Aphorism 74

The higher of us create art, music, poetry, and thought — they seek more than all that is animate and non-human and they seek more than most that are human.  They are the best souls amongst us, but they are not rich, powerful, comfortable, or known.

A few may rise into the known via their unchallenged genius, but the baser of us uses them for their own banal interests –their torch or delicate flower offered to us is snuffed out or trampled upon, or used for a profit or tweaked for an agenda.  We pick the wrong role models and heroes and exploit the genius and authentic spirits to perpetuate our mis-guided direction.

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Evil

CrusadesI am agnostic, but I believe in good and evil…which is different from the dark and the light we see in nature.  The dark and the light, in nature, or destruction and creation, complement one another in a perpetual process of change.  As in nature, and in being a part of nature, we also have light and dark within us.   Those that become totally committed to either the light or the dark…suppressing or excluding the existence of the other…lose something…and become imbalanced.  History has shown those that are convinced they know the light…their version of the light…can in fact spread darkness on fellow-man.  And, there are also numerous examples, such as what we have unfortunately just witnessed, where those that become absorbed with darkness spread darkness, or more to the point, evil… on fellow-man and child.

EvilEvil, is man-made.  Evil, doesn’t exist outside mankind.  Darkness in nature isn’t evil.  Light, in nature isn’t good.  Mankind defines Good and Evil through action and behavior in the human world.  Good and Evil is human — an imperfect interpretation of the light and dark in nature.  People are looking for answers and solutions.  The problem is more complex than people will admit.  Gun control, armed guards, security systems…on and on and on…armed teachers (are you kidding me)…everyone pushing their agenda…businessmen, politicians, shrinks, pharmaceuticals, priests…looking for a Band-Aid…looking for a an “in” for their own agenda, ratings, another buck…rather than confronting the real problem.  The problem is one of culture and technology.  Culture…summarized as Hollywood…the action and violence…the entertainment…hip hop hip gangsters…video games…shoot to kill.  Technology…the gun…the bomb…loop technology around and tie it up with wrapping paper and a bow.  Mankind creates his own culture…he creates his own tools…this culture molds who we are…on both ends of the spectrum…and technology provides the tools for the two extremes and those in the middle.
Knight2

Perhaps this is why I look to the past with a sense of nostalgia.  Man on a horse with a sword…against man on a horse with a sword…you can’t take out the dark…but you can establish and define the rules…less collateral damage…a fair fight…courage and bravery…nobility…skill…one life for another…for whatever the reason…not 20 children…mowed down with technology and the pull of a trigger…for no reason what so ever…other than Evil.  Evil…made more Evil through culture and more powerful through the technology made available for its use.  The real problem and solution will evade the media and political dialogue…for it goes to the heart of the matter…it goes all the way through what is and what is becoming…our culture and our technology…two things people can’t change without a deep philosophical awakening and related change of course.  Mankind thinks we are progressing forward…with our thought, laws, technology, culture…that time equals progress…that we are so superior and advanced to men and woman who came before.  I am not so sure.  They say the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan saved lives…how many Japanese children died from that act that reportedly saved lives?  Don’t look to the media, the priests, the technocrats, the businessmen, or the politicians to define the problem or the solution…for the problem and solution is philosophical…and you won’t find any philosophers in front of the camera.

Danes Happiness a Distant Beacon?

Utopia is a loaded concept and likely unattainable much like perfect knowledge or enlightenment, but an ideal concept does have the power to potentially move people in a more promising direction.  Of course, that ideal needs to be based on some logic and realistic expectations, otherwise naïve faith could lead people to a very disappointing outcome.  Imagine living your one life as a saint for the primary purpose of receiving  access to the pearly gates only to find no such gates exist.  Or, imagine deciding to blow yourself and hundreds of innocent people to bits in exchange for twenty beautiful virgins only to discover all that you achieved was a heinous act and eternal darkness.  If the saint performed saintly acts without expecting access to the pearly gates then there would be no sense of disappointment when time expires – the saintly acts in and of themselves contain both the gift and the reward, nothing more, nothing less.

Denmark, a nation of 5.5 million people, has consistently ranked number one on the “happiness” or contentment index from various surveys Happiness Survey Example.  The people who are born and raised in this culture and society appear to be more content than citizens of any other nation on the planet.  Why?  Before I go into some broad strokes that make Denmark unique, I wanted to post these YouTube videos from two young Danes who casually try to answer the question for us.  Why go into a bunch of facts and broad statements when two young people from the country can attempt to explain this mystery in their own words and mannerisms.

Aren’t those two videos interesting?  I hope you took the time to watch at least one of them.  One tends to focus on the peace of mind that comes with a socialistic welfare state and the other narrows in on setting lower expectations that mitigate anxiety and enable one to be more content with their lot in life.  Of course these are just two points of view from over 5 million people who live in Denmark day in and day out.  It is impossible to do this subject justice on a blog post or two.  My real purpose is to do some high level comparisons between the top five “happiest” nations and perhaps juxtapose these high-level findings relative to the United States (what many often call “the greatest country on earth”).  But I think Denmark deserves a post all to itself since it consistently claims the top spot on the “happiness” index.

I am going to use this paragraph to simply outline with broad short strokes what is unique about Denmark.  Denmark has the highest level of income equality in the developed world and the highest minimum wage – a dishwasher can make $25 dollars per hour.  The tax rates are the highest of any developed country and that includes a Value Added Tax (on most goods purchased including food) at 25%.  The progressive effective tax rate can start at 40+ percent and reach 70 percent, depending on your income level.  But, these high taxes enable free tuition through college and the government actually pays college students a small amount of money to go to school – they enjoy a 98% literacy rate.  Healthcare is covered by the state.  If you lose your job the government will pay you 90% of your past salary for up to four years.  Maternity leave is paid for from six months to a year.  Child care is partly paid for by the government.  If you have worked in Denmark for 40 years you will get a pension upon retirement.  The state helps with elder care.  Some other interesting facts are that Denmark is environmentally progressive and one-third of the citizens use a bicycle as the primary mode of transportation.  Tax on an automobile purchase is almost 200%!  Now you know why bicycles are popular.   The country ranks number two on the corruption index and people therefore trust each other and their government.  Violent crime is very rare.  Unemployment is very low.

Although Denmark is socialist, that doesn’t mean they are communists.  In fact, Denmark is considered one of the most competitive economies in the world (according to World Economic Forum, IMF, and the Economist) and enjoys the 7th highest income per capita.  Denmark has one of the freest financial and product markets in Europe.  So what we have here is a very competitive, productive, and free market economy that is capitalistic, but a socialist model that tends to eliminate wide variances in citizen income and uses this re-distribution to educate the young, care for the sick, and enable the elderly to enjoy a relatively secure retirement.

The word socialists, as the young lady in the YouTube video alluded to, conjures up images of drab communists walking around like zombies in rags.  Apparently, that doesn’t seem to be the case when that socialistic model is funded willingly (I am sure many Danes may find another word to replace “willingly”) through high taxes from citizens that are highly educated, literate, competitive, and relatively happy with less stress and anxiety.  In fact, they must be very productive if they come in third in terms of the least amount of hours worked!   It seems that Denmark might counter the often pure capitalistic argument that higher taxes on the wealthy will lower innovation, productivity, and motivation.  It also helps that the government appears to be somewhat competent with the tax revenues (I am sure some Danes would disagree) as the country’s debt to GDP is just 39.5%.

In essence, the capitalistic socialistic model in Denmark is built for the young, the sick (even if sickness temporary), the elderly, and the middle class.  In general, the majority of the young have equal opportunity to pursue higher education and their future occupation regardless of what family they are born into.  Of course, equal opportunity doesn’t mean everyone’s outcome should be equal.  A very talented individual can still make relatively good money.  A citizen that earns $1 million in a year may have a 70% tax burden, but he/she would still net $300,000 in a year.  In contrast, a citizen that earns just $50,000 in a year and faces a 43% tax burden only brings home $28,500 bucks.  There still exists salary or wage inequality, but the variances between those that have much and those that have less aren’t as extreme as in pure capitalistic societies with lower tax rates and loop holes.  And, I am sure the middle class in Denmark have learned to make their disposable income go a long way through self-control by limiting their needs and wants for nice cars, big houses, and lots of things.  Although they hit the high rank on the happiness or contentment index, that doesn’t mean they have easy lives filled with anything their hearts desire.  They must simply have the discipline needed to enjoy what they have.  Many of these people bike miles in the rain and snow to get to work as opposed to driving in a warm Mercedes-Benz with heated seats that they are leasing through debt or credit.

But Denmark isn’t immune from current or future cracks in the socialistic capitalistic framework.  For example, the country is currently experiencing a skilled labor shortage High income tax worsens a labor shortage .  Why?  Apparently many of the young are jumping ship to work abroad to avoid the high tax burden.  In short, they get all the benefits of growing up and getting educated “for free” and then take advantage of the system by working abroad.  I have a solution to this “free-rider” problem, but I doubt the Danish people would agree with me as they appear to be a very free-spirited people.  My solution would be that those working abroad would get slapped with a nice bill for all the tax revenue used to raise and educate them in the country before they jumped shipped to earn their windfall gains.  Other potential problems are that Denmark relies on exporting services and products to the global economy.  The current problems in the global economy adversely impact their export income which puts strain on their ability to keep funding their expensive citizen care.  They have, however, fared pretty well during the current meltdowns in the United States and Europe, but who is to say the global economy isn’t going to head further south?

There is much more to discuss about Danish culture and there are many more sources to explore.  In fact there is a blog that I am trying to get access to in order to learn more.  Truth be told, one really needs to live in Denmark for an extended period of time to really gain some insight.  I would love to observe the Danes in public going about their business, watch their news and favorite TV shows, hang out in cafes and bars and talk to the people including students, observe the landscapes and the architecture, and visit other locations besides just Copenhagen.  For now, all I can offer is this short post and some articles below that were sources for some of this content.  Regardless of this short post and material, I feel like they are on to something important in their mix of capitalism and socialism.  But, applying such a system to other large countries that don’t have the culture or momentum of this hybrid model would be like trying to reverse the course of a tsunami.  The potential learning points, however, can be viewed as beacons to a long-term course or strategy.  Could the Danes socialistic capitalistic model be a distant beacon to humanity?  Could such a system, if rolled out carefully over time, in fact become even more sustainable and practical if the world at large adopted the philosophy?

Some source articles: 

Why danes happier than americans

Why danes so happy

Happiest place on Earth

The (De)composition of the Human Soul

If we think of our souls as sensitive sponges which absorb the external environment through our senses then is it not important to think about and observe the current state of our external environment?

If I observe our current external environment one dominant image comes to mind through the senses — humans; human beings, human structures, human roads, human transport vehicles, humans on TV, humans and more humans and human stuff — everywhere.  We absorb the majority of our senses.  Our sponges are simply filling up on ourselves.

Our massive presence, all seven billion of us, are also desolating the environment such that the water and air is less pure and our eyes and ears have less and less natural beauty to take in.  We have less variety to take in through our senses.  And is not variety of experience and variety of sensing essential to developing more colorful and bountiful souls?  And if the majority of our senses are filled with ourselves, decomposing souls, then does the process naturally head towards further decomposition?

I am not trying to make an argument with statistics and figures to prove we are destroying the environment.  I am not trying to prove human beings are causing global warming, ozone depletion, water pollution, species extinction, over-fished seas, top soil erosion, polluted air, or any other potential negative environmental impact through a scientific method.  I am merely using my senses.  I am merely listening to my soul.  I am merely making the argument that the majority of our souls have significantly less potential to fill up our sponges with variety and purity.

I have a hypothesis which would be very difficult to prove, but my hypothesis is that our souls are beginning to decompose and therefore bringing the spirit and culture of the human species down past prior heights.  Just as we saw the decline in the quality of art, thought, music, culture (many souls make a culture) during the dark ages before finally coming back out into the light during the Renaissance, so I believe we are now in a dark age.  Although we think we are making progress through technology and advancements in knowledge of all fields, as a culture, as a group of souls, we are in fact decaying and have slipped into a cultural and spiritual abyss. Our sponges are dry and when we look for the moisture we only find decaying dry human bones.  We should pay attention and learn from what gave birth to the Renaissance.  Those noble souls that gave birth to the Renaissance figured out a secret as to how to get out of the dark ages.  We need to learn from their example and look back before we can go forward.

And let me add this slight addition.  Not only should we look back to the cultures and wisdom of the past, but also look up and out past humanity to regain perspective and get our bearings.

A final thought, inspired by reading one of my brother’s works and from another blogger…I think this quote sums up one of our problems which we need to revisit!

“And God said, Let us make man in our own image, after our own likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth (Genesis, Chapter 1-26)…over every living thing that moveth upon the earth (Genesis, Chapter 1-28).”

Amen.

What Happened to Men?

I realize I am perhaps a Neanderthal, or the Savage in Brave New World, but when I look about at men these days, I have to ask — what happened to us?  Who exemplifies a man these days?  Is Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Warren Buffet men to be emulated?  Are they an image and symbol of what we should strive to become – Rich Tech nerds gone wild or stingy smart investor turned saint?  Perhaps a movie actor like Brad Pitt, George Clooney, or Hugh Jackman are ideal– men that make millions because they look good and can pretend like they are someone else.  What about athletes – Tom Brady, Payton Manning, do they represent our peak?  These men make millions simply for throwing a pig skin with immense skill.  There is always Justin Bieber – what a stud.  My friend Justin is a good transition to my next observation. 

I have noticed as of late men seem to becoming more woman-like and generally less masculine as a result of modern concerns.  I am not, in this observation, degrading women or at least that is not my intent.  But our voices seem to be higher and contain more feminine intonations.  We tend to dress with tight-fitting clothes and walk like a model on a runway ramp.   We talk to kids like little puppies and resort to time-outs as opposed to a good spanking.  We sit at desks in front of computers or play with our little tiny phones.  We drive our cars using little skill or muscle other than what is required for a slight left or right turn or pressure on this foot or that.  When we go to war, we rely on guns and bombs as opposed to our horse, shield, and sword.  When we want to train our bodies we run on a treadmill or lift weights as opposed to developing natural strength through one’s profession or pursuits.  When we court women, we don’t use poetry or proper language and etiquette, we simply go to on-line dating sites, or drop some stupid lines at a bar.  We push shopping carts and baby carriages instead of the plow.  Is this what women want?  If so, then one also needs to ask what happened to Women? 

In all honesty, I don’t see many examples of “real” men these days – actors, tech geniuses, jocks, hip-hop stars, businessmen, politicians….maybe a Fireman Poet would be cool.  I think men are simply molded in large part by the culture in which they exist.  Perhaps this is why I often find myself wishing I lived in another era or period of time.  I think it might be preferable to be a man in Ancient Greece, Rome, or during the Renaissance.  Certainly, one could argue men of the past have been glorified beyond reality – just look what we did to the honorable and wise man Jesus.  But, I think if you look at the art of everyday life as well as the higher art of those past peaks of western civilization one can gain a glimpse into manhood. 

Based on my vague notion from prior studies and extended time around European museums, the men of the past seemed to have greater natural physical strength and more skill, immense courage and bravery embroidered with refinement in mind and manners, more respect and reverence towards women (equal rights excluded), a sense of purpose and forward progress – a straight back, broad shoulders, head up high, eyes open, hands and mind employed, clothed in proper attire to match the appropriate situation, tongue that speaks with content, actions that match thoughts and words, broad education and cross training.   Look at the image above.  Achilles, as a young boy, being trained by half man half horse, how to play music.  Now that is one hell of an image don’t you think?  Imagine such a man amidst us here and now.  He would be cast out to the far-reaching perimeter and slowly decay into a forgotten old man…while Justin Bieber sings and dances his way to the top of the Alpha Male inverted pyramid.