Optimistic Cynic

Choosing to be happy sounds so corny, but I am convinced it’s the only way not to get crushed under the weight of this hard, fallen world.

How one become happy in a world filled with imperfect human beings, and while being one yourself, will differ from person to person. Some use religion. Some decide to ignore negative information. Others find that dwelling on the bad helps them cope. Still others might drown the tragedy of being alive with distractions, either electronic or chemical.

I get that. I really do. A lot of what people do depends on their fundamental views of human nature. This deep stuff, but so much of one’s world-view depends on their answer to the following question: are human beings intrinsically good, or intrinsically bad?

Note well that I did not say “evil,” but “bad.”

People can either be perfected here on Earth and it is society that corrupts us, or we are born broken somehow and need to structure society, as well as work on structuring ourselves, to mitigate these tendencies.

In other words, society has to improve, or you have to improve.

This is really a simplified version, but it helps see how each of these basic assumptions about the nature of being can influence nearly everything, from political affiliations to religious beliefs to the very kind of art one creates and enjoys.

I am clearly in the second camp–that human beings are fundamentally bad and have to be trained to be good–and yet I find this a pretty empowering view of things. In fact, gaining a greater understanding of this view, and treating others and myself in accordance with it, has helped me become happier over time:

  • We are all imperfect, but we can all improve;
  • There will never be a Utopia or a heaven on Earth;
  • We all need to be kind to each other and ourselves because we’re all broken; and
  • I’m never surprised or disappointed when people, from the individual to the species level, makes the wrong choice.

Human beings will never learn the hard lessons from history. That is a fact. This is pessimistic, but pessimism about human nature doesn’t have to translate into being a miserable person.

I have come to consider myself as an optimistic cynic. I have no illusions about humanity’s ability to navigate terrible crises before the happen and head things off. This isn’t how the overwhelming majority of us operate, personally or societally. We have a massive inborn self-destructive streak, and we’re really good at sharing this dark tendency with society at large.

But, and here’s the weird part, we’re still here. We haven’t annihilated each other from the face of the planet, despite our best efforts. Yes, many peoples have been extincted through deliberate genocide, or by being conquered and breeded out of existence, or even inadvertently through diseases. Evil stuff like this still happens, and that’s the tendency we see among those people who can’t cope with the burden of being alive: they lash out at existence itself, whether they’re a mass shooter in a movie theater or school, or a dictator directing their anger at “those people over there.”

And yet, civilization exists in many parts of the world. And it’s actually quite nice. Believe it or not, lots and lots of human beings frown upon destructive, evil behaviors. This would not be possible for as long as its been going on (albeit, in a still woefully low proportion of the global human population) if this fallen nature of humanity couldn’t be mitigated.

Our rules don’t perfect us. They keep us free, from the harmful actions of the government, from the harmful actions of our fellow citizens, and often from the harmful actions of ourselves. Laws aren’t magic, but they do express the values of a society. And I’m much happier living in a society where things like rape and murder are punishable by life imprisonment or even death than a world that tries to legislate these dark impulses from our basic nature.

Because that is never going to happen. Continue reading “Optimistic Cynic”

Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days

The logo from the Marvel comics The Inhumans

What is it about tragedy that brings out the worst in people?

I know what you’re thinking: Tragedies can also bring out the best. We have seen how America has banded together in the wake of the terrible devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose.

But then, there’s the recent Las Vegas shooting.

I’m not going to go into the gory details here, but suffice it to say an incredibly evil man shot a bunch of people at a music festival, killing close to 60 and wounding hundreds of others before turning the gun on himself.

Once again, the reaction to this act of inhumanity is nearly as inhuman as the act itself.

No, you see, it wasn’t the killer who bears responsibility. It’s the NRA. It’s NRA members. It’s the Republican Party of the United States of America. It’s any lawmaker who didn’t vote to enact laws (that wouldn’t have made a difference anyway).  It’s anyone who supports the Second Amendment. It’s anybody who likes country music. It’s anybody who voted for Donald Trump. It’s Donald Trump himself (for God’s sake, the man is living rent-free in 60,000,000 people’s heads. Why does anybody let a politician control their thoughts and emotions?!).

The impulse to immediately start casting blame at people who had nothing to do with an act of violence instead of blaming the actual perpetrator is terrifyingly inhuman and evil. 

It’s sick and it’s wrong and it explains so much of what is going on in this country.

This attitude explains why there seems to be no hope of communication, no hope of reconciliation. One group of people wants the other to actually die.

How do you overcome this? How do you get over hatred, which seems to be one of the easiest, most enjoyable emotion to succumb to?

For starters, you have to imagine the other person as a human being with a soul and inherent worth. This might take a hell of a lot of imagination, but it can be done. And once it’s done, you start to extrapolate what would happen if this person were to die:

  • Do they have wife? Children? A family?.
  • Do other people enjoy spending time with them? Are other people relying on them?
  • How would other people’s lives be impacted if this person were to die?
  • What about the important people in your life? How would they be affected if you died?
  • How would you feel if someone that you cared for were murdered merely for their beliefs or opinions?

Really, it’s no different than the old cliche of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. These are really basic, human questions to act. And yet humanity seems in such short supply. Continue reading “Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days”

Eight Insights About God, Man, and Creation from Moses Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed

Moses Maimonides - The Guide for the Perplexed cover

How does one “review” a dense, millennia-old treatise on Jewish philosophy and religion?

One doesn’t. But what one can do is share insights and particularly powerful ideas and concepts with another.

In The Guide for the Perplexed, written around 1190 in Moor-occupied Spain, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (aka Maimonides aka Rambam) writes to his student Rabbi Joseph ben Judah of Ceuta, to remove some of his confusions regarding certain aspects of faith and philosophy.

The Guide touches on many, many topics including:

  • The multiple meanings of Hebrew words and how to properly interpret the Torah (aka the first five books of the Old Testament)
  • Aristotelian philosophy: what Aristotle got right and wrong
  • Problems Maimonides sees with certain aspects of Islamic theology
  • The nature of God and proof of His existence
  • The nature of evil, and why it exists
  • Divine Providence
  • The nature of angels, prophecy (with a detailed discussion of Ezekiel) and dreams
  • Astronomy (as understood at the time) and the “spheres”
  • The purpose of God’s commandments

And yet instead of seeming disjointed, the Guide has as a constant thread two main themes:

  1. Discerning who God is and what He wants
  2. Achieving perfection, as much as possible, by coming to true knowledge of God

It’s heavy stuff, but it makes you appreciate the magic of the written word, and how one man’s letters nearly one thousand years ago still speak to us today, explaining mysteries and, as the title says, removing perplexities . . . or at least easing them and providing a way forward for further studies and thought.

Moses Maimonides statue Cordoba, Spain

Regular readers of Amatopia know that I am a Christian and don’t shy about writing on religious topics, so if that isn’t your bag, you have been warned. But even though Maimonides was Jewish, there is much overlap between Judaism and Christianity–same God, same creation stories, same traditions, similar rites (or at least the meaning behind them) and much of the same general theology and philosophy about God and man.

Obviously, Christians accept Christ as the promised Messiah and Son of God described in Jewish prophecy and Jews regard Him as a prophet and religious leader, but not Divine.

But the point remains: Christians can get a lot out of The Guide for the Perplexed. And even if you are not Christian, Jewish, or religious at all, Maimonides is a powerful thinker you will get a lot out of reading. Here are eight of my favorite takeaways from The Guide for the Perplexed:

Continue reading “Eight Insights About God, Man, and Creation from Moses Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed

Axiometry, Part IV: “The Right Side of History.”

On the right side of history

Yes indeed, here we are! Axiometry! Looking at commonly used sayings, axioms, and bits of conventional wisdom to see if there really is any wisdom in them . . . or if they’re just full of wis.

. . .

Okay, that one was a bit of a stretch, I know.

Today’s subject is a relatively new one, or one that we hear incessantly, especially in the incessantly obnoxious world of politics. I am, of course, talking about the expression–the very idea–of being on the right side of history.

Blech.

Okay, I kind of tipped my hand there, but let’s be fair: As always, I’ll be subjecting this cultural shibboleth to the same low-budget quasi-legalistic analysis that I test all of my axioms with. Hence the completely made-up neologism Axiometry,

(Technically it’s a portmanteau, I guess, but who cares).

Here we go! Continue reading “Axiometry, Part IV: “The Right Side of History.””

The Paradox of Manhood: Thoughts on “Red Pill,” Mastery, and “Being a Man.”

Men: Are you a “cuck”? Are you a “beta”? Does the life you’ve been living got to go?

Have you been “red pilled,” or are you still “blue pilled”? Is our increasingly feminized society beating you down? Are you a victim of circumstance? Do you even know what the hell it is I’m talking about?

I described the “red pill” in my post “World of Illusions: 5 Lies We Tell Ourselves (And What to Do About Them)“:

[“Red pill” is] named after a scene in the popular sci-fi movie The Matrix, which came out when I was still in high school and good God do I feel old. Anyway, the idea is that everybody else is duped and that you are not.

Being “red pilled” isn’t necessarily a bad thing in my opinion, but it can lead to blind spots because

it creates a false sense of security whereby one thinks they are always right. Since few things are “always right” except for the fact that nobody is ever “always right,” this creates dangerous blind spots. You might reject, or not even seek, evidence, or take potential risks seriously, because you already have The Answer.

Lots of men–especially younger men and those burned by divorce, infidelity, or the law stripping them of their rights to see their children–describe themselves like this, seeing the “true” nature of women and the system, and acting accordingly. They also tend to wear fedoras and–

All right, enough snideness. I’m not going for the low-hanging fruit. You might think it hypocritical that the guy who wrote about men being trapped in a cage of safety or being afraid to take risks is poking fun at the men’s right movement or whatever you want to call it.

morpheus-the-matrix-red-pill-and-blue-pill

Well, for starters, I sympathize a lot with these men and their movement. It is a rational, foreseeable reaction to insane third-wave feminism run amok. So I hope that they take the jokes in the spirit in which they are intended.

Second, I’ve never accused women as a whole of being responsible for the degradation of manhood, or the ruination of Western civilization. After all, a lot of men have a vested interest in this as well. Divide and conquer so you can grab power, whether it’s by race or by gender or any other way we distinguish people and pit them against each other. The kicker is that the people who push these destructive ideas and foster animosity and distrust between men and women usually don’t even live the way they expect us to. What hypocrites.

But I’m going to speak to the men, because it is a gender I have more experience being. And while I have some sympathy with men’s rights activists and the MGTOW (men going their own way; that is, men foregoing women, sex, and reproduction as a way of protest) movement, on the whole it makes me sad.

Yes, a lot of laws and societal norms are stacked against men’s interests, but this is not the work of womanhood as a whole. It’s the work of activists, men and women, who want to reshape society into something more in tune with their personal political beliefs, many of which go against human nature. And second, I feel for guys that have had a bad experiences with women–we all have–but it makes me sad because to give up on a relationship and potentially having a family is very tragic indeed.

Also, it’s sort of the thinking that the stereotypical man-hating bull-dyke radical lesbian feminist decried by the men’s rights crowd is presumed to think, turning to that life due to bad experiences with men.

Anyway, as somebody who has teetered on this edge of “going his own way,” only to reclaim himself, and also as an older member of a generation struggling to know and understand what “being a man” means, I’m here to share the insights I’ve faced in my struggles. And I can boil it down into three key points:

  1. Don’t be a pleaser
  2. Become a master
  3. Women are not your enemy

Continue reading “The Paradox of Manhood: Thoughts on “Red Pill,” Mastery, and “Being a Man.””

World of Illusions: 5 Lies We Tell Ourselves (And What to Do About Them)

We are awash in illusion. Today is no worse than yesterday in this regard, except now there is technology which can help push this illusion to ever greater heights of realism.

But worse than these are the illusions we create for ourselves. It’s bad enough that the world at large is trying to trick us, isn’t it? And yet in many ways we are our own worst enemies.

There is so much about our lives that is up to random chance and statistical probabilities. The rest of it is really up to us. And yet we handicap ourselves by spinning elaborate webs of self-deception that might help us navigate the world, but don’t really do anything to make our lives, or the lives of others, any better.

I’m no genius, but what I am is a flawed individual just like you. Here are five common illusions we create for ourselves, based on personal experience, and what we can do about them. Continue reading “World of Illusions: 5 Lies We Tell Ourselves (And What to Do About Them)”