On Foreign Invaders and Golden Eras

Lest my conscience should prevent my sleep, I should be forthcoming: the idea for this article has found its root in the thoughtful consideration of history by Barack Obama in his book Dreams from My Father.

 

In searching for meaning within black history–not only in America, but in Africa as well–Obama highlights a real gem of wisdom (one of many I should point out). Within a conversation Obama relays the thoughts of Dr. Rukia Odero: Through European colonialism the true history of many African Americans has become obscured. Ideas, traditions, and beliefs became idolized wholesale as the pure times before the white man.

 

The history of black people both on the continent of Africa, and in many other countries is often a pain filled one. Like the Jews, it seems that they suffered more than their share of atrocity and maltreatment. Though the situations are regretful, it is possible to learn from them. I believe these experiences can shed light upon human nature in every culture. The African American history as discussed by Odero highlights the human tendency in times of strife to cling to the ‘good ol’ days’, whether or not they were in fact good.

 

Which one of us is not prone to reminiscing about the ‘old days’?

 

I know that once I left the rich extremes of highschool, I nearly made a profession out of reminiscing. Conjuring up the memories of times spent with friends, relishing the excitement of making new friends, or trying new things.

 

Looking back to the past from the future is a dubious enterprise at the best of times. When reminiscing, we tend to only see the good things in our memories, the things we want to remember. Conspicuously left out of my own foggy highschool memories is the uncertainty I felt, the panic and nervousness of learning to be a man while not having the faintest idea of what that meant. I fail to recall the broken friendships, the pain, the misunderstandings, the anger I felt in those days, and the many mistakes I made. With that said, in relation to the challenges and suffering of the present these rose coloured dreams are often a delightful temptation.

 

If we return for a moment to my earlier example, it is easy to see why this is the case. With the forceful invasion of European culture, a war on African society was waged: real and brutal. In the face of the horror and suffering of slavery, inequality, and disdain from the white man, the blacks had little other option but to cling to what they knew. That is not a bad thing, but it can be if that which is clung to also contains error or hidden pain. Obama quotes Dr. Odero from the black perspective:

 

Without the white man, we might make better use of our history. We might look at some of our former practices and decide they are worth preserving. Others, we might grow out of. Unfortunately, the white man has made us very defensive. We end up clinging to all sorts of things that have outlived their usefulness.”

 

It is not much different for our own reminiscing.

 

Ironically, many prefer reminiscing because of the effect it has on our present emotions and feelings. The peace we perceive as existing in the past is somehow bleakly transported to the future. Other times such reminiscing motivates us to make changes to the present, like when an addict realises how his life really has crumbled around him. In yet another context we could see reminiscing as an excuse to procrastinate about fixing the present.

 

Memory in and of itself serves a vital role of educating the person, reminding us of what to avoid and what to pursue. It is useful to remember what a bully looks like or which dogs nips on the heels of passers-by. It is not useful, however, to reside completely within the otherwise non-existent past.

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In the movie Inception a incredible idea is fleshed out. Through technology the characters of the movie harness a kind of deliberate lucid dreaming. In doing so, some people become so consumed with the dream world that they prefer it over reality. Likewise, someone who spends too much time living in the past may wish to live there instead. This forgetting of the present is often born of a hatred of the circumstances we may find ourselves, whether it be abuse, hard times financially, or social tumult to name a few. The tragedy is that to prefer a faded and drifting memory over the occurring present, is the same as choosing a picture of a meal instead of eating the food. The trouble is, it is easy to write this idea in a blog, but it does not answer the problem of suffering.

 

I have trouble writing about the usefulness of being present to our lives, especially when their is pain, without delving into theology.

 

From a secularist point of view it may be argued that “what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger”. Such sentiment is rarely appetizing when you are the one suffering. Suffering is painful and ugly. Enduring suffering for the sake of another, however, can be one the most beautiful human actions, precisely because suffering is uncomfortable and detestable. If I told my wife I’d eat this next bowl of ice cream for her, she’d understandably be rather unmoved by my gift. On the other hand, what if I offered her the last seat on a rescue vessel?

 

The consequence of avoiding pain is overarching numbness. While hiding from the emotions of pain, we also turn off joy, love, and so much more. You can see it in the eyes of someone who has experienced rejection too frequently, a kind of distance, hesitancy. Conversely, the opposite extreme is to become identified by our pain, to believe that it defines us. This only leads to hatred, anger, and confusion.

 

To be aware of why we experience emotional pain, where it comes from, how our past effects it within the present, is to understand pieces of wisdom that lead to maturity. Though the past is often used as a refuge from the legitimate injustices of the present, growth cannot be found there, only stagnancy. Like a tree in perpetual shade, the leaves slowly wither and die. However, to embrace the sunlight of the present, though it may be uncomfortable or draw to light things we’d rather not see, only within these sun rays can life find strength to outstretch its limbs.

 

Why the present is powerful is both obvious and obscured. The obvious fact being that no conscious action can occur in any other time; the obscured, it is within the present that our trials and experiences are brought to fruition. It is within the present that we come to understand ourselves, to find healing for wounds previously unseen. Most importantly of all, it is only within the present that love, the true source of human life, may either be expressed or received.

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Underlying it All

 

One common thread amongst modern liberal thinkers is the one which labels any institution or person with rigid moral beliefs as being close minded and outdated. The label of close mindedness can often be a hypocritical one. Many of the people I have met who hold all the modernly appropriate liberal beliefs, are also some of the most close minded people I have ever met.

 

Why?

 

Because they refuse to discuss, to explore, to engage in meaningful dialogue. They may be wholly accepting of alternative lifestyles, but are unwilling to even try to understand how someone may not write a blank cheque to all of humanity to do whatever it pleases.

 

Liberalism tends to stand for one type of freedom: complete freedom to act as one chooses.

 

Freedom can be the capacity to choose what we aught to, and not just the ability to choose anything. Let us not forget that a drunk is free to take another drink, but that doesn’t mean that’s what’s best for him. In addition, is he really free not to take another drink? In theory yes, but in practice?

 

Most modern liberal thinkers see religious moral formation as something outdated, and even laughable. Many liberals would accuse those with rigid moral beliefs as deceived, unloving, and unbending. To tell you the truth, sometimes they are right. Our confused brothers and sisters in the south holding signs which read, “God Hates Gays,” are ten examples in one.

 

But does that mean that all morals which find their foundation in religion are somehow second class and liable to error?

 

Well it might suffice to say that the truth favours those who are right. The words of Abraham Lincoln sum up perfectly the situation when any two people propose opposing claims: “Both may be, and one must be, wrong.”

 

Liberalism is usually founded within an understanding of the world devoid of any notion of either God or the soul—though usually there is some clause about ‘believe what you want, but keep it to yourself’. They treat the possibility of God like a person choosing between types of fruit at the grocery store: irrelevant or inconsequential. ‘Some like this, some like that, to each their own’. The question of the existence of God or the soul, however, has enormous implications.

 

For example: It is easy to answer questions about abortion and euthanasia if people are just lumps of matter that happen to be awake. If human life is something precious and profound, these questions become real actions with dire consequences. Murder is taken seriously and considered a grave error by even the most extreme liberals. If the human soul is a reality, then abortion is murder. Which, as I’m sure you can see, means that the belief that abortion is just, is a false one.

 

If the creation of human life is happenstance, and as a result no more meaningful than an ultra-rare chemical reaction, it is no different to chop a tree down as it is to end a human life.

 

The fact that very few people in existence would agree with that statement, shows that most people have some awareness of the preciousness of human life.

 

Trees do not have rights, and neither should they. Some people may argue that trees should have rights, but no one argues that all human beings should not have rights. In history some have argued that some human races should not have rights, but they are obviously confused and depraved of wisdom. So if even the most stark liberal, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-euthanasia, pro-everything, has some awareness of the rights of man, then where does this awareness come from?

 

As I mentioned before, if we are nothing more than complicated dirt, then why do we have particular rights unique to humans, but tigers, crickets, and whales do not? Are they not living creatures made of the same essential substances?

 

So if there is no distinction between our life force and the life force within a cow, from what standpoint can the claim be made that to kill a human is a crime, but to kill a cow is just part of life?

 

Only if human life is somehow unique or different, is our current understanding of the world meaningful. If human life is unique and different from other living things, how else could this be the case if not for the intervention of some outside force? A force that could neither be human nor earthly. A tree cannot render itself into a baseball bat anymore than a human could produce her own soul. So what force has granted humanity its unique nature?

 

Furthermore, if we are solely the products of amoebas getting struck by lightning, or some other entirely natural process, we are no different than the animal kingdom or any other life form on earth; which leaves us with an uncomfortable state of affairs: either all living things need equal rights, or everything should have an absence of rights. Equality is good, right?

 

Which would you prefer?

 

If the former is true then we’ll all end up in prison for killing and eating other animals. The vegans might get off, but most likely they’ll be guilty of manslaughter at best. If it’s the latter, well who wants to live in that kind of world? That is a world were only the most violent, powerful, and brutal get their way.

 

The fact remains that the vast majority of human beings both existing today, and that have ever existed, believe that to some degree humanity is unique and deserving of special rights. This notion is embedded so deeply within us, it is rarely even mentioned or discussed. Some, like those who adhere to Jainism, have. However, they offer a religious and moral outlook which suggests that death by starvation is the highest possible religious achievement: all to avoid harming any living thing. To consider all life equal means either suicide or a forever guilty conscience.

 

It may be argued that mankind has adopted this mentality out of necessity due to the relationship between us and the rest of the universe, a kind of evolutionary byproduct of our existence. This explanation fails to explain the intrinsic and powerful awareness within every human being of their natural value, the visceral and burning fire which prods human beings to fight back against injustice.

 

file0001871625573Our notion of uniqueness is a rich and indivisible part of the human tapestry.

 

It is not a construct of the human mind, but a facet of truth from which our very understanding of right and wrong is born. It is what is commonly called the soul. This distinctive mark, written indelibly within the human heart, is the foundation of our self-knowledge. Through this self-knowledge comes a deep and powerful understanding of our nature as humans on earth, as humans within the vast and awe inspiring universe.

 

More importantly, it is the first clue upon an ever deepening and profound trail which leads to Truth.

 

Without Truth there is no wisdom, and without wisdom we are doomed to hurl ourselves into the fires of our own design. Such a torment is one I hope to avoid, both for myself and for all those I love. If freedom is what we crave, then it is imperative that we understand fully for what we have been created. The journey of self discovery is a powerful one filled with joy and trials. If freedom is the true desire of our hearts, and not just guiltless self-indulgence, then there is no other path that can be taken but to plunge into the mysteries and complexities of the human heart and soul.