Category Archives: Philosophy

FB: Ruhi Book 2 Discussion

Study from my Ruhi Book 2 this evening. We had some really great discussions. The concept of “fixed” vs. “growth” mindset came up along with some discussion of current events in the US.

“The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.”

– Baha’u’llah

I know this is difficult to do. Another idea that came up in our discussion is that science and religion must both rest upon reason. One of the unique gifts of humans over other animals is the ability to search for, perceive and reason about the truth. We apply this standard to science “easily” in the sense that we expect it. Why don’t we expect this about religion too?

Both science and religion without reason are nothing but pointless fantasies. Science without religion is materialism that leads to depression and despair (as we can see so prevalently in our society). Religion without science is superstition and leads to fanaticism and conflict (which we can also see prevalently in our society).

I’ve been learning about post-modernism (philosophy, not art) lately and it seems that it attacks reason and truth-finding. If there are any of my friends who are experts on post-modernist thought or theory, I would be interested in talking and learning more.

(originally posted on Facebook here)

What is Identity

(First posted on Facebook 5years ago.)

If we have an eternal soul that transcends death, then the soul is what matters and it is the soul that defines our identity. On the other hand, if all we have is our material existence, then the form of our material existence matters.

It matters if you are fat or thin. It matters if you are black or white. It matters if you are strong or weak. It matters if you are wealthy or not. These are all material attributes.

If we are purely material, then there is no basis to believe in human dignity. Materialism is nihilism and anti-identity: we are merely atoms and molecules and cellular processes and heat. Which is why so much discussion around identity in our society concerns the trivial made large. Skin color. Sexual preferences. Gender. Nationhood. Class. Membership. Job title.

We desperately grasp at these insignificances because we are afraid of the significant: the existence of the soul. Yet we also ignore the void that such denial leaves. We do so by shouting ever louder that our self-determined identity matters.

It does not.

The only identity that matters is our spiritual identity: our virtues developed by sacrificing all those trivial aspects of identity that our materialistic society is so keen on using to segment us into sliver-sized markets while selling stuff to stuff the unstuffable void. The driving force of this segmentation is the death of death.

Death used to be a passage to a greater stage. Now death is the end of our existence. Death, too, is sold. Avoid death at all costs or embrace it early – the choice is yours. This trivialization of death supports the narrative of material identity.

alcoholic beverages

Alcoholic Beverages and Behaviour

I grew up as a follower of the Baha’i Faith. Part of that faith is that I believe that consuming alcohol is bad for the world, so I don’t do it. Not only that, when I can, I also encourage others to not drink alcohol if the situation is appropriate.

What if your livelihood depends on alcohol? I have family members who are / have been servers in licensed restaurants. Their ability to earn a decent living depends on the high cost of alcoholic beverages and the tips that go along with consumption thereof. I wish that someday they would not have to depend on that means of earning a living. But I don’t feel any need to berate them for the circumstances and choices that led them to choosing that work.

There are many people who feel that it is just fine for them to personally consume alcohol. They handle it well. Possibly – I honestly don’t know.

Here’s the interesting thing. I’ve never unfriended someone because they consume alcohol (although I did once break up with a girlfriend where excess consumption was a factor in the breakup). But I’ve had people unfriend me because I don’t consume alcohol. Not many people… but enough to know that it happens. Not only that, but I’ve lost business deals because I don’t consume alcohol. Again, not many that I can guarantee were for that reason, but some.

When is it okay for me to talk about my belief in the harmfulness of alcohol? Well, there are certainly some situations where I think it is okay:

  • when I’m asked about my behaviour or beliefs,
  • when I’m speaking with a peer or someone with more power / influence than I,
  • when in my own judgement, sharing my beliefs would not come across as insulting or patronizing,
  • when someone is asking about the expectations for the personal conduct of Baha’is in general, and
  • when my listener has a choice about stopping listening (e.g. here, where you can just click away or close the tab).

So, am I judgemental when I see or hear other people drinking alcohol? I suppose it depends on what it means to be “judgemental”. Here are some situations and my mental responses:

  • Stranger ordering drinks in a restaurant: I don’t notice it.
  • Stranger ordering drinks in bar: I don’t go to bars.
  • Business or personal acquaintance making a joke about alcohol or talking about going for a beer or the great wine they bought on the weekend: I have a tiny twinge of discomfort… like “too bad I can’t do that”. FOMO.
  • Close friends or business partners who are not alcoholics (to my knowledge) talking about or drinking alcohol: I often ponder why it is a part of their lives and if there is some way I might help them eventually give it up.
  • Other Baha’is talking about drinking before they became Baha’is: I’m intensely curious to learn what it is all about.
  • Other Baha’is talking about drinking while they are Baha’is: this is the only situation in which I feel a moment of judgement – but I quickly suppress those thoughts and tell myself that I don’t know their situation… and that I aught not judge.

Alcohol is one of the scourges of the earth, similar to slavery/racism, materialism, promiscuity, inequality between men and women, individualism, and religious fanaticism (I might be missing some others as I write this). I can’t claim to be free from all of these perfectly myself…. but I’m self-aware enough to continue to work on improving.

Many of my Facebook friends have not hesitated to say things like “I would punch a Nazi”, about themselves. The Nazis killed approximately 6 million people in the Holocaust! Alcohol kills that many people every two years. Should I punch people who drink? Or go out and accost the purveyors of alcoholic beverages? Of course not…. But really, why not?

Because punching people doesn’t solve societal problems. Racism (and the Holocaust) are societal problems. Alcohol is a societal problem. Religious fanaticism is a societal problem. I can blame society and judge the ills of society without being judgemental about any individual’s behaviour. Not only that, I can be loving, patient and have a “sin-covering eye” for the individuals I interact with. In fact, I can choose to focus on people’s good qualities and actions. All this while still asserting that alcohol is one of the worst things for the world… on the same level as slavery.

So what does solve these kinds of problems? It starts by individuals recognizing our spiritual oneness with all the members of humanity around the globe.

Photo of RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki with RCMP officers in background - systemic racism article

Systemic Racism

For something to be systemic, it needs to be “in the system”, not just in individuals who happen to be in the system, but are also parts of other systems.

Simple example: I am a husband and a father. My wife and I are one system, and my kids and I are another system.

If I’m a pushover with my wife, and a disciplinarian with my kids, then those behaviours are part of the system because as an individual, I change my behaviour depending on the system I’m participating in. In other words, there is something in the system that changes my behaviour independent of my identity or self-concept, my beliefs or my desires.

On the other hand, if I’m a disciplinarian in all situations, particularly if there are explicit agreements I have made to be flexible and lenient, then my behaviour is part of me and not part of the systems I am in. In other words, if my actions do not align with the explicit policies or agreements of the system, then my actions are not systemic.

SO…

In the case of the RCMP, I suspect all the rules and procedures (the explicit text) are designed to be neutral… to not take race into account. That means the real question is what behaviours are exhibited by members of the RCMP which are racist and only demonstrated when those people are in the RCMP system (not in other parts of their lives).

“if systemic racism is meaning that racism is entrenched in our policies and procedures, I would say that we don’t have systemic racism.”

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki

However, to know if the rules and procedures are devoid of systemic racism is not something one can quickly determine unless the rules and procedures are very simple. Here is another example…

Suppose I have a rule in my house that the kids’ bedtimes are determined by their age – the older they get, the later the bedtime is. This is a simple rule, and it is easy to see that it doesn’t single out any subset of my children. There is no obvious injustice. Right?

Well, let’s examine the situation a little closer. Suppose, after medical assessment, we discover that one of my children has Short Sleeper Syndrome (SSS)… in fact, the youngest child. We now have a slightly more complicated situation… but probably easily resolved: there is no set amount of sleep required so the kids can wake up as early as they like.

Next, let’s suppose we introduce a new additional rule: everyone must wake up when the first person wakes up. Now we have a system that causes a change in behaviours to adjust to the new reality. Some of the older kids might choose to go to sleep earlier even than that one with SSS. Still okay, but a little odd and it might cause problems with socializing for the older kids. Still, socializing in the evenings is optional right?

Well, actually, now we have two rules and a consequence of those rules: the older kids cannot develop a social life. This is a systemic injustice, but it is not explicit injustice. In other words, we didn’t create a rule that singles out the older kids for unfair treatment. Instead, we have a combination of rules and characteristics of people in the system that creates injustice.

So, I think that RCMP Commissioner Lucki may not be aware of the systemic racism in the RCMP. There may indeed be a set of rules and procedures (including the laws of the land and internal policies) which conspire to create systemic racism.

How do we find out? Well, the way to start is to look at data. Then do a root cause analysis. (FWIW, this is the kind of thing I do as a consultant with businesses.)

Unfortunately, there is one further complication to the story: falsifiability.

It is extremely hard, and often impossible, to falsify an accusation about a system. Most systems are complex… which is beyond complicated… and determining cause and effect relationships is difficult.

The accusation of systemic racism against a specific organization such as the RCMP is not falsifiable. Why? Start by asking this question: “what would it take to prove that the RCMP has no vestige of systemic racism left in it?” How would you prove such a thing? What evidence and reasoning would it take? What experiments or measurements would you need to do? If you analyze every single piece of data, every rule, policy, procedure and law… can you be certain that systemic racism is not there?

Does this problem matter? Well, yes.

Until there is a falsifiable definition of systemic racism, applicable to specific systems such as the RCMP, then it is also unjust to take any action for or against the organization on the basis of a claim of systemic racism.

What can we do? Well, for one thing, we need that falsifiable definition of systemic racism. I admit… for this article, I did a quick few Google searches and couldn’t find anything that meets my mathematically-minded standard… but I’m not an academic specializing in racism (sociology, presumably). It might exist somewhere…

Love is Love - or is it?

Thoughts on “Love is Love”

Intersectionality/Privilege Disclaimer: I’m a strait white male in a 1st world country who grew up in a minority religion, in poverty, and with a mild medical disability.

“Love is Love”, the Pride slogan, is propaganda of the highest order.

The word “love” in English covers many types and they have important differences that should not be hidden. Often the specific meaning is obvious from the context of a discourse… and that may even apply to the Pride slogan. But, the slogan actually challenges anyone who wants to make a distinction about different kinds of love and is implicitly critical and judgemental of that. Here are examples:

Love between friends, platonic love.

Love between parent and child, familial love.

Love between lovers, passionate love.

Love between newly married couple, romantic love.

Love between long-married couple, patient love.

Love between strangers on a one-night-stand, animal love.

Love between a pet owner and pet, playful or comfort love.

Love between work colleagues, common-cause love.

Love between a person and their work, their food, their travel, their reading, their hobby, pastime, or interests, intellectual love.

Love between a person and their tv show, game, food, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, drugs or other addiction, dysfunctional love.

Love between a person and the cosmos or God, ideal love.

I’m sure there are many more ways that the word “love” is used in real life in English and they are not all the same, we would never advocate that they are all the same, and in many cases they have important legal differences. I hope I don’t need to give examples of some of the twisted things that people do that they call “love”.

The slogan is a very Orwellian thing: it simplifies and twists language for political and power purposes.

Archive Journal Entry: 20030308

There is an extremely interesting article up on kuro5hin called Temporal Symbolism in Human Communication. I recommend it particularly to any writers and to those interested in the Baha’i principle of an international auxiliary language.

Thanks to those who emailed me about language learning materials (namely, Ross… do you have a homepage I can link to?)!!!

This past Christmas/New Year’s break, while visiting my family in Fort McMurray, my dad had an insight about my character. He noticed how much I enjoy food. He noted that, in essense, this pleasure is a very sensual delight. Finally, he suggested that if I was concerned about how much I was eating, I might try including more of the arts in my life. So. I have made a small effort in that regard. Particularly with music. I have started to listen to music a little more, I have set up my piano and I regularly sit down at it, and I have started composing with buzz. In the meantime, I have continued to think on this insight. It turns out that it is a little more dark an issue than just a natural inclination to the sensual… I believe I use food as psychological respite, similar in perhaps a small way to the drinking of an alcoholic. Now due to my fantastic metabolism, I am not having a serious weight problem. Nevertheless, I realized that I “use” food when I am lonely or otherwise feeling down. It is something that I turn to instead of to a real solution. At the very least, I should seriously consider saying more prayers. And writing here helps too 🙂

My mom got me a great present for my birthday. I forgot to mention it because it was sent by mail and arrived quite late. She got me “The Idiot” (US$, CA$) by Dostoevsky (google search). I’m now serveral chapters into it and enjoying it very much. The main significance of this work to me is that it is the source of my name. The main character, Prince Mishkin, is the one after whom I am named.

Last Tuesday night I started with a Ruhi book 1 study circle in Jersey City. I am quite happy about it. I last did book 1 back in 1993 or so in a retreat with four other young guys. We became known as the Five Boy Institute. Alexei, Sky Glabush, Dean Kalyan and Cory April were the other attendees. There were three notable aspects of that winter weekend retreat at a cabin. The first, that the water, or some food was bad and we all ended up with multiple trips to the outhouse the one night we stayed over. The second, we didn’t really know how to use the enormous wood-burning stove and we ended up with an indoor temperature of somewhere around 45C (113F). And finally, we had one seriously spiritual weekend with many rounds of the “Fire Tablet” and serious study of the writings.