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December 2013

Being 100 and Wholly Distracted

Governments have two main ways to control their people. One, and obviously, are the Police, Judiciary, Armed Forces and so on. Overuse of the 'assets' and people sooner or later (Tunisia) get fed up and rebel. No, these 'assets' are heavy handed and really can only be 20 or 30% of the solution if society is to survive at all.

The real power lies in the second major 'way' of controlling people: namely, 'bread and circuses'. We had 13 years of 'bread' from the previous Labour administration, corrupting by virtually buying the vote of the people through its absurd and fiscally irresponsible policies. And now we have more of the same from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

At the bottom end of the circus food chain, of course, we have permission to broadcast degenerate TV – reality TV, designed to abuse and degrade people in the name of entertainment. But more seriously is the constant, continual, and dare I say it, criminal stream of misinformation that excites, attracts, diverts the public's attention from what is really happening. It's something like Vedanta's 'non-dualism' view of reality: reality is Self/Consciousness, and only that; what appears to be reality is only 'maya', illusion.

So it is that we are fed illusions to keep us from the reality. On a large scale, for example, we have the issue of the banker's bonuses. As Tim Price in Money Week truly observed: “...the main reason monetary institutions were created was to 'allow an alliance of politicians and bankers to enrich themselves at the expense of all other strata of society'”. This is pretty serious stuff – the politicians are in it with the bankers – at our expense. We were hoping that the new Coalition was really going to deal with this … For, if this were repeated and explicated enough times in the 'establishment' publications like the Economist, the FT, the BBC and so on, the dissent  we already 'feel' would boil over into open revolution. Because the reality is quite sickening. For now, however, it's the small independents like Money Week that really show the picture, albeit in a non-political way.

Thus, we come to the small scale dissemination of information – constant, continual and criminal – and this one I particularly love – that distracts the mind from pain and reality. I mean, of course, the announcement from the Works and Pension Ministry that 1 in 6 of us, 17% of the population, 10.6 million people, are going to live to 100 – live to get a telegram from the Queen! What could be further from the truth than this fatuous piece of information?

Before commenting on why it is utterly fatuous, we need to remind ourselves why it is has been disseminated and taken up so much air space in the first place. First, it is wonderfully optimistic; we are being fed hope without actually being given anything – it costs nothing to tell us this. Second, it fuels the ignorant worship of the god Science and its only begotten son, Progress; the world is getting better, and we are its beneficiaries – now that, as I think Gandalf said, is 'an encouraging thought, isn't it'? The reasons given for this miraculous and unparalleled achievement (at least unparalleled since the time of Methuselah, perhaps an equally mythical time) are improved diet, living conditions and medical technology (Science). Third, it creates a momentum for more of the same; because we are making such progress in the prospect of our life span (though not necessarily of course the quality of our lives, an important distinction), we should carry on with more of the same lest we jeopardise all these years we have yet to live and which the god Science promises us in advance. In short, we are kept in check from wanting anything different because we want the 'promise' – the 100 years, and 1 in 6 is as good as a dice throw. We can win!

Why, then, is this so fatuous and so false? One, because it's an extrapolation from a graph – life expectancy has gone up in the last 100 years, that is true, but that it will continue to go up is highly unlikely. It is much more likely to revert to the mean. Share prices go up, house prices go up; but then they go down, and they go down to the degree to which they balance how far they went up in the first place. And we are seeing this already.

We are now in a situation where parents are likely to see the deaths of their children, and this will increase. One of the reasons for this is precisely the reason given for the increase in life: the diet. Diabetes is rampant in the West (and especially alcohol with the young) – the diet – to use a technical term – is 'sh**e', the food is corrupted, the food industry allowed to get away with massive contamination, and water tables all over the world are increasingly being compromised by chemical pollutants. Because we are watching Jamie and Nigella on TV are we seriously proposing that the diet is going to help us? The high water mark of longevity is already upon us – from now on it's probably down. Let's remember, the Edwardians in 1913, thought the future was assured;  1914 was 1 year away.

Similarly, with both other points: the living conditions – Jeez-us – has anyone seen the thousands of boxes, rabbit hutches, built in my town of Bournemouth and replicated even more ferociously across the whole country, for people to 'live' in. Prince Charles has a point about architecture. Dogs would probably develop mental problems living in them.

And as for medical technology, it will doubtless side and throw its weight behind assisted suicide  - on the grounds of course of democratic 'choice' - as it looks in despair at the artificial longevity and its consequences that it has promiscuously propagated – as if merely existing were life.

And Nature too has set its face against us: what happens when global warming happens? The oceans – two thirds of the planet – get warmer, water evaporates, clouds form (we get colder) and then the rain falls. And lots of rain means what? Floods. This sounds familiar – ring a recent bell? Yeh? Expect more.

Finally, and besides, none of all this longevity is economic – and when that happens, as we are in crisis in the West now – people have to die. That is the imperative – we can't afford it – so one way or another, die we will, and – alas! How noble is man, how infinite in faculty - revert to the mean.

Peace on Earth and Peace more generally

The time to be jolly, and the time of peace on Earth: it’s Christmas! What’s this all about then? Simply one thing: the ultimate benefit we are all looking for in this life, and which all benefits boil down to – peace of mind. That’s why, even commercially, companies give ‘peace of mind’ guarantees and warranties and so take – sometimes - the worry out of purchasing. Of course there is an irony in that at this time of year, the time of peace on Earth, that many people are going to purchase so much, and rack up so many bills that their peace of mind is assuredly not going to happen any time soon!

But what is this peace of mind that we all want? I think there are three distinct components of it that we may review.

The first is specifically relevant to Christmas in that it is what might be termed a spiritual peace of mind. In the Western tradition this is clearly to do with alienation from God and what is sometimes called ‘sin’; however, I think it would be a mistake to think of this as something peculiarly Western and only relevant to patriarchal notions of an angry God. That would be to miss the point of all the world religions; for basically they all exist – including Buddhism – to solve a central dilemma that humans beings have recognised from the beginning. Namely, that human life is imperfect and that we need some system to get us back into balance and into a right relationship with the universe. There is alongside this a general understanding that at the start of history, human beings were involved in some aboriginal error that contributed to their misery. Pandora, if you will, opened the box and we all ever since have struggled to find … peace of mind. The question, then, is: how do we get back to God? Christmas is one, but not the only answer.

The second component of creating peace of mind is to do with our neighbours and our relationship with them. Clearly, it is difficult to have peace of mind if we are always quarrelling with them, be they our immediate family and friends, our next door neighbours, our fellow citizens, or indeed that country across the way that seems belligerent and hostile to us. How do we create a right relationship with our neighbours? Planning to harm them isn’t going to work, and neither is building an arsenal of weaponry in case they strike first. We have seen all this before – most spectacularly in the years prior to World War One – and it does not work. Why can’t we learn the lessons of history and try another way? Who is our neighbour, asked Christ? And then pinpointed what needed to happen: we help them. In that is peace of mind.

Finally, and perhaps most difficult of all, the third component of peace of mind requires us to make peace with our self; for the reality is that most people have a FAG addiction that is worse than nicotine. By which I mean they are prey to one at least of three acute emotional dysfunctions: Fear, Anger, and Guilt. People too frightened to step out of their houses or to be intimate with others; people always angry with anybody else over anything, no matter how trivial; and people always beating themselves up about what they did or how they should feel now. How they live in constant turmoil and peace of mind a million miles away and inaccessible.

But it is Christmas. Whether we are Christians or not, let us remember the baby and all babies, and how – until they are ruined by adults – they want to laugh and play and enjoy life, how they want to trust and be nourished, how they hope in their inarticulate way for growth and the future. To be childlike is not to be childish; indeed, it is to replenish our inner strengths and reserves, and especially to receive the gift of peace as we feel the joy of life.

Happy Christmas to my readers!

Creeds, Incarnation and the Trinity

Here we are again – at Christmas time. Bliss! A holiday. A time to reflect on what is important. And what is more important, more important than virtually anything else, is what we believe. Why? Because what we believe affects all the outcomes of our life. Famously James Allen cited the Bible and virtually launched the Personal Development movement when he said at the beginning of the Twentieth Century: ‘As a man thinketh, so is he’. Thinking here means believing.

I belong to religious group of people called Quakers, The Society of Friends. God bless them all, but there are some who seem to think – to believe – what many secular people believe: that belief is unimportant, and it is what you do that counts. As long as we do good, so their thinking goes, then all is well: we do not need creeds, especially religious ones, to be good people. In one obvious way it’s a sad position for a Quaker to adopt, since why be part of a religion at all if that were the case: we can do good as the secular society of friends! But it is much more misguided than that.

What is most misguided is the underlying assumption that there is such a position or indeed such a human being who is without beliefs, or without their own personal creed(s). People who claim that they dislike creeds are in the act of proclamation creating their own creed! The word creed itself comes from the Latin ‘credo’ and means, I believe. We all believe something, and this something can always be stated as a proposition; however, some people refuse to admit that even to themselves. They seem to want to congratulate themselves with moral brownie points for being ‘free’ of the constriction of beliefs, as this this were a freedom. Indeed, the reverse is true: the person who acts under the delusion that they have no beliefs and no creed is some acting under a subconscious constraint the more damaging because it is invisible to their conscious mind.

With that in mind then we can return to Christmas and the incarnation: the notion that is offensive to so many people that God became human and a divine child. Do we believe that? Many do and many regard it as preposterous, although for myself I take the view that anything that has endured – like the Pyramids – needs to be treated with massive respect before we dismiss it as an historical curiosity. But let’s lay aside the incarnation for a moment, for Christianity has an even more momentous and awkward belief to explain or justify. One that has caused even more division and acrimony than the ‘sonship’ of Jesus Christ: namely, the Trinity itself, which is not even mentioned as a concept in the Bible, so how can this be a valid belief as opposed to some priestly jiggery-pokery designed to befuddle the masses?

Again, I was at a point of dismissing this idea, this belief myself for a while, but one thing held me back: the strange properties of nature which consistently seem to reveal a three-in-one quality. For examples, time, which is past, present and future; space, which is length, height and breadth; matter, which is solid, liquid and gaseous; and beyond this arcane and yet essential concepts like ‘narrative’, which is beginning, middle and end, and which in some profound way is how we get to understand anything - through narrative, through story. So, whilst God cannot be explained, what metaphor best depicts this trinity and enables one to grasp something of its power?

For me as I wrestled with this concept the best metaphor that approximates to it is the human mind itself. God the Father, the first person of the Trinity, is LIKE our own thoughts: forever invisible to others. People cannot read our thoughts and we cannot read theirs; they are, as it were, encased or enclosed in some sort of inaccessible light. I say light because thoughts enable us to ‘see’. But, should the thought choose to reveal itself, then it does so via the word: we speak, and lo! Our thoughts are manifested. Here, however, we need to bear in mind two things: the thought precedes the word, and yet the thought and the word are inseparable. There is no sense in which a word is an independent creation of the thought (of course, bearing in mind that humans lie, whereas here we are talking of a perfect correspondence between the ‘thought’ of God and the ‘word’ of God); they are ‘one’ but they are distinct.

And so to the third person of the Trinity, which in this model becomes the enaction of the thought/word. If we see someone about to cross the road and we yell, ‘Stop’, there is some possibility that that is exactly what they will do. Indeed, in our every day and mundane lives we speak to and with people and we either follow their direction or advice or they follow ours, or both. The words we speak have a power to move reality. The Holy Spirit, then, is the energising agent that effects the consequence of the spoken word. Again, just as the word follows from the thought, so too the action follows the expression of the word: it is not different from it, but a natural continuation of it, and so the three are all ‘one’ in some essential sense.

If we were perfect human beings, then our thoughts would correspond with our words, and our actions would follow suit. This in business language is what we call having integrity! The whole of our history is about the struggle to find consistency and truth in other human beings and when we can find it, we have a role model. Nelson Mandela died recently. He said he’d stand for President and then step down after five years. What did he do? He stepped down – remarkably for an African president! – after five years, and we see his consistency and we think: wow! What a man, what a person!

Thus, we are at Christmas – let’s enjoy it and do good. But let’s not forget the Christ child and who he is – who we believe he is. And let’s remember, what we believe has huge implications for our own future and who we are.

Happy Christmas to my readers!