A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.

Rocks and Viruses

I’ve been thinking a lot about where the line is between a religion and a cult, or a philosophy and an ideology. I think it is obvious that the main differentiator is the individual – do you need your beliefs to be simple and dogmatic, or can you engage in critical discourse? Does your relationship to the world change, or is it fixed?

But what about the nature of the belief system itself? How does it deal with challenges? Both political parties in the US have changed tremendously over the past 100 years. Sometimes one or the other seemed more dogmatic and purist, but sooner or later that purism was fractured by reality and the changing demands of society. So the two party system has continued, in spite of massive changes in the values and demographics of American society. At the same time, more extreme and ideological political systems, such as Communism, have largely failed. Pure, unadulterated capitalism has also failed. I guess I should say how I define failure – I believe a system has failed when basic ethical norms are regularly violated and are not adequately punished or prohibited by the system.

Democracy (theoretically) allows for self-correction, adaptation, change, and most importantly, ongoing challenges by members of the system. Any system that prohibits these things and threatens to harm or dissociate itself with those who challenge it is what I would consider a simplistic, dogmatic system. That’s when it enters the realm of cult or ideology for me. I think that the fact that the Bush administration is so far out of favor now is a testament to our system’s resistance to reverting to an ideology. The tension between the parties MUST continue to exist in order for our country to continue to mature.

I think an interesting analogy (and I ripped this off from Neal Stephenson) is the idea of viruses. An organism that is going to survive for the long term is one that can sustain multiple attacks from external sources – environmental and viral. It adapts, builds antibodies, evolves. If you apply this to a social system, cults don’t have much in the way of antibodies. They isolate themselves from critics, define themselves as “special” or “chosen” in some way, and those individuals involved must either turn all their energies towards accepting and supporting the beliefs of the group, or risk expulsion. I think one of the main features most conspicuously lacking in cult-like organizations is humility. From the Nazis to the Branch Davidians to Scientologists, you’re not likely to see members of these groups involved in any kind of public or academic discourse on the nature of their beliefs, and I suspect this is because these systems have no immune system. Belief in a superior race or creed does not lend itself well to humble self-examination, which doesn’t leave much room for testing and debate.

Compare this to Christianity or Buddhism, and you see organizations that have evolved, broken apart, re-formed, adapted, changed, and are very much a part of the intellectual and spiritual development of the human race. I am not claiming that there are no Christian or Buddhist factions or individuals that are dogmatic and ideological, but the systems themselves have proven over 2000+ years that they can withstand change and growth.

So my litmus test for an organization of any kind is, can you throw rocks at it? Can you test and question the beliefs, and do the members of the group regularly examine their own ethics and behavior based on those beliefs? If rock-throwing is taboo, then it’s probably not a system I really want any part of. But if rock-throwing is encouraged, if the system does not fear viruses but welcomes adaptation and change, then it just might be worth checking out.

Kids These Days TM

Today’s rant is on a phenomenon I like to refer to as Kids These Days, or KTDTM . KTDTM refers to the fact that most modern philosophers, thinkers, gurus, shaman, rabbis, priests, lamas, high school principals, and prophets have a tendency to state that things are worse than they’ve ever been, that people are more unethical, have worse values, talk to each other less, eat worse food, fornicate more, kick more puppies, and generally suck more than ever before in history. And the fun thing is at every point in history the KTDTM phenomenon has been along for the ride.

I don’t buy it. The world has changed technologically, yes. But I don’t think people evolve or devolve that quickly. It takes tens of thousands of years for species to develop, and I think human history is pretty damn cyclical. So you think civilization is collapsing because there’s a huge gap between the rich and poor (and this has never happened before)? French Revolution. Reign. Of. Terror. Look it up. My favorite sign of the impending apocolypse is the spawning of tons of mean-spirited reality shows about lame, stupid people. But the ancient Romans really came up with the whole bread and circuses, opiate of the masses thing.

Is technology and the infernal interweb ruining our ability to relate to each other and destroying the fabric of society? Consider what Mark Twain had to say about telecommunications in the year 1890:

“It is my heart-warm and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us, the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the admired, the despised, the loved, the hated, the civilized, the savage (every man and brother of us all throughout the whole earth), may eventually be gathered together in a heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss, except the inventor of the telephone.”

Testify, M.T.

If gluttony (which we call the obesity epidemic), lust (promiscuity and the ensuing STDs), avarice (corporate greed), wrath (violent crime), pride (Paris Hilton), envy (coveting your neighbor’s BMW), and sloth (damned video games) are particular problems of the twenty-first (or twentieth, or nineteenth) century, why Dante know so much about them? The Buddhist-based book I talked about recently, Healing through the Dark Emotions started to piss me off for the same reason. If people are really especially escapist and immoral and without compassion in the modern era, why did the Buddha need to spend all that time under the bodhi tree figuring out how to let go of attachment and be compassionate and teach others what he discovered?

Could it be that the human condition has always been pretty much the same? That we suffer and feel joy, we cause pain and we feel compassion, and that perhaps we could learn from our history instead of negating it by claiming that everything is new and unique?

I tell you, Kids These Days TM just don’t know their history.

This morning's little misadventure

I was walking Loki this morning on a 2 mile loop I do, most of which is in the McMansion area which borders on the Greenbelt (a wildlife nature preserve area that loops around Austin). We were a bit more than halfway done, when I leaned back to stretch my lower back a bit, and Loki pulled the leash out of my hand. It’s one of those retractable leashes, so the handle is heavy, and the sound startled him and he ran a bit. I called him back, and as he ran towards me, he realized he was being chased by a scary hissing thing (the leash handle) and TOOK OFF. He was back up at the other end of a very long street and out of sight in about thirty seconds, me screaming his name (the old one) the whole time.

I walked/ran back up the street, calling, searching, stopping people, nothing. I had to get all the way home which took a while, I called his foster mom who came out to help me search, and David who came home from work. We all agreed that he’d most likely headed into the greenbelt to hide, and were afraid he’d gotten tangled in something. I was totally freaked out, afraid he was gone for good, that he was hurt, that he’d starve…

This area is HUGE. The houses are huge, the yards are huge, and most of them back up on this big greenbelt area. There are TONS of places a very small quiet dog could hide (he’s barely made a peep since we got him). We combed the streets and the greenbelt for three hours, calling and putting up posters the whole time (I’d also like to point out that it’s brutally hot and humid).

By 1pm my feet were blistering and I was dehydrated, so I headed home to change shoes and drink some water before heading out again (I’d already been by the house several times in my search in case he found his way back), and guess who was on my porch? He’s only been with us for two days, had never been walked in that area, and he found his way home. He promptly came up to me, laid down on his belly, and peed himself.

Needless to say, we are very happy he is home. I don’t think he took city streets, judging by the amount of mud on the leash handle, but however he got here I’m glad he’s back. I think he’s going to keep us.

In no way related to business, leadership, or ethics


This is Loki (nee Berkley). He’s a rescue dog that I’m “testing” for the next couple days. I actually stalked him online for a few weeks about a month ago, when I was still too heartbroken to adopt, but was looking at the rescue sites. By the time I got the nerve to ask about him, he was gone. But lo and behold, he re-appeared this week, and I put an application on him.

It’s been a strange thing. I’m still mourning Simon, a lot. Having a new pup around reminds me of how close we were. But I think I will sad be for a long time, new dog or no. There’s no replacement for him, and it will take a long time to build a bond with a dog like I had with Simon after 10 years. He was one of a kind.

But this little dude is a total character, in a very different way. He’s very timid, was probably not socialized much at all. He’s pretty jumpy, but loves affection and is great on a leash. After just the afternoon he’s chilled out quite a bit. David and I are enjoying him so far. He has mastered the fine art of pathetic cuteness, thus earning the nickname, His Royal Patheticness. So far he’s also Bat Ears, and The Half-Blood Prince.

At first I thought about calling him Yogi, because when I was doing yoga I got into bridge pose, and he inserted himself under my lower back, like a yoga prop.

Noise wise, he hasn’t made a peep so far. I’ll be posting regular updates for all the crazy dog people (you know who you are).

I’m not settled on the name yet, so if you have suggestions feel free to let me know.