Life in a small town

Human Qualities …

Hamachidori“, by Ryutaro Hirota, played by Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra & Kazumasa Watanabe, from the album “Konomichi―Favorite Japanese Melodies (Japanese Melody Series)” (2004)

“Konomichi―Favorite Japanese Melodies (Japanese Melody Series)” (2004)

“Konomichi―Favorite Japanese Melodies (Japanese Melody Series)” (2004)

Sunday morning again … dark and cool, with a howling wind … +2 Celsius, 35 Kph wind … translates into +36 F and about 21 Mph for my American friends.

Spent a couple of hours over coffee with some gentlemen friends of mine yesterday who came by for a visit from a much larger city than my little village here in the Shire. While we get along great and have many things in common we also have great divides and differences.

One is a librarian by trade and the other is in the media business, both highly literate, both card carrying Canadian Liberals, and both very sure of the truth of their Liberal articles of faith regarding socialism, people, voters, guns, gun crimes and violence, and non-Liberal players.

They also have the typical Canadian knee–jerk reflex regarding the relative civilizing virtues of Canadians and Americans, and other non-Canadians, especially in the media, academia, and government.

While they do not exactly share my opinion that academia is the agar in the petri dishes of the Liberal Progressive weaponization lab called “university”, they acknowledge that a lot of the “qualities” of academia might lead one to that opinion absent the un-examined qualifiers inherent in the Liberal worldview.

We continue to be friends, and in reality became friends in spite of rather than because of our political and religious differences. The hallmark difference between both of them (and a few others) and the legions of zombies we all contend with when we move out of our comfortable shire is that they do not automatically assume that everyone who disagrees with them is just plain stupid.

These gentlemen assume that there must be a reason (more or less valid as the case may be), for our differing views and that people who are seeing a different world and draw different conclusions based on different life experiences are not automatically relegated to the dumpster of group opinion.

The Right of Free Speech ...

The Right of Free Speech …

What they (and I, I guess) are exhibiting are the human qualities of affability, thoughtfulness, courtesy, sociability, sincerity, and understanding. My considered opinion about the zombie hordes is just that – considered – after countless attempts to make friends with many of them, employing all of the above mentioned qualities, and being rejected, sometimes violently, by the majority and vilified for my efforts.

Eventually I step back and and consign them to the zombie straw-man dumpster for convenience, always leaving the door open for pleasant surprises and always understanding that one of my responsibilities in the universe is to protect all of them from the inevitable consequences of their affliction. Gee! I’m just so great and loving and understanding! I’m just such a nice guy … NOT!

Torches and Pitchforks ...

Torches and Pitchforks …

And that is MY affliction … that nasty red-necked neanderthal knuckle dragging a-hat is indeed one of the passengers in my personal bus of self on whom I keep an especially tight reign.

But he is still there and probably will be until I die. I pray that, if I manage to stay out of hell, that he stays there, but worry that eliminating him may be one of the contingent requirements for admission to heaven, or at least purgatory. I’m working on it.

So, these human qualities … passing lightly over the fact that they are godlike because they originate with God who is all goodness … are what one might reasonably qualify as the “better part” of humanity.

The degree to which we cultivate these qualities and apply them in our daily lives is the degree to which we ascend to some level of sanctity in our relations with our neighbors … what our church talks about when it exhorts us to practice “fraternal charity”.

“Hotaru” by Kobudo, from the album “Ototabi”, (2013)

St. Teresa of Avila (St. Teresa of Jesus)

St. Teresa of Avila (St. Teresa of Jesus)

Saint Francis de Sales used to say that “More flies are attracted by a drop of honey than a barrel of vinegar”, and Saint Teresa of Jesus  recommended “The holier you are, the more sociable you should be with your sisters (brothers). Although you may be sorry that all of your sisters’ conversation is not as you would like it to be, never keep aloof from them if you wish to help them and to have their love. We must try hard to be pleasant and to humor the people we deal with” (Way, 41).

“… Let him learn, then, and show by his works, the dignity proper to human nature and to society; let him regulate his countenance and bearing in a dignified manner and be faithful and sincere; let him keep his promises; let him govern his acts and his words; let him have respect for all and not harm the rights of others; let him endure evil and be sociable …”. (Pius XII, 1951)

Quagmire?

Quagmire?

These words drop into the dark well of our current society, politics and media and echo like the death knell of our civilization. These words encapsulate everything wrong with our current excuse for human relations.

How do we step back from this brink? How do we extricate ourselves from this hometown “quagmire” of our own making? There is an answer which has been around for about 4 thousand years … is anyone listening? I doubt it.

The answer is doing the “right” thing no matter what the cost, no matter how painful, no matter how we “feel” about our immediate personal interests … sometimes you just have to stand and die for the right thing … ever has it been so, world without end, amen.

Our polite society's view of "friend or foe"?

Our polite society’s view of “friend or foe”? Aren’t we just a little confused about what matters?

I used to have a friend, who I haven’t seen in years, who always used to remark “Joe!  This is not a hill to die on!” And he was mostly right, but every now and then those hills come around and the choices made set the direction for the future, and the path leads up or down as we make the choice.

Things are not as bad here as in the Middle East, but it gets really confusing when everyone who disagrees with us is “the enemy”, when we make the choice to take the easy, the complaint, the self interested way out.

How can we survive without “Fraternal Charity”, without Love?

“ゆりかごの歌”, William W. Spearman IV and Tomoko Okada, from the album “Beautiful Japanese Songs”, (2006)

The “Excellence of Love” has been in the public domain for at least two thousand years …
1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

4Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.

11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Cheers

Joe

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Life in a small town, The Inner Struggle

Meekness, Sincerity and Happiness … What’s the Connection?

” ゆりかごの歌”, William W. Spearman IV and Tomoko Okada, from the album “Beautiful Japanese Songs”, (2006)

What’s the connection between sincerity and happiness, or meekness and happiness?

About twenty-five hundred years ago, in the Himalayan foothills of present-day Nepal, there lived in a great palace a king who was going to have a son. For this son the king had a particularly grand idea: he would make the child’s life perfect. The child would never know a moment of suffering—every need, every desire, would be accounted for at all times.” Mark Manson.

About thirty years ago I would have described my first wife and I (which wife, BTW, I am still happily married to after 40 years) as WTDINKS (World Traveling Double Income No Kids). This supposedly was the apex of existence in the circles in which we circulated. We were “Livin’ the dream”.

Air Nepal Boeing 737

Air Nepal Boeing 737

We flew in from Hong Kong and spent some weeks in Nepal in the late 80’s before flying on to spend several weeks in Thailand. We landed in Kathmandu (काठमाडौं/काठमाण्डौ (Nepali) in the middle of the night, flying in an Air Nepal Boeing 737.

I remember the approach was … frightening … not rough. Everything appeared to be working right, cabin lights dimmed, power down, some flaps dialed in, wheels down and locked with a bit of rumble and turbulence now, cabin air smelled different, but descending peacefully.

The sudden sharp bank followed by full flap deployment and the powerfully increased whine of the turbines increasing thrust …HEY! What the heck are we doing on finale in utter complete darkness, not a light in view anywhere, … we are coming down in the Himalaya Mountain range (हिमालय, “Abode of Snow”).

These suckers are like …  23,000 feet high, impossible to miss ya know! Maybe too much knowledge and a vivid imagination are not helpful during these sort of experiences … maybe …

Langtang Range, Nepal

We are supposed to be flying into a large city of over a million people and not a single damned light anywhere!!! Is this the feeling you get just before you smack into a mountain side at 150 knots??? One line below the fold “Nepal Air Boeing crashes in Himalaya, no survivors”!

Airport and Himalaya, Nepal

Then suddenly, in seconds, runway lights, touchdown on tarmac, reverse thrust full power, brakes, and a short taxi to a dimly lit terminal building.

RELIEF! Things one remembers being grateful for even before finding God. I didn’t notice Him, but he was there all the time. Thank You God for looking after me even when I was ignoring You.

“早春賦”, William W. Spearman IV and Tomoko Okada, from the album “Beautiful Japanese Songs”, (2006)

So what about the Prince … well Dad was the King and very rich and could do whatever he wanted so he pretty much completely spoiled the Prince, lavishing him with food and gifts, surrounding him with servants who catered to his every whim. And just as planned, the child grew up ignorant of the routine cruelties of normal human existence.

Mark Manson, 2016

Mark Manson, 2016

All of the prince’s childhood went on like this. But despite the endless luxury and opulence, the prince became kind of a pissed-off young man. Soon, every experience felt empty and valueless.”

So, being a young man, and being rebellious, not meek, not humble, are any young men meek or humble? – I don’t remember that part, hmmm … ,

“… late one night, the prince snuck out of the palace to see what was beyond its walls. He had a servant drive him through the local village, and what he saw horrified him.

For the first time in his life, the Prince saw human suffering. He saw sick people, old people, homeless people, people in pain, even people dying. The Prince returned to the palace and found himself in a sort of existential crisis. Not knowing how to process what he’d seen, he got all emo about everything and complained a lot. And, as is so typical of young men, the Prince ended up blaming his father for the very things his father had tried to do for him.

It was the riches, the prince thought, that had made him so miserable, that had made life seem so meaningless. He decided to run away. But the prince was more like his father than he knew. He had grand ideas too. He wouldn’t just run away; he would give up his royalty, his family, and all of his possessions and live in the streets, sleeping in dirt like an animal. There he would starve himself, torture himself, and beg for scraps of food from strangers for the rest of his life.” Manson, Mark.

Lockheed Electra l-188A

Lockheed Electra l-188A

The Prince wanted to suffer, and He would suffer … a lot … and there is a point to this. Really, there is a point.

We “deplaned” – I remember one time a taciturn pilot coming on the cabin speaker, after a particularly violent landing somewhere in the Canadian Arctic, traveling in an old Lockheed Electra L-188A 4 engine turboprop and announcing “Survivors may deplane”. Nothing else, no welcome, no weather, no cheery cheery cheery …

Kathmandu Tuk-Tuk

Kathmandu Tuk-Tuk

Anyway, we deplaned, and paid a little brown man in some sort of uniform $10 U.S. to stamp our passport, skipping the loooooong lineup of people with visas and walked out into the cool Nepalese night.

Traveling in Asia with no visas, no itinerary, no schedule and no reservations is an adventure in living not talked about in any guidebooks. Flagged a Tuk-Tuk and rode to the Kathmandu Guesthouse in 5 horsepower luxury. Modern tourist sites describe this old old old hotel in the heart of the Thamel neighbourhood thusly:

*****

Kathmandu, Nepal

Travelers know that the frenetic pace of a crowded city like Kathmandu needs an escape. The Kathmandu Guest House, a converted Rana dynasty mansion with fragrant gardens and airy corridors, has provided the peaceful refuge of choice since 1967.

Since the days of being the first and only hotel in Thamel, the packed tourist district of Kathmandu, it’s become something of an institution. It’s close to everywhere and its gate is the meeting point that nobody can mistake. As a guidebook put it, “Kathmandu Guest House acts as a magnet for mountaineers, pop stars, actors and eccentric characters.” Even the Beatles stayed here in 1968.

Kathmandu Guest House prides itself on being affordable to all budgets, from those looking to treat themselves to total comfort in elegantly modern suites, to volunteers and scholars who take the famous no-frills rooms.

Whether you’re returning from the mountains or arriving from the airport, come and relax at the courtyard restaurant, order a cup of fine Italian coffee or a chilled Gorkha Beer, and escape for a moment in the historic surroundings of Kathmandu’s most loved guesthouse.”

*****

Looking at today’s online images of the Kathmandu Guesthouse low end rooms, basically 10 by 12 with bath but no AC, I am immediately impressed by the apparent luxury of the finish and appointments, must have been some incredible renovations since the late 80’s.

All I remember is damp bare cement and tile and surgical tubing for plumbing, and surface mount handyman special electrical wiring, and an old “Geezer” water heater in the loo which exploded one night while we were sleeping there … things are certainly looking up in Nepal, at least in the tourist adverts.

By Leofleck at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3686630

Elephant back safari, Chitwan, by Leo Fleck at English Wikipedia

And so the next day we began to circulate in Kathmandu and over the next few weeks we explored further into the valley and the south of Nepal and everywhere we went what struck me was the extreme poverty of most of the inhabitants of the mountain kingdom, and the joyousness of the population in general.

Basking Mugger Croc, Chitwan, Chris Hartford from London, UK

Basking Mugger Croc, Chitwan, Chris Hartford from London, UK

Poverty and suffering everywhere, and Sincere Joy everywhere … openness, honesty, friendliness, trust, in a city of over a million souls, without streetlights, or all the fancy modern amenities which we all take for granted here, I found a centre of unexpected Joy and Peace and peacefulness. And what set this place apart was the people who showed sincerity, meekness, and happiness.

I found a place in this primitive Asian capital in 1989, where I felt safer, in the midst of poverty and suffering, at any hour of the day or night, in darkness or in sunlight, than I had felt anywhere else I had traveled up to then. I think at the root of it all, looking back with an understanding I didn’t have then, that what made this place special in the whole world of my experience was “SincerityandMeekness” and “Happiness“.

Sincerity and meekness, and acceptance of people and existence as it really was, generated a sense of profound Joy and Peace – in a word, “Happiness”. I think my Kathmandu experience was the first ray of light shining on my realization that happiness was not something one pursued and found but rather was a result of approaching life with meekness and sincerity.

Shakuhachi Flute Music”, from the album “Chinese & Japanese Koto Harp & Shakuhachi Flute Music”, {2008)

I couldn’t have explained this feeling, this understanding, at that time because I lacked the spiritual and cultural tools to understand. Mark Manson touched upon this insight when he wrote:

Travel is a fantastic self-development tool, because it extricates you from the values of your culture and shows you that another society can live with entirely different values and still function and not hate themselves. This exposure to different cultural values and metrics then forces you to reexamine what seems obvious in your own life and to consider that perhaps it’s not necessarily the best way to live.” Manson, Mark. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (pp. 166-170). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

So what about that Prince from Mark’s story? Well … “The next night, the prince snuck out of the palace again, this time never to return. For years he lived as a bum, a discarded and forgotten remnant of society, the dog shit caked to the bottom of the social totem pole. And as planned, the prince suffered greatly.

He suffered through disease, hunger, pain, loneliness, and decay. He confronted the brink of death itself, often limited to eating a single nut each day. A few years went by. Then a few more. And then . . . nothing happened.

The prince began to notice that this life of suffering wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. It wasn’t bringing him the insight he had desired. It wasn’t revealing any deeper mystery of the world or its ultimate purpose.

In fact, the prince came to know what the rest of us have always kind of known: that suffering totally sucks. And it’s not necessarily that meaningful either. As with being rich, there is no value in suffering when it’s done without purpose.

And the prince came to the conclusion that his grand idea, like his father’s, was in fact a fucking terrible idea and he should probably go do something else instead. Totally confused, the prince cleaned himself up and went and found a big tree near a river.

He decided that he would sit under that tree and not get up until he came up with another grand idea. As the legend goes, the confused prince sat under that tree for forty-nine days.

We won’t delve into the biological viability of sitting in the same spot for forty-nine days, but let’s just say that in that time the prince came to a number of profound realizations.

One of those realizations was this: that life itself is a form of suffering. The rich suffer because of their riches. The poor suffer because of their poverty. People without a family suffer because they have no family. People with a family suffer because of their family. People who pursue worldly pleasures suffer because of their worldly pleasures. People who abstain from worldly pleasures suffer because of their abstention.

This isn’t to say that all suffering is equal. Some suffering is certainly more painful than other suffering. But we all must suffer nonetheless.”

Manson, Mark. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (pp. 25-26). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

So, as I have remarked in other places, this thing called “Life” is a fatal STD. Or as an old CPO once remarked to his men, “Shake out of it ladies! Life’s a suicide mission, none of us are coming back alive!” Yea, whatever, I can hear it now as clear as yesterday.

And the punchline of all this is that I now believe that Happiness is indeed a problem, as Mark says, but not because there is anything inherently wrong with happiness, rather because we confuse happiness with something which we can find, like $100 dollar bill that we stuck in our jacket pocket last spring and we are now finding it this fall. Whoohoo!

And happiness isn’t a “something”. Happiness is really a natural byproduct of living our life right, of practicing virtues like sincerity, and meekness, and fortitude and just getting on with the daily trials of normal life with patience and charity and, dare I say, compassion for all the others with whom we are sharing this little lifeboat of suffering in an uncaring perfectly impartial world.

More on Sincerity, and Happiness, and stages of understanding, maybe in my next post or maybe the one after that, gotta think some more.

Cheers

Joe

Kananaskis, right here in Alberta

 

Don’t have to go half way round the world to find world class mountains

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Pen as Sword - Social Commentary, The Inner Struggle

Justice … part 1

“Think Of Me”, Andrew Lloyd Webber, from the “Phantom Of The Opera” soundtrack album, (2004)

I was focused on “Sincerity” yesterday, and the reality that, to be sincere, our words and actions must correspond to our thoughts. To be convinced of one thing, but to affirm something else, for the sake of expediency or to avoid hurting the “feelings” of another person is contrary to truth. Bluntly, it is a lie.

And bluntly, the foundation of our modern culture is a lie. We are totally preoccupied with our status in our FaceBooked, Love Me Wall, our Chat Group. Totally focused on the deadly competition to be the most liked, or the most admired, or the most beautiful, most successful, most well traveled, or at least the friend of the most beautiful or the most successful, or the most (fill in your most envied character trait or material desire here).

So what about Justice? The problem with this foundational lie of our society, the lack of sincerity, is that the lie precludes and prevents the existence of Justice. Justice for all or justice for anyone necessitates honesty and sincerity. Without honesty and sincerity there is NO justice.

We moderns have rejected any external standard that overtly or implicitly criticizes our self proclaimed goodness and questions our vices or appetites, our sins of choice, in pursuit of our envied idols, the goals assigned to us by the society in which we exist and which we willingly accept. We find all our self justification within our self worship, our “I’m OK, Your OK” philosophy of gratification.

… unless of course,  you have the arrogance to disagree with me, THEN you really are not very OK at all and we will vilify you and shun you because you are shining a light on our much beloved darkness. This rejection of rejection is the very essence of “Injustice”. There is no justice possible in a universe where no one is wrong and no one dare identify bad behaviour.

It seems an accurate assessment, then,  to name our modern society “Secular Humanist Progressivism”.  It’s secular because it rejects all religion and religious values as well as the very existence of God.

It’s humanist because it holds man to be the apex of existence, the sole arbiter of “right”.

And it’s especially progressive because it implies some natural righteousness to “progress” as the discarding all the values of previous generations of mankind, to the extent that we no longer even teach values to our offspring.

But where is Justice if there is no right and no wrong?

A “Progressive” (individual) is a self referential existence of appetites and vanities pursuing an ever tightening spiral of gratification, self aggrandizement and the once frowned upon character trait of narcissism. This egocentric view of reality, this solipsistic approach to what is and what is not, leads to an eventual and inevitable denial of any truth whatsoever.

How can there be justice if there is no truth?

This ends in endemic moral relativism. Moral relativism is the view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others, that there is no absolute evil and no absolute wrong.

If moral judgments are invalid then how can there be Justice? How can there be Justice when moral relativism holds that there is no injustice?

Calvin & Hobbes

Calvin & Hobbes

So, what is Justice? Jesus famously said: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God, the things that are God’s”.  This clearly and precisely gives us the essence of Justice, to give to everyone what is his due. Justice is the will to give to everyone that which is due to him.

And what is our due? Respect, rights, obligations, duty, responsibility and the fulfilling with great exactness all the duties and responsibilities towards our neighbor even at the cost of sacrifice. In reality, respect for the rights of others not infrequently requires sacrifice on our part. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness necessitates respect, rights, obligations, duty, responsibility … towards others.

We cannot close our eyes to the rights of others whenever they interfere with our own personal interests. This is really a matter of life and death. Justice is absolutely essential to a life of virtue and its duties are so compelling that no motive can exempt us from fulfilling them.

For example, this view underlies all military virtues, those virtues extolled in our military, our police, and our first responders everywhere. In these “service” occupations, one might be called upon to go in harms way or even to die in carrying out ones duties for the service or protection of others who we might perhaps not even know personally.  As we used to say back in the 70’s “Doing the impossible for the ungrateful”.

But, if moral judgments are invalid then how can there be rights and obligations and duty? As G.K. Chesterton famously wrote: “A man who won’t believe in God will believe in anything” or “When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything”.

More to follow …

Cheers

Joe

What a drag … swimming upstream always sucks …

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Pen as Sword - Social Commentary, The Inner Struggle

Sincerity …

Hamachidori“, by Ryutaro Hirota, played by Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra & Kazumasa Watanabe, from the album “Konomichi―Favorite Japanese Melodies (Japanese Melody Series)” (2004)

Lately I’ve been thinking about Justice, Gratitude, and Sincerity. We are observably running a serious deficit in these important virtues in our polite, politically correct, Canadian society.

I recently finished a decent little book by an author named Mark Manson. His book is all about the delusions we suffer under through caring too much about too many things and having values which are disconnected from our reality, which disconnect Steven Covey used to call our “circle of concern” versus our circle of influence.

In his book, Mark Manson makes a reference to the differences between Russian culture and Western Anglo culture. I think it is on or about page 166 and 170 or thereabouts. Anyway, here is an (longish) excerpt which perfectly encapsulates my observation about our progressive, politically correct, Canadian society:

*****

Mark Manson, 2016

Mark Manson, 2016

In 2011, I traveled to Saint Petersburg, Russia. The food sucked. The weather sucked. (Snow in May? Are you f**king kidding me?) My apartment sucked. Nothing worked. Everything was overpriced. The people were rude and smelled funny. Nobody smiled and everyone drank too much. Yet, I loved it. It was one of my favorite trips. There’s a bluntness to Russian culture that generally rubs Westerners the wrong way. Gone are the fake niceties and verbal webs of politeness. You don’t smile at strangers or pretend to like anything you don’t.

In Russia, if something is stupid, you say it’s stupid. If someone is being an asshole, you tell him he’s being an asshole. If you really like someone and are having a great time, you tell her that you like her and are having a great time. It doesn’t matter if this person is your friend, a stranger, or someone you met five minutes ago on the street.

The first week I found all of this really uncomfortable. I went on a coffee date with a Russian girl, and within three minutes of sitting down she looked at me funny and told me that what I’d just said was stupid. I nearly choked on my drink. There was nothing combative about the way she said it; it was spoken as if it were some mundane fact—like the quality of the weather that day, or her shoe size—but I was still shocked. After all, in the West such outspokenness is seen as highly offensive, especially from someone you just met. But it went on like this with everyone. Everyone came across as rude all the time, and as a result, my Western-coddled mind felt attacked on all sides.

Nagging insecurities began to surface in situations where they hadn’t existed in years. But as the weeks wore on, I got used to the Russian frankness, much as I did the midnight sunsets and the vodka that went down like ice water. And then I started appreciating it for what it really was: unadulterated expression. Honesty in the truest sense of the word. Communication with no conditions, no strings attached, no ulterior motive, no sales job, no desperate attempt to be liked.

Somehow, after years of travel, it was in perhaps the most un-American of places where I first experienced a particular flavor of freedom: the ability to say whatever I thought or felt, without fear of repercussion. It was a strange form of liberation through accepting rejection. And as someone who had been starved of this kind of blunt expression most of his life—first by an emotionally repressed family life, then later by a meticulously constructed false display of confidence—I got drunk on it like, well, like it was the finest damn vodka I’d ever had.

Canals of Saint Petersburg

Canals of Saint Petersburg

The month I spent in Saint Petersburg went by in a blur, and by the end I didn’t want to leave. Travel is a fantastic self-development tool, because it extricates you from the values of your culture and shows you that another society can live with entirely different values and still function and not hate themselves.

This exposure to different cultural values and metrics then forces you to reexamine what seems obvious in your own life and to consider that perhaps it’s not necessarily the best way to live. In this case, Russia had me reexamining the bullshitty, fake-nice communication that is so common in Anglo culture, and asking myself if this wasn’t somehow making us more insecure around each other and worse at intimacy.

Saint Petersburg

Saint Petersburg

I remember discussing this dynamic with my Russian teacher one day, and he had an interesting theory. Having lived under communism for so many generations, with little to no economic opportunity and caged by a culture of fear, Russian society found the most valuable currency to be trust. And to build trust you have to be honest. That means when things suck, you say so openly and without apology. People’s displays of unpleasant honesty were rewarded for the simple fact that they were necessary for survival—you had to know whom you could rely on and whom you couldn’t, and you needed to know quickly.

But, in the “free” West, my Russian teacher continued, there existed an abundance of economic opportunity—so much economic opportunity that it became far more valuable to present yourself in a certain way, even if it was false, than to actually be that way. Trust lost its value. Appearances and salesmanship became more advantageous forms of expression. Knowing a lot of people superficially was more beneficial than knowing a few people closely.

Shopping in the West ...

Shopping in the West …

This is why it became the norm in Western cultures to smile and say polite things even when you don’t feel like it, to tell little white lies and agree with someone whom you don’t actually agree with. This is why people learn to pretend to be friends with people they don’t actually like, to buy things they don’t actually want. The economic system promotes such deception.

The downside of this is that you never know, in the West, if you can completely trust the person you’re talking to. Sometimes this is the case even among good friends or family members. There is such pressure in the West to be likable that people often reconfigure their entire personality depending on the person they’re dealing with.

Manson, Mark. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (pp. 166-170). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

*****

Hamabe No Uta (Narita), Jean-Pierre Rampal, from the album “Rampal: Japanese Folk Melodies”, (1978)

So, if you got this far then we can get to daily life here in the Anglo west. How do we deal with Justice, Gratitude, and Sincerity? Well, it seems that mostly we don’t. Oh, we talk a lot about it, especially Justice, but when it comes right down to it we shy away from the reality of these virtues, preferring to dodge in favor of some direction that either makes us look better, or feel better about ourselves, or influences the other in a direction beneficial to ourselves. Distinctly the opposite of Justice, Gratitude, and Sincerity.

It seems, on consideration, that we, as a nation, are just more comfortable lieing about reality – or as I have written before: “Joe, I don’t care about your damned facts, and your damned truth, I just want to have a pleasant conversation with my friends”. I think the foundation of these three virtues is really Sincerity. And it seems that the only thing which invokes sincerity these days is the destruction and discrediting of anyone who disagrees with us.  C.S. Lewis said it well in his little essay about Bulverism a (shortish) excerpt of which appears below from one of my previous posts here:

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Until Bulverism is crushed, reason can play no effective part in human affairs. Each side snatches it early as a weapon against the other; but between the two reason itself is discredited. And why should reason not be discredited? It would be easy, in answer, to point to the present state of the world, but the real answer is even more immediate.

The forces discrediting reason, themselves depend of reasoning. You must reason even to Bulverize. You are trying to prove that all proofs are invalid. If you fail, you fail. If you succeed, then you fail even more – for the proof that all proofs are invalid must be invalid itself.

The alternative then is either sheer self-contradicting idiocy or else some tenacious belief in our power of reasoning, held in the teeth of all the evidence that Bulverists can bring for a “taint” in this or that human reasoner.

I am ready to admit, if you like, that this tenacious belief has something transcendental or mystical about it. What then? Would you rather be a lunatic than a mystic?

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And so we now see that virtually every “debate” extent today in all venues and all media is simply some variant of “Bulverism” which we are now calling “Social Media” and “Fake News”. For the powers of reason have been abrogated by the legions of  the thoughtless – Truly Truly I say to you – a Zombie Apocalypse. So what about Justice, Gratitude, and Sincerity, especially Sincerity?

Why is Sincerity the foundation of the other two, the foundation of Justice, and Gratitude? Well, lets take a stab and see if I can get it out. What I say here is informed by a fervent belief in God and the absolute Goodness, that is, the absolute Truth of God. To grow to adulthood we must continually search to possess truth in our hearts, in the core of our being.

We have to know ourselves as we really are, we have to know the absolute truth about ourselves, without any trace of disguise and artificiality. This means that we have to know and accept not only the truths about ourselves which please us, but also all those truths which are painful and wound our pride and self worship by exposing our faults and evil tendencies.

A Sincere adult never avoids or dodges these painful truths, but rather treasures them because the humiliation of these painful truths is worth more than illusion, which flatters our pride and builds up our self worship and keeps us steadfastly on the broad road to perdition.  Even our society’s denial of the broad road is just another illusion to which we cling because we would rather take the easy path regardless of the long term cost. People would literally rather die than change their behaviour. People seem to spend all their precious time searching for the quick fix which will permit them to keep on indulging their fantasies and gratifying their appetites and egos.

Daily we encounter contradiction in the course of going about whatever makes up our lives, and as often as not that contradiction gives rise to anger, rebellion, selfishness, and continuous pressure to indulge our fantasies, palliate our flaws and faults and to continue to cling to our illusions about ourselves and the world we live in.

Any growth requires the courage to acknowledge our faults, accept our faults and the effort of will to change our behaviors and beliefs to conform with empirical reality. If instead we blame circumstances, or other people, or the economy or the politics of the day then we perpetuate the fantasies which are crippling us and preventing the existence of Justice, Gratitude and Sincerity. But it all starts with a sincere appraisal of the truths of our inner self, the inner self to which we are so attached and which we worship.

To be sincere our words and actions must correspond to our thoughts. To be convinced of one thing but to affirm something else for the sake of expediency or to avoid hurting the “feelings” of another person is contrary to truth. Shorn of all make-up it is “living a lie”,  for the sake of gaining an advantage over another. That said, sincerity does not require that we reveal all that we think and know to everyone, this is contrary to prudence (another virtue). Sincerity does, however, demand that everything we do reveal by word or action or even by silence, corresponds to truth.

Cheers

Joe

Disclaimer for nitpickers: We take pride in being incomplete, incorrect, inconsistent, and unfair. We do all of them deliberately

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