Seeing, Feeling, Thinking and Blogging

Last November I lost my glasses in Kathmandu.  I was taking classes and couldn’t hold texts far enough away to read, so I bought drugstore reading glasses.  With them what’s close is clear but all else is blurred.  Without them only what’s distant is clear.  The new prescription glasses I got yesterday should make everything clear but the optician said: “It will take you a couple of days to learn where things are”.

Seeing:  I’d never thought about it in that way.  I hadn’t noticed the feedback loop where my brain directs my eye muscles to change focus between what’s close and more distant.  It happens fast so I imagined everything is always in focus.  I’d have realized it’s not if I’d thought about it, but there never was a reason to.  With the new glasses I must learn to tip my head up and down so my eyes see through the right part of the lens.  That requires practice.

Feeling:  Last night I finished the first book I’ve read by Ron Rash, “The Cove”.  I intend now to read everything he ever wrote.  I knew early on how the story must end, not the specific outcome but what the situation makes inevitable.  Half way through, I wanted to stop.  I was feeling what the protagonists feel, knowing I’d do the same as those I liked, and that I share the weaknesses of those who would do harm.  The story is sadder even than I anticipated, and utterly convincing.  Why choose to experience such feelings?  Because I understand a little more.

Thinking:  Yesterday, I heard on the radio about the Ku Klux Klan in Maine in the 1920s.  I thought it was all about white supremacy and only in the South.  In fact, it was strong here, too, but with a different target, Catholics.  There were violent anti-Catholic riots here in the 1850s.  A mob inflamed by a street-preacher calling himself “The Angel Gabriel” burned a Catholic church, a Catholic priest was tarred and feathered, and there was much more.  In the 1920s, the Klan arose.  They whipped up the ongoing conflict between descendants of the English and the Irish and French-Canadian Catholics who came later.  Klan members were elected by many towns, as State representatives and one even became Governor.  There were daylight hooded marches, cross-burnings and Catholic homes were burned.  It was unsafe to speak French in public.  The Klan fizzled within a decade but their Governor later was elected to the US Senate and became a close ally of Senator Joe McCarthy.  How can anyone think it’s OK to do such things?

Blogging:  A day or two ago, a friend said: ” I like your posts about tax.  It must take a lot of work.  Why are you doing it?”  I always enjoyed the challenge of understanding things and the elation when understanding dawns.  Our society is not functioning well and the tax system is one important factor so I want to know what big impacts it has and how it could be changed to help society work better.  “Articulating what I think I understand is my best way to test if I do understand.  That’s why I write,”  I told my friend.  “But it’s not helpful if I don’t tell anyone when I see something important that isn’t generally understood.  That’s why I publish what I write.”

Why I Feel Like an Extraterrestrial

Maybe it’s because I don’t watch TV.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m lying in the dentist chair.  The TV on the ceiling is tuned to CNBC.  The technician asks, “Would you like me to turn the TV off or shall I leave it on?”  I tell her it’s OK either way.  I think I don’t care and most of the time I am indifferent but every so often the moving images and voices attract my attention.  “Look,” says an intelligent looking young man, “if we eliminated the entire defense budget it still wouldn’t fix the deficit.”

The voices were being processed by my brain all the time.  Recognizing “defense budget”, something said, “heh, pay attention” and presented the entire sentence the man had spoken.  The interviewer thanked the young Congressman.  Nobody broke out howling with laughter.

We can’t know everything so maybe the Congressman didn’t know how much we spend on defense.  Maybe he didn’t know what he said was factually incorrect.  Perhaps he’s too busy to investigate what took me only a short time to learn (see this ) but can he really be a stranger to logic?

Let’s say it was true we would still have a deficit if we entirely eliminated defense spending.  Does that mean we have no choice but to continue defense spending at the same rate?  If those we elect can say such things and be treated as wise and suitable leaders, I must be an extraterrestrial.  Why isn’t anyone laughing?

The technician continues to chip away.  I try to relax, telling myself, “you’re over-reacting.  He probably knows what he said is nonsense and that many people like to hear such things.”  It doesn’t make me feel better but you can’t expect to feel all that great in a dentist chair, anyway.

The pattern recognizer alerts me again: “If we make enough laws, we can all be criminals”.  It remembers I was interested when I heard that before.  The speaker is another thoughtful looking man who also seems to be an elected representative.  He’s being asked about the President’s push for stronger gun control legislation.  He says new legislation will only make things worse.  Again, my hopes for a raucous laugh track are disappointed.

In the decade since 9/11 when 3,000 were killed, there were no additional terrorist killings on the USA mainland.  In that same ten years, 340,000 of us killed ourselves and others with firearms (40% homicides, 60% suicides).

We took action to avert more terrorist attacks.  We took too much of the wrong kind but we also took some that was both appropriate and effective.  Pretty much all of us are pleased by the results of the effective action.  Why, then, would it be impossible to take effective action to avert more firearm deaths?  Isn’t that why we elect representatives – so they will establish effective legislation?

Maybe I’ve forgotten my extraterrestrial childhood but I remember and never regretted choosing to become an American.  So what if I feel like an extraterrestrial when I watch TV or read things like this ?.  I’m committed to this society and I will keep doing everything I can to help it grow ever better.

A Semi-Wrathful Frog

Frogs are not cuddly but each could be a prince.  Today, the transformation is triggered by a princess’s kiss.  In Grimm’s version it’s when the princess disgustedly throws the frog against a wall.  In other cases the frog had only to spend a night on the princess’s pillow.

Setting fable aside, a sad fact about frogs is that one sitting in a pan of water will not notice the gradual change if the water is heated.  It will remain unaware until it dies.

A frog that touches hot water, however, will immediately jump away from the danger.  I say this because although no form of attention from a princess will transform me into a prince, I do try to notice and point out water that’s getting hotter.

A couple of days ago, someone I greatly respect asked: “Your posts seem a bit angry; do you feel that way?”  I was surprised.   “I don’t think so…  I hope not…  Hmmm, I do see what you mean.  Maybe they do sound that way.  It’s true that I very much want some things to change.”

My posts are on disparate topics but most are sparked when I notice something and feel like a frog sensing hot water.  Wanting to alert my neighbors to the danger, I probably would be semi-wrathful.

What does semi-wrathful mean?  Tibetan Buddhists use images of deities with peaceful, wrathful and semi-wrathful appearance.  Meditating on them helps practitioners see the origin of their emotional habits and misguided concepts as they work to slowly gain control of their mind.

These deities do not experience emotion as we do.  They do not feel attracted, repelled or indifferent.  They simply recognize what is good and not good behavior, speech and thoughts.

Peaceful deities help calm the crazy spinning of the mind.  Wrathful deities help destroy its passions, anger, desire and indifference.  Semi-wrathful deities help those of us who sometimes need gentle calming and sometimes more urgency to do better.

Aspiring to be a semi-wrathful frog is better than the goal many of us are given, to be lion king of the jungle.  That has three defects — lions do not live in the jungle, it is not possible to control the jungle, and above all, it’s selfish.

Selfishness makes everyone unhappy.