CHANGING THE WORLD WITH A WHISPER

The Encyclopedia Britannica provides this illuminating definitions:


Phenomenology, a philosophical movement originating in the 20th century, the primary objective of which is the direct investigation and description of phenomena as consciously experienced, without theories about their causal explanation and as free as possible from unexamined preconceptions and presuppositions.


I was a fervent, probably thoroughly obnoxious student of comparative religion in my final two years of university. It was no doubt the culmination of my search for The Whole Truth. I wanted a key that would unlock the meaning of everything. I’ve written about “The Meaning of Everything.”  It is my all-time favorite post, even if it isn’t my best post.

meaning-of-life3

This, however, isn’t about me. It’s about Mr. Wekerle (pronounced Weh-ker-lee with the emphasis on the first syllable). He was the head of the Philosophy Department at Hofstra University when I was attending. I adored him. Not because he was “hot,” but because he was so incredibly smart. He was also the only professor could tell when I was bullshitting and hadn’t actually read the books. The only teacher to give me D-/A+ as a grade for a 50-page paper.

The A+ was for style, the D- for content.


Mr. Wekerle (he was ABD having not quite finished that doctoral thesis … and I don’t know if he ever did) made me work for my grades. Made me think. Forced me to spell everything out and not assume that my reader already knew the material. Which served me very well in the larger world later in life.

He read every page of every paper submitted in class. He was harder on me than on many other students because he felt I had potential as an academic. I probably did, but life had other plans for me.

42__The_meaning_of_life_by_BlueSnorkel

One of his best tricks for getting students to listen attentively in class was to whisper. It was what we call a “stage whisper.” Loud enough to be heard at the back of the room if no one talked or rustled papers.

In fact, in Wekerle’s classes, no one wanted to sit in the back of the room. You never wanted to miss a single work of his lectures. Especially not during his annual “Phenomenology” lecture. Students would show up from all over campus to sit in on it, even if they’d heard it half a dozen times over the years.

We would sit there, breathless as he whispered the meaning of everything into the hushed room.

Never underestimate the power of a quiet voice, words spoken in a whisper. Shouting may get you some attention … but a whisper can change the world.

ORIGINS AND FAMILY

A few years ago, I briefly had access to Ancestry.com. I traced my family back to the census of 1910, at which point, it ended. I could have pursued it further using other Jewish ancestry sites, but I knew where they would take me.

On my father’s side, the trail would end in Minsk around the turn of the 19th century. On my mother’s side, the trail would go cold in Tarnow, Poland at approximately the same time.

Bonnie and friend on the dirt path

We were neither important nor prominent. Not rich, famous, or especially learned. Regular people, trying to stay alive and out of the Czar’s army. Put food on the table. Occasionally have a belly laugh with friends and family.

Even if I could trace back another hundred years, it wouldn’t answer the real questions about where we began.

When Genghis Khan invaded what is now Russia and eastern Europe, how many babies were left in the wake of the Golden Horde? How many were left by Crusaders as they pillaged, raped, and plundered all the way from Britain to Jerusalem?

72-BW-Moon-CapeCod-102013-22

So many invasions, ejections, wars, migrations. How can anyone with even a trace of European or Asian ancestry think they are pure anything — other than human? Assuming current thinking on the origins of mankind are at all accurate, we all came from somewhere else in the beginning. Asia or Africa. Both, perhaps.

Or, somewhere else entirely?

72-BW-Tonal-GAR-Sunday-011016_168

Thinking about this brings me back to the current sad state of geopolitical mass hysteria and stupidity. We are — all of us — family. If we could trace our roots far enough into the mists of time, we would find each other. Cousins, even though many times removed.

We are one people. Despite skin color, eye-shape, and other “race” and “ethnicity” surface markers, we are enormously more the same than different.

72-bridge-ma-0731-25_084

So how come we hate each other so much? Why? What makes us want to hate one another? Why build walls instead of bridges?

DOOMED? PROVE ME WRONG!

My mother was deeply cynical. She considered herself an atheist, but I think it was more that she felt God had done such a crappy job, he didn’t deserve worship.

72-BillyGoatGruff-1

I knew a lot of the experiences that had made her the way she was. The Great Depression. Two world wars, Korea, and Vietnam. She believe people were mostly stupid, racist, and cruel. That all government was oppressive by its nature.

Although not a conspiracy nut, she was pretty sure someone was out to get us. Probably a hangover from the Hitler era followed by HUAC witch hunts of the 1950s — shameful periods of history we are apparently determined to repeat.

satan-artistic-depiction-1500-to-now

I’m pretty happy in my personal life, but the body politic is appalling. Sickening. I find myself watching CNN with my jaw hanging open. I would never have believed our electorate could be so stupid, ignorant, mean-spirited, bigoted, and bent on self-destruction as they obviously are. If we used the same amount of energy we use for hating each other into improving society, we could fix everything that’s wrong with the world — fast.

Saguaro Storm 06

It’s depressing. I don’t see a positive outcome. I think we are doomed. As a species, we probably deserve it, but personally, I resent it because I’ve done my best. There ought to be a payoff for doing the right thing, don’t you think?

Some of my friends are more optimistic, but I think i’s because they don’t want to believe what’s happening. In a world where Donald Trump is the leading candidate in the party of Abraham Lincoln, what light could be at the end of the tunnel? Bets on the headlights of an oncoming train.

goat-devil-evil

I really don’t care what Democrat you vote for. Just please, vote for one. I’ve never been sure about God, but I look around, I believe in the Devil. His paw prints are all over this world — and I’m pretty sure he’s running the Republican Party.

By the way … I’d be very pleased to be proved wrong.

SEND IN THE CLOWNS

America, land of the brave and the free. Photo by Turtsman.

My father was not a wise man, but a smart one who knew how to make money. He was a lifelong Democrat, small businessman and other things I would prefer not to delve into right now. A big part of his salesman’s repertoire were one liners and jokes. This was a favorite of mine.

It isn’t what you don’t know that will get you. It’s what you DO know that’s wrong.

Albert Friedman
Self-Made American (1917 – 2010)

How true it is, and also, how sad. So many people knowing with complete certainty so much that is so wrong. For them, the motto will forever be thus:

Don’t confuse me with facts! My mind is made up.

If you want to maintain your bona fides as a Real American, you should continue to watch only Fox News. It will help to reinforce your unfounded opinions by presenting pseudo facts and speculation in lieu of real information and you will believe every word. Rupert Murdoch is laughing all the way to his offshore accounts.

Don’t read anything that contains facts unless they comply with your preconceptions. In fact, it might be best to avoid reading entirely. Make a flag of your ignorance. Wave it proudly. Tell the world you know nothing and don’t want to learn nothin’ neither.

Finally, proclaim that you are the prototypical American, unlike the rest of us snobbish book-reading socialist anti-Christian liberals who don’t agree with you. After that, you can wonder why the world is losing respect for the United States. Maybe it has something to do with “true Americans” like you with your passion for ignorance, bigotry, hatred, and stupidity.

You vote against your own best interests because you vote not for people who will help you, but for those who share your hates. Anyone can have you by preying on what you hate. You hate so many things that you are easily had. You are America’s fools and losers, the people about whom H.L Mencken spoke when he said:

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

H. L. Mencken
US editor (1880 – 1956)

THE MEANING OF EVERYTHING – ONE MORE TIME

I’m always glad to have a reason to pull this out of my archives and dust it off. It represents years of thought, night-long discussions in college. Obscure philosophy courses and 40-page research papers.

Volumes of concepts from theologians, philosophers, and authors.

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“It is hard enough to remember my opinions, without also remembering my reasons for them!”
Friedrich Nietzsche

I’ve run versions of this post multiple times. If you know me, you will get how “me” this post is. After using much of my life pondering the meaning of life, the universe, and everything, one day, I realized it didn’t matter.

I know nothing, will never know anything. And it’s okay.

Thank you “Ladybug” at The Happy Quitter. This iteration of my favorite post is for you!


We spend too much time trying to figure out what life means and too little time doing the stuff we enjoy. I suppose it’s normal to wonder if the reason you are sick, broke, or miserable is the result of something you did or failed to do. Normal, but a waste of time and energy because I’m going to explain everything and you’ll never have to wonder again.

Meaning of life

Learning to accept the randomness of stuff that happens is tough. We want life to make sense. We want order. We want our messes and disasters to be important, meaningful.

I’ve put a good bit of thought into why my life has regularly fallen apart. I know I’m imperfect, but whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s small potatoes in the scheme of things. Even in my darkest moments I doubt I’m so wicked that The Big Guy has in for me.

Then I had my epiphany.

Faith is opinion in fancy clothing.

You can believe what you want, but you can’t know any more than I do. You take the same leap of faith by believing in God or if you declare yourself an atheist. Both positions require you take as absolute something for which you have no direct proof and for which you can never have proof.

If believing in a loving God makes you feel good, believe it. It could be true. If it turns out you’re right, you’ll have backed a winner. If believing there is no God, and science is the only path (and is antithetical to God — a position with which I disagree) to Truth, go with that. Regardless, you’re making a faith-based choice because there’s no proof God exists or doesn’t exist.

Personally, I don’t know. What makes me smarter than most people is I know I don’t know.

 I know nothing. Neither do you.

Accepting you know nothing is a big step, so take a deep breath. Your next challenge will be how you can cash in on this new knowledge. What’s the point unless you can awe people with your brilliance — and make a few bucks?

It’s all in the wording.

You need the right lingo to dazzle your audience. Big words (4 or more syllables) used in the right context can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds to show their admiration.

meaning-of-life3

Big words enhance your likelihood of getting a management position. You can write important books. Have a blog like me and I know you want to be just like me. Big words can take you a long way, if you are skilled at deploying them.

Note: Make sure you know how to pronounce them. Mispronouncing big words will cause unexpected laughter … not good unless you are aiming for a stand-up comedy career.

Epistemology

Let’s start with epistemology. This is an excellent catch-all word you can drop into any conversation. Most people will have no idea what you are talking about, but will be too embarrassed to admit it. On the off-chance you encounter someone who actually recognizes the word, you can use this handy-dandy definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything:

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? 

I bet you still have no idea what it means. The awesome truth is that epistemology doesn’t mean anything because it means everything.

Anything that means everything means nothing. Equally, when something claims to do everything, it has no actual use. This applies to people, software, concepts, and kitchen appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical.

Phenomenology

On to phenomenology. When I was studying religion in college, phenomenology   was a way to prove the existence of God. Phenomenologically speaking, all human experience is proof of God. The same reasoning proves there is no God. Ah, the joy of phenomenology.

Phenomenology can help you prove all things are one thing, all things are God. You are God. I am God. I am a warm cup of tea and you are a daffodil. If this doesn’t clarify it for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers further elucidation:

Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.

In other words, you can use any and all human experience, your experience and anyone else’s, to prove whatever you want. Phenomenology is fundamental to all belief systems: religion, politics, and Fox News. Lots of people believe in religion, politics and Fox News, so maybe they will believe in you too.

Fount of Wisdom

You can now explain anything. Everything. You can prove things based on something a couple of friends said years ago while under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic drugs. Although others may fault your logic, in the world of academics, everyone disbelieves everyone else unless they are citing them as a source, so you might as well stick your oar in the water.

meanin-of-life-snoopy

There are people who will attack you using faith. Faith is based on itself which makes it hard to dispute. The only person who is ever convinced by faith is the he/she who holds it. Nor does it really matter how many people believe or disbelieve it.

Having more believers or followers doesn’t transform faith into fact.

If it did, we could achieve some really nifty things. Like, say we all believe in magic and therefore, it exists. Cool.

RELIGIOUS PRINCIPLES

Unless you count drinking coffee and checking email as a ritual, I don’t really have any. I do, however, have practices. Stuff I do, stuff I believe or at least pretend to believe.

As time has galloped by, I’ve renounced stuff. I didn’t really need it anyhow. I gave up worrying. I gave up working. I gave up the lottery, although I occasionally still buy a ticket — just in case.

pumpkin patch with steeple

I gave up wanting a new car or expecting old friends to call. Some of them don’t remember me. Some don’t remember themselves I’ve stopped hoping Hollywood will make movies I like, even though they sometimes release a good one.

I’ve stopped trying to like new music and most television shows. I’ve ceased trying to figure out what’s going on with the Red Sox.

Some stuff gave me up.

When anyone asks me how or why I have given up whatever it was, I tell them it was for religious reasons. Almost no one has the temerity to ask what I mean by that. But so you know, I will herein reveal my secret.

UU Church 44

I don’t mean anything. It’s nothing more than a way to end a conversation. No one wants to offend me by asking for the details of my religious beliefs. Who knows? They might turn out to be embarrassing or bizarre. Thus my all-purpose answer to everyone is “religious principles,” or “my spiritual adviser told me to do it.”

Given recent news events, you can but imagine what enormous power these words hold. They will make a conversation vanish without telling someone to shut up. It works on everyone except those who really know me. They will raise one or more eyebrows, and fall over laughing.

If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

For religious reasons.

THE MYTH OF CLEAN GOVERNMENT

“If only we could get a clean candidate, we could have a government without corruption.”

Please, show me an example of an un-corrupt government. Anywhere, anytime in the history of the world. From the first known government (Egypt? China?) to today. Any form of government, even a town council. Because as far as I know, there is no such thing.

75-SignOfTheTimesNK-1

I finished re-reading “Imperium,” a fictionalized biography of Cicero. It whacked me with a reality check on government corruption and I realized (again) that Americans don’t “get” real corruption.

In Rome, those guys understood corruption. They were serious about their corruption. We are just dilettantes compared to them! More on this later.

72-Statehouse-Beacon-Hill_126

Never in this world, has there ever been a government free of corruption. It is the nature of government to be subject to … uh … um … what shall I call it? Oh, okay. Got it.

Pressure.

What do you mean by that?

Well, let’s see. Money. That’s a classic. Locally, we favor nepotism, a type of corruption whose popularity never wanes. Otherwise known as doing favors. Hey, they just need jobs, you know? It’s not a big deal, is it?

72-Cannon-Vertical-Uxbridge-0807_076

Find me a small town where the government isn’t composed of entrenched old families, their friends, friends of family, cousins of the friends of the families, their brothers and sisters in-and-out-of-laws.

What about constituents? You know, when we tell our pols what we want them to do or else we’ll throw them out. The stuff you and I want and demand, the stuff we think our government owes us because we are the people who elected them.

“What?” you say? “Isn’t that what government is all about?”

Right you are! A little question for you.

Does the fact that we want it mean it is moral? Just? Righteous? Legal? Fair? If you believe that, I have a bridge you can buy cheap.

72-Main-St-Uxbridge-GA_047

We want what we want. We don’t really care if it is for “the greater good.” We want what we want. We want it now. We deserve it. We voted for you and you are supposed to make it happen.

Pols who deliver the goods get re-elected. That’s the way it works. That’s the way it has always worked and always will. If you don’t think the electoral process itself is a form of corruption, you are missing the point.

It doesn’t matter who is applying the pressure — or why. The process of gaining and retaining power guarantees corruption.

72-Beacon-Hill_013

Personally, I would like my officials to do something good while they hold office. Preferably without getting caught, killed, impeached, indicted, imprisoned or exposed. Cynical? Moi?

I propose a movement for better corruption to require corrupt politicians to use their power — however ill-gained — to pass laws that make the world better. In my opinion. Because my opinion is the only opinion which counts.