Sunday, October 18, 2015

Examining the Continuum - Asceticism to Hedonism

Enlightenment is a process that occurs through exposure to ideas and the extended contemplation of said ideas; until such time as one develops a clear sense of a life modality. To be enlightened it is necessary to expose one’s self to a multitude of philosophical perspectives, to be able to hold up in juxtaposition each one against the other and to choose which finds accord with your present phenotypical circumstance. All circumstances have a philosophical mate; the goal needs to be, to have a broad enough exposure to life philosophies so as to permit the application of the right one in the right circumstance.

“If the human race wishes to have a prolonged and indefinite period of material prosperity, they have only got to behave in a peaceful and helpful way toward one another. “ Winston Churchill

The challenge I've faced in the interface with societal entities-from bikers to Baptists is the entrenchment one encounters in the modalities of their interface. There is an irrationality in the acquisition of life modalities, people tend to just believe what they are conditioned to believe, you might say they take it as gospel, rather than really making a study of what is the foundation of being, one’s sense of appropriate conduct.

“Our interests are inextricably linked, we are compelled to accept ethics as the indispensable interface between my desire for happiness and yours.” the Dalai Lama

What is truly frightening to me is the degree of militancy one encounters from some quarters, there is a willingness to breach all things, from dignity to the fundamentals of our ostensible society – it seems an action to chisel out a place for themselves or to effect control over others. They are absent a commitment to allowing their means of existence to stand the rigours of disruption, where disruption is present there is renewal, where disruption is absent there is decadence and or stagnation. It is a wonder as to what exactly fuels this conduct, perhaps fear, perhaps greed, perhaps the desire for control, perhaps to allow one modality of life to “outcompete” the other, perhaps tribalism, perhaps spite or perhaps envy. Dogmas are like stray cats, it seems at some point in everyone’s life you’re affected by one..

I’ve encountered in people the finest intent, love, support, tenderness, honour, integrity – what is of concern is that those people stand by while other’s inflict pain and bully. What permits this to occur in such close quarters as a town or our country, Canada? We need to find a means by which to effect some degree of friendliness, or in the absence of that, agree to respect the boundaries other’s set. Without the ability to function as an autonomous agent in society at large, people are then forced into camps – fissures form and grow, and from there the irrationality of tribalism takes hold. As Bill Clinton said “for reason to prevail all we have to do is accept other’s truths to be as valid as our own. “ Philosophies take many forms, from religions to stoicism to political concerns. The important thing to remember is that all philosophies are abstractions, to attempt to reify them or to apply them in a literal way most frequently meets with an error at best and pain at worst.

The most societal resolution comes in examining the continuum that has at one end asceticism and hedonism at the other. All people choose their place on this continuum, it is rare they arrive there with the rational mind, however. In the Anatomy of Power, John Kenneth Galbraith asserts “conditioning” to be the most powerful of the “powers”, conditioning is what happens to us as we are exposed to societal activities, starting with our parent’s influences with regard to morality and gender, and then, as we move through all the various civil and government structures to adulthood, conditioning subconsciously affects our choice as to where we lite on this continuum. People normally find their place on this continuum as a product of the uncomfortable confluence of their tacit and actuated desires and the explicit requirements as defined by their culture and peerage, in league with the "moral complex" that arrived in their psyche with their mother’s milk or perhaps their father’s cane. The point here is that, inherent in this reality, the suppression of desire, moral obligations, peerage observation and conditioning, people find it necessary to engage in what they want covertly so that they are ostensibly maintaining continuity with the explicit assertions of the culture at large. This creates a life that is absent integrity, integrity in the interface with peers is the place where words and actions meet, integrity internally, is the actuation of self so that beliefs and actions are in accord. In circumstances of orthodoxy or the rigid enforcement of dogma greater distance develops between the tacit aspects of life and the explicit aspects of life, hypocrisy is no longer a failing, but a necessity.
Tolerance is absent a requirement to forfeit personnel principle or belief, it is only a commitment to accept first, and teach second – and to then accept some will make choices that conflict with your principles and beliefs – at that point tolerance dictates a goal of benign coexistence, rather than violent rebuke or attack. A priest and a strip club owner can pass each other on the street unaffected, which should be the worst outcome from moral discord. 

Stephen Covey, after a review of hundreds of years of success literature, suggests we should first seek to understand and then to be understood. A prerequisite for understanding is to converse, with an open heart and mind, to prepare yourself to allow your beliefs to be challenged and in the process to find a better way. Understanding always begins with a question, edicts and ultimatums begin with an assertion. Force feeding your view absent discourse, costs you the opportunity to learn and narrows the prospects of the subject of your intervention.

The appropriateness of delivering any given philosophy in any given circumstance is best assessed by outcome and or the accumulation of opportunity forgone. In the immortal words of Gerry McGuire “show me the money”. In contemplation of the money (philosophy) one asks;  do its subjects possess a sense of place, has the philosophy I’ve imposed delivered the uncontrollable desire for its subject to kick up their heals, has love found them. Life can be a feast for the senses, that’s certainly my pursuit. Feasting senses, is in no way mutually exclusive to doing good, being good or effecting a better solution. Here is my accountability question when I put my head on the pillow at night; if everyone did what I did today would the world be a better or worse place. Or as Winston Churchill says “it is important to have a grand strategy but every now and again you've got to check the results.”

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