The sound that is not made by any two things striking together

 The title of this blog post is the English translation of the word Anahata, known as the Heart Chakra, in Kundalini Yoga, and represented in the picture below. I make only a passing reference to the practice here, but will use the concept of this "sound" as an illustration in the subsequent post.

 We have all felt the urge to defend our views against criticism, or to champion our views to those who do not share them. For any disagreement of consequence, the experience is generally one of confusion and angst, in which what seems so clear to you is utterly unconvincing to your partner(I will explain why I use the term 'partner' later). It feels to you like you are making a cogent case, and therefore it must feel the same way to them. You respond to their case, and their responses, and this appears to be a genuine crossing of swords. Swing, parry, riposte, reset.

 The truth of the matter is that in most disagreements, each party has their back to the other, boldly thrashing against nothing, while only thinking that they are meeting their partner swing for stroke. Assuming you are not dueling a madman (as you should always, out of humility, assume), the first thing that should occur to your mind, is that the sounds you are making at one another are the sounds that are not made by any two ideas striking together. Perhaps a more salient analogy would be that of two individuals attempting to cross swords from atop the peaks of neighboring mountaintops, when a true meeting of swords can only occur within the adjoining valley.

 The mountains of the above analogy refer to all the underlying assumptions that we, as beings who form belief systems about the world, carry into every discussion. This belief formation is completely out of our control, even if we do have free will, because it is based on the information we have available and the level of understanding we possess of the connection between this information and the actual state of the world. These beliefs can only change in response to new information, or a new understanding of how existing information can be understood, not by a simple clash of the ideological overlay on top of these beliefs.

 Now, why do I call two individuals in disagreement 'partners'? The fact is we are all in the business of divining the true nature of our experience as it relates to the true nature of nature. True beliefs, insofar as they have any relationship with the world, enable us to predict future events; the closer our view is to reality, the more accurate those predictions. This is clearly demonstrated in the scientific method, and in the success of the scientific project, and it is uncontroversial. Whenever you engage in disagreement with another person, on any topic, you are both striving towards a better understanding of the true nature of nature, and thus, whether you recognize it or not, you are partners in this pursuit. Try to view disagreements in this light, and you might find your natural predilection to an emotional reaction towards the proponents of a competing view largely attenuated.

 The most transparent manifestation of this concept takes the form of a "loaded question". "Does your mother know you are gay" is the schoolyard version, but it is by no means limited to children. In philosophical terms, it is known as "begging the question". What is operable, under the surface of most disagreements, is the true engine of conflict: presuppositions. When certain facts are assumed, certain other positions are entailed. Yet if two people bring competing assumptions into a discussion, they are inevitably drawn into irreconcilable differences of opinion by virtue of the incompatibility of certain beliefs not even under discussion.
"What we've got here is failure to communicate."
 That's right, boss. This failure is doing immense damage to political discourse in this country, pitting family and friends against one another across an ideological divide that so-called "polite" conversation renders insurmountable. So how do we, as partners, live and breath and communicate in compliment to one another? You descend your mountain and invite them to do the same, that's how. The moment you find yourself in an Anahata discussion, e.g. The God Test: Why Really Everyone Believes, immediately begin considering what your partner is assuming, but which he or she is not openly discussing. Then do the same with your position. Have some humility. What you don't do is attribute to your partner all manner of character or cognitive flaws, or secret malicious motivations, on the basis of their disagreement, because this violates the fundamental trust that lies at the core of social behavior and underpins the basis of civil society.

 This process takes time, hard work, and persistence, and is often mistaken for a desire to simply "argue for argument's sake". There's no guarantee that you will win out, or even find common ground at all, but if you care whether your beliefs are true (and you should), you have a rational duty to engage with your partners.


Greener Grass (requires better soil)

So I've been working my ponderous way through William James lecture series Pragmatism and found an interesting perspective on the Free Will Problem.  Under the Pragmatism James espouses, questions of a philosophical nature "turn" on their usefulness, either in the asking or in the value of a particular answer to the questioner. On the topic of Free Will, he urges (or appears to be urging from my reading of it) we look upon the question as a function of the possibility of a better future.  I quote him at length to both capture his thoughts as accurately as I can, and because his entertaining prose is worth the extra space.
Free-will pragmatically means NOVELTIES IN THE WORLD, the right to expect that in it's deepest elements as well as in its surface phenomena, the future may not identically repeat and imitate the past. That imitation en masse is there, who can deny? The general 'uniformity of nature' is presupposed by every lesser law. But nature may be only approximately uniform; and persons in whom knowledge of the world's past has bred pessimism(...) may naturally welcome free-will as a MELIORISTIC doctrine. It holds up improvement as at least possible; whereas determinism assures us that our whole notion of possibility is born of human ignorance, and that necessity and impossibility between them rule the destinies of the world.
He goes on to call Free-will a "theory of PROMISE" without "any inner content" or any "pragmatic value in a world whose character was obviously perfect from the start."
Elation at mere existence, pure cosmic emotion and delight, would, it seems to me, quench all interest in those speculations, if the world were nothing but a lubberland of happiness already. Our interest in religious metaphysics arises in the fact that our empirical future feels to us unsafe, and needs some higher guarantee. If the past and present were purely good, who could wish that the future might possibly not resemble them? Who could desire free-will? Who would not say, with Huxley, "let me be wound up every day like a watch, to go right fatally, and I ask no better freedom." 'Freedom' in a world already perfect could only mean freedom to BE WORSE, and who could be so insane as to wish that.
He finishes with the summation:
Surely the only POSSIBILITY that one can rationally claim is the possibility that things may be BETTER.
Being vaguely religious himself, William James equates this underlying promise at the heart of the issue of free will with other religious terms, like God, as empty manifestations of an urge to safeguard(emotionally) a better future for ourselves.

However, it seems to me that this follows a general religious trend to codification of our desires as realities, wholly bereft of any real foundation in reality.  This trend finds ample company in New Age mysticism of all stripes, stemming from the original use of the term 'mind over matter'.  So while I can empathize with this project of, for lack of a better term, hope for the future, I am constrained by temperament to echo Cuba Gooding Jr.'s proclamation to a desperate Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, saying, "Show me the money!"

Free-will, for all it's promise, wants for justification in reality; ignorance, however blissful, is unsustainable*.


* Ironically enough, I draw this intuition from Matthew 7:26, proving, yet again, that any view can be justified with reference to a biblical passage of your choice (even atheism).  I had to chuckle when I read it, though, because one wonders what a desert tribe would have done with that phrase.  Where are they to build in the desert, if not upon the sand?  Indeed, having visited the middle east on a few occasions, I can testify that not only do they build upon sand, they actually build with sand.


A Match Made in Heaven?

So I read this blog post, about a gay fella that married a straight woman and is joyously, blissfully, ecstatically enjoying his marriage, and my first thought is: no one enjoys their marriage that much.  Even straight couples will universally testify that marriage is, like any partnership, about compromise.  I've found that the harder one tries to convince you of how great their circumstances are, the less likely it is that they are representing the true state of affairs.

But be that as it may, let's suppose for charity's sake that he really is that happy.

Now we are met with an altogether different question.  If he is gay(and claims to not be bi-sexual), how could he form and enjoy a sexual connection with someone of the opposite gender?  This would be like me marrying another man, despite my lifelong, undeniable physical attraction to women and lifelong, undeniable physical non-attraction to men.**  This consideration actually unpacks into two separate topics.

The first is the religious dynamic of the situation.  The abrahamic faiths, so named for their reliance on the sacred scriptures known as the old testament, are and have been clear about the "ideal type" of marriage and of the limited scope of sin-free sexual relations.  If the book is to be believed, God dictated that men should marry women, should lie with women, under this or that circumstance and (according to some) only in certain positions and for certain reasons.  This individual, Josh Weed, is adhering to these commands as he understands them in a Mormon context.

Right.  A few quibbles...

Suppose, for a moment, that *gasp* the bible is as unreliable on God's intentions as any work of man is unreliable as a function of fallibility.  If we accept a creator of the universe, and consider the possibility that the bible is just an ordinary book (as it most assuredly must be), we can actually discern some potential attitudes of this creator.  God creates most men and women with an inherent physical attraction to the opposite gender, and some men and women with an inherent physical attraction to the same gender.  Can we not safely infer from this fact that he intended for the latter to live by their nature?  Even if we make the narcissistic assumption that the being who fashioned a billion billion billion galaxies, space and time itself, is earnestly concerned with our sex lives, is it that unreasonable to suppose that he, perhaps, made some men and women different for a reason?

What if, in God's eyes, homosexuals engaging in heterosexual "acts" is the sin equivalent to heterosexuals engaging in homosexual "acts"?

The second topic is another thought experiment.  Suppose the Abrahamic faith tradition stipulated an altogether different sin-free union; suppose homosexual unions were the ideal type that God apparently demands.  From that, a culture arises in which heterosexual unions are derided and vilified, heterosexual marriages are outlawed.  Imagine being born into this culture as a heterosexual male.  Would you be willing to marry another man in accordance with your religion, or would you be inexorably drawn to women?

This is a salient question, because as I suspected, the blog post under consideration is not without it's own judge monster.  When I read through it initially, I had a gut feeling that somewhere I would find this monster lurking.  He is religious, he can't help it, and lo and behold, I was right:

"Being gay does not mean you are a sinner or that you are evil. Sin is in action, not in temptation or attraction. I feel this is a very important distinction. This is true for every single person. You don’t get to choose your circumstances, but you do get to choose what you do with them.

I want you to know that God loves you, and that even though you are attracted to people of the same gender, you are a completely legitimate individual, worthy of God’s love, your family’s love, and the love of your friends."(emphasis mine)

Did you catch it?  The urge to engage in homosexual unions is on par with the urge to murder innocent people, steal, purjer, lie, etc..  It's temptation, people, resist the urge to sin!  Drawing on our thought experiment from above, this is the equivalent of God demanding same sex unions.  Let's edit the above quote as follows:

"Being straight does not mean you are a sinner or that you are evil. Sin is in action, not in temptation or attraction. I feel this is a very important distinction. This is true for every single person. You don’t get to choose your circumstances, but you do get to choose what you do with them.

I want you to know that God loves you, and that even though you are attracted to people of the opposite gender, you are a completely legitimate individual, worthy of God’s love, your family’s love, and the love of your friends."(emphasis mine)

Now I submit to you, dear reader, that this edited version of Weed's words is as ludicrous as the original manifestation.  God does not exist, but even if he did, it's beyond the capacity of a rational mind to believe he cares one whit about the circumstances in which you share your body with another person.  Further, it is none of our business what Josh Weed, or any other adult, does with another consenting adult.

That brings me to my final point.  The whole idea that this is some new take on "the issue" of homosexuality is itself fraudulent.  Homosexuality is a sin, according to Weed.  Homosexual unions should be avoided like any other sin, according to Weed.  What, precisely, is new about this position?


** - There is, I think in all animals, a biological imperative to reproduction.  This imperative may go some distance in explaining Josh's choices, but I think most people would find that their sexual proclivities outweigh any consideration along those lines.  I don't know about you, but if I had to have sex with another man in order to reproduce, I would probably just go childless.