GOD NO

I like the idea of a lovingly protective personal god, the shepherd in the sky who benevolently bestows blessings right, left and center.  I like the concept of faith, of believing in something larger than ourselves, something larger than anything we can imagine.

All the evidence I’ve ever seen—can you say starvation, slavery, sexual predation, genocide?—suggests that the former is a pipe dream.  I don’t see god in the image of man (or man in the image of god).  If you read your history, you know that ancient civilizations created a god for the thunder they didn’t understand.  And a god for the winds that they couldn’t figure out.  And a god for the oceans they could not fathom (sorry, couldn’t help myself).

That which was beyond our ken was assigned a god.  Don’t get it?  God.  Can’t figure it out?  God.  (That and the fact that the more you try to sell me on miracles, cathedrals, Papal power and/or money power, the more I distrust the sales pitch.  Empathy, and caring for others?  Those I’ll buy into.)

Eventually, of course, science came to the rescue—as we might well hope it will again in the current (bad pun coming) climate.  Empirical evidence was brought to bear on each problem in its place.  Thunder had to do with electricity.  When we learned about barometric pressure differences, wind became a lessor god (and then no god at all).  Even the oceans have been plumbed to their very depths.  We know more about our outer world and, seemingly, less about our inner world.

Perhaps that’s where faith comes in.  Maybe if we look at “god” as everything, and everything as god, maybe we can come to a better understanding of ourselves.  If we see “god” as less a likeness of ourselves and more as the essence of all things, perhaps we shall then be on a better path towards enlightenment.

I’ve always loved the sage adage, “God helps those who help themselves.”  Which is, if you think about it, a roundabout way of suggesting that “god” is within and not without.

Theologian Reza Aslan wrote a whole book to promote that notion.  Entitled God: A Human History, it suggests that multiple gods miss the point, a point which falls under the heading of pantheism.  Aslan’s simple explanation of pantheism is that god is all and all is god.  “In its simplest form,” he writes, “pantheism is the belief that God and the universe are one and the same—that nothing exists outside of God’s necessary existence.  As the pantheistic philosopher Michael P. Levine puts it: ‘Nothing can be substantially independent of God because there is nothing else but God.’  In other words, what we call the world and what we call God are not independent or discrete.  Rather, the world is God’s self-expression.  It is God’s essence realized and experienced.”

(Aslan also talks about burial of the physical body as a sign of our belief in an afterlife.  Again, I’d like to believe in something after this life, an awareness of some sort, but cannot yet buy that one, either.  So, I’ll not waste space with my corporal presence.  Scatter my ashes to offer nutrients to some Pinot Noir vineyard.  That will be quite sufficient, thanks.)

The greatest benefit of this belief system, in my mind, is that it puts the responsibility for honorable and moral behavior back squarely where it belongs.  It’s on us.  It’s all on us.  Making sure that the air is clean and the rivers clear?  It’s on us.  Instituting civil society.  Yep, that’s in our court as well.  We are all; all is us.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

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THE REAL “ME TOO” PAYOFF

The “Me Too” and “Never Again” movement is on the right track.  When women are empowered—by those speaking up against physical and sexual abuse “in numbers too great to ignore”—to call to account those at fault, several things happen.  The most obvious is that the light of day is shone on abusive actions . . . and they become increasingly impossible to justify; they become that much harder to get away wth.

But there is a secondary payoff that comes into play in the most literal manner:  The movement toward equal pay for equal play/equal work can no longer be shunted off to the side burner.  The pregnancy card is no longer a valid (ha!) excuse to underpay female employees.  Merit is merit; value is value.  Shouldn’t matter which gender exercises the skill set.  Good work is just that.  Good work.

As it stands, females in our country make, on average, just four-fifths of what their equivalent male workers make.  Yes, that’s better than it was.  But it’s a full fifth short of what is morally sound.  Thoroughly embarrassing.

It was 1973 when the US Open Tennis Tournament bowed to Billie Jean King’s threat to pull out of the tourney and afforded equal prize money to the ladies.  It took the Brits, at Wimbledon, until 2007 to step up to the plate and make things square at their Grand Slam tennis extravaganza.  Seriously?  That was pathetic.  Long overdue.

We’re talking substance over form here, folks.  When weighed against the substance of productivity, the form of gender discrimination comes up as petty, impotent and demeaningly frail.  And women are nowhere near frail.  They endure mightily.  They get things done.

Here’s the thing.  Fifty or a hundred years from now we’re going to look back at this moment and say to ourselves, “How moronic, how simplistic, how unproductive was it to have de-valued a woman’s contribution on the shallow and insubstantial criterion of gender?”  We will do that in the same manner that we now look back on the time when slaves made up one-sixth of our national population (1840); in the same manner that we now look back on the time when fully one-half of our population could not legally vote (prior to 1920).  “What were you waiting for?”  “What were you thinking?”

Those are fair questions.  In the end, it might be reduced to a simple usage query:  Why would you willingly waste one half of your natural resources?  Why would you allow half of your potential productivity go to waste?  It’s just not smart, is it?  Totally illogical.

When in doubt, stick with substance.  Form will follow substance, as it always should.  Always and in all ways.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

HOW WE MEASURE SUCCESS

There is a new book out that looks to better means of measuring accomplishments and assets.  The primary notion of David Pilling’s The Growth Delusion is that GDP (Gross Domestic Product) offers mostly misrepresentation, and not an accurate measurement of a nation’s health, economic or otherwise.  Tellingly, Pilling—he is an associate editor of the Financial Times—points out, “Only in economics is endless expansion seen as a virtue.  In biology it is called cancer.”

The author points to other potential metrics of wellbeing including, naturally, the Himalayan country Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Inventory.  If you go with the Dalai Lama’s belief that happiness is life’s primary goal, then that would be as good an assessment as any.

Our own state of bliss, Maryland, offers up the Genuine Progress Indicator and the United Nations has its Human Development Index.  The former applies non-monetary aspects of the economy, especially service economy indicators (including welfare numbers) to more holistically assess success.

Bhutan’s Happiness Inventory has to do with measuring the happiness and well-being of its population, and was legally ensconced by Bhutan in July 2008.  It employs four measuring sticks:  sustainable economic growth, environmental protection and conservation, the preservation and promotion of culture (the arts), and good governance (lawmaking that soothes, as it were).

The dissonance between official number-cruncher statistics and how individuals are, in real-time, experiencing that economy can be dramatic.  While we are looking at a GDP in our country that has risen three percent over the last two quarters, unemployment numbers that are lower than they’ve been in almost two decades, and a stock market that was booming until a week ago, our country’s confidence level is at an unimaginably low level.

“One of the prime faults of GDP,” writes Pilling in TIME, “is that it deals in averages and aggregates.  Aggregates hide the nuances of inequality.  And averages don’t tell us very much at all.  Barring a few recessions, the U.S. economy has been on a near relentless upward path since the 1950s.  Yet according to a Pew Research Center report, the average hourly wage for non-management private-sector work was $20.67 in 2014, a measly $1.49 higher than in 1964, adjusted for inflation.”

GDP was almost invented by the Belarusian economist Simon Kuznets.  Even he did not like the fact that armaments and financial speculation were plugged in as enhancing outcomes.  He pointedly noted that GDP should never be confused with well-being.  As Pilling adds, “Woe upon the politician who says he is going to sacrifice growth for something else, whether that is cleaner air, better health care or free pizza.”

Pilling himself suggests that we might better look to levels of inequality, carbon emissions, and life satisfaction as better indicators of where we are and where we might be headed.  If we are growing, what, exactly, is it that we are growing?  And why is it important that we be doing so?  Better answers, better lives.  As always, ask the good questions, then fight the good fight.  Rah!

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

PUTTING THINGS INTO PERSPECTIVE

It’s always fun to try and put things into perspective, to try notions on for size and see how they really “fit” into the overall scheme of things.

Did you know, for example, that Texas is about the same size as France?  Really.  France, in the context of a map of Europe . . . looks really big.  Texas—smaller than Alaska—doesn’t seem quite so grand in a map of the Americas.

How, perhaps, might it change your understanding of things to learn that the heart of a Blue whale is the size of a Volkswagen Bug . . . and that its aorta is sufficiently wide that you could crawl through it?  (Time comparison:  a million seconds take up just eleven and a half days, while a billion seconds require 32 years!)

Here’s another interesting bit of information, this comparing the year 1900 and the year 2000.  In the former, more than two-fifths of the U.S. population was employed in farming.  By 2000, only three percent of us worked our nation’s farms.  Furthermore, in 1900 our life expectancy was just fifty years; now it’s 75 years!

This is one that really gets me:  The cost of a one-pound loaf of bread in the 14th century was about three hours of work.  By 1800 that cost had been reduced to two hours of work, and by 1900 advances in productivity plummeted that price to just 15 minutes of your precious time.  Today?  About five minutes on average, give or take.

Last month, as the northeastern part of our country was snowed in by a chilling freeze, it was reported that the temperature on Mars was actually warmer than it was there!  That, coupled with recent reports that there is almost certainly water on Mars and that edible food crops could realistically be grown there, well, isn’t that something to digest intellectually?

Income comparisons can be rife with hypocrisy.  Why, in any sane world, do athletes and entertainers make umpteen times what teachers make?  Jimmy Garoppolo—bless his strong-armed soul—just signed with the 49ers for more than $30 million a year.  And how about NBA no-longer-star Derek Rose, who’s collecting millions in shoe endorsements from Adidas despite poor play and personal conduct that would void most shoe contracts?

Similar vein, lighter note:  A week ago I stumbled on an interview actor/director Ron Howard had given a while back on Dave Letterman’s show.  Howard grew up a Dodgers fan in Los Angeles.  His favorite player was Sandy Koufax, the brilliant left-handed pitcher for The Bums.  Howard said that he was mortally embarrassed to discover that, in 1966, when Koufax and fellow hurler Don Drysdale held out for a better salary, he, Howard—as an eleven-year-old actor on the “Andy Griffith Show”—was making more money than his beloved Koufax!  Ouch.

The same sort of looking out for perspective might be well employed in our view of the world’s economy.  Yes, there are bad actors out there, but the report from Davos last week showed that our global economy is in a period of synchronicity that is encouraging, to say the least.  To be even a little optimistic, the gurus suggest, is well-warranted.  Unemployment is low, inflation is in hibernation, it appears that we are looking at a decade to come where wages and growth will be an upward force.

Alan Murray, writing in TIME the other day, says, “The rapid advance of technology—and, in particular, the increasing ability to take proliferating pools of digital data and turn them into useful intelligence—carries the promise of a sea change in business productivity as well as potential solutions to a host of difficult social problems.  U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond said AI could ‘double economic growth rates in advanced economies by 2035.’”  A nice perspective, that.  Keep a happy thought.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

MINING THE MIND

It was one of the most striking television ads ever.  It caught my fullest attention every time it aired.  It wasn’t the technology of it.  It was neither flashy nor seductive.  No, it was strictly the content in the United Negro College Fund’s pitch for contributions.  What was utterly compelling, for me, was the tag line: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

It must be the efficiency, built-in from my German ancestry.  I hate waste.  I pick up rubber bands on the sidewalk.  And the thought of a human being—any human being, anywhere on this blue marble—being deprived of the opportunity to expand their mental acuity makes me shake with anger and cry with sadness.

Think about the times you spent in school.  How many examples can you call to mind of classmates passing up on the opportunity to add to their mental storehouses?  Did you ever fail to challenge your mental limbs?  Were you ever faced with teachers who actively communicated their desire to be almost any other place on the planet than where they were?

Some things are known best by their opposites.  Think back—it could be the third grade, high school, or grad school—and bring into focus that teacher whose infectious enthusiasm for leaning literally lit a fire under students who might have been lethargic couch potatoes a period earlier.  The desire to learn can be pumped up to fever pitch and flourish in the right atmosphere; it can be trampled, nearly snuffed out by a teacher who hasn’t the passionate desire to transmit that which thrills him or her.  Where there is no passion there is no pitch.

We tend, I think, to consider the human mind an independent agent, unaffected by external influences.  But a body of scientific evidence suggests quite the opposite.  Indeed, every mental calculation can be skewed by changes in body temperature, emotional stresses both positive and negative, false expectations, or poor health.

False expectations are an insidious factor, be they higher or lower than reasonable.  The self-fulfilling prophecy is especially poignant when potential ability is crushed or stifled by negative expectations.  It can work to advantage by its opposite.  Recall the teacher who taught the hell out of her students because she mistook a list of locker numbers (from 130 on up) for her students’ IQ scores.  Those students responded to her enthusiasm by performing well above what could have been reasonably expected of them.  I’ve also seen friends have the heart taken out of their efforts by parents for whom nothing was ever good enough.  One was a math genius; Einstein could not have achieved what his parents expected.  Painful to see.

Then there are those who rise in triumph over obstacles that would put others in an asylum.  Consider Stephen Hawking.  A brilliant if erratic graduate student in physics at Cambridge, he developed ALS, the rare disease that puts voluntary muscles out of commission and usually leads to a hasty death.  Nobody expected him to see his 25th birthday.

After a short period of intense depression at his loss of motor functions, he married, fathered three children, and returned to the study of physics with the fervor of one who knows his life might end tomorrow.  During the following half century Hawking carved out a career that has brought science to the brink of resolving the predictability of Einstein’s theory of general relativity and the random behavior of atomic matter of the quantum-mechanics theory.

Now in his middle seventies, his wasted body confined to a motorized wheelchair and able to speak only through a voice synthesizer, his mind nonetheless seems to have slipped neatly through the bars of his bodily prison to roam the universe, frolicking from the galaxies of atomic structure to the endless meadow of space . . . and make ratings-boosting guest appearances on The Big Bang Theory.  Had he held on to his funk over mere bodily loss, his exquisite mind would certainly have been wasted. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.  Stephen Hawking’s mind.  My mind.  Your mind.                                  ©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

BLACK AS NIGHT

I notice it most in the coming-of-age stories of young black kids, but it is a pervasive perversion, this notion that variations of skin color have something to do with status (or with anything at all, for that matter).  For some, the lightest skin gets the most societal cred; for others, the darker skin rules.  Never mind that any biologist worth his or her salt will confirm that pigment has no essential significance whatsoever.  Zero.  Nada.  Nil.  Pure crapshoot.  Pure genetics.

My girl friend for most of my junior year at the University of San Francisco—this was in the late 1960s, a socially turbulent time at best—was a gorgeous young lady from Texas.  Her first name was Alma (the Spanish word for “soul”) and her middle name was Joy.  Just saying her name out loud brought a smile to my face, delight to my soul.  Still does.

Alma’s skin tone was neither caramel nor chocolate.  Oh no.  We’re talking ebony, here, Honey; deep black.  And me, an ever so slightly tanned (“you’ve got a little sun”) white fellow (despite being half Portuguese and a little Cherokee).  We looked the odd couple, for sure.

As you might imagine, we got lots of sideways glances walking the city’s streets and parks hand-in-hand.  It was (forgive the pun) a bit of a “racy” relationship.  At first.  Until I discovered that openness and conversational depth meant more than “appearances” or challenging the “system.”  This was a real awakening, to discover that girls could be so much than eye candy.  Subversive, really, back then.  But enlightening.

Alma flattened my ego and then, in an unmatched bit of grace, introduced me to the World War I British poet Wilfred Owen (who, like many of his generation, perished in that conflict).  Oh, my.  The depth of the man and his words—and the depth of the beautiful Black girl who pointed my mind in his direction—move me still.  He wrote the poem “Dulce et Decorum” in 1917 about the greatest lie of war, featuring the defective directive of his time, “Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori.”  It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country.  (Today, this line always brings to my mind the performance of George C. Scott in the film Patten when, at the outset when he addresses a battalion of his troops:  “Your job is not to die for your country; your job is to make the other poor bastard die for his country!”)

Alma was here as a transfer student from the University of Houston.  Just for the one year.  Long distance relationships rarely last.  The intensity waned, but we remain friends to this day.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

READY, AIM, . . .      

 

“If you want to hit a bird on the wing, you must have all your will in focus, you must not be thinking about yourself, and equally, you must not be thinking about your neighbor: you must be living in your eye on that bird. Every achievement is a bird on the wing.”              Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

The crossword clue was “Cherished aspiration,” five letters.  My first inclination was “ideal” but the second letter had to be an “r.”  Aha!  “Dream” would fit and, be correct, when all the other letters fit in.  Sounds like the basis for a blog entry.

“What?” you say.  Fair enough.  But, for me, virtually anything can be the starting point for discussion, the stranger, the more far-fetched the more intriguing.  I love for a good quote to be my jumping-off point.  Good quotes are, by their very nature, concise, compact and filled with dynamite.  That’s their strength.  Tell me, what says “Be open” better than Alice Walker’s beguiling, “Expect nothing; live frugally on surprise.”  Go ahead, I’m waiting.  Right.  Nobody says it better.

So let’s investigate this notion of “dream.”  What is the value of a dream, an ideal?  Well, if you use it as a lighthouse, as a target to aim for, it has immense, even life-lasting and life-changing value.  When you have something to aim at, some goal set out there ahead of your path to guide upon, that can be useful and beneficial beyond measure.

When I initially set out to become an attorney it was, for me, a pretty good target to shoot at.  The job would embrace my delight in language, my investigative skills, abetted by my love of argumentative discourse.  Then again, as it turned out, so too would my becoming a writer.  Lucky for me.

The point is this:  when you have something to aim at, when you know which direction you’re going, it becomes measurably easier to stay the course, to be willing to put in the work necessary to achieve the dream, the ideal.  Remember life’s number one rule (Everything has a price) and life’s number one question (You willing to pay?).  That’s the deal.  The whole deal.

So take a sit-down meeting with yourself and imagine yourself X number of years down the line.  Where do you want to be then?  What do you want to have accomplished?  What are the important signposts along the way?  And what is the end point?

That’s your lighthouse.  That’s your beacon.  That’s where you want to go and how you want to get there.

My lighthouse moment came on my 25th birthday.  I sat down with myself and decided that, when I reached 75—a half century down the road—I wanted to have found a good lady to share my life with (Bev), I wanted to have flown a small airplane across the country and back (to Atlanta and back in a Cessna 152, a little 2-place, 100 mph putt-putt), I wanted to have built my own house (in Boyes Hot Springs; hammer and nails and the whole thing), and I wanted to have written a book and had it published (the Central Coast Wine Book, Vintage Image Publishers).

Goals, once clearly enumerated, of an instant become that much easier to achieve—simply because they are out there, simply because they are identified and defined and, thus, important.  Ready, aim, . . .

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle