I don’t fit into a neat tidy box. My interests and world view are eclectic and this blog reflects that. To some it might all seem contradictory. So for friends and strangers alike, I thought I’d step back and give you the 10,000-foot aerial view of my perspectives which this blog reflects.
- What is the nature of reality?
- Where does all the trouble in our world come from and what’s the answer?
- Knowing things won’t change immediately, how do we find personal peace in the interim?
I’ve never believed that any one person, philosophy, doctrine, ideology or religion possesses all truth or can explain all things. I guess I’d make a lousy conspiracy theorist.
I see life as multidimensional. No single line of thought alone, no matter how persuasive or thorough, can account for all the variables. I don’t view the world as black and white. Reality is diverse and complex. I believe there are both material and spiritual realms.
The Material Realm
I’ll begin with the material realm because this matters most. The material world is where society’s problems are and it’s only here that we can resolve them.
Our lives on planet Earth exist in the material realm. The universe, galaxies, this planet and everything on it are all subject to material forces, most basic among these are the laws of nature and the laws of physics. Although our knowledge and understanding changes over time through scientific investigation, objective reality exists regardless whether we’re aware or approve. The law of gravity, for instance, existed before Newton discovered and documented its properties. Gravity is absolute. We can’t wish it away or believe it away. We can temporarily alter its effects with artificial weightlessness, but this doesn’t change the fundamental fact of gravity.
I believe that human society is likewise subject to material forces — specifically class forces. My political orientation is primarily Marxist which is rooted in a materialist conception of reality.
- The basic proposition of materialism refers to the nature of reality, regardless of the existence of mankind. It states that matter is the primordial substance, the essence, of reality. Everything comes from matter and its movements and is based upon matter. This thought is expressed in the phrase: “Mother Nature.” This signifies in materialist terms that nature is the ultimate source of everything in the universe from the galactic systems to the most intimate feelings and boldest thoughts of homo sapien.
- The second aspect of materialism covers the relations between matter and mind. According to materialism, matter produces mind and mind never exists apart from matter. Mind is the highest product of material development and animal organization and the most complex form of human activity.
- This means that nature exists independently of mind but that no mind can exist apart from matter. The material world existed long before mankind or any thinking being came into existence. As Feuerbach said: “The true relation of thought to Being is this; Being is subject, thought is predicate. Thought springs from Being, but Being does not spring from thought.
- This precludes the existence of any God, gods, spirits, souls or other immaterial entities which are alleged to direct or influence the operations of nature, society and the inner man.
I stand on these principles, except I need to dissect Point #4 a bit. I’ll do so in the next section.
Human beings are material, having evolved over millennia since our early ancestors emerged from the sea. We and other species have evolved with varied physical forms, brains and abilities. All this has been shaped by the surrounding physical environment. Those physical forms that adapted survived. Those that didn’t perished.
Human societies are adaptions to the surrounding physical environment. They’re organized primarily for purpose of survival — for obtaining food and shelter. The ideas arising in human minds, which is a physical organ, are shaped by the material world. When humans were still figuring out fire and tools there were no thoughts of crop rotation, mathematics or space travel. The material conditions for such concepts didn’t exist yet. The organizational forms and structures of society at a given time are likewise rooted in the prevailing material conditions at that time.
This is to say, therefore, that human thought, society and the dynamics of human interaction are all rooted in material conditions.
As humans evolved and technology advanced beyond basic survival — beyond just hunting and killing for the day — there came to be social divisions where some controlled and directed production while others performed the actual production. Class-divided society arose. In feudal society, there was a king or queen, a noble class, and a peasant class tied to the land. Eventually technological advancement required that people move from place to place to work. The feudal system with peasants and slaves tied to the land became an obstacle to human advancement and was overthrown. Capitalism arose to replace it and a mobile working class was born.
Class Struggle. The key word here is class. Capitalism is a class-divided system. It’s obviously a huge advancement over feudalism, but under capitalism people still remain divided by class. As such, there is a competition between the classes. To put it simply, the working class wants more pay and better benefits for producing X-number of widgets while the employing class wants to pay less in order to maximize profit. Profit is often justified as due reward because the employer and investors are risking their money. Yet it’s the workers, not the employers, who many times are literally risking life and limb each hour of the day. This perpetual tension is the class struggle.
I believe this class struggle permeates society and impacts every aspect of our lives and our relationships with each other. It effects where we live, what we eat, where we go to school, what jobs are open to us, what level of healthcare we get, what our children’s opportunities will be — everything.
The class struggle is the motor force driving history. I also believe that class-divided society is inherently and irrevocably unjust. Capitalism was once a positive force helping advance humanity out of darkness. It brought us out of the agrarian age into the industrial and technological age. We now have the knowledge and ability to create the things that people need to live and thrive, yet the inherent inequities of capitalism deny access to billions across the planet. Capitalism has exhausted its progressive character. Feudalism was thrown aside, and now so must capitalism. It’s time to advance to the next stage of human evolution, socialism.
James P. Cannon, an early leader of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States, said it succinctly. “A genuine rectification of the gross inequalities and injustices of capitalism is to be attained only by the development of these [class] struggles to their logical and inevitable climax — the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.”
Socialism and Human Nature. I’m often told that socialism is impossible because of human nature. It would seem that greed, selfishness and violence are hardwired into our DNA and are unalterable. In response I point again to materialism. I believe people are shaped by the environment they live in. A person growing up in deep poverty surrounded by violence and drugs is likely to be different than someone raised with great wealth in a gated community. Someone raised in an Amish community will probably have a demeanor and values quite different than someone raised near the beach in San Diego. Human societies and cultures have varied widely throughout history. If our nature and impulses were controlled by a fixed human DNA, these variations wouldn’t be possible.
Capitalism rules the day at this point in history so there aren’t many living examples of socialism to examine, but there is one: Cuba. The Cuban Revolution has survived over 60 years against the U.S. embargo and countless other hardships. It serves as a powerful example to the world of what humans are capable of, and how human nature can rise above selfishness and greed.
I looked at Cuba in depth in 2016 in Fidel Castro & the Cuban Revolution. I detailed what Cuba has accomplished and responded point-by-point to many of the popular criticisms of Cuba voiced by people in the U.S.
Not a Marxist. Many of you reading this have probably concluded that I’m a Marxist. Actually I’m not. There are several reasons why, among them are the spiritual views that I describe below. I see no conflict with mindfulness and the practice of meditation, but my belief in a spiritual realm beyond the physical world is completely incompatible with the fundamental materialist foundation of Marxism. Novack explains this in his book which I quoted above.
There’s also an issue with some social and political views I hold, the details of which are beyond this writing. Suffice it to say that I’ve been told my views on these matters are liberal in character, that is, not grounded in the science and materialist principles of Marxism. My Marxist friends and I have had some pretty intense debates! I obviously think they’re wrong on the issues in question but I’m also persuaded that I’m guilty as charged — that not all my values and perspectives align fully with Marxism. To that extent I suppose one could call me a liberal.
I prefer the term socialist because I definitely oppose capitalism. It can’t be reformed into something it isn’t; it must be replaced by socialism. Here Marxism and I converge. I think Marxism explains correctly the course of history to this period, the character and dynamics of present-day society, and the essential tasks for humanity going forward.
While I have a few points of strong disagreement, in general I am in accord with the perspectives of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the United States. I’ve been involved with the party in various degrees and capacities since the mid-70s. The SWP is dedicated to building a party that can lead the working class to socialism by means of a social revolution. Its views are presented in the Militant newspaper, published since 1928, and Pathfinder Books.
The Spiritual Realm
Mindfulness & Meditation. When I refer to “spirituality,” most often I’m referring to our own consciousness in the here & now, in the present moment without distraction, worry or rumination. It’s not mystical. It’s simple mental health that in no way is incompatible with Marxism and materialism.
I think this aspect of spirituality is very important. I believe that most people die without ever having really lived. As life unfolds before us, we’re endlessly distracted. We’re forever rehashing the past or anticipating the future. And once that future actually arrives, we miss it because we’re busy thinking about the next future.
Life is what is happening right now, right here, in this present moment.
This form of spirituality is the process of being present and awake to this moment now — which is the only place that life really exists. The past is a mental memory, and the future is imaginary. It’s a daydream of what might come to be, but hasn’t yet. It’s not real.
This is not to say that past and future are not important. They are. We learn from history and we need to plan, organize and build for the future. That’s rational intellectual thinking. It’s essential for survival and advancement. I’m referring instead to the obsessive and usually unconscious preoccupation with past and future, often experienced as rumination, regret and worry.
A key practice for becoming present and mindful is meditation. It’s a practice that goes back centuries and is usually associated with Buddhism, but it can be completely secular. No religious or similar belief is necessary. And unlike the man pictured here meditating, you can even sit in a chair!
If this interests you, I have a section on my website — Life 2.0 — with extensive information and videos.
The ‘Other Side’. Now we come to where I part company with Marxism. There is another side to the spiritual realm that one could describe as otherworldly, or supernatural, or mystical. Choose your word. This is the spiritual realm that Marxists and strict materialists reject, and I used to as well (or so I thought). That changed when I started to examine events that I’ve witnessed in others and experienced personally, events that can’t be explained in normal material terms.
Let me return to George Novack’s discussion of materialism where he wrote,
- This precludes the existence of any God, gods, spirits, souls or other immaterial entities which are alleged to direct or influence the operations of nature, society and the inner man. [Italics added]
I agree with Novack concerning nature and society but disagree on those points I’ve italicized.
I believe society at its macro level is driven solely by material forces — that is, the class struggle — and that nature is materially impacted by society. Witness global warming.
But I reject the assertion that any possible existence of a God or spirits or soul or something is absolutely excluded, absolutely impossible. And I believe, should there be such a thing, that the “inner man” can very much be influenced at a deep personal level by this immaterial or spiritual force.
I freely concede that I cannot prove the existence of a spiritual realm. My evidence is anecdotal and subjective. If indeed it exists, this spiritual realm stands apart from the material realm — after all, it’s spiritual! Consequently it cannot be observed or measured by any conventional scientific method available to us. No one, myself included, can be absolutely certain it exists. So I understand and accept skepticism. I worry when people aren’t skeptical!
What I find unreasonable is an adamant assertion that it does not exist, an adamant rejection of even the possibility. We can’t know absolutely that it exists, but likewise we can’t know absolutely that it does not. To close one’s mind entirely in the name of science strikes me as decidedly unscientific. What’s to explore if we reject even consideration of anything we don’t already know or that doesn’t fit our preconceptions? The failure or inability to prove something scientifically isn’t in itself proof that it does not exist. You can’t prove a negative.
A full discussion of this “mystical” side of the spiritual realm and how I came believe is a long and separate discussion. For my purposes today I can say this much:
- Even if we could definitively prove the existence of this spiritual realm, I don’t believe any living human is capable of understanding it. For lack of a better word, it’s a “dimension” beyond our comprehension. We can’t really see it. At best we can get hints or glimpses — if we’re open to the perception. We might sense there’s something, but we can’t really know what. I use this analogy: A 5-year-old watching the news on TV can understand soldiers and battles, but he’s not capable of understanding the history and complex geopolitical forces that led to the war. These are beyond the boy’s intellectual development and frame of reference. Likewise, we are not capable of grasping the spiritual realm from our vantage point in the physical 3-dimensional world.
- Experiences have persuaded me that consciousness or “being” continues after death. To some extent, if needed, such as in a psychic reading, this consciousness can make itself recognizable in the personality of the person we knew. (I believe there are genuine psychic mediums, but they are rare. I think most people claiming to be psychic are either fakes or have abilities too weak to be reliable. This too is a separate discussion.)
- I do not believe in “God,” per se, as conceived in any of the organized religions. These Gods are man-made concepts. Organized religions are human bureaucratic institutions with extensive rules, policies, protocols and procedures that I think have long ago lost any true connection to spirit and spirituality. I think in some cases the “religions” have morphed into ideologies — also a long separate discussion!
“It’s Not Just Dots.” Sometimes fictional stories can cut through the blinders of stubbornness and cynicism to expose a profound truth. Such is the case for me in this scene from the film Latter Days. Nothing else I’ve seen or read explains my conception of the spiritual realm better. Aaron Davis (Steve Sandvoss) is an Elder in the Mormon Church on mission for two years evangelizing for his faith. While leaving flyers at a hospital, he encounters a woman (Jacqueline Bisset) whose companion has just died and he tries to comfort her.
“When I was a little kid, I use to put my face right up to [the comics]. And I was just amazed because it was just this mass of dots. I think life is like that sometimes. But I like to think that from God’s perspective, life, everything — even this — makes sense. It’s not just dots. Instead we’re all connected, and it’s beautiful, and it’s funny, and it’s good. This close we can’t expect it to make sense, not right now.”Elder Davis
That’s it in a nutshell. I believe there is some ‘core cosmic consciousness’ from which we all emanate, to which we are all connected, and to which we will all return. But we’re too close here in the material world right now to perceive or understand.
If what I say is true, then we’ll see and understand when we die. If I’m wrong, we’ll never know because we’ll simply fade to black.
This Blog in 2021
A New Look. I think a new year calls for a new, fresh look. I hope you like the new layout and appearance.
Guiding Principles. The beliefs and principles I’ve outlined are the foundation for much of what I’ll be covering here throughout 2021 and beyond. I’ll be continuing much as I’ve been doing, except in the political realm I hope to make my contributions here more focused and positive. I want to resist getting bogged down in the daily news grind. I can use Twitter for quick remarks in the moment.
Instead I want to focus on the big picture that I described above, the class struggle. If you’ll forgive this overused metaphor, too much time is spent focusing on the trees when what matters is the forest.
The Trump presidency, the implosion of the Republican Party and splintered factionalism of the Democratic Party are signs of something much bigger than what we see just looking at the latest headlines. The system itself — capitalism — is unraveling and working people like myself and most of you are paying the price. The chaotic mess of the two parties reflects their deep crisis. They have no answers for their problems so they turn on themselves and the very system they claim to uphold.
Keep an Eye on the Working Class. Meanwhile, under the radar of the mainstream media, working people are thinking, talking and sometimes organizing. Exciting labor fights are going on beyond the coverage of CNN or MSNBC. Workers are resisting layoffs and dangerous working conditions. They’re fighting for jobs, contracts and better pay. It’s hit & miss; not all these efforts are successful, but they show workers coming together and organizing collectively. They learn from setbacks and as well as celebrate victories. This is the answer to the hopeless morass of mainstream Democratic and Republican politics. I will strive to make this my focus when addressing politics in this blog.
Mindfulness & Meditation. Stress, depression and anxiety have become epidemic during these 12 months-plus of lockdown, isolation, unemployment and illness. I will present information about mindfulness and meditation. Even as we fight to make a better world, we don’t need to be miserable day to day. Life is something to cherish and celebrate even when the chips are down.
LGBT Rights. In addition there will be on more on this, that & the other — and I’ll definitely continue to focus frequently on the history, issues and political struggles of the LGBT community.
Civil Discourse. These are the broad themes and subjects I’ll be focused on — and who knows what else? I invite you to check in from time to time, and please comment. Let’s have a discussion. Agreement is not required. I only ask that we be civil and respectful of each other.
Title image: Compilation red flag, rainbow flag & meditating person (CosmoVector/shutterstock.com).
Karl Marx image is Public Domain by John Jabez Edwin Mayal from the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Meditating man image is by Tumisu from Pixabay.
Man climbing to heaven image is by Honey Kochphon Onshawee from Pixabay.
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