As much as you may get upset about the passing of another day, nothing will change. As frustrated as you are about your mood, the slow flow of your thoughts and the obscure reasons by which the universe is governed, nothing will change, precisely as King Solomon predicted.
It would be remarkable if it were possible to experience some long-forgotten era, its nuances, its graces. To experience not simply flat images like we see in movies, but actually the real world of that time with all of its dimensions, allowing one to sense the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings of the time. Which time? Any time; it doesn’t matter. How colorful were the clothes in medieval ages? It is so difficult to imagine the normal, ordinary sky with normal, ordinary clouds slowly passing above medieval castles, filled with sounds of long forgotten words. Somewhere in the fields a fight is at its climax: the blood is red, the swords are sharp, and the death is real. The problems of medieval Europe are still contemporary politics and don’t yet belong to history. Everything is serious and scary; the reality is unrelenting and painful. Somewhere in the depths of the forest, lovers are embracing each other and their feelings are the same as in our modern times, times that haven’t lost their romance despite the calamities of the electronic era. Imagination is an excellent hideout for poets, philosophers, and the insane.
It is great to sink into the times of Socrates and listen to the melody of the ancient Greek language that sounds so Oriental to our ears, even though it has become an ancestor to many of our modern words. Look at the broad forehead of Plato, which gave him his name. Do you realize that all of these people once existed? They moved, lived, breathed, spoke, and were an integral part of the routine reality of their times, which even though filled with the colors of existence was probably very boring. It does not exist anymore. Neither does the blackness of night above Athens exist, even though the stars over my backyard are still in almost the same positions as they were 2500 years ago, and the Milky Way is just the same as it was above the ancient columns and roofs that had just been built and freshly painted.
When you look at the sky it is all the same as it was in the Middle Ages, in ancient Greece, and even as it was above some lost civilization that we haven’t yet uncovered. Even still, imagination can help us revive the smell of their wine, the taste of their bread, and the strength of their bulls.
One day, our reality will turn into the same pale dance of someone else’s imagination, our history and importance relegated to their interests. Sometimes I feel that I breathe the air of these forgotten times, read their thoughts, emotions and dreams as if they were my own. I feel like I am part of all these vanished eras, and that the future has yet to unfold. I feel like I am ready to start my journey to a forgotten, undiscovered country, whose name is “The Joys of Common Sense”.
hether we like it or not, our life is filled with both obvious and hidden conflicts that are usually caused by clashes between real interests and imaginary reasons. Life itself starts with conflict: the first cry of a baby, its face showing a grimace of suffering and protest against the force that pushes it out, is a good illustration of this first conflict of our lives. We spend all the stages of our lives, our youth, our adult years, and even our senior years, in conflict. Our struggles are eternal and remain our closest companions throughout our existence; thus any mature individual is an experienced fighter, while his main opponents are his co-workers and the ones he loves most.
The cycle of struggle includes a constant exchange of numerous punches, until destiny separates the opponents and they find new opponents to fight with. Sometimes people succeed in destroying each other in a more efficient manner; for example, they may kill each other. But here we will not address such extreme cases. The substance of our concern is the endless sequence of minor conflicts that constitutes our entire life.
People fight not only with other people, but also with inanimate objects; for example, when we get hit by a chair or a table we react very similarly to the way we would react to a person in that situation—we curse, threaten, or sometimes even try to hit back. In more advanced stages of our obsession we even talk to inanimate objects; we may beg them and sometimes even threaten them. Most of the time this happens when we communicate with our computers. It is not uncommon to hear, “Come on! Don’t do that to me!” We often address our computers this way, especially when they freeze.
Once when I got angry at my computer I even went so far as to spit at the monitor; that’s why I always keep a box of Kleenex at my desk. Sometimes we argue with our computers, and most of the time they win. They win because they don’t have any emotions, and being emotional doesn’t help when you are trying to win an argument. But being passionate usually helps, because passion is not just an empty emotion. Passion is the pure energy of our soul.
Most of the time we have conflicts with animate objects like pets, or even mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are the only species that we kill on a daily basis. Of course we eat meat—beef and chicken—which is a result of daily killings, but we as consumers are not involved in the butchering process. In the case of mosquitoes we are the active killers; because when we defend ourselves that usually justifies any killing.
Look at the kinds of conflicts we have with God, destiny, fate, or whatever we call the superior force that governs our lives.
We fight the laws of nature. We especially hate gravity; when things fall on the floor we usually say “damn gravity!” and this is no joke. By saying this we are opposing a basic force in the universe, without which practically nothing can exist. We fight gravity by saying “why can’t we fly like birds?” and we actually are overcoming it—by flying in our dreams. With the advent of manned flight we are now conquering the laws of physics to achieve those dreams.
We also fight the temperature. We are a moderate species, so we do not enjoy the extremes of temperature at either end of its range. Most of all we hate and fight death—the fact that we are all inevitably going to die drives us crazy. In the lengthy, boring process of evolution—from simple one-celled organisms to our present stage of development as well-developed multi-celled organisms with obvious esthetic and spiritual needs—nature has taught us by imprinting in our long- term memory and subconscious that death is a major failure of our life and one that should be constantly avoided and prevented at all costs.
The process of fighting consumes a lot of our energy which we lose in a series of offences and defenses, aggressions and withdrawals, the “slings and arrows” of outrageous fortune that William Shakespeare has so eloquently elucidated for us. This fighting was vital in the early stages of our evolution as human beings, because a refusal to fight signified unavoidable death. But in modern society the refusal to fight sometimes, although not necessarily, constitutes a death threat. Luckily western culture doesn’t kill losers, which is a good thing because some so-called “losers” that refuse to fight for the illusory values of modern society—like career, wealth, and power—have an opportunity to use their energy for peaceful observation of our world, our universe, and our place therein. These “losers” are called philosophers. I don’t mean the guys that fight their way through academic institutions to get high degrees in philosophy; I’m speaking of the simple people that have chosen a lifestyle of deep thought and observation as a way of spending their time and attention.
That is the true freedom of choice: refuse to take part in most of the conflicts and just forgive the offender, whoever or whatever it is: a table that you get hit by, your neighbor that has stolen something from you, or your friend that has betrayed you for the thousandth time. Forgiveness of the enemy is the best way to save your energy for a better cause. The fighting and hatred that are always involved in any struggle are very destructive for both parties involved. They hurt both our spirit and our mind; they distract us from really worthy issues that should be explored and given thought to. Moreover, a life full of conflicts could be considered irrational, because in the modern world you cannot really prevail by destroying your opponent; you cannot kill your neighbor without suffering severe consequences, nor can you kill your friend who probably deserves it for betraying you time and time again. Therefore, no matter how hard you fight you will always feel dissatisfied with the results, even in the case of ultimate victory, because modern society doesn’t allow conflicts to continue to their natural point of resolution—which in nature often constitutes the killing or destruction of the enemy. In today’s world, there is no way to destroy an enemy without destroying yourself. The death I speak of is not merely physical, but more of a spiritual and moral corruption that necessitates our demise.
In order to execute our true freedom of choice we must consider forgiveness of our enemies and opponents, because the one who forgives always has the choice of whether or not to forgive. The one who is forgiven, who always fights, is just an object of aggressive tendencies and therefore enjoys less freedom of choice, because he will always revert to the baser instincts of conflict. For as Sun Tzu says:
“There is no greater misfortune than that of underestimating your enemy. Underestimating your enemy means thinking that he is evil. Thus you destroy your three treasures and become an enemy yourself. When two great forces oppose each other, the victory will go to the one who knows how to yield.”
In contemplation and introspection we allow ourselves to embrace freedom of choice, because we are no longer locked into a cycle of hatred and destruction. Through these enlightened philosophical positions we are able to pursue the most reasonable and morally suitable courses of action, which is something we should all seek to do.
o I feel free? I don’t think so. Freedom is not just a potential opportunity to do the things that one openly chooses to do, because most human actions are predicated on primal instincts such as fear. Moreover, most of the things that one makes others do are done out of fear. Of course they include not only fear, but also love and other passions, though fear stands out as the most significant component in the motivation for one’s actions.
I can justify this statement by simply analyzing the fact that fear is a major factor that survives across generations throughout the entire span of biological evolution as a result of natural selection. Organisms that experience more fear and are more aware of their surroundings express due diligence and caution in their actions and responses, thereby avoiding more life-threatening dangers. In their aversion they are sustaining their bloodline, or rather their genetic contributions to future generations, and ultimately increase their Darwinian Fitness (pass their genes to the next generation). We can assume that our ability to experience fear is a result of lengthy evolution. Christophe Lambert, in his book “La société de la peur” (“The Society of Fear”), argues that modern society is based on fear. It could be the fear of financial losses, unemployment, or inability to support one’s family, but it also can include the fear of solitude, fear of growing old, fear of sickness, and of course the fear of death. Lambert makes a strong statement that modern society provokes most of this fear by imposing competitive values and an intense pace of life. One of his major concerns is television, which he calls “le ‘nouvel’ opium du peuple” (“the new opium of the people”). Once it started as a very positive feature of life in the early 1950s, extending the horizons and the abilities of common people to acquire knowledge about other nations and about world events, but with time it has become so manipulative that it is difficult for the viewer to distinguish between truth and drama. Lambert mentions that society at the beginning of the twenty-first century still remembers the consequences of attempts to fulfill the utopian ideals of some questionable minds of the twentieth century: Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud.
Nietzsche continued to explore concerns with the existence of God, and therefore finished the work of the philosophers of the Enlightenment and the philosophers of the French revolution. By stating that “God is dead” he started a deep crack in the once-solid belief in the Almighty. He also created the concept of the “superman” that provided the foundation for Nazi attempts to improve the human race.
Karl Marx created a utopian economic theory by criticizing the old brand of capitalism of the nineteenth century, but he also made false predictions about the future development of class struggle which ultimately laid the basis for numerous communist states. This almost led to global nuclear war and a complete extinction of the human species.
Sigmund Freud, probably the most innocent of this trio, developed a theory of the subconscious, arguing that most people’s motivations are based on aggression and libido. This laid the groundwork for a series of sexual revolutions which occurred in the decades of the ‘20s, ‘50s, ‘70s, and ‘80s of the twenty-first century. Most likely Freud didn’t do much damage on a global scale and was also quite successful in developing methods of psychoanalytical theories. But we cannot ignore the likelihood that his ideas had a certain influence on the rate of divorce and jeopardized the institution of the family by diminishing the value of people’s relationships, bringing them down to the “libido-aggression” level.
Christophe Lambert, once again, brings up the statistics of divorce rates in France, which have grown 400% in the last forty years. According to other statistics, 1 in every 3 marriages in the United States ends in divorce. Solitude, absence of family support, confusing religious beliefs, indefinite sexual relationships, and frustrating and scary media provide a full portrait of our fears in a nutshell.
How is it possible to obtain freedom from fear? The only way that I can see is to combat the factors that create fear, the factors that we have analyzed above. In order to combat solitude we must learn to build our relationships on a mutual basis and not to expect more than the other party can give. This even though (as Lambert argues) the internet is separating people rather than connecting them, because it eliminates personal contact. Personally I cannot agree with this statement, because the Internet today allows video conversations and very intense socialization, even with the most distant parts of the world. So I would argue that we should praise the Internet as a wonderful medium for building great relationships and making new friends, because avenues now exist to meet professional colleagues and start relationships with total strangers, which would not otherwise be possible. We also must admit that the Internet is a safe way to do this, in so far as it is not possible to cause any harm in a physical way through such virtual means of communication.
We cannot diminish the importance of the basic needs of each and every individual to have some sort of system of belief that may or may not be based on conventional religious ideas. It doesn’t matter whether the individual chooses to be a believer or an atheist, but it is very important that he build a system of beliefs that he will feel comfortable with and then stay consistent with.
Lambert further argues that the main occupation of modern society is consumption. “Sex idols” have become a commodity not unlike oil, wheat, and sugar. In the same way that excessive consumption of sugar is not good for one’s health and may even cause diabetes, excessive consumption of “sex idols” is not good for your soul or your family and will eventually leave you in a state of isolation and solitude. Alain Delon, the famous French actor who ruled women’s hearts all over the world for almost half a century, now spends his days completely alone in the pleasant company of his three dogs and one cat, as the magazine “Paris Match” reports to its readers. When he was asked in an interview why he is not happy and why he is alone, he answered: “I wasn’t programmed for happiness. I was programmed for success.” Those two things don’t always come hand in hand. Therefore, the world is starting to turn its eyes from the wild promiscuity of the ‘70s and ‘80s to old-fashioned family values that we may choose to adopt in order to obtain freedom from fear of solitude and isolation.
It is important to move towards the restoration of the old-fashioned family values that have been destroyed in the wake of industrialization and post- industrialization. Emancipation, which granted equal rights to both sexes, also has a dark side in that it has deprived women of their privileges as the weaker gender which many women would love to restore. Society, in the era of total emancipation, has failed to provide basic childcare and educational services on a level comparable to that which could be insured by active parental involvement. There is a need to build strong family relationships using compromises and by expressing sincere interest in the problems and beliefs of your loved ones. This can provide us with at least a slight hope of not finding ourselves in old age suffering from solitude and isolation.
I believe that by limiting exposure to the media we may substantially reduce our level of fear and anxiety. We don’t realize how strongly we are influenced by the images we see on TV. One young woman who resides in a tiny French village was interviewed by TF1 and reported that she experienced a lot of fear. When asked why she felt this fear she answered, “Avec tout ce que l’on voit à la télé on a des raisons d’avoir peur” (“With all this that one can watch on TV, one has reasons to have fear”). If TV is negatively impacting the lives of modest inhabitants in distant villages, what can we expect from people living in the frenzy of modern cities?
Protecting ourselves from excessive exposure to the media might reduce our tendency to sink into consumerism, and therefore protect us from an obsession with consumption as the main focus of our lives. In abandoning consumerism as a lifestyle, we may be surprised to realize how few things a person really needs to support their existence.
When we manage to achieve freedom from fear, however, we will need to find a way to overcome our fear of freedom, because there is really nothing to fear but fear itself. The only question that remains is, are we ready to face the possibilities of a free existence?
Since the dawn of time philosophers and ordinary people have been speculating on human nature. Every succeeding generation approaches these issues with new arguments, because each new generation brings new ideas and speculations to allow a more thorough understanding of our laws, their morality, and their implications in society. For example, a well-known quotation by John Stuart Mill states,
“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied, and if the fool and pig are of different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.”
We can continue with a long list of similar dilemmas, like “it’s better to be honest and hungry rather than dishonest and full,” or “it is better to be a poor decent person rather than a rich crook.” But the problem is that it is obviously better to be a satisfied philosopher who can enjoy both sides of life, and it is better to be honest and full, rich and decent. It might be misleading that the categories mentioned above are self-exclusive.
Even though we understand the point that Mill was trying to make, that it is preferable to live a highly spiritual and intellectual life even though it may result in some discomfort or dissatisfaction, this belief is not necessarily an absolute certainty. Ethical truism and spiritual acceptance do not always mean discomfort and hardship. These virtues, along with being their own reward, bear the fruit of not only ethical pleasures but financial ones as well.
It is a very old, deceptive practice to argue that with great knowledge “[comes] great grief”, with all due respect to King Solomon, whose statement in Hebrew “yeda rav, tcar rav” (“great knowledge, great grief”) is a little bit outdated.
At the present time we know that our mood and the feeling of satisfaction are ultimately regulated by the chemistry of our brains. Most of the philosophers and great thinkers of the past experienced a lot of stress concerning their discoveries and thoughts that caused them to enter severe depressions. Fools and pigs obviously didn’t experience such pressures and therefore looked to be happier and more satisfied.
We cannot agree that the nature of knowledge itself bears on its shoulders some ancient curse of unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Modern methods of treating depression show that knowledge itself is not the cause of depression; the cause of depression is the stress that appears as a result of intensive thinking and attempts to analyze complicated concepts. With proper pharmaceutical correction these undesirable effects can be eliminated, allowing the pleasure of that knowledge to be even more intense and gratifying than simple earthly pleasures. Furthermore, the satisfaction that philosophy can give to human beings results in a more profound happiness than anything that ignorance or an illusory happiness could offer as the result of a “piggish and foolish” existence.
Let’s examine human nature in respect to the concepts discussed above. Everything that we can observe, realize, and sense is as subjective as the definitions of good and evil. These definitions are the only facts that can be established regarding these two terms with a sufficient degree of certainty that they have opposite meanings. Usually we can analyze good and evil in pairs, where we deal with two sides while the same action is conceived of as good for one side and bad for the other. It is seldom that there is only one side that perceives a certain action or event as good while at the same time there is no other side that would perceive the same action as bad. When one side is benefiting from some action or event it is usually done by damaging, destroying, or causing some sort of negative effect on the other side. We cannot establish a universal definition of good and bad, but in the initial pages of this work we are trying at least to determine something certain in regards to this matter.
We have to make a very important remark at the outset that usually discussions like this one may have disturbing consequences, because jumping to the conclusion that there is no good without evil in certain circumstances may justify evil actions by arguing that there is no action that could be done without causing some direct or collateral damage to a certain party. In order to prevent making such a conclusion we need to determine what sort of objects qualify to be considered with respect to the terms good and evil. For example: we cannot argue that enjoying the sunshine should be perceived as an evil action towards the sun because the sun is losing energy that is used by us and therefore approaching the end of its existence in the universe. This example demonstrates that we cannot operate with the terms good and evil when we deal with inanimate objects, which is true unless the consequences of these actions could affect other living objects. For example, our impact on the global climate could not be perceived as evil towards the planet or its atmosphere because both are inanimate objects, but it could result in negative effects on other living objects that could become the victims of such impact. So we have to state that the definitions of good and evil have meaning only in respect to actions or events that have direct or indirect effects on living objects. Therefore we have divided nature into two unequal parts, one which includes the whole universe of inanimate objects and a second which includes the tiny portion of objects that we know of as ‘living’.
It is also obvious that among living objects we can distinguish between good and evil only with respect to the level of evolutionary development of certain species. We cannot claim that washing our hands with soap, which is good for us but causes devastating effects to the microbes that grow on our skin, is an act of evil towards the microbes. Therefore, we come to the conclusion that our understanding of the terms good and evil is applicable only to a tiny fraction of living objects that usually belong to our species or are very similar to ours. To illustrate this statement we can say that it is obviously bad to kill a cat, but there is nothing evil in killing microbes or parasites. Of course, this principle is true only if it doesn’t cause any undesirable effects to other living species, such as those that feed on or benefit in other ways from the existence of the “bad” species.
We then move to an even more obscure area when we deal with good and evil in human society. The philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote with reference to the moral law inside of him, which fascinated him as much as the starry sky above him, but the moral law of Kant might be considered immoral by some aboriginal tribes in the South American jungles. There is no such thing as a standard moral law that could be accepted by all humans. It is very difficult to give a definition of the moral law that lies in the foundations of human nature. It is as hard as giving any definition where there may be objections, according to the Socratic Method, that will always find something that is not included in the definition, and therefore might jeopardize our ability to define good and evil. We also cannot employ the approach of St. Augustine of Hippo who said, in answering the question “what is time?”: “If no one asks me, I know; but if any person requires me to tell him, I cannot.” These two approaches cannot help us to identify what is good and what is evil in human nature.
Why is it so important for us to distinguish between good and evil? Of course sometimes we accept that there are gray areas in our moral understanding between the absolutes of black and white morality, whereby we accept the eventuality that sometimes good actions or intentions will have evil or malicious results, and that evil actions can possess elements of goodness in them. Nevertheless, most of the time we will try to determine certain events or actions as absolutes, either good or evil. Is this approach specific only to humans? We cannot say that, because in the animal kingdom we can find the same systems of judgment. As an example, imagine yourself fishing. When you put your bait into the water you may see many tiny fish that hesitate whether or not to bite. You can see a real hesitation, as you might see in some scientist solving a difficult problem. How is it possible that in such a tiny, cold brain we can find the same judgment system trying to distinguish between whether or not the bait is food, which is good, or a life- threatening danger, which is evil? This means that the moral law of Immanuel Kant has its counterpart in the early stages of biological evolution and that the ability to distinguish between good and evil is supported by positive natural selection, because the fish that is not able to make this judgment will inevitably die or be killed without any chance for reproducing.
Of course it is more complicated when it comes to human moral standards, but the difference is not as big as one would think. For example, self sacrifice and altruism, which are considered some of the most exemplary acts that can be attributed to human nature, are quite well known and documented in the animal kingdom. We don’t find many animals that are ready to die for certain ideas, like some brave scientists that ended up burned at the stake for their beliefs, but we still find a lot of examples where animals sacrifice their own lives in order to protect their offspring or to promote their species’ survival. We would argue that self sacrifice in the animal kingdom is governed by instinct and is more common than in human society where individuals are reluctant to endanger their lives for a multitude of reasons.
Do good and evil exist from the point of view of nature? Are these categories included in the structure of the universe? Is a supernova explosion an act of good or of evil? It is neutral, and can be valued by human minds in moral terms only through realization of its consequences.
Do good and evil exist from the point of view of God? No matter what definition of God we choose we always define God as some sort of thermometer of good and evil, with the tools of punishment and reward. Can heaven exist without God? Can God exist without heaven? Can Satan exist without hell? Can hell exist without Satan? In the simplified picture of the universe which we have inherited from our ancestors these categories cannot exist independently; even atheists just narrow these categories but still use the same terms of good and evil, punishment and reward. The problem is that evil empires are considered evil only by their enemies, while they are considered as exemplary by their governors and often by most of their people. Just as when history is written by the conquerors it is only in the eyes of the nations that fell under their power that they are evil, while succeeding generations remember them as the greatest societies that ever existed.
We would like to emphasize that our attempt to define human nature by investigating the categories of good and evil doesn’t have any intention of justifying evil acts on the grounds that if evil cannot be well defined then evil actions can be more acceptable. Our intention is to argue that neither ‘good’ nor ‘evil’ can be used as universal absolutes, but rather that they should always be used with reference to the individual or society that is being evaluated.
Let us discuss how we understand our inner sense of ‘sin’. There are two kinds of regret that we can experience towards our own wrongdoing. The first one is real regret, such that when the same circumstances repeat themselves the individual will never do the same thing again, even if no one is looking and there is no threat of punishment or penalization. Another sort of regret, which is not as genuine, is caused by the realization of wrongdoing through punishment; this sort of regret cannot be considered a true expression of personal moral belief. This includes not only the fear of punishment that might come from society, which Sigmund Freud categorized as the super-ego, but also the fear of punishment beyond material life, like the fear of God’s wrath. Even though most such cases are considered to be honest regret, they are not. It is not correct to argue that the moral law described by Immanuel Kant is something fundamental to human nature; at the very least it cannot be considered as fundamental and constant as the stars above.
The moral laws inside us are flexible. For example, a lack of food can easily justify stealing; danger can justify defensive aggression against a threat, even homicide. There is no such thing as a mature or immature moral law; morality just constantly changes with the evolving needs of our body and character. It is also influenced by external pressures. Humans possess a weak memory or capacity to recall past situations, because our memory is based not on an imaging of the scenery as a whole as on video-cassette, but on a multi-dimensional imprint of the event in the brain that can be retrieved by employing different associations. Thus the same events can be analyzed and perceived differently, at a later time, by the same individual in a much different context. Absence of stable memory and firm systems of recognition and realization allow us to change our moral beliefs in a very efficient way, allowing us to adjust our moral behavior in a fluid manner in response to the internal and external pressures that we face. So how can we call moral law a ‘law’ if it is changed as frequently as our need to change it? Most of the time we don’t realize that a change has been made, and we feel we are being quite consistent within our code of personal morals and beliefs.
Now let us discuss the question, “How might God judge our sins?” Is there any moral law so fundamental that it could be attributed to the Almighty? We might argue that by giving us free will God gave us the privilege of judging our own deeds, and thus if we consider our own deeds to be “good” ones, how can they be evaluated independently by conventional moral standards? We are not sinners in the eyes of God, and only if we judge ourselves does God confirm our punitive ruling against ourselves by assigning us to an eternity in hell.
This is a very malicious argument. This kind of argument endorses situations such as those where a bloodthirsty murderer who doesn’t regret his deeds would still end up in heaven because he is consistent within himself, while a good person who for some reason regrets some of his innocent deeds would end up in hell. This is not a very worthwhile system to follow. We have abandoned a simple system of punishment and reward, simply because the truth is much more complicated.
Christian morality is the most developed system of morality that humankind has ever achieved, because it includes a list of recommendations such that, if all living people were to follow them, our world would become heaven on earth. Theoretically Christian morality should work this way, but it never does. The problem is that we try to encourage people to adhere to a fundamental, unchanging moral code, assuming that they are morally mature. We should encourage instead a constant search and constant check of current internal moral values that actually can yield a better human being, rather than a person with seemingly inflexible moral beliefs. We can improve human nature by encouraging this constant search, because awareness of the fact that there is no such thing as a constant fundamental moral law inside of us leaves us responsible for making right decisions every single day, for checking our morals every single hour and trying to follow them, every minute of our lives.
Reading classic literature always calms me down. This is especially true when I read the diaries of famous writers of the nineteenth century. It seems like you have conversed with an intelligent person, who doesn’t need to make himself look better than he really is. Such reading is very comforting to me, because the pace of life in the nineteenth century was much slower than it is today. Interests and passions were less competitive then, and the slower passage of time allowed for individuals to expand their thoughts into questions, a practice we seldom have time for anymore. Diaries and other accounts from this period take me far away from the reality of everyday life today, and the only thing I regret is that you cannot find new works by novelists such as Swift, Defoe, and Dickens, or new poetry from such poets as Byron.
I like this sort of detailed work, and you would probably be surprised at the content of the books I pursue, because I tend to read completely useless books on topics such as agricultural reports of ancient Rome, written by contemporary writers of that time.
Reading for me is not just about acquiring information. It is first of all a thought-provoking activity which helps the flow of my own thoughts and channels them into unique and different directions, allowing my mind to figure out better ways of perceiving my surroundings and the world in which I live.
Reading for me is a routine action, and routine actions are very common in nature. Most processes in nature begin with elemental, progressive steps, building towards a desired end. Unfortunately I suffer from a need to be engaged in routine action, anything but reading.
We can achieve only the illusion of peace of mind. This illusion is somehow connected to places, times, people, and images. Alas, if you look at the details you see that situations that you perceive as safe and comfortable in reality are not that safe. This is true not only with regard to personal experiences, but also can be seen in the biographies of successful writers, philosophers, and scientists. The perception of their success deteriorates the more you read, and you may find many disturbing details in their biographies that could have easily jeopardized their success and forfeited their claims to the pages of history.
There are many examples of images imprinted in our minds as ultimate success stories that in detailed investigation prove to be only another illusion offered to us by the media, books, and movies. In many cases we do the opposite, making negative conclusions about some events that actually are not as bad or at least don’t have any serious negative effect on ourselves or our lives. For example, we tend to over-estimate the danger of getting killed in terrorist attacks or becoming a victim of airplane crashes when in fact we have a much greater chance of dying behind the wheel of a car. Lucius Annaeus Seneca gave all of us very valuable advice when he said that we shouldn’t worry about troubles in the future because they will most likely never happen, and even if they do happen then we can worry about them then. But if we worry about future troubles now and they never happen, then we just poison our lives and lose all hope for happiness.
The state of peace of mind and stable feelings of happiness and self-enjoyment are not all based on the facts of your life. What is more important is which system of beliefs you have in place to cope with different situations. The only way to achieve a stable state of happiness and peace of mind is to learn more about yourself in order to find the true source of your unhappiness. Only through introspection can we purge the negative images that may currently occupy our thoughts.
Seneca can be a good guide for such self learning. His letters to Lucilus include volumes of practical advice which still hold true today, even though much of it has been long forgotten. In modern Western culture we perceive action as a better choice than absence of action, though in many cases absence of action allows one to find more successful ways of balancing one’s state of mind.
Avoiding action is perceived in puritanical cultures as the sin of laziness, and doing whatever you have to do without a lot of thinking about the reasons or the results appears better than the state of inactivity. “No strain, no gain” is a slogan that can illustrate the modern approach. This creates a lot of stress and exhaustion, making people engage in the frenzy of the modern lifestyle: “Do first, think later. Or even better, don’t think at all.”
If you were to ask the majority of people walking down the street what they are doing, most will struggle with this question and then tell you where they were going. Then if you were to ask why they were doing what they said they were doing, most would struggle once more but would be unable to give you an answer, because they in fact do not know why they do what they are doing. For example, if you ask a high school student on his way to school, “Where are you going?” He will answer, “to school”. If you then ask, “But why are you going there?” the answer will most likely be, “Because that’s what I’ve got to do.” You won’t find a very deep explanation of people’s actions in more mature individuals as well. Thinking is very rare and a highly prized commodity in today’s society. “Thought is a strenuous art—few practice it, and then only at rare times,” as the first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, once mentioned, and this is very true. We don’t teach our children to think; we teach them just to act, no matter how illogical it may seem.
People’s inability to analyze their motives and actions creates a lot of stress and causes frustration. Thinking is not that difficult, if you are used to doing it; it is just needs to become part of your lifestyle. People generally don’t like to think, not because thinking requires more energy (which it probably does), but as a result of the erroneous assumption that thinking is not a useful way to spend their precious time. Therefore, as a result of this assumption, thinking is not highly valued by the majority of the members of today’s society.
We have certain amounts of time which are allocated for certain purposes every day. We may spend about 10 minutes showering, 30 minutes or more eating, 2-3 hours watching TV, but we neglect allocating time for simple contemplation. There is no such thing as a special time for thinking; you are supposed to do it if you really need to, while you’re in the shower or eating or watching TV, which is not very comfortable because sinking into a deep thought in the shower can make you forget whether you have already washed your hair and therefore you may have to do it again, considerably increasing the amount of water and shampoo you use. Thinking during meals increases the probability of choking and therefore dying prematurely, and thinking while watching TV is almost completely impossible because the specific intent of many TV producers is to distract us from thinking about our lives and replace it with something else that has nothing to do with our daily reality.
The absence of thinking time in our culture is a bad thing. In order to stay self-consistent, humans need some time to review their actions and to adjust their thoughts and beliefs accordingly. The modern world doesn’t quite support us in this endeavor or allow us to adjust accordingly, because our culture perpetuates the problem. When you have allocated some time for thinking, sometimes you may come to the very surprising conclusion that most of the actions you have been undertaking in the past were actually not leading you to any particular aim.
Western culture idolizes perfection. This imposes a lifestyle on most people that expects them to be perfect in their personal life, their career, and any endeavor they undertake. The individual then evaluates all aspects of his life in terms of success or failure. We can see this approach even in psychological terminology where modern psychology describes a family experiencing crises in relationships between its members as a ‘dysfunctional family’. This demonstrates the core values presented by modern psychology; where the family is supposed to function like a machine or a computer system. Therefore the psychology of society today doesn’t allow any room for failure, subsequently increasing the pressure on any particular individual.
We are living in an era of perfectionism. You don’t meet many successful individuals who value the calmness of quiet thought while observing the sunset, or individuals who find real pleasure in non-material values. I am a perfectionist myself, but I suffer from a most frustrating form of perfectionism which is complicated by an intolerance for routine work. I get easily excited by new ideas, but I find a lot of difficulty in conducting the repetitive actions that usually are necessary to succeed in any endeavor.
Perfectionism causes a lot of suffering, because there is no place for happiness in such an approach. You cannot be happy until you get your work done, but neither can you be happy when you get the results, because the perfectionist is never satisfied with any results. Modern culture is a huge factory that manufactures unhappy souls. I am trying to put an end to this by training myself to not be as perfectionist as I used to be, but even in this simple endeavor I am trying to be perfect and therefore my effort defeats my purpose.
I have always despised non-perfectionists, whom I call in my personal vocabulary “episodists”. By “episodist” I mean a person who is not result-oriented, but rather process-oriented. I always thought that this kind of person was either stupid or just some kind of hippy, but now I realize that I was probably wrong. Look at nature. We don’t have much evidence that time itself is real and not just an illusion of our minds. So, without time, there is no meaning to any result. Without time, the only meaningful action is to put effort into the process itself. Let’s look at nature again. What is the ultimate result of a nice meal? Obviously it is the energy that we get out of eating food, but since energy is not something material, the material result of a nice meal is nothing more than what our digestive system produces, which could be considered neither aesthetically pleasing nor a desirable outcome.
The ultimate result of any blossom is rotting. The ultimate result of any life is death. That is why paying too much attention to results is not very desirable; without anticipation of results you don’t have anxiety about failure. Nature is taking care of our ultimate results because we are left in charge of only the process, not the results.
How does one learn how to stop looking at results, to value the simple aspects of life? Take me, for example, sitting in this room writing this book. Rather than focusing my attention on the publishing of the book or the final product of my efforts, I focus only on the fact that I am enjoying writing and sharing my thoughts. It is a pleasant atmosphere, and I am in good company with a sleeping cat, a lazy dog, and the pleasant chimes of the clock. I am not anxious or nervous about how I come across or about any deadline that I must meet. Does this make me a bad person trying to enjoy my life independently of the results? I don’t think so.
But still, in the back of my mind I am anxious as to how the book is going to turn out. I can’t wait for the time when I submit this to the editor. I can’t wait until I get the first copy and see the cover. I am not happy that I cannot see all of this right now, right here. This is a good illustration of my dilemma, whether to abandon the ultimate preoccupation with the results and start to enjoy each and every moment of my existence, or to be like everybody else—a crazy perfectionist who cannot think of anything but successful results.
Natural selection has made us strive for perfection, however unnatural that may sound. Even now we need to eat some animal’s flesh in order to survive, and episodists are not very good hunters. If love is an ultimate aim of the development of the universe, why shouldn’t I make an effort to escape my anxieties, even for a moment, and devote myself to pure reflection on the outside world, my inner soul?
The way to achieve piece of mind is to come to the realization that we need to understand ourselves, our primal responses. We need to get acquainted with our standard reactions, the way we often overestimate or underestimate ourselves and anticipate our possible behavior in different situations, all of which eventually adds up and makes us much more anxious about the days yet to come. Our fear of the future is not only based on a fear of unfortunate events, but also on a fear of our inability to provide the proper response.
Our previous experience usually provides us with sufficient information about our ability to cope with different stressful events in our lives, but for some reason this doesn’t provide us with enough confidence to be able to cope with future events with the same or even greater success. Analysis of our previous performance, however, allows us to achieve peace of mind about future challenges.
One of the problems in estimating our own abilities is the obstacle that can come from the opinion of others that our own evaluation is subjective and therefore cannot be right. Thus we have a deep need for the approval of a third party to provide us with a second, external opinion about ourselves and our abilities. The most amazing thing is that sometimes the source of this opinion could be the very person that we don’t perceive as a reliable source of opinions on many other issues. This is a paraphrase of a statement by Arthur Schopenhauer that aims to persuade the reader not to care too much about others’ opinions. He was curious as to how many people there are in our lives whom we actually value and whose opinions we respect. Very often the answer would be zero, so why should we worry about someone else’s opinion of us? Being objective about ourselves is important not only so that we don’t overestimate our abilities, but also so that we don’t underestimate them.
We need to learn to build our self-confidence not from frequently-heard phrases like “I hate doing this,” “I never knew how to do this,” “I will never get over this,” or any other sort of discouraging and counterproductive statements. We should rather make positive conclusions about our ability to adjust to new situations, to be flexible and creative, and therefore provide ourselves with the self-confidence to perform in the future at least as well as we did in the past.
Inflexibility is the main cause of failure and therefore anxiety, depression, and absence of peace of mind. Nature supports us to be as flexible as possible because ‘adjustment’ in life, especially among creatures living in the wild, is synonymous with ‘survival’. If you can adjust to a harsh winter, you will survive. If not, then you die. Pretty straightforward, isn’t it? Flexibility in human society is also a valuable commodity. I had to adjust during my life to at least five different language environments, and even though I have never perfected them I was pretty successful in all of them. You don’t need to be perfect in order to survive. Moreover, trying to be perfect may exhaust your energy resources and eventually lead to your downfall.
Common sense is another key to reaching a state of peace. But in my vocabulary common sense is not the opinion of the majority; rather it is a sober insight into the problem which is free of pre-judgments and the misleading conclusions of others. I have learned to question anything I see and I am not new to this approach.
I completely agree with Rene Descartes in his “Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciences” where he states, in Chapter Two:
“…but as for the opinions which up to that time I had embraced, I thought that I could not do better than resolve at once to sweep them wholly away, that I might afterwards be in a position to admit either others more correct, or even perhaps the same when they had undergone the scrutiny of reason. I firmly believed that in this way I should much better succeed in the conduct of my life, than if I built only upon old foundations, and leaned upon principles which, in my youth, I had taken upon trust.”
Following this advice of Descartes, I re-examine any concept or belief that I once took for granted, comparing it to my current experience and that of the modern world, especially where that’s significantly different from what I experienced as a child and adolescent. I must admit that this old approach benefits me in many ways, because regrettably it is still very rare and therefore it gives me an advantage over others that don’t employ this simple approach.
We frequently hear the opinion that most of the things in life depend on chance and opportunity. Many people argue that if or when opportunity comes they will not miss it. But the truth is that such people are not quite sure of what they are saying, as a result of decades of waiting for the right opportunity to present itself. They usually lose hope and just repeat comforting words and phrases in the “maybe someday…” style. How can you be sure that you won’t miss the right opportunity when it arises simply because you’ve never had one like it before? How can you train yourself to catch an opportunity when it comes along if opportunity is such a rare commodity? As a matter of fact, such people lose their opportunities because they fail to recognize them when they present themselves. I found a way to train myself to seize these opportunities when they arose. It is by taking the initiative to create my own opportunities. That is how I know I will not miss one when it arises, because usually they come at the right time and the right place, as everything which is carefully planned in advance does.
I always consider myself my ultimate source of opportunities. This can be a substantial component to my peace of mind, because if you don’t wait for opportunity to come you won’t be anxious. You will just know that when you need it, you will find a way to create it. Of course it costs a lot of money, but opportunities have a very special way of bringing even more money than it cost to create them. Usually I end up with something at the end of the day that I can then spend on the next opportunities that I create, and of course on my creation-friendly environment with the sleeping cat, the lazy dog, and the chiming clock.
Marco Polo went all the way to the Far East trying to mix the different pages of history, because medieval Europe doesn’t go well with medieval China as they were greatly separated. As I have learned, they weren’t only separated by distance; they were also separated in people’s minds at that time. Europeans, and their overall spiritual leader, the Catholic Pope, made numerous attempts to create relationships with Tatar-Mongols.
All of these proposals of co-operation in the Crusades were met with resistance. It was like different civilizations were unwilling to relinquish their isolation and culture. Tatar-Mongols would be reluctant in the same way to co-operate with aliens, if these green men should have the audacity to ask for their assistance.
It is not just that individual people were not co-operative; entire civilizations were inflexible as well. What would the world look like today if the Tatar-Mongols had interfered in the Crusades? Here we come to a question of the risk of accepting or declining a certain opportunity. This makes the moments of our lives unequal, because some crossroads are more important than those routine days where nothing eventful occurs. Thoughts like “what if…” add a lot of anxiety and distortion to our peace of mind: “What if I went to law school?” and “What if I….” Creating opportunities for yourself precludes the need to entertain such possibilities.
As a matter of fact, I don’t believe in opportunities. Most of the time when I create opportunities for others I can divert them for a limited time. Sometimes it is only days, sometimes it takes years, but sooner or later such people come back to their original state and move on with their path as if there was no opportunity in the first place. Probably I could create an opportunity to divert someone from his chosen path for a period of time which coincidentally would be longer than his lifespan. This doesn’t mean that this individual wouldn’t have an internal need to come back to his original state of mind.
Now I have to make a confession. I am exactly this type of individual; I always follow my own path. If troubles or opportunities divert me from this path, this doesn’t mean that I cease to have an internal sub-conscious impulse to come back and go on with the path. A very important consideration in changing our paths is to analyze what is in fact our chosen destiny, because most people aren’t quite aware of their destiny’s true nature and direction.
The last thing I would mention that is important for maintaining one’s peace of mind is the management of multiple images of the same things that we usually have in our memories and imagination. For example, I have three images of Paris in my head: the first is the one that I had before I visited the city, the second is my actual memory of the city itself, the third is the image that I am constantly recreating from reading French periodicals and recent novels and listening to French news. These are three absolutely different cities. Realization of the multi-imaging nature of our consciousness is a very important step towards establishing a well-balanced mental state. Admitting the existence of these multiple impressions allows me to avoid their inner conflicts and helps me function in a more stress-free manner.
Paris had a magical aura for me as a young man. Whenever I was in Europe I tried to visit it, for the sake of the marvel and wonder it held for my mind. But when I actually visited there it was not as pleasant and exciting, and not nearly as magical, as I had thought. I have to admit that some details of this visit were indeed magical on a personal level, because when I stood in the square in front of the Notre Dame cathedral I was thinking about my beloved grandmother as she stood in this very place over half a century ago, and this had a vivid emotional and spiritual effect on me. And although certain aspects of the visit were disappointing, overall it was still very nice to have a refreshing point of view on the city I thought I knew. So in the end the visit wasn’t disappointing at all. Now that I am a grown man and am immersing myself in French culture, I find that I am discovering a whole new Paris through the media and through the people I talk to and hear from. In the final analysis, though I have three very different ideas of what Paris is to me these three images do not conflict with each other in my mind but rather build and grow off each other.
I notice the same effect with the multiple impressions created in my mind by philosophers, writers, and other great minds. For example, I possess two copies of the poems of George Gordon Lord Byron, such as the one that whispers in my ears:
It is the hour when from the boughs
The nightingale’s high note is heard;
It is the hour — when lovers’ vows
Seem sweet in every whisper’d word;
And gentle winds and waters near,
Make music to the lonely ear.
And there is another Lord Byron, who fought on behalf of the Greek rebellion and died far away from his home. They are two different Byrons for me, and I need some way to settle them in my head. Some objects or events, some people or places may have multiple connotations for us, and we need to learn to deal with this without allowing them to cause internal conflicts and disturb our peace of mind.
Peace of mind is the most valuable experience that can and should be achieved in our earthly lives. I hope that some thoughts mentioned herein may be of some assistance to you as well as cathartic to myself.
Ideas are responsible for organizing matter, at least on the human level of perception. We use ideas in order to adjust our current environment according to our needs. We also use ideas to change ourselves by accommodating to our ideals of self-perception. We are living objects in a material world, and it is accepted by the majority of us that in addition to this material world there are also some concepts that are not material: for example, consciousness, which is the basis for our thoughts and ideas.
In order to enjoy the fruitful discussion of any subject in question we must first of all define the terms we are using. The word ‘material’ is defined for the purpose of this book as anything that is bound to matter and energy in physical terms.
Since the time of Plato ideas have been defined as purely non-material. They serve only as the concepts behind material objects. According to Plato:
“The visible world is what surrounds us: what we see, what we hear, what we experience; this visible world is a world of change and uncertainty. The intelligible world is made up of the unchanging products of human reason: anything arising from reason alone, such as abstract definitions or mathematics, makes up this intelligible world, which is the world of reality. The intelligible world contains the eternal “Forms” (in Greek, idea) of things; the visible world is the imperfect and changing manifestation in this world of these unchanging forms. For example, the “Form” or “Idea” of a horse is intelligible, abstract, and applies to all horses; this Form never changes, even though horses vary wildly among themselves—the Form of a horse would never change even if every horse in the world were to vanish. An individual horse is a physical, changing object that can easily cease to be a horse (if, for instance, it’s dropped out of a fifty-story building); the Form of a horse, or “horseness,” never changes. As a physical object, a horse only makes sense in that it can be referred to the “Form” or “Idea” of horseness.”
This makes it clear that an idea can exist independently from its material counterpart. Ideas have an eternal nature, the idea of the horse existing long before any real horse ever roamed the earth and continuing to exist after the last horse has vanished from its surface. An interesting question is whether intelligible ideas are entirely products of our mind or if they exist independently. We can easily imagine other intellectual beings that might operate and comprehend the same ideas; moreover, we have already created an artificial intelligence that can deal with the same ideas that we do.
Immanuel Kant, in his revolutionary Critique of Pure Reason, made a successful attempt to analyze the nature of things and their dependence on and apparent independence from human reason. His book looks like a textbook that is entirely based on definitions of new terms invented and introduced by this philosopher.
I always wondered how it would feel to write an entire textbook filled with self-made terms. Or, even better, how it would feel to write a book entirely in a self-made language that would be comprehensible only to the author himself. Despite the fact that such a book might face some obstacles on its way to becoming a genuine best-seller, we cannot discard the possibility that it might still contain very valuable thoughts.
This brings us to another question: how much do we depend on society when creating the imaginary worlds that might be reflected in such a book, worlds that serve as an example of the imprint of our enclosed and self-sufficient consciousness.
First I thought that a human being is an independent creature and should oppose the oppressive nature of any society, even the ideal one. The Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau has always been my favorite text: His statement that “man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains” unfortunately has always sounded as true to me in our day as it was in his. Even the most democratic society in our modern world still restrains the freedoms of its members and not just in cases where this is necessary for the common good. Therefore I always prepare myself to keep a close watch on the society governing my private life and object in any possible legitimate way to its brutal interference.
But lately I have come to realize that a human being cannot be brought up as an intelligent creature without the educational impact of society. This makes society the primary source of our intellect, leaving the human to play only a secondary role. But then I thought again, and realized that the fact a flower cannot grow without compost doesn’t mean that we have to give compost instead of flowers as birthday gifts to our loved ones. Society is the soil that is needed to produce us, the beautiful flowers of independent minds.
Moreover, if you use too much compost it will actually kill the flower. The same is true with society. As Seneca observed, once you are a part of the mob it will always make you dirty both directly and metaphorically. Sigmund Freud concurs by stating that the individual will always succumb to the intelligence level of the crowd.
Therefore, I am trying to take everything from society that I can use, and first of all this means the human language. It is the only instrument given to us to express our thoughts. Taking language as a gift from society, I am using it to communicate not with society as a whole, but with individuals, those flowers that we happen to be.
Society is like a household that ought to provide us with all the necessary conditions to thrive. But its role shouldn’t dominate our lives. Society is utilitarian and will try to take advantage of all its members for the sake of the so-called common good, which is not necessarily as good as it looks when applied on the individual level.
Ideas are never utilitarian; they exist independently of society, beyond the universe and even beyond existence itself. The only thing that ideas cannot exist beyond is God, because according to a commonly used definition God is almighty and nothing can exist beyond his almightiness.
As we said above, the idea of the horse exists before, after, simultaneously with, and independently of the real physical animal. It is a concept, and like any other concept it cannot be destroyed. So the question is whether ideas can be considered as being material. In order to answer this question we have to determine how to define ‘material’.
The easiest way to approach this problem is to look at anything that consists of matter as a material object, but is the material object still material in the past or in the future? Can the material object still be considered material if it exists only in our memories or in our dreams? In both cases it will be perceived by our mind in the same way and it will actually exist only through our perception.
Is energy material? Albert Einstein’s famous equation (E=mc2[squared]) shows that matter can be transformed into energy and probably vice versa, if you try really hard. So defining energy as material will define, in the same way, all sorts of energy both known and unknown.
Ideas are concepts of the organization of energy and matter that have proved to be material, as we have discussed. Because there is no difference in our perception of these concepts and the corresponding matter itself, we might consider ideas as material to the same degree as anything else considered material. Ideas are even superior to the matter they govern, because the same ideas can govern any other kind of matter in any other sort of physical universe.
As society is a medium for the development of the individual, matter is a medium for the development of ideas, although once they are formed they get a superior position to matter. Let’s consider the state of an imaginary universe described as chaos. It seems that the possibility of the existence of a universe without any order proves that matter can exist without ideas, but this is not true because there will still be the idea of chaos itself that might exist independently.
Even though we have defined the terms ‘material’ and ‘non-material’ in the beginning of this chapter, the problem is that nature itself doesn’t like to operate within such well-defined boundaries.
I strongly object to any attempts to implant physical principles into the social sciences, like the comparisons between the gravitational influence of mass and economic wealth, for example, that have been made by Dr. Joel Primack and Nancy Abrams in their new book, The View from the Center of the Universe. That is, unless the attempts are accompanied by the precaution that they are made only for the purpose of better explanation of the concepts and are not based on actual belief that such comparisons can be substantiated. By making such precautions I am trying to make sure that any following comparisons will not be considered in any way but for illustrative purposes.
When these precautions are not made the consequences can be quite severe, as in the case of Nietzsche’s application of the Darwinian principle of natural selection to human society. This in turn led to the development of his own ideas regarding the ‘Superman’ that eventually inspired the Nazi ethnic cleansing tragedy of the twentieth century.
As an illustration of my statement that nature doesn’t like well-defined boundaries I would like to remind the reader of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which states that the more precisely the position of a particle can be determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known in this instant and vice-versa.
Moreover, in physics wave-particle duality means that both electro-magnetic waves and matter exhibit properties of both waves and of particles. As a central concept of quantum mechanics, such duality represents a way to address the inability of conventional concepts like ‘particle’ and ‘wave’ to adequately describe the behavior of quantum objects. We don’t generally perceive the wave-like quality of everyday objects, not because they don’t possess such qualities but because the wavelengths associated with people-sized objects are extremely small. Wavelength is given essentially as inverse to the size of the object, with a constant factor given by Planck’s constant h, which is an extremely small number.
If we measure ourselves by our ability to introduce certain changes to our environment through direct and indirect interaction with it, we may claim that this ability can be described as a wave function with its peaks and valleys. For example, my calling someone at the far end of the world can initiate actions far beyond what would be influenced by my physical presence. Moreover, this influence can not only go beyond my presence in terms of space, but also in terms of time—just as this text may trigger some thoughts in the minds of its readers well beyond the time in which it was written. Therefore, this example poses the question of whether there is a real boundary separating the material from the non-material. This separation merely implies the limitations of the human mind, which needs such roughly defined terms in order to operate with some degree of success.
Long ago Socrates showed us that there might be substantial difficulty in defining virtually anything because of the inherent limitations of human language, which in turn arise from the ultimate limitations of the human mind. Nevertheless, let’s try to define the term ‘material’ in a slightly new way by arguing that matter is an integral part of the universe that somehow uncovers its presence to human senses enhanced by scientific instruments. Therefore nothing can be considered as material unless we can determine its presence by the use of appropriate technology. But then some distant galaxy which may consist of about two hundred billion stars would be considered as non-material and non-existent only because we don’t have an appropriate instrument to detect it. Also, we cannot adjust our definition of ‘material’ by saying that it is anything that might be detected with future means because we don’t know what the future holds for us. For example, a couple of hundred years ago no one could imagine that it would be possible to transmit and receive radio waves, which are now considered well-defined characteristics of a material world filled with electromagnetic radiation that was unknown in the past. So, what is considered as non-material in our day might be reconsidered as material in the future.
Ideas as concepts of the organization of matter can be considered as material if we take into account our inability to define the term ‘material’. But by doing so we may need to rethink our approach toward ideas, because people usually treat only objects of the material world seriously, rather than non-material issues. For example, ideas can kill and cause as much harm as any material object once they influence the minds of an unwary public. So understanding that ideas are material must make us cautious about producing them. Humans are generators of ideas and we have a moral responsibility for the ideas that we dare to bring to our world. We must think of the consequences of such ideas.
At one time I thought that once a philosopher, or any ordinary person, became the creator of a certain idea they could not be responsible for the consequences that came after the idea was let loose on the world. Should Prometheus, who allegedly gave fire to humans so they might cook their meals and keep themselves warm through cold prehistoric winters, be held responsible for the fires of the Nazi concentration camps? Is Jesus responsible for the fires of the Inquisition? Is Einstein guilty of bringing the nuclear bomb to the world? I assumed that it didn’t matter what the idea is, even the most innocent one, that a person introduces to humanity; it would eventually be compromised, corrupted, and used for evil purposes no matter how hard its creator tries to prevent it.
But nevertheless people do have responsibility for the ideas that they give birth to. Didn’t Einstein know his fellow men well enough to realize what they would use his ideas for? I don’t mean his signature on the famous letter to President Roosevelt urging him to initiate the building of the nuclear bomb as a counter- weight to Hitler’s plans for nuclear weapon development. It was too late by then to think of the consequences of Einstein’s work. Of course, we can assume that the development of nuclear weapons would have been completed even without Einstein’s personal contribution to the field. If not him, then someone else would have eventually come up with the necessary equations. The General Theory of Relativity is not exactly a complete set of instructions on how to produce a bomb. Although teaching people things well beyond what they were and may still be ready to handle was his free choice, why didn’t he just keep his position as a patent officer for the Swiss government?
People! Keep your ideas to yourselves! Fame and success are very cheap currency. Not every step of progress is good for humankind. Probably this is the reason why we are so conservative about our habits. We sit around the dinner table, we use candles to set a romantic mood, and we listen to the sound of the rain.
An idea, as an emerging concept, is separated from its material incarnation only by two tiny matters: time and probability. Time and probability are the factors that determine when and how an idea will be implemented.
Since the term ‘time’ is more applicable to living things, and because physicists argue that the basic concepts of the laws of physics do not require time at all, then the factor of time in the implementation of an idea can be dismissed. Since we don’t know how many parallel universes might exist, we don’t know how many different scenarios of the same event can occur and so the factor of probability can also be discarded.
Let’s look at a simple video game that has the same settings every time you start it. Once you run it, however, it can have an almost uncountable number of probable scenarios. Video games thus alter our perception of time as an irreversible factor. We can re-run the game an infinite number of times, every time starting from the same initial settings. Does it really matter if we actually run any particular scenario or not? We know that the status of different implemented and non-implemented scenarios is quite the same. For us it is sufficient to know that they all are possible and we really don’t need to run them in order to prove that.
The real world might resemble such a video game, but it is even more complicated because the players in real life actually have the ability to alter the settings and thereby make the number of possible scenarios ultimately infinite.
The interesting thing is that the physical basis of a video game is the CD that it comes on and the computer that is able to read it. Both of them have nothing to do with the content of the virtual world represented on the particular disc nor with the scenarios that can be run on the computer. This means that all scenarios co-exist simultaneously as long as the computer disc is intact, and it doesn’t really matter which of the scenarios is implemented or which just have the potential to be implemented. It is possible that the physical basis of our universe lies well beyond the settings that can be studied from within our world. But we will discuss this issue in more detail later on in this book.
If we give some consideration to the preceding argument, we will discover that the difference between an implemented and a not-yet-implemented idea is an illusion. Ideas are usually neutral by their very nature. Their materialization is neutral as well. It all depends on what meaning we give to these neutral ideas and their implementations. The Bible story where God appoints Adam to give names to the plants and animals actually illustrates the relationship created between the universe and ourselves as thinking creatures. You may object to anything except the fact that we are indeed thinking beings. As stated so concisely by Descartes, “I think, therefore I exist” (“Je pense, donc je suis”), and most of us won’t object to the idea that we are involved in some sort of existence. It is both interesting and ironic that Descartes used the most seemingly non-material thing, thought, to prove his material existence. This only goes to prove that ideas are indeed material, because ideas are the ultimate product of thought, which is used as a proof of existence of the material world.
The universe is neutral and probably exists independently from our minds, even though this idea was challenged in a dispute between Plato and Aristotle. This famous dispute was about whether a tree makes a sound when it falls if no one is there to hear it. Humans decipher the ideas that govern the universe and create their own, new ideas. Therefore we are an integral part of this universe, even though some weird aliens (if there are any) might compete with us in this regard.
We are ambushed by our own consciousness. We think only along the lines of human logic, which can be as far from the real universe as the settings of a video game are from the computer disc that encodes them.
The universe for the most part has neither ups nor downs, but humans measure everything according to the human scale. The universe lives on without regard to time, but humans measure it in hours and light years. This is as if an ant were to measure human love in terms of its miniscule ant legs: “they felt love for a million light-ant-legs and kissed each other.” This is what our attempts are comparable to when we try to measure the universe in human terms. We can’t think any thought that wouldn’t be dictated to us by the conditions of our life. We are the prisoners of our own prejudices about ourselves and about the world around us. But we are the only known creatures that animate the ideas of the universe.
By the way, are there any animals that pay attention to stars? As a matter of fact nocturnal animals can accumulate many more photons of light on their retinas, and that is why they can see only by the light of the stars. If they are capable of that some of them can probably see the light of distant galaxies exactly the way our telescopes do. But having the ability doesn’t mean that these animals are particularly interested in such pursuits. I am inclined to believe that the stars do not interfere much with their processes of digestion and mating. If we had their eyes we would have discovered the vastness of the universe a long time before our instruments helped us do so.
The problem is that biological evolution didn’t have any such aim as producing creatures with the ability to observe the universe. This ability of ours came to us as a side effect of our ability to hunt down prey and find berries in the bushes. Evolution was worried only about our survival and our offspring. Humans, obviously, were not built for solving the riddles of the universe. Evolution had to bitterly punish those that were trying to gaze at stars while their more practical relatives were hiding in the safety of the caves. But I believe that this is the true aim of evolution: to bring into existence a species with the ability to observe the universe in all its unobservable vastness.
We, as humans, have free will to assign our interpretations to ideas that are neutral by their very nature. Ideas are neither bad and evil nor good and kind. Nor are they smart or crazy. Ideas just exist, independently of space and time, and only once they are animated by humans do we equip them with such characteristics.
It often happens that we are facing the dilemma of which interpretations should be given to certain ideas. Therefore we can distinguish three main approaches that I would like to call negativism, positivism, and neutrality, although they are not necessarily used here in their usual sense. Neutrality is counterproductive, because once an idea gets its material incarnation it ought to be appraised in a certain way. Positivism is very productive, because we try to find ways to use such ideas so that they can benefit us a lot. Negative ways of thinking are even more counterproductive than the neutral approach.
You might ask, however, who is in a position to decide what is negative or positive for the purpose of evaluation of a certain idea. Many would argue that there is no common frame of reference once it comes to defining good and evil, and therefore positive or negative. I propose to use as a frame of reference for good and evil Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. According to Maslow, everything that might help meet our needs is good and everything that prevents us from meeting those needs is obviously evil. Of course this works only when, by meeting our needs, we are not preventing another from meeting theirs.
The basic needs according to Maslow are biological and physiological ones: air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc. Then come safety needs: security, order, law, limits, stability, protection from the weather, etc. Then come the needs of belongingness and love, which include relationships at work and within any other social group such as family and friends.
Esteem needs include the overall need to be accepted by society—including self-esteem, achievement, independence, status, prestige, responsibility, etc. Knowledge needs include acquiring and processing new information which is considered by the individual as useful or interesting. Esthetic needs include the attempts of a person to surround himself or herself with things of beauty according to individual taste. Self-actualization needs include realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking of personal growth and peak experiences.
And now we come to the highest needs, the ones met by those very few individuals successful enough to reach this level. They include assistance to others in achieving their self-realization. Any idea that we intend to animate by bringing it into the material world should be evaluated in a positive way, so it can help us meet the needs mentioned above.
I would like to conclude this chapter with the following story that shows how different ways of interpreting a newly emerged idea can shape the fate of a small island nation. Once upon a time, a new star appeared in the sky that was an incarnation of the idea that a new star can appear. There were two small tribes that inhabited two separate islands in the ocean. The first tribe decided that this star was an asteroid that was going to hit their island. They built rafts and left the island, giving themselves to the mercy of the sea. The second tribe decided that the star was a sign that their Gods were satisfied with their prayers and they decided to go uphill to continue with their rituals.
As a matter of fact the first tribe was right; it was an asteroid, but it missed their island and splashed into the sea. Being right didn’t spare their lives, however, because the waves created by the impact swallowed them up. And even though the newly emerged star had nothing to do with their Gods, the second tribe was spared because they had made a right decision, albeit one based on the wrong assumptions.
So we can see that an interpretation of the same idea can mean life or death depending on how we interpret it. Of course the second tribe could have been proven wrong if the asteroid had hit their island. We cannot say for sure that giving positive meaning to neutral ideas will always help us to survive, although if we are going to die anyway it is far better to face this unpleasant event on the top of the hill of our self-actualization rather than by seeking safety in the merciless ocean of fear.
Not every kind of destruction is evil; the destruction of evil is good. Not every type of creation is good; the creation of evil is bad. By echoing this childish approach I am trying to emphasize that the idea of destruction is as neutral as any other idea, although in our understanding it is not quite obvious. We always try to resist any kind of destruction and approve any kind of creation. The word ‘destruction’ has always had a negative connotation in our minds. It is associated with ‘danger’, ‘death’, ‘injury’, and war’. The positive aspect of destruction we call ‘change’. We deny that any change includes the destruction of a previous order. We suffer less from the destruction of inanimate things than from living ones, because in the first case we believe that destruction is reversible.
We must not forget that the instinct of destruction is hardwired in our nature. But most of the time we keep our behavior in a neutral mode rather than in a destructive one.
The natural process of destruction is neutral, which means that it is neither inherently good nor bad on the personal or global level. Resistance to destruction brings a part of the energy of destruction upon the resisting individual. It is as if one were to resist the collapse of an unstable old building falling in upon itself because of its posterity. Such an attempt could cost a person his life. This kind of resistance is pointless and dangerous.
Try to smooth the waves on a stormy sea. Such a task is much trickier than attempting to drink the sea, as we learned from Aesop. The result is quite predictable. At the worst you’ll drown, and at the very least you’ll get your feet wet. It is equally pointless to try to resist either destruction or creation. You may slow the process down, but you will never be effective in stopping or reversing it. By accepting this philosophy we should identify the direction of change and follow its pattern rather than trying to stand in its way.
The change of seasons is a great example of irresistible and unstoppable cycles of destruction and creation. Just yesterday everything was covered in snow, but today life is thriving, if only until it is stopped again by next winter. All living creatures have adjusted to these eternal cycles. They don’t fight them; they accept them as they are. The bears that are getting ready to hibernate don’t try to build power plants and extract fossil fuels in order to keep themselves warm. It seems that by our very nature we are trying to fight the natural processes of change. But this is not true; we are just trying to adapt ourselves to these changes in a better way.
It is quite challenging to understand the true direction of any process at its very beginning. It often happens that processes of destruction and creation are taking place simultaneously, and it is not always easy to see the true paradigm and where it leads. It is even more challenging to resolve whether a certain tiny change is a sign of a more general shift or just a statistically insignificant deviation from the main path. Is it the beginning of the destructive process or is it just ‘business as usual’.
Only by realizing the direction of a process as early as possible can we be successful in choosing the right strategy. Whether we need to ignore certain signs of destruction and oppose them, or see them as the beginning of an irreversible process of destruction (like aging, for example) and accept it as inevitable and adjust to its consequences is an important step of discernment. One single warm day in the late fall doesn’t mean that we have to plant flowers.
Once we have made our decision on the direction of the process we should concentrate on dealing with its consequences rather than trying to reverse it. Because destruction and creation can run simultaneously we might choose the right path by deciding to abandon a deteriorating situation in favor of creating something new.
Napoleon was a strong decision maker and worked with this philosophy. For example, when he found himself marooned in Egypt with his navy destroyed, his army fighting a losing battle against the plague and in the midst of a hostile population, with no possible way to get them all home, Napoleon had a decision to make. He could hang on to a deteriorating situation and die along with his army, or he could abandon what would ultimately be destroyed anyway and create new circumstances for future success. Hearing that there was a crisis in France, Napoleon opted for the creation of something new and returned to France, taking his best generals with him, where he became emperor soon afterwards. He made a decision to abandon a destructive situation and create something new that would bring him success. (As to the ethical aspects of Napoleon’s actions we won’t extend our discussion to that consideration.) Napoleon’s nephew, the emperor Louis-Napoleon III, used to say that if you are in the vanguard of new changes, you may lead them; if you move with the changes, they will lead you. But if you try to stand in the way of changes they will wipe you out. If you really want to start a creative process, it’s better to start it in a new area, rather than try to stop a destructive process already underway. It is also important not to let such a process drag you in.
Being outside of the process that you’d like to influence is very beneficial both for you and for the process. It is very difficult to remain objective while you are involved in something that you are trying to re-shape. That is why it is always good to act through third parties or agents of change rather being such an agent yourself. We cannot diminish the weight of psychological pressure that the environment might impose on us once we are inside the system we wish to influence.
The same logic of destruction/creation governs many other processes: business ventures and biological cycles, personal relationships and star formation. The only difference is that we can influence some of these processes, while having very little influence on others.
It is a mistake, however, to assume that we can have a tangible influence on human relationships. This is usually just an illusion. In most cases we cannot change the lives of our friends or enemies. Even if we succeed for a short time in changing their path, they will eventually come back to the old one and stick to the way of life that they are internally almost predestined to follow.
If a person is in a destructive phase there is very little that might stop him or her from hurting themselves or others. ‘Creators’ are as stubborn as ‘destructors’.
If someone feels an internal impulse to create, there are very few things that really can stop their energetic desire. But most of us are neither destructors nor creators. The great majority of people are ‘doing-nothing-ers’ and such people are most stubborn and determined in their desire to do nothing and to be left alone.
‘Doing-nothingness’ is the superior right of any human being and can be found written in stone within the constitution of any state. People love to defend this basic right. Of course you will argue that there is no such right, but this is the truth of life; most people try to avoid any actions that might take them beyond their daily routines.
Of all these actions the most painful seems to be thinking. People will avoid this activity in their efforts to make their life as routine and uninfluential as possible, even at times paying with their lives for the convenience of not having to think. The first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, used to say that thought is a strenuous art; few practice it, and then only rarely.
Nietzsche used to ask whether it is really possible that the only thing left to us is reflection and meditation about the world, which on a personal level yield nothing but despair and on a theoretical level give birth to the philosophy of destruction.
I don’t see this dilemma to be as tragic as Nietzsche makes it out to be. The roots of our despair lie in the fact that we consider ourselves to be separate entities from the rest of the world, and once we think of ourselves in this way naturally we cannot avoid feeling the pointlessness of our short existence. But what make us so sure that we are so separate from the world we observe? What is it, exactly, that connects us to this physical world? What is it that connects our soul, or whatever you want to call it, to our body? The answer is: very little indeed, if you look at this situation with unbiased eyes. The entity that we describe as ‘my soul’ or ‘my inner I’ is no better than our mortal coil. It consists of vague memories, ambivalent feelings, and uncertain knowledge of the past, an even more uncertain vision of the future, and some sensations attributed to the current moment that all of us inhabit most of the time. This is what we are; this is what we call our soul.
We are not, after all, that separate from the external world. In fact it seems that we are integral parts of it, just as waves are part of the ocean. Once looked at from this point of view, the world is not as meaningless and ugly as it looks from within the boundaries of our mortal coil. On the contrary, it looks nice and completely logical. All we need to do is drop the notion of ourselves as separate beings.
Freedom from ourselves is the ultimate freedom we must seek. Why shouldn’t we abandon the bad habit of looking at everything as advantageous or disadvantageous to us, to our mortal body and very poorly defined soul? Once you stop doing this, then you don’t need to worry about what threatens you or things that ‘might’ happen. Freedom from yourself is the best way to see a more precise picture of our world. This world existed for billions of years without us, and will go on with its existence for billions of years to come, without missing any of us at all.
Creation does not necessarily have to be in the realm if material things. For instance, according to Kant, acquiring new knowledge is an act of creation that echoes our statement above regarding the material nature of ideas. This is indeed an excellent example of the act of creation and is also indistinguishable from the act of destruction. This is because we can learn about an object only by interacting with it and, in most cases, in order to make our knowledge complete we have to destroy the object. The result of this destruction will be the creation of knowledge about the object that didn’t exist before it was destroyed. Here we might mention an idea of Dr. George Ellis, who states that the ultimate limit of the science of cosmology is based on the uniqueness of the universe—i.e., the fact that it cannot be studied in the way we study other objects.
As we have mentioned earlier, the instinct of destruction is encoded in all living beings by nature itself. Nature is inclined to operate self-organizing systems, where the individual parts of the systems interact in a way that insures the stability of the system as a whole through constant processes of creation and destruction. They then give birth to new generations who fight each other for food and living space and then die, in full accordance with the laws of nature.
Sigmund Freud distinguished between two basic instincts: the instinct of life (Eros) and the instinct of death (Thanatos). He admits that such distinction has been known at least since the time of ancient Greece (e.g., the Greek philosopher Empedocles). Freud’s idea of the instinct of death echoes the inclination to destruction or in this case self-destruction that is imprinted in us by nature itself. By introducing this concept Freud was attempting to explain the phenomenon of aggression that can sometimes be directed internally, causing self-destruction.
What is the instinct of self-destruction aimed toward? Obviously nature worries that our mortal bodies need to be destroyed in order to allow new generations with new combinations of genes to use the same resources, which otherwise wouldn’t work if previous generations continued to live for an indefinite time. So this makes death simply a good management procedure that nature employs in order to get rid of old genetic material in order to insure the continuous process of evolution.
As a matter of fact we have to accuse sex of making us die, because microorganisms that employ a sexual way of duplication virtually live forever in their descendants unless they accidentally die out.
Nature doesn’t care about anything but household issues. It doesn’t deal with our soul or consciousness. So if the soul can exist independently from the body then it might be eternal indeed, because there is no reason to destroy it. Leibnitz concurred with Plato in saying that the soul is simple and as with anything that is simple, it is indestructible. St. Augustine based his proof of immortality of the soul on vague metaphysical principles that have little to do with objective science.
Anyhow, it doesn’t matter whether we believe in the existence of the soul or not. What does matter is that most of us feel that there is something more than just our body and our consciousness that is nothing else but some lousy bunch of memories and a miserable processor of the current moment. Sigmund Freud spoke about the oceanic feeling of belonging to something greater than us that many people experience, although he was unable to share this with them. But all that we feel is not divided into well-distinguished parts of what is real and what is not. The definition of reality is vague by its very nature because it is based on our sensory perceptions, which are unquestionably deceptive.
Denying reality to be objectively definable supports our conclusion that the processes of creation and destruction that govern so-called reality are just two sides of the same coin, one that we need to learn to flip in the most advantageous way.
The word ‘conscience’ is not used much these days. Even though we understand conscience as ‘the awareness’ of a moral or ethical aspect to one’s conduct together with the urge to prefer right over wrong, as the saying goes “Let your conscience be your guide.” But how can we be guided by something that we don’t use much? May we assume that the limited use of this word signifies our deteriorating ability to use this source of moral and ethical judgment? If we review the written heritage of the previous centuries we will be surprised to find that this word enjoyed much more use back then.
Since it is reasonable to believe that language reflects current trends within society we can identify the problem as a case of modern times not encouraging us to employ our conscience in conformity to our own sense of right conduct and wrongdoing.
According to Freudian theory our behavior is based on the concepts of id, ego, and super-ego. While the id comes from our subconsciousness and supports our ego, the super-ego is imposed within us by the influence of society. Conscience is defined in psychoanalysis as the part of the superego that judges the ethical nature of one’s thoughts and actions, and then transmits such determinations to the ego for consideration.
It seems that one of the developments of modern society is that the behavior of its members is more regulated than it was before. We appear to get more and more freedom, and this is true; however with new freedoms come new responsibilities and therefore the regulatory functions of society are becoming overwhelmingly omnipresent. For example, a century ago the laws of honor were as valid as the laws that were issued by the legislature, and if a person had the feeling that he had been insulted the laws of honor dictated behavior that allowed him to resolve the dispute by duel, which would in fact overrule any court procedures. I’m not trying here to be an advocate of resolving conflicts by fighting one another; my point is that the system of traditions and laws that regulated life in society in the past was much more complicated and sometimes contradictory.
In our day the super-ego is mainly manipulated by the rules within society and doesn’t leave many decisions to the individual himself. Things are less complicated today.
The development of a welfare society that guarantees a minimum to everyone frees us from the responsibility of involvement in direct assistance to the poor and narrows our responsibilities to the timely payment of taxes.
With the tremendous progress in media and communications that has been made individuals are no longer part of any particular national state, and we are becoming witnesses to numerous man-made and natural tragedies almost as they unfold. Our abilities to provide the help that is needed are also virtually unlimited. It is a well-known fact that for the price of one dollar a day the citizen of any western country can support one needy individual in many Third World countries who would otherwise face the risk of almost inevitable death from hunger and disease.
Even though the dream of a “Welfare World” has been around for quite a long time, so far we haven’t managed to resolve this pressing issue. Most of us suppose that it is not our responsibility to worry about what is going on in some village in the Sudan. If we were responsible for that, the thinking goes, our government would introduce some sort of special tax for this purpose and if it was successful in “selling” this idea to the general public then we would comply. We don’t use our conscience to decide on a personal level whether we really need to have some extra treat rather than use those dollars to save someone else’s life halfway around the world.
Most of us consider ourselves to be moral beings. According to some thought-provoking statistics only slightly over ten percent of North Americans believe that they will end up in hell. The question then arises as to why on the one hand we watch hour after hour of terrifying reports from all over the world and on the other hand do virtually nothing to provide help.
Why is the media overwhelming us with images of corpses, dying children, and other truly dreadful scenes? Apparently, these images are used to attract our attention, during prime time especially, in order to maximize advertising profits for the broadcasting networks.
We are peacefully having dinner and watching TV. Between the main course and dessert we observe dead bodies floating along the streets after a tsunami or a bunch of dismembered corpses after a terrorist attack and all these images assail us day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. These were the first images that met us on TV in our tender years and these will be the last images we will witness in some sort of nursing home. Why is that? Why has death become an entertainment, some sort of horrific hors d’oeuvre?
As we have mentioned earlier, most of us don’t realize how strongly we are influenced by the images we see on TV. Sometimes we can’t distinguish between the images of real violence and death we see on TV and those we encounter in fiction, which can also be filled with bloody scenes. We employ all sorts of protective mechanisms to cope with exposure to these distressing images. And just as we have learned to consider what we see in the movies as simply not real, we easily extrapolate our feeling of non-reality to real scenes of violence. It must be admitted that the movies have managed to execute certain shots with such a degree of realism that the actual news fades in contrast. So in a situation where reality is less dramatic than fiction, we can easily employ our coping mechanisms.
Many people would claim that the media plays a very small role in their lives, and that even if they do spend long hours in front of the TV it affects neither their behavior nor their state of mind. If this were really true we would have witnessed a spectacular downfall of the news/entertainment industry, because people simply would stop watching television and therefore halt their contributions to the advertising campaigns which provide the financial support for this controversial area of modern life.
We react to these scenes of violence and aggression on a physiological level. Our heart rate along with our blood pressure rises slightly, which means that we are constantly experiencing stress whether we realize it or not. It is hard to say at what point such stress contributes to the development of different pathologies in our psychological and physiological systems. When we experience threatening situations, like acts of violence or dead bodies, we have subconscious urges to respond by fleeing or fighting, and this is what stress is about. Adrenalin is a stress hormone that helps us to decide what we are going to do in a stressful situation, and watching contemporary TV programs certainly causes us to experience a slight but steady overproduction of adrenalin. It would be the same if we were given a certain dose of pharmacological poison every time we switched on the TV, but in the case of just watching TV we are spared the destructive psychological influences.
We possess complex psychological systems that allow us to cope with different sorts of stress. We use them in cases where we become subject to feelings of tension and stress—for example, the cognitive dissonance and potential shame of doing or not doing something outside our values. To handle this discomfort we use various coping mechanisms. Watching news almost always creates such feelings, because normal moral beings cannot quietly and joyfully consume a hamburger while viewing some one dying of hunger. We can deal with this only by using some of the following psychological defenses:
One of the simplest mechanisms that can help us to solve the problem is avoidance. We can mentally or physically avoid something that causes distress. We can either change the channel or try not to look at the TV screen during certain problematic moments or, even better, avoid watching the news altogether. But as with any other inefficient defense mechanism this approach cannot solve the problem, because complete withdrawal from modern reality can hardly be considered the behavior of a normal individual.
Another way of dealing with this problem is compartmentalization. We can separate conflicting thoughts into separated mental compartments; for example, we might view eating a hamburger as having nothing to do with dying children so we treat these issues separately. This is probably the most frequent solution that we employ. By doing so, we avoid the possible internal conflict within our conscience that might naturally occur if we weren’t separated by a TV screen from the child dying of hunger.
But as a result of such compartmentalization we may experience conversion: the subconscious conversion of stress into physical symptoms. Unexplained headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and other so-called non-specific minor symptoms can have their roots in such defense mechanisms as conversion.
Another popular choice is denial. By refusing to acknowledge that an event has occurred we try to brush off the problem, which can be difficult, especially if you have a large-screen TV and the dying child appears life-size and couldn’t be more real even if he was in the same room with you and your half-eaten hamburger.
If all these defense mechanisms don’t work for us than we might use displacement, which means the shifting of an intended action to a safer target. Instead of going with our hamburger to board a plane heading to Sudan we might decide to sponsor a child through one of the charity organizations, which are in fact doing a great job, although obviously not with complete efficiency or in sufficient numbers because we still can observe dying children on TV. If such defense mechanisms were to really work for all of us, we could actually solve the problem and on the next day enjoy the daisies aired on TV rather than pictures of horror.
Another way of dealing with threatening or disturbing news is dissociation, which allows us to separate ourselves from this part of our life. We try to convince ourselves that this event has nothing to do with us, and that is how we actually leave all these horrors and persist in sinking into the fantasy that all this is so far away that it virtually doesn’t exist.
We might use idealization by trying to play up the good points and ignore the limitations of the things desired. For example, we might say to ourselves that if such scenes are being aired this must mean that public attention has been drawn to the issue and as of this moment everything will be done to provide all needed help and to prevent such horrors happening again.
Another way to cheat our conscience is intellectualization. This is most often attributed to the mind’s ability to think scientifically or philosophically. Using intellectualization as a defense mechanism involves avoiding uncomfortable emotions by focusing on facts and logic. We might argue that in nature there are certain mechanisms of natural selection that are still working even in human society, and that people have always been dying of hunger in various places and by feeling bad about that and depriving yourself of a modest supper which consists of that ill-fortuned hamburger won’t help anyone. We might check out world statistics and argue that children have always died of hunger and disease, and as a matter of fact the mortality rates in medieval Europe were probably higher than in modern-day Sudan. Every nation has to overcome certain periods of ups and downs, and who knows what is going to happen to us with all the potential catastrophes, both natural and man-made, that await us in the future. Since it is reasonable to expect a certain degree of reciprocity, will this make the Sudanese do something to help us out, or is it more probable that we will be left alone to die?
By taking this path we are getting close to another mechanism of psychological defense, rationalization, by which we create logical reasons for problematic situations. We might say these Sudanese people should take the blame for what is happening to them, because they are lazy and arrogant. If we were to stop working we would also start dying of hunger, so there is nothing we can do to help them because no matter how hard we try they will still find a way to stay in a most miserable state of life, because from their perspective it is perfectly normal. It is the same as trying to improve the life conditions of gorillas in the African jungle. We might say that some wild nations have just recently restrained themselves from cannibalism and who knows if they are really determined to keep up with this restriction? Could you have imagined that our reflections on our half-eaten hamburger would bring us to a discussion of cannibalism? To put it simply, they are dying of hunger because they have ceased to eat one other. Of course we won’t express such thoughts in public, but we have to admit that some of us are likely to think this way.
The weakest among us would use repression by subconsciously hiding uncomfortable thoughts that sooner or later will find their way back into our lives unexpectedly, impacting our psychological and physical health.
But the worst of all possible mechanisms of defense is trivialization, where we try making something small that is really something big: for example, when we think of dying children as something trivial and unimportant.
Only rare individuals like Bill and Melinda Gates, who provide financial support to African nations in amounts comparable to the efforts of the World Health Organization, can quietly deal with their consciences with no need of inefficient defense mechanisms. But still such people will have the problem of consuming that previously-mentioned hamburger while viewing dying children, no matter how hard they try to help hunger and disease in the ill-fated parts of the word.
We have looked in great detail at the defense mechanisms that help us to avoid doing certain things that our conscience is pushing us to do. Now it is time to examine the opposite situation, the one where some of us do things that our conscience would normally object to.
If we consider modern cinematography as a means of learning about the ways members of our society think and act, we can draw the following conclusions:
Positive characters usually will rob a bank if they think they have a good chance of avoiding being caught. They can also kill, but of course such killings should be justified by aggressive actions on the part of the victim. Often these killings happen unwillingly and by default should be blamed on the victim himself, although we generally don’t see evidence for any traces of regret for the murdered negative characters.
Endings where the lead characters live ‘happily ever after’ in a paradisiacal situation somewhere on the coast of a warm sea, far from the country where the benign crime has taken place, are the norm in most movies.
In other movies we witness numerous less grave offences that are attributed to the positive characters like cheating, deceiving, stealing, and abusing others physically and verbally, and all these along with more serious crimes are considered to be ‘normal’ behavior. It is assumed that the viewer understands that such exaggerations are made in order to enhance the main idea of the movie as a creation of art. As a matter of fact, human behavior is almost entirely based on following the behavioral patterns of other people and whether we like it or not, we are forced to accept almost on a subconscious level the imposed stigmas of behavior we witness in so-called ‘creations of art’. Another problem is the fact that most viewers don’t possess the ability to view critically and such antisocial behaviors as the ones above are becoming deeply imprinted, not only on the subconscious but on the conscious level as well.
This situation creates another type of stress, because we are becoming a sort of battle ground between the standard norms of social behavior and the impulses to act unsociably that are rooted in these works of art. How can a decent clerk come to work in a bank the day after he has watched a movie where other decent bank clerks robbed the bank and blamed it on their despised manager, whose only reason to be despised was that he demanded that his clerks follow the bank procedures. These formerly decent clerks then live happily ever after, enjoying their fortune stolen from the evil bank which is considered such only because it pays them low wages.
There are so many other movies that proudly present criminal behaviors as an example to follow. The most common official explanation is that movies present ideas that the life of the average individual is not ‘good enough’ or ‘leaves a lot to be desired’. In movies, characters go to outrageous measures to change their circumstances. Viewers watching such movies are entertained by the notion of change, and fantasize about going to the extremes that they see in the movies in order to change their own lives.
Instead of teaching the viewer how to succeed in his own life or finding a way to entertain the viewer with some sort of positive moral message, these movies create a constant feeling of dissatisfaction in the general public. Along with the destructive influence of televised news mentioned here the overall impact of the media in general can be devastating in terms of creating fertile soil for the depression and anxiety disorders that feed the pharmaceutical industry and encourage its production of antidepressants.
According to “Depression Facts and Stats” by Bob Murray and Alicia Fortinberry from January 15, 2005, “depression is one of the greatest problems and killers of our time.” Depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults in a given year or about 9.5% of the U.S. population age 18 and older.
Everyone will at some time in their life be affected by depression—their own or someone else’s. Preschoolers are the fastest growing market for antidepressants. At least four percent of US preschoolers—over a million children—are clinically depressed. The rate of increase for depression among children is an astounding 23%. p.a. 15% of the population of most developed countries suffers severe depression;.30% of women are depressed, but 41% of depressed women are too embarrassed to seek help.
Please note that according to the same source, 15% of depressed people will commit suicide! Depression will be the second largest killer after heart disease by 2020, and studies show that depression is also a contributory factor to fatal coronary disease. 
The main causes of short-term depression are agreed to be caused by loss or extreme trauma when little or nothing can be done to prevent such unfortunate occurrences, which are likely to be a part of the individual’s life for quite a long time to come. We are talking about successful Western countries where acts of war and repressive human laws are rare, although even here things are not as simple as they seem to be.
As a matter of fact, according to polls published in Le Figaro on September 24, 2005, in the article “Le bonheur en équation” (“The Happiness in Equation”) by Gilles Denis, in answer to the question, “Are you satisfied with your life?” people in France were less satisfied than people in Ghana! This shows that a well developed economy does not necessarily serve as a decisive factor in people’s happiness.
Chronic or life-long depression can be caused by trauma in childhood, which includes: emotional, physical or sexual abuse; yelling or threats of abuse; neglect (even with two parents working); criticism; inappropriate or unclear expectations; maternal separation; conflict in the family; divorce; family addiction; violence in the family, neighborhood or on TV; racism; and poverty.
If we analyze the above list of causes of long- term depression we can see that we might want to re-order them according to their cause and effect relationships.
Confusing, frustrating, and stressful media that is mainly delivered through TV may increase the odds of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. There is hard proof that violence on the screen increases violence in the community, and we will present appropriate statistics later in this book.
What is not caused by abusive behavior on TV is often caused by mixed messages coming from the movies that present moral double standards and ultimately create inappropriate or unclear expectations which in their turn complete the list of causes of depression.
So, as the above statistics indicate, besides all these negative effects the media actually kills some of its viewers by causing depression and substantially increasing the rate of suicide.
Why is this done? Is there some kind of conspiracy that stands behind what is aired on television? It is a commonly-known fact that children spend close to 20 hours per week watching TV. Many adults are engaged in the same activity with a comparable number of hours. During the cold war we might have suspected that the KGB was somehow trying to destabilize Western society by bribing the media and making them work for the Communists. Who are we going to blame today? Are the radical Islamists making us air nudity? Or are the North Koreans trying to corrupt our youth?
Apparently we have no one to blame but ourselves. It all starts with the deteriorating morals of individuals who wouldn’t employ their conscience as a guide for their deeds. Our well-developed society with its schools and prisons is educating the general populace in such a way that we barely need to employ any of our conscience, and therefore we end up with blind monsters like our modern media that corrupt our babies and push us to a suicidal path.
In one province there were no residents. It was intentionally left empty and was sanctified by priests so as to challenge, on scientific grounds, the age-old principle that a holy place is never an empty place. And so there was such a place. Anyone who settled there, either in error or by their own will, was evicted; dwellings were knocked down and once the building rubble had been cleared away, grass was planted—free, as it were, to flutter in the wind.
In my country residents started to battle with ancient wisdom a long time ago. My country was a new type of state, where all were liberals, where all cleaned out their own rubbish and even scratched their own backs and feet, so as not to trouble anyone else with such a task. Justice in my country was elevated to the level of veneration, and people believed in it as Catholics do the Virgin Mary. In my country it was the simple cockroaches that gained the most, because the act of their obliteration was called ‘insect control’ rather than ‘destruction. “Let me control you,” said the destroyer to the one about to be destroyed, and at first that one fell into the trap of illusion and even felt somehow more at ease. But then, once sprayed and while watching the light of the world going out before him, he guessed that things were as they had always been: destruction was still destruction. The rest of the time the destroyer used the word control and the ones about to be destroyed calmed themselves: “So it’s not murder;” then, “perhaps it will pass,” and “maybe it is something else; perhaps this control is even a good thing.” Don’t say that people have not become cleverer over this last eternity, which is now coming to an end.
Incidentally, I can easily prove that eternity ends today. Don’t you believe me? Good! The inquisitive mind accepts nothing on faith. And your mind is an inquisitive one, is it not? A good thing that it is inquisitive, I say. So, eternity ends today because everything that has been up until today has ended and everything that will be has also ended, only the other way around. You don’t like it? Well, that definitely means you are a resident of my country. Residents of my country have a very moderate approach and never go around playing with time. They simply don’t have time for it.
There were many occupants in the province where no one lived, but they were not seen as residents. They spent a lot of time there, setting up temporary refuges, but despite staying in this area for hundreds of years they were not seen as permanent residents. They had disposable housing, disposable thoughts, and even disposable souls, and every evening they would throw out these everyday things with the rubbish and in the morning they took new ones from the pack. As these things were in high demand, they could not be made in an expensive or complex manner. Therefore everything was made nice and cheap, but of a reasonable quality. You get up in the morning, get a new soul from the pack, tear open the packaging and pull it on nice and tight—good and clean and convenient as well. How was it they didn’t think of it before? Disposable souls are much cleaner, more economical, and definitely healthier than those old, worn-out, multi-use types. The discovery was made before the last world war, when the army bought up fifty million disposable souls. The effect was just amazing, no crush and no fuss; all nice and clean, like in an exemplary morgue.
The disposable thoughts proved to be no less a popular product and they improved the health of a large proportion of the unhealthy population, while the healthy population became so healthy that one could do little more than apply some ‘control’. They had really outstayed their welcome: sitting around in cafeterias, driving around in their Mercedes Benzes, living longer than the population of your average country. It’s good they still had a disposable memory, as otherwise things could have become really confusing.
So everyone found the disposable thoughts to their liking. At first they were sold in old-fashioned boxes called “The Press”. But with the advent of the universal technology known as television, thoughts were conveniently packaged in tens, twenty-fives and fifties and it became quick and easy to think them. The people liked it, and the country all the more. The Internet presented even more convenient packaging, in hundreds, with a ten-pack of sex thrown in for free.
The human with a disposable soul and disposable thoughts no longer needed to establish roots in his land, especially because his dwellings were forever being taken down, since the authorities had decided to keep the province uninhabited, and the resident soon agreed to a disposable house which he would never regret because of his disposable memory, which would not be able to remember any other, genuine house.
A major revelation of this progress was disposable living. There was a time when backward savages, the likes of Galileo and Bruno, were prepared to go to the stake for their life’s work. This became completely superfluous once the disposable conscience was invented. It could not feel shame for its bad behaviour from the day before and so it was always clean and fresh, and it absorbed three times more than a conscience could digest before.
The disposable Living was changed frequently. It was considered improper to show yourself with a Living that had seen service. Livings were sold in large boxes with colored labels, depicting healers, sculptors, politicians and writers. This was irrational. Livings are now sold in simple packages, like bars of soap, labelled with letters such as BA, MA, and Ph.D. You can also get a Living with numbers on it or even without a name, in cheap packaging and with the inscription, “What You Do For A Living,” with a full stop at the end of the sentence, because with each day this matter is completely reinvented.
Most of all, the residents of the uninhabited province took to disposable faith. Today you buy a green faith and tomorrow you spend the whole day green. Then you buy a red faith and spend the next day red; the day after that is blue. True, brown was banned, although it is sold everywhere just as before, only with a label saying, “This is not brown, even if you think it’s brown.” You could also get brown by buying two faiths of different colors. You may say that this is not a faith but a conviction. Not so. In my country such ideas were no longer shared once the disposable God had been devised. This kind of God proved to be very user-friendly.
First of all you could buy one just a few times in a lifetime: if you fall ill or are at a funeral, say, or you could get away without ever buying one at all. The disposable God was now sold in packs of three; He forgot everything the following day, forgave everyone, and smiled silently at everything. And when the Pope said that it was no longer humane to send people to Hell, people really calmed down and took to keeping this disposable God in the bedside table, next to the condoms. And you say that people have not progressed over the eternity that has passed? And you say that eternity doesn’t end today? Now listen on.
The greatest progress was made in the uninhabited province when a chemist from an uninhabited laboratory discovered disposable love. They started manufacturing this love in packs of five with the name “The Only Love”. It came to be used from the youngest and most tender years on up; industry started the production of disposable love for teenagers, and even for the very youngest children. Of course, the disposable marriage appeared on sale almost immediately. Many people actually got by without this unnecessary item and they even came to buying disposable love on the Internet, something far more contemporary, cleaner, and more convenient.
Disposable life was sold in the uninhabited province in the form of reincarnation, in packs of fifteen to twenty, and the residents of the uninhabited province used it regardless of their choice of disposable religion. Do you see how convenient it all is? One evening you’re a follower of Buddha, in the morning you follow Christ, and the day after that you’re the follower of some spineless sect.
When a disposable eternity was discovered, the uninhabited province was first expanded to the dimensions of my country, and then the entire earth was my country. When a disposable universe came on sale, the uninhabited province expanded to the size of the universe and even further, into other universes which are now on sale in packs of ten.
Disposable eternity ends today when we throw it out in the rubbish bin at the end of the day along with our disposable souls, memories, lives, careers and faith. Eternity begins again tomorrow, fresh and crisp right out of its cellophane wrapper.
Any issue concerning human society can be analyzed from two perspectives: from the individual point of view and from the point of view of society itself. Usually when we deal with organizing different systems we don’t take into account the interests of the individual units that built up the systems. It is degrading to try to respect or even to identify the individual needs of computer files on your desktop. We create, save, modify, and delete them on an entirely by-need basis. It is generally assumed that computer files don’t have any individuality and therefore there are not supposed to be such things as ‘computer file’s needs’. But what about cattle? We don’t respect the natural right of cows to live and butcher them, again on a by-need basis, although while they are still alive we try our best to create conditions that will be most beneficial for their growth and well-being by supplying a dry barn and appropriate food and other needs. In both cases our approach is entirely utilitarian and based on a desire to do what benefits us.
This is not much different than self-organizing systems such as an anthill or a beehive. There is no recognizable individual beneficiary that would seem to derive benefits from the tremendous efforts of individual ants and bees to secure the optimal functioning of their communities. (Specialists call this non-existent beneficiary the “spirit of the beehive”.) The queen bee is not a monarch in the human sense; she is just a life factory that produces the next generation of bees until she can’t do it anymore, and when she gets old the other bees just stop feeding her until her dies. It is even harsher in termite society where, when their equivalent of the queen bee becomes less productive, they just choose another one and the old one gets eaten, which is not exactly the humane way of treating royalty.
Some people try to treat human society in the same way they cultivate a vegetable garden, by trying to uproot what they consider weeds and grow only carrots, until they eventually harvest them for eating. This approach is good for a gardener but it cannot possibly be good for any human because, as an individual, he can always be considered either a carrot or even a weed himself.
Ignoring the need of analysis from an individual point of view leads to a situation where we assume that there is some sort of super-carrot level, from which we can govern society.
In many cases we might encounter discussions that are carried out on either ‘super-carrot’ or just ‘regular-carrot’ levels. Two opponents from different levels will never agree on any social issue because the ‘super-carrot’ approach tries to treat humans as carrots in the vegetable garden, taking into account only the benefit of the society as a whole, and the ‘regular-carrot’ approach looks at any problem entirely from the perspective of the individual carrot. Both approaches are incomplete because of their inherent bias.
The solution could be in a compromise between these two levels of consideration. The Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau sets guidelines for the creation of such a compromise between the ‘general will’ and individual interests. Unfortunately, in the real world the ‘general will’ has a lot more power than any particular individual or even the totality of all individuals within the society. For example, it is very common in well-developed democratic societies for there to be only two leading political parties to choose from at the time of national elections. For example, there are Republicans and Democrats in the United States, and Liberals and Conservatives in Canada. Their political platforms become very similar at election time and most of the time the voter finds himself in the situation where he has no one to vote for because none of the leading political parties quite represent his individual interests. Such failure to provide a voter with fair representation in elective assemblies constitutes the failure of democracy itself.
Once society tries to meet its objectives it follows a path toward an ideal society—one that has been laid out by different philosophers such as Plato, Campanella, Hegel, Kropotkin, as well as Marx. In all the cases mentioned, such philosophers approach the organizational problems of society from the ‘super-carrot’ perspective.
As far back as Plato’s Republic there were those who believed that some people were most fit for different roles in society. Plato went so far as to propose breeding humans for desirable characteristics. The Hegelian model of society is based on this concept, and it leaves no place for individual liberties or private property rights. Nazism and Marxist Communism are in turn based on such ideas.
Although Nazism has mostly faded away long since and the world doesn’t seem move as much anymore in the direction of strong national states, communist ideas are still very deeply implanted in people’s minds all over the world. Its main idea is based on the just distribution of material assets within society. But what is ‘just’?
What does the idea of socialism/communism involve? Basically, the fair distribution of material benefits. And what does “fair” distribution mean? This is a principle that is based on the idea of the equality of all people and it is deep-rooted in the basic consciousness of all humans, those very beings that we see in the bathroom mirror, that meaty being made of flesh and surprisingly not of what we feel we are made of the rest of the time. What goes badly with this being is the proud and theoretically-generalized name ‘human’. It is this same carnal being that thirsts for a fair share, and it is here where the essence of socialism/communism can be found. This of course is in contrast to the tendency within us to accumulate various things, something observed in squirrels and in certain breeds of monkey and a number of other animals.
The innovation of the idea that he who works more should get more, as in the classical socialist distribution model, is really nothing new, since in nature the strongest gets the lion’s share. And what’s the difference if this strongest being applies his strength to locking horns with an opponent or extracting coal from the earth? Both require energy, and it is not important where this energy is directed. That is, he who expends more energy should receive the greater compensation.
Many of Marx’s ideas today appear crazy, unfounded and unnatural, in particular his ideas about society. Let’s look at human society as the well-organized organism that it is. Part of it is responsible for control, part for protection. Part is responsible for feeding and a certain part, for excretion. All these parts have stimulation, based on feedback. If parts work effectively they are fed more and develop, while if parts are inactive they dry up and die out. Marx proposes that we cut off and discard a part of our vital organs, declaring that other organs can easily fulfil that part’s function. Have you tried to perform a thought process with your buttock muscle instead of your head? How about digesting food with your back muscles? You try it. What you’ll get is a really Marxist system for the organisation of society. Which organ is Lenin’s cook and which should run the country in our comparison with the system of organs? There’s something to dwell on in your free time…
I experience contradictory feelings towards this well-thrashed subject. To me it seems absurd, inveterate, and passé. And yet I still want to get to the bottom of what lies behind this human striving to achieve an equal share wherever possible, this envious attitude toward everything, including oneself. I feel that I have still not settled on an understanding of this matter and I am thinking of it again while reading Marx’s biography and other essays, like “The Manifesto of the Communist Party”. It is difficult to take these scriptures in when we are so far from their historical context, and they have been devalued by scholars with their many interpretations and perceptions of its meaning. Of course the crux of the matter doesn’t lie in Marx and it doesn’t lie in this latest attempt to make humankind happy that had turned itself into a terrible machine by which we can portray the Twentieth Century that inevitably followed. If we are so dependent upon the genes that are embedded in us through natural selection and if we are so similar to animals in practically everything, why is it that animals know when to run from an earthquake and we do not? Why is it that we have adopted only the animal qualities of animals and not their keen intuition? It is not easy being a captive of one’s own species, of a biological substance, and even of this four-sided Universe at the end of the day. Yet, somehow, we are able to understand the world at the end of it all. Somehow we have surpassed our dear animals.
So, striving towards a fair share and having faith in human equality is a truly ancient thing. It has always been built on the shoulders of slaves, even in the very darkest days of humanity. However, I would say that people behave more in accordance with the accepted doctrines of society today. If it is accepted within a society that a part of it is plebeian—the lowest caste, the untouchable—then such beings, placed on a level with slaves, feel themselves as such and feel little distress in this regard, let alone feel like making proclamations for freedom and equality. Many of them know their place and remain within the confines of their class. The question of intolerance of a job or other position is truly relative. Most often people tolerate their job placements as long as they are fed enough and given the chance to reproduce; this tolerance can last for generations. In this regard communism is an infection, infecting minds, like any other Utopian destructive idea. However, any idea is destructive if it is taken to the extreme. It is not likely that Christ and the Lord God applied a mandatory application in the style of the inquisition into their “Love thy neighbour” campaign.
For example, the modern idea of turning things around, which was used to protect the colored minorities in the USA, is an excellent example of the perversion of an idea, taken to absurd proportions. This is confirmed by the famous French writer Michel Houellebecq, called by Paris Match “Zarathoustra des classes moyennes” (“the Zarathustra of the middle classes”). He calls this phenomenon “l’antiracisme ou plus exactement le racisme antiblanc” (“antiracism or, more precisely, racism against the whites”). Generally any idea that is forced into society in a certain way has a tendency to be perverted. The problem lies in the fact that we view every phenomenon in a biased way and from the peak of its development and sophistication.
There was a time when I saw communism as unnatural. On the first course of a still residually Soviet institute I wrote a work on communism in the kibbutz as an example of the success of communism overall. I explained this success by nothing more than the fact that communist principles are inherent in only 3 percent of the regular population (this is the proportion of the population of Israel that lives in a kibbutz), and that the intrusion of this way of life into the lives of everyone else (the remaining 97 percent) is indeed unnatural, and this is what leads to the nightmare we have observed in our much-bemoaned socialist motherland. I am afraid that I was wrong. As my subsequent experience has revealed, people are all communists in the depths of their soul, be they poorly educated or the clever sorts—they are all the same.
There is a deep-seated contradiction in the statement that all people are equal. In whatever society you may take, even the most humane, there is an ever-present grading of people into the best and the worst— into different groups, with different salaries and rewards, different levels of assessment, with praise and punishment varying accordingly. When people are considered equal there is no hierarchy and no system will work. It is not important if people are unequal by birth or by social definition; inequality is a prerequisite for the existence of any system. There have to be both managers and the managed, both givers and takers, both punishers and the punished, both those doing the rewarding and those being rewarded.
A fundamental feature of a society built on inequality while under an official proclamation of equality is that it produces the sense of being duped among a large part of the population. The majority of people simply do not know their place. I do not mean that I am somehow better than others and in no way am I calling for a fascist-Platonist distribution into castes. But judge for yourselves. None of us knows our place. Unlimited potential and tales of their equality create unrealistic expectations in most people. In the meantime rigorous statistics clearly show that the chances of a certain individual, ‘A’, achieving the high status of another individual, ‘B’, are almost equal to zero. Yet social propaganda, upbringing, and mass culture force individual ‘A’ to strive for status similar to that of individual ‘B’, despite the fact that it is practically impossible to achieve. And what do we get as a result? Individual ‘A’ behaving dysfunctionally in everything linked with his life and his achievements. Not knowing one’s place in society brings on a constant dissatisfaction with oneself, one’s work, one’s home, and one’s financial potential. This situation is well exemplified in contemporary, developed society.
From this comes overall discontent with one’s occupation. People everywhere feel their professional occupations to be a punishment. However clean and stress-free a job may be, many people suffer from boredom and discontent in their positions. Work is viewed as a negative aspect of life. And so it goes that the issue lies not in working conditions, not in the size of one’s paycheck or the length of the working day, but how, in psychological terms, a person perceives their job. In his book Candide, Voltaire concludes that hard work is the only way to survive melancholy and boredom in life and he concludes with the wonderful phrase, “il faut cultiver notre jardin” (“it is necessary to cultivate our garden”). In The Third Wave, Alvin Toffler notes that more and more people prefer to do work around the house themselves rather than call on a specialist. There are now more and more skilled do-it-yourself workers. Toffler explains this with economic reasons: it is an attempt to save on paying for professional services. It is also possible that this trend results from a person’s discontent with his or her official job, and hence the tendency to make up for this discontent by replacing it either with additional work around the house or on the roof or by building an extra room.
Contemporary society, having declared people’s equality, that true Utopian phenomenon, has formed a society of individuals who have lost their real orientation. They do not know their place and purpose and do not know how and which garden to cultivate.
Is a striving for equality a normal, natural phenomenon in people?
I would say that there is little in humans that is placed there by nature. Humans differ from animals in that, as a rule, they act against the rules. Most animals are easily predictable because they act in accordance with their natural needs. Humans are actually even more predictable, if we assume that they will act most often contrary to their inherent natural needs.
A human is a clean slate upon which society can imprint many characteristics, dictating his position and the place from which his behaviour will spring, either in line with the intentions of society or as a protest against them. But this always occurs on the same plane. It is these imperatives, dictated by society, that make a human act in one way or another. Thus, the imperatives of societies where determination was high, like the caste system in India or ancient Egypt, prompt the human psychology to develop in accordance with such segregation. The fact that we believe a caste system to be wild in no way means that it really is wild. It simply means that our psychology, forced upon us by contemporary society, campaigns for an imaginary equality and against segregation, although it has almost the same segregation as the most segregated society of Orwell’s utopia. A society built on lies about the unlimited capabilities inherent in each individual will inevitably conflict with real segregation and the practical lack of this potential. Such a society is by no means the best solution for human happiness, although it is entirely possible to increase the needs and raise the expectations of the populace, such as by expanding the capitalist market system. And there is no need to say that if people in Western society are clothed and not dying of hunger that this is the final proof that this is the best possible form of human co-existence.
How did America solve the problem of its people’s happiness? Very simply by making the formula “it’s all OK” its standard. Smiles on every face and “it’s all OK.” And the people experience feedback: I say I’m feeling good, which means I really do feel good. That is why, according to data published in 2005 in Time magazine in an article devoted to happiness, 80 percent of Americans stated that they were happy.
Let’s return to Karl Marx. Marx does not take the role of the capitalist entrepreneur into consideration at all. Reading the ninth chapter of the first volume of Das Capital, you are amazed that he refuses to see that an entrepreneur is also a human, with his own motives and actions. OK, so he doesn’t slog away for ten-hour shifts in the mill, but his actions also have to be motivated and compensated. Such short-sightedness is amazing. The trick in comparing surplus value with salary when discarding accounts for the other part of involved capital, and the conclusions on 100% exploitation are pitiful and unsubstantiated. Furthermore, everything is lumped together, from difficult employment conditions to what young workers will do if they are let off work an hour early.
All this falls into one big heap.
The basic interest of capitalism is the even distribution of capital among the population, which creates a colossal and most reliable form of market. Now if only a small group of people were given all the wealth, leaving the rest of the population in poverty, capitalism could not continue to exist because the poor would not be able to create a consumers’ market. And there would not be enough rich people to do this. I would explain the birth of the first French Revolution, with its freedom, equality and sense of brotherhood, as an attempt by a young form of capitalism to create equal conditions for the masses and to expand the marketplace.
Marx defined labor in absolute terms and proclaimed it to be a “social substance”, stating that any labor is productive. I have not once come across this way of thinking among the simple workers in different continents. Whenever I pointed to the counter productivity of the work of a particular employee and even the damage that this employee was causing with his work, be it in Israel or in Canada, I received one and the same response, “But I was at work!” This response was heard in different languages and even in the coarsest terms, such as “But I was working eight f…ing hours!” No attempt of mine to explain that it would have been better for the employee to remain at home rather than do the work he did, which bore no fruit, had any effect. Not that I would refuse to pay such a worker; that was not the point. The employment legislation of all developed countries requires remuneration for labor regardless of its results. No, the point was simply to make a criticism of the work, to which I invariably received the response, “But I was at work!” And this was in Canada, a country which it seems has not been deeply touched by the socialist mentality.
Seeing labor in absolute terms was Marx’s principal mistake, albeit not his only one. Putting labor in absolute terms and creating on this basis a theory of surplus value is to directly tamper with the figures, like adding mugs to bricks. In addition, using Adam Smith’s division of society into economic classes, Marx created theories of class struggle, expropriation of the bourgeoisie, and the dictatorship of the proletariat. What these theories led to was violence in general and a proletarian revolution in particular.
Another conclusion, which is fairly logical from the point of view of the Marxist theory of labor in absolute terms but absurd from the point of view of common sense, is that “land is worth nothing because it has not been created by labor”!
It is hard to say if Marx counted on the application of his theories, as at the end of his life he actually disowned them. This is evidenced in the last lines of the fourth volume of Das Capital:
“The basis of absolute surplus value, that is the actual condition for its existence, is the natural fertility of the land and of nature, while relative surplus value is based on the development of social production forces.”
However, the Russian Bolsheviks, who apparently had not yet finished reading Marx, had run off in the meantime to start a revolution anyway. Everything that was created in Russia (and then the USSR) from 1917 on, with the exception of NEP, was a fulfilment of Marxist theory. Stalin, the “Leader of the People”, proved to be an extremely zealous follower of Marx. The industrial armies that were predicted by Marx were brought to life by Stalin in the collective farms and concentration camps where “surplus value” was squeezed from human muscles. One of the most important manifestations of the dictatorship of the proletariat was the collectivization of agriculture. Violence was implemented by the regressive and punitive organs of the deformed and swollen state, which was by no means planning to die off, as Marx had assumed. Behind the Iron Curtain, hypocritically covering themselves with “the bright future of communism,” the Soviet leadership reprocessed the people into “surplus value”. The Twentieth Century proved to be as entangled in barbed wire as Marx was by his own thinking. This terrible experiment might have continued for a long time had Mother Nature not risen up herself.
I have found many references to Adam Smith in Marx’s work. Marx, after all, is seen as someone who based his theories on the classic economists. It is important to understand the circumstances of the time when certain ideas and concepts arise. The greater the number of facts that are taken into account, the more probable that the essence of the idea will appear. Ideas detached from their historical context are invariably interpreted falsely. Adam Smith had a view on feudalism that any person of his time might have had, when the spirit of feudalism hovered over Europe and was not something as hard to imagine in practice as it was in Karl Marx’s time and is even more so in our time.
In his chapter on money Adam Smith declares, incidentally, that in any event we are all merchants: “Every man thus lives by exchanging, or becomes in some measure a merchant, and the society itself grows to be what is properly a commercial society.” Any person today lives by exchanging and in Adam Smith’s time everyone lived by exchanging, so correspondingly everyone was a merchant. If this understanding of benefit, gain, and the magic of the equality of exchange had taken root in the masses, it is possible that there would not have been the horrors that have shaken the world over the last three hundred years or so. Exchange is the greatest proclamation of human freedom. It is not just empty rhetoric or a cheap trick, but something definite, proven, and just. As someone goes along with you in making an exchange, they are not out to kill you, rob you or make you work as a slave. I don’t know if animals have the concept of exchanging; in any case I have never paid this any attention. Animals can share or give away their bit. Yes, you can find mutual benefit among the apes: you scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours. Generally speaking, these are the leanings of a culture of exchanging.
Communism rejects exchange. It violates this thin thread of freedom—from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. And to insure the needs do not become inflated, train in modesty. It also violates the division of labor: going fishing in the morning, running the country in the evening. Exchange is the only guarantee of human freedom. While people are exchanging with you, if freely and without pressure, then you are accepted as an equal, a partner in negotiations. It is a worthy exchange, and not a matter of seizure by force, or of someone ignoring you. If the feeling of being a merchant was embedded in us through our mother’s milk and along with our education, rather than people trying out bad ideas from some super-carrot/super-human level, then there would have been no place for these daft communist ideas to take hold. Communism is nothing more than striving to get a free lunch, a sacred, all-conquering and all-consuming freebie, under which there is and can be no exchange. The fundamental part of Marx’s theory, which substantiates the nature of surplus value, the “cornerstone” of this economic theory as Lenin put it, is erroneous. The fact is that humankind lives thanks to solar energy. Marx could not have understood this, as the knowledge of photosynthesis did not exist then and accordingly there was no concept of the role of solar energy in the lives of humankind at that time. We now understand that the flow of solar energy to earth, the assimilation of which through photosynthesis takes place in plants, is indeed the fundamental principle of life. Assimilated by plants, this energy becomes food, is consumed by people and in essence is something of genuine value. Accordingly, we should begin not with labor, but with the energy that makes this labor possible! The law of energy conservation and energy conversion is what brings us to this consideration. Before going to work a human has to have breakfast; then there is the lunch break. As a human feeds, he is taking in the appropriate quantity of solar energy which is then expended in labor. In a word, from seeing labor in absolute terms we need to shift to seeing the cosmic energy that feeds human labor in absolute terms. Here we can equate a human with a machine (and in this case there is no sin in doing so), as in our mundane life we are transformers of solar energy. Thus, a human being cannot live without consuming a portion of solar energy from time to time. It is from here that value is born. And how does this happen? Let’s put it this way: in the spring we threw a grain of corn into the ground. By the autumn an ear has appeared on which there is not one grain, but a hundred. Adam Smith, and Marx after him, similarly grow a harvest from labor. But are they right to do so? Only in part. Naturally, a certain volume of the harvest comes from labor, but by no means all of it. It goes without saying that the better we till the field, the more care we take of the plants, the more we will get. Let’s assume that the contribution of labor is 40%. And what about the remaining 60%, if it doesn’t come from labor? No, the 60% does not come from labor; it is a gift from Nature. And finally, it was not the human that created the ear of corn! Accordingly, this is how surplus value arises. Absolute surplus value is that part of the harvest that the peasant takes to market. Cities have risen thanks to absolute surplus value and it is because of it that civilisation as a whole develops.
Let us now imagine that the peasant has consumed the entire cultivated harvest. He worked and then consumed the fruits of his labor, leaving enough just for sowing and for sustenance until the next harvest. Nothing is left for selling. How, in this case, will industry operate, how will a city thrive and government function? Now it is clear that everything begins with a seed and a field; here is where surplus value is born. Then it will acquire other forms: industrial goods, money and so on, but we should seek its origin right here, in the field.
So where was Karl Marx wrong? It was in his simplified approach to economics, his shallow, superficial, and thus ever-erroneous analysis of labor relations, means of production and the motives of entrepreneurship. According to Marx, capital exists as if somehow lowered from the sky and the entrepreneur—with his interests, risks and motives—is ignored as if he has already faced the firing squad. Everything is heaped in a pile and expressed in a poetic style, as was sometimes the case with Nietzsche.
So where was Marx right? Of course you cannot hold people in inhuman conditions, feed them poorly, make them work sixteen hours a day and pay them hardly anything. This is bad for everyone. However, for the last 150 years capitalist societies have developed such social systems that one can do little more than speak of their saturation, and of the fact that they procreate spongers and destroy society.
So who was this Karl Marx? Long since taken as a largely symbolic figure, it is as if he was detached from real time and physical reality while these explosive ideas, so fatal for millions, were being created.
What drives people like Marx? Passion. And passion is seldom able to see straight. Karl Marx is hardly an economist in essence, and as a philosopher he is highly suspect. Piling everything into one heap, philosophy and economics, literature and politics, Marx does not fit into any standard classification.
The universe does not maintain rigid boundaries between living and inanimate matter. We can trace the fate of each atom in our body from the moment of its creation to the nuclei of stars, as a result of the evolution of the universe through the gradual accumulation of even heavier and consequently more complex elements. These elements are created through the formation of more and more complex conglomerations of matter, each with their own unique properties. These aggregations exist not in isolation from one another but coexist as parts of the same totality. In essence, the motion of this evolution is driven by the complexity of the systems and organizations of matter that we have been able to study. If we humans were compared to other remnants of our galaxy, such as stars or planets, we would come to the realization that we are both diminutive and insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe. It would be similar to the comparison between a wood stove and a computer microcircuit. The divergence in the utilization of energy resources and the satisfaction of needs only stands to emphasize the fact that the complexity of a system is the unquestionable standard of the evolutionary hierarchy. Life, as we know it, has discovered unique ways of coping with the inevitable entropy of the universe (the dispersion of energy in space). Living forms of matter do not resist entropy. They are open systems, which is an important facet of their organization. They consist of their component elements, which can be constantly substituted. Nevertheless, our understanding of the universe has been a gradual progression that is inevitably linked to our evolution.
We have come to understand the process of evolution as consisting of three distinct phases. First there is simply matter, which is the non-living physical aspect of the universe, consisting of all the atoms and molecules and other particles, in the form of the stars and galaxies and other objects that we observe around us. Living systems comprise the second stage of evolution; they are structured as open systems that are constantly interacting with their environment and the physical laws of our world. Simply stated, all living entities accept and receive energy in this type of system. This second stage distinguishes itself from inanimate matter because there is no collaboration or interaction with the environment it resides in. As such, an open system is not bound by the limitations of physical presence because the concept of an open system is an idea which does not rely on matter. Therefore in our understanding it would be possible to recreate an animal that exists on our planet somewhere else in the galaxy, because the animal is comprised of the same atoms as that environment and will embrace the reciprocal flow of energy through constant interaction. This is different from the first stage of evolution, because recreating an inanimate object in another area of the galaxy would require physically moving it to that location, since it exists as a closed system, one dependent on physical matter.
The third stage of evolution occupies a more theoretical plane of thought. Human existence allows for the contemplation and realization of ideas and concepts. However, it is our intelligence that allows us to understand that ideas existed long before our capacity to acknowledge and realize their existence. As such, ideas are independent from physical matter and exist merely as concepts in our minds, just like love. Love springs from a sincere interest in any object or phenomenon. It also constitutes a reflection of an object or phenomenon. It is possible to define love as the acknowledgement of the highest value of the reflected object, an appreciation of its uniqueness. Simple reflection is known in inanimate nature. However, it cannot be said that the smoothness of the surface of a lake, which reflects the light of a star, loves this light or falls in love with this star. Possibly that is suitable for poetry, but not for our present consideration. Thus, love is inherently bound by the process of conscious realization.
Realization is a complex series of events whereby the absorption of the object or phenomenon breaks through to the unconscious by the act of meditation and introspection. The concept of love does not necessarily imply certain tangible contact with any given object. As such, it would follow that the object does not even need to exist in the physical sense, for love is not bound by the concept of physical matter. It’s sufficient unto itself. Love is a means, a recollection, a presentiment or simply an idea. The love that one may experience with respect to objects in daily life is only a partial aspect of this phenomenon on which we bestow the name of love. Love is a unique designation that we as humans can bestow onto ideas because we reflect the universe through realization and love. This ability elevates our uniqueness within the universe, because we are the only known living beings capable of performing such tasks. For only through reflection are we able to realize their existence, and that is why humans have reached the pinnacle of the evolutionary process. The human race has the capacity to manipulate and transfer these ideas and images but not in the fashion of a living system, because an idea does not rely on its environment or the physical limitations it imposes.
Evolution as we understand it is a progression toward the development of more complex and more elaborate systems, which can be understood through reflection, but it is not limited to human progression. Just as we occupy the pinnacle of species evolution, we are by nature inclined to create the evolution of our own systems. Therefore, the fourth stage of evolution is the closed or virtual system. A virtual system can be understood as artificial intelligence or a world that is not bound by our evolutionary limitations. Nevertheless, the virtual world can be based on our physical laws and principles. Thus, a virtual system has the capacity to be exchangeable with any other form of matter if it embraces those principles. An example would be the act of closing a computer file. As the file closes it seems to obey the laws of gravity and falls down. In this instance we can see humans imposing our own limitations on a system that does not need to consider such laws. Furthermore, we need to address the fact that virtual reality encompasses a larger scope than previously understood. For as humans progress, so too does the scope and complexity of the virtual world we create. After creating man, the universe itself evolved and is only now being conceived.
Human creations such as computers represent another form of the organization of the material in our universe. Like all things, both living and lifeless, they consist of atoms and molecules which were formed from the creation of the universe itself. These creations begin to form the new universe that we understand, in which the basis of material and energy is symbolic, like the binary code that we ourselves create. This newly developed universe is not subordinated to our laws of physics, thermodynamics, or even logic. In it there are neither problems nor limitations to the rate and flow of time, as is the case with virtual reality where we are capable of molding and creating any world we desire. Although the realities we create may resemble our own, their existence is merely a byproduct of our own evolution—for example, our need for computers. Generally I prefer not to use the term “another universe”. If we by the word “universe” indicate that all possible objects exist in one universe but cannot in another, then this definition can easily be rejected by those who embrace ideals of divinity, because how is one universe more morally suited than any other?
As a matter of definition the universe embodies all things, because it is not confined to any boundaries that we can imagine. Stemming from this it is prudent to acknowledge that belief systems that are grounded in religion and the idea of God necessitate that all things, including the universe itself, are a part of God because God embodies all things, hence nothing is beyond God’s scope.
If God embodies everything, then there cannot be parts of the universe that exceed God’s reach, even our imaginations. From combining these two concepts, both God and the universe, we can say that the evolution of their understanding and intelligence has led to the appearance of a new form of existence. This is an existence that is independent from them, also from material and space, and since this contradicts our previously established definitions, one should say that as soon as this understanding of a new creation occurs, it immediately becomes a part of the universe and thus is ultimately derived from God. Furthermore, our definition of the universe represents an absolute ideal: namely that everything that can and cannot exist, everything that does and does not exist, and everything that has existed, does exist, and will exist is inherently a part of the universe.
Now let us study the concept known as ‘evolution’, and how other ideas and theories impact our understanding of its place in the universe. Is it possible to conceive of evolution as separate from the concept of time? It goes without saying that for a human these concepts cannot exist in isolation but are inherently linked since the dawn of creation. Let us accept time as a special case of our perception or, if you want, a special type of existence that does not seem to possess any substance but inevitably unfolds before our eyes. How can we determine time with respect to our conception of the universe or even of God for that matter?
How do we perceive time with respect to our concepts of past, present, and future? Everything that exists, those forms powerful enough to exist in harmony with the forces of the universe and those that do not yet possess the ability to withstand them are affected by these ideas. Although it can be argued that those forms which do not possess the power to exist are a part of the past, and quite possibly will inhabit the future as time unfolds. Thus, within the framework of the definition of the universe and God, lurks the concept of evolution as driven by the endless passage of time in a direction that we cannot ourselves control. Since we can only think about the categories of matter that are accessible to us we cannot even dare to state that the universe evolves before our eyes…
 Lucius Annaeus Seneca, known simply as Seneca or Seneca the Younger (ca. 4 BC–AD 65) was a Roman philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and (in one work) humorist of the Silver Age of Latin literature.
Despite being a poet, Byron had come to feel that action was more important than poetry. He boarded a brig, the Hercules, and sailed to Greece to aid the Greeks, who had risen against Ottoman oppression. Byron died far away from his home, in Missolonghi, on 19 April, 1824.
 Joel R. Primack, Nancy Ellen Abrams., The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos, Riverhead Books, New York, 2006.
 Heisenberg, uncertainty paper, 1927
Aesop, a slave, was asked by his master to find a way to solve a bet that he had made while drunk. He had bet he could drink the sea. Aesop solved this by agreeing that his master could drink all the water in the sea, but first all the water from the rivers and springs would have to be removed. Because this is impossible, his master was let out of the bet.
 http://www.upliftprogram.com/depression_stats.html, October 5, 2006.
 http://www.upliftprogram.com/depression_stats.html, October 5, 2006.
“Scriptures” in the biblical sense.
 Paris Match, No. 2935, p.7.
 E. Toffler, The Third Wave. Published by АСТ, М., 1999, pp. 6-261.
 Karl Marx. Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production, ed. Frederick Engels, trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling (New York: International Publishers, 1939).
 I will refrain here from bothering the reader with classroom arithmetic and an analysis of Marx’s sums in the style of “a
worker can produce so many kilograms of so-and-so.”
 Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Modern Library Edition, 1994. Chapter IV, The Origin and Use of Money, p. 24. First published: 1776.