Archive for the ‘morality’ Category

Two Opposites and a Harmonious Resolution

June 27, 2009

Kabbalah teaches that the universe is built on a tripod, consisting of two opposites and a harmonious resolution. This is the pattern for everything in life. Stability and confidence is impossible without the support of all three legs of the tripod. We cannot have “shalom” without all three. This tripod – and its attendant challenge of conflict resolution – is inherent inside each one of us, in all of nature, of mankind as a whole, and in the spiritual realm as well.  –Korach (Numbers 16-18) Conflict Resolution

For the scholars of scripture they have an advantage over the rest of us. They have the time to think through some issues, take a step back, and perceive patterns that are opaque to us while we are in the trenches of the war of life. This week’s Torah portion is such an insight and when you think about it we can gain perspective on our lives, our community our country and the world.

I am struck by the conclusions to be reached by this statement. You see, if we are talking about a tripod, then if you take away any one of the legs it will fall. You might, as I did at first, focus on the harmonious resolution leg as the “most important.” Take it away and the tripod falls. For true harmony to evolve there must be recognition of discordant views. No two people (or for that matter two countries) can have identical views. Our thoughts, brain process, perceptions and conclusions are like fingerprints — they define us as unique individuals. So even if you say “I agree” you might find out sooner or later that you agreed with something the other person did not say or mean.

What this means to me is that for me to strive to live in a harmonious world I need to seek out both people who see things in similar ways to me AND people who don’t. I must engage BOTH the people who seem to agree with my world perspective AND those who don’t. Standing in the shoes of both “camps” is the only way I can perceive where there is commonality, conflict or room to compromise. With the recognition that life is a process and not a series of events comes the foundation of the process of harmony. Harmonious relations do not represent a static place of equilibrium, but rather a dynamic place of interaction, catalytic relationships and evolving development of ourselves, our society and our world.

Harmony and the whole tripod fails when we deny the existence of other points of view. If we deny the validity of other points of view we deny their existence and we deny the speaker the right to hold such views and express them. We take away one leg of the stool and the tripod fails — because there is nothing left to process toward a harmonious resolution.



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Archaeology and Jewish Law: The Birth of Racism

May 10, 2008

Around 60,000 years ago, two forms of humans met in what is now Northern Israel. They lived together, ate together and probably slept together and even had children (at least some) together. They are referred to as Neanderthal and Homo sapien. This lasted about 30,000 years when the Neanderthals seem to vanish (extinction or assimilation?) and homo sapien went on to populate the rest of the world.

The Neanderthals came from the North and the homo sapiens came up from the South. There is no reason to suppose that ALL of the neanderthals left their Northern origins in what is now Western and Eastern Europe nor is there any reason to believe that ALL of the homo sapiens left their Southern origins.

And in fact, despite the over-simplified version now professed by archeological experts, there is no reason to believe that NONE of the Neanderthals went North with Homo Sapiens or that NONE of the Neanderthals went South. And we do not know if the progeny of the interbreeding of these two closely related humanoids ever survived or took the place of what had been Neanderthal or what would become homo sapien and if they did survive whether they too might have gone North South, East and/or West.

It is possible that Neanderthals were modified by their interaction with homo sapien and vica versa. It is also possible that those Neanderthals that did not migrate were not modified and that those homo sapiens who did not migrate were also not modified — at least until the return of their ancestors, and whatever visitors they brought with them. 

Thus we have several groups: Neanderthals may or may not have evolved on their own and either died out through extinction or still live among us closely resembling what we call homo sapien. The differences may be subtle enough that the two might be confused. If so, this “race” was probably light skinned because they evolved in the Northern colder climates. Homo sapiens may or may not have evolved on their own as well, producing a “race” that was not intermixed with external breeding. If so, it is likely that this “race” was dark skinned because they evolved from the Southern hotter climates.

Interbreeding might have produced uneven results with deformities and other “flaws” or “defects” appearing regularly, hence the continual references in the Torah to avoiding such people — the Nephalim. These were people to the naked eye but whose nature was closer to the animal kingdom than to the humans with a “soul.” They were clearly regarded as subhuman but apparently “used” for a variety of menial and “dirty” or “unclean” tasks, perhaps including handling of the dead. 

There is also no guarantee that the migrations of any one of the three “races” described above did not involve East-West migration. Hence, Asia might be the result of migration from the West or Western evolution might have been affected by migration FROM the East where yet another form of humanoid was evolving independently. In any event this obviously resulted in yet another “race.”

Back when things were just evolving into these groups it was of course part of the hard wired nature of every living thing with a brain that processes information to regard anything other than themselves as either food or threat. The “us” and “them” basic primeval instinct caused customs and traditions to evolve separately and to regard others as not quite “equal” or perhaps, as we have seen above “subhuman” or not human at all even if they looked mostly human. 

The interesting irony about all this is that in all likelihood, experts agree, we are more descended from homo sapien than Neanderthal or any hybrid of Neanderthal, homo sapien or any evolutionary amendments thereto. And THAT means our origins are mostly dark skinned rather than light skinned — even if later migration caused the skin to lighten to suit Northern climates. Hence the black-white racial divide in America might well be “the pot calling the kettle black” and any traditions based upon “differences” might well be institutionalization of misperception.

On Being Godly

April 12, 2008

I just finished reading an interpretation of this week’s Torah reading. We are going further into the idea of negative speech about another but more than that we are headed for the territory of deciding right and wrong. It is said that nobody is more Godly than anyone else. That is a useful sentiment. It is also said that we are Godly no matter what we do. That is more problematic. The conclusion is that the question is only whether we will act in a Godly fashion or not. The Jewish concept is that although a person may ‘do’ bad, his or her essence ‘is’ still good.

 

I find that self-serving, egocentric and permission to perform highly immoral and base acts, including statements about others. Nobody knows how to describe G-d, and nobody knows what G-d is or how G-d operates. We only know that there are forces and events of unimaginable scope going on all the time and that somehow we are part of the whole “thing.”

 

We are the product of these forces that some call G-d, evolution, or cosmic illusion or fact. The good the bad and the ugly. It is not useful to consider ourselves good no matter what we do. This will not enhance our quality of life, the survival of our species, or the advancement of morality.

 

It is useful to define ourselves as capable of doing good deeds. And it is a good and proper goal to define your day, and indeed your life by deciding on the morally correct choice rather than the convenient one. For most of us, it is not one or two major decisions that define who we are and how we appear in our society, it is the thousands of micro-decisions that occur within a conversation, while driving the car, while at work, while at home with your spouse or children, other family, or friends. 

 

In our society there are people who are following path of what we would describe as immorality. When confronted by people exuding evil intent or poor moral judgment, there is no one proper answer as to how to act. 

 

But it is a pretty good guess that killing them, enslaving them, or calling them names is not, in most cases, an act which should even be on the table. The fact that such extreme situations historically arise does not mean that most situations should be viewed from that perspective. In most situations, some common ground could be reached with a little effort, and a good deed could emerge, however small that might seem at the moment. 

 

I think this is what Obama is after and despite the charges of emptiness and moments of doubt that people may have, he is resonating with so many people because somewhere, deep inside, where they know right from wrong, they sense that he is on the right track. Whether you should vote for him to be president or insist that your preferred candidate follow in his footsteps of seeking harmony and common ground is up to you. Theoretically any candidate could do it if they really wanted to do it. 

 

Morality then confronts us with the sometimes difficult choice between easy answers, slogans or negative criticism on the one hand, and the more difficult and ephemeral pursuit of happiness and contentment. 

 

It is my observation that at least in this Country, the United States, we have chosen a path of easy ideology rather than morality. And we have become a nation governed by men rather than the laws we pass that reflect our sense of right and wrong. The laws state sometimes with great clarity what people should not do in government, business and social circumstances. Yet these prescribed acts happen anyway, with increasing regularity and with escalating consequences.

 

Ideology is never persuasive unless it presents the illusion of morality. People become comfortable with it and stop thinking about individual issues. They listen to leaders, neighbors or others who tell them who is to blame for the unhappiness in their lives. The preachers of their ideology — whether it is political, religious or philosophical — define the icons that their followers will follow. The will of the whole of society is ignored along with the chance to exercise any independent judgment about right and wrong in each thing that a person does. I call these “leaders” “ideological hounds.”

 

We become vulnerable to being led down blind alleys pursuing goals that serve only the leaders of the ideology whose agenda is by definition, domination over as many people as possible who can “contribute” to the “cause.” Any contrary voice is eliminated through any one or more of choices that everyone knows are immoral. 

 

We allow it because we are afraid of challenging those more powerful than us. We allow it because we are too busy trying to make ends meet. And we allow it because it is just plain easier to let somebody else do the thinking, even if the thinking is wrong. And of course we should not leave the subject without including the attractiveness of the entertainment aspect of these ideologies, who always put on a great show. 

 

The current criticism of Obama is an opportunity to test some of these thoughts. His “small town” remark, cleansed of context seems condescending, elitist, out of touch. His opponents wrap their spin around portions of his commentary and hold it up as meaning something he did not say. If he did not say it, it is a knowing falsehood to portray him as having meant anything like what his critics have portrayed. 

 

Read in context, Obama was reaching for a deeper meaning of right and wrong, and a deeper connection with some of the people who are resistant to his candidacy. Rather than castigating them , he was musing about their lives, the loss of employment, the loss of hope, standard of living and opportunity for children to do better than their parents. 

 

He described the bitterness and disappointment of people who were lied to about what the government and big business was doing. It has been a 25 year journey into darkness, of quiet desperation, for many people, while a few have taken an exciting ride into the high spheres of public and private finance. And he was describing the impact of ideological hounds that are described above in this essay. What he said was entirely truthful and correct. What Clinton and McCain reported he said is completely not truthful and incorrect and intentionally so. 

 

So now we are left with the uneasy feeling of excusing (forgiving) Clinton and McCain for committing immoral acts of deceit in the heat of battle or holding them accountable for their acts. And perhaps more importantly, we are faced with the bare naked truth of Obama’s musings about “small town” America, how vulnerable they are to ideology because all else and everyone else has deserted them. 

 

Maybe, the right thing to do, like the issue of race and racism, is to open the discussion up to Obama’s brave statements, rather than closing them down through compounded acts of negative criticism (i.e., shouting him down). He might be right or he might be wrong; but how will ever know unless we really examine the issues he presented?