Sunday, May 28, 2017

On the Paradox of Transcendence and Self-Idolatry on Human Dynamics

I visited a Lutheran church at the end of May, 2017 in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, began by Luther in 1517. Sitting down in a pew, I was touched, literally and emotionally, by an elderly woman behind me, who straightened my collar even though we had not met or even spoken. Interestingly, the emphasis there is worship of a God for His Love. Interesting interpersonal dynamics can be associated with a transcendental orientation--radically changing the notion of social distance, rendering people ironically more human.

The week before, I had visited a Unitarian church. Its president offered to give me a ride home after the picnic, but then he reneged without caring to inform me of his "change of heart" after he heard me tell a couple of people that in my view as a scholar of religion, secular humanism is not a religion due to the lack of a transcendent dimension or element (even if some humanists suppose otherwise). The "minister," also a secular humanist, days later minimized/overlooked her president's rudeness and childishness. "You probably hit a nerve," she told me, as if that would justify leaving me in the lurch. The lack of humanism was ironic, given the humanist focus of the service.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Police Day at the University (i.e., just another day)

Police day at the university. Just a table or two in one of the tents, actually, among other campus and local groups at a "safety fest" of sorts. So we see here a disproportionate display of police power in the line of vehicles, with a jeep yet to come; it would be strategically parked on the grass diagonal to two walkways. A showing off of the hardware; a beating of the proverbial chests by the alpha males.  Overwhelming, perhaps, on a college campus? Just a tad. But no mind. Literally, no mind. Passive aggression is the basic instinct on display in this picture. 

The night before the morning of the picture shown above, I biked home from that very spot on campus. On my way, I saw three campus security cars in a campus parking lot with their lights flashing, then about half a mile from there two police cars, again with lights flashing--the police talking to a driver, then on a residential street not far from there I stopped because a policeman was scouring me from a distance with his spotlight--apparently riding a bike at 9:30 pm is somehow suspicious in a residential area. I stopped immediately to wait for him to leave the area ahead, but this only aroused his "curiosity" so he turned around and made a beeline for me. The primitives are not exactly subtle. I just watched him pass--holding my phone with camera ready. Then about a half mile from there I looked into the headlights of a parked police car parked in a small parking area at a minor intersection--presumably the guy was poised to spring on a speeding car. I had had enough. Just before I turned right, I instinctively gave him a Nazi salute. Tucson is a police state, so the instinct was right, but I was stupid to use my free speech in this way. Day in and day out, seeing police seemingly at every turn--even on a university campus!--I had had enough of the police state. In fact, I had taken residential streets to avoid the omnipresence. But alas, they are everywhere in Tucson--except in the foothills, where the rich people live. Otherwise, Tucson is a hole, a junk city. By the time I reached my apartment, I was overwhelmed by the overkill, so I knocked on my neighbor's door to chat with her; she was not at all surprised to hear my report.

The sad thing is: the local creepers who seek to dominate--the weak, that is, who erroneously count themselves as strong--don't even realize how uncomfortable they are making daily life for the locals, as well as students and faculty at the local university. How in the world could showing an overwhelming presence at a broader safety fest somehow make all this better than worse? "I'm in your face; deal with it."

Take a look at the picture and ask yourself--how comfortable will the student be who was stopped--he told me--by two campus security cars with lights flashing for riding on a campus sidewalk ALONE late one night, or the student who got the attention of THREE squad-cars for starting up on his bike as the light was turning from red to green, again ON A UNIVERSITY CAMPUS.  I have asked students: do you think the security employees are so clueless, or are they intentionally pushing themselves, not caring in the least that they are making people uncomfortable on campus?  Invariably, the students are confident of the latter. I think both are true.

The upshot: Do not live in Tucson, Arizona. It is a police state.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Comet’s Cosmic Song: Evidence of Plato’s Justice as Harmony of the Spheres?

On September 30, 2016, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft ended its mission orbiting Comet 67P. The mission added knowledge on how planets came together and how life arrived on Earth. “One of Rosetta’s key findings is that comets are probably not the source of Earth’s water.”[1] I submit that of even greater importance is a finding that can be indexed as philosophical in nature.

In particular, the European Space Agency “released audio of a ‘cosmic song,’ created by the magnetic fields oscillating in the trail of particles flying off the comet.”[2] In particular, movements in the comet’s Magnetic field are caused by solar particles hitting and electrically charging the comet’s atmosphere. The “song” resembles the sounds that whales make. Perhaps it resonates with our music as well. For one thing, the beat of the cosmic song is regular and the pitch varies from “note” to “note.”

Philosophically, the finding may confirm Plato’s theory of justice as “the harmony of the spheres” being in line with the harmonies of a well-ordered city (polis) and mind (psyche). Justice “just is” the harmony between and within these three things—the universe, the city, and the mind. The harmony, as with our music, has mathematical aspects (e.g., low, middle, and high notes, of intervals of duration (e.g., eighth, quarter, half, and full notes).  The comet’s “cosmic song” adds to the accumulating empirical support for Plato’s theory.

It would be really astounding were the mathematical-musical vibrations of a reason-ordering-the-passions human mind and the vibrations of a reason-ordered city in sync with the vibrations given off by suns, planets, and comets—with those respective mathematical-musical vibrations in harmony with each other. That such a confluence is itself just blows the mind.

The implication is that keeping your passions under the control of your reasoning ability puts you in a very subtle sense in harmony with the “cosmic song” of the observed comet. Perhaps people enjoy music so much because it can serve as a mediator helping the mind to be well-ordered (hence suitable for order-imposing reasoning) and in sync with the harmonies of the heavenly spheres, including comets. It is worthwhile simply pondering how justice as we typically construe the term boils down to that “syncness.”

[1] Kenneth Chang, “Rosetta Mission Ends With Spacecraft’s Dive Into Comet,” The New York Times, September 30, 2016.
[2] Ibid.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

God's Gold

Stepping away from the obtuse academic writing that characterizes a treatise such as Godliness and Greed, I have written a book entitled God's Gold, which is geared to general college-educated readers who are interested in the topic of Christian takes historically on how greed is related to profit-seeking and wealth. In the text, I try to explain why the historical trajectory in dominant Christian attitudes towards profits and wealth moved from anti-wealth to pro-wealth. Did the religion stray, or is a pro-wealth view stitched into the very fabric of the religion? Put another way, how much are Christian theology and ethics of the world rather than merely in it? What can business practitioners who self-identify as Christian do to keep their work and compensation free from the taint of greed? The book is geared to answering these questions.