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    Alan Watts on Destorying Someone

            In times of such escalating insanity and indiscriminate violence, it’s prudent to turn to the sensible voices of those who have consistently questioned the status-quo and drew attention to the fact that humanity will either go up together or go down together.  Alan Watts is one such person (Martin Luther King and Carl Sagan are among others); below is an excerpt from his lecture titled The Nature of Consciousness (the lecture sub-title is The Myth of the Automatic Universe), part of the Out of Your Mind Lecture series.

            We have been brought up, by reason of our two great myths – the ceramic and the fully-automatic – not to feel that we belong in the world.  So our popular speech reflects it, we say “I came into this world,” you didn’t, you came out of it.  We say, “face facts,” we talk about “encounters with reality,” as if it was head on meeting of completely alien agencies, and the average person has the sensation that he is a somewhat that exists inside a bag of skin – the center of consciousness which looks out at this thing, and what the hell’s it going to do to me?
    The Andromeda Galaxy.  Image from:

            You see?  “Uhh, I recognize you and you kind of look like me and uhh, I’ve seen myself in a mirror, and uhh, you look like you might be people…so maybe you’re intelligent, maybe you can love too.  And perhaps you’re alright, some of you are anyway, if you’ve got the right color of skin or you have the right religion or whatever it is then you’re okay, but there are all those people in Asia and Africa and they may not really be people.”  When you want to destroy someone you always define them as unpeople – not really human – monkeys maybe, idiots maybe, machines maybe, but not people.  But we have this hostility to the external world because of the superstition, the myth, the absolutely unfounded theory that you yourself exist only inside your skin.  Now I want to propose another idea altogether…
    Victims of U.S drone strike in Pakistan.  Image from:



    Alan Watts - A Place for the Hermit

    Below is the text (transcibed by yours truly) of a wonderful Alan Watts lecture titled, A Place for the Hermit.  The talk is part of the Out of Your Mind lecture series (click here to listen):

            Medieval society, in the west, comparable to Hindu society, allowed people to check out of the game – it revered and encouraged hermits, monks, nuns of various types of discipline.  There’s this difference, you see, for the west and India: you couldn’t join the Brahmana caste, the priest caste, from some other caste, but in the European caste system, by becoming a priest, or a cleric of any kind – you see a cleric means simply a literate person – you could familiarize with any other caste once you’re in that one, and so it was a wonderful way of rising in society.  You could, from being a serf, go to being a priest, to being an archbishop and consort with the nobility. It was the only way open to cross caste, you see, and because they were the literate people, it was through literacy and through universities founded by clerics that our caste system began to break, and we got the idea of choosing your own vocation, and not simply following what your parents did.

           Now I want to make an observation here about checking out of the game.  This is not encouraged in contemporary society, because the Catholic Church and the, say, the Episcopalian Church are very powerful minorities, they can still support monasteries and even hermits.  But you can’t be one on your own without great difficulty.  Firstly, because you’re a poor consumer.  See around here we have a number of hermits: there’s a guy out there building that boat and he’s essentially a nonjoinder, a poor consumer, and the community – they live a lot a along here, and they’re mostly…they’re not working-class people, they are people who dropped out of college because they saw it was stupid – and they’re that sort of people; we could call them perhaps beatniks.  But you see, the city doesn’t like it because they aren’t owning the right sort of cars and therefore the local car salesman isn’t doing business through them; they don’t have lawns and so nobody can sell them lawn mowers; they hardly use dishwashers, appliances of that kind – they don’t need them.  And also they wear blue jeans and things like that, and so the local dress shops feel a bit put out having these people around, and they live very simply.  Well…you mustn’t do that.  You’ve got to live in a complicated way.  You got to have the kind of car, you know, that identifies you as a person of substance and status and all that.  So there’s a great problem here in our society.  Now why is there this problem? There’s always a very inconsiderable minority of these nonjoinders or people who check-out of the game, but you will find that insecure societies are the most intolerant of those who are nonjoinders.  They are so unsure of the validity of their game rules that they say everyone must play.  Now that’s a double-bind; you can’t say to a person, “you must play,” because what you’re saying is: you are required to do something which will be acceptable only if you do it voluntarily, you see?  So everyone must play is the rule in the United States, and it’s the rule in almost all republican governments…I mean republican in the sense of democratic… Because they’re very uneasy, because everybody’s responsible; you mean you may try not to be and avoid it and say, oh let the senators take care of it or the president, but theoretically everyone’s responsible.  Now that’s terrifying.  See it’s…when you know what’s right, there is an aristocracy, their is the clergy and they know what should be done and they’re used to ruling you, you see.  But now it’s in your hands, you say, “What are we going to do?  Well, I think this way and you think that way and he thinks the other way.”  And so we’re all unsettled, and therefore we become more and more conformist.  Individualism, rugged individualism always leads to conformism, because people get scared, and so they herd together, and compounded with industrial society – mass production, etcetera – they all wear the same clothes, and they’re sensible clothes that don’t show the dirt too much, and we get duller and drabber, and – with the exception of the Californian Revolution… 

            So…what…the reason for this is, in a way, is that democracy as we have tried it started out on the wrong foot.  You see, in the scriptures, Christian scriptures it says everybody is equal in the sight of God.  Now that’s a mystical utterance.  That means that from the standpoint of God all people are divine and are playing their true function.  And that is something that is true on a certain plane of consciousness, but come down a step and try to apply the mystical insight in the practical affairs of everyday life and what do you get? You get a parody of mysticism.  You get the idea not that everybody is equal in the sight of God, but that all people are equally inferior.  And that’s why all bureaucracies are rude, why the police are rude, and why you’re made to wait in lines, and there are obstreperous income tax individuals and all that sort of person, because everybody’s a crook, everybody’s equally inferior, see that becomes the parody of democracy.  And that kind of society, watch out for it, it turns in a quick click into fascism, because of it’s terror of the outsider. 

    Hieronymus Bosch, The Temptation of St. Anthony.

            Now a free and easy society loves outsiders, in fact it’s a little bad for the outsiders integrity because he becomes a holy man, see, and people make salaams and give him food and all that; they really take care of the outsider, because they know that man is doing for us what we haven’t got the guts to do.  That outsider who lives up there in the mountain is at the highest peak of human evolution; his consciousness is one with the divine. And great, just there is someone like that around!  It makes you feel a little better; he has realized, he knows what it’s all about.  And so we need a number of those people.  Even though they don’t join our game, they tell us, you see: “What you’re doing’s only a game.  It’s okay, I’m not going to condemn you, but it is only a game, and we up on that mountaintop are watching you, we love you, we have compassion for you, but excuse us please we aren’t going to join.”  So that gives the community great strength, because it tells the government, in no uncertain terms, that there’s something more than government.  That’s why wise kings kept not only priests, but court fools.  The court fool is much more effective than the priest, to remind the king that after all he’s human, and…you know, how in Richard the Second, where the fool is called the antic, the king says:

    Within the hollow crown that rounds the mortal temples of the king keeps Death his watch, and there the antic sits, scoffing at his state and griming at his pomp, allowing him a little time to monarchize be fear'd and kill with looks,  and then at last comes death, and with a pin bores through his castle wall, and farewell king…

            See always this reminder of the priest…or of the antic to the royalty, to the government: “You are going to die, you are mortal.  Don’t give yourselves heirs and graces as if you were a god.  As king, you are only a representative of God, and there is a force, there are domains way way beyond yours and way way higher.”  But it’s very difficult for a republican government to realize that, because it’s insecure.  And therefore, in our present world, you cannot abandon nationality without the greatest difficulty.  People who try to abandon nationality get constantly deported from one place to another.  You must belong to this thing, as Thoreau put it, “However far into the forest you may go, men will pursue you and compel you to belong to their desperate company of oddfellows.”



    Interactive Mayhem 

    Taiwan-based SparkJammer Ian Thomas captured these street-view panoramas of the aftermath of last Thursday night’s gas pipeline explosions in Kaohsiung.  28 people were killed in the blasts; over 300 were injured.  You'll have to click this link to play.

    Agence France-Presse/Getty Images




    What Meaning Does Easter Have to You?

            Theologist and author Bart Ehrman provides a stellar answer to a question posed by Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air.”  (The answer appears at the end of the 4/8/14 interview at the 35:30 min. mark, but the rest of the interview is very informative, as well):

    Terry Gross:  As we’ve talked about before on Fresh Air, you used to be a Christian – a fundamentalist who took the bible as literal and now you describe yourself as agnostic – what meaning does Easter have to you?

    Bart Ehrman: You know, I went through a number of stages as a…as a Christian, I was – uh, for a long time I was a very hardcore evangelical Christian – I guess you would call me a fundamentalist, and I thought, back then, that you could prove the resurrection happened historically – I had all sorts of historical proofs for it happening; I came to think that I no longer could do that and I moved from being an evangelical Christian – and for many years I was a fairly liberal Christian, and for me, the meaning of Easter was that in Christ, God had manifested himself in this world.  That Easter showed that God triumphs over evil, and that evil doesn’t have the last word – God has the last word.  And I still resonate with that, but I’m not a believer in God anymore.  And so what is the meaning of Easter now for me?  I think Easter continues to show me that there is horrible injustice and oppression and political violence in the world, but that we should wrestle against it.  In the Christian story of God raising Jesus from the dead, God was saying no to the Roman Empire and the forces that were aligned against him.  There are political forces in our world today that do horrible things: acts of injustice and oppression, creating poverty and misery and suffering, and I think we should say no to them.  And so, I understand the Easter story not to be a historical event, but I still think it says something very important about how we ought to live in the world. 

     File:Antonio Ciseri Ecce Homo.pngAntonio Ciseri - Ecce Homo


    Sebastião Salgado

           Here’s a short slideshow of seveteen photographs taken by one of our species finest human beings: Sebastião Salgado.  Born and raised in Brazil, Salgado obtained his PhD in Economics in France and worked for investment banks that help financed development projects in Africa.  He then turned to photography, capturing some of the most haunting images of modern man and humanity to have ever been produced in a dark room.  After witnessing the horrors of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, Salgado took a break from photography and returned to Brazil where he restored deforested land, started the Instituto Terra, and opened a National Park.  He returned to photography in 2004, this time focusing on non-human animals, and is now fighting to save the world's trees.  If you want to feel bad about how little you’ve done in your life, check out his inspiring TED Talk.  


    Sebastião Salgado and his wife, Lelia Wanick Salgado:

    Image from:

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