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When is Humanity Going to Get That We’re All in This Together?

Archive for January, 2007

The Road to Hell (starts in UCLA?)

Posted by honestpoet on January 9, 2007

My christmas tree is still up and decorated, despite my meaning to take it down for the past two days. Yoga and flute practice have gotten in the way, and research on the ‘puter. I’ve checked out some other blogs. (My daddy always said that the road to hell was paved with good intentions. So should I get rid of the good intentions?…oh, I should do more of what I intend. Well, sure, but that’s a lot easier said than done.)

One of the things that caught my eye was that business about the tazering at UCLA. That’s not exactly a clear cut case, I’ll tell you what. The student clearly had a chip on his shoulder and should simply have shown his ID. The whole thing could have been avoided. But can I blame an Iranian-American for having a chip on his shoulder? I can only imagine what he’s been through.

And the cops. Well. I’ve known a few good cops (my dad, for one, for about 11 years), but on the whole I’d say most of them are power-mad head cases, though some do have good hearts. Still power-mad, but with no desire to be evil.

Some are just plain evil.

Most are a mix, a confused, ego-dystonic mix. Dealing with criminals, and even maybe-criminals, is pretty stressful. My dad discharged his gun only once on duty,(he was a cop a long time ago, in a beachfront town), and he told me that he nearly shot his foot off, then fired the rest of the shots into the floor as he raised his sights to the robber he was trying to stop. He’d been terrified.

You know, I’ve known about how messed-up-evil people can be for a while, having read a lot of my dad’s library, or at least leafed through, in that teen-aged way, enough books to leave a pretty big impression. He was a criminologist, having returned to school after some time as a homicide detective; he ended up running the police academy for a long time. So I used to read about serial killers, and the pathology behind things like the Jonestown massacre (this was pre-Waco), and all that sort of thing. But still, as a kid, I was totally against the death penalty. I’m still not crazy about the idea of state-sanctioned murder. Seems like revenge, though from a pragmatic point of view, some people really do sort of sign away their human rights by behaving like monsters. If you’re gonna rape a little kid in the ass, for example, you don’t really deserve to live, the way I see it. We as a species can’t afford to keep that sort around. Hubby said to me the other day, on this subject, that he used to be against the death penalty, until he sat in a room interviewing a patient who’d raped and killed little kids. “You talk to someone who skinned kids and wore’em as socks, and you kinda figure some people just aren’t meant to be alive.”

What a huge responsibility, though, dispensing justice. I can see why so many have wanted to have a god to do that for them.

You wouldn’t want to kill the wrong person, eh? And it’s been done. Too many times. Once would be too many. But it’s been way more. And who knows how many’ve died without their innocence coming to light.

Maybe now with DNA evidence they’ll be able to really demand things be “beyond a shadow of a doubt.” I mean, a SHADOW of a doubt? If believers were held up to a standard that stringent, I don’t think many from the past few hundred years, at least, would stand a chance through the pearly gates. (No wonder the Catholics invented purgatory. ‘Course, all that money for indulgences was probably pretty heavy in the scales, too.) But cops have been known to plant evidence. (If I were a man, I’d sure think twice about selling sperm.)

But back to the death penalty and its unjust practice. Up to now, it’s been disproportionately dispensed. Guess who gets it the most often? Black folk hurtin’ white folk. You betcha.

I’m betting we’ll watch the numbers rise for Muslim-Americans. I wonder what it feels like to watch your group slide into the status of a minority that goes beyond being hated into being persecuted.

I mean, I’m part of a hated, traditionally persecuted minority…three of them, even: witches, atheists, and pot-smokers. I’m a pot-smokin’ atheist witch. How you like them apples? But all those groups I’ve joined by choice (well, the witch part is debatable. I grew up hearing stories about my great-great-grandmother, whose birthday I share, who was as witchy a woman as my town had seen, I reckon. So I may come by that naturally…), and I can choose to keep quiet about them all, too.

But to be born to a group, your face and your name, that catches that much flack. And to watch it go from bad to worse. I’ve thought about what that must be like, for decent Muslims in America who really don’t want to hurt anyone, just want to be left alone to do their jobs and raise their families. I’m not saying they’re all wonderful. I know some don’t treat their women and/or children right…but I could say that about any group. And yeah, they believe in a wacky religion that’s right now rife with extremists. (Anyone just tuning in: I think all religions are wacky, so don’t think I’m bigoted or anything. I just think the best way to deal with reality is, well, by accepting it, thanks.)

But back to that kid at UCLA. If I were a peace-loving Muslim in America, I’d be raising my voice, that’s for dang sure. But I wouldn’t be swearing at cops. I’d be arguing with my imam.


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Quantum Witchcraft

Posted by honestpoet on January 2, 2007

Keats, in his letters, wrote about something he called “negative capability.” It’s what makes some poets, some people, able to intuit some things that otherwise remain opaque to those whose certainty blinds them to reality. Negative capability is that awareness that one doesn’t know, that ability to admit that one doesn’t have the complete picture.

A lot of atheists lack this ability, so they can’t admit that life might have an aspect to it that can’t be reduced to simple, quantifiable matter. These are the atheists who deny the reality of free will, insist that it’s some sort of useful illusion. And most theists lack negative capability as well; these are those who are so certain that scripture covers it all that they can’t admit to the truth of evolution and the lack of a daddy-in-the-sky.

Myself, I’ve done my best to nurture my negative capability, and with it I’ve embraced a mystical atheism. Seems contradictory, and it should. I’m pretty sure that any deeper truth will carry with it some sort of contradiction; that our dualistic minds can’t understand the mixed-up nature of reality without embracing paradox. (In a discussion with any theist, pretty much all you have to do to get them to blow a gasket is bring up the fact that the existence of evil, ultimately, has to be laid at God’s door.)

Here’s some background. I’m an artsy-fartsy type, as you might have gathered. I’m a poet (and a published one, with awards under my belt); I majored in art before switching to creative writing. I garden. The beauty of the world holds me in thrall. I’ve long loved the work of Joseph Campbell. But I’m married to a scientist of the mind. He’s not only a biologically oriented psychiatrist, but a math whiz (and I mean really…the year he took his MCAT, he also took the test that math students take to get into grad school, just to see how he’d do, at the request of the math prof he used to hang out with to solve problems for fun, and he got the 3rd highest score in the nation.) He’s been explaining physics to me since we were engaged, back in college. And he’s continued to do so, as new things have been discovered. He’s also explained the work of Churchland and Dennett. (He’s an excellent teacher, able to grasp the pedagogy and explain it succinctly.) So our pillow talk often involves concepts that, well, most couples don’t get into. It’s been a real privilege. And it’s not one sided. I’ve taught him a lot about creativity, and about embracing mystery, and finding beauty all around.

So. A mystical materialism? Sure. A materialism that admits that there’s more here than what we can see. Modern physics bears this out. M-theory, which posits the existence of 11 dimensions to the multi-verse, holds that the universe is actually a single membrane, and that the 11th dimension is confluent with it in its entirety, i.e., that right next to every atom, embracing every particle, is this 11th dimension. And it’s this, in my mind, that allows for the existence of what, for lack of a better word, could be called magic. What if there’s stuff in the 11th dimension? It seems to me more than possible that something, not necessarily what we would recognize as a biological neural net, but something that, like a super-computer, could act like one, might unify the whole shebang. And as our universe has evolved, so has this entity that co-exists with us. Its nature is of course mysterious. But it could be intellegent. The universe, or the multi-verse, rather, could have some single intelligence.

If the universe is truly one, then every bit of it can communicate with every other bit, like cells in a single body. A well cast spell, then, would act like a neurological signal from your brain, say, to your hand. Quantum witchcraft.

But the idea that this great mysterious entity, this multi-verse, would have a human personality, jealous like Jehovah, wanting to be worshipped, is, for lack of a better word, silly. Mythologies are just stories. All of them. Some of them aren’t even good stories. But reality, now that’s pretty fantastic.

Posted in atheism, fundamentalism, psychiatry, science, witchcraft | 59 Comments »