Friday, February 27, 2015

ISIS and Takfiri Totalitarianism - The war on cultural diversity and history

"They forbid rational speculation, and strive to kill their adversaries. This is why truth became thoroughly silenced and concealed." Al Razi 854 CE
By now it should be clear that ISIS and other extremist groups like them are not standard bearers of Eastern culture against the West but are at war with diversity in the East itself. They are destroying the rich history and diversity of the East. The Buddha statues blown up by the Taliban. The destruction and defacing of ancient Mesopotamian history. The war on Zoroastrian, Yazidi, Shiite, Sufi and Christian peoples in the East. They cannot tolerate the diversity of the present much less the diversity of the past. They cannot appreciate ancient Babylon, Persia, Assyria, Sumeria, India, Greek, and Egyptian culture because for them they are all pagans and ignorant polytheists.
They cannot appreciate the House of Wisdom in Baghdad during the Islamic golden age that studied Aristotle and other philosophers engaging in dialogue on diverse ideas.
As the great Muslim philospher Ibn Rushd stated,"After logic we must proceed to philosophy proper...we have to learn from our predecessors, just as in Mathematics and Law. Thus it is wrong to forbid the study of ancient philosophy."
Ibn Sina stated "I devoted myself in studying the texts - the original and the commentaries - in the natural sciences and metaphysics, and the gates of knowledge began opening for me."
The ideology of ISIS has some roots in Salafi and Wahhabi teaching which pulls from a narrow fundamentalist version of Islam which cannot tolerate diversity either in ideas or history. There is an outright hostility and bigotry towards those that are deemed Infidels, Pagans, Polytheists, Apostates, Disbelievers, Kafir. It is the bigotry against diversity and doubt. The hateful fear of the disbeliever. Infidelophobia.
The Islamic world must not only accept Christians and Jews, the people of the book. In the long term a robust human rights and liberty demands that infidels and apostates are also accepted as fellow human beings not threatened with intimidation and violence for having a different idea or opinion on metaphysics. There is a cognitive dissonance with some Western Liberals who are engaged with right wing reactionaries in the West who show bigotry towards those who are different including Muslim minority communities in the West. At the same time in Muslim majority countries there are right wing reactionaries who take hold of a narrow version of Islam that shows bigotry against infidels, disbelievers, and religious diversity.
Both of these challenges and attacks on diversity are going on in the global picture but some Western Liberals have a hard time with seeing both of these realities in their minds and being able to fight the Islamophobia in the West and at the same time fight the Infidelophobia in other parts of the Islamic world. To be pluralistic is to fight for Muslim minorities in the West who are being unfairly attacked and at the same time fight for religious minorities, disbelievers and liberal Muslims in Muslim majority countries who are being unfairly attacked. People must understand specific geopolitical realities around the world to get the big picture.
Can the world be consistent with enlightenment values in the West and the East at the same time? The answer to the excess of Western colonialism is not Theocracy and Monotheistic Totalitarianism but rather real self determination.
Malala Yousafza, who was shot by the Taliban in the head but still lives to fight for education for girls in Pakistan, stated, "This is Education. This is Knowledge. It can neither be Eastern nor Western."
There is also a cognitive dissonance with some Christian fundamentalists in the West who are against theocracy in the Muslim world but show some sympathy for theocratic movements in the Christian world. Theocracy whether it be Muslim or Christian is not a good way to govern human beings who often have different views and ideas on metaphysics. If there is going to be religious freedom and human rights it must include Christian, Muslim, Jew, Polytheists, and Disbelievers. Pluralism must be the umbrella ideal to allow for such diversity.
Pluralism accepts the reality that humans are going to have different beliefs and opinions and as long as it does not impede on your rights let a person believe and opine as they wish. Melville wrote in Moby Dick,"...and Heaven have mercy on us all - Presbyterians and Pagans alike - for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending."
This diversity and pluralism is hated by ISIS and other groups who think they can create a Utopia where their ideology reigns supreme with no dissent or doubt. To create a Utopia you must sacrifice the blood of those different than you and cleanse the world of cultural history and diversity. If the world does not stand up to Totalitarian Monotheism and the rhetoric and teaching coming out of Takfiri ideology that dehumanizes polytheists, religious minorities, and apostates then prepare for more cultural destruction and genocide. It took a World War to stop Totalitarian Nazi ideology, what will it take to stop the Totalitarian Takfiri ideology?
Anemic Post modernism and relativism will be no match for muscular, purposeful, and simplistic ideologies like Monotheistic Totalitarianism. It will take a return to the flexibility and virtue of the civilizations of antiquity and a return to the Enlightenment ideals and passion that has been covered over by the malaise of post modernism and nihilism in the West. If the modern world does not find a transcendent unifying ethic that allows for pluralism it will pay a heavy price in blood and further destruction.
If this does not happen I agree with the philosopher John Gray's cynical outlook when he stated, “In the long term, the Google generation, the liberals, will be swallowed up and erased from history.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Among the Ruins - Christian Sahner - Oxford University Press

Among the Ruins - Christian Sahner - Oxford University Press

Christian C. Sahner is an historian of the Middle East. He graduated from Princeton University and the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He is completing his doctorate at Princeton, focusing on the role of non-Muslims in Islamic societies. Sahner's writing has been published in The Times Literary Supplement and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Rise of ISIS: A series of unfortunate events

"And we are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night." M. Arnold
The Rise of ISIS: A series of unfortunate events
WWI – Turkish empire broken up, Britain and France draw borders in Middle East with little regard to tribes and sects and self-determination.
WWII – After the European genocide of Jews the United Nations backs the State of Israel for the Jewish people in the Middle East. Palestinians are disenfranchised.
Arab leaders lose credibility with loses to Israel in the wars of the 60’s and 70’s.
Political Islam is looked to as an answer to failure of leadership.
Soviet Union invades Afghanistan.
The Islamic Revolution in Iran takes down the Shah of Iran.
Afghanistan becomes a haven for jihadists (including bin Laden) who are supported by Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Saudi Arabia financially backs the message of Wahhabi fundamentalism and Salafi teaching around the world.
Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait, International Community including United States pushes Saddam back.
US troops are stationed in Saudi Arabia offending Osama bin Laden and other jihadists.
Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda start attacks around the world in the 90’s.
September 11, 2001 Al Qaeda hits New York and DC with terror attacks.
United States invades Afghanistan.
United States invades Iraq.
Sunni groups and tribes are disenfranchised after the invasion in Iraq. Baghdad government becomes dominated by Shiite groups.
Al Qaeda suffers loses but is able to metastasize in other parts of world including Iraq itself.
United States pushes back Al Qaeda resistance in Iraq in the surge of 2007.
Former Baathists and Jihadists come together in resistance to new order. Baghdadi is part of the struggle.
Osama bin Laden is killed in 2011.
United States military forces leave Iraq in 2011.
Arab Spring hits the Middle East in 2011, popular uprisings against aging dictators and authoritarian regimes.
Authoritarian regimes fight for survival and start killing and imprisoning resistance leaving only the best organized resistance able to continue, Islamists and Jihadist groups or the Military of the regimes.
2013 Assad gasses his own people in Syria. Thousands continue dying in brutal Syrian civil war.
The world does nothing in Syria and the civil war continues. Jihadist groups fill the void like al Nusra and ISIS.
ISIS in 2014 goes on offense into Iraq taking Fallujah and eventually take Mosul in summer of 2014.
Now ISIS has enough territory and momentum to declare an Islamic State and Baghdadi its Caliph.
ISIS inspires others and seeks recruits across the world.
With ISIS on the march the international community slowly wakes out of its slumber as massacres and beheadings become spread over the internet and on the news.
2015 ISIS has been slowed down by the resistance of the Kurds and Shiite militias with support of US and coalition air power.
So you see there are many variables and ingredients to this soup. It is a mixture of geopolitics, religious extremism, dictators, wars, genocide, terrorism, invasions and a series of unfortunate events.
The confused story that is human history continues…

Monday, February 23, 2015

Voltaire archive quote

"Of all superstitions, that of hating our neighbor on account of his opinion is surely the most dangerous."
Voltaire, A Treatise On Tolerance

Khalil Gibran aphorisms

Forgetfulness is a form of freedom.
They dip their pens in our hearts and think they are inspired.
A poet is a dethroned king sitting among the ashes of his palace trying to fashion an image out of the ashes.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The fragile rope of human civilization

Human civilization resides in a space between the caves of dogmatic extremism and the cliffs of nihilistic despair.
Keeping that balance of the necessary consumption of myth and significance without it sending you to the caves of dogma is one task. The other task is not letting “it’s all bull shit and you die” taking civilization over the edge.
The times of civilization being able to strike that balance like the Classical period and the later renaissance and enlightenment led to culture and scientific breakthrough. Times where civilization retreated to the caves of dogma or to the edge of nihilism brought forth stagnation or destruction.
Aristotle's ethics where virtue is moderation.
Humans need some sort of transcendence to justify their existence but if it rocks towards dogmatic extremism it can be a vicious mistress.
"Man is a rope over an abyss." Nietzsche

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Giving tragedy a transcendent meaning

I think one of the powerful narratives of Christian theology is that it turns tragedy into triumph and suffering into salvation. It does not have to be true to be powerful. The crucifixion of a Jewish preacher and the destruction of the Jewish Temple were both tragic but the gospel writers were able to take that tragedy and that suffering and turn into a narrative of purpose, meaning, and salvation.
Christianity does a wonderful job in making the suffering of a Jewish preacher into a great transcendent triumph however all the suffering and tragedy before it seem to be glossed over and it makes one doubt the universal validity of that narrative. Christian theology traveled well for various reasons but one was the ability to reach the common man and woman at their point of suffering. Jesus is a god that not only suffered for you but can also suffer with you.
There are those who defend the previous millions of years of suffering and death as part of the story but it seems the response is either to ignore it, deny it, or justify it. All the answers seem like retro engineering based on a narrow unimaginative perspective, special pleading, and heartless doctrinal bureaucratic language that would impress Eichmann.
Assyrian art 650 B.C.E.
Jesus of Nazareth crucified around 30 AD

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Blaise Pascal - A Brilliant Christian Philosopher

“I’ll never forgive Christianity for what it did to Pascal.” Nietzsche
Blaise Pascal:
"The supreme function of reason is to show man that some things are beyond reason"
“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.”
"In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t"
"Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed."
"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction"

Saturday, December 13, 2014

America's Founders inspired by Classical Greece and Rome

The Birth of Classical Europe: Simon Price and Peter Thonemann:
James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, authors of the Federalist Papers, advocating ratification of the new US Constitution, signed themselves jointly as 'Publius', recalling Publius Valerius Poplicola, first consul of the Roman Republic.
Universities in that era placed enormous emphasis on reading Latin and Greek authors.
Women read classical books, Abigail Adams wrote regular letters to her husband, John Adams, signing herself as Portia, wife of Brutus.
The dialogue with the history of Antiquity helped to separate the new republics, the bastions of liberty, from the old feudal and monarchic regimes of Europe.
The Lycian League, which brought together twenty-three Greek city-states, was held up as a model of an excellent republic model.
Jefferson stated in 1795 on the American experiment that 'we have seen no instance of this since the days of the Roman republic.'
Dr. Joe Wolverton:
Classical training usually began at age eight, whether in a school or at home under the guidance of a private tutor. One remarkable teacher who inculcated his students with a love of the classics was Scotsman Donald Robertson. Many future luminaries were enrolled in his school: James Madison, John Taylor of Caroline, John Tyler and George Rogers Clark, among others. Robertson and teachers like him nourished their charges with a healthy diet of Greek and Latin, and required that they learn to master Virgil, Horace, Justinian, Tacitus, Herodotus, Plutarch, Lucretius and Thucydides. Further along in their education, students were required to translate Cicero’s Orations and Virgil’s Aeneid. Fortunately for the young Founding Fathers, the teachers of the day exercised their students in Greek and Latin, so that their pupils could meet the rigorous entrance requirements of colonial colleges. Those colleges stipulated that entering freshmen be able to read, translate and expound the Greco-Roman classical works. Students were taught lessons in virtue and liberty from the works of Herodotus, Xenophon, Plutarch, Livy, Sallust, Tacitus and Polybius. Thomas Jefferson’s classmates recalled that he studied at least 15 hours a day and carried his Greek grammar book with him wherever he went. Because of the formidable classical curricula at colonial colleges, the classics became a well from which the Founders drank deeply. In the classics, the Founding Fathers found their heroes and villains, and they also detected warning signs along the road of statecraft on which they would tread.
The Founders’ principal Greco-Roman heroes were Roman statesmen: Cato the Younger, Brutus, Cassius and Cicero — all of whom sacrificed their lives in unsuccessful attempts to save the republic — as well as the celebrated Greek lawgivers Lycurgus and Solon.
Classical influences on the Founders:
Men like John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Dickinson and James Wilson were superb classicists — they could read both Latin and Greek fairly well and knew Greek and Roman literature, history and philosophy rather thoroughly. Just as importantly, from the time they went to school, they saw ancient Greek and Roman statesmen as models to be emulated in their own careers as lawmakers, civic-minded leaders, public figures of responsibility. Most of these Americans actually learned how to speak publicly by channeling Greek and Roman orators; in fact, while in college, many of our founders gave public speeches in Latin as well as in English, and they engaged in debates using the personae of famous Greek and Roman orators and politicians.
John Adams thought of himself as an American Cicero, the great Roman lawyer and civic leader. George Washington portrayed himself as Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer-turned-general; he made his soldiers at Valley Forge watch his favorite play, Cato, about the Roman patriot who fought against Caesar’s attempt to take over Rome. James Madison looked upon Solon and Lycurgus, two Greek lawgivers, as models for his Constitution-making. Alexander Hamilton regularly and pointedly used pertinent Greek and Roman pseudonyms in publishing pamphlets arguing policy positions — the outstanding case was, of course, his choice of “Publius” for the Federalist Papers; Publius being Publius Valerius Publicola, a founder of the Roman Republic.
How ancient Greeks influenced America’s founding fathers
Historian and professor Carl J. Richard
"As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurian. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us." -Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Short, Oct. 31, 1819
Cincinnatus: George Washington and the Enlightenment by Gary Wills
Greeks & Romans Bearing Gifts: How the Ancients Inspired the Founding Fathers by Carl Richard
"He read Cicero, Tacitus, and others of his Roman heroes in Latin, and Plato and Thucydides in the original Greek, which he considered the supreme language. But in his need to fathom the "labyrinth" of human nature, as he said, he was drawn to Shakespeare and Swift, and likely to carry Cervantes or a volume of English poetry with him on his journeys. "You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket," he would tell his son Johnny." DAVID McCULLOUGH on John Adams
"A successful physician and progressive thinker, Joseph Warren became an outspoken advocate of inoculations to battle the smallpox plague sweeping colonial America and vaccinated his most famous patient, John Adams. But medicine was not his only passion. As the colonies clashed with Mother England, Warren was drawn to the red-hot center of patriot firebrands. He became a propagandist, spymaster and orator who modeled himself on Cicero, occasionally donning a toga to deliver incendiary speeches. It was Warren who led the men to the “party” where they tossed a shipload of British tea into Boston Harbor. And he was the crucial link between Boston’s upper crust patriots –who got most of the glory– and the workingmen and artisans who did most of the dirty work. But Warren was left out of our poems. And our schoolbooks. And that’s too bad." Historian Kenneth C Davis
"What Athens was in miniature America will be in magnitude. The one was the wonder of the ancient world; the other is becoming the admiration of the present." Thomas Paine, Rights of Man
From the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution, the Founding Fathers looked to classical history as a reliable guide to their successful experiment in building a lasting republic. Dr. Joe Wolverton II Cicero lived from approximately 106 B.C. to 43 B.C. John Adams, in his Defense of the Constitution, said of Cicero: “All of the ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and philosopher united than Cicero…” First as a lawyer, then as a consul and senator, Cicero boldly defended the republic against the rise of dictators. John and Abigail Adams wrote over a thousand letters to each other during the months (sometimes years) that John was away from home helping found a new nation. As was the custom of the time, they adopted pen names: Abigail was Diana, after the Roman goddess of the moon and later she adopted the pen name, Portia, wife of the great Roman politician Brutus. John adopted the name, Lysander, after the Spartan war hero.
The Roman Classical Revival style was promoted and popularized by Thomas Jefferson, who found the impressively monumental architecture of ancient Rome a suitable model for the newly formed nation. This style was thus a political symbol as well, likening the young United States to the once powerful and influential Roman Republic. Jefferson designed his own home Monticello, the campus of the University of Virginia, and the Capitol of Virginia in this style, using ancient Roman temples as his guide. (Pennsylvania Historical Museum)
George Washington was sometimes called an American Cincinnatus because he too held his command only until the defeat of the British and, at a time when he could have chosen to exercise great political power, instead returned as soon as he could to cultivating his lands. After the end of the Revolutionary War, a group of former officers in the (now) American army formed The Society of the Cincinnati, taking the name from the Roman general. The city of Cincinnati was named after this organization, and a statue of Cincinnatus stands there today.
M.T. Cicero's Cato Major, Franklin's personal favorite from his press, is considered to be the finest example of the printing art in colonial America. Furthermore, this work by the Roman philosopher statesman Cicero is the first classic work translated and printed in North America.
Cicero and Franklin
There was one element of Antiquity that was not a good inspiration and that was slavery.
Thomas Paine stood tall among the founders in that he was against Slavery in the strongest terms, he wrote in 1774:
"To Americans: That some desperate wretches should be willing to steal and enslave men by violence and murder for gain, is rather lamentable than strange. But that many civilized, nay, Christianized people should approve, and be concerned in the savage practice, is surprising; and still persist, though it has been so often proved contrary to the light of nature, to every principle of Justice and Humanity. How shameful are all attempts to excuse it!"

Monday, November 24, 2014

Rome and Jerusalem: Factions and Fanatics

Josephus wrote with blood and guts on his pen. Despite the propaganda element to Josephus you feel and sense the ancient realism and familiarity with disease, destruction, and death. It is an all too human drama of freedom, force, fanatics and tragic fate. Reading Josephus highlights the fact that religious fanaticism existed long before the Islamic extremists in the late 20th century or the Christian Crusaders and Inquisitors of the medieval period. It also reminds the reader that Imperial ambition has existed long before the present superpowers who seek greater security through greater power. Common elements of this Ancient and Modern Drama are: 1. Imperial intervention in the Middle East 2. Monotheistic Religious Zealots 3. Moderates stuck between imperialism and religious zealots 4. Terrorism 5. Factions and Fanatics/Force and Freedom 6. Rome’s inability or refusal to understand Monotheistic sensibilities along with the Fanaticism of certain elements within Monotheism.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Jihadism is not Nihilism

“Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy.” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
"There has to be a clear rejection of this kind of nihilistic ideologies. One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century."
Barack Obama
"There is evil in this world, and we all have come face to face with it once again. Ugly, savage, inexplicable, nihilistic, and valueless evil.
John Kerry on ISIS
ISIS believes in many things not nothing. They believe in Theocracy. ISIS believes in militant political Islam. ISIS believes in Sharia Law. ISIS believes in God. ISIS believes in the Caliphate.
ISIS are religious extremists. Correctly identifying them is one thing but understanding what motivates their extremism is another thing. The motivation and the degrees of it vary. To blame it simply on religion is intellectually weak, to blame it on nihilism is intellectually dishonest. ISIS is more of a reaction to nihilism than it is nihilism.
The issue or topic of ISIS and Islam has been approached with intellectual laziness on both sides of the debate it seems to me. Those who simply claim ISIS is just a bunch of crazy people with a screw loose or those who claim ISIS represents Islamic thought are both simplifying a more complex reality. First ISIS are not nihilists or senseless anarchists as some at the State Department would like you to think. ISIS has an ideological basis and they are religious extremists. Some at the White House and State Department would like people to think of ISIS as nihilists because they feel it is the most outcast terminology they can use but it is a misdiagnosis and intellectually dishonest. They want to cut ISIS off the evolutionary ideological tree of Islam and that is a good goal but it is intellectually dishonest to call them nihilists or claim their ideology is based in nihilistic thought.
Did they forget about Salafism? Wahhabism? Jihadism? These are much more intellectually correct and honest words than what is coming from some government officials. There are to be sure bigots and racists that criticize the religion of Islam based on their prejudice but that does not nullify all legitimate criticism of Islam or strains of Islam.
It would be like if a Stalinist critiqued German Nationalism in the 1930’s and because of that you shied away from critiquing German Nationalism because you did not want to appear siding with Stalinism. It would open you up to being called a Stalinist by simply criticizing German Nationalism. George Orwell one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century was able to critique Fascism, Communism, and Western Imperialism all at the same time. No need to be caged in to one ideological critique. You could be a German Nationalist and not be a Nazi. You could be a critic of German Nationalism or Nazism and not be a Communist. These plain syllogisms must be clear when there is so much intellectual laziness coming from public commentators and government officials.
Most Muslims and religious people do not think like ISIS. The majority of Muslims just want to live in peace. During the Islamic golden age Baghdad was a place of philosophy and medicine (House of Wisdom). Now Baghdad seems far from the House of Wisdom and closer to the House of Horrors. But to call ISIS nihilists is intellectually dishonest. Religious extremism is a problem that needs to be acknowledged.
Jihadism is just a strain of Islam but it is clearly not the totality of Islam. Jihadism is on the evolutionary tree of Islam but it does not represent the essence or totality of Islam. Most Muslims in the world have other interpretations and ways of following their religion without resorting to violence and theocracy. There are other strains like Sufism that offer a broad spiritual experience. No one should claim that Sufism is the totality of Islam though and no one should claim that Jihadism is the totality of Islam either. These are ideological evolutionary strains. Like a benign virus in one being that suddenly becomes a vicious virus when it mutates in another being.
There are many mutations and variables of why one subscribes to Jihadism. Some of the variables are the search for identity, existential crisis, belief in the supernatural, psychological stressors, religious reward or punishment, injustice perceived or real, and so on. Depending on the individual one variable will be more dominant than the other and that you have to study by a case by case process. Now as far as the stated ideological foundation for those that are in ISIS it is clearly religious and it is clearly Jihadism. However their personal motivations may vary.
*** Further reading: Is ISIS an army of nihilists? Just the opposite
"ISIS, however, recoils from such an encounter with doubt. Far from being nihilistic, the followers of ISIS are instead terrified by the empty vistas nihilism reveals. They parade a twisted version of Islam as truth, insisting that death and blood on earth are a necessary sacrifice for the paradise that awaits the religious warrior. Many of Al Qaeda’s and ISIS’s recruits are disaffected young men glad to turn to a thrilling new belief system that walls them off from the danger of nihilism. As George Orwell, among others, pointed out, a similar role has been played by other belief systems, like communism: No matter how violent the deed, it was done in the service of History, the brutal deity of the communist movement. The worldwide caliphate ISIS aims for is a vision just as galvanizing, and just as illusory, as the communist utopia...We know that ISIS scorns the principle of human justice, but by labeling them “nihilist,” comforting as that may be, we ourselves flout plain language."
By Robert Zaretsky and David Mikics

Male Birds Poison Themselves to Appear Sexier—a First

Male Birds Poison Themselves to Appear Sexier—a First

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Death is nothing to us

It was about a year ago I was directly reminded about the fragility of the human body. I was hit on the drivers side of my car by an SUV and my car was totaled. I don't remember being hit until after the impact. Unfortunately I did not have my seat belt on and I cracked my head against the front window. For a couple seconds there was nothing. No time. No space. Nothing. When I came to I did not know what happened but I was able to stumble out of the car and I caught a glimpse of the damage to the car. Not long after I saw the damage the blood starting coming down I was feeling weak and started to lose my strength to stand up. I walked over to the side of the road and laid down. The blood kept coming down. I was not able to open my eyes but a woman stopped and got out of her car and put her sweater around my head to slow down the bleeding.
It was a long night of blood, vomit, stitches, and drugs. Had to wear a neck brace for some time but eventually I recovered just fine. What struck me the most is how consciousness can disappear with a bit of force. How easily it can be extinguished. What a fragile thing consciousness is and when it goes it does not go anywhere from my experience. There is nowhere to go.
I know other people have claimed experiences of visions of light and seeing family members when they brush up against death but for me it was nothing. It was beyond dreams. Not even darkness could penetrate this nothing. For me when my head was thrown against the window hard enough to crack the glass there was nothing. There was no time and no space.
Human consciousness resides in an entanglement of nerves and flesh on a meat stick. If you pay attention nature will remind you of this fact from a stomach virus to blunt force trauma. If you are not killed by forces outside your body you can be sure you will be killed by forces inside your body. If the force from a car or a bullet does not end your consciousness the cells within or the complex web that holds you together will fall apart eventually.
It has been said that when one reads Montaigne’s essays the divide of 400 years of time just disappears. Montaigne is the accessible and human philosopher. No pretense or obfuscation. After my experience I was reading Sarah Bakewell’s book on Montaigne and the description of his loss of consciousness and injury due to falling off his horse particularly resonated with me. Montaigne described it as a loss of consciousness and that the primitive body took over and there was no self when the force impacted his body.
As Sarah Bakewell stated, “He realized, you do not encounter death at all, for you are gone before it gets there. Your existence is attached by a thread; it rests only on the tip of your lips. “
Montaigne wrote,“the fact is that I was not there at all.” He further went on to say “If you don’t know how to die, don’t worry; Nature will tell you what to do on the spot, fully and adequately."
Montaigne wrote, “It seemed to me that my life was hanging only by the tip of my lips; I closed my eyes in order, it seemed to me, to help push it out, and took pleasure in growing languid and letting myself go. It was an idea that was only floating on the surface of my soul, as delicate and feeble as all the rest, but in truth not only free from distress but mingled with that sweet feeling that people have who let themselves slide into sleep.”
Montaigne was knocked off his horse and experienced an Epicurean understanding, the Apostle Paul was knocked off his horse and experienced a Christian vision. After having my head slammed against the car windshield my experience was much closer to Montaigne's. Slipping away into the silent land seemed like a natural thing to do. Death was not a foreign supernatural substance or being but a natural event in this play we call life.
Despite the signs pointing to personal annihilation and extinction being the the most likely outcome many humans still refuse to read the signs and instead turn their heads toward the superstitious noises coming from other primates.
Epicurus - "Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not."
Michel de Montaigne - Nature compels us to it. "Go out of this world," says she, "as you entered into it; the same pass you made from death to life, without passion or fear, the same, after the same manner, repeat from life to death. Your death is a part of the order of the universe, 'tis a part of the life of the world.
"Of all the world's wonders, which is the most wonderful? That no man, though he sees others dying all around him, believes that he himself will die." Yudhishtara answers Dharma, from "The Mahabharata"
CICERO says "that to study philosophy is nothing but to prepare one's self to die."

Friday, October 10, 2014


There are some beliefs that depend on keeping your view narrow and limited. The more it expands and encompasses...the less the belief seems reasonable and does not fit into a larger narrative.

Friday, October 3, 2014


There are some beliefs that depend on narrowing and confining your view. The more the view expands the belief fails to encompass the whole of reality. On policy makers who deal only in numbers and not the weight of human suffering: I am impressed by your bureaucratic indifference and borderline solipsism. I am not impressed by your lack of compassion and empathy.