March 26, 2010
During the past week or so I have not been able to get the things Alan Watts said in that video out of my head. “The world wiggles, everything wiggles, and all that wiggling is too complicated.” How we feel we understand the world once we break it down into simple geometric shapes, and put it all into simple step-by-step operations.
And while I’ve been thinking on those thoughts I’ve also been going out for long walks around town and watching David Attenborough’s films after I get back home. It then really dawned on me, “Oh my God… we’re destroying the Earth.”
I know I’ve said that before. I’ve always known this fact yet I feel I’ve came to new sort of realization over the past week. When I said those things in the past, they didn’t quite carry the emphasis they do now. I got to watching Planet Earth made by the BBC. It’s breathtaking. All the beauty of nature they’ve filmed in that series is beyond words.
We’ve inherited a world with so much beauty, and so many different forms of life, yet we’re just dumping toxic crap in our oceans, pumping smog into the atmosphere, chopping down the forests… We really are a cancer to this planet.
Yet, somehow, we feel we’ve improved the Earth. We’ve built our square little boxes which we call homes, and drive our little cars and trucks around on our flat roads. We’re destroying the Earth and throwing up trash.
One of the things I noticed watching Planet Earth is that many species on the planet have such well-knit societal structures which are in harmony with the Earth. It showed a group of baboons who live on top of a certain mountain. Can’t remember the name. They live in perfect harmony with nature. They’re a tightly bound group who looked after one another, with small patrols on watch for foxes and other predators and making warning calls if danger approaches.
They live in harmony with the ecosystem yet we destroy every environment we’re placed in. Everywhere we go the Earth gets polluted and trashed. As I walked around town that fact was glaring at me. I thought, “My God, look at us. This is terrible.”
I started to thinking about various notions of “individual freedom.” How we define ourselves and our individuality by being different from the person next door. Therefore you walk through a neighborhood and every home has a different style, painted a different color, different sorts of cars in each driveway, each with their own color, different mailboxes, etc. Then I compared that to nature and thought, “How trashy.”
When you walk through a forest everything matches. Every untouched natural environment on this Earth has a certain “theme” to it. Almost like God played the role of an artist and planned it all out beforehand. Yet we as humans don’t think that way. We divide off the land into sections which we designate as “private property” and then allow ourselves to do whatever we want with our section of the land. Then we, with our shortsighted little brains, think only of our little plot of land and paint our homes and style our yards with little to no thought of how well all of this works with the neighborhood or community as a whole. The end result is a trashy looking neighborhood.
We in the United States take pride in this form of individual thought. Excessive freedom. Everything’s about freedom. But there are other countries, such as Japan for example, who are better about considering how their actions tie into the whole. A lot of that is due to their religious heritage being different from our own.
When you go to an American school all the kids are dressed in their own individual outfits. Nothing matches. If you go to Japan, they’re all dressed in their school uniforms.
I used to be a strong advocate of individual freedom, but nowadays I’m becoming more collectivist in thought. However, I’m still someplace inbetween. There’s merit to both sides and I’m not really hardcore about either these days.
I can’t help but worry that humanity can’t understand the breadth of nature with his primitive mind and when we try to “improve” the Earth with our technology we just screw everything up. Once I started watching David Attenborough’s films, the heritage that we’re destroying became so apparent to me.
Our population keeps increasing and more and more of these shoddy homes and neighborhoods are being shot up. Nature is being torn down to make room for more humans.
Nature isn’t completely beautiful either though. Watching predators prey on the weaker species is heartbreaking. I don’t know. Disease. Starvation. Natural disasters. *Sigh* What a mess we’re in.
The more I learn, the more I find myself driven to sadness. I should’ve learned my lesson from Solomon in the Bible. My Dad taught me these lessons growing up. The story goes something like this. God came down from heaven and offered young Solomon one wish. To God’s pleasure, he asked for wisdom to rule Israel. His wish was granted and he ruled and brought peace and prosperity to the nation, but found his mind troubled to a point which drove him to utter despair.
I’m becoming just like Solomon. It gets harder and harder to smile and laugh these days. There are some really great books in the Bible and there’s a lot to learn from it. I enjoy reading Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Gospels. I’ll quote some passages from Ecclesiastes the 7th chapter.
“A good name is better than fine perfume,
and the day of death better than the day of birth.
2 It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of every man;
the living should take this to heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
because a sad face is good for the heart.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
5 It is better to heed a wise man’s rebuke
than to listen to the song of fools.
6 Like the crackling of thorns under the pot,
so is the laughter of fools.
This too is meaningless.
7 Extortion turns a wise man into a fool,
and a bribe corrupts the heart.
8 The end of a matter is better than its beginning,
and patience is better than pride.
9 Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit,
for anger resides in the lap of fools.
10 Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”
For it is not wise to ask such questions.
11 Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing
and benefits those who see the sun.
12 Wisdom is a shelter
as money is a shelter,
but the advantage of knowledge is this:
that wisdom preserves the life of its possessor.
13 Consider what God has done:
Who can straighten
what he has made crooked?
14 When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider:
God has made the one
as well as the other.
Therefore, a man cannot discover
anything about his future.
15 In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these:
a righteous man perishing in his righteousness,
and a wicked man living long in his wickedness.
16 Do not be overrighteous,
neither be overwise—
why destroy yourself?
17 Do not be overwicked,
and do not be a fool—
why die before your time?
18 It is good to grasp the one
and not let go of the other.
The man who fears God will avoid all extremes .
19 Wisdom makes one wise man more powerful
than ten rulers in a city.
20 There is not a righteous man on earth
who does what is right and never sins.
21 Do not pay attention to every word people say,
or you may hear your servant cursing you-
22 for you know in your heart
that many times you yourself have cursed others.
23 All this I tested by wisdom and I said,
“I am determined to be wise”—
but this was beyond me.
24 Whatever wisdom may be,
it is far off and most profound—
who can discover it?
25 So I turned my mind to understand,
to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things
and to understand the stupidity of wickedness
and the madness of folly.
26 I find more bitter than death
the woman who is a snare,
whose heart is a trap
and whose hands are chains.
The man who pleases God will escape her,
but the sinner she will ensnare.
27 “Look,” says the Teacher, “this is what I have discovered:
“Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things-
28 while I was still searching
but not finding—
I found one upright man among a thousand,
but not one upright woman among them all.
29 This only have I found:
God made mankind upright,
but men have gone in search of many schemes.”
Though Solomon’s a bit sexist against women due to his countless nagging wives, his other wisdom is sound. Wise men are always learning about the troubles and problems in this world, yet find themselves powerless in so many situations. You see the wicked bankers on Wall Street prosper, and good people struggling to get by. You search for wisdom but instead find out that it’s so far beyond you that you’ll never find the answers you’re really looking for.
As Solomon said, the best wisdom can do for you is keep you alive while you have to suffer watching everyone else around you die. You learn how to eat the right foods, exercise, how to invest your money, and how to manage your own affairs, yet this doesn’t help when it comes to everyone else around you.
Wisdom is scarce. People are smoking cigarettes, chugging down the alcohol, never learning about money, not taking care of themselves, nor doing any planning for the future. They’re running up debts, going to wars, believing lies of all sorts… and sadly, you can’t do anything for them unless they let you and want you to.
I was reading an article just recently about a guy who happened to be in Haiti when the earthquake happened. He had taken military type survival training and the second the quake started he was jumping out of bed and rushing out the door. He had scouted the building beforehand and knew exactly where the exits were. He was out of the building in no time flat.
He was amazed that even after several minutes he was the only one who had made it out of the building. Nobody else had any clue what to do. Some were calling the front desk for directions. Others were getting in the bathtub.
That’s what wisdom does. Thankfully the building didn’t collapse, but if it had, he would’ve been the only one to survive. Hundreds would’ve died screaming in terror. He would’ve had to sit back and watch, not being able to do anything.
That’s all wisdom offers in this world. You survive and sometimes prosper, but it doesn’t necessarily help anyone but you. And sadly, people can’t identify wisdom unless they themselves are wise.
Machiavelli illustrates this principle perfectly in his book The Prince found within the chapter ‘How Flatterers Should Be Avoided‘.
“I do not wish to leave out an important branch of this subject, for it is a danger from which princes are with difficulty preserved, unless they are very careful and discriminating. It is that of flatterers, of whom courts are full, because men are so self-complacent in their own affairs, and in a way so deceived in them, that they are preserved with difficulty from this pest, and if they wish to defend themselves they run the danger of falling into contempt. Because there is no other way of guarding oneself from flatterers except letting men understand that to tell you the truth does not offend you; but when everyone may tell you the truth, respect for you abates.
Therefore a wise prince ought to hold a third course by choosing the wise men in his state, and giving to them only the liberty of speaking the truth to him, and then only of those things of which he inquires, and of none others; but he ought to question them upon everything, and listen to their opinions, and afterwards form his own conclusions. With these councillors, separately and collectively, he ought to carry himself in such a way that each of them should know that, the more freely he shall speak, the more he shall be preferred; outside of these, he should listen to no one, pursue the thing resolved on, and be steadfast in his resolutions. He who does otherwise is either overthrown by flatterers, or is so often changed by varying opinions that he falls into contempt.
A prince, therefore, ought always to take counsel, but only when he wishes and not when others wish; he ought rather to discourage everyone from offering advice unless he asks it; but, however, he ought to be a constant inquirer, and afterwards a patient listener concerning the things of which he inquired; also, on learning that any one, on any consideration, has not told him the truth, he should let his anger be felt.
And if there are some who think that a prince who conveys an impression of his wisdom is not so through his own ability, but through the good advisers that he has around him, beyond doubt they are deceived, because this is an axiom which never fails: that a prince who is not wise himself will never take good advice, unless by chance he has yielded his affairs entirely to one person who happens to be a very prudent man. In this case indeed he may be well governed, but it would not be for long, because such a governor would in a short time take away his state from him.
But if if a prince who is not experienced should take counsel from more than one he will never get united counsels, nor will he know how to unite them. Each of the counsellors will think of his own interests, and the prince will not know how to control them or to see through them. And they are not to be found otherwise, because men will always prove untrue to you unless they are kept honest by constraint. Therefore it must be inferred that good counsels, whencesoever they come, are born of the wisdom of the prince, and not the wisdom of the prince from good counsels.
All those who think Sarah Palin could make a good president are deceived. My grandpa once said, “She’s a good person. She may not understand everything herself, but she can get good advisors who will tell her what to do.” I thought, “No no no. That’s not how it works.” I don’t know if she’s a good person or not. She comes across as an opportunist to me spouting party slogans and never breaking anything down into any depth.
President Obama doesn’t know the lessons from this chapter either. He gives liars too much of a voice, doesn’t stand steadfast enough, and doesn’t control the debates and conversations. That’s what a political leader is supposed to do. Shut up the noise, tell people how things really work, direct the debates in a direction, and stand for something without moving. But he instead sways with the wind, and has fallen into contempt, just as Machiavelli said would happen.
Intelligent people debate and discourse, entertaining all sides, but in politics you don’t do that. The masses don’t understand all those fine details and it’s more about being confident and knowing what you’re talking about. You pose yourself as an authority, that you know what you’re doing, and take control.
The last paragraph from the quoted chapter describes Obama’s administration perfectly.
But I think Obama is a smart guy. He’s trying to apply the same principle a wise man uses in his own personal affairs to politics. In Ecclesiastes 7 Verse 18, Solomon talks about not giving giving yourself to extremes, and this lesson is one I’ve only learned recently.
Extremes have their uses. Principles such as limits in Calculus are useful at exposing certain relationships. We’re always trying to push the limits of something, We heat a metal and see how much heat it can absorb before it melts. Our engineering specifications always tell the maximum output of our engines and devices.
But when it comes to real life, you have to be a person who sees things from every angle. Grasp to one idea set, yet hold onto the other as well. It’s so hard to be sure of something. You humbly look at something, test your ideas, and just see what works and what doesn’t, yet always knowing in the back of your mind that it’s very likely that you’re wrong.
Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions. I never seem to learn this one. Times are always changing and no matter how hard you try to hold onto things you can’t. You can’t look back. Just keep your eyes ahead of you and keep moving.
We’re wired emotionally to attach ourselves to things, but those things are destined to death and decay, whether those things are people or things. It’s inevitable that we constantly experience sadness and sorrow.
Jean Paul Satre, in Being and Nothingness, said when we look back on our past we freeze into a stone statue. When we define ourselves based on our past events, that past defines us, yet the past can’t be changed. We too become frozen, just like the memories in our heads — unchangeable. We become history instead of history makers.
Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked? Maybe when we try to straighten out this messed up world, we end up simplifying it to such an extent that it no longer can uphold the complex nature required to support life. Therefore we destroy ourselves in the process.
That’s not to say I don’t support us making the attempt. It’s just that if things keep getting worse, we’ll need to have all this in mind. If new technology doesn’t come out to fix the problems we’re now creating, the world is going to throw off humanity like a bull in a rodeo within a few hundred years. The water will become so polluted, the air so bad, the food so tainted and unnourishing, that we’ll all die off. Billions of years of evolution to create us, a few thousand years of “civilization” to destroy it off.
But though all of this is rather depressing, I think the world is on some sort of magnificent journey. The thing is, we’re just not the star attraction. We’ll have to deal with that. But if you’d like a glimpse at what nature can do, take a look at this: (These are clips from the David Attenborough film I was talking about, though unfortunately they’re not in High Definition, like I’ve been watching)
Something truly amazing is going on. I believe in some sort of intelligence at work behind the laws of nature in this world. How can you look around you and find it all random? No, it was planned out by a great artist. Though the creator of this universe is quite an artist, I don’t know what else to say about It though. Then again, I don’t feel qualified to say much else either.
If God truly is infinite in all respects, and when It creates steps into space-time, I could see how It would not be too attached to any particular universe or set of things. It would have an infinite amount of stuff to show us, and to do so requires change, and with change there is inevitably death. The cruelty in this world may only be temporary, and death a mere illusion.
I have a feeling we step into something new upon death. After examining quantum mechanics and relativity, and the Big Bang in cosmology, I just can’t picture this universe giving us a short, tiny life then saying, “Well, that’s it.”
When it comes to questions like those, I stand back and say, “I don’t know.” Don’t listen to those who claim to “see the light” and know what’s going on in this world. I assure you, they have no clue.
When I was young my childhood dream was to make video games. I was interested in programming the graphics engines behind computer games. I loved coding simulators, programming in the physics, the artificial intelligence, and making my own world. Designing and building games – that’s what I wanted to do.
Then I learned more about reality. I figured out that whatever world I could even envison in my mind, this world I live in is a million times more intricate, and my artificial worlds would be cheap mimicries. That’s when I dedicated myself to researching science.
We need to be careful when we intervene in nature’s processes. We may end up replacing something beautiful with something much less so and ruin everything.