the 20 or 30 big corporations which dominate radio and television decide that they will give up one or two of their regularly scheduled programs each year, turn the time over to the networks and say in effect: “This is a tiny tithe, just a little bit of our profits. On this particular night we aren’t going to try to sell cigarettes or automobiles; this is merely a gesture to indicate our belief in the importance of ideas.” The networks should, and I think would, pay for the cost of producing the program. The advertiser, the sponsor, would get name credit but would have nothing to do with the content of the program. Would this blemish the corporate image? Would the stockholders object? I think not. For if the premise upon which our pluralistic society rests, which as I understand it is that if the people are given sufficient undiluted information, they will then somehow, even after long, sober second thoughts, reach the right decision–if that premise is wrong, then not only the corporate image but the corporations are done for.
There used to be an old phrase in this country, employed when someone talked too much. It was: “Go hire a hall.” Under this proposal the sponsor would have hired the hall; he has bought the time; the local station operator, no matter how indifferent, is going to carry the program-he has to. Then it’s up to the networks to fill the hall. I am not here talking about editorializing but about straightaway exposition as direct, unadorned and impartial as falliable human beings can make it. Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information. Let us dream to the extent of saying that on a given Sunday night the time normally occupied by Ed Sullivan is given over to a clinical survey of the state of American education, and a week or two later the time normally used by Steve Allen is devoted to a thoroughgoing study of American policy in the Middle East. Would the corporate image of their respective sponsors be damaged? Would the stockholders rise up in their wrath and complain? Would anything happen other than that a few million people would have received a little illumination on subjects that may well determine the future of this country, and therefore the future of the corporations? This method would also provide real competition between the networks as to which could outdo the others in the palatable presentation of information. It would provide an outlet for the young men of skill, and there are some even of dedication, who would like to do something other than devise methods of insulating while selling.
There may be other and simpler methods of utilizing these instruments of radio and television in the interests of a free society. But I know of none that could be so easily accomplished inside the framework of the existing commercial system. I don’t know how you would measure the success or failure of a given program. And it would be hard to prove the magnitude of the benefit accruing to the corporation which gave up one night of a variety or quiz show in order that the network might marshal its skills to do a thorough-going job on the present status of NATO, or plans for controlling nuclear tests. But I would reckon that the president, and indeed the majority of shareholders of the corporation who sponsored such a venture, would feel just a little bit better about the corporation and the country.
It may be that the present system, with no modifications and no experiments, can survive. Perhaps the money-making machine has some kind of built-in perpetual motion, but I do not think so. To a very considerable extent the media of mass communications in a given country reflect the political, economic and social climate in which they flourish. That is the reason ours differ from the British and French, or the Russian and Chinese. We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.
I do not advocate that we turn television into a 27-inch wailing wall, where longhairs constantly moan about the state of our culture and our defense. But I would just like to see it reflect occasionally the hard, unyielding realities of the world in which we live. I would like to see it done inside the existing framework, and I would like to see the doing of it redound to the credit of those who finance and program it. Measure the results by Nielsen, Trendex or Silex-it doesn’t matter. The main thing is to try. The responsibility can be easily placed, in spite of all the mouthings about giving the public what it wants. It rests on big business, and on big television, and it rests at the top. Responsibility is not something that can be assigned or delegated. And it promises its own reward: good business and good television.
Perhaps no one will do anything about it. I have ventured to outline it against a background of criticism that may have been too harsh only because I could think of nothing better. Someone once said–I think it was Max Eastman–that “that publisher serves his advertiser best who best serves his readers.” I cannot believe that radio and television, or the corporation that finance the programs, are serving well or truly their viewers or listeners, or themselves.
I began by saying that our history will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge, and retribution will not limp in catching up with us.
We are to a large extent an imitative society. If one or two or three corporations would undertake to devote just a small traction of their advertising appropriation along the lines that I have suggested, the procedure would grow by contagion; the economic burden would be bearable, and there might ensue a most exciting adventure–exposure to ideas and the bringing of reality into the homes of the nation.
To those who say people wouldn’t look; they wouldn’t be interested; they’re too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter’s opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost.
This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.
Stonewall Jackson, who knew something about the use of weapons, is reported to have said, “When war comes, you must draw the sword and throw away the scabbard.” The trouble with television is that it is rusting in the scabbard during a battle for survival.
by Edward. R. Murrow
While I am weary about what I see being beamed through the “wires and lights in a box” now-a-days, I am thankfully not as skeptical about it all as I fear I could have been… No doubt there are those who have taken it upon themselves to educate us, the people of the world, with this instrument and push the boundaries of what this medium of learning and entertainment can do for us all here on Earth. Might I add that the BBC’s own documentaries i.e. “The Century Of Self,” “The Cell,” “Atom” and “The Future Of Food” to name but a few… Along with many independent film makers i.e. George Clooney’s film “Good Night, and Good Luck” about the events leading up to the Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joseph McCarthy case, Terence Davies’ touching comparsion of pre-war Britain and modern days times in “Of Time And The City,” the first hand redition of the Brumese nation’s exploitation in “Burma VJ,” Theodore Braun’s film portraying the efforts of six people responding to the humanitarian tragedy unfolding before our eyes in “Darfur Now” and Ron Howard’s inspiring story of the Apollo lunar missions and what they meant for mankind in “In The Shadow Of The Moon…” These are but a few examples of the multitudes of inspiring and gritty stories that the Cathode Ray tube can be used to recount and retell so that one may become more aware of the world around them… Not all of them are easily swallowed mind you. Some will no doubt cause anger and revulsion… But these are normal reactions to home-truths that have long been hidden.
I am also equally aware of the insidious normailizing effect that it can have on the nations of the world at large… An effect that somehow allows us to be told what to think and how to react. Suggestions to what we can do and how we should act are no doubt all to readily documented…
No doubt Edward Bernays understood this all too well… As did George Orwell, Adam Curtis and George “Dub-ya” Bush’s administration during and after the 911 attacks and their intention to use this to overthrough Iraq’s regime…
In fact… I was speaking to an old friend of mine just the other day… A man who was born before 1920. Often we speak of times long gone, and I am keenly fond of listening to how he remembers a time without television… A time when people were open-minded individuals, free from the memetic drives that we see in the rich-consumerist, educated nations of today. He feels that there was a freedom from this memetic terrorising back before the Second World War. On the whole, people, while very conformist in many ways, were a lot more open minded and less afraid to voice their opinions than they are today… Something that always startled me, bearing in mind the diversity of ideas that we continually exposed to today across the various platforms of multimedia. In fact my friend expresses a great mistrust for the Tube, citing it as the main cause of this “homogenisation” within countries… And in some ways I agree.
While I no longer have a TV in the house, I do have a computer… And while this might be equally as dangerous as TV, I am at least afforded the chance to read across the spectrum of reports and make up my own mind about how to perceive the news and people’s conjecture by crossreferencing and double checking what I read, see and hear. As Arisotle once said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it…” And as we are all subject to the influence of memes, something we have seen postulated in “Another Take On Reality – Meme, Myself and I,” we should be careful to never tire of our right and responsibility to understand things from our own perspectives. Without this… We simply become nothing more than part of the frightened herd… Easily lead and easily swayed into others recommendations.
To see where I sourced Edward. R. Murrow’s speech from, please click here.
September 28, 2009
September 27, 2009
Gold dawn disk edges purples cliffs.
Old woman bends to sweep temple steps.
She bathes each stone with loving care.
How many worshipers think of her work?
I went at dawn to a magnificent temple. Its architecture was such a supreme expression of the human spirit that it was a treasure. Generations of worshipers had left offerings at the shrines, hundreds of monks had reached their enlightenment on the consecrated grounds, and thousands had been blessed in life and death in the venerable halls.
Yet my most moving observation was an old woman silently sweeping the steps. Her concentration was perfect. Her devotion was palpable. Her thoroughness was complete. Her uncelebrated act showed a true holy spirit.
Later in the day, wealthy people came to worship. Children with brightly colored toys ran over the gray stones. The abbot walked to his ceremonies. Monks passed in silent prayer. Of all who passed, how many were aware of the saintly service that had made their own devotion possible?
When the way is all we have to walk, those who prepare the way should be truly honored.
September 26, 2009
10:10, a campaign to get individuals and organisations to reduce their emissions by 10% in 2010, was launched on 1st September 2009. The idea is simple and has proved surprisingly easy to communicate so far. Of course it has helped that the human tornado Franny Armstrong has been pushing it…
Here, at home and work, we’ve taken several steps to fulfilling this pledge… No doubt all of these steps will easily carve off 60% of our CO2 emissions, allowing us to surpass the 10:10 requirement. But we’ve given it much time and thought, and feel that, if we have the time and finances to do it all in one go, then it is better to get it done as soon as possible to make that little bit bigger difference, rather than doing it all in small steps. So… Here are ten of the ideas that we felt were most important to reducing our carbon foot print:
1. We’ve planted two apple trees… AND we’ve dug three vegetable patches, in which we’re now growing “seasonal” vegetables.
This essentially this means we’re almost able to completely remove all the supermarket tucker we used to usually buy… Which is a very good thing for many reasosn:
i) supermarkets tend to source a lot of vegetables out of season, importing them in from countries that usually grow in ways that are harmful to the environment. For example, any out of season Strawberries (April to July/August) that you usually see on supermarket shelves usually come from Israel, a country that is too hot to usually grow strawberries. This means excessive watering…
ii) transport uses large amounts of fuel. For example, the apples I’ve seen on supermarket shelves come from the other side of the globe “par avion”, which uses fuel like “there was no tomorrow.” And as we’re working for a greener, brighter, cleaner way of living for tomorrow, it totally defeats the point.
iii) Also the plants we’re growing will be using up some of the CO2 that we’ll be producing in our daily lives.
If you don’t have any garden space… You can always check with your local council and find out how to apply for one. Not to mention there are many handy websites on allotments in general:
2. Any produce that we do buy, we buy from local farms that either grow their own OR source nearby. This means that transport emissions of the produce you buy are kept to a minimum… And it also means that we’re putting money back into our local farmers hands. Something that we haven’t being doing a lot of recently what with the advent of supermarket chains.
Here there are two options…
i) If you’ve been really good and got rid of your car… Or you just don’t have the time to drive that far out of town… You can find companies on-line who will deliver fresh vegetable produce that was grown here in the UK.
For example… Riverford Organic will deliver quality produce to your front door step once a week. We use them and have found that we’ve made savings already in our shopping bill! Not to mention its really good quality fruit, veg and even meat. Food for thought… Or is that thought for food!?
ii) Or you can find your local farms by using a website like Dig For Victory local food, which allows you to discover shops, market, restaurants, cafes and pick-your-own establishments that source their produce (or even grow their own) locally. All you have to do is simply enter your postcode and hit “Search.”
Just as a note… We presently use Lynne’s Organic Farm to get a locally grown organic selection of fresh fruit and vegetables delivered right to our front door every week. Lynne’s Organic Farm is a shinning example of how we can all, given the right inclination, live in a fully self-sustaining and environmentally friendly manner i.e. using only self generated/collected, fully sustainable sources of power and water.
3. Recycle! It’s as easy as that… If you don’t have a car to take your recycling down to the recycling bins, then do check the Recycle Now website to see if your council already provides a collection service for recycling. Most places do, and as you pay for it out of your council tax, you might as well make use of it.
Most things from glass to plastic bottles, paper, cardboard and even garden waste can be recycled.
And bearing in mind… What with the 7 billion people on the earth’s surface currently, all engrossed in a consumerist global society… Well. I think you get the picture??? If not, then check out the BBC’s program “Future Of Food” to understand how resources across the world are being placed under immense strain.
And bearing in mind how much plastic and cardboard everything we buy comes wrapped in… Can it go on forever like this??? Erm… That’s a big NO!
4. All left-overs are placed into our garden composter… Anything that we have left over we now compost. This will go towards producing fertile mulch for the veggies that we are growing. Plus it saves SO much space in our bins… I used to empty the kitchen bin once or twice every week. However, since we’ve started composting, we’ve noticed that, as the bin only has wrappings and packaging in now, we don’t fill the bin up for a whole month!!! Manky as it may sound, because we don’t place any food in it the bin just never smells anymore… Plus you can compress it without worrying that you’ll place your hands on some of last night’s dinner left overs…
So… One rubbish bag for every calendar month is what we now use… Compared to EIGHT before we started composting!!! How’s that for clean, conscious living??? It’s bloody easy… That’s what it is!!!
5. Use a rainwater collection system… This can be done on several scales:
i) For the home. We haven’t really looked into this much, as we’ve had no reason to… But if you’re curious, you can click here to find out more.
ii) For the garden or allotment. This really comes in handy if you are keen gardner, or are growing your vegetables on an allotment which is away from a water source. Basically, you attach the water butt to a drain pipe. This then effectively manages to capture a large proportion of the rain water that roles off your roof and down the drain. Not to mention that in the UK, this ca be quite a considerable amount. So every time it rains, the rain water collects in a water butt… And when you need it, you simply tap it into your watering can. Easy…
This is obviously good because we then use less mains water, which actually undergoes quite a complex and high emission process before it comes out of our taps. To find out more on this process, click here. Not to mention it beats the hosepipe bans that we sometimes experience here in the hot UK summers.
6. We’ve switched over all our light bulbs in the house to the energy saving type… As we get our bill quarterly, we’ve already noticed that it’s a substantial amount less than it used to be. Plus, and this is a trick I learnt from a friend, we now switch all our appliances that are on standby off.
7. Installing solar heating tubes on the roof… Admittedly, during these tight times, not everyone will be able to do this. However, we’re selling our car and using the cash to install the solar tubes… And, with the remainder of the wonga, we’re gonna buy some cheap bicycles to get around on.
Do note… You can get help financial help from the government with this. Just click here to find out more. Or if you live in the South East of the UK then check out “Domestic Renewable Energy Investments & Grants”, as they have some very good advise to give on grants, loans (interest free ones!!!) and provide other very useful links depending on which renewable/greener alternative you decide is best for you and your needs/home/lifestyle.
HOWEVER… If you’re not in an area that allows for sunlit space… You can still consider changing over to a more economical and “greener” alternative to heating your home and water… One method in particular that caught my attention is a Biomass boiler that uses renewable-energy sources i.e. wood chip and pellets, which are readily available by means of waste material from the “chippie” industry (or Carpenter trade).
Bear in mind though that many of these boiler systems still require electricity to run with… And in the event of power cut, you will not be able to heat your home. So… If you’d like to go totally the way of the minimalist… You can use a Wood Burning Stove for all of your hot water needs. But you’ll need to bear in mind some important things:
i) Wood Burning Stoves generate a lot of heat… And if you rely solely on this method to heat your hot water, try to keep it in a room where you’ve got a good amount of ventilation during the hot summer months i.e. French doors or many windows, to allow the heat to dissipate easily.
ii) Also… This type of heating method is a continual heat source i.e. you can’t just switch it on and off like gas… So you’ll need to consider using a “Heat Sink Radiator” which can easily dissipate heat and prevent pressure build-ups, over-heating, etc…
iii) Wood storage… Wood cannot be burnt when it is wet – when wet or moist it burns very in-efficiently. So you’ll need to season it well before hand and keep it as dry as possible. This requires sheltered storage.
8. Get the recommended 270mm insulation into that loft space… It’s actually very surprising how many homes don’t have the recommended 270mm insulation in their attics/roof spaces!!! We certainly didn’t… Not to mention we were actually worried it was gonna cost a wee bit to do this.
However, we were nicely surprised when we found out it was only £200 to bring the house up to scratch. And we got it done through British Gas, would you believe… Looking forward to seeing the difference this makes in the winter time!?
9. Power Consumption Aware!!! It’s always good to understand what, why and how much power you’re using in everyday homely and work-based activities. For example:
i) Don’t fill the kettle right up to the brim for just one cuppa… Heating all that extra water really does use up quite a bit of extra power. The specific heat capacity of water is one of the highest of the every day compounds that we use here on earth. Check this table out if you don’t believe me…
ii) If you’re a smart phone junkie like me, you probably will want to check this site out. It has some handy facts and figures that are good pointers towards making one aware of the nature of these power hungry devices.
iii) As physics has show us… You can’t be in two places at once. Well… Unless you’re an electron, of course. But no doubt we humans will have hard time emulating this quantum ideal. So… If the Uncertainty Principle hasn’t got you in a state wondering where you’re at… Do remember to switch off the lights in the rooms that you aren’t in… Really simple idea, I know… And one that I’m sure you’re all aware of. But I’m still so surprised to find that not many people that I know do it.
iv) Rather than keeping your house warm as summer in the winter… Dress up and keep warm!!! If you can walk around your home in Bermuda shorts, then you’re probably over heating your home, which is very much like living out of season… Very comparable to eating out of season. No house will be 100% insulated… And if a home is 28 degrees C in winter, there will be a lot more heat escaping than if it were a simple 22 degrees C. The less energy used to heat your home, the lower your carbon footprint.
10. I’ve given up the idea of having any biological children of my own… I mean… Why have your own when there are so many orphaned children out there? Is it the “selfish gene” speaking? Think about it…
Undoubtedly this is a very touchy issue with all of us, as reproduction is part of a strong natural instinct that we all feel… And to deny a natural yearning as strong as this, something that is very much an Life propagating aspect of ourselves, is really is a tricky thing to come to grips with. This is probably the reason why most of my friends are in shock and disbelief about this. I should add though, that the main driving impetus behind my decision is not solely the 10:10 campaign! No doubt it played a part in my decision, but only about 10%…
But more importantly… The way I see it now… What with the 7 billion people mark having just been reached here on earth, see the New Scientist article entitled “Population: Enough Of Us Now,” we as a species are now pretty well ‘stocked.’ In fact we’re so well stocked that we are beginning to place a great strain on our food chain. This is something I’ll go into in depth after my next blog…
That just about sums up the action we’re taking here at home… Do feel free to add you’re own ideas in the comments section below. Sharing is part of the game!
If you’re not quite as keen as us, or don’t know quite what to make of all this climate change business… No worries. At least think about… Have a read about it. As I always ask everyone to do… Make up your own mind on something. Don’t listen to others just because the crowd is doing it. Find your own reasons for doing something… And you’ll find you do it a lot better.
If you’re fancying more info, then check out Chris Goodall’s web blog here, as he sheds some light over the common-sense behind the 10:10 campaign… Hell, he even gives some great ideas as to how you can begin taking those step to reach that 10% reduction in your emissions by 2010.
Then there are the Government websites advising what you can do and how you can do it:
iii) Act On CO2
SO… If you’re feeling like you want to help the cause, save yourself some money, show Gaia that you really care, or even fancy yourself as a bit of an altruistic meme-machine… Join 10:10 today and make that pledge now… It’s never too late to play a part in making that change!
September 26, 2009
Ringing on a similar note of self-defeating attitudes… I wanted to draw on an article writen by Alex Lickerman, entitled the “The Good Guy Contract,” as I feel it beautifully epitomizes this People Pleasing attitude that so many of us undertake… And do so without ever knowing that we’re actually doing it…
Doing something in order to gain acceptance from someone else is really doing something because we’re trying to satisfy an insecurity within ourselves. If we’re doing something like this, without knowing we’re doing it, then do you think that we are really operating from a place of love… Or is it fear? Fear of being rejected for what we are… And if we’re doing something through the emotion of fear… Then are we really embodying a healthy attitude towards life?
No doubt there are degrees of acceptability over this… Just as with Theseus’ ship… It’s sometime hard to meet the internal and innately natural needs within each of ourselves and the needs of others i.e. the need to be loved, to engage within a social network of friends, family and society, etc… with a healthy and vibrant resolve, and yet without being overly selfish… OR even being overly self-destructive.
If you haven’t heard of Theseus’ paradox… You can read about it here:
Theseus is remembered in Greek mythology as the slayer of the Minotaur. For years, the Athenians had been sending sacrifices to be given to the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull beast who inhabited the labyrinth of Knossos. One year, Theseus braved the labyrinth, and killed the Minotaur.
The ship in which he returned was long preserved. As parts of the ship needed repair, it was rebuilt plank by plank. Suppose that, eventually, every plank was replaced; would it still have been the same ship? A strong case can be made for saying that it would have been: When the first plank was replaced, the ship would still have been Theseus’ ship. When the second was replaced, the ship would still have been Theseus’ ship. Changing a single plank can never turn one ship into another. Even when every plank had been replaced, then, and no part of the original ship remained, it would still have been Theseus’ ship.
Suppose, though, that each of the planks removed from Theseus’ ship was restored, and that these planks were then recombined to once again form a ship. Would this have been Theseus’ ship? Again, a strong case can be made for saying that it would have been: this ship would have had precisely the same parts as Theseus’ ship, arranged in precisely the same way.
If this happened, then, then it would seem that Theseus had returned from Knossos in two ships. First, there would have been Theseus’ ship that has had each of its parts replaced one by one. Second, there would have been Theseus’ ship that had been dismantled, restored, and then reassembled. Each of them would have been Theseus’ ship.
Theseus, though, sailed in only one ship. Which one?
Bearing all this in mind… One might begin to understand the dilemmas that we all face in everyday life better… And how and why conflicts like the Israeli–Palestinian dispute came about, and why they are so hard to resolve i.e. what values and ideas are healthy to hang onto… So as NOT to be overly humble. But equally so, what values and ideas should really be let go of… So as not to be self-defeating.
As the Ancient Greek aphorism goes… “Know yourself!” Because to know one’s self, is a fundamental tenet of the question of Life’s essence. To truly ‘know one’s self’ in this sense involves a deeply personal and spiritual transformation whereby a person would seek to orient themselves towards understanding their own phenomenological perceptions of reality, so as to gain earnest insight into aspects of one’s own existence…
Once this is understood… Then real freedom is possible… Because rather than fighting the “effects” of a system of Being, one is able to strike at the “causes” of these “effects.” Think about it… If you can’t change why something occurs, then how can you prevent something from occuring? An example of this would be… Knowing that forest fires are mainly caused by careless disposal of cigarette ends, not correctly extinguishing camp fires, etc… However… One ignors these causes. All we focus on is the fact that water puts out fire. And everytime a fire springs up, we just douse it with water and control its spread as best as we can… In other words we totally forget to ask people to be careful about making sure that their camp fires and cigarette ends are put out properly… In fact, we totally forget to ban camping fires in the forest!!! Madness!!! And here lies the important difference.
This ideal can be extended to everything from climate change to war. But rather than tell the world to change, let’s look into ourselves and change within… Because our perception of the world is the cause of everthing we create in it. When we change contractual habits, habits like a need to please others so that we in return will be pleased by them, then we can start to understand why we behave in certain ways… And once that understanding is acquired, we can begin to stand appart from the herd to achieve what needs to be done and make changes for the better, without being trapped inside an “imaginary” contractual agreement.
The Good Guy Contract
When we aren’t honest with others about who we really are, and instead present an image of who we think we should be in order to gain their acceptance, we’re people pleasing.
Twenty years ago, the first woman I ever loved broke my heart. Like many break ups, the end came in stutters and sine waves rather than as an abrupt but mercifully irreversible amputation. However, for reasons I couldn’t understand yet quickly began to resent, my ex-girlfriend continued to ask favors of me. And I continued to grant them.
Then one morning while chanting I found myself ruminating about how inappropriate it was of her to keep asking, and the more I thought about it, the more irritated I became. My indignation continued to intensify after I’d finished chanting and began showering, finally reaching a peak as I rinsed the shampoo from my hair, causing me to make a sudden and angry determination that the next time she asked me for a favor, I’d refuse.
At that exact moment, the phone rang.
I knew it was her calling–and sure enough, after I’d finished showering, one of my roommates confirmed it and added that she’d asked that I call her back before I left for school.
As I walked toward the phone I told myself that when she asked me for the favor for which I knew she’d called, I’d refuse. I called her up, and–sure enough–she asked me if I would record a television show for her on my VCR (again, this was 20 years ago). In my mind I said, “No.” But then I heard my mouth say, “Yes.”
I hung up–and laughed out loud. I was as powerless to refuse her a favor as I was to run through a brick wall. Literally.
So I decided to begin chanting with the determination to free myself from my inability to refuse her favors. And one day, months later, while chanting, I had an epiphany. The reason I remained unable to refuse her requests was that I’d established a Good Guy Contract with her.
Until that moment of epiphany, I had no idea what a Good Guy Contract was, much less that it was the standard contract I consistently signed with almost everyone in my life. But in that startling moment of clarity I understood not only what it was but why I kept signing it: my self-esteem, which I’d previously believed to be built on things solely internal, was in fact entirely dependent on something external–the good will of others. The Good Guy Contract was simple: I would agree to be nice to you, to advise you, to sacrifice for you, to care about you–and in return you would agree to believe that I was wise, compassionate, excellent as a human being in every way, and finally and most importantly, you would like me.
This was the contract I’d signed with my ex-girlfriend, the only difference being I didn’t just expect to be liked; I expected to be loved. And for a while, I was. Unfortunately once I’d had a taste of that love, it became my ego’s addiction, and when she took it away from me I became profoundly depressed–not because, as I originally thought, I’d been left by someone I thought was the love of my life, but because I genuinely believed without that someone I couldn’t be happy. Why, then, did I keep doing favors for her after we’d broken up? Because I couldn’t shake the Good Guy habit. Some part of me believed if I continued to fulfill my contractual obligations to her, she’d start fulfilling hers again to me. To say I was shocked to discover my self-esteem had been built on such shaky ground would be an understatement.
I didn’t realize at the time, but at the moment I had the epiphany about my propensity to sign Good Guy Contracts with everyone in my life, I stopped doing it. This was proven to me three months later when my best friend came to me asking me why I had recently become such a jerk to all my friends. My first reaction was to become defensive and deny it. But then I stopped myself, realizing that he was absolutely right. I began to wonder why I had in fact become so dismissive of so many of my friends and realized that I’d somehow stopped needing their approval to sustain my self-esteem and had somehow torn up all the Good Guy Contracts I’d signed with them. I’d somehow discovered a way to love and value myself without feeding off the love and esteem of anyone else. And most fascinating of all, without my ever discussing this with my ex-girlfriend, she never asked me for another favor again.
The Benefit Of Tearing Up The Good Guy Contract
I’m not arguing there’s anything wrong with wanting to be liked. Nor am I saying I no longer care if I’m liked or not. What I am saying is that in freeing myself from the need to be liked–in learning to derive my self-esteem from internal support–I can more easily let go of the dissonance that (still) occurs when I’m disliked. Ridding myself of the need to sign Good Guy Contracts has brought me tremendous benefits, including enabling me to:
1. Stop suffering when people don’t like me. I can’t control how others respond to me, and being freed of the need to write Good Guy Contracts has freed me of the need to try to influence others to like me as well–which has freed up an unbelievable amount of my time.
2. Become an effective leader. If your primary concern is to please everyone, you won’t be able to make good decisions for the right reasons. I could never have taken on the leadership roles I have had I not eliminated my need to be a People Pleaser (another name for a Good Guy).
3. Establish more genuine friendships–friendships based on mutual interest, free of the underlying agenda in which I would use the goodwill of another to support my self-esteem.
4. Be compassionate. Freed of the need to be liked, I can now contemplate compassionate action motivated only by the desire to add to the happiness of another person and not by the imperative to sustain my self-esteem, which makes it far more likely my actions will be wisely compassionate as I discussed in a previous post, What Compassion Is.
5. Avoid explosive expressions of pent up resentment. Being unable to say no leads to resentment toward oneself that often gets projected onto others but that’s paradoxically rarely expressed (becoming angry at someone would violate the terms of the Good Guy Contract)–until it builds up to the point where it must be expressed and then often becomes so in explosive and damaging ways.
6. Avoid feeling overwhelmed by too much responsibility. What a relief it’s been to be able to own what’s mine and not what belongs to others.
How To Tear Up The Good Guy Contract
People sign Good Guy Contracts all the time. It’s especially common in younger people, less so as people mature naturally into independence. Yet it persists in many–as I believe it would have in me had I not confronted the suffering my signing a Good Guy Contract with my ex-girlfriend caused me.
If you’re a chronic People Pleaser who can’t stand to disappoint others when disappointing them is appropriate, then you have a great opportunity to become happier. First, how can you confirm that you sign Good Guy Contracts in your relationships (both romantic and platonic)? Try asking yourself the following questions:
1. When you disappoint someone, anger them, or cause them in some way to dislike you, does it create disproportionate anxiety for you?
2. Do you have difficulty enduring even a mild degree of conflict with others?
3. Do you become obsessed with manipulating how others feel about you?
4. Are your actions predominantly motivated by how they’ll cause others to view you?
If so, these are reasonably good indicators you’re working too hard to be a Good Guy.
What, then, can you do to stop? Other than taking up the practice of Nichiren Buddhism, the most effective method I’ve found is to practice disappointing people. That is, when disappointing someone is genuinely necessary, I approach it as practice for developing my self-esteem. If I fail, that’s fine. After all, it was only practice. I get back up, dust myself off, and make a determination to try again next time, reminding myself as I do so that violating the Good Guy Contract and setting appropriate boundaries doesn’t usually lead to being disliked as we People Pleasers fear, but rather to being respected.
In all honesty, even now, two decades later, I sometimes still feel the tug of the need to please. Though the wisdom I activated all those years ago has never stopped functioning in my life, sometimes it functions less strongly than others, depending on my life-condition. Sometimes I still have to remind myself consciously not to be overly affected by the opinions of others. But the ability to let go of my need to be liked, even if it sometimes requires conscious effort, is one of the greatest bits of human revolution I’ve ever accomplished and absolutely worth every bit of suffering it required.
by Dr. Alexander Lickerman
Dr. Alex Lickerman is a physician and former Director of Primary Care at the University of Chicago. He’s been a practicing Buddhist since 1989.
The form of Buddhism he practices is called Nichiren Buddhism, named after its founder, Nichiren Daishonin. The lay organization of Nichiren Buddhists to which he belongs is called the Soka Gakkai International (SGI).
Alex considers himself first and foremost a writer of fiction. Currently he’s working on a philosophical novel called “The Ten Worlds” which details how Nichiren Buddhism intersects with modern-day principles of psychology and enables people of every gender, race, religion, educational background, and socioeconomic status to reach the state of Enlightenment, the true purpose for which he believes we were all born.
Alex writes this blog to share his views on all topics relating to health and happiness. His principal aim is to explore spirituality from a scientific point of view and help people think about life, happiness, and themselves in ways they never have before. New posts are available every Monday.
You can visit Alex’s blog by clicking here.
Or to find out where I originally sourced this article from, please click here.
September 26, 2009
Have you ever had a knot in your shoe lace?
You have to bend down to untie it.
Difficulties in life confront us all; people respond in their own ways to adversity. Some succumb, some grow boisterous. Some marshel their determination, some respond with trickery. All too often, hardship will mow a person down.
When confronted with difficulty, thos who follow Tao respond with modesty: They conform to the situation. They bow before it, and they concentrate upon it until they find a solution. They do not apply undue force; neither do they acquiesce meekly to fate. They examine the situation and carefully undo it. In the same way you bend down to untie a knot in your shoelace, they bend down to find guidance.
Even modesty can become an error if we become meek and insecure. Some people become so humble that they become self-defeating. They are talented but their personalities are so split that they cannot achieve their potential. Therefore, there must be limits even on modesty. It works. Like anything else, it must be applied in the right manner.
September 25, 2009
My back is stooped from scholarship,
My eyes are dimmed by history’s words.
Surrounded though I may be by learning,
I still cannot compare with nature’s perfection.
Learning is a passion shared by many of us. There is great allure to education and a fascination with the accomplishments of civilization. We go to libraries and museums. We go to exhibits showing the diggings from royal tombs. We are enchanted with new inventions. And yet, if we look out our windows and see a tree in its perfection, or gaze into a tide pool, or watch a cat as it strolls its territory, or see the flash of a blue jay, we can see another order of beauty and intelligence in life.
The words of humanity cannot compare to the works of nature. The works of civilization lack the balance and refinement of nature. Too many time, our accomplishments are tainted by impure motives: profit, hardship, desire for fame, simple greed. We achieve, but we cannot foresee the results because we are unable to place our actions into greater context.
Nature is a conglomeration of contending forces, or tooth and claw, venom and perfume, mud and excrement, eggs and bones, lighting and lava. It seems chaotic. It seems terrible. And yet, for all its unfathomable workings, it far surpasses the business of our society.
Think about what you do. How much of it can compare to the perfection of nature?
September 24, 2009
These are certainly not my own words… Though I have replaced my own name within their framework of wisdom. And there is a reason for doing this…
Having read Toporek’s own enlightening essay “In Praise of Uncertainty” only a few days ago, I felt great relief from a heavy unknown burden that had been inflicting great trouble over most aspects of my daily life… A trouble that I had been trying to resolve within my own being for sometime now.
You see… Being a meme machine, and understanding my own suseptability to conform to the unspoken norm of the every-day consumer life in which I must function and survive, as well as the chaos inherent in any nonlinear system, I found myself entering into paradoxes of mind… Paradoxes that I somehow recognized from Kurt Gödel’s two incompleteness theorems. However, my understanding about paradoxes was strictly limited to the logical axioms of mathematical and philosophical abstaction. I had no exerience with porting over these paradoxes to express ideas within the social bounds of my own life… How did Gödel’s ideas relate to my own troubles and plight.
No doubt it takes great courage to face one’s own demons… But it also takes devout persitence, as well as a deep penetrating honesty about one’s own ways of being… For without these two extra ingedients, to know what those demons truly are, would be impossible. To simply be courageous and jump into battle without any idea about the motives and mind of one’s opponent is for certain nothing more than great folly… A folly where one’s success is left to the winds of chance and presumption.
And having pondered deeply over these inner turmoils, as chance would have it, Toporek’s essay jumped onto my screen late one night as I Stumbled through the internet by chance, only with a vague guidance from the predefined parameters of my initial choosing. And having drunk in the wisdom within his pages, I began to realize the reason for this heavy feeling of miunderstanding that I carried around with me… Why the eternal golden braid just didn’t seem so eternal and golden as I Knew it was meant to be…
“Uncertainty” was the key to my freedom. And the chains were my unquestioning participation in the usual memetic social conditioning that most of us adhere to. There is no certainty… Certainty is like trying to predict the flow of a nonlinear dynamical system. As system where the highly sensitive dependence on initial conditions meant any idea I stated with certainty, was nothing more than a chance to define an illusion in a world of chaotic flow.
To understand one’s role in this game of chance, one must embrace the knowledge of chaos. For within its warm embrace, lies deep furrows of eternal patterned delight… Patterns to enthralling that their beauty transcends any words that might try to describe them. For within these patterns lies the essence of the Tao…
And, as if to Know and Embrace this Wisdom that Toporek helped me to discover, I just had to copy out his beautiful flow of words and add my own name in there as an affirmation of this freedom of Self.
“So, tell me Karl, what are you going to be when you grow up?”
As a child, it always bothered me when an grown-up asked me that question. And being so young and naïve, I didn’t know exactly why it bothered me so much… But today, with a little more headroom on my shoulders, I think I’m beginning to understand why it did, and still does, bother me…
The only absolute certainty is uncertainty itself.
According to legend, it was this assertion that prompted the Delphic Oracle to recognize Socrates as the wisest man in Greece. Socrates replied that he possessed no wisdom whatsoever, but paradoxically the Oracle interpreted his unapologetic acceptance of ignorance as evidence of great wisdom. The pride of many prominent Athenians was wounded by the idea of being ranked below this self-proclaimed ignorant, so he was accused of corrupting the young, and was sentenced to death by poisoning.
2,000 years after Socrates’ execution, at a point in time between the birth of Descartes and the death of Kant, the West became helplessly enamored with certainty. Calculus became the fundamental discipline that helped us understand and define reality with great accuracy, even when it was ineffective at amicably resolving the battle between Leibniz and Newton regarding its discovery.
According to Lao Tzu, what is true can’t be described, but after Newton’s discoveries of gravity and the laws of motion, it was hard not to be convinced that reality could be outlined and explained through scientific exploration. Newton was followed by Bernoulli, Coulomb, Avogadro, Fourier, Faraday, Kelvin, Joule and Maxwell, and with every new discovery the certainty that the universe could be completely understood through the reductionism of equations grew ever stronger. The prevalent scientific posture after Maxwell’s unification of electricity and magnetism was that at the end of the 19th century “all the great physical constants would have been approximately estimated, and the only occupation left to men of science would be to carry these measurements to another place of decimals”. Of course history had different plans, and a new batch of scientists that included Curie, Rutherford, Planck, Einstein and Bohr proved that the universe was not that simple to figure out. Radioactivity, the equivalency between energy and matter, the relative flow of time, and light behaving as both wave and particle were a few of the new discoveries. During the 20th century each new finding increased the level of uncertainty, but the final blow to the dream of absolute scientific determinism came in 1926, when a young German physicist proved that it was impossible to know the position and momentum of a particle at the same time. At the age of 25, Werner Heisenberg formulated the Uncertainty Principle, laying the foundation of what became known as the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics. The implication of this discovery was that unpredictability ruled at the fundamental level of subatomic particles. The principle imposed a very real physical limitation on human knowledge, one that could not be overcome by technology. At an elementary level, scientists were doomed to predict only probabilities, never actual outcomes. Einstein strongly disliked this conclusion and died trying to disprove it, but years of experimental consistency confirmed his worst fears: God does play dice.
In 1932 Heisenberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Since then, the description of reality has only gotten stranger and more uncertain. Some of the latest scientific breakthroughs, like the discovery of Quantum Entanglement, seem to imply that not only is time an illusion, but locality as well. Recent discoveries by Leonard Susskind, Juan Maldacena and Ed Witten support the idea that we live in a holographic universe and that, despite its apparent solidity, objective reality does not exist. According to the Holographic Principle, objective reality is just a mirage created in our brains based on sensorial input; its our way of interpreting an otherwise undifferentiated, infinitely interconnected and splendidly detailed hologram. In this universe, all aspects of reality are merely interpretations relative to the observer, making it impossible to reach any kind of universal certainty.
It took 2,500 years, but Socrates was finally vindicated: The only absolute certainty is uncertainty itself!
So now we return back to this troubling question… “So, tell me Karl, what are you going to be when you grow up?” As I grew older I would get the same uncomfortable feeling when, at a job interview, I was asked “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” I even found it utterly uncomfortable when a priest prompted a young couple to promise eternal love to each other.
At some point I started to realize that, in most cases, the people asking me these questions were just trying to satisfy their own expectations with my answers, and that very often I would provide the expected response just to keep them at ease. Many of the people striving for certainty just want the confirmation that their particular belief system is legitimized; confirmation that a son will be a doctor and not an ballet dancer, confirmation that a partner will never behave in a way that may threaten the marriage, confirmation that a couple’s public commitment will continue to validate the church’s authority.
Today I know that the uncomfortable feelings those questions arouse in me had little to do with any particular answer, and a lot to do with the questions themselves; that I do not want my future to be seen as a means to validate someone else’s expectations, that by answering I am turning myself into a potential liar, and that the only honest answer to such questions is, and should have always been, I DON’T KNOW. Any other answer would represent a self-imposed compromised fate, a voluntary limitation of my own freedom, an imposition of countless personal and communal hopes and fears over the limitless possibilities of reality.
I DONT KNOW may not be the most romantic or reassuring answer, but it is often the most honest. Unfortunately more people today want to be right rather than honest. Through schools, temples and popular culture we are taught to perceive certainty as a virtue. The preacher narrates Biblical events as if he had experienced them himself, and talks about the afterlife as if he had already been there and back; the science teacher talks about subatomic particles as if he had actually seen them; and all over the world celebrities are admired for their apparent confidence and self assurance (heck, if Bono gets behind this cause it must be important). Recently we have experienced a string of international leaders that are far more concerned with appearing to be right than with actually doing the right thing.
Religion manufactures certainty from the past and imposes it over the present, while present science places its faith in future technologies to increase its own certainty. Everyone holding a position of authority refuses to display signs of ignorance for fear of appearing weak or conceding.
I am not afraid of doubt, but I am terrified by the recent resurgence of certainty and fundamentalism. Doubt can bring about humbleness, while certainty can lead to arrogance. Some of the most horrific episodes in history are those involving arrogant madmen.
Instead of allowing perception to be informed by experiential reality, a madman will try to force reality to conform to his prejudice. He will try to impose an order on reality and will attempt to destroy any element that challenges such order. But chaos is the reality of nature, while order is just the dream of men. Inevitably, one man’s dream will become another man’s nightmare, and our attempts to impose an artificial order on reality will often end up in despair and destruction.
Expectations are futile, control is a painful illusion, we are made of uncertainty. Let chaos be and order will naturally emerge; strive for order and you will live in chaos. How do I know this?
I DON’T KNOW…
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