Sunday, June 26, 2016

New Struggle Between Good and Evil in US and EU

New Struggle Between Good and Evil in US and EU

We live at a crossroads of history, a time of change which we are called to see as  determining whether our path leads to survival or extinction of the human species. This year in particular, 2016, is a time of acute political struggles both in the US and in the EU, struggles which feel to most people as a kind of titanic struggle between good and evil. Only – which side is good and which side is evil? Is there such a thing as good and evil? Is this an honest-to-god spiritual struggle?

I was mildly surprised in “cosmic consciousness” meditation time this morning that I am called to explain some of that. (Side note: some of my friends in the local Quaker meeting would call this early morning practice “conversations with God” or even “prayer”. Those conversations deserve to be reported too, but I will try to focus this morning on the issue of the morning.)

Yesterday I decided to bite the bullet, and try to figure out how to write a scientific paper connecting my prior work on brains and consciousness in mathematical theory and engineering to my new work getting very deep into actual brain recording data from the laboratory of the leading neuroscientist Buzsaki. I really enjoyed that new work, because it gave me a chance to just ignore the mental “speed limits” which hold our society back, and it let me experience the great pleasure of “chasing the rabbit of truth from field to field without any fences.” It was a bit painful to revive my ancient skills at debugging computer code and to depend on the healing powers of my wife Luda in using an ancient laptop ready to succumb to old age, but I kept reminding myself of the pleasure of climbing Mount Washington in bad weather a couple of years ago. But in actually writing the paper, or in explaining more of the struggles in US and EU... those boring speed limits and incessant tribal taboos, hangups and vendettas all come back. These two communication tasks – trying to explain some of the underlying reality of the brain, and trying to explain a little more about the underlying reality of these struggle, both bump up against a lot of the very same deep and important cultural pitfalls and struggles. I felt ready to just give up on them both yesterday afternoon... but... it is 5AM as I write, and I just used our code word “Muse” to Luda.

The focus right now is on EU (as in my baby hints posted yesterday), but of course the cultural and spiritual events in the EU reflect a struggle very similar to that in the US, as Trump has noted.

How could one possibly be as brief as a page or two blog, to depict what is important for you here, in such a complex system, where each one of you has a need to learn a little something new, and few of you have matured enough spiritually to actually enjoy the “new worldview every three days” which I enjoyed in playing with brain data?

If I had to do it one or two sentences: “We all need to chill and force time to maintain perspective, even amidst the most harried of schedules and responsibilities. So why not chill, and do what I did a couple of years ago, and watch the old Babylon 5 series available from Amazon, all the way to the high point near the start of the fourth series?” Yes, it is a mere TV sci fi, but it’s not such an oversimplification as the plays of Sophocles are, and there can be great value in serious thought building on such abstracted or simplified things. There are some interesting parallels between what the EU is going through (and US even?), and the story of Babylon 5. Certainly not an identical story line, but – the main theme of that series is the struggle between good and evil, and that’s why I went back and watched it, when developments in the US made it impossible for me to ignore that kind of struggle. This morning, I now feel I understand that struggle a lot better than I did yesterday, though I have a whole lot to digest here.

(By the way, it really grated me when Trump used “Pocohontas” as a curse word a few weeks ago. Don’t underestimate Mr. Disney, or the best of his company’s works!! Unlike Babylon 5 and Sophocles, that movie was made for children... in part... but I remember buying the sound track, and lying back in bed in the dark getting into the full feeling of the better version of the song “colors of the wind.” If only I could learn to be so concise and so powerful in making really important points more people need to appreciate more deeply! And no, that’s not a digression here. Insulting low energy puppets is one thing, but failing to appreciate Pocohontas is more serious. Elizabeth Warren is a totally different matter, however; Clinton needs a running mate with heavy line management experience.)

It am especially amused by the thought of what Angela Merkel (or Pope Francis?) might see in the Babylon 5 series – how some characters which Luda sees as too stereotyped might remind Merkel of some of the people she works with, people who fall into stereotypes all too easily as they half-consciously drift into their social roles and get stuck in narrow “worldviews”. (Worldviews or self-views? Heidegger talks about people with small and large “Being”... and yes... such stereotypical characters may be MORE prevalent in the EU than in Babylon 5! Who are the living stereotypes one must deal with? The UK even has a guy who looks like a Saturday Night Live imitation or shadow of Trump! Trump himself certainly must be amused by that. It reminds me of the very serious “shadows” I have seen of Luda, before I met her, but this is not like the kind of “shadow” they depict in Babylon 5. Both kind are important to understanding what is really going on here.)

I had many changes in my worldview over many years, as I joyfully “chased the rabbit” ... but I have never ever given into the visions in which all of life is a great struggle between good and evil. That has always struck me as a fundamentally flawed and illogical and unnatural concept, as unreal as those forms of Buddhism which strive for annihilation and nihilism as their long-term goals. Yes, there have been stories for ages of struggles between a brotherhood of light and a brotherhood of darkness; I once enjoyed a short novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley about the fall of Atlantis in such a struggle, and a similar sort of Fire and Ice story of spiritual struggles behind the scenes in Europe in the 1930’s and World War II. Those things emerged from real experience, and we should face up to such experience, but we can live the story without succumbing to past simple theories of what was actually happening. There have been plenty of struggles in human life, and in the lives of other mammals down through millions of years just on this one little planet, but overarching organized Good and Evil? (As in Babylon5, or even Star Wars series?)

The Catholic Church long ago put out some doctrine for the cognoscenti, saying that “God exists, but the Devil does not. More precisely, the devil does exist as a kind of dangerous illusion, as real as Santa Claus and Loki, but no more real than that. Less real than humans.” A kind of local emergent phenomenon, a kind of temporary fluctuating manifestation of error and entropy, things we should take more seriously at a fundamental level. (And yes, folks, error and entropy are things with very real mathematics explaining them, really important but really hard to explain truthfully in a page or two without equations. Be assured, the equations are there,
“on earth and in heaven.” It is interesting that Merkel, like Luda, might even be able to understand a few of them.)

But... as the forces left by Cheney gather ground, and the survival of the human species is ever more in doubt, and as many organized humans push very hard for things likely to destroy the species... can we naively dismiss the concept of a great struggle between good and evil? When it feels like that? How can we cope with such struggles more realistically? Above all, how can we begin to understand what the clashing forces really are? Are they a manifestation of our own internal struggles at the level of the noosphere? Or are they so bad that we have to wonder? (Is ISIS proof that there really does exist some kind of devil or force of evil or collective thanatos? Hard to believe, but it would not be sane to just ignore what we see.)

So... Babylon 5: like Star Wars, ONE picture of what a struggle between good and evil might be, a picture linked to SEVERAL parts of what we are actually struggling with here. In the end, like Star Wars, it provides a path to reasserting the common-sense position that Evil does not exist.. **after** we peel enough layers of the onion to see deeply enough.

But after one peels enough layers of the onion... from a practical point of view, the concerns of the European people about population movements, terrorism and demographics in general must be taken seriously, with respect. “Good” which accounts for only one side of reality is not the pure and overarching good which can guide the outcome. The moral highground for Europe in this year’s struggles is more like a kind of intense properly designed compromise, not a victory of either partial side. (Could Merkel empathize with Sheridan, who takes one side but then understands and stands up for balance, with the energy needed to make it real? I hope she does not just let herself be drifted into becoming just another lame duck, as Obama sometimes has, no matter how hard he tries to thrash.)

I am certainly glad she spoke up for avoiding nastiness and exercising due diligence here! Hope lies in the EU having its own kind of itzjihad. That’s especially important given the complexities of the unresolved, inadequately addressed challenges re austerity versus growth, entangled somewhat with the situation here.

This year... I don’t see the intellectual or technology resources in Europe yet (not in any of the major nations, including UK) to find the great moral highground on austerity versus growth, which is sad and important, but real. That challenge will be important to the world economy, and the hopes of all humanity, but... one things at a time.   The core issues in brexit are tricky enough.

But.. the solution to tricky problems often lies in a relatively simple vision, and in persisting in making it real, connecting to the details, making the deals to get it through. The obvious “deal” here would be to preserve the market and the union in general, but change the immigration and citizenship policies in a way which the UK public can accept, recognizing that the EU is threatened by a whole lot more than the UK. A balanced sustainable situation is needed as soon as possible before things unravel. It may or may not be a good thing for a new union of Scotland and Northern Ireland to be part of this; the dynamics of transition might be more workable that way, and it wouldn’t be bad if they all end up part of the same EU anyway. (Yes, the Catholics in Northern Ireland would prefer union with Ireland proper, but since that is clearly not possible and would resurrect old violence, as would brexit applied to northern Ireland... there is a great need for a way out. Catholics in Northern Ireland remember bad experiences with local Scots, but Scots back in Scotland are not such a bad lot, eh?, and the full human connections to southern Ireland would remain open. Better than the other options, no?) A "second referendum" -- both for brexit and for Scotland+NIreland independence -- could be both designed and justified as a FOLLOWUP CLARIFICATION questionnaire, to dispel come of the ambiguity left by the previous brief referenda.,

The evolution of the noosphere proper in general, and of the CONNECTION between the noosphere and the specific organisms developing on this planet, is a very complex matter – but for all its complexity, it is a crucial force behind the scenes, not only in EU but elsewhere. Again, as in Babylon 5. (The poor US is stuck more with guys like Palpatine of Star Wars, unfortunately, but that’s another story for another time.)

As for austerity and growth, a bigger issue in Spain than immigration in the elections there this week... that would require getting past silly baby economics theories based on “scalar thinking.” REAL mathematical economics (alas poor Wharton annual model, we knew it well..)... suggests that a huge turnaround is possible, especially benefitting Spain, if only we could find communication channels with enough bandwidth!! To keep it simple: two halves: (1) “radical middle” reorganization which STRENGTHENS European unity (which UK eocnomy needs too!); and (2) a proper pittance well-focused on unmet opportunities in solar energy. Ironically, my best hope this week is that a guy from one of the development banks would be willing and able to follow up on a $20 million demo project to be located at a school in Uganda (AAH), to create practical availability of a technology which could then be deployed massively and quickly in EU and Latin America, BUT REQUIRES that demo. BOTH levels must be tuned, to get Europe out of the economic hole. Yes, there has been a lot of empty religious nonsense said about “green jobs,” but with real low-cost scaleable technology and truly intelligent market design, the hopes really could be made real. New trillion dollar markets can actually change a few things in the economy, IF one understands the numbers.  

(Small footnote: on my year as a Brookings Fellow at the Senate... I was happy that the head of CBO attended and appreciated my deconstruction and analysis of what is real and what isn’t on green jobs. They posted the video somewhere... maybe I should add the URL later. It is very serious technical economics.)


Afterthought: important as Babylon 5 is to issues in play this year, and deserving as it is on a SHORT LIST of valuable science fiction... it is important of course, in the bigger picture, to balance it out with other pieces which bring out other aspects. ("Even Sophocles did not write just one play!")
Things by Dan Simmons and by Orson Scott Card also have their place. In a way, I hated Card's 
Empire trilogy, but was glad I read it... and sad how it reflects some very serious perverted thinking
very important to current problems and misconceptions in the US, entangled with economic forces in the Middle East. It's hard to imagine Bernie Sanders as an ambassador to the Middle East... but a lot of folks there would benefit from waking up to pernicious difficulties with many of THEIR billionnaires... if only it were easier to work with Putin, if only he had a deeper sense of honor... but he may yet grow to have a bigger role on behalf of greater humanity. All of us will need to grow a lot,
to have a realistic chance at species survival, let alone anything else we desire.

It was also very jarring to see a guy next to Merkel complaining about "populism," which has become a suddenly powerful word. I found it somewhat positive when one of the Trump folks used that word
to describe what he liked... but the vigor and clarity of objections to populism as such are not encouraging. This too is a big topic, but this blog post is too long already.


Added later: several months ago, in discussing tradeoffs in options for handling refugees from the Middle East to Europe, I said something like: "PLEASE, whatever you do, don't trample on the munchkins... the munchens." And now, many have seen the netflix video "Guess Who's Back?"
It was a bit nerve-wracking to read about violent left wing storm troopers in the US, openly disdaining the constitution, taking the initiative to attack poor peaceful Nazis... who did not stay that way (surprise...?!). From the noosphere... in Germany... many curious words emanate. Unacceptable as it is, one of them is too funny to ignore: "Drumpfkopf."   More serious: "uberklutz" as a description of the new right wing. Will they do to DNA what Lamar Smith does to American aerospace? 

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