(A follow-up to the post The Strange Sensation, where psychologist and philosopher Nicholas Humphrey contends that we should think of this world as “painted in our soul dust” or “singing our song.” Yes, he believes that the Qualities of our world — its color and smell; its goodness and badness; its joy and sorrow — are all added by Conscious Beings, as if we are painting atop a canvas of molecules, waves and atoms. These Qualities include Complex Actions like singing and writing poems, but also creating scientific theories and testing them. Here, a little bird that is a powerful songster and one of my favorite poets will be featured; both of them helping to recoup some positives in our world already painted in too much sadness and tragedy. Please try to Enjoy!)
Yes, the world is an amazing place, often. And as amazing as it is, our human response to it is amazing, sometimes. Case in point, The Lark (Eurasian Skylark) and William Blake’s poem, The Lark’s Song. As amazing as this small bird is, Blake’s poem is its equal.
But, it is not an easy poem to read. Let me walk you through it, as I have had some experience reading poems, and teaching students poetry, and have worked with this poem for a while.
Its punctuation is very important. Closely watch the commas for only a slight pause, but a period is a full stop. The semicolon at the end of line two is much the same as a period. Interestingly, there are only two periods; the first occurs at the end of the 13th line. Yes, the first 13 lines are one sentence and should be read as such! No punctuation at the end of a line is no stop in reading at all. So, the spacing is peculiarand important (and I fear it may be distorted on a cell phone), but then so are many things about Bill Blake (Englishman, 1757-1827). Why is “Spring,” “Corn-field,” …”Expanse” and “Bird,” all lines unto themselves? Why is each capitalized? This poem is visual as well as linguistic. It must be read several times, to develop its full impact.
So, here it is. I just love the ending where “the awful Sun…With eyes of soft humility and wonder,…stands still” to watch this little bird sing.
The Lark's Song
Thou hearest the Nightingale begin the Song of
The lark sitting upon his earthly bed, just as the morn
Appears, listens silent, then springing from the waving
He leads the Choir of Day-trill, trill, trill, trill,
Mounting upon the wing of light into the Great
Re-echoing against the lovely blue and shining
His little throat and breast and wings vibrates with the
All nature listens silent to him, and the awful Sun
Stands still upon the Mountain looking on this little
With eyes of soft humility and wonder, love, and awe.
Can the lark’s songlive up to this hype? Is it an “effluence Divine” to which “All nature listens silent”? Judge for yourself.
(It often seems as if too many sounds are coming from this one mouth! The second section of this video starting at 1:00 is the most convincing to me. A true “effluence Divine,”“His little throat and breast and wing vibrates” with each sound.)
Common across Europe, it is the male Skylark that sings.Hovering at about 150-300 feet (50-100m) is where much of the singing occurs (“Mounting upon the wing of light into the Great Expanse,”) and lasts for as much as a minute (“Re-echoing against the lovely blue and shining heavenly Shell”). More prolonged outbursts occur while perched. Many a person is surely correct in NOTfinding its song beautiful as much as impressive in its vigor, variety and effusiveness. Surely we must agree, it is a true outpouring!
A small bird, about the size of a robin; it is around 7 in. or 18 cm. It nests on the ground and thus Blake’s line, “The lark sitting on its earthly bed.” Settlers to North America have tried at various times and places to introduce the bird to this continent, but with almost no success. A small colony was established on Vancouver Island in Western Canada, but today it is in serious decline. The skylark is abundant in Europe and Asia, and is not endangered.
The world is often a marvelous place, especially when persons seek to enhance it. Persons or selves can be called “Souls,” contends psychologist and philosopher Nick Humphrey, because of our psychological and metaphysical ability to convert the seeming raw materials of matter into “an enchanted” and “magical” display of Qualities and Abilities. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Skylark; thank you Mr. Blake! Thanks for our physical and metaphysical situation that offers so much and potentially offers more!
No atom ever sings, And though we may roughly associate A Group of Atoms to an event we call Singing, the heart of the songis lost when we do so.
(I’ve been searching for a simple statement that gets to the point of this blog site; maybe this is it. Most of you will think it far fetched, yet there is a Logic to it and it stretches way back into Philosophic Tradition. Complete with Garden Photos and a Poem at the end. A revision of the earlier post of the same title—but up-graded! Try it on for size, Please!)
In the spring and summer, each morning I take my cup of coffee and walk about our backyard garden. I carefully inspect its progress from the previous day: new shoots have appeared, old flowers fading, a weed to be pulled, new blooms opening and admired. Various birds fly by and others are calling. I stop and consider the weather, very pleasing, but other times not. Too cool, or too wet, we are often in need of a few sunny days. In either case, my plants soldier-on and I consider what I should do to improve this beautiful place, our garden, Our Backyard Sanctuary.
It is not a “strictly physical” place, not simply particles and chemical reactions and the qualities that those kinds of things directly exhibit. This garden of my wife’s and mine is a human artifact, a place ofbeauty with carefully selected plants, well considered placements, precisely cut borders and gently curved walkways. It is a chosen mixture of both sun and shade, privacy and open sky; a fairly complete composition,though always shifting.
It is a place of life.Plants exhibit the most marvelous design.Crocus poke up their heads in spring first, with their delicate little flowers. Then come the Daffodil with their yellow trumpeting flower, and then Tulip with its gracious cup, marked interior, and array of color. In the shade, the Ostrich Ferns are unraveling their fronds, rolling them open to the light. The JapanesePainted Ferns exhibit on each leaf detailed shades of green slowly verging onto blacks. In front of our long row of Hosta, my wife plants her border of Impatiens, an annual that flowers through the summer and produces best in shade. The Empress Wu Hosta is our crowning jewel. Sitting back beneath our cottonless (male) Cottonwood tree, the Empress crowns at over three feet into the air and spreads more than eight feet in diameter. She is a tremendous mound of foliage with each highly ridged bright green leaf running 18 to 20 inches long and a foot wide. All her bio-mass bursting forth each spring from below the ground and fully in place by mid June. By August, she has finished with her rather insignificant flowering (to the gardener) and by fall is ready to be cut back to do it all over the next year.
(The Tidy Packages: Daffodil, perennial Poppy, Columbine [Aquilegia] and Columbine, and finally Hosta. All photos by GWW from The Sanctuary)
Each plant is a tidy package. It circles about itself in its own little cycle. The perennials above — the crocus, daffodils, tulips, ferns and hosta — all have a prolonged cycle lasting many years, but go through a distinct annual cycle, also. The annual above — the Impatiens — completes its life cycle in a single season, but ends that cycle with a group of seeds, which are the Reproductionof “its form“— its tidy package — into the future. It is as if part of it — its Information — never dies!
Basically, fundamentally, essentially, a plant and its environment are a cooperative, self-enhancing effort. It is not that they — the plant and its environment — always “get it together” or always “keep it together”; they do not. There are “bad” seasons and difficult “spells”; but “at their core”, The Good MUST Out Weigh The Bad. That much is inherent in the idea of Natural Design.
Designs are real in nature; every design, if it exists, is Good at something, is Functional, isbetterthan a vast number of alternatives, but maybe not quite as good as some Possibilitiesthat we can vaguely imagine. This is the core of The Nature Religion Connection: If a lack of coordination and cooperation (Dis-Function, Chaos) were the predominant “tone” of the world, then complex entities like “plants” would not exist, nor would we! “The Living World” is fundamentally Good, at least from the point of view of Mother Nature.
And what of our own? So, let us Reflect. From our point of view, this world can be Like Our Backyard Sanctuary, if held in proper Respect. If nurtured. If understood. If thoughtfully criticized and accepted. If loved—-a reflection of us, and us of it.
To Reproduceis a distinctly living feature. To Metabolize is to be so open to ‘your’ environment; large parts of it are essential to ‘your’ continuation. As if in a Religious Gesture,You stretch forth into them, but not into some others; those seem completely irrelevant. Light, water, carbon dioxide and soil with minerals, all are open to the plant in a cooperative and informative way: They are essential parts of it; they are components of the plant’s Design. They AreIt! Its FORMATION extending out-ward. It is, what we call, the In-Formation of the Universe!
And To Growis to be alive, and that takes Time. A flowering plant only eventually flowers. An animal only eventually becomes sexually mature, and a human only eventually becomes emotionally and intellectually responsible. Life pulls together diversity into the unity of its form, and Time is essential to life:It does not exist in an instant.To Be Sensitiveis the means by which living things distinguish this In-Formation from the noise; it’s Self from Others. Life is these unique qualities.
(Crocus in the Snow and in the Sun. Photos by GWW)
A star, a volcano, a galaxy, an atom, our solar system, the various chemical elements do none of these: No reproduction, no metabolism, no growth, no sensitivity. A star may swell and then collapse, as it runs out of (‘eats’) its fuel and ‘dies’. A volcano can grow larger and even blow or become dormant. An atom may bond. Our solar system certainly cycles. But none of these have all the characteristics of life, nor in as regular or systematic a way as do a living kind, and especially a person.
THE BACKYARD SANCTUARYNo god is needed; My wife and I will do.
We split and weed, and plant seed.
We trim and choose, and rule our tiny spot,
but not --- like one such other.
Mother Nature framed this scene,
and with her choices will be Queen.
But at least, I see my debt
and live to fill her offer.It is a special place, our world;
The world of life and persons.
It is our Response and Ability,
to keep it such and More.
And pass it to our future kind,
for ashes soon we be.
For after all, we are but 'food'
in this Great Chain of Being.
Of what shall come hereafter,
we made a contribution,
All photos by GWW from the garden of Sheri and Greg. Zinnia, an annual to the right and middle–with yellow swallow tail.
The Subbing Stint Teaching Algebra came to a rather dramatic end the previous Friday. In fact, it was a Great Week all round here at The Nature Religion Connection. Mi casa is su casa.
The last post “On the Schools” was well received. The chilly wet weather broke, and we had some spectacular days working in The Garden, sitting on the deck and admiring “It All.” “It All”, such as—the school year; the Garden; and New Life-New Hope possible everywhere. Wonderful developments occurred; beautiful things are real possibilities in this world of ours!
(German Breaded Iris on the ends, Columbine in the middle: All have come and gone already this season leaving behind fond memories of their beauty. Photos by GWW from the BackYard Sanctuary.)
Closing out this very difficult year in education occurred on Friday 6/4 . It was bitter sweet. How many years have I watched another group of children move on? I have seen it, as a teacher, some 35 times, and my wife—amazing to think—almost 50 times; but she started as a teen-ager working full time in Montessori classrooms. A friend of mine retired at the High School. Our assignments just happened to work that on her last day in teaching, that Friday, she was the Intervention Specialist (co-teacher) in my algebra class. I watched her go through her belongings all day long, and then helped her carry her boxes to her car in the end. She is a good lady and was a good teacher for 30 years.
This year in my school district, we have gone from a hybrid mode, which persisted almost the entire year; to finally, late in the year –April–back to “all in”, “regular schooling” but in masks and as socially distanced as possible. We had taped lines running down the hall ways to direct traffic as if driving on the highway.
I thought my district did a pretty good job of it. “Hybrid” consisted of about 2/3rds of students split into two groups, a Monday-Tuesday group and a Thursday-Friday group; and a third group, also about 1/3 of the school population, choosing to be all online. There were a few additional differences to really “normal schooling,” besides.
First, there was and is an increase in absences, especially in the hybrid mode. Going to school 2 days a week and then sleeping in for 5 days, just did not seem to work for a lot of families and kids. No easy rhythm to be established there. And many kids, and even teachers, were quarantining, especially at first. Even these last three weeks of school have been plagued with above average absences. Kids, maybe whole families, just crapped out early on this year of educational uncertainty. It was exhausting.
But then came the vaccines and the decision was made to return to school full time. Rates of infection were declining, shots were being distributed and teachers were one of the early groups to be eligible. Also, let’s not forget the many Ohioans had already had the disease and had recovered and thus were naturally immune to further infection. Many of the most vulnerable Ohioans had even died, as in the nursing homes. The disease just has fewer places to go; all the low lying fruit — sadly to say — has already been picked.
I just read that as many Ohioans died from Covid as died in WW2, roughly!
I am glad the district leadership made the decision to re-open fully, though I was not sure of it at the time. I just wondered if it was asking too much, one more big change. But at least it is over with, schools are open, and everyone has gotten their feet wet again. That hurdle already has been surpassed, and next year has been set up to be a just plain, Normal Start.
So, how did the year end, specifically?
Largely along themes suggested in the preceding post. My High School is academically challenged. “Good kids, but not great students,” said one of its long-time teachers. And when the Final Exams were graded, by me, that was plain. Not a great Bell Curve.Too many kids at the low end, and the middle without much breadth, or the high end, not nearly enough scores in those ranges as one should expect.
But the Term Grades were not as bad. Many more students passed the term and the class than passed the Final Exam. And that was just the problem, or maybe even part of the solution, I do not know. What students knew and learned was probably best exemplified by the final exam, but can we, should we, really “fail” that many students?
An anecdote may best illustrate the point.
The ‘older’ (but not as old as I) and insightful science teacher across the hall, Elaine, approached me Thursday and wanted to show me a text she had received from a parent. It was not a pleasant text and she had received it the night before. Elaine said at first she was upset but now was calmer. She wanted my opinion.
The mother was harsh with Elaine. She called Elaine “a crazy woman” and said that if she had “nothing good to say about a student; she should not search to find something bad.” It was a fairly long text.
What had the teacher commentedon the report card, that set this parent off? She had said only that her daughter, Brittani, “Did not work to her full potential.” and that “Daily effort could lead to excellence.” The mother’s comment was that Brittani (in names today, a “y” turns into “i” and an “i” to “y”) was “an all A and B student,” and that should surely be good enough and warrant only praise.
I sympathized with Elaine, because Brittani is a big goof-off, and does not try and will announce that she “doesn’t care” right there in the middle of class, often. And curiously, Elaine is one of Brittani’s supporters, telling me early on that Brittani is “smart” but she just doesn’t try enough.
It suddenly occurred to me that what we had here was some disjointed perspectives. I asked Elaine, at last, “What grade did you give her?” And, surprising to me, Elaine had given her a “B” in spite of Brittani’s lack of effort. I said, “Well there we have it.” This mother really did see a good report card and could not understand its circumstances. Elaine quickly added, “I know my standards should be higher, but then so many of my students would get F’s!” Elaine does work with some of the most difficult groups—many of the most vulnerable incoming freshmen. Elaine is trying to get them in a positive frame of mind about school, and bring them along through ‘baby steps.’
The mother did not understand, but it is surprising to me that she did not have a more accurate sense of who her daughter was, at school. I doubt that Brittani is ‘an all A and B daughter’ at home. And then it occurred to me, “What grade am I about to give her?” I knew I had just graded her Exam and she got about 45% correct! I went back to my room to check the electronic grade book. Most of Brittani’s grade was already determined long before my subbing began, and The Final Exam plays no part in any grade at all, strangely.
I looked up her term grade, a “B”!I was disappointed. I looked further at this teacher’s grading system, and, as I had already been catching on, her standards were not very high either. In her system, a quiz and a test barely count for anything more than an individual daily assignment! In her system, just handing in a daily assignment — that was hardly scrutinized by the teacher — was the biggest part of attaining a “C” or “B.”
I did not want to perpetuate this impropriety. I submitted the “B” term grade and recorded the “F” exam grade, and Commented: “Term grade is good, but could be better. Lacks daily effort.” Brittani is fairly intelligent: Smart enough to game the system. At best, she probably deserves a “D”–considering her effort and what she actually learned– but then many other kids without as much ability, but who try, would get an “F”. Back in the day, I always took the risk and graded more subjectively. I hope that I would have given her a less favorable term grade, and then commented about lack of effort. It’s a dilemma; or is it like Karl tried to advocate: “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”
On a Very Different Note!
The Garden is blooming and An Olive has ripened! Yes, my wife and I have become Grandparents for the second time! Our son and his wife have just given birth to a beautiful baby girl. And, yes, they have named her Olive! An eight pound six ouncer, with the most beautiful round features — eyes, head, smile — all very nicely shaped, just like you would expect from well formed little fruit.
There are some interesting developments in the schools these days. I cannot comment on all schools, of course, only the few in which I work, and that is what I have been doing lately—working. I have taken on a long-term subbing job in a public high school, teaching algebra to the end of the year (about three weeks). Why, you may ask?
The school is an interesting one, to me. It is on the southwest side of Columbus (not far from my home) in an area that is rather impoverished and crime ridden. The neighborhood is definitely “blue collar” and high school educated at best. The school’s student population is very diverse. I will estimate racially, about 50+% White, 15% Black, 15% Hispanic, 15% Somalian (and other Africans), and even a small contingent of Ukrainians! In spite of these demographics, the school has been called “a little gem,” by some. It is generally orderly, and many students there are fairly successful in diverse ways. A veteran teacher once commented that “the kids are not great students, but they are good kids.” “Good” as in, good-hearted, well-intended, but not necessarily quiet and focused on the teacher.
Well, I am a retired teacher and I do enjoy the interaction with these kids, many of them at least. Even some ofthe less cooperative provide an opportunity for me to be influential: be creative verbally, engage them personally with a few jests-jibes and challenging directives. Some of them, you just mostly sit back; unfortunately, there is little to be done or little they will let you try to do to encourage them that school is worth trying. In three of my class periods I have the assistance of a co-teacher, an Intervention Specialist, because those classes have many students with “special needs,” like “learning disabilities” or “behavior problems” or both. And many of the kids are great, and very appreciative of my attention, concern, enthusiastic teaching, and treachery silliness. I do say and do things that often incite laughter or at least smiles.
One of my classes is “ESL” students, English as a Second Language, and this means mostly Hispanic kids in this school. It surprised me at first to learn that this does not mean overwhelmingly Mexican; a significant percentage of these students are Honduran, Porto Rican, Guatemalan. To me, they all seemed ‘just’ Hispanic, but to them, these differences are obvious and somewhat important. The famous tradition, Night of The Dead, is not celebrated much beyond Mexico, for example; various phrases and slang are also limited to specific parts of Central America.
One example of fun at school, involves this group of mostly sophomores and juniors. Recently when I continued to try to insist that they focus on algebra and less on chatting and silliness as they too often do; I was saying again that it is “rude” to be talking while I am trying to address the class. One of the louder and most prominent boys suggested that I tell the group in these situations, “mucho chingas,” to which most of the group snickered. I asked him what that meant and he said “too much talk.” And when I continued to seek clarification, several of the guys ended up agreeing that it meant ‘too much disrespectful talking.’ These students often have small discussions about what is the most accurate translation of a phrase they use, into English.
Well, I did then bark out, “Mucho chingas, Back to work!” but retained suspicions. The next day, I used the phrase several times, much to the delight of most of the class, but then cornered some of the “nicest’ and most studious girls later and asked, “Now, what does that Exactly mean?” They could not, and even would not, say; but all agreed– in the end — that I should not say it.
Now, I had to find out for sure, its exact meaning. When I had the opportunity, I went upstairs to the Spanish-Speakers Translator, and asked. Several students were present, and all present, including me, began chuckling. At first, she (the translator) had no precise answer but did say it meant something like “too much talk,” but there was a more precise translation that she could not tell me. “What?” I said, “does it have to do with sex or something?” and she said “No.” I persisted, asking her to whisper it to me quietly, but she said she could not. More laughter, by all present. Finally, she typed it into her lap top for a translation (which I could have done!) and showed me the answer. “Too much shit.”
Not All is Fun and Games
Being the end of the year, my duties included reviewing for the final Unit Test (quadratic equations), and its administration, and the same for the Final Exam which is coming this week. I take this Algebra seriously, but also try to make it like a puzzle, and a challenge that all can rise to. I pride myself on my ability to explain things clearly, and sometimes kids acknowledge that.
In the third period each day, I do a study hall, usually an easy assignment. This week, in the back of the class, a girl I had always marked as absent, and did not know, suddenly appeared on Monday and sat — quietly — looking at her phone. I did not engage her other than to remark I was glad she was here. The same went for Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, a few minutes after the start-bell, Markya (Mar-k[long i ] short a—but no real names used) stood up and quietly and quickly walked out the class door near her seat in the back. Luckily, I had noticed and wondered. After several minutes and she did not return, I went back to investigate. Thinking she had shot out to use the restroom (without asking), I looked down the hall only to here some rather loud voices from a nearby classroom. Soon the voices got louder. I heard someone yell, “You white bitch” and then the volume really increased. “Trouble,” I thought, and I turned to secure my own class, thinking “they’ll break it up.”
But a break-up did not occur. The shouting increased, noises of a scuffle became evident, and still I stood in the door directing my class to stay seated and calm. Soon, with my class cooperating and the fight seemingly escalating, I went to help.
As I was heading there, about three doors down, I was directing students to stay in their rooms, when another student I knew was rushing from the other direction. I told Serina to go back to her class, but she ignored me and rushed in ahead.
Serina is a very uncooperative girl. I knew her from my first period class. She is a junior and physically attractive, rather large and very fit; she should be a track athlete but is not. My experience with her in first period is she usually comes late and then does no work, instead talks on her phone. Twice when asked for her tardy slip, she did not have one. When asked to go get one, she just simply looked at us coldly and firmly said “No.” The day before we both arrived at that door at the same time, I had written her up for various acts of insubordination and defiance. Apparently, the write-up did not get processed in time.
So as I looked in that door of the room of the commotion, all I saw was a large tangle of people.Chaos. Some were students fighting; some were students trying to break it up, I later realized. Several staff were in there trying to disengage students. There was a lot of yelling and furniture knocking about. I could discern very little organization to it. Who were the combatants? Who were the aggressors? What exactly was going on?
But Serina apparently knew. She had been texted. She knew it was going down, who was getting jumped and why. So she went flying in ahead of me and went right to the middle of it and leaped on top with fists flailing. At least I could discern her role! I took her by the waste and pulled her back, but I could not hold her! She was like a bull; her adrenalin flowing full force. I turned to try to help some staff next to me who were pulling apart two girls who had hold of fistfuls of each other’s hair, only to realize it was making one of them totally vulnerable to the blows of a third girl.
At that point I began to worry. This fight was too much for us. We could not stop it, and I began to back out, thinking that I was not helping, that I could easily be hurt, and that re-enforcements were necessary. Just then, a male student suddenly stumbled toward me with a smaller girl in his grasp. She was screaming that she was going “to kill that bitch” and fighting his efforts to remove her from the battle. I took hold of one of her arms and told him, “lets get her out of here” and we pulled her to the nearby door, out of the room and across the hall to an empty class. She ranted and raved for a couple of minutes, but then started to calm. An assistant principal (and former college football player) soon came in and took over.
Apparently, across the hall re-enforcements had arrived, and the fight had been dissected into its individual raging girls, who had finally been separated and confined. Gladly, I returned to my room where I tried to catch my breath, thank my students for behaving so appropriately, and report to the principals what I knew.
Yes, Markya was the first girl from outside that class to arrive and help start the attack on the girl being jumped. The girl attacked did a fairly good job of defending herself after being sucker punched, and may have had some help from a friend. Serina was also one of the main aggressors and was suspended for the rest of the year. As last I heard, it was determined that there were 4 or 5 girls basically fighting, with three the definite aggressors.
Markya, I later learned from the Intervention Specialist, has had a rough row to hoe. Homeless with her mother for most of the year, now she was in a foster home. Those three days before the fight were the only days she had been at school for months, but no one gave me a heads-up. Those three days, and up to the the third period fight, are the only schooling she received (or will receive) in a long time. Suspended the rest of this school year. Sadly, that is the way it seems to work, sometimes and for some people.
I hope you don’t give up, Markya! Things can be better.
The Pandemic’s Effect on Some Children
I was talking to one of the older, lady teachers the other day, and she had some insightful comments. She felt that our juniors were like sophomores, academically and emotionally. They had missed an entire year and more of Normal Schooling; missed our influence on their emotional development on a day to day basis and under Normal Circumstances. There is a lot of absenteeism. At this point, when we are trying to resume normality, these students are behind and feeling awkward and struggling with Regular Schooling. These are high-schoolers. My wife says her pre-schoolers and kindergarteners are emotional basket cases; they cry at the least provocation. Each– pre-school and high school– have been isolated too long from the influence of our larger society.
With our children, we are going to have to play catch-up. The pandemic took this emotional toll, too.
Back to teaching Algebra Tuesday, Final Exams start Wednesday!
Acts of political and personal courage should be acknowledged, especially these days. Liz Cheney is standing firm against “The Big Lie,” that her party actually won the past presidential election, that it was “stolen.” 70% of Republicans believe it was illegitimate, according to CBS Nightly News. Cheney is the daughter of Republican former Vice President Dick Cheney and a conservative congresswoman from Wyoming. Despite these bone fides she is under attack from Mr. Trump and the Republican leadership for her efforts to uphold our country’s democratic integrity.
“The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution,” she wrote May 5th in an op-ed for the Washington Post. She declares that Republicans must stand with “the rule of law” and reject “the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”
Here in Ohio, we face a similar challenge. Will Jane Timken attempt to defend the indefensible? In her guest column in The Dispatch of 4/13, “President, Allies on Reckless Tax-and-Spend Policy Program,” Timken—former chairwoman of the Ohio Republican Party– emphasizes her allegiance to former President Trump.
She will “advance an America First agenda.” She will oppose “the far-left agenda” of the “radical” Green New Deal. She credits Mr. Trump with the development of the vaccines that have “turned a corner” on the COVID pandemic. Yes, these same vaccines that many Republicans now refuse to get.
This last contention, especially, raises the question, will she play fast and loose with the facts as does Trump? We all know that the Trump administration deserves no credit for containing or defeating this virus. Mr. Trump opposed mask-wearing and declined to social distance. Several of his events became mass spreaders. His administration provided little guidance, support or coordination to our states during this clearly national crisis.
Ms. Timken seeks the Republican nomination for Ohio’s soon-to-be-vacated senatorial seat. At the start of every Q & A session of her campaign she should be asked, “Do you believe the 2020 Presidential Election was stolen by the Democrats?” Unless she clearly and unequivocally rejects this lie, it should be held as the central issue of her candidacy.
There is little question that there is no real or ample proof of a fraudulent election. Beyond Cheney, other stalwart Republicans are disavowing the lie.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham’scourageous speech after the traitorous events of January 6th stands out as a highlight in contemporary American politics. “Enough is enough,” he said, “It is over…Joe Biden is the legitimate President of The United States.” Graham continued by saying that he has been told there are thousands of fraudulent votes in Georgia and Arizona, to which he replied, “give me ten”—show me proof of ten—but the result was zero, “haven’t got one.” No proof has been presented to him, he declared.
Recently, an old hand in Ohio and American Republican politics—John Boehner, commented (NPR, 4/12) that he believes former President Trump has “abused the loyalty and trust of his supporters.” On the supposed illegitimate votes, “There’s really been nothing of any significance that would have changed one state’s election outcome, not one…nothing even close,” he said. Boehner is a former Ohio congressman and Speaker of The House of Representatives.
This lie needs to be rejected. The self-serving, delusional, and paranoid thinking that is at its basis, needs to be rejected. American politics is not often pretty, but our electoral integrity stands true.It is our American “miracle” writes Cheney, quoting the Republican Party idol, former President Ronald Reagan.
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It feels like a massive storm has descended upon us, a storm of biblical proportions. For more than 40 days and 40 nights we have endured. Mercifully, the George Floyd jury found former Officer Chauvin guilty on Tuesday 4/20. Without that, our boat may have swamped.
No sooner than the skies started to clear with that verdict, actually about 20 minutes before its announcement, here in my own Columbus another tragedy befell us. Ma’Khia Bryant was shot to death by a police officer. She was a 16 year old African-American girl in the act of swinging a knife at another girl in the midst of an apparent brawl. All caught on body camera. Further, the officer, himself, was but a kid, a 23 years old and on the force one year.
Tragedy is the norm these days, and bullets were also raining in this town on the previous Saturday, 4/17. In an event worthy of much more attention, LaToya Renee Carpenter, 32, died when struck in the head by a stray while driving to pick up her 11 year old at 7:30 pm. Ironically, a vigil was in process on the southeast side for a homicide that occurred one year previously in a “drug deal gone bad” according to The Columbus Dispatch and police reports. An SUV drove by this vigil, and sprayed the small group with bullets injuring 9 and killing LaToya while in the act of being a good mother—her daughter now motherless and her fiancé without a partner.
Black lives do matter, and very sadly they are being wasted on all fronts. The Violence Data Brief for Franklin County compiled by the City of Columbus informs us that African-Americans are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized by firearms-related assault than Whites. Black men are 14 times more likely to die by gun violence than white men—48.4 to 3.4 per 100,000. Latoya Carpenter’s death was the 60th this year, a full two months ahead of last year’s record-setting pace of 170 homicides for this city. Almost 75% of U.S. homicides are committed with a gun.
And indeed they are. We are also amidst a tsunami of mass murder.
Atlanta, March 16; 8 shot dead at spas by a man seeking to solve his sex addiction by eliminating the temptation, according to him.
Bolder, March 22; 10 killed while shopping for groceries by a man prone to outbursts of rage.
Rock Hill, South Carolina, April 7; 6 killed (two of which children), shot for no apparent reason by a man mentally ill ever since his professional football career, contends his father.
Indianapolis, April 15; 8 killed at a Fed Ex terminal by a pimpled 19 year old whose mother had legally removed a shotgun from his possession only to have him buy new assault rifles to commit this blood-letting.
So, what to do? There are many things that could be done and many things that should be tried. New police training, removal of officers with questionable records, discontinuation of the use of police as the initial and primary intervention in mental health and domestic problems. Even minor traffic issues are not always best resolved by the intervention of a white man with badge and gun.
And what of the guns themselves? Too many, too easy to get, too easy to use, too carelessly owned, too powerful for any reasonable purpose. It’s time to rebuild our flood walls and stop the flow of these vile devices. If only they were just used for hunting and self-defense! No real right need be violated to stem these waters.
There is too much death in our time. I’m drowning. We’re drowning! Efforts will continue to mitigate this disaster. Please help. More votes will be taken, petitions signed, more marches will be held, and we need to be there. My sign will say, “Too Much Violence, Too Many Guns.”
(This old business is sad business! Three mass shooting in the US in less than a month! I have a new sign in my front yard, but still no progress on gun regulation in Ohio or in Washington, though President Biden is planning to take some executive actions.
I found this draft of a post in my file and decided to run it at this point. My wife asked me not to publish it initially, she was worried by the threatening letter I had received. At this point, over a year and a half after the mass murder in my home town of Dayton, our Republican Governor’s modest package of gun controls has been rejected by our Republican controlled legislature.
But now, after the Atlanta, Bolder, and Texas shootings, I refuse to give up especially in light of the stupidity that composes so much of the opposition to any efforts to control these vile and excessive weapons!The weapon used in Bolder was a semi-automatic pistol with modifications. Here is the original draft –following the pictures–now published with some modifications.)
(Top Left, one of three shooting sites inAtlanta area where 8 woman were killed by a 21 year old “strict” Christian man who said he had a sex addiction and was eliminating his temptation.. Middle, King Sooper grocery store where 10 were killed by a young man with known mental problems using a semi-automatic pistol that he had purchased just days before; he shot it out with police in store before being arrested. Right or Bottom, Texas cabinet factory where a 27 year old disgruntled worker killed 1 and wounded 5 two of which still in critical condition, one a responding police officer.)
The Original Post following the Dayton Murders
On Sept. 13, (2019) The Columbus Dispatch published a letter I submitted arguing for a tightening of Ohio gun laws. The paper is not “The Disgrace”, far from it; it has a moderate Republican orientation and went so far as to endorse Hillary in ’16 and is calling for gun control now. About five weeks after the mass shooting in Dayton took the lives of 9 innocent people in a 24 second hail of gunfire, I wrote the editor and was published. It still shocks and angers me that in 24 seconds, 9 people could be killed and 17 injured. My letter was most immediately prompted by a set of proposals tentatively put forward by our Governor. In response to my letter, I received at home through the mail a rather peculiar and unfortunate response. My letter and parts of the reply are printed below. Its writer included a fake name and address, I discovered upon further research.
Momentum is building for gun restrictions
Our Republican governor has conjured up the courage to defy the National Rifle Association and the bulk of his party’s elected officials and will be putting forth a weak-kneed proposal involving 17 actions — including some mental health up-grades — that is far better than nothing. It is time to turn the cultural tide against guns.
It is time to expand the limitations of the right to own a gun, a right that has already been appropriately limited with our agreed-upon outlawing of automatic weapons. We obviously need to go further.
Ohioans have the right to public safety. Our children have the right to be safe in school. Manhood is not about owning a gun and certainly not about owning a military-style weapon.
Better than the governor’s upcoming “red flag” proposal is the one currently being sponsored by state Democrats and the courageous and clear-thinking Republican state Sen. Peggy Lehner from the Dayton area. It proposes a court hearing on the safety of a given individual’s possession of a gun and then allows that individual to respond in court if the weapons are removed.
Even in Washington, D.C., there is renewed pressure to, as the people of Dayton shouted, “Do something!”
Readers should call or write their elected officials. Put a sign in the yard. There is an upcoming rally and march downtown on Wednesday with the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence. Act now!
A rather simple and straight-forward set of points. All except for the manhood comment, which I was rather surprised The Dispatch printed. I am familiar with letters to editor (LTE) and I thought that comment would be removed in editing as too testy.
Here are some exerts from the response I received. My wife has asked me not to make too much of this incident, not wanting to provoke further hostility. I agree, and will provide for you just a sense of it. It consisted of two pages, the first is described below. It was extreme. His caps and bolding.
HEY……WHAT THE FUCK WOULD YOU KNOW ABOUT MANHOOD! My take upon reading your LTE submittal to The Columbus DisGrace is YOU are undoubtedly a naive, sniveling , sentient cry-baby pussy who collapses at the slightest provocative action! You could be a #MeToo, or a tree-huggin enviroWacko ! BTW, I’m continually amazed that The Columbus Disgrace doesn’t run out of confused Democrat schlubs like you….
LISTEN UP YOU COWARDLY DUMB MOTHER-FUCKER! Red Flag Laws or Universal BackGround Checks maybe feel good non-remedies to the Gee I Pissed My Pants Crowd but they are also utterly useless and ineffective deterrents ! Admit it ASSWIPE You want “gun confiscation” and abolishment of 2nd Amendment ! …Americans will NEVER….NEVER …EVER give up their guns! Guess who looses this argument ?….
KNOW THIS, YOU’RE A POOR EXCUSE FOR A MALE AND AN AMERICAN! Know also that when the anarchy for which you unwittingly advocate for and promulgate breaks out….it’s most probable that you won’t be able to scatter your old wrinkly , pansy ASS to the tall weeds ! Why’s that you axe ? Well….. could it be a dull machete intervened ? Could be , since the God of Abraham knows where you live. The (3) Eyed Raven has now been assigned to keep a vigilant eye on you. There will be a reckoning! Praise the Lord ! Amen!
Note in the third paragraph near the end, he seems to threaten me with the “dull machete” reference. Obviously he knows where I live; heck, I’m in the phone book.
It appears that my manhood comment bothered this guy. Note the reference to it several times and all the disparaging phrases referencing to women in various ways. Following the above, he had a sketch similar to below of “the three-eyed raven” he refers to as “CORVUS CORAX” which is the scientific name for the raven species.
Also on the first page and to the side was this statement (all bold):
“HEY BOZO! Hope this does not ‘bunch up’ your panties! NO ONE has a right to public safety! An expectation …..yes…but not a right! Own/Bear arms is a RIGHT and I can prove it !!!!!”
Now, The Declaration of Independence does state, in paragraph two, that there are “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” To me, that would imply public safety, but I will give him the point that that is not literally stated in The Constitution.
The first page of his letter ends with a reprinting of my letter to the editor in the bottom right corner.
The second page is a ‘wanted poster’. In large letters it starts “WANTED” and then has the pictures of eight Democrats including Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, Hillary, and Barack Obama. “For TREASON & HIGH CRIMES“, it continues on the bottom, and then ends with a picture of a noose and a drawing of a firing squad.
(Well, there it is. I can assure you that appropriate steps were taken. I spoke to the Columbus Police and the local FBI office. Both said that there is a lot of this that is around, and that not much would probably come of it. Both inspected the letter [I mailed a copy to the FBI on request] and indeed, nothing further has become of it, from the writer or the authorities.)
Please Keep Up Your Efforts to Control Guns through State and National Legislation!
But some ‘Persons,’through their Mental Illness and arbitrary acts, endanger the Social Foundations of Meaningfulness. Other Persons, through their misguided Abstract Thinking, enable these attacks on A Secure and Meaningful Human Togetherness!
(It’s Daffodil time in Central Ohio. Lovely to get a lot of sun so early, and get back into The Garden! The plants are responding beautifully. We needed this break in this difficult year. This is a revised post from one year prior; a post from near the beginning of this outburst of viral natural variation. May we soon see the end of it, but recognize our dependence on Things Larger Than Ourselves and our need to Take Care! )
In glorious disregard to the Corona Virus, the Daffodils are in bloom in Central Ohio! An excellent example of how each Design in Nature is oblivious to some things, but very much concerned with others. The daffodils feel the warmth, the moisture. It’s their time. They spring forth and lighten our lives, and their own for a glorious week or two. I mean, It’s Glorious, and Wordsworth liked them, too (1815).
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (1815)
I wandered lonely as a cloudThat floats on high o'er vales and hills,When all at once I saw a crowd,A host, of golden daffodils;Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Least I give you the wrong impression, The Virus is fading here in Ohio. We are experiencing about 1500 new cases a day and it has leveled at that point after consistently dropping for several months. Even better news is that hospitalizations continue to decline, possibly reflecting the increased vaccination of the most vulnerable. Our vaccination campaign seems to be going well and gaining speed. Teachers are vaccinated, my wife and I are, and so are many others. Many schools have just, or soon will, return to all in full time. (That will be interesting.)
And, Spring has come early.Returning to The Garden has been a joy, though the initial work there is rather grueling. What is it about me? I actually like crawling around on my hands and knees clearing out the old insulating mulch and revealing the fresh crop of spring babies. With my face in the dirt, I’m sure they feel my love! Ouch, did I just write that?
More of Wordsworth, ‘Dancing with Daffodils….’
Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the milky way, They stretched in never-ending line Along the margin of a bay: Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced;but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund company: I gazed—and gazed—but little thought What wealth the show to me had brought.
Harnessing the Power of Chemicals to Serve the Purposes of Plant Design
But how is it, exactly, that the Dafs and other flowers know when to come up and when to bloom? Temperature, moisture, maturity of the plant, and light all play a part. The role played by light is important. Plants contain a protean called Phytochrome which has two states: P(red) and P(far red). Phytochrome is a photoreceptor and when days become longer and nights shorter, the red wave frequencies of light (660 to 730 nanometers) are absorbed more and more rapidly by the phytochrome which changes to a greater proportion of P(f-r). This signals the plant to new growth and new stages of growth, such as flowering. Some plants are short day plants, like the Daf and only need a small shift toward P(f-r) to get them flowering, and so bloom in the spring. Others are long day plants and need much more P(f-r) and for longer periods to develop maturity and then flower, like the Zinnia which is a late summer season bloomer. In the fall, with the shortening of the day, the portion of P(r) increases and the plant prepares for hibernation or the end of its cycle (death).
Butbefore the sun has a direct affect on plant growth it has an indirect affect through Temperature. Hormones in plants are temperature sensitive, particularly the auxins. Bulbus flowers such as the daffodil thrive in a warm-cold-warm cycle. During the cold, winter section of this cycle, the plant loses its resistance to the influence of auxin. Auxin has a growth inhibiting influence and by Spring, the bulb is ready to go. Growth occurs in the form of “an apical shoot”—apical, meaning apex—or a single growth upward from the bulb. At the crown of this shoot is the flower head which produces this growth inhibiting auxin that, at this point, radiates down the shoot preventing lateral growth as side shoots. Up the bulb pushes in the form of this initial stem until it breaks the surface of the soil and becomes available to the more direct influence of sun light.
Back to Bill Wordsworth…
For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
Yes, “vacant and pensive moods” is what we have these days! But the Dafs, the Hyacinth, the Forsythia and the little baby Columbine are here to help. All in Glorious Disregard to that Virus!
A little controversy has been stirred up by a N.Y. Times columnistthat I have long followed — David Brooks. I tend to like this guy; he is Big Hearted in spite of being a Conservative, of sorts. He is all about ‘restoring relationship’ and ‘mending the social fabric,’ my paraphrases of his positions. He tends to think that in the past (somewhere and some time) ‘we connected’ with each other and ‘nature’ better than we do now. We have “broken communities”, now; he has written.
That’s cool and suggestive; and he tends to take a psychological approach to such matters, where I a philosophical approach. He ends his recent and controversial article by writing, “On the other side of justice, we reach the beloved community and multiethnic family of humankind. This vision has a destination, and thus walks not in bitterness but in hope.”
But in this recent article (link above), he falls back on his religious belief, obviously. I knew he was Christian, that was evident at points in his columns. But it seemed a more generous and newer sort of spiritual nature, as if you could see him really getting into “Jesus Christ, Superstar.” Its a Left Wing Christianity, if you will, and this article was motivated by his interview with Esau McCaulley, a Professor of The New Testament (?) at Wheaton College and a member of The Times editorial staff (pictured above).
The article is pretty sappy with very religious language such as, “There is a relentless effort to rebuild relationship because God is relentless in pursuit of us“(my emphasis). But it made several interesting points, I believe; and this in contrast to much of the ire it aroused. In The Times (online), it received nearly 900 comments along with reactions from other media sources such as Professor J. Coyne (biology!) on his blog site.
Coyne called it another case of “religion coddling” by The Times, and as one of America’s most outspoken atheists, he had little to say for it except, of course, he too wants social justice. Other comments equally derided its religious stance as vacuous. A commentator from Shaker Heights, Ohio (up north by Cleveland), one Alexander Kelly, pounded home the frequently heard contention that the universe is without meaning; “no grand plan” exists for it. “It is absurd.” It contains “no teleology” and that is, in fact, liberating because it allows us each “to make our own meanings” for it! (Now that is a jumble of confusions as profound as any religious view, as I soon will soon demonstrate.)
My post will take a middle ground. No remotely literal interpretation of the Divinity of Jesus, or anyone or anything else, is acceptable in this day and age. Yet, religion and spirituality of many forms still exist and have done so since the beginning of The Evolution of Human Culture. Religion is not simply stupidity and fraud. To make sense of our world in a way that has the greatest benefit now and in the future, Religion should be understood as a “Natural Phenomena” (see Dan Dennett’s, Breaking The Spell). Religion arose naturally and functioned in some ways to our benefit.
Religion, in the guise of “folk religion”, was a harbor for ritual and story-telling.; an accomplice in the formation of the original self-conscious human groups and in the basic discovery (or invention) of language and custom. I will go no further in telling this general story here, but will return shortly to some of the ideas I found interesting in Brooks.
Hey, It’s All Meaningless
But first allow me to return to some of the criticisms of religion and specifically that old bugbear “the universe is meaningless!” Of course, when people say this, they do not literally mean it. In their lives, and here on Earth, they find many things highly meaningful! Our above commentator cried, “all is absurd”, “there is no teleology”; yet, his very comments had meaning and the very statement he wrote had a purpose to serve and a goal to achieve: a Teleology. I assume he felt his statement was also successful in that, and therefore we can add, I believe, thatValue exists along with Meaning in this not so absurd universe, after all.
What people mean when they say “there is no meaning”, is they have an Abstract Picture of Things in their Mind: long ago No Thing In The Universe found its situation meaningful. Well, of course, we would agree, and our commentator describes this situation long ago as ‘just billions of subatomic particles’ smashing and melding around into each other.
My point is twofold. First, this very Picture of Things is itself meaningful but for something that is, as if, sitting outside it, and viewing it from afar. Maybe nothing inside the picture experiences meaning (not those atoms, for sure), but we do and our commentator does. He finds this picture very significant, very meaningful, but from afar. As if he were God, looking down on It All, and All of it At Once. Or as if he were the Ideal Super Physicist,him or herself with total physical knowledge of All and of All At Once. So, for even this perspective, Meaning does exists, just not for any Real Thing In The Picture, only for some idealized thing and from outside that picture of everything as nothing but atoms and chemistry. This Picture of Things does Not succeed in getting rid of meaning. Meaning is real, but this Picture just puts it in a very awkward position.
Second, our commentator does not believe that Real Things can eventually develop, or occur only sometimes and only in some places. To be Real is to be Universally Present in All Places and at All Times, he believes! I do not know who made this rule (actually it was some faction in ancient Greek philosophy), but many believers in the Oppressive Significance of physics and chemistry take it as Gospel today. So, The Universe is absurd on these grounds, they believe; because meaning was not in it at the start, or in it everywhere. This is not a very useful, beneficial or coherent picture of ourselves and our situation especially to carry into the future. New Things can happen, including Meaning and Life and Language and other more complex realities. And New Things will continue to happen, maybe even some really good ones.
“Sin” is something Wrong that is more than just “a Problem”
Brooks and McCaulley advocate the use of the idea of “sin” to understand and heal some of our most profound social and personal ills. Many commentators were repulsed by this suggestion, but here is the sense I make of it. Killing someone in a fit of anger because of an act committed by them that offended you, is not a good thing. But it is not at the same ‘level’ as the almost arbitrary acts of mass murder that we now frequently face. Telling a lie occasionally is not a great thing to do, but lying all the time and doing so as The President of the U.S. and thus contributing to a massive and growing divide and distrust within the nation, is at a new level of malfeasance. And it is not simply a matter of size, number or frequency of these wrongs.
It is about gravity. There are some acts that shake, or strike at, the foundations of our human solidarity. They endanger the togetherness that functions to make us persons and componentsin larger-scale, language-using, highly interconnected society. These are “sins” because this fundamental violation strikes at the roots of our way of life. If these acts became more prevalent culture would crumble and we, we all, would return to nature as only animals (not the Culture possessing animals we are now.) That would be a loss of level, a decline in complexity.
The further value of this concept of “sin” (or of something similar; the young Karl Marx wrote of “Alienation” from our “true being”) is that in response to sin, “forgiveness” is most appropriate and effective, says Christianity according to McCaulley and Brooks. Recriminations, retribution and punishment are not what is ultimately sought, but Healing, Re-unification, and Conversion are. The sinner will accept their error and return ‘to the fold’ , so to speak.
Interestingly, in contemporary philosophy there are some similar contentions based on the analysis of modern Moral Language and in Ethics. Here, the point of punishment and recrimination is not merely retribution but the reformation of the perpetrator and their recognition of their former waywardness. As if a person in a state of hysteria is then slapped in the face, regains their composure, and then says “Thanks, I needed that.”
(Lot and his wife fleeing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, painting by John Martin 1852 [left]. A different “Don’t Look Back!” command [right], but this time given by Hades to Orpheus: ‘If you look back, Eurydice will be condemned to the underworld forever.’ Well, Orpheis did look back but Hades still let Eurydice out every spring and summer. I guess Hades is a softer touch than Yahweh, as far as gods go. Painting by Edward Poynter, Orpheus and Eurydice, 1862.)
Brooks and McCaulley contend that the Life of Jesus is exemplar of this forgiveness, modesty, love. After all, remember that McCaulley is professor of The New Testament, not the Old(where sin is dealt with very harshly by Yahweh). This is “the ethic of self-emptying love—neither revile the reviler nor allow him to stay in his sin,” Brooks writes laying it on very thick. Forgiveness and conversion avoid social justice becoming “as if group-versus-group power struggles are an eternal fact of human existence… (and) we all have to armor up for an endless war.”
But It Is Not God’s Love!
I do like that. Let us avoid a war of group against group fighting for priveleges and for the scraps of production, especially if that is to occur in the name of “Social Justice”. I, also, agree there is something ‘deep’ that tends to hold persons to persons; that is an obligation or a need not easily denied; that is a kind of ‘hidden connection’ yet maybe right before our eyes. But, that Reality is more a sociological, psychological and philosophical Truth, than a theological one. And to miss it, or violate it, is more than just your average mistake, more than to simply mess up: It is kind of “sinful”. It is a real basic violation of yourself and others.
Two of the earliest depictions of Jesus in existence.
(Known as “Bust of Jesus”, left, a mural on the wall of the catacomb Commodilla in Rome, painted in the late 300s. Right, painted on a wooden board around 600 C.E., “Christ Pantocrator”. Pantocrator is Greek, meaning “He who has authority over everything.” This painting is preserved in a monetary in Egypt, one of the oldest monasteries in the world. Both show Jesus with a beard, and this portrayal is thought to be a successor of the earliest versions that portrayed Jesus younger, beardless and with short tunic –more in the Roman style, and somewhat like an Orpheus figure as pictured earlier in post– for which there are few examples.)
(HAVING FUN with METAPHYSICS!Getting really deep, and it works,, and its not too painful either! —Only about a dozen paragraphs and great images!—.Thinking about Persons [and Eyes and Cucumbers!] from “the inside” as Designs in “The World”. This is The Way We Normally Do It and it is worth preserving! TAKING a BIG STRETCH, here in Part IV at The NatureReligionConnection!)
Persons in Our Ordinary View of Things
Our sense of Design culminates in our thinking about ourselves as “Persons.” As persons we design and fabricate objects of value but we are also makers of ourselves and our communities, we have argued. In this way we gain an understanding of Design from “the inside.” We understand Design as the rules for a structure, or the principles of an orderly cycle of events—including our own lives. From this “inside” perspective, we hold ourselves to be more than just animals or objects, we now have a unique social, moral and political status.We are “One of Us”—“Persons”—and have certain Communication and Response-Abilities to this larger–“Us”– unit.
“Our World” is full of various degrees of “personality”, of various design sophistications. From its dim suggestion in the cycles of the inanimate world, to microbial creatures, to plants, to simpler animals, to highly skilled robots and computers, to non-human mammals, to children, to responsible adults, we “see” a growing progression that Reflect our sense of ourselves and our possibilities as Designs and self-designers. It is an accumulation of Personality.
It is no coincidence that when we think, we often say, “Let me reflect upon that” or refer to thinking as “reflection”. “Thoughtfulness” is an openness to Our Information and our Extended Patterns—- those cycles and designs we have been discussing. We allow them to reach us In Representation and be considered.
This is Not an unusual observation; it is a narrative we find in our Most Common Understanding of things. It is our “manifest image”, as Dennett* calls it following philosopher Wilford Sellers. It is a kind of psychological theory embedded in our everyday world view.
(Reflecting on Selves: Unusual Variations of “Persons”; all somewhat truncated versions thereof. First, a Bowerbird, the creator of amazing nests. Second, Some People Just Love to Show Off! An antelope “stotting” which is thought to be a display behavior advertising that animal’s fitness. Photo 3: Looking a scallop in the face! “The eyes are the window to the soul” said Bill Shakespeare, and scallop have dozens of eyes! Finally, this small furry creature is the American Marten, formerly trapped to turn it into mittens! How could they do that to this Cute little Fellow or Gal!)
In this “folk psychology”, we understand the special status of persons; and we can feel for animals, as if, little or hairy or feathery or other unusual variations of persons, of “us”. We might even wonder if plants have feelings, like some minute Personhood. Pets become dearly-held family members, often; but also, in this “manifest” (or clearly evident and common) view of things, we tend to recognize that these animals, plants and pets do not quite make it. They are persons manqué, not full blown.
(THE SEEDS OF “PERSONALITY” in the world around us. We name our hurricanes, above is Dorian from 2019. After all they do have “an Eye” and they grow by feeding off their environment, move, and then die out. And, Single-celled animals are attracted to food and repelled by much that is harmful. The one above drives itself forward through the use of its flagellum. I’m sure it has a busy day ahead for its-self, and Dennett argues it exhibits “competence without comprehension”. It does not understand what it does, but what it does it does pretty well. “What is It Like to be a Bat?“ [Look into this Face! Yikes!] A famous modern paper in philosophy by that title by an opponent of Dennett, who argues that greater complexity in design is not enough to explain Consciousness. It is a different kind of thing, he contends; it is like some special ‘spark’ or “a ghost in the machine”, a kind of mystery that is beyond much explanation but only privately experienced.)
(GRADUALLY DEVELOPING “PERSONALITY”: A Mars Rover–but not the newest one!–[top right] needed to be largely autonomous in its decision-making. Too far from Earth to be guided from there [radio signals taking from 8 to 40 minutes travel time], the Rover was programmed and designed to accomplish various tasks [who isn’t] with immediate and particular decisions made through “autonomy software” using observations from its sensors. “Mama’s Last Hug” [left], biology Prof. van Hoof visits Mama, the now aging and dying chimp he had worked with in the early 1970s. Upon a closer look, Mama exhibited obvious excitement and emotion, eventually reaching forth and patting the head of her old friend. [Bottom right)Young Children are a developing Person. They search for autonomy, but need much guidance, unlike The Rover..)
Persons in The World, and Designs Stretching Far Beyond
So, the creative efforts of Design in the universe stretch far beyond humans. We are indebted to it! Cumulatively, these Designs have achieved much success. Most humans now live in a highly “artificial environment”. We call it “civilization”, says Dennett, and it is “an artifact”, a product and an accumulation of our laws, traditions, and material products. Nonetheless, civilization is “perfectly real“, he contends, and it is ‘out there’ around us. It is a set of patternsas objective as those of physics, just more dependent on us!
(CIVILIZATION IS PATTERNS AS REAL AS ANY IN THE UNIVERSE, BUT ALSO DEPENDENT ON HUMANS. Music written as a score shows its obvious character as a pattern. Money has allowed economic activity to attain new levels of sophistication and abstraction. The patterns of Written language — Coca Cola written in Chinese [top middle], Hebrew [middle row, left], Korean [middle, right], Somalian [bottom row, middle]. Finally, The Pyramids at Giza are humanly associated patterns with a real objective durability!)
We now have “writing, arithmetic, money, clocks, and calendars”, each is a “system of representation” that is so closely associated with That For Which They Are To Represent, that the two are indistinguishable. What is the multiplicity of things, without Arithmetic –1,2,3,4 and 2+2=4? Can we really distinguish our thoughts from the Language we use to express them? When you are thinking, aren’t you mostly talking to yourself? What is Time without clocks and calendars, and even the orbiting of the earth? What is Time in-itself?** Humans involved in economic activity naturally evolved Money as a “representation” of that activity; just as human vocal sounds were eventually represented (as phonemes and in alphabets) in our different languages. “Representation” is itself a form of Design. It is Patterns that ‘speak’ to us. Personhood is a form of Self-Representation, a person’s storyis a self-presentation among the stories of many others.
In this section, I try to express a difficult idea. “The world” and “our representations of it” are too closely tied to be separated. This idea can be stated somewhat paradoxically as all we have are representations. Our complex representations of science or the fine arts are themselves representations of common sense, which is itself composed of representations. Never do we “escape” our own representational faculties to confront naked nature, or reality “in-itself.” Why should we want to?
A more commonly accepted approach is to contend that “representation” is itself a natural process. This view pictures atoms and chemicals and forces directly pushing into our brains with an outcome being The Mona Lisa, or The Beatles’ Come Together, or even just any and every simple sentence we speak. The big problem here is no room is left for any human autonomy, or human creativity. This problem multiplies into issues like, what couldit possibly mean “to make a mistake,” for example? If nature just pushes itself straight through us, how does it matter—“Right or Wrong,” “True or False,” “Good or Bad?” All simply is what it is.
This is a difficult idea to express, and Our Modern World has worked itself ‘into a pickle’. In our thinking we have split Reality into Two Big Pieces. “Objective Reality“, we tend to think confusedly, is that which is unaffected by us, independent, highly predictable and ‘The Really Real’. Subjectivity: we are not very sure what this is; some think it is like ‘soul’, very mysterious and inexplicable; others believe it must be some side-show or illusion (epiphenomena) created by the Brain.
(“How cam’st thou in this pickle?”‘ a line from The Tempest , the first recorded use of that phrase and once again nailed by Bill Shakespeare! The Cucumber is an ancient vegetable (no, a fruit!) with evidence of it found in Mesopotamia circa 2400 B.C.E. And Pickling was apparently around from near the start, though some claim it was discovered by the workers who were building The Great Wall of China. Pickling is a form of fermentation which is any “action of microorganisms that brings about a desirable change in a food or beverage.” (Wikipedia) This micro-org lives naturally on the skin of ‘cukes’ and is activated by the water or vinegar of the Brine and Time. Above: Cukes in brine with spices [left]. Salt makes a sour pickle, sugar a sweet one. [Second left] Cucumber from around the world. [Third left] The Wild Cucumber Vine of North America (echinocystis lobata), cukes have been breed from early on to eliminate their natural bitterness and improve their performance as Picklers. [Right] The Cucurbitaceae family is large and its varieties and characteristics growing, includes cucumber, gourd, pumpkin, water melon… Nature or Nurture: between breeding and pickling, where does the The Real Cucumber lay?)
But from the perspective of Design, our habit of thought and action that we call “Personality” unites the two poles. Subjectivity is an understanding of a Design from “the inside”, with its goals, purposes, and rules of operation. Subjectivity is about the Making of designs, and the Initiation of design modifications.
Objectivity is a Design from “the outside”. It is “given” to us, unanalyzed; taken for granted and ‘understood’ only in its common coordination with our environment. We do not understand, or are not concerned with, its inner workings beyond its parts and their rules of coordinationas Person-likedesires and motivations. The storm looks “angry” we can say, or my computer is being “stubborn,” we anthropomorphize. And many things we only understand by their Function and the “controls” of those functional designs. This too is an anthropomorphism from the point of view of a physicist.
When we understand an object beyond its anthropomorphism, its ”Personality” has been dissolved –it now has no motivations or feelings; it is now merely an object in an objective backgroundand we speak of it with this new vocabulary. No longer like a person, its “inside” has been diminished; it lacks significant degrees of autonomy and creativity, including any making of decisions.
How Persons Should Treat Other Persons
“Subjectivity” is, also, the form Persons should most oftenuse when dealing with each other. This, too, is regarding Design from “the inside.” It is that special moral and political status, a kind of Psychological Theory, embedded in our most common way of perceiving ourselves and our world. In Our Manifest Image,Persons are Subjects and not merely objects.
This is A Tradition. It is a way of Making Persons and it is a new level ontological complexity. It will remain True as long as it composes the vast majority of human interactions. Morality is our Self-Reflection upon this dual character of persons as both subjects and objects, and its pertinence to different situations. So, in our tradition of The Manifest Image,we learn to experience Design from the inside and the out,Reflecting on all the Design in us and around us.
(This post went through many revisions. It is highly speculative, an analysis and clarification of The Way We Tend To Think of Ourselves and Our Fellow Living Creatures as Part of This Universe of Massive Forces and Laws. In Part V, Persons, as complex Designs and Designers, will be sucked back into the Evolutionary Process of “Design With No Designer!”)
(P.S. WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A BAT? Not much, would be my guess! It does have some kind of momentary experience but the experiences do not accumulate for it or for the other bats around it. They have no culture nor a personal story to tell. An experience is there and then it is gone. I can identify with that!)