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Getting back on track

Jay Somasundarum's last piece for Webdiary was Educating our kids. Thanks again, Jay, and keep them coming!

Getting Back on Track
by Jay Somasundarum

Humanity took a wrong turn about forty years ago. Until then, we equated the good life with happiness and contentment. About forty years ago, our thinking changed. We started equating the good life to wealth. Or, perhaps more accurately, we decided that increasing wealth was the path to happiness. The financial crisis is causing us to challenge the ideology that capitalism and free markets increase growth. The answer to that question, is not always, as Kevin Rudd’s third way explains. Free markets don’t promote the common good in a number of circumstances, all well documented.

We are not, however, asking the right question: Is Growth the right goal?

Happiness has a bad name. We view it rather askance. Like Happy Hour, a marketing gimmick, a false hope. Or, the fairground evangelist, a corrupt pedlar. Or, the burn outs who couldn’t succeed in the real world, and turn to a sea change, or become missionaries, or even to drugs.

Why are we so wary of happiness? Ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit we seem to believe that unhappiness is our natural lot,. To be happy is somehow sinful. Nevertheless, religion provided redemption, it has a many techniques that improve happiness, and these are systematically taught to children and adults. Camaraderie, altruism, singing, mediation, a belief that things will turn out well (even if only after death) are all techniques confirmed by science. However, we felt betrayed by religion and turned away. We realised that not only is there no God, but that religious institutions were often as venal and corrupt as secular institutions.

Perhaps the greatest harm that Adam Smith’s Invisible hand did is not the ideology that free markets are always best, but the more insidious one that selfishness is good, that by being selfish, one is really helping one’s neighbour.

The health industry is not about health. It is mainly about treating illness. Psychiatry and clinical psychology were among the poorer sons. They were slow to become good at treating mental illnesses, to concern themselves with increasing the mental health of those not clinically ill. Health’s focus has been changing over the last few decades. We have conquered many of the chronic illnesses, and there is a definite increased interest in maintaining and improving good health. Mental health is now catching up. Positive psychology is coming of age.

As in physical health, there are likely to be two disciplines. At a population level, there are the public policies that engender the happiness of a population or the planet as a whole. At the individual level, there are the actions that individual can take, to improve their own happiness.

We need a religion for the twenty-first century. This religion, cannot, however, come from leaders, for power invariably corrupts. It needs to come from ourselves. Perhaps it is Literacy or Democracy. Will the twenty-first century be the age of wisdom?

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50 billion bond listing for telecommunications? Dreaming

John Pratt, I'd be more concerned about your own countrymen's level of debt burden. The present Australian Government (to the point of negligence) isn't shy about racking it up.

Unlike America, Australia simply doesn't have the luxury of being able to try and inflate out of problem.

The talked about telecommunications project is a market joke. It's simply never going to happen. I wouldn't buy such a debt instrument listed in Aussie dollars, and I doubt anyone else would be silly enough. It would want to come with one hell of a hook!

If we have a new religion we should ban usury.

I've never heard of anyone angry when granted a loan. Only at pay back time does the trouble start. I think that says something about the particular borrower.

Born into debt

He weighs 7 pounds and 10 ounces. He is only minutes old. And yet, he is already saddled with a humongous debt.

Believe it or not, Michael was born into debt — and he owes almost $250,000!

His birth did not require special, expensive care. And he didn't inherit any debt from his parents or other family members.

No, there is actually nothing special at all about Michael's debt situation. He is not alone.

You see, young Michael — and every other citizen of the United States — will be responsible for paying the tab on a growing $70 trillion debt.

To pay back this debt at $1,000,000 per day would take 191,780 years! And that's just what we as Americans owe today!

Perhaps the old testament prophet Ezekiel was right.

The Prophet Ezekiel includes usury in a list of “abominable things,” along with rape, murder, robbery and idolatry. Ezekiel 18:19-13.

Jews are forbidden to lend at interest to one another. Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:19-20, Leviticus 25:35-37.

If we have a new religion we should ban usury.

Balancing the budget

Isn't the author adding only one side of a balance sheet and ignoring the other? Baby Michael also has tangible assets such as roads and buildings plus intangibles such as (arguably) world class democratic, educational and health systems. Have these been accounted for?

My quick look at the web site suggests that the site is trying to sell something. That doesn't mean that what it is saying is wrong, just something I'd be cautious about. 

Reason should override moral intuitions

The first nice thing about this evolutionary approach to morality is that it emphasizes the social nature of moral intuition. People are not discrete units coolly formulating moral arguments. They link themselves together into communities and networks of mutual influence.

The second nice thing is that it entails a warmer view of human nature. Evolution is always about competition, but for humans, as Darwin speculated, competition among groups has turned us into pretty cooperative, empathetic and altruistic creatures — at least within our families, groups and sometimes nations.

The third nice thing is that it explains the haphazard way most of us lead our lives without destroying dignity and choice. Moral intuitions have primacy, Haidt argues, but they are not dictators. There are times, often the most important moments in our lives, when in fact we do use reason to override moral intuitions, and often those reasons — along with new intuitions — come from our friends.

The age of reason. If we do need a new religion to take us into the 21st century, let us at least have one that is based on reason.

It takes heaps of energy for a Big Bang

What is matter?
What is life?
What is love?
What is God?

Mmmmmmm. God only knows, hey John ;-)

We've been arguing about those questions since God created the Heavens and Earth. He did a pretty good job really, I mean He did create the whole show in six days, allowing Himself  Sunday off - to go to the pub.

Now tell me John, what has God done since? I know I know, we get the odd quake and cyclone and shit like that, but that's kid's stuff really. Ok, a complete universe in six days but what  has the Big fella done in the last 400 billion years or so. Same old same old really. Galaxies come and go, a wandering black hole wipes out a solar system here and a solar system there - boring really and it all takes so bloody looong.

Another universe would come in handy don't you think, yep another Big Bang just for fun, just to break the boredom  But no, all God does these days is storm damage, and the occasional super nova. And us poor humans only live for a brief moment and seem to miss out on what little excitement wanders past. Oh well maybe next billennium.

Anyway I digress.

Personally I've got absolutely no idea what God is (quite obvious don't you think?), or life, or matter, or love for that matter. I just think I do, it's all a mind thing and each and everyone of us probably has a unique concept of God or not god, as the case may be.

The disbelievers argue reason, the believers argue faith, and never the twain shall meet. The proof of God may well be beyond the bounds of pure reason but faith (passion?) conquers all - as the case may be.

Anyway, all we have are our thoughts, and memories, and opinions synthesised from the baggage we have collected along the way, our journey through life. So, allow me to share a wee bit of baggage, or sludge :-)

What is matter? The text books tell me that matter, or mass, is actually energy divided by the speed of light squared, or energy is mass times the speed of light squared. That is mass and energy are one of the same.

What is life? Life is the cutting edge of awareness, both individual and collective, it exists only in the (ever) present moment, everything else is the stuff of mind that no longer exists in reality, like memories of yesterday or dreams of tomorrow - brain energy.

What is love? Love is matter in the mind.

What is God? The sum total of everything. All that lives and all that does not. God like matter, life and love is pure energy; the stuff or everything. And we life forms are nothing more than a unique manifestation of energy. My god is very much like the Tao or maybe The Dreaming; the unknowable and mysterious magician of energy - and that's the way I like it.

God, like energy is indescribable, we just know what it feels like. And it feels good; like life and love and the stars above or a beautiful sunrise - whether you believe or not, we all feel something wonderful and mysterious connects us all.

We are all so similar, yet unique - wonderful, isn't it.

PS. I also believe that the tooth fairy and leprechauns are god's little helpers and Xiao Xiao (my wee panda) was once an angel.

Defining God

As Justin, Mark and Kathy (tongue in cheek) all point out, definitions are often the first step in meaningful discussions.

The Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV) handbook is the scientist's approach to defining the character strengths that promote mental happiness (think of the debate we had on defining Australian values to test immigrants on). It specifies 24 character strengths grouped into 6 classes. The Love discussed in the postings likely corresponds to the class humanity, which is sub-divided into three strengths: love (e.g. Romeo and Juliet), kindness, and social intelligence. I gather that the researchers who developed the handbook initially reviewed the world’s major religions and cultures, and identified those that were virtually universal across cultures.

The CSV is rather new and in its first edition (the DSM, the counterpart that looks at mental illness is now at DSM IV). For those interested in taking psychological tests, this site has a number of tests based on the CSV model.

With regard to religion, Wiktionary has four definitions, only the first of which requires a belief in God or a soul. Laughter clubs and Rotary, for example, would meet these definitions of religion. The religion I was thinking of would be something like Esperanto is for language, a religion constructed using today’s knowledge to better meet today’s needs. (As an aside, research seems to indicate that the religious are happier, and the more fundamentalist the religion, the happier.)

(Yes, I indulged in false advertising – I'm not even going near defining God without a few stiff drinks to make any nonsense I write seem sensible.)

No matter, never mind

In the brave new world of concepts, light is a swift flow of elementary particles – photons.

- Lampert's The Evolution of Love

Quantum mechanics was born from the research of Einstein, Planck, de Broglie, Neils Bohr, Erwin Schrödinger, and others who attempted to explain how electromagnetic radiation can display what has now been termed duality, or both particle-like and wave-like behavior. At times light behaves as a particle, and at other times as a wave. This complementary, or dual, role for the behavior of light can be employed to describe all of the known characteristics that have been observed experimentally, ranging from refraction, reflection, interference, and diffraction, to the results with polarized light and the photoelectric effect. Combined, the properties of light work together and allow us to observe the beauty of the universe.

I had a quick bo peep at the Evolution of Love; the Socrates in me was looking for a definition, but I couldn't find one.

So, what is life?

What is matter?

What is love?

Or like light, do these things depend on the observer?

What is God?

Justin, while we are looking for definitions. I would like to add one.

What is God?

It will be very difficult to come up with a 21st century religion unless we get the definitions straight.

My definitions are:

Life is anything animal or vegetable.

Matter is everything, except for anti matter.

Love is a gift we give to others when we care for them as much as we care for ourselves.

God, well, God is unknowable.

All you need is love

All we need is love

Jay, you say we need a religion for the 21st century.

For thousands of years man has yearned for truth. Many prophets have shown us pathways towards enlightenment. Do we really need a new religion or can we learn from the past?

To have a religion do we need a God?

If we choose to have a God then some will always say it is a false God.

We will be putting up a barrier between them and us.

History teaches us that this is the path to violence.

Could we just accept that God is unknowable?

Maybe there is a God or maybe there isn't. We will never know for sure so we could all agree.  God is unknowable.  Everyone could believe in a God that is unknowable.

What we really need from a belief system or a religion is a moral code to live by.

Most prophets teach love or do unto others as you would have them do to you.

So we need the new religion to encourage us to treat all life as sacred.

It is really quite simple.

Love is all we need.

Regurgitating Beatles blatherings

"Love is all we need."

 Where do you think that love came from, John?

 Out of some primordial sludge?

Life itself is nothing but matter

Kathy, that's right – out of primordial sludge.

Evolution has programmed us to love.

Our universe, and everything in it, is constructed of these elementary building blocks, which when combined into a complex form over a long enough period of time create a durable entity. As long as these particles have momentum, they are restless and continue to act – pushing and running, combining and separating, creating new forms and ceasing to exist in others. The momentum of these particles and their mutual influence are also the meaning behind concepts, which traditionally fog our understanding: energy, radiation, conduction, temperature, gravity – are all acting particles. In the old world of concepts, "stone" was concrete matter, whereas "light" was an abstract phenomenon. In the brave new world of concepts, light is a swift flow of elementary particles – photons. This is a big stone, and these are fast little stones, a shower of tiny stones rained down upon us by the sun.

Whoever is prepared to accept this physicist's description of our world, and is not willing to add a belief in the existence of a mysterious force outside this created universe, necessarily also accepts the premise, and the challenge to explain it, that life itself, its evolution, its rich variety of form, the ever increasing complexity of structure and behavior – are all nothing but wondrous and supreme expressions of the behavior of the elementary particles. Life itself is nothing but matter. For there is nothing but the particles of the Big Bang in this space.

An extract from The Evolution of Love by Ada Lampert.

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