Thoughts On Courage

We start a new year today, and I took the past few days to reflect on courage, as I hoped it’d help me get a jump-start on some upcoming events.  I want to share my thoughts with all of you.

If you were to ask the average person what they think of when they envison a man or woman with courage they’ll probably recount to you a story like the following:  A fireman rushes into a burning building to save a trapped child, a soldier risks his life for his country, or a policeman stands his ground to a mob of criminals.  Stories such as these tell of men and women who face strong outward adversity yet stand strong, and do not let the danger of the situation influence them.

I would definitely consider these displays of courage, but only one form of it.  I’d also say it’s far from the most useful form of courage.  Go around to the people around you, and ask them how many opportunites they’ve had to save a child from a burning building?  How many opportunities have they’ve had to save a distressed woman from a group of thugs?  How many opportunities to display calmness when in a hostage situation?  You can probably fit this entire group in a small room, and as for the rest of us billions of people on the planet, such stories are more fitting for newspaper headlines and movies than real-life practical application.  Disconnected from our real-lives we read such stories, find them amusing, and they have no real affect on us whatsoever.

The valuable forms of courage are more rare, and subtle.  Fear is the opposite of courage, and the most common fears I see in people normally relates to their past.  Love is the most common.  Relationships are typically latent with troubles, and we all know they oftentimes don’t work out.  People become bitter and let their past dictate their future.  Psychological fears of this sort seem to follow the following equation: There is a fear that what has happened in the past will happen again, and you are powerless to fix the situation.  Fear that you no longer have control over various aspects of your life, so instead of confronting it, and mastering it, you run from it.  Such psychological fears go far beyond love life.  Any failure in any area of life can bring on this type of fear.

The situation between the fireman and the burning building, and the single person looking for love, but scared to try it again, are very similar.  Both were confronted with a situation they didn’t like, and ideally wish it never happened, but the fireman took charge, overcame his fear, and did what he had to do to make things right.  The single person cowers in fear.

One of the main differences in this situation, however, is that with the fireman there is an outward danger facing him.  The danger is obvious.  The troubled lover, however, his or her troubles do not exist in reality: they are only in the mind.  This inner fear, and overcoming it, is the most valuable form of courage — far more valuable than overcoming things you fear in the outer world.

Inner demons will never leave you alone until you confront them.  A fire burning down a building eventually burns out, and things are back to normal.  An inner demon’s fire blazes night and day, never relenting, and is always waiting for its chance to surface.  Psychologists call them “projections”, because they are like a projector which follows behind you, and your body is a transparency slide, and the projector shines an image in front of you, which you think is a demon, but it’s really your own fears inside of you.  People project their own past fears onto others.

There are all kinds of psychological fears, and its rare to find someone without them.  With some its superstition of all kinds, including religion.  They read their horoscope and it tells them the day isn’t going to go so well, and they get fearful.  Others believe God is sitting up in heaven, watching their every move, and for every “sin” they commit hell’s flames are dancing waiting to suck them up.

Even more common than religion and superstition, but less common than love frustrations, would be public humiliation: the fear of shame and disgrace.  This form of psychological fear is rampant.  It may even be more powerful than love related fears, I don’t know.  Everyone’s continually watching over their shoulder, and making sure they stay within the socially accepted norms, even if they don’t really like the standards very much.  They fear the possibility of being in a social situation, and the crowd looks to them with signs of disapproval.

When it comes to social situations, the issue of “trying to conform” is a difficult one.  Let’s take both extremes.  Say no one conforms to anything, and everyone walks their own road.  Such a world lacks any form of unity, and no society as we know it is possible.  It’s pure disorder and chaos – literal anarchy.  On the opposite extreme, everyone conforms to some immutable set of rules, and there is pure unity.  Problem is there’s no growth and nothing new.  Historically both extremes have been tried, and both have failed.  The answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Most of the benefits we enjoy in life come from a united world.  If we had to do everything on our own, we’d be savages running around in the woods.  We live in a country with a constitution written by other people, speak a language someone else invented, and learn complex knowledge discovered by others from past ages.  We eat food others have produced, listen to music others have composed, and live in homes other people have built.  Our country is united by a complex economic system, and many of the comforts we enjoy are due to people who have worked hard to make things as good as they are.  Is it perfect?  No.  There’s work to do, but believe me, the troubles of living with others are far less than the difficulties you’d encounter if you took on life completely alone.

Modern philosophical thought wonders to how to unite people, yet allow freedom at the same time.  People have such varying desires, what common ground exists that we can all strive toward?  Is there a social framework that exists where everyone can be happy?  If not, what is the most optimal?

But setting that issue aside, you must have courage to go against the social herd, if need be.  To give an example, my family is a group of extreme Christian fundamentalists.  The Bible is to be interpreted literally, and it’s the inspired word of God, and it’s all that matters in life.  I grew up going to church, and doing everything I was supposed to do, and though the Bible promised happiness and joy, I found myself miserable.  I began questioning everything, and then I began studying many books.  Eventually I came across biology texts, and learned of evolution.  Then there was Sigmund Freud, and psychoanalysis.  Then there was history, and comparative religious studies.  I found so many flaws in the Bible, it’s unbelivable.  I found moral teachings that were simply unacceptable.  The story of the origin of life was contradictory to scientific evidence.  I found gods that were near identical to Jesus in the ancient world, thousands of years before Jesus ever existed.  Identical stories – lamb of God, died for the sins of the world on a cross, blood forgives sins, twelve disciples, died between two thieves, rose from the dead three days later, etc.  I heard doctrines being taught behind pulpits which went against proven laws of psychology.  Ways of viewing discipline was wrong.  Ethics was way out in left field, making morality into staying sexually pure and how many church servies you attend, and how many hours you spend praying, instead of what really matters in life.  I could go on and on, but needless to say, there came a time when I needed to confront my parents about this.

These are the most commmon kinds of situations which require courage.  My parents had certain expectations of me, and like any child, I wish I could live up to all of them.  But later I found I had to walk my own path, and unfortunately, my path had to be distinct from the road they wanted me to go on.  I told my parents I wasn’t going to go to church anymore.  My mom made a short scene, but overall, it went over a lot better than I thought it would.

I was once hanging out with a good friend of mine.  We were in the park sitting in the back of his truck, after we had attended a party.  We started talking about these kinds of topics, and he told me something that stuck with me.  He said, “Yeah, we oftentimes let the stupidest people in this world dictate our lives, simply because if we don’t conform to what they want us to do, they throw a fit.”  I think in most social situations, it’s this “fit” that we fear.  It’s tiresome putting up with a bunch of irate people operating in stupidity.

My parents are not stupid people, but when it comes to areas where religion is involved, such as origins of life, etc., their mind is like hamburger.  All critical thinking is turned off, and replaced with fairy tales.  With my Dad, I could say, “Hey Dad, what about the fossil record?  What about the dinosaur bones which are millions of years old?”  He’d acknowledge these bones exist, that carbon dating expresses a fact that is true, and that there is no conspiracy.  Then I’d say, “Well the Bible says the animals were created, then Adam and Eve, all within a week, so that must mean Adam and Eve were created millions of years ago, if we take a literal interpretation.”  That’s when he would get weird, get irate, and tell me I don’t know anything.  Or maybe he’d quote an obscure passage from the book of Isiah, and give some discourse about past dispensations, before man, when Satan ruled the Earth.  (It’s sad seeing intelligent people trying to make sense of a book like the Bible.)

The problem he doesn’t wish to confront is the long lineages in the Bible, which is where the all too popular “6000 year old Earth” comes from.  If you’ve read the Bible, I’m sure you’ll recall the lonnnnnnngggggggg lineages, where it says, “so and so begat so and so, and so and so begat so and so …” and the list goes on.  The long lineages which go from Adam to David, and from King David to Jesus in the New Testament.  Well, the Bible has two “life-span classes” of people, those who used to live a long time, and then after a curse mankind’s lifespan was limited to 120 years.  Those who lived a long time, their ages were given when they had their children, and how old they were when they died.  If you extrapolote all this information, and you take all the names in that lineage list, multiply then all my 120 years, and for the other guys who lived longer, add up their lifespans as well, and add up 2000 or so years for when Jesus was born, you get around 6000 years, approximately.  A fundamentalist interpretation of Genesis certainly cannot be true.  But if you make that symbolic and not literal, what else in the Bible becomes symbolic?  Maybe Jesus never literally died on a cross, maybe hell is a spiritual kinda concept representing a psychological torment instead of flames in the afterlife?

Thinking of “begetting”, fear begets more fear.  The Christian fundamentalist belives it all literally, because God supposedly requires faith in his word, or you’re calling Him a liar.  What are the consequences if you don’t believe it literally?  You go to hell and suffer eternal torment.  So originally they believe the “Word of God” in fear.  Not because it makes sense to them.  If you question them as to “why”, they say, “God’s ways are higher than our ways.”  In other words, it doesn’t have to make sense to our petty minds.  But that’s not what’s really going on.  This is all fear driven.  The next “Jesus freak” you encounter on the street, who tries to “witness” to you, just listen for the line, “You can choose not to believe this.  That’s your choice.  But what if I’m right, and you’re wrong?”  This is a direct sign that they’re in fear.  They’re directly saying, “I fear what’s in this book. I fear the God this book writes about, and fear going to hell. You should too.”  After all, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.”  Please.  Believe things contrary to all scientific evidence, and cower in fear of an afterlife in hell.  God is pure love, yet he’s going to torch you for eternity if you don’t believe a bunch of stuff that doesn’t even remotely make sense to you.  Jesus’ suicide mission to spill his blood on the ground is the only way mankind could ever be “reconciled” to God.  After studying indepth psychology, it’s hard to even believe in such harsh “right” and “wrong”, because you start looking at the causes to people’s actions, and people all become to same.  You’ll even look on the mass murderer with compassion.

If someone wakes up a mass murderer, then it’s obviously instinctual drives pushing them to it, and they cannot be blamed.  If they acquire such tendencies throughout life, you need to examine their set of beliefs and ideals, and then look into their past and see what events happened to them.  People’s beliefs are formed from the events they experience.  They’re a decision as to how they’re going to deal with the future, typically based upon what’s happened in their past.  If they read such information in a book, the author had such experiences, etc.  People are typically predisposed to certain beliefs and inclinations, based on their past history.  For example, if someone has never been shown love, or respected, they’re statistically prone to hold a mindset like, “In life, you have to take care of things for yourself.”  If they are an older person, and have never seen much love, it’s difficult for them to believe in others.

To such an individual as this, you don’t morally criticize them.  That just makes things worse.  They’ll just think, “There’s the self-righteous saint.”  You show them love that they’ve never seen.  Or you show others love, and they see you doing so.  At first, they’ll just think you’re a strange exception, and have deep respect for you, even if it’s unspoken.  And if they see enough love, they’ll eventually start to change their mind back the other way – not instantly, but over time.  It’s amazing how much one person showing love can change.  They can literally transform the world around them.

I’ve had this happen to me before.  I’m no saint.  There’s been times, especially during business endeavors, that I’ve encountered some real scum bags.  You get surrounded by a bunch of filth and mindsets start to creep in, “People are worthless.  They’re just trash.”  Then someone will send you a card and inside it will say, “I really admire what you’re doing”, or maybe they send you a very thoughtful gift.  It’s times like these that fight off those evil mindsets, and make you step back and say, “What was I thinking.  Not everyone is this way.  There’s really good people out there.”

If a mass murderer is raised in an environment where he’s shown all kinds of love, is treated well and kindly by everyone he encounters, and people are always helpful, it’s difficult to pick up a gun and go shooting everyone.  It’s rare for people to take a knife and stab their mother, especially if their mother has always been good to them.

Of course the situation is more complex than this.  There’s repression and unconscious behavior, where rational judgement gets impaired due to complex inner workings of our brains: but even when you study this, you see that people with such problems are dealing with a machine malfunction, and it’s not something to morally condemn them over.

For example, a man may have serious marital problems – so serious his mind can’t concentrate.  Eventually he tries to direct his mind off these things, but there’s too much psychic energy, and he ends up with some serious “repressions”.  These are caused because so many things are associated with his wife, and he doesn’t want to think of his wife, or things connected to her.  Because of this, he may get psychically off balance, and not be able to think clearly.  That’s when he’s prone to do things which we label psychotic.  Any painful event someone wishes to avoid thinking about can cause this.  This is a machine malfunction – a brain overload.

The religious person’s mindset toward hell, and sin, and all morality is just totally off in left field.  But I used to think that way, and most people think of morality in similar terms.  Wars are waged on such premises.  People think in terms of “justice”, and immutable “right” and “wrong” imperatives.  The “hero” charges off to avenge his nation, which has been wronged. The only way to cure such beliefs is through knowledge of things like depth psychology, history, and why people do what they do.  Such knowledge leads to love.  But without it, people are prone to a morality based on fear.

Fear always gives birth to more fear, like a disease.  Life for many is unbearable, so they begin to fear whether it’s possible to ever live a better life.  The Christian fundamentalist, because of this inner suffering, is suspectible to living a life in the imagination, instead of the world outside.  So they create a mindset of heaven, and a God who will take them to paradise. Unfortunately, they have very little knowledge of perfection, or even what drives people’s actions, so they struggle to contemplate how this perfect world is going to be rid of such evils.  People are going to be taken to this heaven, yet people can be so nasty.  How could it ever work out? The only hopeful possibility is personal righteousness, and God giving them this perfect nature as a gift.  So now God is offering a gift to live in bliss, only if we accept it.  But what about people who refuse it?  What happens to them?  Well they’re obviously worthless.  Who would refuse a free gift to paradise?  They must be refusing to give up their pet sins.  No perfect world can ever exist with such people around.  God must put them up for some sort of display.  So God institutes hell, both to imprison evil souls, and to scare all future generations away from their lifestyles.  With the advent of the new Heaven and the New Earth in the glorious book of Revelation, after Jesus comes back, all the mortal men still living on Earth can look down into the pits of hell, and see these worthless individuals burning for all eternity.  During the great reign of the Messiah at the second coming, Jesus starts throwing sinners in the fire and fixes the world.  The period of grace ends, and God’s going to rule with his rod of iron!  In with strictness, and out with tolerance.  God’s not going to put up with this any longer!

We see fear creating the ultimate fear – going to hell.  Individualis who believe this become paralized.  So much so that they won’t let anyone discuss issues which shed light on the falseness of the Bible, or any sort of proving of the scriptures.  Such individuals will not even read books on evolution.  Many of them would consider it a sin to do so!

Many years ago, when I was still religious, I started buying lots of books. I can remember my mother telling me to stop reading certain books. In fact, she didn’t want me reading any book unless written by a Christian.  She desired me to go as far as limiting my selection to that of certain established authors, and particular denominations.  She was worried the devil would trick me into believing what’s in the books. Fortunatly for me, I was too old for her to tell me what to do.  Dad did the same thing in his own way.  He used to quote a passage from Proverbs, primarly intended to discourage my studies, “The reading of many books wearies the mind.”  That passage emodies the complete negative of my being – my polar idiot opposite – everything I DON’T want to be.  He told me about good ol’ grandma Vaughn, a simple virtuous woman, who only read the Bible.  He felt she knew all that was worth knowing.  I highly disagree.

Dogma of any kind is believed originally out of some sort of fear.  People give away their mental freedom, because they fear the future, and lack confidence in their own ability to make life into what they want it to be.  The famous philosopher J.S. Mill, in his book “On Liberty” expressed the following profound quote:

“…for in proportion to a man’s want of confidence in his own solitary judgment, does he usually repose, with implicit trust, on the infallibility of ‘the world’ in general.”

But fears are not always created out of an anticipated danger, or even a present danger, but can also come from a fear of losing something they already have.  They will do all they can to prevent such loss. This is a dangerous form of fear, because everything in this world is built on an uncertain foundation, and because certainity is impossible, this kind of fear has no limits.

Greed comes from this form of fear.  You have to keep saving up for a rainy day, and be prepared for anything.  In consequence, the more such individuals have, the more they have to lose, and the more they must do to protect what they already have.  To such people fear is masked as caution, but things go far beyond ordinary precautionary measures.  Greed always wishes to maintain some certain lifestyle, and fear steps in lest they lose it.  These people have huge sums of money in the bank, but never spend any of it.  Money to an economy is like blood is to the body, so economists are forced to devise systems which make sure this money doesn’t stagnate in these individual’s bank accounts.  It was decided that the money should be lent out to the public.  But money can’t be given out for free after all.  Lending at interest may be its own detriment, but what do you do?  It’s better than letting the nation financially suffocate.

Unfortunately this enriches people who don’t need the money, and also leads to “boom/bust” cycles – artificial prosperity to depressionary economic cycles.  Slowly the interest feeds into these individuals bank accounts until less and less money is circulating about in public hands.  The economy becomes more and more debt driven, because to get “blood” to survive, you have to take out loans.  Eventually the public takes out more loans than there is free-floating currency available to manage the interest on the loans, and you get a depression.  People invaribly cannot make the payments because it’s impossible to do so, as there just isn’t enough money in the normal public’s hands to do so.

This creates instant panic among the greedy money tyrants.  Lending requirements go through the roof, and people can’t get any loans at all, and since the economy is debt driven, people can no longer “afford” things.  So they quit purchasing, which means companies have less money to pay people, and they begin to lay people off.  Eventually they can no longer lay people off, so they they begin to cut people’s salaries.  This is unfortunate, because in a debt driven economy, everyone is buried in debt, and they soon cannot make their payments.  Those laid off have to default on their home and car loans, etc., and lose everything.  This leads to even stricter lending requirements, because fear leads the money tyrants to even tighter constriction.  This of course, leads to companies making even less profits (because their products were bought via loans), so even more salary cuts.  Eventually the salary cuts are so great that even working people, with jobs, cannot make their payments and default on loans, which leads to even tighter loan constriction.  A vicious downward spiral has begun that doesn’t end until the entire economy collapses on itself.

Such cycles are called “deflation”, which really means, “the blood banks of the rich are hereby slowly being shut off, use what blood you can find out there”.  Though the valves are being shut off, that doesn’t mean the rich’s intake valves have been shut-off.  They’re still sucking in money, they just stopped dishing it out.  A debt driven economy with deflation is sure-fire disaster.  Once organizations like the Federal Reserve see deflation creeping in, they do everything they can to stave it off.  They know it will completely wipe out the entire economy once it starts.  So they use their little bag of tricks to try to keep things afloat.  They screw around with interest rates and bank reserve requirements, but eventually they push the banking system to its absolute limits and the economy still cannot function.

It’s obvious why this system cannot work.  The rich end up with all the money eventually, because they slowly drain the currency available to the public.  During a depression the money doesn’t “disappear”.  The money is simply controlled completely by the rich and powerful, and there is no longer any money in circulation among the public, because it’s been drained by the banking system.  As a direct consequence, you can see that the greedy cannot grow their money forever, because there is a limited amount of it.  Eventually after they’ve drained the money from the public, they fight amongst themselves.

This is exactly what’s happening in the United States right now.  The greed of the money tyrants was never enough, and they kept lending and lending and lending, but the public pool of money becoming pretty shallow. So people have been defaulting on their homes, their cars, etc.  That’s why there was the housing crisis, and why the auto dealers are going under.  Such things are always purchased with debt, and now loans are not available.

They’ve really suckered the public.  The foolish and ignorant have spent themselves silly with credit cards, big homes, and big cars.  All they have is a big pile of debt, which they soon will not be able to pay.  You’ll notice in the financial industry, the big financial magnates have been dumping off their loan notes to other organizations.  The wise knew it was time to get out, so they got out why the going was good.  This is part of the conflict between the rich.  They’ve also been utilizing techniques to steal people’s retirement plans.  Organizations that manage people’s retirement accounts are partly used for this purpose.  The rich people’s bad debt has been sold to companies which manage people’s retirement plans.  This allows them to convert retirement plans into cash (which was handed to the rich during the sell out), and the rich have gotten out, and the companies managing people’s retirement plans are going under.  Work thirty years for a company saving for retirement?  Sorry, your money just went “poof”.

But greed has no limits.  These bankers lent out so much of their money, they’re struggling to completely “get out”.  No problem, says the government.  We’ll form a massive bail-out package.  We’ll take the money from the wise public who have taken good care of their money, and give it to you guys.  We’ll also tax the business owners, and hand that money to you as well.  Turn on your TV and the news networks begin to blare the propaganda, “This is for main street!  Main-street!  This isn’t just greedy Wall-street bankers. It’s for you too!  We have to pass this bill right now!  Within the next few weeks or the entire economy is going to explode!”  They pass the bill, then they tell us (after the bill passes of course) it’s not even going to go into effect until this coming year (2009). So much for the rush.  Fear caused greed, and now this greed is begetting more fear in the public through the news and propaganda.  People have high hopes for Obama, but I don’t think we’ll see the “change” that he’s been touting.

In fact, I’m rather perturbed about all of this, because my most recent business venture is struggling to get capital because of it.  You see, these “bail out” packages are nothing more than the government printing up money and handing it to various corporations and banks who are friendly with the politicians.  The rich have been pulling out of the United States, worried as to how much money the government is going to print up with these “bail-outs”.  They’re converting their U.S. Dollars to things like gold, and getting the hell out why the dollar still has some value left in it.  I don’t blame them either.  Our governments, state and federal, keep spending themselves into oblivion.  You going bail all them out too, with printed up money?  Then there’s the wars we have going on.  Defecit spending galore.  Even foreign countries are backing off, and not buying our treasury bonds – they’re becoming junk status.  But what if you don’t bail anyone out, then what?  Do you let another Great Depression ensue, with bread lines, and mass poverty?

You print up money, the dollar tanks.  Cut government spending, they’re worried the economy won’t manage.  Too many jobs will be lost.  Will Obama increase taxes on the rich and the successful business owners?  Why should they be punished for the greed on Wall Street, and fund Bush’s Iraq war, which nobody even wants?  It sounds like Obama’s going to be jacking up business taxes even HIGHER.  Whatever rich investors were left, after hearing that, they’re gone as well.  American businesses are already over-taxed as it is.  They’re fed up, and taking their business elsewhere.

Since these rich individuals are the ones who fund entrepreneurial enterprises, the investor capital market in the United States right now is basically non-existent.  It doesn’t matter how good your business plan is, investors are simply too scared to put any money in this country right now.  Fear made greed, and greed is now causing more fear.  Greg and I had several capital groups examine our plan for months, stare at it closely and say, “Man this looks good, but….. I dunnnoooo.  This just isn’t a good time.”  Even after formally turning us down, they keep looking at our plan, seeming to second guess their decision.  They seem to want to invest, yet are in fear to do so as well. Failing businesses are being rewarded for not changing with the times, and new growth is being kept out.

This whole mess was caused by fear.  Some people will tell you the system is too complicated to understand, but I don’t think that’s completely true.  The only thing impossible to know about it all is the vastness of the corruption, because there’s so much of it it’s nearly impossible to track it all.  What makes it difficult is the fact that the powerful people purposely try to keep everything hidden and mysterious.  Accounting methods, statistical calculations, etc., are all modified and distorted in ways that makes things appear different than they really are.  The government wants us to think everything’s ok right up until the last moment.  They don’t want anyone getting worked up until they’re done sliding money under the table.  They can’t take our money all at once; they have to use a siphon.  One day we wake up and check on our money only to find it’s all gone.  If we’d gotten upset earlier, we’d have checked on our money, and this wouldn’t have happened.  These money lenders and managers are all scheming every way they can to enrich themselves.  I think money and banking is the most corrupt industry there is.  The only reason I’ve chosen to study physics more seriously than economics is that economics just makes me frustrated, whereas physics leaves me in awe and wonder.  But I always seem to find myself coming back to it.  Even with the corruption, I just have to know what’s ‘really’ going on.

What’s most sad about this situation is that the greedy rich, who think they’re so clever, end up only destroying themselves.  What good is having a huge warehouse of money, if it cannot be used to puchase anything?  Money is only as good as what it can be exchanged for, and since nobody is producing anything, the money is worthless.

This leads to a strange point, which I only realized after reading a book by Betrand Russell.  You cannot exhibit the highest forms of courage unless you have an impersonal outlook on life.  I suppose in one sense you could say that these corrupt individuals are very “brave”, considering they take such risks, and could even be executed if they were caught.  I was reading a book by a great economist not too long ago, who said the American people would be up in arms if they only knew what was going on in the banking industry.  But with greater insight into the nature of courage, I don’t think their actions contain any sort of courage. I’ll simply quote the text:

“There is one thing more required for the highest courage and that is what I called just now an impersonal outlook on life.  The man whose hopes and fears are all centered upon himself can hardly view death with equanimity, since it extinguishes his whole emotional universe.  Here, again, we are met by a tradition urging the cheap and easy way of repression: the saint must learn the renounce Self, must mortify the flesh and forego instinctive joys.  This can be done, but its consequences are bad.  Having renounced pleasure for himself, the ascetic saint renounces it for others also, which is easier.  Envy persists underground, and leads him to the view that suffering is ennobling, and may therefore be legitimately inflicted.  Hence arises a complete inversion of values: what is good is thought bad, and what is bad is thought good.  The source of all the harm is that the good life has been sought in obedience to a negative imperative, not in broadening and developing natural desires and insticts.  There are certain things in human nature which take us beyond Self without effort.  The commonest of these is love, more particuarly parental love, which in some is so generalized as to embrace the whole human race.  Another is knowledge.  There is no reason to suppose that Galileo was particularly benevolent, yet he lived for an end which was not extinguished by his death.  Another is art.  But in fact every interest in something outside a man’s own body makes his life to that degree impersonal.  For this reason, paradoxical as it may seem, a man of wide and vivid interests finds less difficulty in leaving life than is experienced by some miserable hypochondriac whose interests are bounded by his own ailments. Thus the perfection of courage is found in the man of many interests, who feels his ego to be but a small part of the world, not through despising himself, but through valuing much that is not himself.  This can hardly happen except where instinct is free and intelligence is active.  From the union of the two grows a comprehensiveness of outlook unknown both to the voluptuary and the ascetic; and to such an outlook personal death appears a trivial matter.  Such courage is positive and instinctive, not negative and repressive.  It is courage in this positive sense that I regard as one of the major ingredients in a perfect character.”

To lose the self is the greatest form of courage.  You won’t fear death.  You won’t be tempted by greed.  You’ll have no desire to gossip or put others down.  Why?

You don’t fear death, because you realize there’s much greater things in the world than your petty human existence, and your mind learns to direct itself outward, instead of inward.  There are many miserable people who have realized how petty their human existence is, but that doesn’t do any good.  It’s when you find things infinitely greater than yourself, and spend your time thinking on those things.  Once you find those things, death doesn’t even matter.

In order to truly experience this, you must have a pure curiosity, which is not rooted in any form of self.  You have to be like the mathematician Archimedes.  He was once asked by the king why he spent his days working out geometrical relationships.  After all, what was he going to use them for?  Archimedes didn’t seem to understand the question.  The king had never experienced the bliss of the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.

Many people will dabble with the latest science and philosphy of the day.  They’ll watch a PBS documentary, and view some twirling 3D graphics of black holes, or other concepts of the universe.  Hopefully they’ll pick up just enough information to impress someone at a dinner party or social situation.  This isn’t a true love of knowledge.  Such people still think the greatest thing in the world is themselves, and since the self is so petty and evanescent, they wonder why they’re miserable focusing their mind on such things.

The bliss of the pursuit of knowledge only comes in when you study the subjects in such detail that you become part of the current “conversation” in that community.  You’re playing an active role, like a detective, trying to solve the latest mystery.  Then when someone solves the puzzle, you’re absolutely exhilarated, because you’d wondered about it for so long.  You were active in the pursuit, not just an idle spectator.  You were out on the field, and one of your teammates just scored a goal.  You run up to him and give him a high five.  It’s impossible for a spectator in the stands to feel the same joy.

New years just rolled around, and everyone’s making their resolutions.  I’m sure there’ll be newcomers in the gym, hoping to lose weight to be more attractive to the girls.  Others are planning to get an education, so they can make more money.  Everyone will be whipping up long lists of selfish pursuits, which won’t even make them happy even if they accomplish them.

Such men would be more attractive to women if they had respect for themselves, instead of trying to get it from others.  In shape, or not, what most women find attractive in men are mentally related attributes such as humor, intelligence, and confidence.  Well, unless she’s an airhead.  The same applies to many men – at least the ones worth catching.  If they would exercise because they want to feel better health wise, instead of trying to impress others, they would not only increase their own happiness, but it would wear off on others as well.  When their body ceases to be them, and becomes an object they see in front of them, which they begin to work on as their own personal project, then it will bring joy.

As for the people who work careers for money, I feel sorry for them.  They spend the majority of their lives doing something that means nothing to them.  They hope to make money to impress their family, friends, or high school alumni.  Generation after generation rolls around, and each group learns the same lesson: no one cares.  They haven’t learned the laws of impressing others.  There are two of them.  1) You show that you’re impressed with THEM, or 2) You be the person they always wish they were.  As for the first law, we’ve all heard family and relatives after a social gathering say something like, “So and so, wasn’t he nice?”  Such individuals typically either made the family members comfortable, humored them, or made them feel good about themselves.  The only other way around law one is law two, which is to be a person’s hero.  For example: They’re a physics student, and you’re a top physicist for NASA.  You won’t even have to do anything and they will be impressed.  Ancient Indian philosophers were once asked by Alexander the Great what it took to be beloved by everyone.  They told him, “He must be very powerful, without making himself too much feared.”  In other words, he’s a person who provides them with safety, joys, and comfort, but poses no danger to them.

There are people like celebrities who seem to break these rules.  They seem to be admired, not because they’ve really made people feel good about themselves, nor do their fans wish to be an actor by profession, yet they still attract huge followings.  You have to remember that this fame is fleeting.  Unless they’ve done something which has really changed the world, and made people’s lives better, they will be forgotten about. Celebrities come and go with the wind.  Men and women who have devoted themselves to worthy causes, and served humanity, are the only ones who will be remembered after a long time passes.

There’s no amount of money that will make people like you, unless that person wants to be rich like you – but they only want your money, and hope you can teach them how to make money as well.  There’s no degree of “awesomeness” you can achieve, where people will all just stand back in awe and love you to death.  There’s no amount of education and respectability which will make you beloved.

It’s easy to see that selfish pursuits are always self-defeating.

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about fear, and things to avoid, but how do we develop confidence and courage?  If you read back over all these examples closely, you’ll always see that courage came from finding something more valuable than the self.

With my parents, I was tempted to keep “playing along” with church, but what gave me strength to resist was finding a truth, which revealed to me that the religious views were really nothing but fear.  I feared death, so I invented fantasies for the afterlife in heaven.  I feared making decisions, so I invented a God who watched over me constantly.  I feared losing my loved ones, so I invented heaven.  But the cost of such fears was greater than what I was gaining, and it stilted me from growing into a better person.  In my studies, I found things much greater than myself, my family members, or any human being, which occupy my mind, and this gave me strength to resist the temptations of falling into the religious snare.

If the greedy money tyrants would stop focusing on themselves, and look at the big picture, they would also see they are creating not only their own misery, but misery on others.  But they don’t have strength to overcome their greed, because they can’t think of anything better than the false security they think money offers them.  They COULD donate their money to scholarships and provide capital to business ventures, which would be good for everyone, including themselves.  Give science grants to MIT students, and I’m sure they’ll create new inventions that improve life.  Fund projects like Google, which make information available to all.  There’s a lot of things to do with money, and it’s a lot better than keeping your money in some bank, which lends it out with credit cards, and your money just goes to people blowing it on worthless junk – not to mention the boom/bust economic cycles.

If the newcomers to the gym saw the pointlessness of their own enterprises, they too would behave much differently.  But as long as they are lost in self, they’ll be blind to see why things aren’t working for them.

Knowledge tends to have a strong impact on courage.  When you’re quite confident that you’re right, and someone else is wrong, it’s not as difficult to have courage; at least psychological courage.  As for fear of getting physically injured, most confidence in these areas can be overcome by knowledge of the area being dealt with, developing skills, and practice.  With sufficient training, even a cobra snake can be less intimidating.  I think with the fireman, who displayed courage, he saw the potential in the young child’s life, and knew it was greater than his own life.  If you’re going to risk your life for something, you’ll have to find something you think is greater than your own life.  Few people ever reach this level of virtue.

You may think, “How can you know they’ll be greater than me?  Maybe the kid will just grow up to be a nuisance, and was not worth saving.”  This is the most critical juncture of all.  The whole purpose of intelligence is to see things that are not immediately obvious to the untrained eye.  You have to be able to see beyond the present.  You have to see unseen potential.  You need love.  In fact, I think there’s little difference.  People love those they believe in, but we can only believe in others if our eyes are sufficiently trained to see beyond the present, and see people’s potential.

I’d like to end this entry by telling you to find something you believe in.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s necessarily the greatest advice.  For you see, it’s easier to give your life to a cause, than to know whether the cause is worthwhile.  Seek knowledge for its own sake, and you’ll find plenty to believe in, and courage will come with it.  Love for others will naturally occur, because that knowledge will unite you with them, and also reveal their unseen potential to you.  Courage to live and even die for your friends and community will occur naturally, and because your mind and intelligence will be active from knowledge, you will be kept away from unworthy causes.  News networks will be continually telling you to give your life to some war, but knowledge will inform you that the war is a farse, and is only designed to enrich greedy tyrants.  Stay away from all forms of dogma.  Stay clear of anything that keeps you from seeking truth, and tells you to believe things that are not rational to your mind.  You’ll find the only reason you wish to believe it is some form of fear, and fear rarely has good consequences.

One thought on “Thoughts On Courage”

  1. Great post Jason, just a couple comments:

    “What’s most sad about this situation is that the greedy rich, who think they’re so clever, end up only destroying themselves. What good is having a huge warehouse of money, if it cannot be used to puchase anything? Money is only as good as what it can be exchanged for, and since nobody is producing anything, the money is worthless.”

    Unless the money does not really matter to them at all and they’re merely using it as a kind of social engineering tool – to shape the next phase of society into whatever.

    Also, there’s a big difference between the “normal rich” and the kind of super-rich this post refers to… the kind that can actually manipulate the supply because they’re tied in to all kinds of circles. I know that’s the kind you were referring to, but others probably don’t realize that distinction.


    “I was reading a book by a great economist not too long ago, who said the American people would be up in arms if they only knew what was going on in the banking industry.”

    He may be a great economist, but hasn’t studied marketing 🙂 This reminded me of that guy who discovered a way to significantly increase the average human life span and then toured the country making speeches about it, etc.

    He discovered, to his horror, that hardly anyone even WANTED to live that long, let alone cared that it was possible.


    So my point is, this guy here is basically saying “if people knew the TRUTH about the banking industry, they’d go crazy and demand change”

    Nah. They wouldn’t even care. It’d get reported, and then to the economist’s shock and dismay, life would go on as it always had.

    There’s often a huge difference between what’s possible and what people actually do and want.

    Stupid people 🙂

    Perhaps it is this very fact about the nature of people that they need to be controlled by the power elite in the first place.

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