Article 43

 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Impermanence

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The Liberating Embrace Of Uncertainty

By Amam Frank
NPR
May 15, 2012

The only constant is change. It’s the most basic fact of human existence. Nothing lasts, nothing stays the same.

We feel it with each breath. From birth to the unknown moment of our passing, we ride a river of change. And yet, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, we exhaust ourselves in an endless search for solidity. We hunger for something that lasts, some idea or principle that rises above time and change. We hunger for certainty. That is a big problem.

It might even be THE problem.

Religions are often built around this heartache for certainty. In the face of sickness, loss and grief, a thousand dogmas with a thousand names have risen. Many profess that if only the faithful hold fast to the “rules,” the “precepts” or the “doctrine” then certainty can be obtained.

Fate and future can be fixed through promises of freedom from immediate suffering, divine favor or everlasting salvation. Scriptures are transformed into unwavering blueprints for an unchanging order. These documents must live beyond question lest the certainty they provide crumble. When human spiritual endeavor devolves into these white-knuckle forms of clinging they become monuments to the fear of change and uncertainty.

It would be symmetrical if I could point to science as the pure antidote to the rigid rejection of uncertainty. Science, in the purest forms of its expression as a practice, holds to no doctrine other than that the world might be known. In the ceaseless pursuit of its own questioning path, science asks us to allow for ceaseless change in our ideas, beliefs and opinions. It’s this aspect of science that I value more than any other.

But science does not exist alone as practice. It’s also a constellation of ideas that exist within culture and those ideas can gain value, in and of themselves, without connection to actual practice. In this way science becomes something more and less. For some people the idea of Science offers a trumped up certainty that yields its own false defense against the rootlessness that roots of our existence.

My co-blogger Marcelo Gleiser put it beautifully two weeks ago when he wrote, “what is pompous is to think that we can know all the answers. Or that it’s the job of science to find them.” When science as an idea is used to push away the tremulous reality of our lived existential uncertainty then it, too, is degraded. It becomes just another imaginary fixed point in a life without fixed points.

Of course it doesn’t have to be this way. The world’s history of spiritual endeavor contains many beautiful descriptions of authentic encounters with uncertainty. Ironically these often serve as gateways to the most compassionate experience of what can be called sacred in human life.

BUDDHISM’S First Noble Truth, which focuses specifically on the reality of change and suffering, serves as one example. In the Christian tradition works like the “Cloud of Unknowing,” a 14th century paean to the importance of experience over doctrine or dogma, serves as another. Dig around in most of the world’s great religious traditions and you find people finding their sense of grace by embracing uncertainty rather than trying to bury it in codified dogmas.

For science, embracing uncertainty means more than claiming “we don’t know now, but we will know in the future”. It means embracing the fuzzy boundaries of the very process of asking questions. It means embracing the frontiers of what explanations, for all their power, can do. It means understanding that a life of deepest inquiry requires all kinds of vehicles: from poetry to particle accelerators; from quiet reveries to abstract analysis.

Though I am an atheist, some of the wisest people I have met are those whose spiritual lives (some explicitly religious, some not) have forced them to continually confront uncertainty. This daily act has made them patient and forgiving, generous and inclusive. Likewise, the atheists I have met who most embody the ideals of free inquiry seem to best understand the limitations of every perspective, including their own. They encounter the ever shifting ground of their lives with humor, good will and compassion.

In the end, embracing uncertainty is to embrace a quality I have written about many times before: mystery. These lives we live, surrounded by beauty and horror, profound knowledge and pitiful ignorance, are a mystery to us all. To push that truth away with false certainty, falsely derived from either religion or reason, is to miss our most perfect truth.

We are, after all, just “such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 05/15/12 •
Section Spiritual Diversions
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Romney 2012

The Amnesia Candidate

By Paul Krugman
NY Times
April 22, 2012

Just how stupid does Mitt Romney think we are? If you’ve been following his campaign from the beginning, that’s a question you have probably asked many times.

But the question was raised with particular force last week, when Mr. Romney tried to make a closed drywall factory in Ohio a symbol of the Obama administrations economic failure. It was a symbol, all right - but not in the way he intended.

First of all, many reporters quickly noted a point that Mr. Romney somehow failed to mention: George W. Bush, not Barack Obama, was president when the factory in question was closed. Does the Romney campaign expect Americans to blame President Obama for his predecessors policy failure?

Yes, it does. Mr. Romney constantly talks about job losses under Mr. Obama. Yet all of the net job loss took place in the first few months of 2009, that is, before any of the new administration’s policies had time to take effect. So the Ohio speech was a perfect illustration of the way the Romney campaign is banking on amnesia, on the hope that voters dont remember that Mr. Obama inherited an economy that was already in free fall.

How does the campaign deal with people who point out the awkward reality that all of the Obama job losses took place before any Obama policies had taken effect? The fallback argument - which was rolled out when reporters asked about the factory closure - is that even though Mr. Obama inherited a deeply troubled economy, he should have fixed it by now. That factory is still closed, said a Romney adviser, because of the failure of Obama policies to really get this economy going again.”

Actually, that factory would probably still be closed even if the economy had done better - drywall is mainly used in new houses, and while the economy may be coming back, the Bush-era housing bubble isn’t.

But Mr. Romney’s poor choice of a factory for his photo-op aside, I guess accusing Mr. Obama of not doing enough to promote recovery is a better argument than blaming him for the effects of Bush policies. However, its not much better, since Mr. Romney is essentially advocating a return to those very same Bush policies. And he’s hoping that you dont remember how badly those policies worked.

For the Bush era didn’t just end in catastrophe; it started off badly, too. Yes, Mr. Obama’s jobs record has been disappointing - but it has been unambiguously better than Mr. Bush’s over the comparable period of his administration.

This is especially true if you focus on private-sector jobs. Overall employment in the Obama years has been held back by mass layoffs of schoolteachers and other state and local government employees. But private-sector employment has recovered almost all the ground lost in the administration’s early months. That compares favorably with the Bush era: as of March 2004, private employment was still 2.4 million below its level when Mr. Bush took office.

Oh, and where have those mass layoffs of schoolteachers been taking place? Largely in states controlled by the G.O.P.: 70 percent of public job losses have been either in Texas or in states where Republicans recently took control.

Which brings me to another aspect of the amnesia campaign: Mr. Romney wants you to attribute all of the shortfalls in economic policy since 2009 (and some that happened in 2008) to the man in the White House, and forget both the role of Republican-controlled state governments and the fact that Mr. Obama has faced scorched-earth political opposition since his first day in office. Basically, the G.O.P. has blocked the administrations efforts to the maximum extent possible, then turned around and blamed the administration for not doing enough.

So am I saying that Mr. Obama did everything he could, and that everything would have been fine if he hadn’t faced political opposition? By no means. Even given the political constraints, the administration did less than it could and should have in 2009, especially on housing. Furthermore, Mr. Obama was an active participant in Washington’s destructive PIVOT AWAY FROM JOBS to a focus on deficit reduction.

And the administration has suffered repeatedly from complacency - taking a few months of good news as an excuse to rest on its laurels rather than hammering home the need for more action. It did that in 2010, it did it in 2011, and to a certain extent it has been doing the same thing this year too. So there is a valid critique one can make of the administrations handling of the economy.

But that’s not the critique Mr. Romney is making. Instead, hes basically attacking Mr. Obama for not acting as if George Bush had been given a third term. Are the American people - and perhaps more to the point, the news media - forgetful enough for that attack to work? I guess we’ll find out.

SOURCE

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Romney says Obama has failed to help create jobs

KHTV - Little Rock
April 18, 2012

Mitt Romney says President Barack Obama is over his head and swimming in the wrong direction when it comes to the economy.

In a scathing indictment of Obama’s policies, the Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting says virtually nothing Obama has done in his time in the Oval Office has helped create jobs.

Romney says more Americans have lost jobs, more houses have plunged in value, gasoline prices have doubled and health care costs have risen during Obama’s tenure.

Romney spoke Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C., across the street from the Bank of America Stadium, where Obama will accept the Democratic Party’s nomination to a second term in early September.

Romney spoke as Obama campaigned in Ohio, a perennial swing state struggling to recover from the worst recession in decades.

SOURCE

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Posted by Elvis on 05/15/12 •
Section General Reading
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The foundation of all Mental Illness is the unwillingness to experience legitimate suffering. - Carl Jung

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