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Altruism and Materialism

The careers advisory board has revealed that young people at present prefer to seek work that will principally make a difference.  Work with a purpose greater than simply serving one’s self.  This is at odds with what the generally accepted wisdom currently is.  We have recently lived through an era marked by Thatcher’s privatisation of public services; Milton Friedman’s assertion that the greater good is best served by companies always seeking growth and the benefit of their shareholders above all else; Gordon Gekko’s ‘Greed is good’; and Ayn Rand’s philosophy that through devolution of responsibility to our own selfish interests the greater good of the whole is served by all members of society focussing on the mote in their own eye.
In a world where we are all surrounded by materialism proclaimed on every billboard, and the quest for the latest and greatest technology as soon as it is released, it seems surprising that those who are now entering the job market have their attention focussed on a more altruistic end than earning enough money to take part in the 20th century model of consumerism.  Over time a pattern has been revealed whereby times of prosperity are marked by self interest, and times of recession are marked by altruism.  Naturally the committed capitalists will cite this as evidence that self interest causes prosperity and altruism leads to recession but living through the current economic downturn it is plainly obvious that altruism is a response to the uncertainty of a world in which there is not enough to go around.
Go back further to World War 2 and we are all familiar with the tales of the blitz spirit.  As everyone was forced into terrible conditions by the constant barrage of doodlebugs sent over from Germany the city dwellers of England drew together with such bonds of camaraderie that many people have looked back fondly upon the war.  Our basic humanity will not allow us to sit idly by while others suffer.  Likewise our basic understanding of justice will not allow us to give excessive pity to those who exhibit their failure to contribute during good times because they are drunk on cheap cider in the doorways of derelict houses.  We are well able to tell the difference between those who are undeserving of poverty and those who should be able to escape it by an effort of will power.  There may be some who do not care at all about the poor under any situation and there are also those who will go out of their way to help others no matter what the situation but these are the outliers.  The vast majority of average people seem to react by helping those in need during hard times and helping themselves during good times.
It would seem that there may be something in the philosophy of selfishness, but only in times when society is running on an even keel.  When society is experiencing times of hardship then the philosophy subconsciously followed by average people is far closer to the ideals of Marx.  The pattern is observed not because people have made a conscious decision to follow one economic model or another but because it is inbuilt at the most basic evolutionary level.  If society is ok then we do not need to worry about society; we can focus on our own well being.  When society is falling apart then we had better start worrying because we live in society and society surrounds us; if society goes then we all go.  This is something with which we have had to live for millennia.  We know it is a tendency and need that has been constant for millennia because that is what is necessary to cause it to become part of our psyche.
Intellectually there may be many reasons to ignore the sea change in popular consciousness that has been recognised by the careers advisory board but it is hard to ignore the similarity with the flux of the cycle of revolution outlined by Crane Brinton in his anatomy of revolution (1938).  Without the change in thought and approach that has been shown by jobseekers the financial breakdown would lead to the organisation of the discontented before impossible demands were made on those who rule.  The shift in popular consciousness may well be a safety valve protecting this from being an inevitability.  The mass consciousness becomes a hive mentality that has evolved to seek the survival of society as a whole.
Where until recently happiness has been sought by the satisfaction of material desires the goal posts are continually moving.  It has been proven that in countries with greater economic equality there is a greater sense of happiness but in those where there is a great gap between the rich and the poor there is far greater dissatisfaction.  Satisfaction of material desire is relative.  Mankind strives to keep up with the Jones’s to satisfy their desires.  This is what the entire conspicuous consumption supporting our consumer society depends upon.  This is the greed that Gordon Gekko and more recently Boris Johnson have been telling us is good.  This is the driver that has propelled our economic success thus far.  The reason it is dying now is because it is futile.
Just as someone suffering from depression has simply given up under the futility of fighting the slings and arrows of ebbing fortune, the mass of popular society has given up on trying to reach the unattainable carrot that is being pulled further and further out of its reach.  The wealthy are now known as ‘the one per cent’.  They are separate from the rest of us and they have decided the way to maintain society’s wealth is to allow us, the 99 per cent, to have less of the wealth.  Society is no longer wasting its energy trying to reach a dangling carrot; society is scrabbling in the dirt for whatever crumbs have fallen with which it may sustain itself.  There will still be some of the poor who will attain wealth but for most people there will never be the attainment of anything close to the kind of wealth that exists within gated communities and marble towers.  For some people the attainment of enough wealth to buy a week’s worth of food is out of reach.
That is why happiness and fulfilment is being sought in altruism.  Happiness through satisfaction of material desires is no longer practicable on a societal scale.  The vox populi is singing a different tune.  The old order will either be forgotten or if the dinosaurs do not listen it may be overthrown.  Whatever happens, there is definitely change ahead.
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Drug abusers or drug users?

I think a big part of the problem with modern drug use/abuse is that in order to grow we must test boundaries to discover what is safe and what is not. We must experiment. I do not mean specifically pertaining to drugs but just in general. While we are at a young age we experience. We learn the meaning of things by testing the boundaries. We live in a world of dualities. We reach towards pleasure naturally but often find that this causes the consequence that we are pushed towards pain. Drug misuse many would say, is a choice, it is the choice to follow our natural evolutionary instinct to learn about our environment. When drugs take hold of you you no longer have that choice, then I think it has many parallels with disease in that it disrupts the ease with which one approaches life.  It fits the etymology of the word and can legitimately be characterised as a disease.

There are solutions of course. In our youth we are seeking sensation, we wish to go to the boundaries of pleasure and pain because we have a need built into us by evolution to map the limits of experience. People can tell us what they are but we cannot understand by being told, we can only understand by experiencing. In older age, maturity, we are far more willing to take things on faith. Someone will tell us something and we will be able to compare it to analogous experiences we have had and understand it through analogy and metaphor. We do not need experience so much then. We do not need the heights of ecstasy we were seeking earlier. We would be content to just be, but we are not. Either we have become habituated to the use of drugs or there is something that is preventing us achieving our natural equilibrium.

Psychological discomfort is something that the mature drug user is constantly trying to combat. The cause of psychological discomfort is the discordance between the world in which the biology of his brain has evolved and the world in which his brain now inhabits its body. People are not built to fit into the modern world. Drug use has been heavy for centuries and perhaps millennia into totally different worlds but it is becoming more widespread the further we move from our original state of nature.

People who ‘abuse’ drugs are not drug abusers. They are self medicators trying to find a solution for not fitting into the modern world. For not understanding it. In every environment we have entered throughout hundreds of thousands of years we have always lived according to Darwin’s principle of survival of the fittest. The human population becomes trapped in an environment with certain conditions and the maladjusted cannot deal with the change in their natural environment with the result that the strongest survive and the weak die out. The modern world of bureaucracy and forms and pollution, etc, is one of the most extreme environments that we have ever found ourselves placed in during our entire evolution on this planet. It is a world created by this new organ we have been developing, the sentient brain. As a construct of the sentient brain it is naturally the sentient brain that is the tool that is needed to negotiate it, but being a new organ in evolutionary terms it is still evolving.

There is nothing wrong with the maladjusted brain. It is not broken, it is merely suitable for a different environment but the problem is that the well adjusted brains are creating the environment and they are creating an environment in which they will flourish. evolution does not promote the survival of the fittest whilst killing of the unfit in humans anymore. Our humanity causes us to care for our maladjusted members and thus they survive. Unfortunately while their bodies are given the opportunity to live within tolerable limits their brains are the issue and brains are not well understood so these member of our society self medicate with drugs.  Drugs that are illegal only on account of the tendency to be habit forming or open to abuse due to their nature of creating extremes of sensation that are the reason for their potential to cause addiction.

Those who do not ‘abuse’ drugs live their life without ‘abuse’ for two reasons. 1) they are the well adjusted inheritors of the world. Or 2) they do not self medicate because a doctor prescribes alternative drugs that do not have the unfortunate side effect of creating extremes of sensation. This is what most mature people want. They do not want extremes of sensation. They just wish to avoid the knowledge that they are living in a world that has been created by determined, intelligent, mercenary people when they would rather be living in a natural world that had not been reformed by human will. There are huge amounts of drug users being given mind altering prescriptions by the medical services. The only difference between those on these substances and the mature users of illicit substances is that one is prescribed by a doctor and the other is prescribed by a lost soul in a world not of their making. One is no more or less an abuser than the other.

Of course it is plain that these people who do not fit into the modern world love many of the features of the modern world. I.e., computers, televisions, etc. Who wouldn’t love these things? However, if you were to take all these thing away and eradicate the memory of them and place those people in a peaceful 18th century country side environment then they would find themselves psychologically far more easily adjusted to their environment. It is true there were many physical hardships in those times but in general people’s minds had greater strength back then. The people in the modern world if exposed to those kind of hardships would be far less able to cope due to the additional weight of all they experience in the modern day.

God?

The following is the response I made to someone’s comments regarding the nature of God on Google+  I imagine if you are interested in finding the full conversation you can do a search on Google+ but I did not consider my previous entries to be important enough to affect the following writing that it was necessary to ask the other speaker for permission to publish the conversation.  If he has a particularly interesting reply to the following that I then follow up on then I may ask his permission to publish the conversation in its entirety.

The topic is the nature of God.  Which I do not believe to be an anthropomorphically imagined old man sitting in the sky with a long white beard.  Such, is a ludicrous idea that is far less appealing than believing in Santa Claus.  I believe God instead to be infinite and omnipresent; to a contemporary reader a good starting point would be to consider the Force in StarWars though that is far more limited in conception than what I consider God to be as well.  Anyway, read on.

Those who say they have a degree of understanding of god say they could explain it to us but we would simply be unable to understand.  That is why spiritual masters seem to be somewhat inscrutable, instead of explaining to us in words they try to prepare us.  They treat us like children until we are ready to understand and then we realise all by ourselves.

Language is precise enough to explain how to build a computer but if you were to explain it to a 5 year old would he be able to build a computer?  Lead him into a certain pattern of life though and 20 years later down the line he might become an engineer at Apple.  We are like children spiritually, we have to grow and learn, then we won’t need people to understand because we will realise when we are ready.  The destination is not the point, the journey is the point.  If life was all about the destination then we would be constantly hoping to die as soon as possible because what else is the final destination in life, but people prefer to walk in parklands and drink wine, to read books and chat with friends.  These are all about the journey, not the destination.

The development of greater understanding does not belittle what we have learnt before.  I read the Lord of the rings when I was nine, I loved it but when I read it when I was in my twenties it seemed like a completely different book.  Instead of loving the first two books the most as I had before, I enjoyed the third book far more.  This did not take away the enjoyment I had when I was nine though.  Everything that happens on the journey is of importance.  Often when we progress we find that what we left behind was what we really wanted all along.  Consider youth, when we are very young we wish to be grown up but when we are grown up we realise we are closer to death and those childhood years are irredeemably behind us.

As for your problem with God being outside the universe he can be outside the universe and inside the universe at the same time, that is what omnipresent means.  The whole point with God is that he isn’t limited by the same things that limit us.  For instance, we are held to the ground by gravity.  Imagine hypothetically that there were such a thing as anthropomorphic Gods; perhaps Thor the god of thunder.  Now if he hypothetically existed, and you imagined his existence then do you think that he would be limited by gravity in the same way as us?  If I remember my comic books Thor would throw his hammer and it would pull him through the air.  Ludicrous, but this is hypothetical.   I will be surprised if you should imagine that such a mythical god as Thor, god of thunder would be limited in the same way as us.  If he were then he would more likely be something like Thor, god of serving tables at cafe rouge on Brighton pier or Thor god of installing broadband for Virgin in region 14.  Not really what a god is traditionally thought to be.  But lets escape the idea of such a ridiculous image as an anthropomorphic god conjured up to explain the rumblings in the sky as a member of a vast pantheon.

Having established to my own satisfaction at least even if not yours that a god is by definition not limited in the same way as human beings to obeyance of physical laws may I ask you what you think about mathematics.  It occurs to me that mathematics must exist because without it I could not work out how to pay my bills yet even the mathematicians themselves admit that they work with imaginary members.  Mathematics can exist even when you do not have things to count.  Do you imagine that once we escape the limits of space that mathematics might cease to work?  Physics is a different matter; people often debate the laws of physics and hypothesise that physics may work differently in different places but mathematics is immutable.  Even outside time mathematics will exist.  A good question would be whether mathematics continues to exist when there is no one to think in numbers, very similar to God, but then as God is unlimited and omnipresent then he must as well as all other things encompass mathematics.  If mathematics can exist both outside the universe and inside the universe then it would not be logical to deduce that mathematics had a greater reach than a philosophical concept that is defined as being omnipresent and unlimited.

I have already described how the carousing pagan warriors fearing the sounds made by the sky invented their god of thunder.  I imagine a Christian might laugh at them as being primitive even whilst believing in their own controversial creator of all.  It is possible that religions will die out soon as the world grows more logical.  I personally believe religions will die out very soon.  I think they are all a load of hocum, I just don’t believe God will because of my personal views on what God is.  Once again if we consider a hypothetical situation of religions not dying in the near future, perhaps they continue for another thousand years; as far beyond contemporary Christianity as they are beyond the Norse warriors.  Wouldn’t the developments made in culture and world view lead their God to be one which would leave them laughing at the primitive Christians of the 21st century?  If we leap ahead another thousand years from there maybe they will again laugh at our imaginary future believers with the same contempt they showed to our contemporaries; the same contempt our contemporaries show the Norse.

Maybe sometimes their beliefs would be more rational than those currently held, maybe sometimes they would be less rational.  Perhaps the Spaghetti monster will be discovered by future students of philosophy and perhaps they will not recognise his satirical nature.  The point is that there are many different conceptions of what God maybe.  Admittedly none of them are accurate; even though I am a believer I will grant you that.  However as we evolve and our minds become more powerful as they may well have done over the last 50000 years our ideas develop.  It is a little arrogant to assume that because something does not make logical sense to the primitive man apes of the 21st century that it therefore cannot be.  Imagine how our conception of the world might be if we had a brain twice as large as we have now; very different.  What if we evolved two brains.  Perhaps this is a bad example as we have a bihemispheric brain but imagine we evolved four brains then; our world view and any God we imagined would be very different.  I was watching an interview with Laurence Krauss last night to publicise his new book on the origins of the universe and although he is a staunch anti creationist it occurred to me that many of his ideas were considered by many in the field of theoretical physics to be impossible.  I would not go so far as to say heretical but then Galileo saw plenty of that for his contributions to physics.

The central tenet of science in my mind is that until you prove something it can not be said to be a fact.  Certainly things like the evolutionary theory carry the name theory but really very few of us would doubt that it adequately explains the development of every living thing on the planet though there is still not a universally accepted theory in the scientific community as to exactly how life was originally sparked.  I like to think that there may have been a number of different triggers as it would give more hope of extra-terrestrial life elsewhere.  However, my point is that God is not the sort of thing that is open to being disproved.  As I said, I believe in evolution.  Creationists say that God created the universe in seven days or some poppycock but to me it seems God, which I will colourfully describe as having some direction, even if it is only an urge to greater complexity, with a mind (pardon the expression, I cannot find a more adequate word), the size of the universe and everything beyond it, would most likely seek to develop complicated biological organisms through testing every possibility over billions of years and allowing those who fail to die out.  Simply because evolution has been proven, in my mind at least, beyond all reasonable doubt does not mean that such a concept as God cannot exist.  And without proof science cannot positively deny God’s existence.

I am very fond of Julian Jaynes’ theory of the bicameral mind leading to the belief in God.  The idea that millennia ago the two hemispheres of our brain were separate and as they grew together to become vaguely linked as they are now, the subconscious mind in one hemisphere started to communicate with the conscious mind in the other hemisphere.  The subconscious mind is of course privy to information that the conscious mind cannot deal with due to filtering systems built into consciousness so the subconscious would give directions and commands based upon the more complete picture of any situations in which the owner of the brain would find themselves.  These commands would seem to be voices from God that the person would act upon to their benefit and then consider it to be the input of a supernatural being. Perhaps this is an explanation for the phenomenon of atman.

Richard Dawkins described this theory as being  “one of those books that is either complete rubbish or a work of consummate genius, nothing in between! Probably the former, but I’m hedging my bets”.  I am sure there are many theories to explain these sorts of ethereal voices but for personal reasons I believe this one has potential.  However, it does not explain God as atman is merely a psychological phenomenon; what about paramatma?  The words of the Pete Townshend song ‘O Parvardigar’ taken from the universal prayer written by Merwan Sheriar Irani, known to his followers as Compassionate Father, or Meher Baba, read in part, “You are the Beyond God and the Beyond-Beyond God also; You are Parabrahma; Paramatma; Allah; Elahi; Yezdan; Ahuramazda, God Almighty, and God the Beloved.”  I would be surprised if this idea that God or Allah or whatever you prefer, due to his nature being ‘the beyond god and the beyond beyond god also’ is new.  The problem with a concept that is defined as the manifestation of infinity and omnipresence is that, even if with a primitive monkey brain that has only been able to write its thoughts on paper for a few thousand years, you are able to define what it is that causes people to believe in it then you are still overlooking the fact that due to this infinite nature you have only actually succeeded in explaining the tiniest part of it.  So far those seeking to destroy God are looking only on its effects on the human mind, but like an imaginary number it exists on such a large scale that if we were to fully explore it then the universe would have eventually atrophied to nothing before we had succeeded.