Tag Archives: human nature

Rise and shine

“The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him. What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows? Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings. It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink.”

The door opened and the curtains were drawn back as the king awoke to the admonition of a very concerned mother. Choosing her words cunningly, she spoke to him with regard to his standing in the eyes of the nation he led. Actions unbecoming a king would undermine his authority. If a king could not rule his own nature, how could he rule a kingdom positioned for world dominion? Jewish Rabbis recount a tale regarding an event with this king. On the day of his marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter, the king assembled musicians from far and wide. As the festivities unfolded, a day of celebration progressed into a night of excessive drinking and revelry. By the forth hour of the following day (10am) the king was found passed out with the keys to the Temple under his pillow. It was then his mother went looking for him and the words at the beginning of this post were the start of what she had to say. Sometime later when King Solomon would narrate this proverb, it was said that scribes used a pseudonym to protect his character of wisdom.

While resolve declines in some quarters, there is a movement of those who desire to advance beyond the vices and shortcomings. Not everyone is born into greatness but everyone can position themselves for it. Though our feet are on the earth, our spirit is not subject to it. The confines of the natural can take precedence to the supernatural. There is a limitation placed by some on whatever is not quantifiable or qualifiable by scientific measures. I believe in systems of reason and logic, I believe in the sciences. But I also acknowledge that humanity is a work in progress and we do not know 100% of what there is to know about anything. Thus we should be growing and like King Solomon sometimes we need a voice of reason in our life to facilitate that growth.

Many choose to remain within the boundaries of their predisposition and knowledge base thus they never grow. These boundaries must be expanded and the territory must be extended otherwise progression becomes impossible. Ordinary sliced bread remained virtually unknown to the world for 15 years after the inventor first came up with how to do it. Otto Rohwedder limited his energies on the processes of mass produced sliced bread. It was Wonder Bread that took the concept to the next level through mass marketing the concept, thus generating the infrastructure for mass production.

Is there anything in your life that could undermine your position? Is there anything that stands in the way of your progression?

Whatever you wish to achieve in the future must be actively worked toward in the present. I was told that the farmers of the distant past set their eyes to a fixed object as they plowed their field. This would keep them plowing in a straight course. Sometimes we get off course by choices that evolve into things unplanned. When it happens, we need someone or something that can wake us and realign us with our purpose.

Copyright © 2013 J.M. Cortés 

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Hidden among the stuff

We are now on the other side of Black Friday which was preceded this year by the newly christened Black Thursday (formerly Thanksgiving). The big players in major retail hatched up another way to confiscate even more money from the masses; stores traditionally closed for the holiday once known as Thanksgiving would now be open. While I did not hear of anyone being trampled to death, some frenzied consumers did act out. Reports appeared of stabbings, assaults, shootings, and police dragged by cars driven by shop-lifters. Obviously the stores are not solely blamed but we can thank them for creating the environment. Oh well, there is a price to be paid for capitalism and some consumers are willing to do whatever it takes to save a buck.

I know it is cliché and all, every Thanksgiving the posts appear in the varied social media forums appealing to all to keep the thanks in Thanksgiving. It is ironic that an effort to preserve the traditional essence of the holiday is even necessary. A time for family and a time of expressing gratitude should come without effort. But the cultural climate has changed and traditional values in society have shifted. Dissatisfaction rules the day; people are unhappy with the jobs, unhappy in their relationships, and just unhappy in general.

Zig Ziglar has been heard to say “the healthiest of all human emotion is gratitude”. Gratitude is born of an understanding; understanding that where we are and what we have in life is the result of choices we’ve made. It is born of an understanding that things could be worse. It is the understanding that life is fragile and the future is uncertain. It’s understanding what the loss of everything and the work of rebuilding is like. The yoke of labor and sacrifice weighs heavy upon those who bear it. Yet from that heaviness strength arises. The earlier you learn to work hard for what you want and then appreciate it once it’s yours the sooner you will learn gratitude. “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth, he sitteth alone and keepeth silence because he hath bourne it upon him”.

When people fail to have or express gratitude it is because they overlook certain truths. It is the schedule, it is the struggle, it is the hardness that life brings. Yet what are we missing out on?

In 2008 a social experiment was conducted in a subway of Washington, D .C. on a busy workday morning. Award winning, Carnegie Hall playing violinist Joshua Bell situated himself in a high visibility area and for nearly an hour played classical pieces. In a region of the U.S. defined by sophistication and cultured tastes, it was predicted that masses would gather to witness such a performance. Even if skill alone did not arrest attention, surely the renowned musician would be recognized. But the reality was no one even noticed him. No one recognized his talent, no one recognized him, and no one even recognized his costly $3 million dollar violin. Other things had their attention. Schedules, the work place, finances, familial issues, health concerns, relationship matters, etc. Logically these things are not inherently wrong, but where does it end?

At some point, we all reach a place where we decide not to get caught up in the race. Detach from the temporal. Divest yourself of futile efforts. The masses are buying stuff they don’t need, with money they should not waste, to impress people that really don’t care. I shake my head when I think about ways I’ve wasted time, money, and energy in my life. I am now wanting to just be grateful for what I see and hopeful toward what I will soon see.

Copyright © 2013 J.M. Cortés

TABULA RASA

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

Relativism…the road that leads nowhere

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Anaximander, a pre-Socratic philosopher, is thought to have been the first to create a map of the known world. His visionary efforts at cartography would serve as a foundation for modern day geography. He, like other early map makers, created their maps with Greece as the centre of the world. This was primarily rooted in national pride with an idea of Greece as the world’s epicenter. But on a deeper level, this revealed a great deal about their overall world view. This “center of the world” mentality did not end with the map makers of antiquity; it is alive and well today. One of the ways it manifests today is through ‘Relativism’.

Relativism is a philosophy best defined, not by what it affirms, but rather what it denies. Relativism denies the idea of absolute truth and views “truth” as subjective. The saying “Beauty is in the eye of the Beholder” could be the sum of Relativism – “Truth is in the eye of the beholder”. What drives Relativism is an idea that what is true for some might not be true for others. Truth becomes relative to some point of reference rather than actually existing in a tangible fashion. Again, Relativism is best defined by what it denies not what it affirms. The first recognized father of Relativism was Protagoras who said: “Man is the measure of all things”. He placed humanity as being the author and definer of Truth. Both Socrates and Plato opposed Protagoras’ philosophy by pointing out its foundational compromise. To emphatically deny the existence of absolute truth would also be an admission to a truth’s existence (i.e. emphatic denial of absolute truth).

Relativism is duplicity in the least and a precursor to anarchy at worse. I say this because I believe the end of a thing should be the basis for its beginning. What is the ending point of Relativism? How would Relativism and our Legal System coexist? Is there a basic and universal code of morals that humanity should abide by? According to Relativism’s end, these morals become subjective; one may believe they are right while another chooses not to. Proponents of Relativism fancy themselves as anti-establishment which is driven by a perception of free will. I recognize that perspectives are influenced by cultural, racial, and educational points of view. But there has to be a prevailing reality; there also has to be an absolute truth.

A term associated with Relativism is Postmodernism. This term retains some use in westernized culture but is dissolving in parts of Europe. Postmodernism claims that realities are social constructs subject to change. This is upheld by Relativism’s assertion that absolute truth is nonexistent and “binary classifications” are what creates a division. Thus a reality’s existence becomes dependent on a demographic with its ideals and agenda. When the demographic shifts its focus on something else, the reality adjusts or dissolves. As the demographic evolves the reality evolves with it.

You are perhaps familiar with the parable of 7 blind men and an elephant. The lesson presented in this parable depicts blind men attempting to describe what they felt an elephant was like. To one man an elephant was like a wall for he felt its side. To another an elephant was like a pillar for he felt its feet. To another an elephant was like a brush, for he only felt the tip of its tail. Thus each blind mind’s perspective was right according to their experience. Relativism would say all of them are right because they are basing their concept of an elephant on their perspective.

But is an elephant a wall, pillar or brush? No, an elephant is a mammal in the pachyderm classification. This is not a subjective truth, this is a quantified reality based on a scientific classification. Systems of Law, Morality, and such like are the same. For a society to remain intact it needs boundaries otherwise it will fall into barbarianism. Relativism may fancy itself as enlightened thought but I say it is reductionist thinking and a pretext for people to do what they want. Some folks are like the original map makers, wherever they are is where they think the world begins. There is a reason the great thinkers of antiquity opposed Relativism; it is a road that leads nowhere.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

The Nobel Being

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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?

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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