Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Cincinnati (updated Feb 1, 2016).

子曰
君子喻於義
小人喻於利 
(The mind of the overman is conversant with righteousness; the mind of the lesser man is conversant with gain. - The Analects)

I've always liked the story of Cincinnatus, the irony of it.

Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was a military man and once Aristocrat. His notorious son cost him his fortune and he lived simply in the Agrarian Spartan ways. Yet his family's sometimes venomous opposition to the legal commons certainly excluded them from the prominence of history. But known for being virtuous for giving up twice his near absolute power to Rome, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus deserves some fundamental respect. Put aside the sins of misdirected political agenda, the intrinsic motivation for civic service to defend one's people transpires civic leadership—qualities our own congressmen and senators lack.

I live in this City. Cincinnati, Ohio. I live in its strange times. Being a combat veteran, I feel a special connection to the story line. At least to the extend that I can pretend the war I fought was for the better of my city and mankind. Like I said in the beginning, I like the story for the irony of it.  

Every time I walk pass the statute of Cincinnatus, I cringe a bit. But then I feel a certain pride of living here: of being just another food-bucket and lacking of any personal ambition. That is very Taoist of you, someone once said. But I don't think it's about being a Taoist. It's more of a relief knowing that I only need to do my part and inspire others to do more. Let karma come around so to speak. If people didn't worry about what they were getting out of it, then they wouldn't mind putting in their whole effort to help one another. Life becomes communal and in harmony. It's kind of like being a medic in war. Healing is my only mission, and the man made rules tells me how and whom I can with my limited capacity. The rest, including my own life, is in the hands of the infantry -- there is a saying in the military, God loves the infantry -- and I trusted.

Cincinnatus is in fact in every culture's story and in each of us. But we have long forgotten them because the competition is fierce and wars made no sense. Selflessness is weakness that others can exploit. Our government does it, businesses do it, we do it to each other. It's illogical to be selfless, but that conclusion hinges on an illusion of the need for competition. What are we competing for, for competition's sake? If so, how do we keep it from being out of control?   

Our society is not build upon populations of perfect individuals. No such thing. Individuals are going to differ and argue because of our own faults. But it is nice to know that we can chose to serve despite such imperfections and aspire to be something better amongst others for a common good. In the end, walking away from power is perhaps the easiest thing to do for Cincinnatus. But choosing to act in the first place and seeing through the work never finished, is perhaps the hardest thing.

Like I said, the irony of it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Reclaim Philosophy.

Philosophy is not a bad thing. It takes on a bad rap. It is not taught in schools any more, so I guess it's just more often misunderstood. As I come to see, it may be one of the reasons why we are faced with a global sustainability crisis. Because we just don't take the time to think anymore. Not that we lack the kind of instructional-thinking, they are common in establishments. But we lack the kind of unhinged and mindful thinking. The kind that poets drink and painters take intravenously. The kind that is looked down upon because it's “too philosophical” but would elevate the pursuit somehow and therefore threatening.

So yes, we neglect to “mind the gap” so to speak. We pride ourselves on being pragmatists after all and philosophy is useless. In our busy lives, we'd much rather embrace religion and let someone else do the thinking for us. Keep the thinkers in their ivory towers.

Yet when preachers preach only to the wealth he is entitled, when matters of personal affairs are more important than spiritual awakening in these establishments of gods, our religions are relegated to being mere tools. Philosophy being the only re-tooling method is all the much more important. Otherwise we are doomed to perpetuate the worst in our enemy's eyes.

St. Elijah's Monastery
Today, the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq was reduced to rubble by the Islamic State. I had visited the St. Elijah's Monastery of Mosul on Easter, 2005. It was a memorable experience. The whole day had seemed quiet and peaceful. I long to return one day in the future as a mere tourist, but that is no longer possible. I sat in mourning for a brief moment. To me, “mind the gap” seemed all the more important.

Not being too philosophical is the reason for extremists to be all the more religious. Not being too philosophical is why monopolies are able to be more powerful. Each group has recognized to some extent the power of philosophical minds and are using them to the extent they can for their own perverted interests. The fall of St. Elijah's Monastery resulted from a lack of our philosophical courage to confront religion; the fall of modern civilization results from the same lacking but to confront ourselves.

Reclaim philosophy my friends. Be it for your business, for your church, for your community, for your country, and for this planet we call home. Thinkers and doers are not mutually exclusive. Ivory towers must have doors and stairways down to earth. Thinkers and doers are dependent on one another, in fact symbiotic.

Reclaim philosophy and remain ever vigilante.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Reclaim

2016 is for reclaiming societies—by the people in our common pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.

Much is at stake and we confront desperate times. Guns and violence are on the rise. Governments endorse them abroad in righteous and popular wars; radical terrorists of all walks of life use them as ways to advance religious and political agendas they know won't pass the common sense muster. Police are ever more incompetent and we are ever more radical in our methods of opposition. While civil law enforcements now have tanks and automatic rifles, we citizens now idolize violent resistance (Guy Fawkes). The rest of the flock of sheep are caught in the middle of a waging war of many sides: private interests, deliberate or indirect censorships, caught amongst the mess because there are profits to be made, fame to be gained, power to be had.

Fame and fortune direct the flow of things and irresponsible politicians take advantage of the situation; we see the uglier side of the human experience: fear, hatred, and all sorts of “-ism's” that we use to identify our self-imposed superiority. We waste time talking bans, exclusions, building walls and justifying wrong-doings with lies.

The public debate is a joke. The punchline is that we actually believe things can be different. All sorts of professionals spend their time turning the conundrum of how to solve the world's problems ignoring the politics. I commend them on their focus and dedication, but like the rest of the herd, I fear they tread dangerous waters. Academics once created terms “sustainability” to encompass what they had hoped for: social, environmental, and economical solutions working in unison. Business professionals coined “social entrepreneurs” to advance the agendas. Yet somewhere along the path everyone got lost to the big ideas, big technologies, big leaps forward. They forget that progress is often made step-by-step, incrementally and purposefully, and must account for all factors of sustainability: environmental protection and conservation, social progress and stability, as well as economic efficiency.[1] Big ideas, big technologies, big leaps forward are rare and are often only recognized after-the-fact. Why do we obsess with them and separate progress from success?

Social entrepreneurship and sustainability are not two different creatures of alien worlds. No, they are one and the same. Civil participation begins there and meaningful passive resistance for change begins with a case for its economics. One has to be productive in society to part-take and enjoy its benefits. The productivity generates economic, environmental, and social value. The exchange of this productivity for social benefits defines the nature of the social contract, from which our national constitutions governs the finer details. We are one human race experiencing one lonely planet. We have to reclaim it from those who have not paid attention to the meaningful path forward.

We are living now,
not in the delicious intoxication induced by the early successes of science,
but in a rather grisly morning-after,
when it has become apparent that
what triumphant science has done hitherto is to improve the means for achieving unimproved or actually deteriorated ends. 
                             - Aldous Huxley (1963)

2016 is the year for reclaiming societies, healing wounds, confronting terrors no matter who or where they are created. One can, after all, idolize Guy Fawkes not for the "Fifth of November" but for the tragedy and betrayal onto those who would stand and hope for better things. Guy Fawkes is a story of tragedy and reminder, not of triumph and success.

Neither violence nor ignorance are the answer, so 2016 is the year for reclaiming our sanity and strength to do battle against the divisions.       


I ask for divine strength 
  to meet the demands of my profession. 
Help me to be the finest medic, 
  both technically and tactically. 
If I am called to the battlefield, 
  give me the courage to conserve our fighting forces 
  by providing medical care to all who are in need.
If I am called to a mission of peace, 
  give me the strength to lead 
  by caring for those who need my assistance. 
Finally, help me to take care of my own 
  spiritual, physical, and emotional needs. 
Teach me to trust in never-failing love.

  - a combat medic's creed.


A student said to his master: "You teach me fighting, but you talk about peace. How do you reconcile the two?"

The master replied: "It is better to be a warrior in a garden than to be a gardener in a war."
_______________________

[1] Take micro-packaging for example: it is sometime touted as a genius of an idea for selling products to the poor and therefore a prime example of social entrepreneurship. But what about the environmental factor of economic and social impacts the micro-packaging can cause? Does it create more jobs locally or shift packaging and labor to other places? Does it create more or less trash for the environment? Or were these types of conversations not often taken in those board rooms where the idea is pitched? Highly likely never even mentioned.