Sunday, September 27, 2009

on trying to see reality I

Beauty is the in the cutting through/the liberation from the illusions our minds build up. Our minds build up illusions, systems that we use to operate in the world. But utility has a price—we become addicted, we become dependent on formula, routine. The systems we at first freely chose, become our prisons, our chains. But, sometimes, a new experience will cut away the chains, tear down the prison walls, and set us free. Beauty is found in the cutting through. The more powerful the original formula, the deeper is the beauty that liberates us.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Education and Work

The big problem in our schools today is NOT mandatory standardized tests. The big problem is that educational policy, (and overall federal policy), is too closely linked to corporate interests. Our schools are designed on a corporate model. Mandatory standardized tests are simply a tool corporations use to streamline their control.

Schools have been designed on a corporate model for hundreds of years now, since the industrial revolution. The difference is the economy. During the industrial revolution, when the vast majority of workers were either farmers or factory workers, it made a lot of sense to require everyone to learn to read and learn basic arithmetic. Without these skills, you could not operate factory equipment, and therefore were mortgaging your future economic possibilities.

This is no longer the case. Factory jobs make up an increasingly small segment of our economy today. We are a post-industrial economy now. Our economy no longer depends on factory output. Communication, team-work and computer literacy are now more important than reading, writing and arithmetic. The service industry is replacing manufacturing jobs; “.com” has dethroned Steel as king of Wall Street.

Corporations use GPA requirements, attendance requirements, and mandatory standardized tests to separate the “winners” from the “losers”. The winners get scholarships, and, after college, get to pick the profession they want. This is perfectly fair. The vast majority of these people work hard and deserve what they are given. It’s the “losers” that get shafted. The problem is that they are forced to play the game, even if they have no interest in it. Let me say that again—they are forced to attend classes, forced to accumulate a GPA, and forced to take standardized tests, whether or not they have an interest in doing so. We don’t force kids who don’t want to compete at football to play football. We don’t force kids who don’t want to compete at swimming to learn to swim. We don’t force kids who don’t want to compete at acting to do theater. Why do we force kids who don’t want to compete for scholarships and corporate salaries to be graded and ranked with students who do?

This idea that grades=education is 1.) inherently ridiculous (no one’s come up with a proven procedure for bettering society) 2.) dangerous for our futures (innovation is more likely with unhindered variety, not perfected conformity). GPAs are great for students who want to show others their ability to excel and determination to work hard. But for others, why do we insist on 1.) wasting so much of their time, then 2.) telling them that the only way for them to better themselves is to “go back to school and make up for their mistakes”?

Why is unemployment considered a bad thing? (Well, because the investing class wants to maintain its current monopoly on our country’s wealth.) But there are plenty of productive activities that don’t require an extensive resume to work on. Make a movie! Or start something within your community. The open-source and free culture movements are growing rapidly through the internet.

People seem to have this idea that everyone needs a corporate or government-funded job. Purposeful work is extremely important to any good life. But purposeful work does not have to be in service to increasing GDP. Working within that systems can be ok. But the far more important message schools should send is, whether full-time or when you’re home from your “real job”, find some work you can honestly say that you love.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

God, Agape and Eros

In Plato’s Symposium, each guest is invited to give a speech on the nature of Love (Eros). After Agathon makes an elaborate speech praising the beauty of the god Eros, it is at last Socrates’ turn. At first he declines speaking though, claiming that his opinion would not fit in with the others’ claim that Eros was a great and beautiful god. His argument rests on the fact that the defining quality of Eros is desire, and that one cannot possess what she desires. [If we have good health and say we also desire good health, what we mean is that we desire the continuation of good health into the future.] So we cannot possess something and desire it at the same time.

Since the object of Eros’ desire is beauty, Eros itself does not possess beauty. And since all gods possess goodness and beauty, neither is Eros a god. Socrates recounts his teacher Diotima’s explanation:

"What then is Love?" I asked; "Is he mortal?" "No." "What then?" "As in the former instance, he is neither mortal nor immortal, but in a mean between the two." "What is he, Diotima?" "He is a great spirit (daimon), and like all spirits he is intermediate between the divine and the mortal." "And what," I said, "is his power?" "He interprets," she replied, "between gods and men… he is the mediator who spans the chasm which divides them… For God mingles not with man; but through Love all the intercourse, and converse of god with man, whether awake or asleep, is carried on. The wisdom which understands this is spiritual; all other wisdom, such as that of arts and handicrafts, is mean and vulgar. Now these spirits or intermediate powers are many and diverse, and one of them is Love. "And who," I said, "was his father, and who his mother?" "The tale," she said, "will take time; nevertheless I will tell you.

“On the birthday of Aphrodite there was a feast of the gods, at which the god Poros or Plenty, who is the son of Metis or Discretion, was one of the guests. When the feast was over, Penia or Poverty, as the manner is on such occasions, came about the doors to beg. Now Plenty who was the worse for nectar (there was no wine in those days), went into the garden of Zeus and fell into a heavy sleep, and Poverty considering her own straitened circumstances, plotted to have a child by him, and accordingly she lay down at his side and conceived love, who partly because he is naturally a lover of the beautiful, and because Aphrodite is herself beautiful, and also because he was born on her birthday, is her follower and attendant. And as his parentage is, so also are his fortunes. In the first place he is always poor, and anything but tender and fair, as the many imagine him; and he is rough and squalid, and has no shoes, nor a house to dwell in; on the bare earth exposed he lies under the open heaven, in-the streets, or at the doors of houses, taking his rest; and like his mother he is always in distress. Like his father too, whom he also partly resembles, he is always plotting against the fair and good; he is bold, enterprising, strong, a mighty hunter, always weaving some intrigue or other, keen in the pursuit of wisdom, fertile in resources; a philosopher at all times, terrible as an enchanter, sorcerer, sophist. He is by nature neither mortal nor immortal, but alive and flourishing at one moment when he is in plenty, and dead at another moment, and again alive by reason of his father's nature. But that which is always flowing in is always flowing out, and so he is never in want and never in wealth; and, further, he is in a mean between ignorance and knowledge.

The error in your conception of him was very natural, and as I imagine from what you say, has arisen out of a confusion of love and the beloved, which made you think that love was all beautiful. For the beloved is the truly beautiful, and delicate, and perfect, and blessed; but the principle of love is of another nature, and is such as I have described."

So Eros is not a god, nor even good and fair. He is the offspring of Plenty and Poverty, sometimes reflecting one, sometimes the other. He is a philosopher, a seeker of beauty and wisdom.

Agape love, charitable love, however, is possessing of goodness and beauty. 1 John 4:8 even claims that God is this charitable kind of love, (and what God is, must be good and beautiful.)

Have to pull out a Stephen Colbert Wag of My Finger to the 12th century monk who translated 1 John from the Greek as “God is love” rather than “God is charity.” I believe this is the root of a lot of confusion in modern Christianity. “God is Love” is perhaps the shortest possible summary of Jesus’s teachings, but it is a bad translation. I think the common perception among most Christians is that “yeah, I know the difference between “agape” love (charity/God’s love) and “eros” love (romantic love), but they are similar in a lot of ways, (after all they’re both love.)” Even Pope Benedict in his first Encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” claims that “God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape.” Plato would disagree. God’s love cannot be Eros, because God already possesses goodness and beauty. Agape and Eros, while both are important parts of a good life, are not really similar at all. Eros is seeking, wanting, desiring--Agape is enjoyment, beauty, and happiness. “God is charity” or “God is charitable love” is a better translation.