The Human Apparatus

Two men were sitting on a park bench, one reading a newspaper, the other, people watching.

The First Man laughed and said out loud:

“There’s an article here that says humans are primates and we share a lot of DNA with apes. What do you think? Is that a put down or NOT?”

The Second Man, who had a long beard, eyed the First Man up and down and then said:

“I’ve got a bigger put down.”

“Oh yea, what’s that?”

“I think a human is an Apparatus!”

“An Apparatus? You mean like an Engine?”

“Yes! What a human is, is due to his genes, the influence of his hereditary and environment, and his relationships. He is moved and directed by OUTSIDE INFLUENCES. He originates nothing.”

“Boy, that’s a put down! I don’t want to think of myself as an engine.”

“Even your thoughts are not originated by you. You are an Apparatus, an Engine, believe me.”

“Well, I have a thought right now that you are talking Balderdash!”

“I get those opinions all the time, BUT you did NOT create that opinion.

It was formed from thoughts and opinions gathered from books, conversations that have landed in your brain out of the brains of your parents, friends and ancestors.”

“Like I said, Balderdash!”

“You can’t even say you put the borrowed thoughts together, that was done automatically by your mental apparatus. You have no command over your thoughts.”

“What if I change my thought?”

“You can’t by yourself, but OUTSIDE influences can do it.”

“Suppose I want to enter into a study with the purpose of changing my opinion and I succeed. That is NOT the work of outside influences. It’s my thought and I originated the project.”

“No, you are wrong. Your project grew out of this conversation with me. No man originates anything. All you thoughts come from the OUTSIDE.’

The First Man was getting irritated.

“Okay, answer me this, what about the creations of novelists and painters?”

“Oh, you mean their IMITATIONS. They created nothing! They observed and wrote and painted what they observed.

No apparatus or engine can create!”

***

After a minute of silence, the First Man spoke up loudly:

“I suppose you don’t believe in Free Will.”

The Second Man laughed.

“There is NO such thing!

Does the man possess it when he gives the beggar his last dollar and goes home wondering what he will eat that day? No!”

“He had the choice between helping the beggar or leaving him suffer. It was his Free Will at work.”

The Second Man said, stroking his beard:

“A choice was made, between his physical comfort or his spiritual comfort.

This is NOT Free Will. I call it forced choice at best, the apparatus at work.”

“I say the man determined it and in doing so, exercised Free Will.”

“Look, in the story of the man and the beggar, we clearly saw he really had NO Free Will.

His temperament, his training and his education had molded him. He was compelled to help the beggar and then he would save himself from spiritual pain. He did NOT make the choice, it was made for him by forces he could NOT control.”

“You keep confusing me. How would you conclude this conversation.”

“I would tell you that the human being is an Apparatus, driven by the purpose to satisfy his own desires and achieve peace of mind.

Our wills are not of our own making, given the unconscious origins of our conscious minds. So, Free Will is an illusion.

Primal emotions are in our unconscious, such as fear, mother-love and guilt.

We have all these in our unconscious that influence our behaviors.”

The First Man got up and walked away scratching his head.

CONVERSATIONS CAN BE ENLIGHTENING OR IRRITATING OR BOTH!

Visit Australia via My Imagination

“G’ day mate!” said the “bush’ hunter sitting next to me at the Outback Pub that was on my Australian itinerary.

“Hi”, I said timidly, as I sipped my ice-cold beer.

This guy looked exactly like “Crocodile Dundee”.

Rugged looking and wearing an Akubra, a wide brimmed hat made out of rabbit fur felt. He had the same sleeveless vest and brown jeans that Dundee wore with brown boots.

But my attention was drawn to the knife hanging from his belt.

“You noticed my knife, let me show it to you,” he said, drawing it out of its sheath.

“Boy, that’s a knife!” I said, inspecting it.

It had at least a 10 inch blade and a 5 inch handle, 15 inches long in total!

Dundee put it back in its sheath and smiled.

I imagined all the various uses of that large knife.

***

I looked around at the walls of the pub, they were plastered with foreign money, women’s lingerie, and a photo of a scantily clad lady with the caption, “the night when things got interesting”.

The menu was on the wall featuring Camel Sausages and BBQ Kangaroo meat.

Yum, yum! I didn’t have the guts to order. Anyway, I wasn’t hungry.

“You have camels in Australia?” I asked Dundee.

“Yes mate, they were imported from Arabia in the 19th century for transport and heavy work.”

“That’s interesting,” I said, getting off my stool.

I shook hands with Dundee, he had an iron grip, and I imagined his hands around a crocodile’s neck!!!

***

I walked out into the sunbaked plains of the Northern Territory.

There were several white painted Aboriginal dancers performing a ceremonial ritual in front of me. They weren’t sweating at all, but it was pouring off of me!

Country music was filtering out of the Outback Pub, quite a backdrop for the scene in front of me. A lone man was playing a didgeridoo, which is a long wooden tube which is blown to produce a deep guttural sound.

***

About 25 feet from me in a clump of bushes were some large spiders and a snake.

I wondered how deadly they were!

There was a river nearby and the locals said it was filled with crocodiles. I decided NOT to go for a swim!

In the distance, about a quarter of a mile, I saw a kangaroo hopping around. I could just make out a joey (baby) in her pouch.

As I walked closer to get a better look, the kangaroo stopped and stared at me.

This Roo was huge, about 6 and ½ feet tall and 200 pounds!

I backed up and bumped into Dundee. I bounced off him like a rubber ball.

“Watch out, mate, you’ll hurt yourself,” he laughed.

I steadied myself.

“You’re watching a “large foot”. They have powerful hind legs and large feet for leaping. They can reach speeds of 35 mph and cover 25 feet in a single leap.

Also, they can jump over 6 feet high!”

With that, Dundee jumped into his dusty pickup truck and drove away down the dirt track.

***

I sat down on an outside bench and closed my eyes…when I opened them, I was back in Sydney by the harbor.

I computed I must have traveled almost 2000 miles from the Northern Territory to Sydney!

I thought about the vastness that gives Australia its character.

The 48 contiguous states of the USA and Australia are just about equal in area size! But the population of Oz is only 21 million compared to the US at 325 million!

***

I noticed I was dressed in my best suit and then I remembered I was going to a concert at the Sydney Opera House.

What a contrast from the wildness of the outback to the luxury of the Opera House!

The Sydney Opera House is one of the most famous and distinctive buildings in the world. It is Australia’s icon.

At a distance, it looks like 6 overlapping shells. Very unusual geometry, I was amazed looking at it.

I went into the concert hall, it was huge, almost 3000 seats and it contains the Grand Organ with over 10,000 pipes!

***

The next day I was scheduled to climb the Sydney Bridge!!!

It is a huge arch bridge, 440 feet from the top to water level, and 160 feet wide.

I was determined to face my FEAR of heights!

They give you a safety briefing, then they suit you up and clip you onto a safety wire. You follow your guide up and up on ladders and catwalks, stopping at scenic points.

At the top you get a breath taking view of the entire harbor. The wind was blowing a gale!

When you descend, you receive a certificate of completion and a photo in your jump suit! I will pin this on my study wall!

***

I then took a coach tour down the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne on Victoria’s south-west coast.

It has a variety of scenery, there are breath taking cliff top views over-looking the water, watching the waves roll in. I saw the 12 Apostles, they are craggy limestone stacks rising out of the Southern Ocean. I also saw some seals lying about.

***

I had to see the Great Barrier Reef. I took a glass-bottom boat tour of the reef.

Fancy some snorkeling?

The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland.

It can be seen from space and is the biggest structure made by living organisms.

It is composed of billions of coral polyps. The colors were mind-boggling.

It stretches over 1400 miles!

***

Back in Sydney to complete my Australian trip, I decided to take in some night life.

I went to the Shady Pine Saloon, where I was greeted by a taxidermied deer and Johnny Cash on the stereo.

Where was I? In Sydney or Nashville?

I ordered a shiraz wine which Australia is noted for.

It was a well-balanced wine and went down easily.

I had three glasses!!!

***

Then I went to The Absinthe Salon Pub. This was the highlight of the night!

The Salon is decorated in the Art Nouveau style and the waiters were dressed in 1890’s outfits. Absinthe is the drink favored by artists and writers including Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh.

They sit you down at a table equipped with an Absinthe fountain. The fountain allows iced water to drip over a lump of sugar into the green aniseed concoction.

Some of these drinks are 75 proof!

You are only allowed three because of the strength.

If you had more, you might see a bright green Kylie Minogue fluttering about!!!

**

I’ll leave you with some trademarks of Australia:

Kangaroos, koalas, platypuses and other critters, outback pubs, BBQ’s, and Aboriginal dances and art.

Australian inventions include the bionic ear and the black box flight recorder.

Canberra, New South Wales, is the capital.

****

Australia is as Big as your imagination and mine is very BIG!

Visit Cuba via My Imagination

Now that I’m retired from traveling long distances, I’m going to travel the world in my head, using my imagination.

***

“What’s up, brother?” said the cool cat smoking a cigar, dressed to the nines, sitting next to me in the Cuban Club.

“I’m just admiring your clothes, my friend,” I said, sipping my minty Mojito ( a Cuban cocktail of rum, sugar, lime juice, soda water and mint).

“Thank you, I try to look good,” he smiled.

He was wearing a white fedora, white shirt with red tie, red a black stripped vest, a white sports jacket, grey trousers and two-toned, white and black shoes.

***

I was in Havana, the capital of Cuba, checking my itinerary of things to do in Cuba.

“I’m hungry, what’s good here?” I asked.

My friend in the cool suit recommended a Cuban favorite, called Ajiaco stew, featuring potatoes, beef chunks, plantains, corn and old beer. Home cooked.

I ordered it, along with another Mojito. It was delicious. A man was plucking away at a double bass fiddle in the corner—good music to eat by.

***

I wandered over to the book rack and looked at all the 1959 revolutionary magazines on display—Castro and Che Guevera.

I walked out into the hot, sunny afternoon and heard the cheers of the crowd in the nearby baseball park. Baseball is the most played sport in Cuba. It was introduced by American dock workers in the late 1800’s.

***

I wandered around some more, past the old colonial houses with terraces.

I came upon a lot with 1950’s classic American cars, of which collectors would kill for.

From Oldsmobile to Chevrolet, Buick to Ford and Plymouth.

These were the Cuban’s everyday vehicles.

I asked the proprietor if I could rent one. He said he would drive me around in one for a fee. I picked out a Cadillac Eldorado and hopped in the passenger side.

“Why all the old classic American cars in Cuba?” I asked my driver.

“When Castro came to power he banned imports on foreign cars. So all the 1950’s cars were frozen in Cuba.”

The suspension was still ultra cushiony, a beautiful ride in a gigantic sedan.

We passed some beautiful scenery and some poor neighborhoods.

My driver let me off at a waterfront street festival. I walked around watching and listening reggae bands and jazz musicians. And there were salsa dancers on every corner.

***

I decided to try a Havana cigar. It was long and fat, made of fermented tobacco leaves.

I puffed a few times and then I made the mistake of inhaling.

I became light-headed. It was strong on flavor and quite an experience!

I imagined people getting HIGH on them.

***

So, on my imaginary trip to Cuba I experienced all the trademarks of Cuba:

The rum, the food, the salsa, the classic American cars, the poverty and the color of the festivals, and of course the cigars.

I saw the colonial architecture and the mixture of African, Caribbean and Latin culture with all the melodic rhythms that lure tourists from around the world.

***

I also learned some statistics on Cuba:

It’s 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

Havana is the capital.

The population is 11,500,000 approx.

The official language is Spanish, but many speak English as a second language.

***

Cuba is a bizarre nation, from it’s colonial relics to it’s palm-backed beaches.

The Paradoxes of Crime and Deviance

“CRIME IS ON THE RISE!” Screams the headline.

Tom and I were concerned about this alarming headline so we decided to do a study of crime and deviance.

“Tom, what do our values and norms have to do with crime and deviance?”

“Well Dave, our values are general beliefs about what is right and wrong, the standards which are worth maintaining and achieving in society.

Norms are society’s rules which define correct and appropriate behavior in society, in other words, how to live together in an orderly way.”

***

“Dave, how do we CONTROL society in order to have the rules adhered to?”

“It stands to reason just knowing the values and norms of society doesn’t mean that people will always conform to them.

So we have agencies that carry out social control.

The formal agencies are the police, courts, probation service and prisons. The Criminal Justice System.

Informal agencies are the family, peers, education, the media, religion and the workplace.

All these agencies seek to encourage conformity by rewards and punishments.”

We both went silent for a couple of minutes trying to soak up and ponder this info.

“Tom, what’s the difference between deviance and crime?’

“Deviance is the failure to conform to social norms.

Crime is behavior which is against the law-law-breaking.

And I will add: A law is an official legal rule, formally enforced by the Criminal Justice System, involving legal punishment if it is broken.”

“People talk from a commonsense view but the trouble with common sense is that there are usually opposite opinions on any subject, people arguing always think their view is the common sense one.”

“So Dave, crime is difficult to understand and control.”

“Yes Tom, crime has been around as long as humans and the public outcries against it are as loud as ever.”

***

“Is crime and deviance built into the structure of society?”

“Some people think crime is a NORMAL state of affairs.”

“WOW! DAVE, THAT IS A SHOCKER STATEMENT!!!”

“Tom, we’ll get into that later, but here’s another view of crime.

Some people think criminals are simply BAD people, and the only way to deal with them is to punish them.”

“Well Dave, if you go back to the 1600’s, punishments were severe. People were hung for stealing a loaf of bread, some had their hands cut off.”

“That’s right, Tom, BUT those brutal punishments did NOT work. Crime kept increasing.”

“How come, Dave?”

“Because those severe punishments made the people callous, insensitive.

That was a bad person getting punished and this official violence made people feel that human suffering counted for very little.

Now days some people assert criminals have bad genes and it’s inborn and nothing can be done.”

***

“People ask themselves: Why would someone enter a life of crime and what can be done to help them back to the straight and narrow?”

“One view is that criminals come from broken homes in bad neighborhoods.

These stresses produce people that are insecure and hostile which leads to crime.”

“Dave, probably growing up in poverty and disillusionment these youths don’t feel attached to regular society and they lack opportunities to change their social condition.”

“Some people feel that criminals could be rehabilitated. So we have tried to make prisons NOT entirely for punishment BUT for reform and rehabilitation. Provide criminals in prison with recreational and educational facilities.”

We pondered the rehab view.

***

“Tom, it all sounds very altruistic BUT it simply has NOT worked. Crime has not fallen. The prisons provide a criminal learning base, inmates learn how to be better criminals. The prisoners uphold the criminal style of life even in prison.”

“So Dave, deprivation doesn’t always lead to crime. Not everyone from a divorced family becomes a crook. Not everyone who is poor becomes a criminal. Deviant people are also found in Middle-Class areas as well as poor ones. Then there is white-collar crime perpetrated by Middle and Upper Class people.”

***

“There is another theory, it’s called the “Labeling Theory”.

Not every criminal gets caught, but when they do, they get labeled as a criminal. And this label gives them a criminal identity.”

“So, the criminal identity follows them through life and it perpetuates the criminal career.”

“Yes Tom, but the most radical view of crime is that “Crime is Socially Created”.

Thus it is the Capitalist System that makes some people poor and others rich.

Crime can be seen as one version of economic struggle.”

“I see what you are trying to say, Dave, you can blame crime on social stratification. The division of society into a hierarchy of unequal social groups: rich, middle and lower and that creates conflict.”

“Some people say if you could eliminate class domination, you could eliminate crime.”

***

“Dave, what is the view that encompasses all of this?”

“This will surprise you, Tom. The view declares that crime is NORMAL, even necessary in all societies!”

“What! Dave you’ve got to be joking.”

“I kid you NOT, Tom. Crime and punishment are a basic part of the RITUALS that hold society together.”

“I still can’t believe it.”

“Think about it Tom, the process of punishing or reforming criminals is NOT to have an effect on the criminal, BUT to perform a RITUAL for the benefit of society.”

“Maybe it makes sense now that I remember the definition of a RITUAL. It is a standard ceremonial behavior carried out by a group. Carrying out rituals over and over is what keeps a group together.”

“Now you’ve got it Tom, in the case of punishing criminals, the group that is held together is NOT the criminal group but the REST of society, the people who punish the criminals.”

“Can you give me an example of one of these rituals?”

“The whole courtroom scene is a ritual of the enactment of justice.

The judge symbolizes the Law. The lawyers argue each side of the case and looking on is the public, who are the object of the ritual.

The trial is staged for their benefit. The trial reaffirms the belief in society’s laws and it creates emotional bonds that tie the people together.

The public is impressed that the laws exist and they are NOT to be violated.

These rituals convince society of the validity of having RULES.

The criminal is the raw material for the ritual.”

***

“People pay a lot of attention to crime, don’t they Dave?”

“Yes, because it reasserts their feelings of righteousness and their membership in a respectable society.”

“So, crime is built into the social structure. The rituals of punishment dramatize the moral feelings of the society and holds them together.”

***

“I’m wondering, Dave, if the social structure is producing crime, is there a limit to how much it produces?”

“Well Tom, crime NEVER gets to the saturation point.

The law-enforcement side does control some crime, BUT the real reason is that crime sets it’s own limit.”

Tom pondered Dave’s point.

“Tell me Dave, how does crime set it’s own limit?”

“It’s ironic really. Lets look at what happens when crime becomes more and more successful.

The criminal organization becomes a society of their own. It creates their own hierarchy, they make rules and they enforce these rules on their own members.

The more successful a crime organization gets the more it progresses towards normalcy. It starts to approximate an ordinary business.

The very success of the organization tends to make it more law-abiding and they abandon their criminal tendencies. It is forced to create a morality to survive.

Crime actually then, drives out crime. Ironic!”

***

“In conclusion, crime is built into the social structure. The Criminal Justice System is NOT very effective in counteracting criminality, BUT because crime punishment is used in rituals, it cements society together.

Also, crime has its own limitations, as it becomes organized, it goes back into the normal world, whether it likes it or not.”

***

“One more thing: Deviance and crime may NOT always be harmful to society!

Without deviance or even crime there would be NO possibility of innovation and change.

The rebels and reformers, the campaigners for peace and justice have all been labeled as criminals.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 30 years for alleged terrorist offences in fighting a white racist society in South Africa, thus changing it and he became President of South Africa.

Che Guevera fought in the 50’s against a corrupt regime in Cuba and the regime was changed and he became Minister of Industry in Socialist Cuba.

It’s often the non-conformists and law-breakers who have contributed to changes which we would regard as a benefit to all.”

Free Speech Under Threat

A friend of mine made a joke about how easy it is to get a degree now days. Youngsters opt for weak minded, mickey mouse, courses such as ,”Travel and Tourism, Events Management, Film Studies, etc.

These are not as challenging as Physics, History or Maths and Science.

He was challenged by the group saying he was making fun of people taking legitimate courses. The challengers told him:

“You Can’t Say That!”. You’re offending the people taking the courses, you’re putting them down as ignorant. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

***

My friend was taken aback by the outburst.

When he told me of the incident, I immediately thought of how people give lip service to Free Speech in principle but being against it in practice.

It seemed to me Free Speech had fallen out of fashion.

So I got together with my friend, Tom, who was the perpetrator of the offending remark, to discuss how free speech is under threat.

***

“Tom, give me a definition of “Politically Correctness.”

“Well Dave, it’s the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are seen to marginalize, insult or exclude groups of people who are disadvantaged or discriminated against.

Language and actions that are or could be offensive to others should be avoided.”

“Right on Tom. This fear of being offensive brings to mind the Charlie Hebdo massacre, where 12 journalists were shot in the Paris offices of the satirical magazine by Islamist gunmen in revenge for mocking Muhammad.”

“Yes, that was terrible.”

“Charlie Hebdo had every right to draw their cartoons, but some people criticized them.

It seems the motto of our age is: “You Can’t Say That!”

“Dave, I am of the opinion that the only speech I would censor is: Speech that proposes or incites physical violence on people or property because that violence is illegal.”

“I agree Tom, but I don’t agree in the belief of a person’s right to suppress whatever they find offensive. Hate speech are moral views a person objects to. But one person’s hate speech is another’s passionate belief. I live by the motto, “Question Everything.”

***

“Dave, lets go over the main enemies of Free Speech in today’s world.”

“Okay Tom, I’ll start with OFFICIAL CENSORS in government who want to control offensive speech—enter the hate-speech laws.”

“I’ll follow up with UNOFFICIAL CENSORS. The Twitter mobs and online petitioners trying to silence everybody whose views are not to their taste.”

“And finally, there is SELF-CENSORSHIP. Because of the first two, people shy away from expressing any strong views.”

***

“Remember Dave, what liberty means with Free Speech in mind:

It means the right to tell people what they do NOT want to hear!”

“We need to lose the fear of free speech. There are times when you feel embarrassment because you said something different from what is expected and then you feel you should apologise the moment anybody takes exception.”

“Freedom of speech is about YOUR RIGHT to think what you like and say what you think, As long as we have expressed the truth as we understand it and then allow others the freedom to respond.”

***

“The Establishment promotes the fear of free speech because of their loathing of the masses, who might use the freedom as they see fit rather than as they were told.”

“Remember, as Tom said previously, direct threats of violence are NOT a free-speech issue.

But anything that restricts a person’s right to express an opinion, tell a joke, or their right to criticize somebody else for doing so—is a free-speech issue.”

“With the right of Free Speech comes responsibilities. We have a responsibility to speak what we believe to be the truth and leave others free to disagree.”

***

“In conclusion: We must fight for the RIGHT to think what we like, and say what we think.”

The Elite and Democracy

I recently met a man who works as an assistant to a politician and he told me what he thinks about the masses who vote and I imagine he was reiterating the views of his boss as well. They both graduated from prestige universities.

He regarded the masses with scorn and apprehension. He paid lip service to Democracy in principle but NOT in practice.

Everything he stood for was an attempt to delegitimize the results of the people’s vote.

He thought that there was “too much” Democracy because it entrusts too much influence to low informed, over emotional people.

He cited two examples: The Brexit vote and Trump’s election. He favored the current establishment idea of a second referendum vote on Brexit to cancel out the first vote. And it was the great “unwashed” deplorables that elected Trump.

He repudiated the results of these two earthquakes because he didn’t like the results.

In general he thought allowing the votes of the populace to determine important issues a threat to Democracy.

He wanted more power to be exercised by the Elite Establishment which are an insulated political class.

In his mind some voters (the elite) were more equal than others (the populace).

***

So, what’s happened to: Government of the People, by the People and for the People?

It seems that the Establishment always tries to SCARE the electorate into okaying things that the electorate didn’t want and then they go ahead and do it.

After listening to this man, who fancied himself a member of the Elite, I had to write a blog on the “Elite Repudiating the People’s Will”.

So, I met up with my buddy, Tom, to have a discussion on the Elite and Democracy, on which I would base my blog.

***

“Hey Tom, give me a definition of Democracy.”

“Well Dave, it’s a system of government where the citizens exercise power by voting and the majority wins.

In our system it’s called representative democracy, where the people elect reps from among themselves and these reps are supposed to act in the interests of their constituents.”

“That just about sums it up, Tom. Now, I will give you a definition of “The Elite Establishment”.

It’s middle and upper class professionals who dominate politics, culture, education and the media. They try to enforce conformity, they want to regulate speech and distill the truth for the masses.”

“That’s it, Dave. And I would add they are a closed group that want to perpetuate themselves and their position. They are insulated from the wider population and they want to make sure their interests are met.”

***

“So Tom, what recently have the Establishment repudiated?”

“They repudiated the Brexit referendum results and the election of Trump, in so doing they denied the validity of the results and they refused to accept them because they didn’t correspond to their interests.”

“SO, THE VOTES FOR THESE TWO POLITICAL EARTHQUAKES REPRESENTED A REVOLT OF THE POPULACE AGAINST THE ELITE ESTABLISHMENT.

Then the Elite started talking about their low opinion of the judgement of the voters. They even tried to play the “Race Card”. But you can’t write off millions of voters by using the over-worked race card.”

***

“So Tom, what needs to be done?”

“In my mind, Democracy has to be lived more than once every election.

We need to defend democratic principles instead of it being a case of “too much democracy”, there is at the moment far too little democracy.”

“I think the Establishment are trying to take the people out of Democracy, by saying: The people are ignorant, the people are irrational, the people are gullible and finally the people don’t know what’s good for them.”

“So, the Elite,” Tom said soberly,” think it’s better to leave the big issues to them, they know what’s best for the people. They are the “experts.”

***

“The political debates on TV are over-rehearsed and empty.

The electorate is reduced to the role of passive spectator.

Local public debates in town halls is a lost art, it should be revived.

Maybe there could be more debates on the internet.”

“All good points, Dave. One argument against popular democracy is that voters are at the mercy of the Media. Much of the top echelon of the Media Empires are now seen as part of the Elite. The people listen exclusively to the Media and are unduly influenced by them is a Myth.

Trump was elected despite being vilified by the Media. He won the election though he only was supported by two major newspapers.”

“Right on Tom, the media reflects the issues of the day, it doesn’t dictate them.

It reflects public life and it helps to shape our perception of it, but we don’t have to be totally influenced by it. We can think for ourselves.”

***

“Tom, I believe political power is exercised from on high by an insulated political class. What’s to be done?”

“Dave, I believe we need MORE debate and participation in the Democratic process. We need to put the people back at the heart of Democracy.”

“We need to go over the basics of democratic freedom, because these basics are glossed over and forgotten in a world where everybody pays lip service to Democracy in principle while trying to deny it in practice.”

“Okay Tom, lets list some of the basics. I’ll start with:

Direct Democracy where the culture is infused with public debate, town hall style, where the people’s will is paramount. Maybe more debates on the internet where the Elite would read and listen to it and pay attention.”

“I’d like to talk about the Masses, Dave. This is the group that you and I are in and which the Elite look down on as a mob of deplorables. It’s called Mass-Bashing.”

When it comes to making political decisions the wisdom of the Masses is better than the narrow view of the “experts”. The Masses bring real life experience to the table.”

“How about this: Don’t out source authority over major issues to unelected judges.

Unelected judges should NOT sit in judgement of political issues affecting the whole of society. These issues need the widest public debate.”

“The Elite want to beat us into conformity and they want us to believe they are the experts.”

***

“So, in conclusion, we need to put the people (demos) back in Democracy and give them the power and control (kratos) to make informed choices through public debates that our officials listen to and act upon. I’ll leave you with this:

AN EXPERT CAN TAKE SOMETHING YOU ALREADY KNOW AND MAKE IT SOUND CONFUSING.”

 

 

 

Becoming a Better Listener

“I have a brain that’s skating on the thin ice of anxiety, depression, depersonalization and just being alive,” said Larry.

I wanted to help people like Larry so I embarked on a journey to learn more about Listening Skills.

***

It boggles the mind how many qualities a Listener Helper needs!

They are:

Empathy—this is very important for successful helping.

It’s the ability to be in another’s shoes, to see their world from their perspective.

Gaining understanding of another’s problems.

Sincerity—being genuine means that you are what you seem.

Respect—to enable someone to talk to you about their issues you need an attitude of acceptance and respect of their struggles.

Integrity—act with honesty and uprightness in your dealings with those you try to help.

Resilience—helping people through talking is very demanding. You need strength of character to cope.

Humility—consider your own failings and remember you are NOT superior to the help-seeker.

Fairness—treat people as equals. As a helper strive to recognize any tendencies to behave unfairly and overcome them.

Wisdom—you need to be well informed and you need to have an open mind.

Courage—listening to difficult issues requires courage, you may feel out of your depth. You might have to compromise one value in favor of another.

Competence—is a combination of knowledge and skills and knowing when to use them.

Listen Carefully—so that the help-seeker can work out for themselves what the problem really is and what to do about it.

Assertiveness—the ability to stay true to yourself and what you think is right, to speak plainly and directly without being aggressive or imposing your ideas on another.

***

Then there is the problem of recognizing your own barriers to listening.

You bring your own history to the helping situation which can be a help or a hindrance. Your defenses protect your value system when listening.

Your defenses can be a BLOCK to the helping situation. Such as:

Judging others by your own set of values.

Advising—you need to be listening and just be present. You don’t have to search for advice because you might miss hearing about a person’s feelings.

Being Right and Comparing—your opinions and convictions are unshakable.

Listening is hard work because you’re always trying to assess who is more competent—you or the other person.

Filtering—you listen to some things but not others.

IT’S NOT EASY BEING A GOOD LISTENER!

Sometimes you have to CONFRONT the help-seeker by drawing their attention to discrepancies and gaps in their story.

Confronting may be uncomfortable and you will need careful phrasing to prevent confronting being viewed as an attack.

Questioning can be tricky because it puts the client in a subordinate role or on the defensive.

If you have to question, use OPEN questions.

That means asking questions that encourage elaboration.

Such questions begin with how, when, what, where and who.

Avoid beginning with WHY? Because they tend to sound accusative and demanding.

You ask open questions to fill out the story and to gain a more complete understanding of the problem and the help-seeker.

***

It’s also important to encourage the client (help-seeker) to explore their problems.

You must consider the whole person in context to give you a better understanding of the problem that is brought before you.

Try to identify the signs of distress:

Body—is there disturbances in patterns of sleep and eating or symptoms of panic. Are there facial tics and body stiffness.

Emotion—is there strangeness of feelings or the person might appear withdrawn or listless.

Sensation—are there heart palpitations or shallow breathing.

Thinking—they might have disordered thinking which is a by-product of shock and stress. Until there is catharsis (releasing of emotions) the person may NOT think straight.

Behavior—the client can act erratically or be prone to obsessive behavior. They may be snappy and negative in their responses.

Spirit—distressed people become dispirited and lose faith in life.

***

A good Listener has to recognize issues that Cause or Result in Distress, such as:

Dealing with Change—many of the issues which present themselves to you as a listener helper are concerned with CHANGE.

Many people have never learned to manage change. Anxiety comes with change.

People become paralysed in the face of change (death of loved one or illness, etc).

Working with Loss—many of life’s changes involve some sort of Loss. Loosing health or loved ones or a job leads to negative self-judgement and self-esteem.

Dealing with Life Stages—the stages are transitions such as childhood, adulthood, employee, spouse, parent, pensioner, all involve adaptation and stress.

Controlling Unmanageable Feelings—negative thinking, mood swings, depression, etc. To be in the grip of unmanageable feelings is disorientating, worrying and extremely unpleasant.

***

Points to remember:

The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your arm—in other words, help yourself with the aid of a good Listener.

***

Criticism should always leave a person with the feeling that they have been helped.

***

It’s nice to know that when you help someone up a hill you are a little nearer the top yourself.

***

Now I need to get some practice with listening to peoples problems.

WATCH FOR THE NEXT BLOG.

I Became a Listener Helper

A friend told me, one day out of the blue, that he was looking for a listener to help with his problem of Depersonalization Disorder (DPD). His wife of 30 years had just died, and it was a great shock to him.

After this shock to his mind he felt that all that used to be familiar was now foreign to him!

***

A Listening Helper is someone who helps another to explore their issues by using listening skills.

Most people find talking to an interested listener is good therapy. People want to unburden themselves to another person.

***

My friend told me what was important to him when talking to a Listener:

He wanted to feel that the person he was talking to had some empathy for his feelings that arose in his situation.

He wanted the Listener to offer ideas but only after he talked his problem through and he is clear about the situation.

He wanted to talk to someone who can be calm, unbiased and demonstrate understanding and shows that he is listening.

***

The Listener can ask questions to clarify the problem.

The Listener can give ideas to help solve the problem.

He wanted someone with good counseling skills such as:

Listening intently to the speaker to find out how they feel about their problem.

Prescribing and setting a course of action that the speaker can commit to.

Questioning to set the agenda, deciding the course of the conversation.

***

Then my friend started telling his story:

After the death of his wife of 30 years he became very stressed. He felt disconnected from the world, unfamiliar with people, objects and surroundings that were familiar before the trauma. He felt numb, like he was broke mentally and had lost his “self”.

He tried to act normal around others but really felt like an outsider.

He wanted to unburden himself by telling me his story.

He finished and stared blankly out the window.

***

I suddenly realized I was the “Listener Helper”.

I took psychology in college and I’ve read about DPD.

Because he came to me with his problem I had to try to help him.

His name is Jim.

***

“How do you feel right now, Jim?”

“Lately, I have not felt anything but fear, confusion and despair.

Things feel UNREAL to me and I feel detached from myself.

I feel like I’m floating around. I wonder why this is happening?”

“Well Jim, I’ve read that this disorder is the mind’s way of coping with overwhelming shock or stress.

The mind detaches itself from the surroundings for the purpose of survival.”

“ But Listener Helper, please tell me why I feel so weird?”

“Jim, this disorder is called, “Depersonalization” for a reason.

It attacks the one thing that you carry with you everywhere, every day—your SELF! It destroys the things that make you a person, and it drains your ability to make things personal and real.”

***

“Sometimes, I feel like the stranger inside of me is talking to me.”

“What does the stranger say, Jim?”

“It says: “I am the stranger inside of you and I will make you feel like a stranger to yourself. I did NOT have to ruin your life. You let me do it!”

“Well, that tells you that you CAN expel the stranger with the right therapy.”

“But I think about what’s wrong with me constantly!”

“Jim, you can’t THINK yourself out of DPD!

When thoughts about your problem get stuck in your mind it becomes an obsession.

Also, mental rumination constantly mulls over problems which, in turn, creates chronic worry. Excessive self-focus only will add to your discomfort.”

***

“What can be done about my DPD?”

“I’ll make a suggestion but YOU have to apply it.

ACCEPTANCE is the key to psychological flexibility.”

“You’re telling me to accept my suffering, how dare you.”

“Struggling and fighting against suffering keeps perpetuating the distress and intensifies it”

“Carry on, Mr. Listener Helper.”

“Your mind has a tendency to present its content as absolutely “true”.

In normal circumstances this is good because if you don’t believe what the mind is telling you, you might not react when faced with a dangerous situation.

But if you say to yourself: I am depressed and feel lousy. Then if you take that as true you will create anxiety and possibly DPD!”

***

“So, what can be done about my inflexibility?”

“Well Jim, my suggestions are: Do what works as opposed to doing what feels right.

Accept you DPD and stay engaged with life.

Be willing to endure and accept DPD emotional pain and continue living your life.”

***

“Conclusion please.”

“To fight DPD you need to Let Go and live alongside it.

You will recover from feelings of detachment by surrendering to your strange feelings. Stop focusing on how weird you feel and “Live Your Life.”

“So, you’re telling me to pay NO attention to my strange feelings and just get on with my life no matter how I feel.”

“That’s right. Trust in you body’s natural healing system.

Stop caring, stop watching, stop analyzing and ACCEPT how you feel without question. Then the DPD will fade away.”

“Thank you for being my Listener Helper.”

“You’re welcome, Jim. I will leave you with this:

You have been hitting your broken arm each day with a hammer and it is STILL BROKEN! It will mend itself when you STOP hitting it!”

A Better World: In the Past, In the Present, or in the Future?

The world of the Past… 50—60 years ago.

We would play outside all day without fear.

We would have quiet family dinners where we talked about our day.

We enjoyed radio and used our imagination when listening to stories.

Early TV had no sex and much less violence.

Family would live close by.

Police used to walk the streets and check that doors were locked.

We had fewer material possessions but we were happy in our simple life.

There was more discipline in the home which taught children values.

There was respect for elders.

We played softball in the park, played hide and seek, marbles and built go- carts from old wooden boxes.

Life was harder because there were less labor-saving devices but people were genuinely happy on the whole.

***

The world in the Present…

A look at the recent headlines and you would conclude that things are pretty bad.

You would be pushed to pessimism.

And yet the optimists say that we live in the best of times, poverty has fallen and we have more labor-saving devices now.

But in these hyper info times we seem to be addicted to bad news which leads us to believe things are worse than they are.

The optimists say since things have been improving there is no reason why they won’t continue to improve.

But why assume that? It’s not feasible to predict future results by past performance.

***

What about the Future? Will it be better or worse?

You get different answers from Pessimists, from Optimists and from Realists!

An optimist would say the world will get better because we will get new technologies that will help us do things easier. Robots with artificial intelligence will do our work.

A pessimist would say the world will NOT get better because basic human nature is evil. Humans are predators, we eat meat and we have an instinct that enables people to kill. So we destroy our environment and create wars. Humans are evil and un-empathetic to each other. The world will NOT get better because human nature will NOT change!

A realist would say that you have to look on both sides, negative and positive.

Hopefully education will be the answer for future generations to make better decisions and be more tolerant in their views. Then humanity will continue to grow powerful and more civilized. But there is a lot of work to do if we are to make things better.

***

So lets look at human nature , is it good or bad?

Is man capable of making a better world?

Man can be very good or very bad. Man is caring at times and creative, but also man is a manipulator, exploiter, abuser and a killer.

***

So what’s the answer?

We need to prepare to cope with bad events and confront our own destructiveness. Hopefully we will become wiser and better prepared to cope with life and build a better world.

***

In approaching the topic of a “Better World” we talked about Realism, Optimism and Pessimism, lets examine these:

Pro Realist:

Assuming and expecting something that is NOT real is living in an imaginary world.

Being realistic allows a person to make decisions based on fact not on false hopes.

Being optimistic is narrowing your mind because you only see one side of an issue.

Realism sees both sides, negative and positive.

Realists are more well adjusted than optimists and they are more objective and unbiased.

Pro Optimist:

They say that optimists live healthier lives and have more hope and faith.

They say we need some optimism to live life enjoyably.

Optimism gives us determination and perseverance.

***

A Pessimist looks on the negative side of things. This creates anxiety.

***

In conclusion:

The world of the future is in for rapid change. Science is delving more into A.I. and robots. Will this threaten our own human nature?

No, it won’t. Since the beginning of time, humans have had the ability to pull through the worst situations.

Are we in for big changes?

Yes, we are, BUT these changes will bring forth a better world, hopefully.

New technologies will alter human life, BUT, human nature will always have a place in our world, because we have moral principles that we have set. Our values and morals will control change.

HAVE NO FEAR, WE WILL PREVAIL!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turning Eighty

This blog post is dedicated to all those who have turned eighty this year and to all those who have yet to turn eighty this year.

***

If, when you turn eighty, you’re not a cripple, if you have a semblance of health, if you are content even though your world has narrowed and finally if you can keep from growing sour, surly, bitter and cynical, people, you’ve got it (old age)

licked!

So many eighty year olds fear loss of physical and mental abilities to such a degree that they ruin what time they have left. They walk by a shop window and sneak a look at themselves, they do NOT recognize the image in the reflection.

After a few seconds they are forced to remake their own acquaintance. It’s a horror story, you no longer know yourself at first sight! They say to themselves:

“The past seems horrible, the present gray and desolate and the future utterly appalling!”

***

But, my friends, it doesn’t have to be like this. Your point of view can be less bleak. You don’t have to concern yourself with the future. As for the past, you have made the most of it, good or bad. All you really have is the PRESENT, but very few of us ever live it fully, which is what you should do.

When you get to be eighty you get the ability NOT to take things so seriously.

You view life as more of a comedy than a tragedy—you know, one of those comedies in which while laughing your guts out, you feel your heart breaking.

The person who takes themselves too seriously is doomed!

***

Now lets get to the nitty gritty.

When you get to be eighty, questions pop up in your head:

How to come to terms with death?

How we react to our personal death has a great impact on how we live in old age.

What meaning does this life have, this death, this suffering? For what have I lived?

Some people answer with: I was productive and contributed to society.

Is there something that transcends this life? Religious people believe in an afterlife. Atheists usually say: They were nothing before they were born and after death there is nothing.

Without a personal answer or position to the question of dealing with death, a seed of unrest will remain and disturb your last years. With a position on the question there is peace of mind.

***

How to deal with the transitoriness of life?

Everything is transitory—that means NOT lasting, brief and short-lived.

We have to say goodbye to a lot of things in old age: our work, loss of physical strength, loss of mental flexibility, loss of friends and relatives.

You MUST think of the things you have done, the opportunities you took and lived, they are an integral part of your life and can’t be undone by transitoriness.

YOU HAVE BEEN IS THE ESSENCE OF YOUR EXISTENCE.

***

How to relieve feelings of isolation?

You’ve retired and your world has narrowed and you are forced back into yourself.

Can I still maintain a conversation with myself?

You can talk internally to yourself and break the isolation.

***

So in conclusion:

Don’t sour on life, there is nothing wrong with life itself, it is the ocean in which we swim and we have to adapt to it or sink!

When an eighty year old looks back at their life they say to themselves:

“ONE DOES THEIR BEST, BUT IT IS NEVER GOOD ENOUGH.”

Happy Eightieth Birthday!