December 26, 2002

Comments on "How to separate the wheat from the chaff"

See December 25, 2002 entry in Starz Light's blog. Starz's text is in green, mine in black.

I have just spent several hours surfing web sites full of unsettling information. I could cite site after site, but how does one determine the veracity of these sources? I am sure I wish I knew, Starz. I, too, have seen web sites full of unsettling information. I don't know whether it is true that concentration camps already built in various parts of the country are ready to accommodate the first dissenters and other "undesirables". I do wish I had the answers. When I find one of those unsettling web sites, do I ignore it as the work of kooks or do I forward it to everyone I know? When rumors about Nazi atrocities started to circulate outside Germany many people dismissed them as the products of deranged minds, because they thought it was not possible such horrible things were actually happening, it was obvious that the rumors were just gross exaggerations. The reality turned out to be worse than any rumors that had circulated. People walked into the gas chambers still not believing that what they had heard could possibly be true.

Do you feel that blogging raises the consciousness of anyone? Definitely yes: first and foremost the blogger's own, and second her/his readers, though that is out of the blogger's control. I have learned much from reading my fellow bloggers; the blogosphere is a churning cauldron of ideas; it much enhances the dialog that always goes on between writers and readers. Thanks to the net we all can be both. Of course this does make for a tremendous volume of material in which it is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, the gold from the mud. But it is a matter of degree: it was already difficult when all we had was publications on paper. And as the volume of material has increased so have the means to communicate recommendations, reviews, etc.

Or are we just preaching to the choir? Or even just enjoying the sound of our voices without caring if anyone listens? Nothing wrong with enjoying the sound of one's own voice :-) but I think all bloggers care to some extent about being read - yes, even those who claim not to - otherwise why publish on the web at all? We could just write in our own journals, to be read by no one other than ourselves. And many of us do have private journals in addition to our blogs. But we also aspire to communicate and find out how others react to what we have to say, and to stimulate each other to greater insight and understanding.

It is true that perhaps the greatest things that have been written were written with quill pens on scarce and expensive parchment. Now we have computers and the web, but where is the genius to create masterpieces? Maybe masterpieces are being created among us; we just don't know about them yet.

Does the sharing of our questions, concerns, or support for the issues of the day constitute activism on any level? In my opinion yes; writing has always been an important form of activism. We speak - or write - our truths and put them out there in the universe; who or how many might read them - let alone be influenced by them - is neither our business nor anything that we can do anything about (other than honest efforts to increase "the circulation" of our blogs,
like submitting them to search engines, web rings and the like).

Do you ever follow the links down paths that show opinions in opposition to yours? Sometimes I read some educated, civilized conservatives like The Leibman Theory; but the Neanderthals - with respect for the original Neanderthals - I cannot stand.

Do you have information sources that you believe to be giving a complete and honest picture? And if so, I'd love to know what they are. I tend to trust sources on the left much more than those on the right (which I don't trust at all). Jeanne d'Arc has a list under the title "Good Guys" (right-wing publications she appropriately calls "The Opposition", and has a list of those, too), and also links to The Lefty Directory, which contains, among many other things and links to left-wing blogs, an interesting interview with Jeanne d'Arc. Liberal Oasis is another aptly-named site. There are many others. But, as you say very well, I'm sure both sides spin the stories; however, we much prefer the spin on the left.

I thought about taking this question to e-mail, but then felt it might make interesting dialog here. I'm glad you did; the wider the possibilities of dialog are set the higher the probability that someone will come up with bright ideas that might promote insight and understanding.

I never cease to be intrigued that two very intelligent, well-read, highly educated people can come to diametrically opposed positions. It seems there is no Truth (with a capital "T") Is everything relative? I believe it is very likely that "there is no Truth (with a capital 'T')", and those who believe there is - and "they" have It, of course - are horribly dangerous to the rest of us and likely to want to burn us at the stake to make us see the error of our ways and accept their One and Only Truth. In my opinion the reason "two very intelligent, well-read, highly educated people" sometimes "come to diametrically opposed positions" is that they perceive things differently, and don't give the same weights to the same components. It is known to law-enforcement personnel that two witnesses of the same event can give wildly different accounts thereof and both believe they are being absolutely truthful. The sages tell us that unless one has reached the fourth state of consciousness known as enlightenment one only perceives shadows, projections, "spectra" of "reality", and obviously shadows of one object can be different depending on the angle of illumination. We unenlightened ones don't perceive reality but a picture, a map thereof. A picture can be darker or lighter, or have various kinds of distortions. Iowa can be pink in one map and green in another; it is still the same Iowa, just different maps.

Another image I like is that reality is a mountain; we are all climbing the same mountain from different sides; the views we see are different and the degrees of difficulty of the climbing are different too, depending on whether we're climbing a steep or a gentle slope. When we reach the top we'll all be in the same place and our views will be similar - though still dependent on the direction we're looking... - but while we're climbing it doesn't make any sense to despise a fellow climber because her/his path is different from ours.

December 22, 2002

Starz Light blog

Starz Light is a recently started blog I recommend.

In answer to the December 20 post there about online names and identities, I would have preferred to use for my blog the name Emilio by which I have been known for 62 years, but it was already taken, which accounts for my use of its Latin version �milius. See my post of September 9, 2002 for an explanation of the name.

Regarding online person� there are some articles I find interesting at Psychology of Cyberspace and its associated links, including one article named Identity Management in Cyberspace which seems to be exactly along the lines of what Starz is talking about.

I�ve thought and am still thinking about a name and a description for my blog that accurately reflect me and my blog, are witty, pithy and meaty, and induce a strong desire to visit and read on everyone who sees them. But by the time I think of something apt my blog will be listed in too many places and it will be too much of a hassle to change...

Space exploration is a matter of great interest for me too, and I have wondered many times why enthusiasm for it seems to have diminished so much in the US and indeed everywhere. Let us compare what happened after Neil Armstrong got to the Moon with what happened when Columbus got to America (not that I believe for a moment that Columbus was the first human being who traveled to America from another continent, or even from Europe): after Columbus a process started that led to what America (North and South) is today (not that it wouldn�t have been better for the Earth and especially for American Indians or Native Americans [I find advantages and disadvantages in both denominations, but I am told many persons of those ethnicities prefer the first; anyway, this is a subject for another discussion] if that process hadn�t taken place), but after Armstrong got to the Moon there were just a couple of trips or so and then nothing for thirty years.

I know unstaffed (NOT "unmanned", please) vehicles have been sent to other places, but everybody (including those who claim that unstaffed vehicles are more efficient, etc.) knows it's not the same.

One possible explanation for the lack of space travel is that somebody told somebody in a very convincing manner "You human beings are dirty, irrational, cruel and violent, and make messes everywhere you go. You have ALREADY made an incredible mess of the area of space near your planet, which is strewn with your garbage. You're simply not ready to venture further into space � privately we doubt you will ever be � and you better not even try, because we simply won't let you".

The idea of non-Earth beings appearing on the scene and curbing human arrogance � probably the only thing that ever might � fills me with glee. "Guess what, girls and boys: we are not the crown of creation, the most important beings in the universe. In fact much of the universe thinks of our planet � IF it thinks of our planet at all � as a remote drop of mud, and perhaps not even "nice" mud, as in a garden, but... and of us as the somewhat disgusting bugs and bacteria that populate the mud. Perhaps it would behoove us to show a little more humility, and some respect for other species, including the bugs that populate "our" mud..."

Who knows? Perhaps there is some light at the end of the tunnel, and it is not the headlamp of an oncoming train.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Starz! May you write for many years in good health and happiness, and may your readers and you enjoy fruitful and interesting dialogues!

December 21, 2002

Department of Errors the media feed us

On the first column of page 28 of the December 16, 2002 issue of Newsweek magazine, an article about Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser to the unelected person occupying the Presidency contains the following sentence: "Rice joked that the magazine was trying to turn her into Madame de S�vign�, a 17th century courtier and mistress of Louis XIV." (Sic) Have Ms. Rice and/or Newsweek discovered new historical data? Does anyone know of any sources claiming a liaison between Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de S�vign� and grand-daughter of St. Chantal, and the Sun King??

The article goes on to point obvious differences between Madame de S�vign� and Ms. Rice, so one fails to see the basis for the comparison, even as a "joke".

Were Ms. Rice and/or Newsweek thinking about Madame de la Valli�re, Madame de Maintenon, Madame de Montespan or some other "17th century courtier" who was a "mistress of Louis XIV"? The comparison does not hold any better with those other ladies.

Is there any implication on the part of Ms. Rice and/or Newsweek of a liaison between Ms. Rice and the unelected person acting as Head of State? And if that is so, where are the reporters who pounced on President Clinton for less?

I am puzzled. But a question that worries me even more is: which of the other pieces of information contained in that article � or for that matter in the whole magazine � is(are) equally grossly inaccurate?

December 12, 2002

December 10, 2002

Max Leibman's comment and my reply

My fellow blogger Max Leibman wrote an interesting comment to my post on sexuality, and I'd like to respond below to some of his points. What Max wrote is in blue, what I wrote is in black.

I see points to agree on -- included that love is rare and deserving of nurturing, and I will go as far as to agree that a great deal of undeserved discrimination has been perpetrated against practitioners of non-traditional sexuality.

Understanding and insight IS needed; I believe that no resolution is possible until a better dialogue is achieved (and that's not a one-sided street; plenty of closed-minded and shrill-toned belligerents can be found on either side of this debate).

The one thing I find here that I would question strongly is the notion that bisexuality is the natural condition. The animal kingdom often illustrates bisexual tendencies exist and are even common, but the overwhelming majority of copulations in many populations (I believe most populations of mammals, but I'm no biologist) is Male-Female.

I want to emphasize your use of "common", "majority", "many", "most". Sexuality is not to be decided democratically, with everyone following the will of the majority. And even if the ways of the majority were considered "the norm", the rights of minorities to engage in different forms of behavior that harm no one need to be protected.

In our own human sphere, our anatomies and personalities (the latter taken in aggregate -- a given woman can have any masculine personality trait and vice-versa) are complementary to a degree which, whether designed by higher consciousness or shaped by natural selection, compels a natural state of heterosexuality. Hormonal drives and pleasure centers appear to exist as a way of encouraging fornication, ergo procreation;

Not in homosexual people: their "hormonal drives and pleasure centers" incline them to prefer sex with people of their same sex. As to personalities, there are wide variations: whatever definitions of what is "feminine" and what is "masculine" are adopted there will be people who don't fit them. They may be dissenters, but they are not sick or abnormal or unnatural. I know you did not use those words, but many do.

the fact that we have moved beyond that, and now use sexuality as an act of pleasure or love with no desire to procreate is not an indication of the fundamental nature of the sexual human does not involve procreativity, but rather an indication that we have taken what nature gave us and applied it to a higher type of emotional cognizance. Yes, we may have moved beyond sexuality as procreation long ago, but that does not mean that procreative drives are not a fundamental part of the majority of sexual urges.

Not so, in my opinion: throughout my life I have felt a strong urge NOT to procreate: too many human beings on the planet, lack of paternal inclination and other reasons which might be the subject of another post. Some people feel the inclination to have children, some don't. Homosexual people too are split into those two categories; and those who desire children can have them through various technological means like artificial insemination, surrogate motherhood, etc. without having to engage in heterosexual activity they may find distasteful.

In fact it might be argued - and I do - that one of the social benefits of homosexuality is that it is less likely than heterosexuality to result in procreation, thereby helping to preserve the environment and heal Mother Earth.

Further, separating cultural influence and socialization from actual natural tendencies and characters is challenging, to be sure; however, we should not take that as license to write off anything that is taught as part of a culture as "indoctrination" and assume its basis is only as old, or valid, as its cultural history. It is entirely possible and reasonable that the cultural norms arose from or exist to reinforce a natural tendency that, for most people, produced happier and/or healthier results.

Homosexual people are happier and/or healthier being who they are and having the rest of their fellow human beings acknowledge and accept who they are as part of the spectrum of diversity that exists in nature.

Some "cultural norms" arose because they benefit some particular interest with the political power to impose them: throughout history patriarchies have encouraged and promoted procreation: it supplies more followers, soldiers, contributors, taxpayers, helps enhance political power, keeps females powerless and subjugated. Even now there is strong social pressure to breed, to the point that support groups - the child-free movement - are formed to provide emotional and intellectual sustenance to people determined to resist that pressure.

Your mention of "license to write off anything that is taught as part of a culture as 'indoctrination'" suggested to me the reflection that perhaps a good definition of "civilization" would be the degree to which an individual, as long as s/he harms no one, may safely deviate from prevailing, accepted "norms". Giordano Bruno was murdered and Galileo barely escaped by recanting for daring to contradict prevailing nonsensical accepted ideas about the universe. Have we made any progress? Matthew Shepard was murdered for similar "reasons".

Note that I say "most people" -- I still allow for the idea of healthy and natural homosexuality or bisexuality, even if I reject the idea that it is, could be or would be desirable as a statistical equivalent to heterosexuality.

In any event, a fascinating and thoughtful piece of "written daydreaming." It forced me to put into words why I, personally, believe that heterosexuality is a norm. I believe it has also pointed me towards places where my own thinking may need re-evaluation (or, at least, some factual-backing), so now "sexuality" is back in my research queue...

Thank you, Max. It is an interesting subject, and civilized discussion like you and I have just engaged in needs to be encouraged as a road to progress. I invite all readers to participate in this conversation.

December 09, 2002

Some thoughts on bi-, mono-, homo-, hetero-, a- sexualities

What follows is speculation; I am doing the writing equivalent of daydreaming aloud. My purpose is to promote thinking and examination of the issues involved. What I aspire to is communication with others who may also want to ponder these matters. If the subject interests you please tell me the areas in which you think I'm right � if any � and the areas in which you think I'm wrong, and why in both cases. Wouldn�t it be wonderful if we got a little closer to understanding and insight? I believe we have to stir the cauldron lest our thinking stick to the bottom and burn.

My speculations don�t intend to change anybody's sexuality but the approach we take to the subject. And the horrendous discrimination inflicted on humans with sexualities different from the accepted standard.

I remember reading years ago in the late lamented "woman of power: a magazine of feminism, spirituality and politics" (sic, all lower case, in the style adopted by some feminist writers, like bell hooks and others) a quotation by someone (quoting from memory; my almost complete collection of the magazine is still buried in the boxes in which it came from New York) to the effect that as long as the anatomical part touching her was loving she wasn�t much concerned about the sex of the body to which said part belonged. That impressed me and got me to thinking that indeed only a patriarchal system bent on reproduction or breeding could possibly claim that there is anything preferable or desirable or "normal" or "healthy" about sex between two humans of different sex. Even humans of different sex sometimes engage in sexual or sensual activities different from copulation with no thought given to reproduction. Sometimes special measures are even taken to prevent � hopefully, or at least reduce the probability � of conception and birth, so all claims to the reproductive connection have to be abandoned. Also, technology has enabled humans to reproduce without any sexual contact by in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination and a number of other techniques worthy of Dr. Moreau's island.

The extent of the connection between sex and reproduction is one of those big lies that many of us have taken for granted, at least during part of our lives, until we start questioning: wait a minute, does the Emperor have any clothes?

Perhaps at one point in the history of the species and of individuals there was no distinction between sensuality and sexuality. Even after some distinction developed � or was manufactured, or imprinted through brainwashing on individuals � there still remains an occasional blur occasionally between the two.

The patriarchy tries very hard to instill heterosexuality into individuals, but in some cases this effort fails and the individual remains bisexual. Perhaps in some cases some individuals react to the indoctrination by opposing it and in that process lose the ability to relate sexually to individuals of the other sex. In this scenario "normal", "healthy", "standard" sexuality would be bisexual; both homosexuals and heterosexuals � it seems natural to call both "monosexuals" � are individuals who have lost the ability to relate sexually to beings of either the other or the same sex. Perhaps this lost ability might be recovered, if desired, through therapy or other means.

Many of us lack the ability to relate sexually to beings of different species. That is a different ocean � I was going to write "kettle of fish" but realized something bigger was needed � upon which we might try to venture at another time. Small though the inclination in that direction may be among many of us at the present time, let us reflect that the time may not be distant when some contacts will start with non-Earth species, and new issues of sexualities might become current faster than we think.

Anecdotal evidence suggests a correlation between artistic talent and homosexuality, since homosexual people appear to be represented in some professions, like theater, in higher proportion than in the general population. Or maybe it is just that the biographies of famous people tend to be better known so we know whether they are homosexual. Maybe homosexuality is actually a distinction that makes people special. Indeed it is so considered among American Indians and other so-called "primitive" (HA!) groups.

Love is so rare. Wherever it is found it should be nurtured, protected, helped aided and abetted. When one thinks about it what is really unnatural, obscene, sick, perverted is for any kind of love to be thought of as unnatural, obscene, sick or perverted.

I am reflecting that two of the most beautiful love stories I know are of homosexual love: Solitaire and Brahms, a novel by Sarah Dreher and the 1985 movie Desert Hearts. (Don�t believe the user comment by "Tito-8" in the IMDB page; it's a wonderful movie with not one boring moment; read all the other glowing comments).

PaganSpeak Topics for December 2002

PaganSpeak Topics for December 2002

Topic # 1: Polytheist, Monotheist, Dualist or Other? (courtesy of Wren's Nest)
Are you a die-hard Polytheist who believes that the many Gods/Goddesses are distinct and individual entities? Are you a Pagan Monotheist? Pantheist? Do you believe that "All Gods/Goddesses are One God/Goddess"? Does the term 'Lord and Lady' represent a specific Lord and/or Lady to you or is it a term used most often to simply denote the concept of a male and/or a female deity? Do you think that all of these terms are interchangeable? Can you see where and when the need to define what YOU mean by 'Gods/Goddesses' might be necessary? What do you think about 'Choose one from column A and one from Column B' pantheon building?

My answer is "All of the above". I'll tell you what my own views are, but any other views are equally valid, and Divinity fits all the descriptions we can invent; yes, even the bad-tempered bearded old guy sitting on a cloud busily writing down every sexual thought we have. We move in the direction of what we worship and set our attention to, so we should choose wisely. Divinity being infinite and unlimited it does not make sense to say that Divinity is NOT something, any more than to say that Divinity IS something. Personally I believe some sages have experienced Divinity and believe what they say that Divinity is pure Consciousness. I have no conflict with anyone who believes differently; just let's not hurt each other nor anyone else. I believe everything is a manifestation of Divinity, and when anyone hurts anyone s/he is hurting Divinity: bad business; don't do it. By anyone I mean any living, sentient, conscious entity. Aardvarks are not conscious, you say? How do you know? You cannot know for certain that the human being next to you, even your own sister/brother, is conscious. So better assume that they are. Don't hurt anyone, including aardvarks.

Monotheism has done enormous harm to human beings and the whole earth, and I feel a ferocious distrust thereof. Some people become convinced that there is only one Deity and next thing you know they are busily torturing anyone who does not believe in exactly the same way in order lovingly to show them the error of their ways. Yes, I believe there is a Unity in this Divinity/Consciousness; the Divinity/Consciousness is the same everywhere, in all its infinite manifestations. Some sages, the Enlightened Ones, have experienced this Divinity/Consciousness, but nothing can be said or told about it: those who know don't tell, and those who tell don't know. Those who know don't tell not because they are being mysterious or keeping a secret, but - they say and I believe - there is nothing to tell; it simply cannot be told. We cannot relate to this unmanifest Divinity/Consciousness, though we will experience it when our minds become quiet and we lose whatever prevents us from experiencing it.

But Divinity/Consciousness has infinite manifestations, into some of which we CAN sink our spiritual teeth - and into some of which we can and do sink our physical teeth. Some of these manifestations of Divinity/Consciousness are am�bas, some are carrots, some are chickens, some are us, some are angels, some are gods and some are goddesses.

So, are the many gods and goddesses distinct and individual entities? Yes, and they are also, as am I, diverse manifestations of Divinity/Consciousness. Am I a pantheist? Yes, everything is a manifestation of Divinity/Consciousness, or Divinity/Consciousness is immanent - resides in - everything.

As an exercise in what I like to call thealogical affirmative action and in order to counter my own conditioning and millennia of patriarchal domination I direct my worship to Goddess in Her diverse manifestations. I believe what the world and my own spiritual growth require are the cultivation and enhancement of traits traditionally seen as feminine: cooperation as against competition, nurturing, compassion, patience, non-aggression, better communications. Goddess is a combination of all Her manifestations throughout history.

Of course I recognize the existence of Gods, including the angry old guy sitting on a cloud, I just choose to direct my worship/set my attention on Goddess. What do I think about 'Choose one from column A and one from Column B' pantheon building? Hey, whatever works. All I ask is that no one hurt anyone.

As the Bible - a good book, containing much literary beauty and a lot of truth, though also lots of nonsense, like the infamous "You shall not allow a witch to live" (Exodus 22:18) - says: "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren [AND "sistren", I'd like to add, to give the plural of "sister" a nice antique patina] to sit together in unity and harmony" (Psalms 133:1).

Topic # 2: Pot-Kettle: Do We Have Our Own Fundamentalists? (courtesy Wren's Nest)
Does religious fundamentalism exist in some Pagan and/or Heathen communities? Can a closed group or tradition be considered as fundamentalist? Are there some Pagans and/or Heathens who 'preach' one true Pagan or Heathen way? Is resistance to the 'mainstreaming' of Paganism/Heathenism a form of fundamentalism? How can we approach the preservation of Pagan and/or Heathen spiritual and/or cultural integrity and identity without falling into fundamentalism? Is fundamentalism even necessarily a 'bad' thing? You can also check out Isaac Bonewits' essay on fundamentalism at: A Call to Arms for definitions and other background material.

Alas, I would not be surprised if there were Pagan fundamentalists somewhere. Pagans being human - contrary to what some "Holy" Inquisitors believed - we are heir to all the diseases that affect that sorry species. In my opinion preaching and eagerness for converts are mostly motivated by the desire for more financial contributions and a wider political basis, and I guess some Pagans might be as ambitious as the worst of them.

That in my opinion accounts for the reluctance of many Pagans to the so-called "mainstreaming" of Paganism (besides, which form of Paganism would we "mainstream"?). We are afraid something similar might happen to us to what's happened to other religions and we might see the appearance of Pagan Swaggarts, Bakkers and ayatollahs, Goddess forbid, and other frauds.

The phrase "the preservation of Pagan and/or Heathen spiritual and/or cultural integrity and identity" fills me with dread: it sounds too much like "racial purity", "party line" or Orthodoxy. "Integrity" and "identity" are things that each Pagan person has and does with whatever s/he sees fit. Many of us have had to change our beliefs, and some have changed identities, so which "integrity" and "identity" would we be talking about preserving? Some sort of trademark or copyright on the words "Pagan" and "Heathen"? Some institution or person(s) in charge of deciding who is or ain't a "true", "real", "legitimate", "genuine", "bona fide" Pagan or Heathen?? Goddess forbid, perish the thought, chas vechalilah veshalom (for those who might not know, the latter is Hebrew for "May we be spared, may we be preserved and may we have peace". Yes, I do believe it to be more powerful in Hebrew, but you don't have to).

Some Pagan groups, like Gardnerians, or A Druid Fellowship, or several others, do have their own rules and standards of legitimacy. I don't belong to any of them but have the greatest respect for them, and they are not remotely "fundamentalist" by any definition of the term. They are also open to any seeker in good faith who wants to join them. As to "closed" groups, I am not fond of the concept - I can hardly even imagine rejecting a seeker in good faith - but they must have their reasons, and unless the criteria are unreasonable or illegal - like race - I guess the concept of individual liberties demands that they should be free to have their closed group. After all, if I marry somebody and - supposedly - reject all others I am in actuality forming a closed group. Not guilty of fundamentalism.

"Is fundamentalism even necessarily a 'bad' thing?" Well, yes, as excellently explained in A Call to Arms.

Other than that I don't have anything to add to what my beloved teacher Isaac Bonewits wrote so well in his above-mentioned essay, reading which, as well as all his other writings, I earnestly recommend.

Topic # 3: Yule/Litha
In the Northern Hemisphere Yule is upon us. In the Southern it is Litha or Summer Solstice. What are your plans?

Being thankful that the Sun stops going away from us and starts on Its way back, looking forward to Spring and Summer, being warm inside the house with my family (my spouse and my dogs) and engaging in my regular routine retirement rituals: reading, writing, resting, relaxing, reflecting, relating and roaming the web. :-)

Forgot an important plan: avoiding as much as possible the sickening flood of xmas-related sounds and images.