OPTIMISM – OUR SECRET WEAPON IN A BROKEN WORLD

There is always a Path

 

OPTIMISM

OUR SECRET WEAPON IN A BROKEN WORLD

 

By Jay B Gaskill

 

Copyright © 2017 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

 

 

Why do we tend to fare better with optimism as a motivator than with its opposite? 

 

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”  Winston Churchill

 

“I am an optimist. Anyone interested in the future has to be otherwise he would simply shoot himself.” Arthur C Clarke

 

“Optimism is a force multiplier.”  Colin Powell

 

 

The dark opposite of optimism is fatalism — well named.  The bleak acceptance of “no exit” and “nothing changes for the better” has led many who fall under the pessimistic spell to slip into fatal outcomes, while better choices were available, if not obvious.

 

The future belongs to the life-affirming, creative-adaptive among us.  If you doubt this, just ask the dinosaurs who had a thirty million year run at developing a space-faring civilization before they were wiped out by a giant meteor strike about 66 million years ago.  Oh, that’s right: They didn’t develop language; left no trace of their thought patterns, so you can’t ask them.  But the “Why” answer should be obvious.

 

Optimum vs. Paralysis

 

 

“The moment you definitely commit yourself, providence moves, too.  All sorts of things occur to help you that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issue from your decision, raising in your favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no one could have dreamed would have come your way.”  Author unknown, usually attributed to Goethe

 

The Pessimist’s Corollary: “The moment you succumb to ambivalence, providence stalls.  All sorts of things seem to occur to block you that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of obstacles issue from your ambivalence, raising in your path all manner of difficulties, risks and portents, including the indifference of those you expected to offer assistance.  All of these difficulties were anticipated by your pessimistic mind.”

 

Realistic optimism

 

We need to address the “how” questions of optimism within the framework of a global optimistic mindset, the kind that requires us to integrate the perspective of history and its lessons.  This is essential or world-view optimism.  This form of optimism operates on a different level than the micro-scale of immediate personal advantage.  It animates the fierce parent who charges into danger with the realistic expectation that at least some of the children will survive.  It is qualitatively distinct from that defiant, against-all-odds optimism of the prisoner on the gallows, and even from the transcendent optimism of the faithful for whom death itself has no dominion[1].  It is solidly anchored in the realistic, day-to-day human experience, writ large.

 

The “how” questions come down to this one: How can you reasonably think that?

 

Here’s an insight not often acknowledged:

 

Optimism, on the practical level, cannot even be conceived in the absence of a value framework within which competing outcomes can be assessed as good, bad, optimal, suboptimal and so forth.  Such an evaluative framework is normative in the general moral sense.

 

But moral systems can differ.

 

For example, the homicidal racists of Nazi Germany founded their optimism on a narrow doctrine – the will to power of a race, the superiority of which was based on the discredited pseudoscience of racial eugenics.  The bloody-minded communists of Stalin’s Russia based their optimism on another shaky foundation – an authoritarian economic model, Karl Marx’s theory of value leading to a workers’ utopia. It was supposed to be historically inevitable. Instead, another pseudoscience was discredited by history.

 

Getting to a durable optimistic perspective requires us to do some work on our moral foundations.  We’ll get that topic before the end of this essay.

 

And practical circumstances vary.

 

For every practical problem there exists a set of possible responses in real time.  They cluster around the optimum set at one end of the decision scale and the foolish or disastrous set at the other end. Because all real world decision-time is less than optimal, and because the future presents its choices to us through the fog of uncertainty, very few decisions we make can be trusted uncritically: our threshold choices may take us to a better place…or they may be mistakes. The realistic optimists among us understand the limitations of decision making, and keep the ongoing prospect of a plan’s timely revision always open…even the prospect of reconsideration of one’s ideological bent.

 

Why Realism is Optimism’s Friend

 

Analogy 1.0

 

Colloquially speaking, the “rocket scientist” is the icon of smartness.  In the 1930’s, legendary rocket scientists were dedicated to the exquisitely exacting science of ballistics, while under the radar a patent clerk named Albert Einstein was quietly tweaking the very foundations of space and time.  The mundane goal of achieving perfect aim and perfect trajectory over increasingly distances is increasingly unobtainable:  The longer the shot, the greater the number and complexity of variables to be accounted for.  But the notion of the perfect long shot has given way to something more adaptive.  Compare a semiautonomous self-guided cruise missile with any cannon, mortar or gun.

 

The perfect shot belongs to the smart bullet.

 

Analogy 2.0

 

In biological evolution, new species have emerged over great spans of time by seizing the survival edge with brilliant, but highly specialized adaptations.  Think of the heavy armor and horns of the triceratops and the other dinosaur exaggerations.  When the felicitous conditions go away, the rigid, exaggerated adaptations to environmental and ecological conditions lose value like a bad pick on the stock market in a neglected portfolio. More often than not, the failure to adapt takes the burdened species down with it.

 

By contrast, the supreme adaptation, first manifested on this planet by homo sapiens civilis, was the acquisition of a brilliant suite of faculties that permitted intelligent foresight, innovative adaptation and facilitated social cooperation.  This trumped all of the other adaptations.  Clever thinking coupled with intelligent social cooperation are the adaptations of all adaptations because, with them, we humans can build, imitate, work around or trump all of the advantages that the less clever species inherited with their bodies.   Realistic optimism depends on the strategy for which the human mind, foremost among all of the adaptive processes in nature, is best equipped:  creative, flexible, foresight-coupled reason.

Why the Life-Affirming Moral Compass is Realism’s Friend

 

We may be nature’s smart bullets, but our success or failure – which is the ultimate measure of realistic optimism – is a target-selection issue.  And the target-selection issue brings us squarely into the realm of morality in its very largest sense.

 

The origins of the human moral compass can be located in the baseline drives of the evolutionary process. Charles Darwin described the general survival imperative as it operates in nature to drive the mechanisms of natural selection.

 

The survival urge, taken as a biological imperative, can also be understood as the core ethical imperative.  Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) advanced the cause of an ethical system founded in the “Reverence for Life”[2]

 

Dr. Schweitzer’s ethical model, reverence for life, was colored by a tragic vision in which he saw a universal will-to-live torn by the Darwinian struggle. We can trace his sense of revulsion to the deeper normative unity implied by the use of the term “universal”.  I located Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s compelling aphorism, “The world presents the ghastly spectacle of a universal will-to-live divided against itself”, in his book, The Philosophy of Civilization, long out of print.  Put so elegantly, his inadequately differentiated life affirmation seemed to blur the distinction between intelligent, morally conscious human life and animal life.  But when framed as the centering principle of a specifically humanist moral system, life affirmation undergirds an essential optimistic moral framework.  This describes our various moral systems (mostly convergent) that are grounded in the human condition and anchored in the principle of the affirmation of (or even reverence for) human life in the context of a civilization that operates as its primary support system.

 

Our species’ moral compass points us towards life-affirmation – particularly that of human life.  This has huge implications for optimism because the direction embraces our immediate lives and well-being, but takes us further in space and time into the lives of those who will come after us.  At the very terminus of intellectual analysis, this is where we encounter the one of optimism that endures all assaults:  It is the sturdy optimism in those souls who can raise their sights to the cherished great values which will endure after they are gone.

 

The 960 Jewish warriors and loved ones who stood against the Romans at the fortress on Masada two millennia ago, refusing to surrender, killing themselves rather than giving the attackers the satisfaction of victory…were realistic optimists.  This was the same kind of optimism of the earliest Christians who initially scattered after their Lord and Messiah was tortured and executed, but later rallied, and in a few short generations had forever altered the history of Western civilization.

 

It is the optimism of the struggling immigrant parents who work themselves into bone deep weariness day and night so their children will have better futures.  It is the optimism of the inventor, the creative artists and all those others who understand that in the sacrifices and rewards of their personal creative struggles it is actually possible for a few to lift up the lives of the many who will come after them.

 

It is the optimism of those who understand that setbacks and failures are built into the processes of creation.  It is the essential optimism of those of us who believe in the future.[3]

The Target Zone

 

The limits of the smart bullet metaphor are apparent when we contemplate the elusive and effusive nature of the target zone itself.  This is because realistic optimism selects just not one target, but an entire life zone.  That zone is the harbor for all the unexpected possibilities that further human life, and enhance the human condition.  Among those who are able to approach this zone most closely, are the men and women who are suffused with a light-hearted humility, those for whom error and random variation are the givens – and the expectation of eventual meliorative change is the norm.

 

The target zone is a future than can be foreseen only in its most general features.  Its outlines are lit up by a convergence of certain grand, life-affirming values and goals, multi-layered, pan-tribal and multi-generational.  This is why that life affirming, creative/adaptive intelligence, seasoned with realistic optimism, has been the very engine of human progress.  Neither high motivation directed at narrow, rigidly defined targets (relaying on exact aim over creative adaptation), nor weak motivation without aim have served us nearly as well.

 

It follows that, just as we have become aware of the inherent limits to “dumb ballistics” and “smart bullets”, there are limits to all our rigidly detailed visions of progress.  Although our most cherished ideologies have occasionally been useful in generating optimism in the short term, over time they all became traps.  This is evident, for example, whenever ideologies generate authoritarian bureaucracies.  The bureaucratic mindset suffocates creative genius.  And another dysfunction becomes evident when ideologies become obsessed with the “unfairness” of success and achievement in their various forms.  The more exaggerated forms of the “leveling” ideologies kill optimism and paralyze the creative enterprise.  Moreover, similar negative side effects are generated by those ideologies that rigidly protect inherited privilege and/or entrenched political favoritism.  Creative adaptive human intelligence, tasked to enhancing life, the human condition and the continuation of the human creative enterprise, abhors all dead ends.

 

The iconic series, Star Trek, was a model of essential optimism (over and above the storylines of individual episodes) because its underlying premise was that there really is a future.  I love that recurring scene aboard the Starship Enterprise, when the First Officer asks, “Heading Sir?” and Captain Kirk confidently replies, “Out there!”

 

The target zone of the realistic optimist is also “out there” … in the life zone.

 

Our life-affirming moral compasses point us toward a Great Intersection between three convergent affirmations.  Together, these three affirmations are the core animating principles of all of our ethics, however imperfectly they are captured, expressed or taught within the various secular and religious traditions.  They consist of Life Affirmation, especially of human life; the Affirmation of Creation, especially of the human creative enterprise and the Affirmation of Intelligent Being, especially as human intelligence (the one instance of Intelligent Being with which we are familiar on a moment-to-moment basis) exercises its faculties of compassion (necessary for social cooperation), creative innovation and foresight. These three affirmations are the root normative triad.[4]

 

These three animating principles or affirmations behave as motivating forces.  We can visualize them as convergent beams, the primary colors, if you will, of human moral intelligence. Each ray suffuses and brightens the other two in a variety of unpredictable but wonderful ways.  When sufficiently integrated, they motivate and guide us to band together in civilizations, and – by extension – to organize our lives within a set of mutually protective rules,[5] but also under conditions that provide and protect sufficient freedom that the human creative/adaptive spirit can thrive. [6]

 

Over the great span of human history, the integration of life, creativity, and intelligent being (with all that implies and entails) remains incomplete.  I believe it can only be approached in any finite part of space-time, never quite fully achieved – the tendency to full integration operating much like the asymptotic convergence of line and curve in geometry.

 

But the quest for this deep integration of all thinking about reality, based on the belief that all reality is integrated, has always been the Great Attractor of human existence.  As a background world view, it operates as part of the underlying support structure of world ethical systems, and accounts for the general tendency towards the universalization of values and moral rules.  Think of the baseline prohibitions against cheating, theft and assault as first applying only within a tribe, then a race, then a country, then as applying to all humans everywhere.  There is a gradual integration of disparate moral codes that were based on arbitrary differences between people.  The process leads to the increasing universalization of the essence those codes, as in the transition from “Don’t steal from the in-group”, to “Don’t steal from anyone”.

 

There is a related quest for the essential integration of all reality (inside and outside our heads, if you will) in the context of the wonderful varieties of existential variation we witness everywhere.  Among other historical effects, it has led mystics to the grasp the unity of being[7], and humanists (both religious and secular) to transcend tribal boundaries, and the early thinkers of the Enlightenment to reject the arbitrary social classifications and boundaries of royal privilege.

 

A version of this same quest has driven the scientific enterprise from the very beginning, in a specialized form of integration limited to the study of the physical processes that occur within the natural world.   The Holy Grail of theoretical science is the elegant, comprehensive, explanatory and predictive integration of the physical universe. The belief that such a comprehensive integration of physical reality really exists in a form that can be grasped by human intelligence is the baseline faith of working scientists everywhere, even those who profess no faith at all.[8]

 

The still larger integration of the narrowly physical/material perspective of the sciences with the moral and esthetic perspective of intelligent, feeling, valuing beings, marks the threshold of a great human awakening.[9]  The result is essential optimism, the kind that is not limited or defined by one’s mortal life span or particular circumstances.

 

As a species, we have done very well indeed, and we are doing better and better as we come awake in the foregoing sense.  No earthly utopia imagined in the last five thousand years can come close to the actual human progress achieved over the same period.

 

Congenital (or habitual) pessimists are too trapped in the micro-perspective of their immediate life experiences to see the magnificence of human progress – from our hard scrabble, frightened beginnings to life within the best of the later civilizations.  It is as if millions of pessimistic ants are crawling through a gallery of stunning beauty, surrounded by exalted music, oblivious to the entire scene.

 

This is about the sturdy, long-view optimism of buoyant maturity, the form we can call essential optimism.  It is to be distinguished from the pessimism of the apocalyptic mind, and from that existential pessimism we all must occasionally feel, and for the bitter pessimism of the tired and defeated.  And this view trumps the defensive pessimism of those driven by the inordinate fear of disappointment, while it provides some authentic solace to those whose circumstances have closed in around them.

 

Chronic pessimism is an anesthetic against the surprise of joy.  But optimism, in its essential and realistic sense, is the stimulant that makes joy possible, and accomplishment inevitable…if not for every person who strives, but over time for increasing numbers of those who will come after us.

 

We are among the first in new generations that have been born into the age of essential optimism.  The word will spread.

 

Of course, not everyone has awakened in that essentially optimistic place.  Take heart.

The Christian mystic, Julian of Norwich, told the world, 600 years ago that “All will be well”.  She was sharing a revealed truth about the unfolding human story. Despite all those dark episodes of our history, the evil, depravity and calamity, Julian was onto something.  So long as good people can hold the evil forces and tendencies in the human psyche at bay, Julian’s dictum will hold.  This is the ultimate power of optimism over all the contrary forces.

Seven Elements of How

 

One: Understand that you have the power to “select the target” by framing the narrative of your life in its largest context.

 

Every uplifting narrative is the result of the selection of that moment when the story ends.

The difference between a naturalistic “we are but corks on the sea” tragedy and of a classic heroic “ta-da!” story is whether the chosen end is the hero’s lonely end in a rest home or the moment of triumph over the loathsome menace.  The embedded meaning of a narrative is chosen.  All lives, all stories and chronicles end, but their meaning lies in the notion of legacy.  [See seven, below.]

 

Two: Free yourself from unearned and unavoidable guilt; allocate all the rest to the

“lessons learned” category, and act accordingly…and with essential optimism.

 

Real time decision making is flawed.  Choices are complicated.  No one of  us, especially those most confident of our benign motives, can get through even a single month of life without causing harm, failing to prevent harm, falling short of expectations, selfgenerated or others, being oblivious to someone’s suffering or….  Well, you get the idea.  We tend to forgive children because they are still developing. But the brutal fact is that we all are larger and older versions of those same children caught in an uncompleted stage of development through which we suffer ongoing trial and error aiming at a wise adulthood, say, at the age of 500 years.  We accumulate guilt like a ship accumulates barnacles.  Enjoy today whenever you can.

 

Three: Use your foresight judiciously; then put it aside and cultivate confidence in your innate adaptivity.  Foresight is a gift with limits.  Adaptability is the gift without limits.

 

Four: Raise your sights.  Optimism is not just about you or your immediate material circumstances.

 

Five: Ordinary pessimism is the energy lull between optimistic surges: keep it in its proper place.

 

Six: Creative procrastination – after the necessary prudent preparation has been done – reinforces the habit of optimism for all those occasions when you will most need it.

 

Seven: Keep your attention on the crests of the wave form of the chain of life.

 

From the Beginning, life was preceded as well as followed by death, in an endless cycle of renewal.  The Eastern cultures have inherited a “Great Wheel” world view that transcends the religions that express the same idea.  This assumption, when unexamined and taken as a given, can color everything in life with an essential pessimism.  I’m describing the notion that all is repeated endlessly, that all novelty is repetition, and that both triumph and defeat are “fate”; and that the only release from the Great Wheel is through the disciplines of detachment. This world view is essentially antithetical to the Western world view which – whether secular or religious – finds its roots in the Judeo-Christian world view in which the notion of progress from a Beginning is taken as a given.[10]

 


 

The human species is specially equipped with a unique suite of faculties and capabilities, among them the faculties of compassion, creativity, and intelligent life-affirming adaptation.  This has changed the life game.  We humans on the third planet of a yellow star in a spiral arm of a certain galaxy in a very large universe are in the business of adding to the useful legacy data base of the human condition.  It is no accident that most human progress – in overcoming caste, disease, starvation and squalor, has come about when the optimists within the subjugated cultures shook off great wheel fatalism.

 

The technologies that made this possible began with our most profound, history altering social technology: that of civilization itself, the most precious legacy of all.  The waveform of life, writ large, resembles the double helix of DNA more than the tidal waves of the sea. One end of the helix-shaped human waveform is open to the future.

 


 

Follow the author’s ongoing commentary on “life, the universe and everything”  on www.jaygaskill.com and at www.jaygaskillauthor.com.

 

Pull quotes and forwards are always welcome – just be sure to attribute the author.

[1] Of course, this is a secular, not a religious essay.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t identify myself with those for whom there is something real beyond the material/physical confines of one’s human life. Particularly where justice is concerned, I am persuaded on several levels that death is not the final answer…but that discussion is another essay.

[2] See “Out of my Life and Thought” by Albert Schweitzer  Holt & Co 1938, 1949, Johns Hopkins University Press 1998 and “The Philosophy of Civilization” McMillan 1949, 1987 Prometheus Books.

[3] The reasonable optimism of the entrepreneur with a potentially valuable innovation is grounded in the creative experience, in contrast with the unreasonable optimism of the obsessive gambler.

[4] There is more on the root normative triad and its connection to all ethical systems in my other essays.

[5] These are the core moral precepts that we can find embedded within most religions and legal traditions, particularly as they include prohibitions against fraud, lying, cheating, oath-breaking, stealing, assault and murder.

[6] The need to protect freedom is not just a political or ideological matter. Nor is it a derivative concern, in the sense that a respect for freedom can be derived from the core moral prohibitions (against fraud, lying, cheating, oath-breaking, stealing, assault and murder) by holding the state accountable along with its citizens.  No, protecting freedom is a stand-alone value, essential under real world conditions to the viability of the human creative enterprise. The implications are developed in my other essays.

[7] This core idea is a starting point for a pan-religious metaphysical model in which deity (by whatever name or no name at all) represents (in whole or part) the perfect integration of the three axes of the moral order, life affirmation, the affirmation of creativity, and of intelligence, particularly as such an Intelligent Being is infinitely living, infinitely life affirming, infinitely creative and infinitely compassionate.  The task of unpacking that idea is the subject of several of my essays.

[8] Faith is the willingness to accept the reality of aspects of reality that can’t be fully verified by experience or experiment. Without it, we would have no civilization because interpersonal trust is an act of faith.

[9] Science awakes to a new humility, recognizing that its practitioners need moral guidance, but that experimental science, as such, does not produce or reveal meaning or value or moral guidance.  And the faith traditions awaken to a new humility.  While they have been reassured that they are “onto something”, they humbly open their doors wide to life-affirming creativity and intelligence, and to the manifestations of Holy Being as essentially beyond the exclusive ownership or control of any one tradition or individual.

[10] This view is well developed in Thomas Cahill’s very readable, The Gift of the Jews, Anchor Doubleday 1998-1999.

Are Criminals Getting Worse? Why?

Years ago, I was given the opportunity to share my hard won insights about why criminals are getting worse with a graduating class of freshly minted peace officers.

As most of my readers know, I left my “life of crime” after a number of years of service in order to honor my creative and civic pursuits. I had served in the capacity of an Assistant Public Defender in the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office – headquartered in Oakland, California – as trial lawyer, appellate lawyer, training director, branch office supervisor, and so on, for most of my career since law school.

 

One day, when I was in the middle of a very long murder trial, the County Board of Supervisors picked me to succeed chief Public Defender James Jenner, the Sixth Public Defender, who had just retired. I became the county’s  Seventh Public Defender, inheriting a legacy that began in 1927 when the Chief Prosecuting Attorney, Earl Warren, recommended that the county start a public defender’s office.  As he put it, poor defendants get the shaft, while a million dollars can buy an acquittal.  Warren was no bleeding heart but he had a passion for fairness.

As a result, the second oldest official Public Defense institution in the world came into being, born of the conscience of a prosecutor. This was the same Earl Warren who later was California Governor, then Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The first Public Defender was one of Warren’s top trial lawyers, reassigned to guarantee a strong defense.

Decades later, I made it my goal to make certain that my office provided  poor defendants with the most professional ethical, hard hitting and ethical defense team in the country. Early on, I made alliances with the District Attorney, the Sheriff and the Chief Probation Officer on funding issues. We were, as I argued, essential parts of a large interacting justice system, one that would benefit from a common front, especially during tough fiscal times. I also made it a goal to further mutual trust relationships within the adversarial system in the service of justice.

Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) is the official gold standard of law enforcement training and education. Not every police agency is able to run a POST  training facility.

But the Alameda County Sheriff did and does.

 

A legendary County Sheriff, Charles Plummer, served during my Public Defender career, and it was an honor to know this tough, ethical law enforcement official.

So it was a special honor when I was the first Public Defender invited to give an commencement address to the Sheriff’s POST Graduation event. The event was attended by the County Board of Supervisors, the Sheriff’s Command Staff, the POST graduates and their families.  The full text of that speech follows:

An  Address to the Alameda County Sheriff’s 102nd Graduating Academy by Jay B, Gaskill, Alameda County Defender.

 

Congratulations on completing POST training and entering law enforcement.  It was an honor to be invited to speak here this morning and a pleasure to be able to accept.

 

Over the last twenty years, I have had the privilege of working with some really exemplary law enforcement officers employed by this sheriff’s Department, men and women from the deputy level through every rank and posting.  And I can tell you without reservation that you are entering the finest sheriff’s Department in the State of California, serving under the finest Sheriff in Alameda County’s history.

 

Your learning curve has just begun.  Whether you are assigned to patrol, to a jail, to transportation, or to a courtroom, you will immediately discover that you need to know more than you ever thought you would about the courts, the law, and the criminal justice system.  Remember this – the criminal justice departments form an interacting system, a system that is no healthier than its weakest component.  It is, in effect, a huge sorting mechanism which is tasked to separate the criminals from the victims, the guilty from the not so guilty, the bad cases from the good cases, the heavy cases from the cheap cases, the manageable prisoners from the unmanageable, the deserving from the undeserving, and the short timers from the long timers.

 

You will quickly learn that the judges and the prosecuting attorneys you will deal with tend to spend comparatively little time in close contact with the county inmate population.  You will also quickly learn that there is one department, one group of county employees, more than any other besides your own, that spend comparable face to face, quality time with the same inmate population that you see day in and day out  – the attorneys of the Public Defender’s office.

 

Over time, you will see many of these jailed defendants as interesting and sometimes complicated people.  You will be hassled, cajoled, assaulted, complemented, bullshitted, begged, amused, aggravated by them.  You will find some of them to be appealing characters, just regular men and women who are caught up in a large impersonal machine, and others to be classic assholes for whom flunking the attitude test was just the first in a series of life’s lessons ignored.

 

And I can tell you from personal experience.  Been there.  Done that.  I’ve defended them all, the druggie, the killers, the petty nuisance, the third time drunk driver with a job and a family to support, the combat veteran with a massive addiction, the pregnant prostitute, the nineteen year old kid who got caught in something that got out of hand, and the hardened sociopathic crazy who puts me, you, and everybody in the system at risk.

 

Hopefully, you will come to see, as I have, that the value of punishment and the possibility of redemption are linked with each other.  Almost everybody you meet in custody has a story.  Some of these people can be saved, and some of them will never find their way out.

 

When I was first a Public Defender attorney, twenty six years ago, it was our practice to conduct client interviews inside the old Santa Rita.  You may have heard the stories about East Graystone and West Graystone which were sub standard maximum security cellblocks, and the Compound, an open area where housing units contained military style barracks.  We would show up in the morning with a stack of blank interview files, be admitted to the Compound by ourselves, and the prisoners would line up and talk to us in the living units or outside in the open.  This practice wouldn’t be acceptable today.  Moreover, it now would be more dangerous.  Have times changed that much?  Yes, they have.

 

I can tell that the nature of the jail population has changed.  This, on average, is a more dangerous group of people.  It is important to ask ourselves — Why?  Are conditions that much worse?  What in the world is going on?

 

Not so long ago, I was walking back from the North County jail where I had seen a murder client.  Just behind me on the sidewalk was a woman in her twenties and her child, a girl about nine or ten.  The pair had obviously just visited a prisoner charged with felony assault.  “See,” the mother was saying to her girl, “if you cut somebody, you can end up in there.”   Now I want you to stop and think about that exchange, which, to me, spoke volumes about the deteriorating condition of our society.  The tone of the remark was flat, conversational.  There was no sense at all that the woman was communicating an event of moral significance.  It was as if she had said, “See those weeds, if you don’t cut the grass, that’s what your lawn will look like.”  The content of the remark was cooly practical, without moral judgement, something of the order – “If you go 45 on that street you will get a ticket.”

 

Now put yourself in that conversation.  You are talking to your own kid.  Someone you both know has knifed somebody and is in jail for felony 245.  Imagine what you would say and how you would probably say it.  First, consider your tone.  You would feel a gut reaction to the event, a sense perhaps captured in the “My God, how could John have done that?” or “I hope you never hang out with him!”  Every part of you would tend to communicate to your child that the act of assault itself was wrong.  Whatever your words, you would be speaking in a context in which the given was  –   We don’t do that. It is wrong.  What disturbed me about that mother’s remark is the context that it revealed, a context in which basic morality was simply absent, just as if you were talking about color to a blind man.

 

I contend that this was not an isolated sample from an atypical population.  This is like finding dry rot and a termite in your kitchen floor, then finding telltale powder along the bedroom walls, and in the bathroom.  There never is just one termite.  And make no mistake, this is our house we’re talking about.  My contention is that the foundations of civilization are being eaten away by something very sinister, something, that, in modern terms, is very much like a computer virus.  Let me explain.

 

It has been frequently argued that the continued existence of civilization depends on the rule of law.  That is true.  It is like saying that a house requires a foundation.  But that is not the whole story.  The rule of law itself stands on two pillars –  ultimate right and wrong, and legal integrity.  If either of these pillars is seriously weakened, then the whole structure tends to collapse.  These pillars are the general popular acceptance of two propositions:

 

(1) Ultimate right and wrong:  This is the idea that there is a higher source of morality, of right and wrong, that comes from an ultimate authority, a more objective, more powerful and more permanent basis for morality than mere human convention or invention.

 

(2) Legal integrity: This is the idea that the law, however imperfect it may be in detail and application, is based –  at least in its core content – on the ultimate right and wrong, and that the law, as such,  is as binding on the people who administer it as it is on the population at large.

 

Ultimate right and wrong and legal integrity.  These are the two pillars of law and civilization.  If they fully ever give way, civilization is over.  And you, the graduates of the Alameda County Sheriff’s one hundred and second Basic Academy, are on the front lines in a struggle to save civilization.  So, maybe a word of explanation about the value of civilization is in order.

 

First, some history.  There were two distinct times in this century when these twin pillars of civilization were profoundly weakened.  In 1917, in World War I pre-Communist Russia, the old order fell apart, the Tzar was removed from power.  Exhausted troops returned from the front.  Civil authorities tried to make democracy work, but they were irresolute.  Basic ideas of right and wrong were called into question and the law was ignored by those who were charged with its administration.  In 1932 pre-Nazi Weimar Germany, similar conditions occurred. The poisonous idea that morality was just a convenient fiction invented to keep the masses in line ran through intellectual circles like a computer virus.  The democratic authorities were confused, weak in their convictions and irresolute in action.  In both societies, Russian and Germany, homicidal tyranny followed.  Stalin and Hitler killed millions.  The horrendous negative consequences lasted generations.

 

Second, let’s fast forward to the present.  I believe we are at war.  We are facing a threat to the protecting web of traditions, relationships and institutions that provides order and predictability, that sustain the very environment necessary to allow our children and their children to live safe and productive lives.  Civilization is history and respect for history.  It is future and the respect for future. Protecting civilization is what you do.

 

When I talked about the twin pillars of civilization, the universal nature of morality and the integrity of law and justice, I did not mention money, and I did not mention jobs either.  I did not mention economic poverty.  That omission was intentional and I’ll return to that idea in a moment.

 

Those of us who have been paying attention to the history of the last thirty years have reason to be worried.  We have good reason to be concerned about the future of civilization and particularly concerned about the future of our local corner of civilization, the part that impacts our loved ones, our neighborhoods, our communities.

 

In large parts of this society, the moral compass is broken, in others, people wouldn’t know north from south because their compasses point only in one direction — immediate, predatory self advantage.

 

I believe that we are now and have been at war ever since the first fool who claimed to be a philosopher declared that morality was just an invention. That idea has eaten its way though the social fabric with the same effect as a computer virus corrupting an irreplaceable data base.  Those who believe in and support the pillars on which law and civilization rest are surrounded by millions of gnawing rats, of misguided intellectuals, and reckless idiots who are like the drunken sailors who build a bonfire in the hold of a wooden boat.

 

Let me give you eight examples of how one can light a fire in the bottom of a wooden boat:

 

  • Everybody does it.

 

  • She had it coming.

 

  • Hey, it was cool – they’ll never miss it.

 

  • Nobody’s going to find out.

 

  • Money can buy anything.

 

  • Only an idiot would tell the truth about that.

 

  • I had no choice.

 

  • Right and wrong? Get real!

 

Obviously this is an incomplete list, but you get the idea.

 

What makes a gradual moral deterioration like this dangerous is when there is nothing to stop the slide.  How many of the people under 25 in high crime areas actually believe that there is an ultimate right and wrong?  How many well-off latch key kids living in the suburbs do?  Go over the list of eight excuses, imagining you are conducting a poll.  The suburbs are a war zone, too.

 

This is not a pitched battle.  The lines are not clear.  You can’t walk two blocks in an core urban neighborhood or read two pages in a popular newspaper without encountering the enemy.  But apprehended and un-apprehended criminals themselves are just the sideshow.  Like the fever in the early stages of a septic infection, criminals are a consequence of the deeper sickness.  You take an aspirin, you fail to treat the disease, you feel better for a little while, then you die.  Money alone, whether given directly or in the form of free services, however important, is the aspirin.

 

This is a battle about the drop out of an entire moral framework.  I’m not talking about “moral compromise” here.  That implies  –  even requires  –  the existence of a moral framework in the first place, something to compromise from.  When I said earlier that I believe in the possibility of redemption, I was using the term very carefully.  Redemption requires recognition that you have committed a wrong.  If you lack the moral framework to recognize that you have committed a wrong, then redemption is technically impossible.  When we are talking about the complete absence of a meaningful moral framework, that is scary.

 

When I talked about a war, I wasn’t using hyperbole for effect.  I was serious.

 

This is, at its very root, not an economic problem, except to the extent that the abuse of large sums of money furthers the perception that all government and its system of justice is corrupt, a perception that has long lasting and tragic street consequences. No, I contend that the main cause of crime is the erosion of those two underpinnings or pillars of civilization I mentioned, which boil down to a belief in ultimate right and wrong and respect for that law and its institutions.  To blame economic poverty is to insult the honest poor.  We have always had poor folks.  The poorest parts of our society live at an economic level that by 1930’s depression standards would have counted as comfortable middle class.  And yet the crime rate  – especially of violent offenses – in the hardest hit depression areas in the United States in the 30’s was roughly comparable to our safer modern neighborhoods.  Crime breeds in an environment of poverty all right, but it is moral poverty, not economic poverty that is the fundamental issue.

 

So what can we do?  Sermonize at the prison population?  Not such a bad idea by itself, but I wish it were so easy.  You will find that in dealing with an inmate defendant population, as I have, the practical, low risk approach is to adopt a non-judgmental attitude.  It’s a little like the medical model.  The doctor doesn’t typically look at a gunshot victim and say – “You dumb asshole, what were you doing in that bank with a gun?”  And, frankly, Public Defender’s don’t often approach a client interview in that spirit either.

 

You will also learn that the easy prisoners and the difficult ones do not automatically sort out along lines of the seriousness of their cases.  That nice guy killed his wife.  That asshole stole a tire from Big O.  Go figure.

 

What can you do?   Be aware of the problem.  Know the nature of the war.  Be sure of your own ground.  If you conduct your life with integrity, if you believe in right and wrong, and in the essential value and soundness of our laws and legal institutions, if you are not ashamed or embarrassed by your beliefs, that will come through in a hundred ways you are not even conscious of.  If you accomplish nothing else but to do your job well and allow yourself to reveal that there is moral ground in your life and you are standing on it, you will advance the cause.  You can’t throw a lifeline if you are drowning yourself.

 

We are all soldiers in this war.  And our weapons are our beliefs, our integrity, the quality of our lives, and the quality of the relationships of the people we deal with.  And with your help, the good guys will win.

 

You have chosen an important calling at an important time in history.  Don’t let it end at the conclusion of your shift. Get involved in your community and stay in touch with the people you have sworn to serve and protect.  You owe that to your family.  You owe that to yourself.

 

 

If you lacked basic respect for the law, if you didn’t care about the future, if you thought that morality is just something some old dudes made up, you wouldn’t be in this place at this time celebrating this graduation.   Looking over this group, seeing your faces, and knowing the quality and the esprit of the institution you have joined, I know you picked the right job.  And I can tell that the Sheriff and his staff have picked the right people.

 

Sheriff, you have done very well with this graduating class indeed.  Congratulations and Godspeed.

 

I salute you.

 


Jay Gaskill has a major novel coming out. Read more at http://www.jaygaskillauthor.com

THE KLINGHOFFER OPERA

THE KLINGHOFFER OPERA AND POSTMODERN LIBERALISM’S BLIND EYE

A Moral Analysis

By Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Also posted at – http://jaygaskill.com/PostmodernBlindness.htm

 

John Adams, the composer, is an American genius. Among his truly remarkable achievements are the operas, Nixon in China (1977 and Doctor Atomic (2005). His orchestral works include The Transmigration of Souls (2002), commissioned by the New York Philharmonic as a memorial to the 9-11-2001 attacks on the USA. That work received the Pulitzer Prize.

His opera, Death of Klinghoffer (1991), was picketed in New York recently, in a revival performance at the Met. The problem was not with Adams’ music but with the libretto. In key passages singers emphasize with the Palestinian cause, and romanticize the murderers of the wheelchair-bound Jew, Dr. Klinghoffer.

The protesters’ charges are not unreasonable, although other works – thinking of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, have been given a pass.

I choose not to go farther with the libretto, except to say that the Met chose the worst possible time for this performance. The opera struck a particularly offensive note in the context of the recent eruptions of rampant anti-Semitism in Europe, and even here in the USA.

 

THE PROBLEM, HORATIO, IS NOT IN OUR STARS, BUT IN OUR COMPASS

Old fashioned liberalism had a strong moral compass rooted in traditional American values. Harry Truman, who was the first to support Israel at its inception, is a perfect example of a morally-centered old fashioned liberal.

Our culture’s problem is postmodern liberalism. The litmus test is the failure of the postmodern ethos to recognize of evil as a relevant, central moral category.  Hitler and bloodthirsty child killers, mass murderers and those ruthless jihadists who single out infidels for beheading, belong to a special category of evil, one not amenable to medical treatment, one not worth an ounce of our precious empathy – and, yes, empathy is a limited resource.

I have written several important essays on evil, among them  (http://www.jaygaskill.com/explainingevil.htm  and http://jaygaskill.com/ShrinkingEvil.htm and http://www.jaygaskill.com/evil2l.htm  ).

My fiction writing (see the thriller, Gabriel’s Stand*) is rooted in a moral system that recognizes the existential and moral danger of evil (narrowly defined, but terrible to behold) and the concomitant moral duty of all civilized persons to resolutely oppose.

Dr. Klinghoffer’s murder (and any murder is more than a death) was the outcome of an evil force, perhaps less well understood and recognized in 1991 than now), but true evil nonetheless.

JBG

Copyright © 2014 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Comments and permissions < law@jaygaskill.com >

My readers have a license to forward links to this article, publish excerpts, all with full attribution.

* Gabriel’s Stand is a compelling and entertaining thriller for intelligent readers. More at

< http://jaygaskill.com/GabrielThriller.pdf >

THE EBOLA AWAKENING

As posted on The Policy Think Site – http://jaygaskill.com/ADecentMan.htm

THE EBOLA AWAKENING

Opinion by Jay B Gaskill

 

Most of us by now have read the account of a decent man, a good Samaritan who helped carry a sick pregnant woman to an African hospital, became infected with her Ebola, then traveled from Liberia to the USA, and in that trip he has potentially exposed hundreds of people to the deadly virus.  Now he lies in a quarantined section of a Dallas hospital, in critical condition, close to death.

Texas authorities are reportedly mulling over the question whether to prosecute him.

At the same time, the trained medical personnel who examined this man and then sent him home; and the travel authorities who may or may not have been culpably careless; and the federal authorities who have yet to address the travel issues that a potential pandemic presents – all these players seemingly get a pass from accountability.

When the horse has left the barn, it is time to see to the other horses.  Recriminations can wait.

Deadly disasters have a way of illuminating the dull, the slow and the careless for all to see.  Think of a battery of searchlights suddenly lighting up to reveal railroad tracks filled with cavorting children, just as the charging locomotive has already wreaked deadly havoc a quarter mile away.

Former Vice President Cheney caught a lot of flak for being too vigilant about threats to our security. In his famous 1% doctrine, he was quoted as follows: “If there’s a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It’s not about our analysis … It’s about our response.”

Let me restate the 1% doctrine in terms of the grave health threat posed by the Ebola virus:  If there is a one percent chance that someone or some set of circumstances will constitute a contagious vector for spreading Ebola  to the USA – or otherwise mutate it from epidemic to a pandemic, then we must treat that chance as if it were 50%.

Allow me to hazard two predictions:

[A] Ebola will prove to be more contagious than we have been led to expect.

[B] Commercial travel bans to and from Ebola hotbed destinations will only belatedly be imposed, if at all, with the result first world medical establishments, even in the USA, will overwhelmed. 

I do NOT want to be right.

But the battery of searchlights shining on the American health care establishment has exposed a fragile system, slowed and dumbed down by embedded bureaucratic institutions, suffering from inadequate training at the intake level, and all too often characterized by a complacent mindset. This is a system (exceptions noted) that is ill-adapted to curb an epidemic like the one that now looms. On the whole, it is a still-broken  system whose front-line representatives are too accustomed to delays and far too burdened by common, but non-fatal health issues.

We often use the term, Rude Awakening.  This time, I fear it is to be a Brutal Awakening.

JBG

 

 

The Ebola crisis is a grave threat with implications for public policy that can’t be ignored.  The chilling political thriller by the author (Jay B Gaskill’s Gabriel’s Stand ) is an all too plausible exercise in speculative fiction that has suddenly become  disturbingly relevant to the issues surrounding  Ebola threat.  Readers are praising it as a satisfying a page turner, but also as an object lesson.

Gabriel’s Stand is now available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble as a trade paperback; and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook and i-Pad.

Details…   http://jaygaskill.com/GabrielThriller.pdf

 

SAVING ISRAEL 2014

 

SAVING THE JEWISH STATE

JBG head

By Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

This is the condensed version. For the full monty, go to –

http://jaygaskill.com/IsraelUnderSeige.pdf

http://jaygaskill.com/IsraelUnderSeige.htm

 

Israel is a sovereign country established with the blessing of the United Nations and the USA, as a refuge state for fleeing Jews.  European leaders recognized that the virulent anti-Semitism that lived within their borders had spawned the holocaust. The Jews were still faced with a dangerous malignancy that would undoubtedly return. Clearly, Jews needed a refuge, their Israel. Where else could they go? I can well imagine that, had the Jews chosen to settle in Antarctica, its enemies would be talking about Penguin exploitation and oppression.

Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently reaffirmed that the only solution for the region is the destruction of Israel, and that the armed confrontation must expand beyond Gaza.

Israel and her people are in more danger of extinction than at any time since Israel’s improbable victory in the Six Day War of 1967.  Israel is tiny (it would fit inside LA County) with hard-to-defend borders; and one border is occupied by its deadly enemy, Hamas. The threat from Hamas, client of Iran, is but one the threats to Israel’s existence. And a nuclear Iran looms.

Iran’s ruling clique is too close to success to becoming the first Islamist nuclear power to turn back. Iran will not have to test a nuke in order to shift the balance of power.  Sanctions have allowed the time window of comparative safety to shrink from years to months.  The overwhelming majority of Israeli citizens no longer trust the American president to honor our long term commitment to come to Israel’s assistance in the crunch.

The nasty scenes of 2006 and 2010 are being replayed, with more missiles raining down on the last Jewish homeland. Thousands of additional missiles are well secured in the Gaza Strip territory on Israel’s border. Every 50 non-combatant Israeli casualties is the scale equivalent of 1,950 US dead.  How much would we passively put with, if we were attacked? Gaza has been ruled by Hamas since 2007, when the more peaceful Fatah faction was forcibly evicted from the Palestinian coalition government. Hamas, having infected the nascent Palestinian democracy, clings to a grim agenda: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it”.

This bloody-minded jihadist gang now controls enough missiles to inflict grave damage on the Israeli civilian population. When the scale is adjusted, the potential damage may be proportionately a thousand times worse than our 9-11-01 attack casualties. The missiles held in reserve by Hamas may overwhelm Israel’s Iron Dome missile shield, which already is letting 10% of the missiles get through.  The ground offensive by the IDF is an effort to locate and close all the tunnels, destroying as many missile launchers as possible. But there far more tunnels and deadly weapons than early intelligence predicted.

Imagine living within missile range of an adjacent territory governed by fanatics bent on your destruction.  Imagine waking up to find that hundreds of their missiles have detonated near schools and homes. Imagine that thousands more missiles are ready for the next barrage – that the next missile assault might overwhelm your country’s missile defense system. Imagine that your “friends” are pressing your government to agree to a cease fire that would leave those missiles ready to fire again.  When the intentions of the brutal fanatics of Hams are peeled back, only a graveyard peace is sought by Israel’s attackers: “Stop all your self-defense efforts. Don’t attack us because we need time to regroup and rearm. You must move out of your so-called country, or face your ultimate immolation. We will distract you while our friends in Iran perfect a nuclear bomb that can wipe the Jewish vermin.”

Even though a ground assault is essential to rooting out the threat, your “friends” do not approve. The UN Security Council has called for a cease fire in Gaza  – barring Israel’s forces stop the search and destroy mission to protect their civilian population from the Hamas bombing campaign, an attack that will resume the moment the cease fire ends.  The USA voted in favor.

…trouble is upon me, and no one to help me! Many bulls are encircling me, wild bulls of Bashan closing in on me. Lions ravening and roaring open their jaws at me. My strength is trickling away. From Psalm 22

We should pray for the swift success of the Israeli Defense Forces in this crisis, for the continued support of Israel by the US, and for the ultimate defeat of all the forces that have aligned themselves against the prospect of a peaceful, safe and thriving Israel.   Israel’s fate will be ours. There is no escape from moral responsibility.

JBG

 Copyright © 2014 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Forwarded links and pull quotes with full attribution are welcome and encouraged. For everything else, please contact the author via email at outlawyer.gaskill@gamil.com.

Jay Gaskill is the founder of the Policy Think Site and author of the new thriller, Gabriel’s Stand, http://jaygaskill.com/GabrielThriller.pdf

 

Book Release

GABRIEL’S STAND

The new novel by Jay B Gaskill

Ecological chaos and political instability open the way to a government takeover by environmental extremists. A political movement, having begun in Europe, seeks the assistance of radical American environmental lawyers. A stealth path to power is hatched, exploiting a backdoor in the US Constitution, the treaty clause of Article Six.  A ratified treaty can legally grant an international agency the authority to issue edicts that will govern American life as the “supreme law of the land.”  The “Earth Restoration Treaty” will empower a super-agency to license “dangerous” technologies – where licensing necessarily includes selective prohibition. The “dangerous” technologies are to include essential antibiotics. As the opportunity for a stealth coup d’état is at hand, the movement’s darkest agenda (radical human depopulation) is kept hidden from the useful fools in the “Earth Restoration” movement. The popular Native American Senator, Gabriel Standing Bear Lindstrom, will make a final stand, and then….

 

CENTRAL AVENUE PUBLISHING

http://centralavenuepub.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/new-release-gabriels-stand-by-jay-b-gaskill/

http://centralavenuepublishing.com/Books/styled-3/

AMAZON

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=gabriel%27s+stand+by+jay+gaskill

BARNES & NOBLE

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/gabriel-s-stand-by-jay-b-gaskill?keyword=gabriel%27s+stand+by+jay+b+gaskill&store=book

Apple on iTunes Books – Search “Jay B Gaskill”

 

 

 

LINK – http://jaygaskill.com/ReadGabrielsStand.pdf

UNPACKING NOAH – THE MOVIE

NOAH 2.0 –

The Movie

APRIL 15, 2014

  • In Boston, the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 are being remembered.
  • Pesach (Passover) is being observed (4-14 through 4-22) by Jewish families throughout the world.  
  • Holy Week is being celebrated (4-13 through 4-19 – followed on 4-20 by Easter) by Christian families. 

 

These are survivor stories; and the Grandfather of all the survivor stories is NOAH.

A Movie Unpacking Exercise

By Jay B Gaskill

 

It is possible, even likely, that the Noah story is an echo of what evolutionary scientists call a bottleneck event, something perhaps far earlier.[1] At several distinct moments in human prehistory a human population was reduced to the edge of extinction, leaving a dramatically reduced number of reproducing members, just large enough to survive inbreeding and eventually to rebound…or not.

Arguably the last great ice age was a bottleneck event for Homo sapiens.  Modern humans were adaptable, and made the cut.  Neanderthals failed to adapt, and did not make the cut.  Geologists agree that there was no world-wide flood 8 to 10 thousand years ago, but that has little to do with the possible inspiration for the Noah story, since any huge local catastrophic flooding would have seemed to the ancients of the day to herald “the end of the world.” Plato’s writings refer to a number of such events, at least one of which may actually have happened.[2]

 

THESE ARE MY PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON NOAH, the 2014 movie, by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel & a creative team of CGI artists and actors. It is not a typical movie review.  It is written from the perspective of a Judeo-Christian (in which the two threads are about equal), a believer in the findings of science, but not an atheist or agnostic.  I am a Russell Crowe fan (and yes, he really did finally get a meeting with Pope Francis)[3]; and I find myself endlessly curious about the shaky relationship between modern Hollywood and religious communities. So this movie was a must see for me.  That the Noah movie takes liberties with the biblical account was to be expected, as was the inevitable flak from representatives of the various religious traditions.  The more interesting question is whether this movie took improper liberties.

Yes, the movie was marred by two important flaws: one was an error of inclusion; and one was an error of omission. But, as a respecter of the creative process, I tend to make generous allowances for artistic license. By the standards applicable to a 21st century movie intended for a typically secular audience, Noah was an honest effort, filled with some nice touches, and told the core story without too much damage.

NOAH IS NOT JUST A MYTH

 

Myths are those long standing, well embedded narratives that carry important insights, embodying deeply memorable literature, and holding compelling stories.  They may or may not also capture echoes of historical (or pre-historical) events, but they always capture our durable cultural memories of something very important.  Several pre-modern figures are strongly associated with myths – thinking especially of Moses, the Buddha and Jesus of Nazareth, each of whom lived among us as a transformative and transcendent figure whose life and teachings became part of the human condition.

To describe the account of the Flood and Noah as myth is by no means a dismissal or marginalization – nor is it necessarily inconsistent with the notion of the Ark Story as originating in a real cataclysmic event.

Noah, as a Movie

In the opening scenes, we were shown graphic depictions of the earth being blotted with industrial cities on every continent – growing black spots, looking like metastatic cancerous lesions.

The movie’s depictions of the cruelty and depravity of the desperate people surrounding Noah and his little family gave us glimpses of a brutal, degraded culture.  It was just short of caricature – a cinematic blend of the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max (without the battered cars), and a carnivorous tribe of neo-Nazi survivalists (without the guns).  I assume that Noah’s creative team was going for something that members of our postmodern, sex and drug-use tolerant, culture could still recognize as depraved.  I imagine that the film’s producers and script writers had calculated that, after 8,000 years, few in the typical 21st century audience would still think that mere sexual debauchery could be seen as worthy of condemnation as the crime of spoiling the environment.

The audience saw images from the Garden of Eden story, the snake (weird and menacing) and the forbidden fruit (a pulsing, faintly repulsive organ), coupled with a graphic silhouette of the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. These images were repeated in sequence presumably to remind everyone of humanity’s tendency to stray to the dark side. The reminders were doubtless intended to show that the desperate, angry throngs of people turned away from the Ark somehow had earned their fate. Of course, nothing can quite dispel the sense of injustice when everyone, wicked and not wicked, is to be wiped out, for a fresh start for a select remainder. Or is that always true? Consider the epidemic disease model where the contagious sick are quarantined and the uninfected flown out of harm’s way.

The moral force of the Noah account in a movie or play requires depiction of sufficient evil to anger the ancient (vision of) God commonly held in the early biblical period.  But to add urban blight, anachronistic abuses by industry 8,000 years ago, was more like an embarrassing appeal to the gods of political correctness. The theme rang as false as if, in a retelling of Moby Dick, the producers insisted on adding an attack by Greenpeace and a lawsuit by PETA. Moreover, the industrial decay theme was not even true to itself, especially since the surviving population that swarmed the Ark was more like a mob scene from an early Tarzan movie than an invasion of the post-collapse urbanites in escape from LA.

Using abuses from ancient industry as a reason to wipe out an ancient population could have completely undermined the movie’s credibility, but the story’s moral seriousness was redeemed by the movie’s depiction of authentic evil in the form of cruelty and depravity by that same population.

For all that – Noah the movie was engaging, even moving. The acting, especially by Russell Crowe, who was sturdily convincing as Noah, combined with the blockbuster production values, astute pacing, keen direction, and the excellent supporting cast, to rescue this movie from its silly excesses.

A SIDE NOTE ABOUT THE ROCK ANGELS: I admit that, at first, I was dismayed by what seemed to be yet one more gratuitous (and distracting) Hollywood add-on:  The intrusion of a set of fallen angels, depicted as rock beings (created with CGI, software probably licensed from the first Hobbit movie’s rock monsters).  In the Noah movie, these clumsy rock beings were the “Watchers,” angels that were required to remain behind after the Fall-of-Humanity. Their rocky exteriors trapped glowing angelic beings.  In the movie, these angels perished one-by-one while defending the Ark from the mobs of desperate people. As each angel “died”, a pillar of fire ascended heavenward. The rock creatures may have been a typically Hollywood idea, but I found the final effect of their fiery liberation touching.

Then I reread the biblical story and discovered that there are references to “divine beings” and “giants” at the very beginning of the Noah narrative: “…the divine beings saw how beautiful the human women were, so they took themselves wives,” (Gen 6:2), and “The giants were on earth in those days, and afterwards as well, when the divine beings came in to the human women and they bore them (children) – they were heroes who were of former ages, the mean of name.”

Scholars are in disagreement about the origin and meaning of these passages. To the credit of the movie, Aronofsky and Handel used this as an opening to add some theological meaning to these otherwise extraneous characters. Noah’s story does unfold in the aftermath of the Fall.  It makes narrative sense that the descendants of Adam and Eve might still be on probation, and that fallen angels would be left on duty as quasi-divine probation officers

This was a reminder that few of us moderns ever take the trouble to actually read the flood account in the Genesis book of the Pentateuch (the Torah, the 5 books of Moses).

NOAH, AS A TEACHING MYTH

Serious archaeologists have searched for and found several potential candidates for a massive prehistoric flood in the region, their searches having been driven by the fact that several ancient traditions also reference an apocalyptic flood event. The pre-Noah flood accounts (thinking of the Gilgamesh epic, for example) tend to attribute apocalyptic disasters to the gods, but not as a response to a breach in the moral relationship between deity and humanity, a penalty for breaking the divinely ordained Moral Law.  The notion of the Flood as the extreme moral penalty is unique to Noah.

For me, the most interesting scholarly commentary about Noah has focused where the streams of literary analysis and moral discernment run together.

We humans have been struggling to make sense of nature ever since we noticed that all is not as we want it to be in the world. When, over the eons of humanity’s struggles, sh*t inevitably happens, we will not be content with a raw narrative.

Because we are humans, because we have the capacity for moral intelligence, we invariably try to place our disasters in a meaning context.

In Noah, the meaning context is a morally shaped one.

The Noah legend reveals more about the changing human understandings of our relationship with the Ultimate Reality, a relationship that is painfully relevant whenever such apocalyptic events take place. Our various responses reveal less about the actual nature of Ultimate Being than about our expectations for moral authority. Our freedom to accept, ignore, misunderstand, reject or disregard moral authority remains a constant; the attendant consequences accepting, ignoring, misunderstanding, rejecting or disregarding moral authority tend to find their way into our deep traditions. The biography of a parent narrated from the shifting perspective of a child, tells us more about the child than the parent. The Noah story represents a major shift (I am tempted to say watershed) in our perspective and tradition, as I will explain at the end of this essay.

In the Noah account, God’s decision to flood the earth was prompted by of “humankind’s evildoing on earth and every form of their heart’s planning was only evil all the day”. God “was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it pained his heart,” and therefore decided to “blot out humankind whom I have created, from the face of the soil…”[4]

But “Noah was a righteous, wholehearted man in his generation. In accord with God, did Noah walk.” Even though “the earth had gone to ruin, for all flesh had ruined its way upon the earth,” Noah and his family and an Ark-load of creatures would be spared to start anew. (Gen. 6:5-22)

After the Deluge and the rescue, God promised: “I will never curse the soil again on humankind’s account, since what the human heart forms is evil from its youth; I will never again strike down all living things, as I have done.” God added two specific injunctions: “Whoever now sheds human blood, for that human shall his blood be shed, for in God’s image he made humankind. As for you – bear fruit and be many…” (Gen. 9:5-8)

I should note that throughout the movie, God communicates to Noah using imagery, often conveyed during dreams.  In my personal theology, this is an accurate account of the nature of these encounters[5].  …Which leaves our task one of discernment, verbalization and explanation – this is a vexing, often error-prone process.  But images-as-metaphors are wide bandwidth information carriers – they are capable of carrying more subtlety and depth of meaning than didactic pronouncements.

The process of interpretation and reinterpretation through reason and dialogue is well established in the rabbinic commentary tradition (pesher), and in the Christian critical tradition (exegesis). The risks of fervent literalism and authoritarian appropriation of single, simplistic interpretations of a subtle, deep message are well known.

TWO NICE TOUCHES

In a compelling moment on the Ark, Noah retells the Genesis account of Creation by the light of a lantern. While he is talking we see images that amount to a vastly accelerated depiction of evolution from the formation of stars, galaxies, planets, the earth and the sequential appearance of life forms on earth leading up to the emergence of the first humans.  It was deftly done and neatly illustrated that the Genesis sequence fits nicely with what science has revealed.

At the very end, the movie suddenly adds a compelling drama, through an original plot twist. Noah falls into the trap of a fervent misinterpretation of God’s message. He convinces himself that the scope of God’s punishment was to be total; that humanity was to be eliminated.  Though his family was to survive the Flood, he thought it was God’s will that there be no more humans.  So, when a daughter is pregnant, Noah mistakenly reasons that she cannot be allowed to bear daughters, envisioning that the surviving children must be barren, each survivor burying the last until the last man standing dies alone on a planet cleansed of humanity.

Noah is espousing an ideology that has been slowly gaining 21st century underground adherents, to wit: That the Earth is a deity (for Noah, a creation of deity more precious than the humans who have despoiled it), and humans are a cancer that must be pruned away, even eliminated. His speech to this effect startled me, because in my forthcoming novel, Gabriel’s Stand, those same sentiments were voiced by malevolent eco-terrorists. [6]

This sets up a chilling scene where Noah’s daughter, weeping uncontrollably, holds his baby girl granddaughters, while Noah stands over the helpless twins, grimly holding a sharp blade. He is totally self-convinced that murdering his granddaughters is doing God’s bidding. This dreadful moment echoes the famous biblical passage where Abraham, following God’s explicit (not metaphorical) command to sacrifice his son, Isaac, obeys right up to the very last second, when God explicitly cancels the order. In Noah’s case, at the urging of his wife, he recovers his wits and his compassion; and he realizes just in time that God really wants him and the rest of humans to live, to be fruitful and multiply.

In the biblical account, God issues the “rainbow” covenant:”

All flesh shall never be cut off again by waters of the Deluge, never again shall there be Deluge, to bring the earth to ruin!

And God sets a bow in the clouds as a sign of that promise.

TWO TAKEAWAY POINTS

NOAH, the 2014 movie suffers from two not-trivial theological problems:

  1. The False Inclusion: It tries to place the Deluge in a simplistic and anachronistic punishment for urban blight.  This was a mistake, partly redeemed by the portrayal of widespread human wickedness that was the “real” divine motivation.
  2. The Regrettable Omission:  It leaves out of God’s explicit promise, never to do that again, not to people, not to life.  This is the watershed moment  that set the stage for the very important modern theological development in which Evil and Punishment are all about human behavior, not nature’s machinations, however destructive[7].

The movie’s single brilliant innovation, in my opinion, was the portrayal of Noah’s grave misinterpretation of the divine will, followed by his final act of choice of life over death, his redemption through love and reason.  The movie’s best touch was the running illustration of Genesis as evolution during Noah’s speech aboard the Ark.

The producers may have assumed that the silent rainbow at the end was enough to convey the “never again” message, but I think that was too silent by half. We should never presume the presence of biblical knowledge or theological nuance among a 21st century movie-going audience.

Taken as a whole, Noah carries an 8,000 year old message about life affirmation. It marks the dawn of our realization that the Creator is no longer going to take the rap for natural disasters; and that we humans are fully accountable for our self-caused disasters.  …And more importantly, that we are to live life abundantly.

JBG

 

Copyright © 2014 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

 

Links and attributed pull quotes are welcomed. For other permissions and comments, please contact the author via email at <outlawyer.gaskill@gmail.com> .

 

The Policy Think Site : < www.jaygaskill.com>  The I-2-I Blog:  <http://jaygaskill.com/i2i/ >

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Irving Finkel, THE ARK BEFORE NOAH: Decoding the Story of the Flood

Hodder and Stoughton 2014 London

ISBN 977 144 7 5707 1

 

Everett Fox (trans.), THE FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES

Schocken Books 1997

ISBN 0-8052-1119-5

 

Michael Grant, THE JEWS IN THE ROMAN WORLD

1973 Michael Grant Publications 1996 Barnes & Noble Books

ISBN 0-88029-025-0



[3] Mr. Crowe, a New Zealand born  Australian, who keeps a cattle ranch, is a serious actor, endowed with a moral compass (both traits are somewhat rare among the California screen actor set); while Pope Francis, in a very short time, has become the “coolest” Christian figure of the 21st Century. That His Holiness accomplished this guilelessly is a hopeful development in a popular culture, hungry for authenticity. Innocence is now “cool”.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2587682/Third-times-charm-Russell-Crowe-finally-gets-meeting-Pope-Francis-Vaticans-blessing-Biblical-epic-Noah.html

[4] All my biblical quotations are taken from from the powerful translation from the Hebrew by Everett Fox. See the bibliography.

[5] My commentary on the Burning Bush image is an example. See http://www.jaygaskill.com/FireInTheWhole.htm.

[6] This is often expressed in quasi-religious terms, that Gaia, the earth, is a living being, a demi-god, and that humanity is an ecophage (cancer that devours the environment) that must be eliminated.  This outrageous and dangerous nonsense is more prevalent – and more explicit – today than it was 20 years ago. As a novelist, I have explored this dark theme in my new political thriller, Gabriel’s Stand, to be released by Central Avenue Publishing of British Columbia (for all North American book markets  – print and e-book) later this spring. Check out > http://centralavenuepublishing.com/Books/styled-3/

[7] This insight has been particularly tough to bear for the 20th and 21st century, post-holocaust Jewish adults, mostly secular in outlook, who have struggled to come to grips with the Shoah. But the G-d who “permitted” evil to be visited on the innocent by a malevolent tribe fallen, depraved Nazis, is the same G-d who warned about the costs of freedom when the children of Adam and Eve chose to the protected innocence of that mythical garden-state of the human condition. Once again, the literalists among us are missing out on another powerful Teaching Myth.

Fire in the Whole – Cannibals of the Spirit

FIRE IN THE WHOLE

CANNIBALS OF THE SPIRIT

 

A Meditation

By Jay B Gaskill

 

This text was first written 1400 – 600 BCE, in other words around three thousand years ago. The modern translation (2,000) from the scholar Everett Fox is considered to be the closest to the original Hebrew.

 

 

“Now Moshe was shepherding the flock of Yitro his father-in-law, priest of Midyan.

“He led the flock behind the wilderness- and he came to the mountain of God, to Horev.

“And YHWH’s messenger was seen by him in the flame of a fire out of the midst of a bush.

“He saw: here, the bush is burning with fire,

“Moshe said:

“Now let me turn aside that I may see this great sight-

“When YHWH saw that he had turned aside to see,

“God called to him out of the midst of the bush, he said:

“Here I am.

From The Five Books of Moses – The Schocken Bible: Volume I, translation & notes by Everett Fox

 

ONE

MOSES & THE FIRE THAT DID NOT CONSUME

 

I will revisit Moses in a moment, but consider the radical context presented by 21st century insights about reality.  The phenomenon of emergent reality describes how coherent “supervising” patterns spontaneously appear as new organizational systems out of constituent, less organized, less coherent, disparate elements. The list of examples is long, and includes bird flock formation, weather cells and the emergence of certain complex ordering patterns within fluid dynamics. The universe appears to be self-organizing, influenced from its very beginning at the singularity before the cosmological explosion we call the Big Bang, influenced by and suffused with the creative emergence of increasingly complex, integrated systems.  And it is increasingly clear from our “modern” Genesis narrative that the list of emergent systems includes conscious being.

 

I’m not about to propose one more definition of what we mean by conscious being – after all, if you are conscious, you get it, if not, not. But we can observe that consciousness is an emergent property of very complex, biological neurological-networks when they achieve a certain critical state.  We are able to make this observation in the same way that we observe emergence when it manifests in fluid dynamics (in vortices, for example), and in nature generally.

 

That the entire universe appears to exhibit this self-organizing tendency is no longer even controversial. This is to say that emergence is universal, a deeply important, recurring aspect of nature, itself. But the implications of a universe filled with – even defined by – ongoing creative emergence have not yet been fully appreciated.  In this short meditation, I am proposing that we can profit greatly by revisiting key elements of the biblical creation narrative in light of what we have learned over the last several thousand years. That the biblical narrative is to be understood allegorically and metaphorically is no longer controversial among biblical scholars. [As anyone who has read Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) can attest.]

 

Instances of creative emergence are not a strictly determined outcomes in any given time, place and circumstance, at least in the sense that energy decay follows the second law of thermodynamics at all times.  So we can say that human consciousness depends on the existence and operation of a material body (the brain’s neural net) to manifest it.  But someone can be unconscious.  And we can also say that the essential character of conscious being is a novel manifestation, not strictly predetermined in the sense that the fall of Newton’s apple was predetermined by its release from the top of a tower.

 

Emergent systems are not prefigured in the situation that obtains immediately before they occur. Nothing about of a snapshot of a chaotic scatter of birds, for example, prefigures the emergence of the orderly flock pattern. The particular unpredictability of novel order is particularly evident when we observe a creative leap, as in creative inspiration.

 

Now flash back to the Exodus narrative for a moment to reconsider the significance of an image that was presented to Moses. What if the burning bush was a Divine metaphor, only dimly understood at the time it was conveyed?  A metaphor of what?

 

Think of a vastly complex neural network achieving, in the whole of its operations, something new and seemingly magic, a state of meaning-apprehension, motivation, and self-awareness. Imagine a graphic representation of such a network — a tangled wiring diagram in a roughly spherical shape, much as an illuminated schematic of the brain’s complex neural pathways is mapped.  Now, imagine conscious being as a glowing, fluctuating fog, a representation of the self-aware semantic field that we call consciousness. The field of conscious being as it is generated by the network appears in this graphic image as a fire linked to, surrounding and generated by the neuron branches as a whole.

 

In the vision, the fire that did not consume the bush was divine self-consciousness emerging from the virtual network of the entire universe.  G-d was revealing to Moses a picture-representation of conscious being, a vivid description of the very fabric from which humanity was made in G-d’s likeness. Later when G-d is asked by Moses for a name, the answer, seemingly enigmatic, was actually very straightforward:  The divine Being said: I am that (i.e. “that which is”) “I am”. In effect, G-d was revealing to Moses that G-d is conscious being, the fire in the whole.

TWO

THE CANNIBALS WHO TRIED TO CONSUME THE FIRE

 

Primitive cannibals ate their opponents in the naïve belief that they were taking into themselves the character and power of these enemies. But by reducing them to food, they destroyed those very qualities.

 

Enter scientism (not to be confused with science), sometimes presented as “naturalism” and “materialism”. By whatever name, this is the bold claim (popular among late 19th and early 20th century intellectuals and still prevalent in the modern academy) that the material sciences, the experiments and investigations of chemistry, physics, neurology and so on, represent the only valid objective source of all human knowledge, thereby reducing art, music, ethics, spirituality and the other humanities, to subjective whims, to anthropological developments, to tribal behavior patterns, and even electromagnetic fluctuations in that “electric meat” resident in our skulls.

 

This is the modern (and postmodern) equivalent of cannibalism. Its advocates attempted the very same feat that the primitive eaters of human flesh tried and failed to accomplish.

 

The followers of scientism purport to reduce conscious being (and its meaningful contents – including art, music, beauty & goodness) to the purely physical processes of neurology. This is pursued in the erroneous belief that by doing so – in effect by eating the human soul – they are taking in to themselves (i.e., into the domain of materialist science) the character and power of living consciousness and its values.

 

In fact, when scientism is taken seriously, it destroys being, beauty, meaning and value, in the same way that a cannibal destroys its victims.

 

My common sense advice: Don’t take these cannibals seriously, because deep down they do not really believe their own narratives.  And, above all, don’t let them eat you.

 

JBG

 

Copyright © 2013, by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law, All rights Reserved

Permissions & Comments: outlawyer.gaskill@gmail.com

 

 

 

The author is a California Attorney …and a lay theologian.

 

Further Reading-

 

http://jaygaskill.com/ReNamingTheUniverse.pdf

 

http://www.jaygaskill.com/elements.htm

 

http://www.jaygaskill.com/NoveltyColonization.htm

 

 

 

 

COLONIZATION OF THE UNIVERSE

UNEXPLAINED NOVELTY –

OUR COLONIZATION OF THE UNIVERSE

A Fresh Look at Reality

By Jay B Gaskill

cropped-FutureRome2.jpgWe are living through a seemingly endless intellectual war between two competing worldviews. One dominates the intelligentsia (with important exceptions) and the other prevails in the world of common sense.  The first view goes by several names, naturalism, metaphysical naturalism, materialism, scientific materialism and reductionism, among others. Put starkly, its adherents purport to believe that absolutely everything there is, seen and unseen, can be fully accounted for by the physical sciences, chemistry, physics, biology, and so on.

In the materialist worldview, even psychology and anthropology can be reduced to their physical, scientific descriptions. Our values, our aspirations, our perception of beauty and of the mysteries of the soul, all of it and more, are “just matter, energy, electrons and other stuff.”

The adherents of this view rarely put it so starkly, but  Richard Dawkins, the atheist biologist, gave us a clear preview when he wrote that “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”

I said “purport to believe” because few materialists live out their lives as if the atoms, electrons and other physical features of our existence are the sole reality. Do they actually think that our most cherished loves, hopes and moral verities are merely illusions?  Or that we are actually self-deceived robots without will or authentic being?  They have too much common sense for that.  They cling to their materialism in self-defense; they fear an onslaught of fundamentalism.

I submit that the available evidence, in its totality, carries a message. It points to a universe that not only “self organizes”, but generates hierarchies of ordered systems that are novel. These systems represent emergent creative order, an outcome that is not physically required. …And these new systems in turn facilitate the emergence of new levels of ordered systems, the mutual interactions of which led to the emergence of the first living organisms. These developments staged the emergence of decision-capable organisms, then conscious, intelligent organisms, endowed with creative capacities that can generate useful novelty at a hugely accelerated rate.

What are we to make of a universe that generates meaning, beauty and goodness, and the beings endowed with the capacity to create and appreciate these things…and each other? Our universe long ago transcended the cramped, mechanistic narrative of reductive naturalism advanced by a faith-phobic intelligentsia. Materialism survives, but as a narrow, useful methodology.

Given the bankruptcy of the grand materialist worldview, what are we to make of the emergence of caring, meaning-seeking intelligence on the stage of a “dead’’ universe? Was life “there” all along, much as Plato imagined the eternal shapes of geometric forms?  If not, where was it? Were the archetypes and designs of mammals and their precursors, the DNA code nestled in some updated version of Plato’s realm of forms, alongside the streamlined engineering solutions that resulted in the fin and the wing? Or were they just the lucky hits in nature’s casino?

Plato was a visionary who lacked our actual vision. Seen from our expanded perspective, it is almost as if a lifeless, pitiless universe has been gradually colonized.  In science fiction scenarios, we accept such notions as at least plausible.  The clever, highly advanced aliens seed a planet with mysterious germs/cells/nanoparticles that contain the self-replicating plans for an entire invading race; then, over time these invading bio-tech agents mature into life-sized creatures who take over.

This sort of thing is readily accepted for purposes of the story for a couple of reasons: [1] Clarke’s Third Law. The iconic science/science fiction writer, Arthur C Clarke, wrote that our encounter with any sufficiently advanced technology (as in well beyond human abilities at the moment) will be perceived as magic.  Because the alien “invasion” takes place via a materialist form of ultra-high tech, it is threatening in a ‘this is a cool movie’ hypothetical way; but it does not challenge the essential materialist world view. [2] Conventional Threat. We intuitively understand that a material threat can be countered by a material response, as in the last scenes of the alien colonization movie when the heroic earth people blow up the invaders.

But what if the colonization takes place via something essentially non-physical, as in pure information?  That notion threatens the materialist worldview at its very core. There are now three powerful ideas in play that will upset the foundations of narrow materialism, and they are closely interrelated:

a)       Active information. This notion warrants more explanation than space allows, so here is the elevator version.  Information in its most comprehensive sense includes data, instructions and meaning, depending on its complexity.  Our lives seethe with it, carried electronically in the web and in our devices. Information is “carried” or “stored” via various physical media, like electrons, light waves, optical digital storage magnetic, media storage and so on.  Here’s the takeaway point: Information, as such, has neither mass nor energy.  Imagine different electronic or electromagnetic waveforms, each of which is carrying information – or not: one is carrying random garbage; one is carrying no information at all; and one is carrying truly meaningful information.  There will be no measurable mass/energy differences between them based on the message carried or lack thereof. Yet the information content of an input makes a huge difference in physical systems.  NOTE FOR FURTHER READING: Many physicists and philosophers are now beginning to notice that the creative processes in nature are utilizing active information.

b)      Latent information. The laws of physics and the form-order manifest in mathematics consist of information that is somehow stored in the universe without any discernible physical media.  The “rules” that governed the unfolding of the entire universe from the “singularity” to the present wonderful, expanding tapestry of stars, worlds and living, thinking creatures existed before the unfolding, as if the universe utilized infinite information storage in a point. {NOTE FOR FURTHER READING: The pre-Big Bang singularity and aspects of quantum physics hint that this could indeed be the case.}

c)      Integration of reality and information. The scientific enterprise, the monotheistic religions and the spiritual seekers of unity among us are working from the same playbook: It is the faith-assumption/insight that all reality is integrated, including our own reasoning selves, such that seemingly irreconcilable dualisms and seemingly arbitrary breaks in reality are always reconcilable in a larger context.  This is why, as Einstein mused, the most remarkable thing about the universe is that its workings are intelligible to the human mind (my paraphrase).  …And this is why Einstein and other scientist-philosophers have described their task as discerning “the mind of God”.  The professed atheism of some of these (Einstein was a deist in the tradition of Spinoza, not a true atheist) was directed at a specific class of ideas about God, the primitive notions of deity, a fearsome, arbitrary being, not just creative agency/presence, but a micromanager, controller.

Let me return to the colonization metaphor.  It is almost as if a lifeless, pitiless universe has been gradually colonized by life, employing a vast archive/repertoire of forms, design relationships and parameters: It began with the initial anthropic conditions, encoded in the universe’s physical laws; then the more life-favorable environments as star systems generated planets with water; then the reproducing systems emerge and take hold, followed by cells and whole organisms. Eventually, the patterns/plans/architectures of biological intelligence and even the forms and design features of working civilizations…all of these elements of the vast portfolio of creation were and remain poised to emerge whenever opportunities present themselves over the vase reaches of space-time.

But, if we accept the colonization metaphor as instructive, we are led to several obvious questions, among them: Colonized by what? …Or by whom? …And why?

The evidence of colonization presents the picture of a focused, but opportunistic force/tendency/enterprise, seeking beachheads when and where they present themselves.  To appreciate the explanatory power of the colonization insight, we need to examine more closely the operation of the creative processes that have brought humanity into being from a mere possibility in a cloud of exploding energy into thinking, feeling persons who are now able to ponder the “first questions”.

The creative processes in nature represent the appearance/emergence of novelty, often incremental and gradual, but sometimes more dramatically.  The designs that emerge are no different in functionality than the plans, designs, blueprints and algorithms that human inventors come up with. But a materialist like Richard Dawkins prefers that we call them ‘designoids’, since he has determined, a priori, that there is no designer.

These competing design-forms are sorted by seemingly hidden criteria, as if the environment were doing the heavy lifting.  But fitness to an immediate environmental challenge is not really sufficient to explain our existence.  Long after the fact, we can detect that particular early designs (thinking of, say, the cell and early precursors of DNA) were essential to further the continued advancement of life. …And do notice that the emergence of compassionate, creative intelligence also serves that goal.

The fine tuning of this universe for life’s emergence is a well-known problem for the materialist-naturalist school of Dawkins and others of like minds. These thinkers have advanced the claim that the wildly improbable combination of life friendly features of this universe is readily explainable because there are an infinite number of universes and we just happen to be in this one.  But this claim is unprovable. As the physicist, turned theologian, Dr. John Polkinghorne, has pointed out, the leap of faith against evidence to assume that there really are uncountable other universes is by far the longer stretch compared to the inference from evidence that this universe evidences an emergent purpose.

Of all the possible universes, ours is clearly one of a group (if there even is a group), or perhaps the only one, that was sufficiently prepared for the emergence of information-receptive, meaning-seeking beings.

The term teleology is used to describe a universe that has a purpose.  For obvious reasons the materialists reject teleology altogether. But what would a reasonable observer expect to happen when the distinct possibility of a particularly fecund emergent novelty (as in the first living creatures) is coupled to an immense reservoir of probability?  Think of a universe that squanders vast possibilities of variations over vast spans of space-time; think of this unfolding in a universe pre-equipped with fundamental conditions felicitous to life – referring to the  anthropic ‘wiring’ of this universe.  In such a scenario, a mere possibility becomes a virtual inevitability given enough billions of years.  And that is our scenario.  It is hard to ignore the implication: That the evidence points us to the conclusion that our emergence was in some sense destined. (FURTHER READING: The Fine Tuning of Physical Laws Favoring Life – The Anthropic Principle.)

Many scientists and philosophers have now concluded that the materialist/naturalist worldview is fatally incomplete; that all of the evidence cannot be satisfactorily explained unless there really is a non-material, non-physical aspect of reality in the mix. If that is the case, then who are we to assume that this expanded realm of the real does not hold meaning, beauty and goodness, as well as the sterile rules that regularize orbits and power stars?

It is time to revisit Plato’s forms, updated to include the very life-forms that sustain living, consciousness, the venue of meaning.  I propose that we recapture the ancient insight that the beautiful and elegant forms that appear in nature are not arbitrary accidents in a chaotic universe, but the instantiations of a deeper, form-aspect of reality that exists alongside the realm of flux, change, and apparent random chance. The very term emergence suggests a “coming out” of that which was obscure or hidden from our view; this is a description of the appearance of aspects of the ‘other’, non-mechanical level of reality, something very much like Plato’s realm of forms.

The universe is not dead, nor unconscious, nor uncaring; and this is the case because it is our birthplace, and because we are the region/sector/component of the universe that can apprehend meaning, and because our arrival was virtually inevitable.  To put it differently, we are the universe come awake. One might even describe us as the colonists of intelligent life who are awakening to our role.

If we are the colonists of awareness, meaning, compassion, beauty and accelerated creativity, who or what might be the Colonist?  For my part, after decades of careful reflection, certain inferences are inescapable:

I.            Do we represent the emergence of early versions of the Master Archetype, the design template who is the Designer?

II.            Are we the children of the Deity who cannot be named, whose fecund seeds are scattered across all the possible realities, including those that are unreceptive (the hard, infertile spaces) and the others like our (possibly unique) universe that has the nurturing early conditions?

III.            If we were sent to this universe to fill it with intelligent, caring life, is that not a compelling basis to revisit the foundational questions of morality?

My answers, based on reflection and personal experience are yes, yes and yes.

So to my overly skeptical friends, I pose this question: What if it’s not all just “made up?” What if our grandparents were more right than wrong? Of course, that is up to you and your conscience.

Deism is the idea of G-d[1] as the originating force/cause/agency, the creator-designer, who thereafter remains out of the causal picture.  In our working metaphor, this is the Colonist in Chief who is now out of touch.

Theism is the apprehension of G-d as creator, as engaged in ongoing creativity; as present always in spirit; and as mysteriously and subtly engaged in every moment of our lives. The “why?” question is partially answered – we are partial, flawed, but beloved instantiations of G-d as Parent.

Fair disclosure: I am a theist as a result of experience and introspection.

Which, if any, of these reality models best fits your worldview?  That is left to you, to your experience and introspection.

JBG

More ▼

FURTHER READING:

 

Active Information

One of my favorite sources is the physicist, turned Anglican priest, the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, who wrote, “As embodied beings, humans may be expected to act both energetically and informationally.  As pure Spirit, God might be expected to act solely through information input.  One could summarize the novel aspect of this proposal by saying that it advocates the idea of a top down causality through “active information.” Belief in God in an Age of Science, Does God Act in the Physical World? – John Polkinghorne (Yale 1998) at p 63. A winner of the Templeton Prize for theology, Dr. Polkinghorne has written scores of books and essays, most of which are still in print. As one reviewer put it, “If C S Lewis had a doctorate in physics, this is how he would write about God.”

[See also – “Active Information in Physics” Warwick University, Coventry CV4 7AL, by Pickering at this LINK:

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/psych/people/jpickering/johnpickering/ivalo/ .]

 

Latent Information

“The Omega Point Theory by Tulane University professor of physics and mathematics Frank J. Tipler is what he maintains is a proof of God’s  existence according to the known laws of physics. The theory is an integral part of the Feynman –Weinberg–DeWitt quantum gravity/Standard Model  Theory of Everything (TOE) which Tipler also holds is required by the known physical laws.

“The Omega Point is a term used by Tipler to designate the final cosmological singularity, which he contends is a physically-necessary cosmological state in the far future of the universe.

“According to his Omega Point Theory, as the universe comes to an end at this singularity in a particular form of the Big Crunch, the computational capacity of the universe (in terms of both its processor speed and memory storage) increases unlimitedly with a hyperbolic growth rate as the radius of the universe goes to zero, allowing an infinite  number of bits to be processed and stored before the end of spacetime. Via this supertask, a simulation run on this universal computer can thereby continue forever in its own terms (i.e., in “experiential time”), even though the universe lasts only a finite amount of proper time.

“Tipler states that the known laws of physics require there be intelligent civilizations in existence at the appropriate time in order to force the collapse of the universe and then manipulate its collapse so that the computational capacity of the universe can diverge to infinity. Due to the increasing temperature of the universe during the collapse phase (wherein the temperature diverges to infinity), Tipler says that life will have to transfer its information processes to higher energy states, eventually using elementary particles to directly compute on via traveling waves  and standing waves.” LINK:  http://www.conservapedia.com/Omega_Point_Theory

 

The Anthropic Principle

The minute alteration of any one of a score of physical laws, many of which are not obviously required by logic to be the way they are, would have made the evolution of life impossible. See Michael J Denton, “Nature’s Destiny”,1998 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-684-84509-1. …And John D. Barrow and Frank J Tipler, “The Anthropic Cosmological Principle” 1988 (1st Ed 1986) Oxford U. Press ISBN 0-19-282147-4 (paperback)

 

The Unity Principle

The seminal book was by the physicist, David Bohm, “Wholeness And  The Implicate Order, 1980 Routledge ISBN 0-7448-0000-5. But I believe the most important contribution was made by a somewhat obscure British scientist, who consulted with Albert Einstein on unified field theory, Lancelot Law Whyte. He who proposed the “Unitary Principle” as a universal, applying to science and everything else.  Whyte’s works, now out of print, are all available on Google Books.  Among them, the three most interesting are “The Next Development in Man”, 1948, Henry Holt and Company; “The Universe of Experience” 1974, Harper and Row 06-131821-3 (paper)/ 06-236143-7 (hard); and “The Unitary Principle in Physics and Biology” LINK – http://books.google.com/books?id=5YgGAQAAIAAJ .

In the major world religious traditions, the commitment to metaphysical unity, a feature of monotheism, is also described as monism. [See the Wiki article at – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monism.]

Unity is a core value of Sufi metaphysics. [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sufi_metaphysics.] And of Hinduism – “At the metaphysical level is absolute unity; everyone is nothing but Brahman. Consequently, there is no notion of the other in Hinduism. This leaves no place for hostility towards anyone.”  Ashok Vohra, Department of Philosophy, University of New Delhi. [See http://www.elijah-interfaith.org/uploads/media/Chap5.pdf.]

The quest for and belief in unity is the a priori commitment that drives the scientific enterprise. See the article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-unity/.] Also see the article by William Bechtel and Andrew Hamilton of the University of California, San Diego at –http://mechanism.ucsd.edu/research/bechtel.hamilton.reduction.pdf.

 

First published on The Policy Think Site <www.jaygaskill.com> and the linked Blogs

The author is a California Attorney, writer, consultant and lay theologian.

Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law // Contact: outlawyer.gaskill@gmail.com



[1] The vowel ‘o’ is dropped in deference to the Jewish and other traditions that resist fully naming deity, on several grounds, chief among them that a name imposes an implied limitation. See the author’s essay at – http://jaygaskill.com/WhyG-d.htm.