Saturday, July 23, 2016

Values come first

George Lakoff has an article on Huffington Post about how our brains work and what this has to do with the rise and popularity of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for President of the United States of America.  There is much food for thought in this article.  Because of my love of languages and the phenomenon of language, I was struck by one section:

Direct causation is dealing with a problem via direct action. Systemic causation recognizes that many problems arise from the system they are in and must be dealt with via systemic causation. Systemic causation has four versions: A chain of direct causes. Interacting direct causes (or chains of direct causes). Feedback loops. And probabilistic causes. Systemic causation in global warming explains why global warming over the Pacific can produce huge snowstorms in Washington DC: masses of highly energized water molecules evaporate over the Pacific, blow to the Northeast and over the North Pole and come down in winter over the East coast and parts of the Midwest as masses of snow. Systemic causation has chains of direct causes, interacting causes, feedback loops, and probabilistic causes — often combined.
Direct causation is easy to understand, and appears to be represented in the grammars of all languages around the world. Systemic causation is more complex and is not represented in the grammar of any language. It just has to be learned.

Direct versus systemic causation and grammar: fascinating.  Many of my readers will remember, with varying emotions, the practice of diagramming sentences in order to understand the syntactic relationships among words. I loved sentence diagrams because I lucked out; my brain instinctively twigged to the way words were relating in sentences so this was easy, made sense, and was fun.  It is not so obvious for most people and I suspect the vast majority would prefer to keep sentence diagrams locked away in distant memory.

In English we show the structure mostly with word order, prepositions, and conjunctions.  In a highly inflected language like Latin, word order can be extremely flexible because the endings of the words indicate their functions. "Femina videt canem" means "The woman sees the dog." "Feminam videt canis" means "The dog sees the woman."  Same word order, different endings.  Whether the concept is expressed in sequence or inflection, one element (the subject) acts upon the other (the object).  The direct causation is very clear and easily grasped.

Lakoff asserts that that no language has a grammar that expresses systemic causation.  Whether that generalization is absolutely true, I do not know.  He is the linguistic expert; I am an amateur lover of languages.  His statement matches what I have encountered in Indo-European languages (Germanic, Romance, Greek, Armenian) and what very little I know of Ural-Altaic and Semitic languages (Turkish and Hebrew).

Do I have any grammatical way to express the Buddhist concept of interdependent co-arising?  Everything that is happening right now is interrelated with everything else and nothing has a single causation.  Cause and effect are no longer sharply delineated. At this point we move into a Zen approach where the archer, the bow, the arrow, and the target are all one; none of them may be understood as independent of the others.  As Lakoff says, this understanding may be learned but it is not embedded in our grammar.  The way in which we arrange sounds or written symbols to express thought does not support such complexity; it is expressed not grammatically but in an abstract conceptual manner.  We can learn it, we can understand it, but the basic structure of language must be transcended for this to happen.

The progressive world view is rooted in the nurturing parent model, not the authoritarian parent model of the conservative world view, and the former is a more complex, systemic approach.  It is less instinctive, less simplistic, yet it is also embedded in the most basic human experience, that of family.  Trump follows the easier path: simple solutions to challenges we may know to be complex but which he describes, in a way that has easy and powerful appeal, as being simple.  He has no need to explain how; he simply asserts and reassures that he can do it, he will do it, and we will rejoice in it.  How nice for everyone, and it sounds as though it requires no effort from the citizenry, no cooperation and hard work from various segments of our government, no struggles with centuries of history and the intricacies of geopolitics.  Everyone will sit down with the Donald, because he tells them to, and he will convince them of what must be done, and they will all do it.  How easy is that?

After illustrating ways in which someone can use the unconscious power of how we understand the world and ourselves to manipulate us, specifically illustrating this with what Trump has done, he concludes that even if Trump loses he will have changed the way Americans think.

Reporters and commentators are supposed to stick to what is conscious and with literal meaning. But most real political discourse makes use of unconscious thought, which shapes conscious thought via unconscious framing and commonplace conceptual metaphors. It is crucial, for the history of the country and the world, as well as the planet, that all of this be made public.

Lakoff urges us not to rebut the negative but to assert the positive, to speak to values, to build on the best and most universal aspects of our history and what matters to us all.  The latter part of his article shows us how progressives can address the challenge of Trump in a manner that might actually touch all segments of our society.

I commend the article to your attention.

--the BB

Friday, July 01, 2016

The Tale of FireEye

When the Rivers ran and the Sky was blue there walked among the Wolflings a man named FireEye.  It was said that his weary feet had travelled the Four Paths each to its end and that his eyes could see beyond the bounds of the World.  So it was told and so, though it be lies, it is told again.
When FireEye was a child he sat up late beside the fire and listened to the songs of Yesterday and Tomorrow and the tales of Now and Sometime, but mostly he loved the Great Song, for it told of the Grey Wolf.  The Wolflings never tired of the tales which time had woven round the Sacred One and so they told their children and one another, over and yet again, of the doings and sayings of him whose gift to them was the World and whose gift from the World was the Wolflings.  Whenever the Wolflings spoke of him they called him Lord Wolf, but few ever considered what it meant to have a lord and many considered the Great Song no more than a pretty tale about a good creature who may once have stalked the Forest and then again may not have lived at all. But FireEye listened with his heart as others heard only with their ears.  He knew that Grey Wolf was real and, more than other Wolflings, FireEye believed the World still bore fresh paw prints of the Great One. And so the boy resolved within himself and silently swore by his Grandfather’s bones that he would hunt the Lord Wolf until he found him.
FireEye was accounted a man and given a name when, in his fourteenth summer, he sat in the circle of his people.  As it came his turn to lead the Great Song his mind wandered from Shakra the Badger (whose unbelief was rebuked by the Lord Wolf himself) to Leaping Hart, the chieftain whom FireEye knew to believe only in himself, and then to FireEye’s own heart wherein exotic doubts danced like the flames which stirred in the evening air.  Silently the lad gave words to his longing: “Show yourself, Lord Wolf; Oh, show yourself that I might see you.” And then it happened, for in the eyes of one of the children and in the lined face of the Lady Heron and in the hands of old Namhar, FireEye saw the paw prints of the Sacred One. And there in the midst of the people stood the Grey Wolf, his fur glistening in the fire which enveloped him.  As his turn came, FireEye did not sing the next verse of the Great Song but rather began:
Praised be the Fire in which I see you
And blest my sisters and brothers in whom I see you.
Holy is the World wherein you walk.
O Great Lord Wolf, I pray you,
Save your people.
On he sang into the night and many were uneasy but none would stop him. Though some longed for him to be silent, yet was he then named among the shamans and called FireEye, for it was in the Fire that he had seen the Wolf.
As the years passed FireEye learned to track the Wolf as the hunter tracks the deer. Often as he journeyed through the Forest the Lord Wolf would show himself and speak to the shaman of things too beautiful and terrible to name.  Then one day, as FireEye wandered beside a stream, he beheld a shining trout darting among the shadows.  Its look was not unknown to him.
  Overcoming the dumbness of his wonder, FireEye spoke to it thus: “My Lord, I know you but do not understand. You are the Grey Wolf and the Speckled Fish.  Teach me.”
The Sacred One answered, “I have always been more than the Wolf and now it is given to you to know this.”
When FireEye had pondered this great mystery he could contain it no longer, and so he returned to the Wolflings and said to them, “The Lord Wolf is more than Wolf.”
They replied, “What do you mean? This is nonsense. The Holy Wolf is the Holy Wolf, greatest of all the creatures, always the same. Would you tell us the Wolf is not the Wolf? Guard your tongue and take heed you do not lead our children astray.”
And so his people frowned upon the shaman and he was confused.  Did the Great One not promise he would lead his people into Truth? Yet they would not hear this news.  Could it be a deception, some wondrous lie to drive the shaman mad?
But no, for the Eagle came to FireEye also and said, “You have sought me everywhere. Do you know me?”
The shaman answered, “Yes, Lord, for you are Wolf and Greater than Wolf, Trout and Greater than Trout, Eagle and Greater than Eagle.”
The Eagle said, “Then trust me and be true.”
So FireEye held fast to the Creature beyond the understanding of the Wolflings.  Though some longed to believe him yet none would forsake the Great Song as they had always known it.  So finally the Wolflings ceased to listen to the shaman.  When their ears no longer heard him and their eyes perceived him not, he said, “It is done.  I cannot go back.  To be faithful to the Grey Wolf I must also be faithful to Greater than Wolf.  Because I am a Wolfling I am no longer a Wolfling.  I must leave my people.” So, though we wept, he left.
In time FireEye came among the Children of the Eagle and they welcomed him as a Stranger and bade him sit in their circle and sing the Great Song with them. The shaman smiled and thanked them and joined in the singing, for though the Great Song now told of the Mighty Eagle, FireEye had been blessed with a great secret and he knew the Lord Eagle as he knew the Lord Wolf.
After some days the Children of the Eagle spoke to him as follows: “Shaman, you seem to honor the Lord Eagle.”
“I cannot do otherwise,” FireEye replied.
“And yet you were a Wolfling, were you not?”
“That is true,” he answered.
“We would make you one of us,” they continued, “but we must be certain of your loyalties.  Are you still a Wolfling?”
“I fear I am not,” he said.
And then the Children of the Eagle asked the shaman whether the Great Song concerned the Grey Wolf at all.  FireEye dared not betray the Sacred One in any guise, so he answered softly, “Yes.”
Then they said to him, “Though you have come to know the Great Eagle, yet are you not one of us.” They no longer called him shaman and they would not hear him speak. FireEye’s heart was nigh unto breaking and he journeyed forth with tears dimming the paw prints he once knew to follow.
One day as he stood upon a great plain he lifted up his arms and said, “My Lord, you have been kind to me and have let me see what few have seen. I have been true to you though others have called me Liar and Fool. But I am a mere child of Earth.  Let me see you again and let me die.”
Far off, near the horizon, a speck appeared and as it came closer it grew until at last there stood before the disgraced shaman a mighty Buffalo with horns and hooves of gold.  It spoke to him and said, “My child, you shall die a thousand times before I gather you to myself.  Meanwhile, as you love me, you must be faithful to what you have seen since it is because I love you that I have shown myself to you. And now you shall see me no more for you have learned to see me always.” With that the Buffalo disappeared and FireEye stood alone yet not alone on the plain.
When his soul had quieted within him, the shaman turned and walked back toward the land of the Wolflings, and the Children of the Eagle, and the Fisher Folk, and the Sun People, and all the other Sons and Daughters of the Earth.  Some laughed and most merely did not listen.  Yet FireEye the shaman-in-exile, continued to serve the Buffalo Spirit (last Avatar in a New World) until he came to the Final Mountain and passed beyond knowing.  So it was told and so I tell it to you.

--12 July 1976 (with minor editing 1 July 2016)
© Paul E. Strid

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Martyrs of Orlando 2016

There is a tradition among Latin American Christians of naming the martyrs and saints, especially recent ones, and after each name shouting "¡Presente!" (Present!).  In so doing they not only remember those who have died but sense and proclaim their presence among us.

I have thus put together this post, naming each of the 49 murdered during Latin night at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando FL on Sunday, 12 June 2016.

As you read the names, remember them, honor them, feel their presence making us stronger.

Memory eternal!

You may see their names here.  Names and more information and photos of many of them are found here.

--the BB