Wednesday, July 06, 2005

I Believe

I ran into an "I believe" post at Neptunus Lex, whose blog, in his own words, offers up: Tales of the Sea Service, San Diego, Politics and Culture. Lex is an active duty aviator (who unbeknownst to me made Captain --- equivalent to Colonel in the Army --- this past June. If you happen to read this Lex, BZ and congratulations) who's erudite, perceptive, polyglot, tells interesting tales, seems a bit right of center, and is otherwise the sort of reflective warrior I think we should be happy is in the service of our country. He engaged this exercise (well for me it was an exercise, he may have looked at it somewhat differently) on his blog, apparently when he first started blogging as the entry was a fairly long time ago and no one had commented on it --- that by itself was an attention catcher. I read his version of this (I'll let any curious reader go find that on their own --- it's worth the read) and it made me think, "What would I write were I to do this?" I'm sure he didn't intend this as a pass-on meme, he was just expressing what he believed, and it compelled me to think about what I believe in. Interesting question to self, and I found out that it wasn't really all that easy to answer either.

Ok, that said, this is my attempt to lay out what I believe. This, in no particular order, is what I believe:

- Reverence for self, others, and the reality we exist within and all it entails, is essential for harmonious and constructive living.

- Learning, specifically the process and facilitation of learning, is essential to a productive and worthwhile life and society.

- Fealty gives a life purpose, and makes it that much harder.

- Cruelty is sometimes easier than love and understanding; the better person overcomes this.

- You never truly know all there is to know about a person in your life, but often what you do know or love about them makes this unimportant.

- Sometimes saying a lot obscures what's meant to be said; economy in expression is an art that one should try to practice often [Blogger's note: maybe one day I'll practice this myself.]

- One should be generous with a benefit of the doubt, but absolute in the face of deception.

- Most problems are attributable to a lack of self-discipline, patience, and a plan, or otherwise thinking way too much of one's self.

- There are people and ideas worth dying for.

- The strong should protect the weak.

- Our children are the future and we are responsible to both; we very often don't take either responsibility very seriously.

- Few things are as important as conquering, or at a minimum not succumbing to, one's fears.

- Rumi had it right when he said, "Let the beauty of what you love be what you do." Finding that beauty and doing it is rarely easy, and often times impossible.

- Camus' Sisyphus had the right idea, and Sisyphus' line of thinking per Camus makes up for the preceding belief if you happen to be on the negative end of it.

- Something of worth and enrichment can be found in anything one does, even rolling a rock up a hill for eternity.

- I really don't care about finding myself; I'm more interested in being comfortable with who and what I believe I am.

- I personally don't have much use for religion, and I'm sure that "being spiritual" is not a religion; if we could come up with something less divisive or silly I might consider joining.

- A person without honor is rudderless and to be avoided as you would anything else, which are usually big and potentially painful, that's rudderless.

- Religion is great so long as it's not being rammed down your throat.

- Faith is also great, so long as someone else is not expected to share it.

- People are more often ignorant than not, and usually for no particularly good reason.

- Your quality of life is likely directly tied to your quality of entertainment [see previous item.]

- Evil exists and sometimes, to our shame, it wins because we let it.

- Coveting thy neighbor's anything is wasted energy, often irresponsible, and potentially destructive.

- Sin exists. Sometimes it's obvious to all, other times it exists only inside us.

- Abortion is a bad thing, but no one has the right to tell a woman what to do with her body.

- We're too afraid of death and embracing it when it is the appropriate thing to do.

- The state should not have the power to kill its citizens.

- That justice in this country tries to be blind, and is often unfair. On the whole I'd rather have justice meted out to me here than anywhere else in the world.

- This is the best country to live in for freedom and opportunity.

- Caring what others think of you is rarely worth the energy, unless you're delusional.

- It's important to have someone in your life who can give you an objective reality check [see previous item.]

- We don't do enough to try and help those that, due to no fault of their own and sometimes even due to themselves, are without what they need, especially the young.

- We are all responsible for our own lives and actions, though many of us don't take much responsibility for one or the other.

- Capitalistic democracy is the best possible system of living to live under, though it is too often divorced from helping to better society as a whole as opposed to a privileged few.

- Over time things get better, though it may not seem that way at the time.

- In all things but art truth and logic must trump passion.

- Art often has its own kind of truth and logic, but it should be unfailingly passionate.

- Truth isn't always what it seems.

- Working hard doesn't always pay off as we'd like, but the only worthwhile effort involves working hard.

- We should always act better than the worst of us.

- Prisons should rehabilitate not just incarcerate and dehumanize [see previous item.]

- Living up to one's ideals is a hell of a lot harder than trying to write about them.

- We are all imperfect, we all have bodily functions that on the whole we're embarrassed by or otherwise aren't interested in sharing, and no one by virtue of anything stands above anyone else in this country --- that's the ideal, though money often does seem to get in the way of it.

- Every person has a point that's worth at least a hearing.

- That God is in the interstices of the universe, and if he/she/it is paying attention to what goes down on this planet then there's an awful lot of cosmic head shaking going on.

- That perverters of the truth are a necessary evil in a free society, against which we all need to be vigilant [creationists and intelligent designers come to mind most readily, though they're hardly the only ones.]

- That this country was founded on the principle that ALL men were created equal, that in this day this means that ALL people are created equal, and from
this premise all else should give way. We have too many people who whine about
activist and Constitution-interpreting judges who themselves haven't bothered to read the Declaration of Independence.

- My wife is the best thing that ever happened to me.

Well, for what it's worth, so sayeth James.


Blogger she falters to rise said...


8:19 AM  
Anonymous Josh Canel said...

Lots of points for further discussion. Of course, I'm not convinced that "evil" and "sin" are workable categories in a materialist frame. As patently theological concepts, I believe their use in secular discourse is, at best, ambiguous, and, at worst, simply obfuscating issues of pain and pleasure within the realm of the social contract. In other words, I don't have to call murder "evil" in order to understand that it undermines the communal situation in which I've chosen to live.

I also can't abide the "being spiritual" label. But, I take it from the other angle. I'm religious without resorting to spirituality. I.e., I'm committed to confronting the radical questions of existence, but I'm not going to resort to supernatural reasoning to answer them.

Since I don't want to sound like a negative pain in the ass, I'll offer a positive comment. The trite phrase "finding myself," misses an essential point. You can't find something that never stays in the same place. You can possibly "find" what you are, but hours, if not minutes, later, you are a modification of that. It's best not to chase your tail and accept that there's nothing to find, only courses of action to take.

8:38 PM  
Blogger James said...


Well, without trying to belabor anything here, whether anyone agrees with my categorizations or not is really besides the point. Considering myself a rational individual with enough worldly experience, I feel I come by my beliefs righteously and, for the most part, logically. Of course you do raise some interesting points.

Murder, on its own, isn't evil. Stalin and Mao were evil, as was Pol Pot, those that incited the Rwanda massacres, and those responsible for the mass exinction of Jews --- all were evil, and I can go on and on. Evil in my view is anything that rationalizes any destructive act against humanity, or anything living, which is solely predicated on self-interest and devoid of any reverance whatsoever for the life being extinguished. Evil is, a priori, a sin. Sin, though, constitutes many other things as well but I shan't get into that here.

As for your observation:

"You can't find something that never stays in the same place."

Actually we do this all the time. You can find a bird flying, a car on a highway, a planet, anything that moves and have a reasonable justification in using the term "Ahhhh, I found so and so." What moves and how it moves is certainly relative, and my problem with finding one's self is along the lines of I don't think there's anyone there to really discover ---maybe because in some sense that someone is never quite the same as you seem to mean. What makes that person is amorphous, it's like trying to pin down an electron, you can't pin down its exact location due to Hisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, and I think we're very much like that. There's too much about us at any given time to know, and we're learning about who and what we are all the time. We simply need to be comfortable with the core of who we are, and go on from there.

9:20 PM  
Anonymous Josh Canel said...

"Evil in my view is anything that rationalizes any destructive act against humanity, or anything living, which is solely predicated on self-interest and devoid of any reverance whatsoever for the life being extinguished."

I'm not sure that your characterization of "evil" has any criteria that would rule out a single murder. So, I don't think I'm getting the murder/genocide distinction.

You're right that this does come down to a matter of belief, and I'm not disrespectful of how you came to that belief. I just don't think labeling Hitler, Pol Pot, et. al, as "evil," or worse, "monsters" gets anywhere. They were human beings, and what they were capable of, any of us are capable of. And I think our labels for them are motivated more to try to distance ourselves from this uncomfortable fact than any nominal efficacy. It certainly doesn't do anything towards understanding these individuals and preventing their rise in the future.

Good point about movement however. Perhaps that wasn't the best metaphor.

6:43 AM  
Blogger James said...


I never said a single murder isn't evil, I'm merely saying that it needn't be. If someone is killed in a fit of passion, accidentally, or because it was a rational and logical choice made outside the strict bounds of law, then I can't categorize that as evil.

I'm puzzled as to why you think categorizing someone as evil has to get anywhere --- categorizing me as a white middle-aged male gets us nowhere, too, but it gives some clue about the person you're interacting with. To say Stalin or Mao were evil is to infer something specific about men who ruled a very large nation. Associating someone with evil is not a case of disassociating one's self from something they may find horrific, it's merely a categorization --- though in this case I'd say that it takes a special kind of person to be the mass murderers that Mao, Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot were. Categorization of this sort isn't intended to prevent the rise of those categorized in the future, though it does allow one to appreciate that these sorts of people do exist and at times they find themselves in positions of extraordinary influence and power in the world.

9:01 AM  
Anonymous Josh Canel said...

"I never said a single murder isn't evil."

"Murder, on its own, isn't evil."

The latter was my reason for inferring the former.

"I'm puzzled as to why you think categorizing someone as evil has to get anywhere --- categorizing me as a white middle-aged male gets us nowhere, too, but it gives some clue about the person you're interacting with."

I don't think that comparison really follows. Since people of white complexion empirically exist, and there is an average life span within which one can claim to be middle-aged, they are valid categories. My beef isn't with the concept of category, it is with the category of evil. I'm fine with categories that verifiably exist, but a little bit more skeptical of fuzzy categories that dehumanize.

Think about the talk that goes along with the word "evil." These people are called "inhuman," and I reiterate, "monsters." And I just want to scream, "No, there are human beings." That's not meant to soften the blow, on my part. It's meant to highlight how much more complicated things are. And I think that by making Hitler and Stalin "special cases," we deflect the fact that we are surrounded by people who, if given instant wish gratification without societal constraint, would commit just as atrocious acts.

I guess I'm approaching this from a Nietzschean standpoint. "There are no moral facts, only moral interpretation of facts," as he would, and did, write. "Evil" lies beyond the realm of facts, and into a moral interpretation of those facts. Specifically, concepts of "evil" and "sin" tap into a non-materialist reservoir of concepts that I find practically useless as a materialist.

I'm not trying to pick a fight, by the way.

10:09 PM  
Blogger James said...

I don't see my view of evil as being a, per se, moral interpretation of the facts. I defined evil as thus:

"Evil in my view is anything that rationalizes any destructive act against humanity, or anything living, which is solely predicated on self-interest and devoid of any reverance whatsoever for the life being extinguished.'

That to me is a pretty clear cut guideline for how to determine if the actions of someone are evil are not. Frankly I think that anyone who acts in that way is falling outside the tribe, they are indeed inhuman and rightly deserve the appelation of monster.

Evil is a very human modality (were the aliens in "War of the Worlds" evil? No, they're not part of our tribe and not expected to share or hold our values), in fact I see it as the antithesis of being saintly. As a digression, I see a saint as someone who puts others ahead of themselves, always acts for the betterment of those around them to the point of putting themselves last, and otherwise has reverance for all life and the world in which it roams --- I don't use the term in the context of anything religious, it just fits the characteristics of what I think many of us would like to think are true saints. Are saints human? No, most of us aren't able to come close to being saints, any more than most of us can come close to being truly evil --- if we take the statistical mean human to be the everyman, the outliers are something not quite human; too much to the left you're a monster, to the right, you're a saint.

My point, though, is that Hitler, Mao, Stalin, et al., are merely the larger-than-life examples of evil. I don't question that others can act as they did, the fact is that these men were supported by a large number of people who may have rationalized their involvement, or otherwise thought just as they did. Evil on this scale doesn't exist in a vacuum, it has to be supported in some way, but interestingly enough once these men go away no one seems to quite fall into their place, take over the reigns in a manner of speaking, so indeed there was something exceptional with these men.

Frankly Nietzsche never much appealed to me. If you're going to stand for something you draw lines --- sometimes those lines are a little bit blurry, but most times they need to be rock solid. I see evil as a rock solid, and I'm perfectly comfortable with my rubric for evil, which I honestly believe can be used to objectively determine whether someone's evil or not. So in this case I think Nietzsche is wrong or otherwise not relevant. Evil doesn't lie beyond fact, and evil is not something that most of us will engage in even when given the opportunity; evil's real, alive, and we must be vigilant against it, and Nietzschean rationalization for why I'm indulging moralizing doesn't dissuade what I believe in this case. For me evil is real, it exists now, and it must be fought against to the best of our ability.

10:48 AM  

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