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Pollution – Not always what you think

Girls Fashion Scooter Mask Helmet Pollution

From the 1960s and 70s onward, awareness of environmental pollution has increased steadily. In 2017 the Green movement is almost like a religion for many.

Personalities like Al Gore present themselves as objective reporters of scientific fact while promoting particular agendas on climate change. Meanwhile, the scientific and greater debate on global warming rages on.

The media tends to emphasize industrial pollution generated by so-called developed countries. But organic pollution from human and animal waste is a huge contributor to early death and preventable disease—especially in densely populated, economically underdeveloped countries.

We are all aware of pollution. People wear masks in public. Not just in China but where I live in Toronto.

Falun Gong in Toronto – Wikipedia

However, there are at least three additional types of pollution that many overlook.

Social Pollution

Social pollution is about social activities that an opposing group, usually a ruling power, says pollute the social body, as we find in China.

“The same people that are cracking down on issues like democracy and Falun Gong are concerned about things like ‘spiritual pollution,'” Economy said. “And every several years — maybe five to seven years — China is likely to have a ‘spiritual pollution’ campaign and ‘anti-spiritual pollution’ campaign which means that they don’t like what they perceive to be coming from the West: sex, the freedoms, drug use; all of these very sensationalistic television programs.”¹

Jagannath Ghat – Kolkata_2012 – Wikipedia

Ritual Pollution

In religious scripture and practice we find the idea of ritual pollution, as in the Bible‘s Old Testament.

According to Leviticus 15: 19-23, women are impure and can spread this impurity for a certain period during and after menstruation:

When a woman has a discharge, if her discharge in her body is blood, she shall continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. Everything also on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean, and everything on which she sits shall be unclean. Anyone who touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. Whoever touches any thing on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. Whether it be on the bed or on the thing on which she is sitting, when he touches it, he shall be unclean until evening.

More dramatically, Eric Lafforgue says the idea of ritual pollution has deadly consequences among the Hamar in southern Ethiopia.

Twins, a child born outside of formal marriages are considered to possess mingi (abnormality, pollution, unclean) and, for this reason, they are abandoned into the bush to die.²

Title page of a Eighteenth century popular Pamphlet on the effects of masturbation on the health of the individual. This pamphlet was one of the first to warn against the dangers of onanism – Wikipedia

Spiritual Pollution

Beliefs about spiritual purity and impurity can be found that are not necessarily linked to a particular social or physiological taboo.

As evident from the works of the Indian holy men Sri Ramkrishna and Sri Aurobindo, the distinction between pure and impure is also made on the basis of an individual’s perceived spiritual development.

The Hindu guru (Skt = spiritual teacher) often keeps a safe distance from disciples to avoid being overwhelmed by their spiritual impurities. The guru allegedly intercedes for disciples to help purify them—that is, to cleanse their souls from the subtle crud accumulated from their ungodly attitudes and behavior.

From the guru’s perspective, the disciples’ spiritual discomfort is alleviated through intercessory meditation, ritual and prayer.

The poet Kálidása (c. 5th century CE) mentions a similar dynamic involving spiritual pollution and purity in his Shakuntala.

It is natural that the first sight of the King’s capital
should affect you in this manner;
my own sensations are very similar.
As one just bathed beholds the man polluted;
As one late purified, the yet impure:-
As one awake looks on the yet unawakened;
Or as the freeman gazes on the thrall,
So I regard this crowd of pleasure-seekers.³

Likewise, Jainism makes use of the symbolism of iron filings (the impurities of non-liberated souls) automatically flying to a magnet (the pure and liberated soul).

Similar ideas about subtle yet tangible pollution are found in the Christian mysticism of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Faustina Kowalska.

Image via The Chrysalis

Most spiritual perspectives differ on some of the finer points but all agree that subtle impurities may transfer from one person to another.

Buddhism speaks of karmic weights and skandhas that transfer and cluster over space and time, contributing to the apparent illusion of individuality.

In Jungian depth psychology, the notion of a subtle transfer of light and dark qualities is found in the discussion of alchemy, where Jung and his followers liken human relationships to complex chemical interactions.

Ethics and Pollution

Implicit to any discussion of spiritual pollution is the realm of ethics. The classic religion scholar Rudolf Otto says a morally evil action is “self-depreciating” and “pollutes,” leading toward imagery suggesting the need for “washing and cleansing.”4

So the next time someone tells you we have a polluted environment, you might ask what they are saying.

When we say someone is “toxic” do we simply mean they are a drag to be with or is there more to the picture? And how about “bad vibes?”

Metaphor or reality?

¹ Nikola Krastev, “China: Report Says Media Control Is Tightening,”Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Thursday, February 23, 2006.

² See commentary at flickr.com/photos/mytripsmypics/3231940994.

³ From the Shakuntala by Kálidása, circa 5th century CE, in A Treasury of Asian Literature, ed. John D. Yohannan. New York: Meridian, 1984.

4 The Idea of the Holy, second edition, trans. John W. Harvey, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973 [1923], p. 55. For more on religious and spiritual pollution see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritual_purification

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Pericles – A king without a crown

Pericles

Pericles: CameliaTWU via Flickr

Pericles (ca. 495-429 BCE) was an Athenian general and statesman born in the wealthy and powerful Alcmaeonid family during Athens‘ so-called Golden Age.

He had an unusually large head and legend has it that before his birth, his mother dreamed she bore a lion. It’s hard to know if this is just an embellishment, the lion being a well known symbol for royalty.¹

Also, Pericles’ large head was the object of much satire in his day, so perhaps the story was a retroactive flourish based on his physicality.

Aside from the jokes and legends, Pericles was a great orator who reached the masses without stooping to their vulgar idioms, as one historian put it.

He was calm, self-controlled and yet charismatic when he wanted to be. Possessing the ruling power of a king (443-429 BCE), he was never crowned as such. His influence to the Greeks at Athens was such that the historian Thucydides (circa 460 BCE – 395 BCE) called him “the first citizen of Athens.”

Pericles advocated legal reforms that culminated in an Athenian democracy (462-461 BCE).² He became the head of the democratic party in 461 BCE, while his wealthy and influential opponent Cimon was exiled.

Educated in music and philosophy by the best teachers of his day,³ he was active in the literary, philosophical and artistic community of Athens, and the driving force behind the erection of the Parthenon (begun 447 BCE) and several other impressive structures.

Anaxagoras, one of Pericles’ leading teachers via ECO SOCIAL…OJO CRÍTICO CCL

During the Thirty Years Peace he remained antagonistic to Sparta, this fueling the onset of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE).

While the Peloponnesian War raged, Athens was hit by a plague that claimed his life.

The Greek historian and philosopher Plutarch (c.46-c.120 CE ) wrote a biography of Pericles. He’s also mentioned by Herodotus (484– circa 425 BCE).  Shakespeare read Plutarch’s biography and wrote the play Pericles, Prince of Tyre (c.46-c.120 CE ) with his usual wit:

So, this is Tyre, and this the court. Here must I kill King Pericles; and if I do it not, I am sure to be hanged at home: ’tis dangerous. Well, I perceive he was a wise fellow, and had good discretion, that, being bid to ask what he would of the king, desired he might know none of his secrets: now do I see he had some reason for’t; for if a king bid a man be a villain, he’s bound by the indenture of his oath to be one!4

¹ Legend has it that Alexander The Great’s father had a similar dream just before the birth of his illustrious son.

² http://www.stoa.org/projects/demos/article_democracy_development?page=6

³ Most notably, Anaxagoras.

4 https://www.opensourceshakespeare.org/views/plays/play_view.php?WorkID=pericles&Act=1&Scene=3&Scope=scene


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Paranoia – When the line becomes blurry

Betsssssy 11/365: Shower Paranoia via Flickr

In most schools of psychology, paranoia is a disorder where one holds a belief that one is being persecuted, the victim of a conspiracy or in some kind of danger when, in fact, they are not.

Excessive anxiety or fear are thought to be two contributing factors to paranoia but there could be additional spiritual and transpersonal factors which mainstream psychiatry almost entirely overlooks.¹

Among analytical psychologists, paranoia is believed to be sometimes accompanied with inflation, in which the ego overly identifies with archetypal contents.

Within pop culture and the media, the term might not always be used correctly because some hold naïve views about or blatantly conceal shady personal and political agendas.²

Some pundits have been saying that we live in a “culture of fear,” especially during the Reagan and Bush eras. Apparently a wealthy and powerful few manipulate the media to try to generate just enough social paranoia to justify political acts (like war) or to boost sales for products that alleviate fear-related issues.

These critics maintain that the rich and powerful do not want to create too much fear. If they did, society might become paralyzed or chaotic, which definitely would not advance political agendas and corporate profits.

Reality, however, is often far more complex and open-ended than tidy conspiracy theories, making this view seem simplistic (but not unworthy of consideration).

Turn to 2017 and the persistent reality of global violence. The “culture of fear” theme is quickly losing ground to more recent tropes like Fake News, Climate Deniers, and Russian Spying. These are the latest media bad guys. And in a few years, there will undoubtedly be a new trendy list of public villains for popular news outlets to explore and discuss ad nauseam.

Sometimes actual cases of paranoia develop in highly intelligent, prominent personalities.

For instance, the Austria–Hungary (now Czech Republic) born mathematician, logician and philosopher Kurt Gödel (1906-1978) starved himself to death in later years. Fearing that his food would be poisoned, Gödel wouldn’t eat anything that his wife didn’t prepare for him. After his wife was hospitalized for six months, he refused to eat and simply wasted away to die.

Kurt Godel via Flickr

In 1978 the New Wave band Devo released a popular song “Too Much Paranoia.” And in the realm of the paranormal, some believers in extraterrestrial mind control wear tin foil hats to apparently block evil aliens from controlling people through ESP.

To outside observers, wearing tin foil hats seems a pretty clear case of irrational behavior arising from paranoia.³

¹ See https://epages.wordpress.com/2017/06/15/do-you-hear-voices-why-spirituality-and-transpersonal-psychology-are-so-often-overlooked/

² See psychcrime.org and mindhacks.com

³ Not to say that ETs necessarily do not exist. Probably nobody knows for sure. But to think that tin foil would protect a person against meddling ETs with advanced technologies seems absurd.

Related » Corruption, Devo: Too Much Paranoia French TV 1978, Melanie Klein, Politics


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Gilbert Ryle – An Oxford man who advocated “ordinary language”

Gilbert Ryle (1900-76) was an English philosopher who taught at Oxford from 1945-68. He edited the journal Mind from 1947-71.

Ryle and others like G. E. Moore developed the idea, forwarded by Wittgenstein, that philosophy is best expressed in so-called “ordinary language.” For Ryle, using abstract language is so removed from everyday experience and speech that it tends to be, for the most part, inaccurate and irrelevant.

Some philosophers are so heavily invested in their specialized language that they become blind to the ambiguities, limitations and sometimes absurdity of their claims.

A similar argument could be made about anyone who overly invests in a particular language game or symbol system, to include psychologists, biologists, physicists, economists, lawyers, environmentalists… The list goes on.

Not everyone agrees with Ryle. For a while, his views were trendy in philosophy but that didn’t last long. Today, philosophy is even more esoteric and symbolic than ever. Most modern philosophy degrees demand advanced courses in symbolic logic that, to the uninitiated, might look more like math than critical thinking.

Drawing from René Descartes' (1596-1650) in &q...

Drawing from René Descartes’ (1596-1650) in “meditations métaphysiques” explaining the function of the pineal gland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are some of the main points for and against the use of ordinary language in philosophy and related disciplines:

For:

  • Language is dynamic, full of ambiguous connotation and a product of culture. Meanings are always open to interpretation.
  • Specialized language cloaks bias and subtly reinforces unequal relations of power. For instance, in psychology a person is “ADD” or “Autistic.” The scientific label makes it so. End of discussion. Who cares if these people have unusual abilities that the status quo is too biased to recognize or support?
  • Ordinary language isn’t patronizing to ordinary people and may, in fact, draw them into a discussion. This could lead to new insights and benefits for all.

Against:

  • Given the potential ambiguity and fluidity of language, shouldn’t philosophers try to define their terms as precisely as possible?
  • Isn’t it valid for specialists to use specialized language? For example, do you really want your operating room surgeon to say “give me that blade over there” one day and “hand me the knife” another day instead of always using the quick and precise, “scalpel“?
  • Specialized language increases precision and facilitates greater communication, efficiency and effectiveness among specialists. Popular writers can always translate the main points to the public, later on.

It seems each of these arguments has its pros and cons.

For some, the best approach – ironically an age-old advertising and entertaining technique – is to tailor one’s expression to fit the perceived audience. Instead of speaking above people, some believe it’s better to try to connect—unless, of course, you’re in a specialized group using shared terms (e.g. A Trekkie convention).

Some hard core philosophers seem to overlook the many nuances of human interaction. So they can come off dry, abstract or irrelevant. But every now and then specialized thinkers do come up with ideas worth considering. For me, one example is Hume’s critique of causality. I love and sometimes mention that idea if I feel my audience is ready to consider its transformational potential.

But to return to Ryle, he also published a popular work in 1949, The Concept of Mind, that questioned Descartes mind/body dualism. Ryle says Descartes describes the mind as a metaphysical ghost in a material machine. And from that we have the enduring phrase, “ghost in the machine,” an idea now morphing into new meanings with the rise of AI.


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Bertrand Russell – Temporarily lost his job for advocating peace

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell (Photo Wikipedia)

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was a Welsh philosopher, mathematician and activist.

Russell taught at Cambridge in 1895, published Principles of Mathematics (1903) and, with A. N. Whitehead, wrote Principia Mathematica (1910-13).

He was let go from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1916 for advocating pacifism during World War I. This was scandalous even at the time because most of his Fellows opposed his firing.¹ Jailed in 1918 for six months, Russell eventually revoked his support for pacifism with the rise of Fascism.

Soon after his Fellowship was restored.

In the 1920’s he lectured and wrote widely. In 1927 he founded an experimental school with his second wife, Dora, a woman of achievement in her own right. And he toured the Soviet Union and lectured in China and America.

Russell’s best known publications are The Problems of Philosophy (1912), On Education (1926), An Enquiry into Meaning and Truth (1940), History of Western Philosophy (1945), and Human Knowledge (1948). He also wrote probing essays on a variety of topics, such as Why I am not a Christian (1927).

After World War II Russell advocated a ban on nuclear weapons and corresponded with leading politicians around the world. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 and authored a three-volume Autobiography (1967-9).

English: Bertrand Russell and Conway Hall Behi...

Bertrand Russell and Conway Hall Behind bust of Bertrand Russell (by Marcelle Quinton 1980) in Red Lion Square the entrance to Conway Hall can be seen with Royal Mail van parked outside. (Photo: Wikipedia)

¹ Perhaps it’s fitting that I’m posting this revision on Good Friday. Seems a lot of people run into bad luck for advocating peace. †

Related » Ludwig Wittgenstein


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Jean-Jacques Rousseau – Creative genius on the edge

Graeme Garrard traces the origin of the Counte...

Rousseau (Photo: Wikipedia)

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) was a French speaking political writer and educator born in Geneva, Switzerland.

After taking various odd jobs this self-taught intellectual moved to Paris in 1741, meeting up with Denis Diderot and the Encyclopedists.

A kind of romantic naturalism pervades much of his work, which many equate with the idea of the “noble savage.”

Many see the noble savage as one who rejects stultifying conventions and religious promises of an afterlife in favor of spontaneous desire and worldly affections.

But this is another myth that students of Rousseau say does not apply to his work. In reference to Rousseau’s belief in stages of human development, Wikipedia notes:

Rousseau believed that the savage stage was not the first stage of human development, but the third stage. Rousseau held that this third savage stage of human societal development was an optimum, between the extreme of the state of brute animals and animal-like “ape-men” on the one hand and the extreme of decadent civilized life on the other. This has led some critics to attribute to Rousseau the invention of the idea of the noble savage, which Arthur Lovejoy conclusively showed misrepresents Rousseau’s thought.¹

Voltaire & Rousseau

Voltaire & Rousseau by Anne via Flickr

In 1754 Rousseau wrote Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Amongst Men, outlining an apparently innate sense of freedom and perfectibility in human beings, in contrast to the corrupting powers of institutions.

In Luxembourg from 1757-1762 he wrote The Social Contract, which had a significant bearing on the French revolution, as exemplified by Rousseau’s cry for ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.’ The Social Contract produced the famous line, “man is born free, but everywhere is in chains.” This work remains a cornerstone in modern political theory, but has roots in ancient Greece and Rome.

In 1762 Rousseau published the novel, Emile. Its critique of the monarchy and government bureaucracy got him into hot water with the authorities. To avoid arrest he retreated to Switzerland, ultimately to end up in England with the support of the philosopher David Hume.

Rousseau later wrote his Confessions and returned to Paris in 1767, ignoring the threat of an outstanding arrest warrant. He continued to write but became hypersensitive to perceived threats. Some of these threats may have been real and others exaggerated. For instance, he believed that Hume was conspiring against him, which may have been partly true. And Voltaire accused him of burning down the theater at Geneva in 1768.²

Devon Hollahan – Paranoid android via Flickr

Some say that Rousseau was paranoid during this period. But I prefer to think of him as confusing actual and perceived threats.

When people are threatened, possibly traumatized and lied to, and all they have is their intuition to guide them, it’s hardly surprising that they make interpretive mistakes. They sense the bad vibes from others, which are real. But unless they train themselves to treat every perceived threat as a hypothesis instead of a fact, they could become overwhelmed and see some non-threats as threats.³

Rousseau also took some heat for his views on religion, which challenged both Catholic and Calvinist teachings. Rousseau was a precursor to those Romantics who see God in natural creation and society as something other and potentially corrupting. He rejected the belief in original sin and was upset that his views gained much criticism while the religious authorities were indifferent to the atheistic philosophers of the day.4

Related » Enlightenment

The house where Rousseau was born at number 40, Grand-Rue. – Wikipedia

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Jacques_Rousseau

² Ibid. Hume had offered to filter and forward Rousseau’s more important incoming mail, to which Rousseau agreed. But there is some evidence that Hume also read Rousseau’s outgoing mail, which was not agreed upon. This only goes to show that creeps who somehow think they’re justified in violating personal privacy – just because they can – have been around for a very long time. It’s not something unique to the cyber age.

³ Of course, it’s not easy to support or reject these hypotheses because some threatening people are pathological liars and polished fakers. As for those generating the bad vibes, I believe God will deal with them – fairly – in good time.

4 This situation has been tentatively explained by the sociological “in-group / out-group” theory. According the theory, people in an in-group feel more threatened or irritated by an out-group when the out-group shares some but not all of the in-group’s views and practices. So for example, some Americans and Canadians look down on and insult one another because inhabitants share some but not all elements with the other country. But neither Americans nor Canadians become emotionally invested or insulting toward peaceful, faraway lands that are fundamentally different. Most just couldn’t care less. It’s the partial similarity that stirs up discontent between in-groups and out-groups.

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Comte Henri de Saint-Simon – His concern for the poor shines above everything else

Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon

Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) or, more commonly, Saint-Simon is one of those figures who comes up regularly in sociology courses, especially so-called “classical” or “classical theory” courses.¹

Until writing this entry, I knew little about him. But I felt he was important because so many books and professors (the better ones, anyhow) mention him in passing.

Looking over Wikipedia this morning to update my 2009 entry, Saint-Simon turns out to be quite interesting.

Born in Paris as a French Aristocrat, he spent some time in America, fighting under George Washington in the siege of Yorktown. Back in Europe, he took up the cause of the poor, which lead his being called the founder of French socialism.

He supported the French Revolution but was put in jail during the Reign of Terror because of unwarranted suspicions that he was a counter-revolutionary. Luckily for him, he was released from prison in 1794 before literally losing his head. By this time French currency was devalued, which left him rich. But he was cheated out of his fortune by his business partner.

After an unhappy marriage that ended in a year, he wrote and tried to recover his lost fortune without success. He then spent time in a sanatorium. Ten years later, discouraged by his lack of influence on the world, he attempted suicide. According to the story, shooting himself six times in the head didn’t kill him, although he did become blind in one eye.

Nederlands: Portret van Claude Henri de Rouvro...

Portrait of Claude Henri de Rouvroy from the first quarter of the 19th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Relatives helped him out but Saint-Simon lived his final years in abject poverty. Perhaps this had something to do with his earlier concern for the poor.²

Saint-Simon reacted against the brutality of the French Revolution and envisioned a society where science and technology would guide the workings of religion and politics. He disliked government intervention in the economy, making his approach differ from how we usually understand “socialism.”

Concerning religion, he believed in a divine power but wanted to strip away the dogmas and routines of both Protestant and Catholic Christianity to get to the core of Jesus’ message as he saw it. For him, theory wasn’t done for mere pleasure or, as a twisted professor I had allegedly once said, for a “paycheck.” For Saint-Simon, theory and practice should go hand in hand to alleviate suffering and elevate all peoples to the highest possible good.

Saint-Simon’s writings remain influential in sociology. He had particular impact on the political views of Auguste Comte (17981857), especially with regard to the concept of progress. Comte in turn influenced Emile Durkheim, now hailed as one of the founding fathers of sociology.

Tumba de Saint Simon by Cosmovisión / Juan Luis Sotillo

Tumba de Saint Simon by Cosmovisión / Juan Luis Sotillo

¹ Sociologists tend to join the dots for us, telling us what is important according to how they see things today. The word “classical” should be taken critically too. It’s full of connotations about legitimacy and importance.

² If the soul is beyond space and time, as some mystics tell us, quite possibly Saint-Simon’s future state influenced his younger concerns. You won’t find this idea among the rank and file of psychologists and psychiatrists in the 21st century, but I think it’s quite possible and hopefully an idea that future theorists will pursue.