Saturday, September 25, 2010

Burkas or Bikinis?

I woke up dreaming this morning that I was talking with a group of attractive and sensually dressed young women about their conservative religious views on sex and relationships. I must admit that the visual aspect of this dream was enjoyable...yet I woke up bothered by the conversation. Weird huh? But actually as I think about it perhaps this dream is all about some lifelong conflicts I have observed within myself and society as a whole. How do we handle the many mysteries and disparities on relationships between the sexes? Why do we place so much emphasis on fashion and appearances? Should it be a "religious" issue? Is there any "correct" or rational position between "Burkas and Bikinis"?

Now, I understand when a man starts writing on themes touching on the opposite sex or regarding feminism and roles between the sexes...many women's hair starts raising on the napes of their necks. Blood starts rushing to their heads and a sensitive, understanding male should probably get ready to make themselves scarce or just button up. As many of you know...I have never been very smart about that. I have had my share (probably more) of discussions with female friends and family members on these sensitive issues...but I haven't really written much about watch comes.

I won't cover all the issues in one blog obviously...but I will try for now to address some macros and micros on my observations on the feminine mystique and battle between the sexes. It goes without saying that my views are from a "male" perspective...and while I like to think of myself as "enlightened" or semi-educated...I'll state from the outset that I am probably too conservative for the feminists in my views...and to liberal for the ultra-conservatives. That means I probably will never achieve majority support of my views. Still, I hope my experiences can at least just be another voice in what I think is one of the least discussed or understood challenges in the world...the relationship between the sexes.

A long time ago I read the now famous book "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus". While I found the book somewhat over generalizing, I think it made many valid observations about the ongoing differences in how men and women think, feel and act. But I think the subject is much more convoluted than Dr. Gray gets into in this is much deeper and conflicted than just being from "different planets" or going back to caveman or "Tarzan and Jane" type analogies.

Much of this theme, like religion and politics, is REALLY subjective and if every person in the world is so unique...well, start combining people two by two and you have some REAL unique and different experiences in life and living. There is no exact science here...and this subject probably is at the core of modern day psychology. Not the origins of "man" or "who am I"...but more about who am I in relationship to him or her.

Here are a few of my basic observations or thoughts:

Its easier for the rest of the animal kingdom. While many species do unite for life and make families...most of them have very short life spans. They don't have to spend 50+ years together, therefore they don't have as many issues about "getting old together".

Most animals mate on pure instinct and "animal attraction". In the human race we have much more to consider such as do we come from the same class or background, will they get along with my friends and let me see his or her financial statement.

Many species, such as Deer, have special mating or "rutting" season. During this time the male testosterone is highly elevated and the females hormones somehow know to respond and get ready for mating season. Of course, in Gods infinite wisdom regarding survival of the fittest, the Bucks grow horns to fight with...mostly fighting over which Doe he is going to conquer. The biggest buck gets first choice of the Doe. Hmmm, maybe we humans evolved from know...ultimate fighting, boxing, various macho sports where we elevate the victor to the spoils...including the prettiest women. Another big difference is that people tend to be in "rutting season" every weekend. We and the rabbits...

We are the only animals who put on clothes and hide our "private parts". Whether this goes back to Adam and Eve in the "Garden of Eden", I don't know. Somehow I think it was more tied to the rationality of man when he saw that "all men were NOT created equal" and wanted to cover up that fact.

I have been privileged...or life to grow up in these modern, "interesting" times. It is just in the last century that women were given democratic rights to vote in much of the first world. It's only in the last century or so that women were "permitted" to work in traditional, wage earning jobs outside the home. Even with the advent of rapid "modernization", we are still fighting wars/conflicts over cultural and religious issues...may of which are based on women's rights in many of what we call "backward" cultures.

Even within the USA during my lifetime we have seen a shifting of values between the sexes. We have the fundamentalist religious right fighting culturally and politically to preserve values of family, home and traditional "Patriarchal" roles in society between men and women. We have gone from Victorian traditions to "free love" of the 70s to now growing acceptance of "Burkas" for Muslim women in our country. Talk about diversity!

In the midst of all that you have had the growth of "Feminism" or "Feminine Mystique" where women have demanded greater autonomy and participation in life's political and business decisions. I have always respected and supported equal rights for women...and in many ways I see them as the "stronger" sex. I am convinced most of us men would be much more "wimpy" about enduring pregnancy and the hard work of raising children and homemaking. There is an alarming growth in America of single women raising children without support from a husband or male counterpart. I respect the ability of some of those women to do that...though it is obvious to me that this is not the ideal way to live and raise kids. Yet, there are some tough women stepping up to that challenge. My mother was one of those.

Where the feminist movement loses me is when they overshoot their goals or go to extreme positions that most of their fellow females are not even in line with. I truly understand women's nature of reacting or rejecting centuries of subjugation by Patriarchal societies and religions. The animalistic raping or killing of women and children by "warriors" that even continues in many parts of our conflictive world today is inexcusable and calls into question if such men have ANY intelligence or soul. I guess not. To this end, I believe there is a fundamental nature between men and women that men should protect them...not beat and/or rape them. Sex should ALWAYS be consensual like with most intelligent beings. Unfortunately we have some very deviant creatures that have evolved over time. Personally I think those deviants should be castrated...applying basic "old testament" justice to such deviants.

On the other hand...I believe that whether you want to admit it or not...humans are VERY sexual in general. Obviously some cultures and traditions more than others embrace or allow for their sexuality. Unfortunately, mankind has been continually manipulated and "controlled" regarding their sexuality by the institutions and "powers that be". While I know arguments can be made that we are better off with strict rules and mores instead of just freely expressing our sexual natures...I think instead of making things "better" in understanding our sexuality, we have just clouded the issue and our natures with layers of guilt and cover-up to where most societies have no room for educating their children on sex without some form of prohibition and guilt tripping attached. In my opinion, this has been some of the root causes for so much deviant sexual behavior in our society. It seems to me that when people are forbidden to do something...their curiosity and drive to do so becomes that much stronger. You have MANY people living dishonestly about their sexuality. Many deviants and dysfunctional people come out of the most strict, legalistic cultures when it comes to sex. In my opinion, the "educated" world is very backward and conflicted in its expression or pursuit of sexuality. I would venture to guess that most marriages within a few years become very devoid of sexual intimacy. Why is that? Natural...or learned behaviors?

In the midst of these natural tensions between the sexes we now have growing extremes between the liberal and conservative views on the subject. With the advent of "Democracy" and "civil rights" have many people advocating freedom to wear anything...or public places. On the other hand, you have extreme Feminists pandering against making women "sex objects"...they don't think women should dress differently from men or provocatively if they want to gain respect and equality with men. Then you have ultra conservative groups within Islam, Christianity and other religions who want their women to cover up for an entirely different reason. They still view women as "property" or UNDER the man as head of household. To that end they don't want "their" woman objectified by other men...nor do they apparently want to be "tempted" by seeing other women's flesh. Apparently some people just can't see a little hairy leg without going into lusting convulsions. God apparently is NOT happy with our viewing the opposite flesh.

Well, let me summarize with a few of my admissions or viewpoints.

I have seen a lot of "flesh" in my day...but the sexiest women are those who show "just enough" but don't throw it all out there "in your face".

The art of seduction is waning in the world

I never understood scantily or seductively dressed women in public who took offense at being stared at by men. If they don't want to be observed or "lusted after"...cover up! And women who don't understand men looking at those scantily clothed women...don't understand men.

I have never understood fat men or women wearing skin tight clothing or "speedos"

I have never understood the sexual depravity I have seen in many fundamentalist religious men I have known or known of. Get honest...and get some help.

I believe "sex education" is a natural thing and doesn't need to be taught with all our adult biases and baggage. And yes, some people are more "sexual" than others. Be open and don't guilt trip the children.

There should be no laws regarding sexual activities between consenting adults. We may not like or understand the proclivities of another person...but that doesn't give us license to judge or control THEIR behavior. The only necessary laws are to protect men, women and children from unwanted advances and sexual aggression.

True equality between the sexes should include equal "freedom" (if so chosen) to explore other relationships or experiences. The macho double standard regarding sex we see throughout our societies is just that.

For me, the ideal would be we could all run around naked and somehow still see and respect the individual beauty and personality we all have. People who are "naturalists" or belong to Nudist colonies I think are pursuing this honesty. I am afraid until our world gets more honest about the nature and importance of sex in our existence, we will forever be dealing with false ideas of who we are and how we tick. While we have grown up being polite, respectful and very PRIVATE about sex...I'm not sure that has helped us much with the population boom...or the problem of pedophilia.

Burkas...or Bikinis? Depends on who's wearing them. Beyond that, it should be every womans choice.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Deductive Reasoning...a dying art

Maybe it is just me, but I am having a huge disconnect with a lot of core logic in today's world. Its seems that with "new math" and modern education coming into vogue, somehow common sense and deductive reasoning has flown out the window.

Granted, deductive reasoning is not fool proof or always arriving at truth. If your premises are bad, many times your conclusion will be also. Being a proponent of "cause and effect", I think most of the world's problems can be traced back to poor premises...and primarily a lack of historical understanding or perspective.

Disconnects in our deductive reasoning is the primary cause in my opinion of the new subjectivity for words and labels. For example, what does it mean when someone says "they are Christian" or "they are Muslims"? What does it mean when someone is labeled a "Republican" or a "Democrat"? Unfortunately you have a LOT of people tossing around these labels either in self description or in defining others...yet I tend to often have big disconnects between the labels and what/who that person is or says. So what is changing...the premise or the conclusion?

I still believe in logic and "deductive reasoning". I still believe 2+2=4 and that love begets love and hate begets hate. While I don't think we can totally predict the future, I think we can have a pretty good idea on some of our deductions...

The chasm between fundamentalists versus secularists will continue to widen as more of the world becomes aware of the premises of the other through shrinking geographic access and technology/communication connections.

The poor and uneducated will be THE battleground for dominance in both democratic and dictatorial government systems. It will always be the rich/educated "few" against the "masses".

Future wars will be fought via technology and ideology rather than guns and bombs.

"Capitalism" and "Communism" will become insignificant words as both systems continue competing for economic world dominance and defining economic models. I predict Asia/China will continue to dominate in this arena while current first world powers continue to decline.

"Singularity"...where human intelligence and computer intelligence unite...will transform the world in the next 40-50 years.

This aspect of "singularity" is probably the greatest factor in determining the future of mankind. While I continue to value the "heart and soul" of alarms me how far away our emotions have taken us from solid, deductive reasoning. If and when we arrive to the point where computer intelligence and human intelligence intertwine, it is my hope that it will restore congruity and reasoning as applied to the world's problems.

My fantasy is to have a big deductive "computer" listening in on discussions/speeches at the "United Nations" and US Congress sessions...tied into big flashing neon signs flashing immediate responses to illogical arguments and proposals. I would love to see computers expressing immediate responses of "Illogical", "Unreasonable" or "untenable" to the vacuous rantings of people like Chavez, Ahmadinejad and other crazed lunatics leading various nation/states in our world. We also could use instant computer gratification when it comes to economic and tax systems. We need to somehow restore deductive reasoning to our greater human logic.

I am reminded of one of my childhood TV shows from the 60s, "Lost in Space", where the Robinson family were constantly dependent on the computerized wisdom of "The Robot". When the whimsical machinations of "Dr. Smith" got too far out of hand or the "kids" would wander off into was always "Mr Robot" who came to their rescue with solid information or practical solutions to the situation at hand...or even many times sacrificing his own welfare to protect the "weaker" human being. Is computerized intelligence capable of emotion as well? Only time will tell.

I for one am rooting for the day when our human race is more controlled by computerized "deductive reasoning" than the fanatical, ideological and emotional rationalizations that are currently destroying our natural order.

PS. For extra credit, I highly recommend reading and following one of the world's most brilliant minds on the subject of "Singularity". I have played Ray Kurzweil's keyboards over the years...but his greatest contributions are still ahead of him. Here are a few links of interest:

Ray Kurzweil: How technology's accelerating power will transform us

Ray Kurzweil - Futurist

Monday, September 13, 2010

Water...the blue gold of the next millennium

I was impacted by the Cinemax showing of this documentary "Flow...For Love of Water" which can now be viewed on demand from YouTube starting with part one as linked above.

We hear and read a lot about climate change, ecology issues from deforestation and strip mining everywhere...but comparatively few see very little coverage of what I think is THE ecology issue of our times...WATER SUPPLY.

We consistently complain and worry about the prices and supply of oil and gas related to our economies and cost of living...yet we don't flinch at buying a pint of bottled water for $2 in some stores. The primary driver of this phenomenon is our concern over drinking clean water as we recognize that our world's water supply is becoming more and more toxic by the hour.

Having grown up in the "Great Lakes" state of life has been blessed with tremendous times spent fishing, boating, skiing and just looking out over beautiful fresh lakes and streams. While I don't mind walking the fine ocean beaches you find in Florida, the Caribbean or California...I still prefer the fresh air of "sweet water"...the stuff you can drink, swim, and frolic in without being covered with salt and saline. I've tasted a lot of desalinated water from the oceans, but you can't beat the purity and good taste of mineralized sweet water from a lake or stream.

Of course, from the business side we all now know that waterfront lands, whether salt or fresh water, is always going up in price. Waterfront or view is a given as the most secure land investment one can make. I have acted on that. Yet, as this film so effectively depicts, our world's water supplies are now being controlled and affected by somewhat sinister forces and organizations that supersede our "ownership" of waterfront properties.

What God took a few million years to put into natural flow and motion, men and nations have now changed all of that for some pretty selfish concerns. I believe what I have read from many sources...that our world has millions who are hungry and thirsty NOT because of shortages of water or food, but simply because of manipulated distribution issues and hording for a few.

As this film points out so vividly, millions of people are being displaced every decade or so by huge conglomerates and countries who are "damming up" various rivers and lakes to divert water from one source to another. While there are a number of examples of positive effects and progressive results from this (such as the Panama Canal)...there are also hideous examples of taking from many to give to a few. And of course, history is full of wars and conflicts over watered lands and regions.

I will let this movie speak for itself...but I challenge every rational one of us to keep an eye on this subject and speak and act out where we can on protecting the quality and "ownership" issues of the world's water supply and quality. It's not that we have less of it...water is totally recycling...but we have less quality and uneven distribution of such in this shrinking world we live in. My parents brought me up with a solid respect for conservancy and responsible care-taking of nature. My Mom and Step dad were heavily involved in conservancy organizations throughout Michigan...and I am proud of them for that. Unfortunately, most of the world is naive and complacent about water...possibly the most important product of nature in life...the foundation of our whole food chain.

Here is a quote that struck me recently..."a lot of people live without love, but I don't know anyone that survived living without water...". Yet, we now live in a world where BAD water is the root cause for millions of deaths. Our pollution of the water and food chain are killing us faster than all the wars combined. What are we going to do about it? Water weighs heavily in my investment strategy in this life...and responsibility for clean and distributed water should be at the core of our moral fiber.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

On Faith and Religion

Having labeled myself a "recovering evangelical"...I continually come into the crossfire between my genetic family members and friends who continue in their fundamental faiths of choice and the many more recent friends and associates who tend to be a bit more dispassionate or "liberal" about religion as I have become. Being in the "crossfire" is a most adequate analogy because in this day and age as in most past generations...everyone seems to want to label or "know where you stand" on matters of faith, politics or sexual preference. In times of "war" one seems to become famous by being a "fence setter" or "in the crossfire" without choosing sides. Religion has never been more fractious or dividing in nature than it is in this supposedly modern age.

In recent conversations with various friends of definite political or religious persuasions...I have found myself quite often saying "I hope you are right". On one hand this is the easiest way to avoid debate or conflict with someone. On the other hand it is a "truism" for me. I truly WISH or want to hear that all of man's calamities, wars or economic devastation will somehow magically disappear with a miraculous intervention of either God or the leadership of a "Obama". While I personally don't think either is the case...I can truly hope for such along with a convinced friend or loved one. Building my life on that "hope" is another issue.

I don't have any big problems with "faith" since I think we all display acts of faith every day we live. We have faith in a lot of people to get through life...from parents to pilots to the cooks who prepare our food. While we can't watch or interview everyone we "trust" to do things for us, we exert "faith" that they truly have our service and best interest at the forefront of this moment in time. We drive small cars and motorcycles at high rates of speed trusting that the engineers, mechanics and dealers all assured and tested each little piece of engine, brake and wheel so that we can "feel" reasonably assured that we can safely drive 60-80 miles per hour within 50 feet in front or behind another vehicle doing the same fateful speed. That takes a lot of "faith" a lot of different people...including the OTHER drivers.

We all have core, fundamental beliefs or rationalizations that probably cannot be proven. We think we will live a long time, but we MIGHT die tomorrow. Some of us have our reasoning and emotions primarily guided by certain religious writings...whether it be the Bible, Quran, Talmud or the writings of someone like CS Lewis. Others perspectives are more swayed by Marx, the "Scientific American" or the famous atheist writer Christopher Hitchens. Some of us simply live in the world of soap operas, reality television and "People" magazine.

Speaking of Cristopher Hitchens, I couldn't help but be challenged by his article in Vanity Fair this month titled "Unanswerable Prayers". He writes quite eloquently about his battle with terminal cancer and the rising tide of letters and emails from various perspectives of religions and philosophies regarding death and disease. I admire that he can still find the mirth and ironies of the crossroads between faith and science as he contemplates his sensibilities facing the end of life as he experiences it. I find myself quite suspect of people who have "deathbed conversions" or last second changes of their mind related to faith and religion. I think these last minute "deals with the unknown", while possibly bringing peace and hope to them and those around them for some future life and invincibility of the spirit...can also lead us all into "la la land" when it comes to the meaning of our every day lives. It is beautiful and "cute" to observe children who have been led by us adults to believe in "Santa Claus" and the "tooth fairy" in order to bring excitement and hope into potentially painful experiences. Still, I think it is more dignified to accept our mortality and future demise with solid reasoning and maturity and put away childish fantasies.

My first couple decades of living I was quite convinced of my soul "living eternally". I had a "personal relationship" with my maker...and everything related to faith and religion was "mine, mine, mine" in a very personal way. And yes, I wanted that same experience for all my friends and loved ones...even the whole world. I was a semi-good "soldier of the cross", believing that self sacrifice and the gain of others was more important than my own self or "life". Fortunately I found "evolution"...and made peace with my own reasoning abilities. Since then I have spent the rest of my life analyzing all that I grew up with against all the other realities and approaches to life that make up this crazy, convoluted world we all live in. Whether you want to look around and take it all in or not...there is a vast, almost unlimited amount of facts, cause and affect that is constantly revolutionizing our lives. More and more facts and discoveries are in some ways better helping us understand our lives...and on the other hand destroying many myths we all grew up believing in. Is this a terribly devastating thing to experience? I say NO! To me the ultimate miracle of life is our mind's ability to observe, comprehend and change our lives at whatever speed we can conjure up to do so.

To me a greater travesty than "losing ones faith" is to "lose one's mind". After all, "a mind is a terrible thing to waste". Now, I suppose some have been genetically gifted more in that department than others...but I see this again as a huge area of significance for "cause and effect". I say this on "faith and observation", but I think most of us only use about 10% of our mental capacity. Many of us have traded in the painful process of reading and rationalizing for the simplicity of living according to creed and traditions...many of which strike me now as totally irrational. We come to a point of "decision" where it is more important to live in "community" with our friends and families of religious persuasion than to take a "road less traveled" that might be more personal, adventurous...and honest. It is easier to "give in" to mysticism than to face the unanswerable mysteries of life. Saying "I don't know" somehow has become a great "sin" to most religious people. If the Bible, Quran or other religious book says something, I must somehow literally believe and accept it. Religion has now become based more on books and writings than on persons or leaders. Maybe that is better in some ways since books live longer than people...but I still find it hard to worship any writers...or for sure what they WRITE. I can admire...and at the core what is admirable is the sometimes miraculous ability to put in words what we are feeling or thinking. While words can sometimes be limiting...they are also many times powerful and impacting. But lets give credit to the minds and reasoning more than the words themselves.

Life is full of miracles, but to me these miracles tend to be more about "mind over matter" than some mysterious external force controlling our universe. How else do I explain losing one of my closest "fundamentalist" friends Dennis last week to complications from "standard" heart bypass surgery who had thousands of fellow believers supporting him and his family in prayer...while some of the worlds most dubious or evil characters seem to have "nine lives" when it comes to survival? Did my friend Dennis, a believer, have any more chance of survival than the atheist Christopher Hitchens? Probably not, though no offense meant towards all my friends that prayed for him. Ultimately for me prayer has come down to not so much "petitioning God" for some change in my life...but for UNDERSTANDING of what is transpiring and what it all means. At the end of the day, the power of prayer is basically meditation seeking clarity of thought and focus on that which is important versus that which is mundane or negative.

Now let me throw you a few curves out of "right field". Every once in a while someone challenges me with "what DO you believe in". I think I have faith and belief in a LOT of things. Here is a partial list:

I believe in MYSELF and the power of a reasoning mind.

I believe there is a God/higher power that at a macro level set reason and mathematics into motion that allows the power of "cause and effect" to have its way in the universe.

I believe in a historical Jesus. I'm not sure I believe all the claims ABOUT him by third party writers...but I reasonably accept the veracity of his existence and the power and truth to many of the ideas spoken by or attributed to him. When it comes to resurrections and second comings...well, I'm not sure that is all that relevant. I plan to use his instructions for THIS life as much as they apply to me and seem reasonable...which mostly has to do with how we treat our fellow THIS life.

I believe in the power of Love...not as some "feel good" mystical, emotional version...but love as demonstrated in brotherhood, family and helping those less fortunate. It is a version of "unconditional love", but not blind or without some expectations of reciprocation. In other words, the best love is "two way". Fortunately I believe those who don't reciprocate love is a distortion versus "the norm". "Give and you shall receive"...

I believe we have all evolved from a "creator" over probably millions of years. When you are God...what is a million years or two?

I believe in the potential that someday "cause and effect" and the power of the human mind can lead us back to a unification with the "supreme mind". Perhaps we CAN reverse engineer our lives and the physical elements that cause aging and suffering. Per my present understanding, I don't have a problem with "stem cell research" and genetic studies that could rationally reverse the aging process. I know this would be bad for business in funeral homes and pastoral wakes and drive up costs of "health care"...but it IS an interesting proposition though I don't expect us to to get there in my lifetime. Still...I can HOPE:).

Finally, I believe we need to grow and experience just as much as we can in THIS lifetime. MAYBE there is some future spiritual eternal life...but no one knows for sure. To that NOW and in the best sense of "living and making the most of yourself". Most of the best "Christians" in my immediate circle do this.

I would rather "flame out" of this life at full speed and utility than sit around waiting for the next one. For me it is truly "mind over matter".