Tag Archives: Beginnings

Lesson learned…

“Me, I want what’s coming to me….”

“Oh? Well, what’s coming to you?”

“The world, chico, and everything in it.”

These notorious lines are repartee of the protagonist and his counterpart in a tale about the rise and fall of a drug cartel leader. While the banter assumes an influx of ill-gotten materialism, the intention and motive is the same – destructive ambition. This tale I’ve referenced is neither unique nor original; as far as humanity goes back there have been people with unbalanced appetite and unwavering drive to attain whatever they want.

When the foundation is wrong, it is to be expected the subsequent phases will be just as wrong. Typically how something is begun is how it will end. The end of the character quoted above found him lying in a pool of his own blood, victim of assassination. While this example is not only extreme and rooted in fiction, there are many with a tale of ruin simply because they were controlled by destructive ambition. There are no shortcuts to any place worth going and no quick routes for gaining that which holds true value. The enjoyment of having what is ill-gotten is short lived compared to that which is gained honorably.

A fresh awareness of this came to me as I arrived at the conclusion of a particular venture in my life. This event started 581 days ago and resulted from an emotionally charged decision. I excused the decision under the pretense of it providing a form of income (which is important) and pride (which can become one’s undoing). I launched out thinking all would be well and something good could come from it.

Needless to say, 581 days later I not only accepted the venture cost me more money than it made me I lost some other things along the way. Starting off I knew what would come from it and its limitations. But hoping for something better to evolve from it and influenced by pride I jumped into it feet first. However if I would have jumped in with my mind first I would have never entered at all.

But as things that are begun wrong can do, it came to an end in an unexpected way. The consolation in all of this is two-fold though. I’d probably have continued to waste my time on a situation that could never yield a return of discernible value. More importantly, I learned a valuable lesson about decision making during emotionally charged times…don’t do it…for when emotions run high, judgment runs low.


Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés


The dichotomy of mind-body duality and the basis for intellect was never resolved by Plato or Aristotle. The idea of ‘innate ideas’ did not sit well with Aristotle and we know Plato had a problem; how could someone understand something but not know how they understand it? This problem came about when his student, Socrates, purposely engaged an uneducated servant in discussion of the Pythagorean Theorem. The servant had never been taught any geometry so how could he comprehend the theory Socrates presented him? Plato’s conclusion was people must have a preexistent soul or some reservoir of innate knowledge.

Aristotle, though a student of Plato, countered his theory by stating humanity appears on earth with an ‘unscribed tablet’; just as the brain grows in size during development so can the mind. This unscribed tablet becomes ‘written upon’ by the environment in which it is placed. About 7 centuries later, Avicenna of Persia advanced this ‘unscribed tablet’ theory and it would become better known by its Latin rendering “tabula rasa”. Then about 6 centuries later, Rene Descartes of France (the ‘I think therefore I am’ guy) articulated, the mind, unlike the brain was a nonphysical substance. Recognizing a distinction between consciousness and intelligence, he stated “…something that I thought I was seeing with my eyes is in fact grasped solely by the faculty of judgment which is in my mind”.

Place a stick in a glass of water and observe how it appears bent. The mind could perceive it is really bent though logic states otherwise. That’s where the rub was with Plato; a presumption that either 1) the viewer thought the stick was truly bent and 2) the stick straightened out when removed from the glass of water. Simple deduction tells us the stick never bent at all, it was merely a distortion by an improper view.

I don’t understand all I know about what they were fussing over. But I do appreciate the idea of a Tabula Rasa.

An unscribed tablet speaks to me about opportunity; it demonstrates the hope of a new beginning. We have often wished for a ‘clean slate’ to start over with. Like the old green chalk board, a good swabbing down with the dusty eraser and smears of white chalk is all that remains. Sometimes life will not offer a clean slate to us so we have to exercise our own power to create one. Sometimes you are the only one who can change what’s going on in your life. A fresh start awaits you but you will have to seize the moment and take dominion over your life. Find your eraser and do not be afraid to start over.

Reading Plato or Aristotle, to some degree, we get what they aimed at. But we also find issues with some of the theories they conveyed. An open mind is essentially what Aristotle was in support of. The mind is capable of comprehension; it just needs environment and opportunity. As I write this, I am reminded of the first commentary I wrote this year that spoke of The Scapegoat. We are already approaching the 5th month of 2013 and time seems to pass so quickly. As I reflect upon events that have occurred in my life over the last 6-7 months, I think about that Scapegoat but more importantly about a Tabula Rasa.

I would hate to think that I was a prisoner to a predetermined fate. That nothing I did or said could ever make a difference in the direction my life takes. If a preexistent soul has always been, then the condition displayed by fragile humanity offers little hope! I am thankful that God alone has always been, always is and always will be. And I am more thankful that He provides erasers.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

Shadow or Substance?


Emerging dream, may form now be told

Earnest move toward, only now behold

Ere substance is seized, shadow ensuing appears

Embrace the corporal afore the surreal

Essence as vapor will not apprehend

Ensure it be substance for shadow a tale spins

Substance o’er Shadow

 by J.M. Cortés

 In the financial industry there is a term known as a “market bubble”. Some may question its existence but just defining this “bubble” reveals an essence of this is true. Simply put, a market or economic bubble occurs when something is being traded on at prices inconsistent with its intrinsic value. Typically this is due to a perception or forecast on a particular trade which inflates its value beyond a reasonable norm. I remember witnessing a financial bubble ‘pop’ in the town I grew up in.

It all had to do with Emus, flightless birds that stand around 5 to 6 feet tall and weigh about 150 pounds. In the mid to late 90’s their value was expected to ‘soar’ and ranchers were adding them to their livestock count. Texas became the Emu capital of America with nearly 3,000 breeders working to create an Emu surplus. Driving the Emu Mania was an idea that their lean flesh would be the steak of tomorrow. But that idea quickly proved false; the bubble popped and thus the Emu wasted many a rancher’s investment. When reality set in ranchers and breeders, were the not so proud owners of birds that could not yield a profit. Unable to ‘do anything’ with them and unwilling to feed or care for them, many owners released their Emus by the droves into the countryside.

Ownership of these birds was not limited to ranchers or owners of large land areas. I recall seeing these birds in the backyards of residential homes. All kinds of visionaries at the start were ready to capitalize upon the great Emu. But when the bubble popped, no one needed or wanted them. Some killed their Emus while others just let them ‘run off’. When people saw them running down the highways or wherever, it was known why. One morning as I walked out to my car I heard the rapid footfalls of a large animal coming at me. I turned in time to see an Emu running towards me before it jolted off toward another direction. Truly, there is no degree of embellishment in what I have written. Today all that remains of the Emu Mania are some folks promoting (and selling I might add) Emu “Oil” for it’s medicinal benefit. Perhaps it is residual brain fluid from Emus euthanized by baseball bats? (That really happened too)

There are other examples that could be given concerning the infamous market bubble. But the crux of the matter is we should look for substance before awing over a shadow. People duped into pursuing “something for nothing” have been manipulated by shadows rather than influenced by substance. And all the “get rich quick” schemes have played out; those who fall prey to them have an unrealistic view of what defines value. Anything of true value has met certain criteria and is supported by established standards. Nothing costs nothing! Before a shadow can be cast, there must first be a substance to create it.

Without a doubt, there is a market for shadows and the multitudes have lined up to purchase them. Purveyors of the generic and counterfeit capitalize upon this by providing a substitute. Individually these will never garner the return true substance renders but a profit by volume awaits. As you are reading this, you might be thinking of generic versions of various products. While mainstream businesses manufacture their clothing line, beauty products, electronics, and etc. someone else is preparing an alternate version right behind them. There is not an industry that we cannot find a mainstream and generic representation. One has an appraisal that establishes its cost (Substance) and the secondary has a cost established because of the original (Shadow).

An allegory is the deeper purpose of this commentary; there is a dichotomy between Substance and Shadows. The valuable, dependable, and overall useful is found in the Substance. It is that which has been built with quality materials and purposeful workmanship. Going throughout life taking shortcuts and settling for the inferior is living in the Shadow. It may be cheaper and easily accessible but will it last? And remember, though there may be promotion of some great new thing it may be just another form of Emu Mania.

Every day we are constructing the life we live. We must exercise caution in selecting the material and tools we build with. Cutting corners and sloppy workmanship for the sake of speed or ease is foolish. Obviously what we are building we intend (or hope) to last. But its capability of lasting is dependent upon what we are using.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

The Nobel Being


A 13 year old boy was brought before Aristotle to become his student. Already proving to be intelligent and eager to learn, Aristotle found it easy to inspire this child to love literature. He taught this child how to fortify arguments in a debate and how to present them. He taught this child how to intellectually justify the need for self-control and self-denial. He placed high emphasis on the need for honor so the young man would see its importance in the life of a ruler.  This child absorbed these lessons and more. But one of the lessons that Aristotle placed in the heart of his student that would eventually impact the whole world was that of taking Dominion of Human Nature.

Though ethnocentric at its root, an ideology was instilled in the young man which became the framework for his method of rule. Aristotle taught him barbaric people are controlled by impulse to satisfy every base desire. Therefore he should rule his nation as a honorable leader and become a despot to the barbarians of the world. With these and many other lessons, Alexander the Great would go on to conquer the known world before age 33.

Because of how humanity has evolved socially, its current view of “barbarianism” would deem Aristotle’s lessons as intolerance at the least. (Perhaps even tyrannical at worst) Literally, Aristotle put it into the heart of Alexander the Great that uncivilized people should be treated as beasts. Aristotle viewed barbarians as people who were incapable of restraint. And yet we must also recognize today, if restraints are cast off and every appetite was allowed to be indulged society itself would crumble in anarchy. Barbarianism is alive and well today; its manifestations appearing in the form of horrible crimes such as murder, rape, and robbery. It also manifests through means less consequential but severe nonetheless. Individual indulgences gratified with complete disregard for its impact on others. An attitude prevailing that says “I will do whatever I want and whenever I want”. This is not the mind set of rational civilization; this is the mind set of barbarianism.

Aristotle expanded his view of human nature from what he had been taught at one time by Plato. Plato divided the natures of humanity into two principle categories, one side he called Rational and the other he called Animal. “We are good when reason rules and bad when we are dominated by our desires”  He presented a dichotomy of human reason and animal instincts to pursue wants. He concluded that “self-mastery” would always be paradoxical because to master one’s self would also mean to equally be subject to one’s self.

I believe Aristotle took this concept and placed it in a paradigm of society where mankind cannot prosper as an authority to himself. Containment of nature would be the product of education and societal expectation.  In closing, I want to expound upon the origin of this commentary’s title which also happens to be the inspiration for writing it. It comes from something that I read Hsün-tzu (Art of War) say regarding civilized humanity:

“Fire and water possess energy but are without life. Grass and trees have life but no intelligence. Birds and beasts have intelligence but no sense of duty. Man possesses energy, life, intelligence, and, in addition, a sense of duty. Therefore he is the noblest being on earth. He is not as strong as the ox, nor as swift as the horse, and yet he makes the ox and the horse work for him. Why? Because he is able to organize himself in society and they are not.”  

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

The Quest for Identification?

religious-symbols gangs7_09_175 WW2_Iwo_Jima_flag_raising

The nature within humanity causes it to set out early on a quest for identity formation. The established ideas on this vary concerning exact age or specific catalysts that initiate the quest; but for the most part all agree it begins in adolescence. We first become aware of social dynamics then we subconsciously construct an identity for our social interactions. For each social arrangement, an identity develops and this creates a place for us in them. Identity formation assimilates us into our demographic creating perspectives for us in things such as cultural or religious beliefs.

The power that identification possesses is significant. Wars have been the direct result of contrary religious, cultural, and political views. Social distress or racial tensions are typically the result of identifications that seem to oppose one another. Opinions, ideas, and beliefs are inextricably connected to identity. When these are opposed or perceived to be opposed, it can be viewed as opposition to someone’s identity.

At the beginning of this commentary are three pictures which symbolize some manners in which humanity identifies itself. The first picture has symbols of religious systems: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Taoism. Each system has a ‘mother land’, revered texts, leaders, and an overall structure to follow. While each of these systems has core beliefs, internal factions arise due to identities that are distinct from each other. These are examples of how human nature enters into a quest for religious identification.

The second picture has members of the Almighty Latin Kings. Casual designation would simply classify them as gang members. But within their organization they possess a manifesto and multiple paradigms exist which identify them uniquely from other street gangs. Members are in pursuit of higher levels of membership (Kingism or Kingship). They have uniformity in colors and patterns for the clothes they wear. This is an example of how human nature enters into a quest for social identification.

The third picture is the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph by Joe Rosenthal. In 1945, these men in his photograph are shown raising the United States flag upon Mount Suribachi. This took place during World War II and the raising of this flag demonstrated the triumph of America over Japan on the island of Iwo Jima. This act embodied the conquering power of the American military with the flag serving as national identification. A nation’s flag is an emblematic display of its essence, organization, and constitution. Since 1776, people living on the North American continent entered into a quest of national identification.

The world is what it is because of humanity’s quest for identification. A natural desire for distinction and individuality is at the core of this quest. We see this displayed in commercialized business by use of unique logos, slogans, and operational plans. We see this displayed in The Arts by unique genres of what is seen, heard and tasted. Why is identification so important? Why does humanity have this within its genetic makeup?

Could it be that this is the result of a struggle between two natures seeking identification? The struggle between the tangible and the intangible; the evanescent and the eternal? The Hebrew language offers insight about this struggle through the etymology of its word for ‘face’. It appears that the Hebrew word for ‘face’ (which is ‘panim’) is assigned a pluralistic meaning as though it could never be used in a singular sense (i.e. faces). This theory is upheld by the idea that all humanity has two faces (natures), their physical and their spiritual.

There are multiple lists compiled by various thinkers regarding what are considered “fundamental human needs”. Almost always, Identification is listed as one  with supporting points in the human need for Being, Having, Doing, and Interacting. It appears that the basic need for Identification is the sum of our communal nature. If we are to find our place in ‘our community’ we require Identification first.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

Feet of Clay

When something comes into existence, its foundational elements foretell its outcome. A faulty foundation will mean instability while a sure foundation provides for an optimistic future. Relationships, business ventures, and other important decisions demand a fit beginning. Whatever it takes to begin a thing will be what it takes to carry it forward.

If focus, discipline, and commitment are required for something to begin successfully then that will mean these things will be required for it to continue. It is illogical to be surprised when a thing began wrong does not progress very far. If deceit or compromise is required to carry something forward then plans should be made for more of that to be required.

The tales of the Golem in Jewish antiquity is a tale of irony. The Golem comes into existence as a creation of clay by the hands of a superior being. The irony is that the creator would make this Golem for the purpose of consulting it, the creator seeks a seer. The tale of the Golem says the fashioning of clay combined with dance or a parchment with ‘truth’ written upon it would bring the image to life.

The creator would then appeal to the Golem for direction. But what can the creation teach the creator? What can the creation provide for the creator? The Golem rises to speak yet its own feet of clay testify against it. Its very existence displays the superiority of its creator yet ironically the creator chooses to defer to it for guidance.

This example of the Golem is one that represents the basest forms of thinking. This is a symbol of shallow thought and a desire for shortcuts. It is reasoning without deductive processes, it is satisfaction with analyzing but only at the simplest of levels. It is an approach to a solution found among deficit based resources. “I want to see the solution but I don’t want to have to strain to see it”. Foolish.

Avoid the insignificance of that which stands upon feet of clay, it will never have the capacity to bear the weight of that which holds true value.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés