Monday, November 25, 2013

Tis the Season for?

Tis the Season for?
December 2013
Tony E Dillon-Hansen

When we come to this time of the year, we encounter many religious inferences and celebrations like Christian birth, Jewish rituals, Buddhist enlightenment, European traditions in addition to the many different religious observations and festivals surrounding the winter solstice. The symbols and beliefs share common threads showcasing how mystical light that does not yield to the mystical shadow of darkness (e.g. northern stars, enlightenment, casting out demons, festival of lights). Notwithstanding the commercialization exhibited during the “holiday season”, each of these festivals also pleads to the compassionate heart of humanity to pursue ideas of virtue, love and sharing over greed, hate and destruction. It is clear that mystical adventure and imagination have been pervasive throughout human societies for many civilizations, and we love to mark occasions of physical world changing with these feelings of spiritual change. Yet, whether one observes religion during this time, technology seems to want to replace those mystical beings and traditions with virtual ones.

Perhaps, we consider how we can improve for the next year and more. With all of the pleasantries surrounding the festivals and rhetorical expressions of good will, we should consider how we can make these themes of the season last more than a day, a month or even the few hours when gifts are exchanged. The living natures of religious doctrines are flawed dreams of humanity, and yet, these doctrines give something to aspire to be and a definition of a good life for which people can strive. We should also understand how technology may challenge those aspirations with its own via instant knowledge distributed over the wireless Internet as one appropriately called it, “the digital now.”

The marvel of technology is great, but the answers to basic questions remain. As Marie Curie remarked, "One never notices what is done, one can only see what remains to be done." While we are so connected in the world of tech, we are searching and looking for answers. Yet, if we equate technology with science, George Bernard Shaw suggests that science “...never solves a problem without creating 10 more."  Shaw’s point is more relevant today because we not only have instant access to good data but also bad data.  We may share our information both to the delight of our families and friends as well as those who mean to harm us. The data is surrounded by the multitude of advertising, logos, and useless headlines enticing us to stay distracted longer. The purpose of email morphs from just getting your messages from friends but finding out ways that companies can enrich your life or satisfy your hungers. Social media is more than reacquainting with long-lost friends but more about how you identify with a marketing segment and how you can improve your self-image by following this person or that brand. Some even invoke religion for you with iconic holiday images and sayings.

Along with having many devices that serve to keep one connected to the grid and all of the ads for buying even more or better devices to identify you at the altar of the Internet, this has become the season of technology because being connected is emphasized even more during this season with companies looking to pad their margins.

There are plenty of opportunities to distract oneself with the digital now, but during the holiday season, one should recognize what is important, whether you believe there is a religious aspect or not. Enjoy the time with people rather than immersing in digital realms. Thanks to revelations of pervasive government and corporate surveillance, maybe we should not digitally convert those experiences from today, the few moments from now, or from our past into the digital archives. There is a wealth of understanding that is here in the present. With the prevalence of digital archiving done today by everyone, we can easily lose sight of the process, the people, the smells, the irritations, the places, and other nuances that make the moment worthy of remembering. Thus, we could lose the ability to understand why. (Sometimes, there is no explanation or picture that can encapsulate the now.)  

Through various news, contacts and other digital distractions, we may scuttle reality into the spaces between the binary digits. Then, the philosophy around God may disappear along with other graceful ethics. Then, the truth and compassion of the human spirit becomes easy to manipulate and hide behind rhetorical claims, narcissism, marketing, and flat lies.

Whether one celebrates the traditional festivals of Samhain, of Jesus, or of just the season, the digital experience wraps around us in a way that insulates us, and we still are wondering why we are here and what our identity is. One cannot ignore the relevance of the teachings of many of the many philosophies and religions to do good and to honor good work. The Internet and technology offers us instead distractions and wayward paths. Religion, by itself, may have brought pain and hardship to many throughout history, but we are easily replacing the sanctuary of church with the instance of technology that shields us from nothing and even more leaves us with fewer answers about ourselves.

Our interactions and communication can embrace real love and courage when we are willing to believe in the human spirit. Yet, the truth of why we are here may never be fully answered, but one reality is that our family, friends and community are here today and that is true. Our legacy can endure through them beyond the distortions of digital symbols or any 15 minutes of fame. What we learn from them and what life unfolds for us is a measure of our expectations and our effort to physically, spiritually and mentally discover in reality.

May many beautiful and happy wintry wishes of the holiday season be with you and your family. May this season bring you gifts of peace, hope, and joy for today as well as through the year to come.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Herding Angry Cats

Herding Angry Cats
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
October 2013

The phrase “herding cats” is intended to reference ridiculous attempts to control a group of people that are simply unwilling or unable to be controlled. For me having a bundle of cuddling kitties in my arms sounds nice, but this statement is indicative of the not-so-cuddly or lovable (in fact, quite angry) TEA party during the recent Washington hysterics. They, like any Americans, have the desire for rights and the desire to freely express oneself. They may have these, but their singular perspective borders on insurgency. Their vision ignores basic truths in favor of branding their view as a cause and other cool-sounding rhetoric.

A cause is not always “just”, and sometimes, the “cause” is short-sighted and just plain selfish. Many of the TEA party believe they have a righteous cause, akin to saving Jesus from execution, and no matter who gets hurt and with no respect to any others, they will fight to have there voice heard because their cause is the only one that matters (not just a supposed superior one.) Their cause is one that is nostalgic and envisions America to look like the old southern plantations where people ought to live in their place, the colors do not mix, guns are always great, and public education distorts the values in society if not historical facts. Diversity is foreign to this ideal and a threat to their American way of life. Further, this vision of America wants government out of people's lives, unless those people desire something different than the nostalgia. Anything that threatens the view should be squashed. Thus, people raised in this point of view are sadly mistaken when they find the rest of the world does not operate in this boxed view of the world. 

They have managed to get voted into office because of bloated and gridlocked government with the vision to restore the nation to a “cause”. Without consideration, they will stymy government to achieve this and have preferred dysfunction over governance. Dysfunctional government is destructive to the face and character of the United States. The Constitution asserts a slow moving government in order that policy be given proper consideration rather than rash irresponsibility. The Reagan mantra that “government is the problem”, by itself, is incorrect, but when a herd of angry cats run the government, the result can be a dangerous problem. Good government, in contrast, can be the assistant that enables growth of the whole society. Bad government is as bad as having rogue companies ruin our environment, hording resources, denying people legitimate claims, enslaving people to poverty, persecuting entire sects of the population, executing vigilante justice upon people via mobs, or hiding their intolerance and hatreds behind supposed religious texts..

Currently, Washington is dysfunctional government disabled by the loud few and those few want Washington to fail. To quote another president (Kennedy), “We no longer live in a world where only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nation's security to constitute maximum peril.” A weapon does not have to be a rocket or gun, but can be a tactic to impale the government from doing anything. The TEA party, primarily because of a couple policies they dislike, want to see Obama and the federal government fail. An organization that ultimately wishes to witness the failure of the government is being wildly reckless, threatening to economic security, undermining of global alliances that count upon our stability, and teetering upon insurrection against the very Constitution they supposedly uphold. That does represent a “sufficient challenge” to the nation's security.

Further, these people have been elected from districts that have been drawn to elect them and to keep them elected. They will not be held accountable to people from outside of their caucus given the gerrymandering that has entrenched their positions into power. Gerrymandering should be declared illegal since it inherently rejects review by the people over the Congress (explicit by the Constitution), and congressional districts should be designed along the parameters that the Iowa redistricting has to follow. Until then, these people will not be accountable to the whole of people but rather only to the select few that have been selected to vote for them.

Another complaint issued by the TEA party is how government spends money wastefully. Yet, they have installed themselves into power and then milk the public for a salary to do nothing even though they were supposedly elected to do something. Some contend that government policy should be based upon some cost-benefit style marketism. Ironically, things like accessible roads, airline safety, medical research, public education, science research, retirement, and such are considered too costly, that is if others might benefit more than they. Rights become part of a cost-benefit analysis now. Simply, the right thing to do is replaced by the cost-effective thing to do.

They are willing to promote big businesses, especially defense contractors, that give short-term benefit to no one else but their own business. This is an incongruous vision from the bigger concern about wasteful spending if the spending they desire is only beneficial for a few. If these people believe that government should give welfare to businesses and farmers then they should have no problem with the government helping individual citizens get better education, better health, or even a better standard of living. That is because when more people have discretionary  money, rather than just a few, then more businesses have opportunity to sell products and services yields more boats rising. Instead, they seem more focused upon building bombs than schools.

The actions by TEA party activists have made our country vulnerable and threaten the stability of this country. Their right-wing fanaticism is dangerous and if the current Congressional leadership or President cannot herd these cats, they all need to be shown the door as quick as possible.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Learning from Animals

Learning from Our Pets
September 2013
Tony E Dillon-Hansen

A deacon colleague remarked that people “can learn a lot from animals if we are willing to see it.” People with dogs and cats as pets have an idea of what she was saying. For my own, I found a ready example in one our cats, Mr. Snuggles, whom earns his name well. There are many ways that Mr. Snuggles offers helpful, often cuddly, “advice” to life, and let us review a couple of them here.

First, there is time to enjoy the opportunities in life; Mr. Snuggles will meow until you give him attention when you walk in the door to let you know that he has been waiting all day for one of us to come home. When we sit down on the couch or are sitting at the table having coffee, he finds the opportunity to snuggle in an open lap or just simply wanting to enjoy the time with us. How many times have we gone through a day looking for tomorrow, the weekend, or maybe wondering why there was so much anxiety in life? Simply enjoying the moment can help us to collect our thoughts, to relieve tensions, and to consider what needs to be done in some cases. Yet, most of all, enjoying the moment is where we are now and that moment offers opportunities that we can savor, if we allow them.

Enjoy the opportunities to play. A boring day is suddenly exciting when we bring out his toys or when the other cats start to play. We can see this extend to our lives at work or at home where just a few moments of break from a task can help ease concerns. Further, exercise is well documented as an aid to help with increasing brain, muscle, joint, and sensory functions. Exercise does not have to be all work as one can have fun or just play.

Enjoy your meal and be thankful for what you have. Part of growing up in a working class home, we did not have many fancy meals, but we were grateful to have what we had, except maybe when the meal was liver and onions. Pets are not going to be near as fussy as people over food. They will be excited for the food during preparation and they will be willing to dive right into the meal. With so many people in the world suffering from hunger, we can be grateful for the food that we have to eat and be grateful to people that are preparing that food. Even in a restaurant that served poor food, one does not need to get bent out of shape in reaction. Being thankful for the food and effort at first may help to defuse some situations.

There is always time for a nap. Snuggles loves his lap time, his meals and his naps. He will find a bed in the most unique places around the house with a few favorite locations. That is when not eating, playing or looking for attention; Snuggles finds time for a good snooze. Especially after a long day, we need to be reminded of our own animal needs for rest. We can go through life always busy and working, but if we do not give ourselves adequate rest, we sacrifice our own work quality and productivity.

Dogs and cats are not afraid to show their feelings, and they move on from events quicker than humans. They will communicate when they are excited, stressed, and in pain. Communication is important, and as I noted in my previous column, communication benefits more than just oneself. Also, cats and dogs are not attached to pride or self-importance in the way we humans are. They may or may not foresee an outcome to a situation, but the expression they exhibit is about what they value most (e.g. security, companionship, or excitement), rather than ego, material goods or pride. Even when they have been scolded for doing something and regardless of whether they recognize what they did, they will try to apologize quickly for the supposed transgression (and often with a nose nudge).

That leads to their most valuable lesson that our pets can teach us. Most of all, cats and dogs are willing to love without condition. From the moment I saw Mr. Snuggles at the ARL, he came right up to me, rubbed next to me, and jumped right into my lap like he was waiting just for me. Little did I know, he is willing to snuggle up to most anyone, thus his name. He did not care about the type of clothes I wore, did not care about the kind of car I drove, nor even care how I looked. Today, he might showcase some jealousy when we are tending to one of our other pets or to other tasks around the house, but he is ready to love and to snuggle at a moment’s notice.  Sometimes clothes, cars, money, or things of the like just do not matter.

Non-attachment, communication, finding time for those important things in life, and loving unconditionally are aspects of life that people are too easily willing to overlook in search of some other ideal.  Yet, our own pets can show us how happy one can be with having these things regardless of house size, car styles, or elsewise. We see this type of philosophy from various other sources including remarks from Alan Watts when he says that a “plant doesn't know that it is growing, it just grows.” This may seem ridiculous to some people. Yet, if you are willing really learn what to expect in life and what you can gain from your existence, there are many lessons that we can learn from our pets in how they approach life.

"Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked int he wrong way." - Alan Watts