Saturday, 21 February 2009

Love and the Divine (2)

I was talking about a sense of "unconditional love" yesterday. In thinking about how I or others might experience this, I must confront the nature of the religious experience, and other similar experience in my life.

I have always set great store by the rational as the only chance we have of any quantifiable assessment of anything. Accordingly, like my father, I have been attracted to belief systems like Spiritualism, precisely because they offered something observable, where others simply offered theoretical constructs which, if you had no "Road To Damascus" episode of your own by way of coroboration, would either ring true or not.
Until the recent resurgence of my own interest in this area, I had put my general God experiences on the back burner, and I would talk of having no religious faith, while rather envying the certainties of those who do, not because they were necessarily true, but because of how good it must feel to be certain about something.
However, thinking about it, it's clear that I do have some certainties of my own, although they are a very long way from the user's manual which some brandish in the face of those who don't share their certainties. My point being?
My point being that these "certainties" of mine are not coming to me via my old friend rationality; they are coming to me via the mysterious input of spirit/emotion, depending on your viewpoint. I now have to face the fact that I am probably more certain of these convictions than I am of my rational conclusions and opinions. These latter are, and I think should be, fairly plastic, depending as they do on my own ability to substantiate them. To me, an opinion is only as good as my ability to justify it. In the rational realm, if I don't know why I believe something to be true, then there's nothing to discuss. So, personally, my opinions are, or should be, subject to change based on the daily accretion of experience and information.
But that Divine stuff is a whole other thing. I know it's true for me simply because it is, I feel it to be so. Many have gone to their death for the sake of a conviction which they could never prove by logical argument. So I have to face the fact that my faith, vague generalised thing that it is, is a new kind of certainty for me. In fact, it's the only kind of certainty for me because the rational world is subject to continuous revision. Tomorrow, some physicist might prove that everything we have believed about mass and energy is plain wrong, or at best a massive over-simplification. But that would do nothing to change my recollection of the real presence of limitless love which hit me in the chest while walking in the Malvern Hills, or during a school church service.

Coming back, eventually, to unconditional love, I find myself viewing it differently when thinking about it via what passes for my rationality, as opposed to feeling it.

In rational mode, unconditional love may make me start worrying about my unworthiness of it; or I might start thinking of the dangers of people believing they are loved as of right, making any conduct acceptable.
But unconditional love as I experience it is a thing of pure joy, which comes with no such worries attached. It simply exists, both as the Divine, and as an echo of that divinity for those of us who are lucky enough to find flashes of it in our lives through our human interactions, both as giver and receiver.

If that's a dichotomy, I just have to live with it, because the world is a place in which, improbable as it sounds, love exists, I am loved, and I am capable of expressing love, however imperfectly. On the occasions when I can do that, I feel most in tune with those numinous episodes; most aware that, whatever the ultimate truth is, it couldn't be better. In the face of that, the rational will simply have to learn to sit at the back and keep quiet occasionally.


Friday, 20 February 2009

Love and the Divine

When we compare just about any of our experiences with someone else's, we are confronted by similarity and difference. So what do we feel about the Divine in our lives? Does it have any meaning for you at all? If so, is it personal, or just some kind of spiritual force? If it's personal, does it have a sense of gender as in God or Goddess? And a final question: to what do you attribute any answers you might have to the previous questions - a particular religious experience, a general conviction that this is simply how it is, or just your faith in what you have been taught by people you trust, which seems to have worked out in your life?

My personal view and some explanation of it goes like this.
The only religious experiences I have had are vague in character, but no less convincing for that. I have been given glimpses of something much too vast in scope for me to think of it as a person. However, the whole emanation of it is devastatingly unconditional love, and that's it. No exhortations as to what I should believe or what I should be; just the real presence of unconditional love at the heart of everything, including me. Vague, as I said, because that's where it stops.

It seems to me that our experience of the Divine, if we have one, is tailored to our idividual needs or temperament. Tailored by us or by the divine as an external entity?

Some people view this as a monumental exercise in wishful thinking. We need a deity for various reasons, so we individually create one (him/her/it). Put rather more charitably, the divine is a projection of something within us - at best, our highest aspirations; at worst an inner voice that gives us sanction from on high to indulge our particular psychosis.

I feel a lot more to say coming on: Does the Deity have agency in the universe, or does free will preclude it, and/or is the deity we believe in only allowed to do good things?

If you sense my confusion, you're dead right. But, in back of all this, I know my confusion's OK because of the in some ways huge, but in some ways extremely unspecific, thing I do believe. This may be a mini series, or may be addressed via comments.



Sunday, 8 February 2009

Perspective, prejudice, and constructive conversation

Pop Matters recently ran a review of a documentary called "The American Ruling Class".
This started me thinking about where we get such perceptions from, and how best to learn from our differences, rather than being divided by them.

Within a society, whether we choose to use the word "class" or not, we will have perceptions of others based on their power and status compared to our own. Such judgments inevitably colour our relationships, at least in their initial stages, particularly if we're unaware of assumptions we're making, based on upbringing, peer pressure ETC.
I would suggest that the same process goes on between one society and another. This leads us to have attitudes towards, for instance, "The French", "The British", or "The Americans". Many stereotypes contain a useful grain of truth of course, and we can't help generalising based on what is, for most of us, extremely limited experience. But if we rate being constructive more highly than mud slinging, however enjoyable mud slinging certainly can be, there are a few things that occur to me.

On what are we basing these nationalist attitudes?
A lifetime of dedicated research, or the general feeling that:
"I sense you don't like me, so fuck you!"?
A government may have done something of which we profoundly disapprove:
E.G Invading Suez like the British did, invading Panama like the americans did, or invading Czecho-slovakia like the russians did - all highly dubious undertakings in my opinion. Or maybe we just don't like the food.

An individual act, or attribute, real or imaginary, is no basis for a serious "attitude" to another nation. The Germans are not Word War II: They are a bunch of people with more in common with everyone else than not, just trying to get by.

We are usually brought up to take pride in our country of origin. If we're going to be able to talk sensibly to people from other countries, then both sides of the conversation need to understand that national pride is at stake, and might run a deal deeper for some than others. What is the nature of our patriotism? Affection, defensiveness, a sense of superiority? Certainly, in every country I've visited there are things to be admired, but nowhere have I found a monopoly on righteousness, including, of course, my own country of origin. I think we need to be extremely careful in getting our sense of self-worth mixed up with our national pride. If we do that, anyone who chooses, however ill-foundedly, to find fault with our country, is finding fault with us personally, which probably was not their intention.

Something that appeals to me as an idea is to try to understand how it might feel to be a citizen of somewhere else, as a way of enhancing the discourse, rather than getting it bogged down at the first hurdle.
For example, as a Brit, I live on a very small island which once had a disproportionate amount of military and economic power, and has now lost most of it. When talking to a US citizen, I'm talking to someone who lives in a vast continental land mass, which has long embodied the highest political ideals to which humanity can aspire, has often failed by virtue of its sheer human frailty, and now faces the eclipse of its own power, so long unquestioned and unquestionable, by other nations.

Now subjectivist cann legitimately claim that it's hard enough to know how we feel ourselves, without getting into how it feels to be someone else.
However, national boundaries are becoming less and less significant in terms of our ability to communicate with one another. Such boundaries are and always were purely accidents of history and war, and have been maintained for economic and military reasons by governments whom it suits to convince their populations that the nation state is some kind of mystical entity.

I'm preaching against nationalism only insofar as I believe it increasingly does more harm than good, militates against equity in the world, and divides us as individuals. We as individuals are far more important than the nations from which we spring.


Sunday, 1 February 2009

Intro and welcome

Welcome to Tangentville. This is my space for floating my ideas in hope of constructive feedback.

The tangential nature of this blog is something of a double meaning, since I have something of a grass hopper brain, and I'm totally blind, so the universe in which I live is inevitably a fairly tactile place.

Feel free to join in, and take advantage of the unique opportunity with which the Net provides us for expanding our horizons.

I look forward to hearing from you.


After Davos: Consumerism and affluence

In the light of the prognostications of the great and the good in Davos, I wonder if this is just a holding operation, or can we really expect governments, with their horizons ever circumscribed by the date of the next election, to contemplate change?

My feeling that change, and radical change, is necessary, is based on an analysis which is no doubt extremely suspect, based as it is on following international news, and only one year of college economics a very long time ago.

As a general comment on the nature of Tangentville, I should say here that I put my thoughts out there largely to expose them to scrutiny by those with other ideas, and particularly those better informed than I. Please never confuse the way in which I express my opinions in an attempt to be clear, with any pretensions to their authority.

Since the mysterious convergence of circumstances which produced the Industrial Revolution here in the UK around the middle of the 1700s, the means by which international trade is financed have become ever more complex over time. Not even nations with a vast land mass, natural resources, and/or population, such as the USA, Canada, Russia, China or Australia, can be entirely self-sufficient. There will always be something they need to import, and this will have to be paid for. At the same time, the whole thing is predicated on growth, which means producing more than your home market can consume. Thus, you have to create export markets for your manufactured goods or raw materials.

As one nation after another has hit the trail to industrialisation, we have all hitched our wagons to growth as the most obvious source of motive power. Naturally, we have concentrated our output on those who can afford to pay for it. Once the basics have been purchased, you need to start persuading people they need things they didn't know they needed. Ploys such as planned obsolescence and fashion can also be employed to create space for the ever growing expansion of manufactured output.

Even if the target market is drawn from the relatively affluent of the world, there will surely come a time when the third TV required to keep the TV industry going cannot be afforded. That's OK; you don't need to have money, because some kind institution will lend it to you at a rate of interest determined by the market, skewed by intereventions from industry or government.
The system, if so it may be described, would continue to work as long as the amount of stuff people needed was limitless, and the amount of money available to finance consumer debt was equally limitless.

Naturally, neither of these propositions can be true.
The fact that we have all continued to act as if they were true strikes me as extraordinary. Could we all have been guilty of such a monumental feat of wishful thinking? I suspect that those with much better financial brains than mine knew very well that those wagons would hit the buffers eventually. I think they just hoped their terminal bonus would be in the bank before that happened.

So now what? Are we simply hoping for a new and better conjurer to come along and find new ways of helping the affluent to acquire ever more stuff? I think not. My feeling is that this particular party is almost over, and I've heard that said by financial experts who are certainly not hysterical apocalyptics. In its final throws, the whole edifice has been sustained on money which either does not exist, or does not belong to the people spending it.

As I already suggested, industrialisation made globalisation inevitable. Producers of goods and services, raw materials, and consumers are all totally inter-dependent. China and India, the new power houses of this century, could not exist without the markets of the old industrialised world to sell to, and we need them as markets for our technology and expertise. In that sense, any ideas of retrenchment and protectionism are doomed to failure, because they would simply prompt retaliation, and everyone would lose in the end.

So far, globalisation has meant selective selling to those with money or access to it in the illusory form of credit.

Fondly idealistic or not, moving the economic base of the world to include people who really need things seems to me to be the only truly global way forward. Rather than sustaining the unsustainable, we need a way of diverting the world's massive productive power into doing something useful, so that more people can get a decent crack of the whip. This means reallocating resources, which inevitably means less superfluity for those of us who have grown accustomed to it. That's the reason for my pessimism about politicians' preparedness to grasp this particular nettle. Their problem is that I think this is the only real nettle worth grasping when it comes to providing the whole world rather than a portion of it with some kind of future, which allows access to health and opportunity for its citizens, and allows people of good conscience to sleep at night.