Dispassionate Compassion

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With the rise of self-anointed spirituality and the sudden caché of “Buddhism”, discussion of compassion is all the rage. I have often pondered the possible obligations of “compassion”. I don’t see compassion as mandating the provision of another’s desires. Nor does compassion mandate I interfere in another’s “just desserts”. As I see it:

  • wishing is foolish,
  • celebrating another’s misfortune is not compassionate, but acknowledging they deserve their present circumstances does not reflect a lack of compassion, and
  • the whole karma/dharma thing is religious nonsense.

It is clear that there is a divide of sorts between Buddhist views of compassion and some more “romantic” Western notions. 1 A discussion of compassion by Jenniger Goetz 2 points out the “cold” nature of compassion as viewed by Buddhism.

The more one reads Buddhist writings, the more one realizes that Buddhist compassion is similar to lay conceptions of compassion in name only. While lay concepts of compassion are of warm feelings for particular people in need, Buddhist compassion is not particular, warm, or even a feeling. Perhaps the most succinct and clear mention of this is in the discussions of the Dalai Lama and Jean-Claude Carriere (1996, p. 53). A footnote explains in refreshingly plain language that compassion in the Buddhist sense is not based on what we call “feeling”. While Buddhist’s do not deny the natural feelings that may arise from seeing another in need, this is not the compassion Buddhism values. Instead, Buddhist compassion is the result of knowing one is part of a greater whole and is interdependent and connected to that whole. It is the result of practiced meditations. Indeed, Buddhist compassion should be without heat or passion – it is objective, cold, constant and universal.

Trungpa (1973) argues true compassion has the potential to appear cruel or ruthless. Compassion requires prajna or transcendental wisdom – an ability to see past shallow appearances and see true suffering and need. For this reason, compassion may involve giving someone what they really need, not what they want. In addition compassion is an open gift, it is generosity without demand. One does not expect or require reciprocity or confirmation of compassion. Indeed, true compassion will often not be appreciated and may be received with anger or hatred. The next section discusses the threat of anger to compassion and the methods for dealing with this.

From a Buddhist perspective, Harris notes 3 that,

Viraaga literally means the absence of raaga: the absence of lust, desire, and craving for existence. Hence, it denotes indifference or non-attachment to the usual objects of raaga, such as material goods or sense pleasures. Non-attachment is an important term here if the Pali is to be meaningful to speakers of English. It is far more appropriate than “detachment” because of the negative connotations “detachment” possesses in English.

and

In fact, at least three strands of meaning in the term “compassion” can be detected in the texts: a prerequisite for a just and harmonious society; an essential attitude for progress along the path towards wisdom; and the liberative action within society of those who have become enlightened or who are sincerely following the path towards it. All these strands need to be looked at if the term is to be understood and if those who accuse Buddhist compassion of being too passive are to be answered correctly.

Bodhi 4 states,

Like a bird in flight borne by its two wings, the practice of Dhamma is sustained by two contrasting qualities whose balanced development is essential to straight and steady progress. These two qualities are renunciation and compassion. As a doctrine of renunciation the Dhamma points out that the path to liberation is a personal course of training that centers on the gradual control and mastery of desire, the root cause of suffering. As a teaching of compassion the Dhamma bids us to avoid harming others, to act for their welfare, and to help realize the Buddha’s own great resolve to offer the world the way to the Deathless.

Considered in isolation, renunciation and compassion have inverse logics that at times seem to point us in opposite directions. The one steers us to greater solitude aimed at personal purification, the other to increased involvement with others issuing in beneficent action. Yet, despite their differences, renunciation and compassion nurture each other in dynamic interplay throughout the practice of the path, from its elementary steps of moral discipline to its culmination in liberating wisdom. The synthesis of the two, their balanced fusion, is expressed most perfectly in the figure of the Fully Enlightened One, who is at once the embodiment of complete renunciation and of all-embracing compassion.

Both renunciation and compassion share a common root in the encounter with suffering. The one represents our response to suffering confronted in our own individual experience, the other our response to suffering witnessed in the lives of others. Our spontaneous reactions, however, are only the seeds of these higher qualities, not their substance. To acquire the capacity to sustain our practice of Dhamma, renunciation and compassion must be methodically cultivated, and this requires an ongoing process of reflection which transmutes our initial stirrings into full-fledged spiritual virtues.

But, you start to whine,  isn’t compassion a call to action. Mustn’t one DO something?

The simple answer, of course, is, “Yes!” But while compassion is about helping another find the power to overcome their circumstances, that power truly comes from helping another find detachment5, NOT by way of resolving someone’s difficulties. It’s not about which side of the mushroom to nibble on; it’s about acknowledging one has no need of the mushroom. 6


 

Homo Echhhh

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I had started to do a piece about where Homo economicus was hanging in 2019. This was in no small part because of the suggestion that I came across that les Mises-erables had now gone full cannibal on Homo economicus 1.  This was hysterical as here we had those who started out by assuming that humans acted rationally, now arguing that the very model of human rationality was a straw man.

But what had statted me down the path was a rather ridiculous piece by Paul Collier 2 in which he made largely the same claims as McMakken, from arguably “the other side”. Collier largely relies on Blueprint: The evolutionary origins of a good society by Nicholas Christakis 3, an intriguing anecdotal book that is, however, far less effective in arguing human eusociality than anything on offer from E. O. Wilson. 4

So, let everyone (other than admitted “orthodox” economists) agree that humans are NOT rational. They are, contra Solnit 5, not universally altruistic. They vacillate between reliance on their forebrains and their inner chimp 6 And those whose seem to have issues with their cognitive inhibitor circuits tend to be fruitcakes who are also outbreeding those that appear rational.

And now. we have come to the great spasm on the crest of COVID-19, brought to our species courtesy of SARS Co-V-2. While many of us are seeing the “better angels of our nature”7 (Pinker really should stick to linguistics) as Solnit argued, one would be blind and deaf not to be aware of the greedy, careless of Phillipa Foote 8, massing like the real zombie apocalypse. And I have to suggest at this point that the claim of rationality, today, most likelt is an admission that the claimant suffers from Dunning- Kruger 9

I am not sanguine about our future.

 

 

Deplorable Design

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I am sharing these photos to demonstrate the inadequacy of the designs we have to suffer in Anchorage. The photos are of a tunnel underneath Boniface Parkway in Anchorage, Alaska. The tunnel is part of a required route for students to walk to attend the local Elementary School that sits a few hundred feet from the East side of the tunnel.

What are the issues we see in these photos?

  • The tunnel is not sealed from above, so water seeps into the tunnel from the road bed.
  • The tunnel is not shielded from ice and debris plowed off the road above
  • The ice and debris plowed of the road above piles up at the entrances to the tunnel (not shown here is a photo from some years ago where the snow wall created by the plowing covered half the height of the tunnel).
  • The tunnel is at the lowest point of the trail on the West end, meaning that it serves as the sump for all water.
  • There is a drain to the storm sewer a few feet to the East of the tunnel entrance on the East side, but that is frozen over half the year.
  • As you can see, melt from outside the tunnel solely covers the entire tunnel eventually rendering the entire surface glassy.
  • And, not seen in this photo, the lack of any trail lighting on the West side though this has been in the Master Plan for this area for DECADES.

Are there any reasons that these issues could not have been avoided? Two: a) failure to produce an adequate design, and/or b) refusal to fund an adequate design.

A Zotpress Plugin Test

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This is simply a quick post to demonstrate the use of the Zotpress Plugin by Katie Seaborn (https://wordpress.org/plugins/zotpress/). To date, I have mostly used the Easy Footnote Plugin by Jason Yingling as it is one of the first (there are quite a few available now as you can see here: https://wordpress.org/plugins/search/Easy+Footnote/), and still works very admirably and is really very Easy…

Here we have simply an arbitrary cite from my Zotero Library. And here is another. . The bibliography feature is used to provide the footnotes below.

There are some issues to be noted in that footnotes are clearly NOT the same as a bibliography, and when I first started trying to use the Zotpress Plugin a year ago this presented some problems.  Katie has made some recent additions that allow one to manage both, but I can’t confirm that I have worked through all the issues.  Feel free to comment if you have any experience in this respect.
________

Knapp, Gunnar, Matthew Berman, and Mouhcine Guettabi. Shortrun Economic Impacts Of Alaska Fiscal Options. Anchorage, AK: Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska Anchorage, March 30, 2016. Https://iseralaska.org/publication/?id=1603. https://iseralaska.org/publications/. Accessed February 17, 2019. https://pubs.iseralaska.org/media/aabf43aa-c8f8-4cea-b529-f5d9a3518928/2016_03_30-ShortrunEconomicImpactsOfAlaskaFiscalOptions.pdf. Cite
Cornell, Saul, and Nathan DeDino. “Well Regulated Right: The Early American Origins of Gun Control, A.” Fordham Law Review 73 (2005 2004): 487. http://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/flr73&id=503&div=&collection=. Cite

EEEEEE-vil

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A friend writes, during the course of a good deal of correspondence discussing the failure of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Municipality of Anchorage to address the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians,

One more question; a simple one. Do you think the MOA or state give a shit about vulnerable road users?

Might as well ask about the

To be just a hair less dramatic, aren’t we really asking whether Alaska or Anchorage are

  • ineptEvil
  • myopic
  • a slave to inertia
  • incompetent
  • additional selections of your choice

or just plain

Thinking about this, my mind of course reaches out to bikers who work for these entities. How do they see themselves? I think it fair to say that if I can talk about a they, they feel they are doing a good job. I think this is consistent with the the delusional folk at Bike Anchorage and Vision Zero. By that I mean people who are high on the illusion they are “MAKING A DIFFERENCE“.  But, the question remain, does that make them

The ShadowJohn Stuart Mill said in 1867: “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”1, which does not go quite as far as we are suggesting (that looking away, or deluding oneself is the essence of evil), but we I think close enough.

In other words, I am willing to settle on evil being something less some diabolic Flemingesque villain, something less dramatic than an advocate of heinous greed or boundless lust. I think the Shadow knows evil, and the evil in the human heart is perhaps crystallized in the icon for our era, Narcissus.

Which perhaps distorts the original nature of the question, but no more than the consuming Narcissism evident in our society distorts our reality.

Kids With Nukes

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A clever friend suggested that we should be concerned with how media is framing its messages.

How is the discussion framed? Crisis, Crisis, Crisis, Insanity. Immediately you are blasted with a state of emergency. Its essentially all editorial conversation. And if you look at it objectively, the language is very charged, and frankly antagonistic at every turn. So, you keep pumping that message into the head of a person who already believes that there is a crisis. There is a perceived emergency. Eventually one of them is going to go, “well, shit, its my job to do something about it…” and so, you read what that kid had to say. And it was batshit… it reads like some kinda Gen Z Cliffs Notes Turner Diaries. And if you peep around his social media presence, you will find him posting things like wishing Bill O’Reilly a happy retirement, and thanking him for all the Lib tears… seems to me that there is a relationship.” 1

To put that in psychological terms, elicitation of limbic response via increasingly disturbing images can lead to aggressive behavior. 2 We also KNOW that the kind of media that these people are consuming will raise a limbic response, and that most of them are huge consumers of that media. And we know that these media systems are intentionally targeting these individuals and ramping up their anger.

There is research that suggests that where the subject can differentiate the imagery from reality that this is not seen (hence the literature suggesting that video games may not lead to juvenile violence in al cases). However, where the subject cannot differentiate (i.e. where they believe for example that Fox News is “fair and balanced”), we can eventually expect to see much what we see in teens, whose amygdala are impacted developmentally already, and much, much, worse (read mass murders) . Of course, the external objectives of this media also exacerbate feelings of impotency, and promote projection of personal anger over perceived circumstances the individual feels were unfair, allowing the individual to map the one onto the other.

Our responses, from “thoughts and prayers” to a scolding over taking advantage of an unfortunate event involving a single mentally ill individual are old dodges; we certainly are not going to provide increased resources to address mental health nor is it likely that any deity is going to intervene. Cases like these will not be ameliorated until we recognize that gas powered autoload, high capacity magazines, and short barrels have one purpose. And though most of the dying from handguns is the result of suicide, the same is true of handguns.

I would suggest that these people are not “mentally ill” because I think for most purposes that phrase is largely meaningless. I would also suggest that we have seen Cambridge Analytica, by their own admission and through the analysis of others handily manipulate whole segments of the population, and that the methods for accomplishing that are very much the same mechanism by which media like Fox News can manipulate persons who would otherwise manage. In fact I have watched the mechanism work on persons reliant on Medicaid, turning them into raging phobics intent on putting an end the very benefits that were keeping them alive. Are these people weak minded? Well, that are certainly not 3σs, but the key, recent fMRI work suggests, is that they have cognitive filters that do not work (hence the jokes about Republicans being mentally defective). Its not that they are less capable (though some of them obviously are) but that they are more credulous.

Unfortunately, as a society we are committed to the concept of free speech, and even the concept of “hate speech” worries me. What can we do when we recognize that enough people in our society can be manipulated via media to change election results based purely on tweaking their emotional responses? How do we outlaw poison that 30% of the population insists on consuming, lol? We can’t manage booze or heroine, let alone Fox News!

I had put my hope in good schools, but in fact we will never reach student teacher rations or effective enough teacher instruction to do more than keep our thumbs in the dikes. We COULD limit political campaigns, shut down funding to campaigns (free speech issues again), etc. but those with the money are not about to let the voters they control agree to that now, will they?

Of course there are those who swallow Pinker’s claim that society is getting less violent, so why sweat a few mass murders.  Well, not only is Pinker wrong about the data, he is rather callous in suggesting that my neighbor has no real value.  3 And let’s also put to rest the arguments that if someone can blow up a building with fertilizer, why bother with guns. Even BATF and Congress know that is mere foolishness. 4

This is not about “those people” where we obliquely reference some inconsequential demographic of unofrtunates. It’s about the fact that all humans screw up on a regular basis. So many people are killed and maimed by automobiles that we implemented regulations as to both safety AND insurance. There is even a distinct area of the law that deals with dangerous instrumentalities; it’s called strict liability.

There is no rational basis to have millions of weapons w auto load, high cap mags, and short barrels. They are designed for only one purpose, and that purpose is not only unlawful, but seen as immoral by most.

We now know how easy it is to push someone over the edge, and that we have lawful enterprises constantly engaged in doing just that. This second issue is much more fraught than the first as it challenges our ideals about speech. It is not a new problem; orators regularly set off mobs in Rome. But it has gotten to be endemic and the foundations of our polity are now threatened.

Logically one should start with the resolution that toddlers should be allowed to tinker with armed tactical nukes. 5 As one rejects progressive removals from that premise, one is forced to recognize a number of themes which argue for what libertarians might call, well, “liberty”, each of which on close examination can be seen to be elements of a factually insupportable credo.

The inner chimp affords us the altruism of the band, along with the ferocious response to the “other”. As the fore brain competes evolutionarily with the inner chimp, it seems to me that those with limited fore brain functioning outbreed those with fully functioning fore brains, and that bespeaks a Wellsian future…

A bit of roasted Morlock?


 

Recall Dunleavy Volunteer Packet!

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If you are too impatient to read on, skip to the packet below by clicking here.

Most Alaskans I think understood that there would be recall fever as soon as petitions were available, which is why it was so important that rollout by the organizing group be impeccably planned in advance. Well, let’s just say that their hearts are definitely in the right place and they are moving forward.

In the interim, I have been able to secure the volunteer packet (which, YES, does include petition forms). It apparently was distributed to some persons under the e-mail appended below from Meda Dewitt (my link to the packet appears below that). The font choice is mine to separate this post from DeWitt’s e-mail.

Additionally I am informed and believe that packets will be available at the AFL-CIO Offices in Anchorage on Monday.

Go get some signatures!

___________

For new signature gathering volunteers that you have recruited who want to start gathering signatures. Or if you would like to know more about the process. Please have them read the Volunteer guide and attend the webinar at 1pm this afternoon. If they are unable to attend, that is ok, we will be recording this session so that they can access it with a link at a later time.

Thank you! Meda

__________

Good Evening Fellow Alaskans,

First and foremost I would like to thank you for your patience. This process is moving quickly and there is a tremendous amount of energy behind the Recall of Michael J. Dunleavy from the office of Governor of Alaska.

Please see the attached compressed folder, in it you will find:

– Volunteer Guide. Please read it thoroughly and ask all of your volunteers to also read.

– Recall Signature form. Most important document, print double sided, do not alter.

– Statement of Legal Grounds for the Recall of Dunleavy.

– Recall Legal Memo. This explains the legal grounds. (We know there is a typo. I promised this email for no later than today, will send the updated one tomorrow.)

– An open letter from Co-Chairs Joseph E. Usibelli and Peggy Shumaker to Alaskans.

– Volunteer Sign up sheet. Please don’t confuse this with the official signature sheet.

Recall Dunleavy will be hosting a webinar/call in session tomorrow for any questions and general check-ins from around the state on how everything is going. Please read the attached documents before the webinar, it is quite comprehensive.

Thank you,

Meda DeWitt, Chair of Recall Dunleavy

P.S. You may get duplicates of the email, because I will be sending it out to different threads and replies to make sure it gets to the people who need it. Thank you for your continued patience.

Recall Dunleavy Volunteer Q and A session

Sat, Aug 3, 2019 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM AKDT

Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.

https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/896701869

You can also dial in using your phone.

United States: +1 (646) 749-3112

Access Code: 896-701-869

New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting starts:

https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/896701869
.

 Click for Recall Dunleavy Volunteer packet

Click to go to RecallDunleavy.org

A Bit of Buzzz

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I thought the season recommended this…

Invite all to the Way
Of thy Lord with wisdom
And beautiful preaching;
And argue with them
In ways that are best
And most gracious:
For thy Lord knows best,
Who have strayed from His Path,
And who receive guidance.
And if ye do catch them out,
Catch them out no worse
Than they catch you out:
But if ye show patience,
That is indeed the best course
For those who are patient.
And do thou be patient,
For thy patience is but
From God; nor grieve over them:
And distress not thyself
Because of their plots.
For God is with those
Who restrain themselves,
And those who do good.

No Pledge, No Anthem, No Chauvinism

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A Letter to the Anchorage School Board regarding the proposal to force Anthem Listening
*****************
Dear Board,

Once again it would appear that Mr. Donley 1 promotes a bizarre and inappropriate “solution” to address an as yet unrealized problem.

I initially supposed that Mr. Donley felt that a full and comprehensive study of our unsingable US National Anthem  — only adopted in 1931 for the purposes of promoting Maryland —  a product of plagiarism from a tune known far and wide as a celebrating drinking song, the lyrics of which were written by a racist observer of a bombardment that was the result of ludicrous policy implemented by the Jeffersonians, leading to a war that no one in their right mind wanted, that was a huge embarrassment to the US —  should rightfully be the subject of study by public school students for the purpose of increasing national cohesion through an appreciation of American exceptionalism. 2

NOT SO! Mr. Donley wrote that all he wants is to play the National Anthem, without apparently addressing any of the odious aspects thereof, and ignoring the invitation thereby to all our students to “take a knee” during its playing. Excuse me, but it really sounds like Mr. Donley is looking to create not only a problem, but a basis upon which to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees. I wasn’t aware we had that money to burn.

Mr. Donley says he is concerned about history and civics, and yet he seems not to have learned anything about either. Mr. Justice Frankfurther once expounded opinions much like those promoted by Mr. Donley 3 If you did not know who the author was, you might be forgiven for thinking it was Himmler…

National unity is the basis of national security. * * * The ultimate foundation of a free society is the binding tie of cohesive sentiment. Such a sentiment is fostered by all those agencies of the mind and spirit which may serve to gather up the traditions of a people, transmit them from generation to generation, and thereby create that continuity of a treasured common life which constitutes a civilization. We live by symbols. The flag is the symbol of our national unity, transcending all internal differences, however large, within the framework of the Constitution.

No wonder that opinion lasted only three years.

Whatever Mr. Donley’s delusions of his childhood, flags have rarely been unifying in anything but battle, as flags, like anthems, serve only as litmus tests, and are senseless in a pluralistic society. The US National Anthem signifies the unlawful acts associated with the international hegemony that the US has pursued for decades. It signifies the governmental misconduct with respect to a long list of populations. It signifies repression, at home and abroad. “But not so!”, you cry. But you, living in your Norman Rockwell glass bubble, are not the arbiter of universal reality, and millions of Americans have applauded actions taken during the anthem for the purpose of exercising free speech regarding this country’s horrific abuses (now in the limelight more than ever)!

If you want cohesion, bond over a common understanding of our history, good, bad, AND ugly. Bond over a universal sense of compassion and good will to all (an aesthetic apparently denigrated by both our State and Federal Administrations). Bond over a commitment to education and facing the world and the future intelligently ans rationally (as opposed to attacking teachers, slashing educational budgets, and demeaning academia).

The world Mr. Donley wants to recapture is gone forever, if it ever existed. It is time for Mr. D to either decide to join the 21st Century or be relegated to the trash heap of U.S. History, along with the culture warriors now playing “gubmint” in Juneau. YOU, however, are in the business of educating children. It is high time you got on with that, whether or not Mr. Donley is up to it.

Painting of Anacreontics

Anacreontick’s in full song, by James Gillray (died 1815), published 1801.

Preamble Lost

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A few comments about HRes 109, the Green New Deal 1

The Western Caucus’ response to the Resolution 2  sounds just like the folk who pushed to end the “war on coal” and enable dumping of spoil in waterways.3

After a parade of horribles (declarations by the paid Congressional shills owned by the energy extraction industries), the caucus makes the bald faced claims that

The Green New Deal would:

  • Intertwine the federal government in every aspect of our daily lives,
  • Overhaul American energy, manufacturing, and transportation sectors,
  • Jeopardize jobs and take-home income of hundreds of thousands of Americans,
  • Expand the power of federal bureaucrats far beyond what our Founding Fathers ever intended,
  • Impede the energy efficiency and carbon capture research and development industry has invested in, moving America further away from our emission goals,
  • Destabilize our electric grid and energy dominance and independence compromising our national security, and
  • Undermine federalist principles our nation was built upon.

Whoa!!!!! As one can easily see, there is no evidence tat the Resolution would do ANY of this. I am waiting to see documentation by the Western Caucus evidencing, well, anything.

I strongly suggest that EVERYONE actually read HRes 109 and if you are seeking to convince others how horrific it is, I would argue that the onus is on you to provide a sectional analysis (that’s what rational folk do). I for one would like to know what is problematic with pledging

(D) to secure for all people of the United States for generations to come—
(i) clean air and water;
(ii) climate and community resiliency;
(iii) healthy food;
(iv) access to nature; and
(v) a sustainable environment;

Sounds very much like what the US Constitution requires of our federal government. The preamble states

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

If you want to frighten yourself, go see a Manoj Nelliyattu “M. Night” Shyamalan movie. In the meantime, unplug from Fox News, try to be critical when you read or hear rants from people trying to suck your life blood and render your community a toxic desert, and do try to behave in a manner that suggests that you are a rational person entitled to enfranchisement.