August 31, 2018

Owl & Ibis: Human Nature - The Poets' View

Many thanks to all who attended last Tuesday night’s “Human Nature - The Poets’ View” at Owl & Ibis - A Confluence of Minds. The poetry recited or read aloud was wide-ranging and the discussion far exceeded expectations. Here’s the email from O&I that got this whole thing going:

Can we modern humans, three hundred years since the Enlightenment and a century-and-a-half since Darwin, accept as truths teachings about Humankind derived from sources other than secular science materialism? Is the inner view of self and outer vision of Humankind now all about science and its tech derivatives? Are the artists, musicians and poets merely useful as entertainers?

Yes, scientific or not, we humans, all of us, still like art, music and stories. But can the views expressed in, say, poetry impact us to the degree they once did, to the same degree that scientific facts do today? Can artistic, musical, literary/story truths be as consequential as those of the natural sciences? At the next O&I Confluence, led by yours truly, we shall read aloud and discuss selected poems from the Western canon and try to answer some of these questions.

Attached is a selection of such poetry and soliloquies, pieces I’ve collected over the years and reread often. Please look at them beforehand, though, and choose one, or a portion of one of the longer ones, you’d be willing to read aloud and initiate a discussion on.

You may, of course, choose other short poetic works or extracts not found in this compilation, or from works of non-Western origin. Feel free, if you wish, to read some of the online expert commentary on the piece(s) you’ve chosen. But, your own personal take on it may be best and more indicative of our locale, times, the general population, and the power of the piece than the views of academics. Your reactions would also include any language and ideas you don’t understand. O&I members typically rely heavily on scholarly views, but are not bound to seek their help every time. We of the Confluence think original thought, if such is possible, is also worth pursuing. Let us dare to think freely!

Truths, as we’ve explored at a previous O&I meeting, come in many forms with varying degrees of potency and utility, be they poetic, scientific or religious. And why not? Humankind is an amalgam of the matter of the universe and no less of the stories we create and tell each other.

Join the discussion!

As last Tuesday’s night’s chair I opened the meeting with a brief comment on the often disputed notion of “human nature.” I recommended to the Confluence and received no objections to this definition by Skye Cleary and Massimo Pigliucci:

August 23, 2018

Waist Deep In the Big Muddy – A Conversation with a Friend in Cape Town

Friend: I see that Trump has entered South African politics. This bloody issue of [land] expropriation might really be a tipping point. How far does it go? Sure the whole colonial bit and apartheid were abhorrent. But firing the pendulum to the complete opposite also seems to invite chaos and evil. Yessus! The Institute of Race Relations here does some reliable measurements of attitudes and those do not show the excessive inter-group hatred that seems to be promoted by populist leaders. But who will gain the upper hand in the power stakes?

Me: Trumpian populism in South Africa’s politics!? Hadn’t been following the recent expropriations. Can’t think of a worse setting for populism. Talk about pouring gasoline on a fire.

One of my profs (economics) in grad school at Oregon in the ‘70s had a line he liked repeating: “The world is globalizing and tribalizing simultaneously.” He insisted it was an unsustainable dynamic that would eventually come to a fork in the road. He seemed to have no idea which fork we’d take, understandably, but he sure seemed worried about it. At the time I didn’t pay much attention to his caution. I was intoxicated by the myth that “international development” would save the day. And I was going to do my part by joining the Peace Corps and going to Africa to help in the education sector. I finally woke up after living in Swaziland a while in the early 1980s and, while there, talking and drinking a lot with Zulu, Swazi and Sotho friends sitting on the ground behind the bottle store, across the highway from the school where I taught... 

August 19, 2018

BOOK REVIEW - Atrocities Too Often Forgotten

Paul Lentz

Paul Lentz’s novel The Cry of the Innocents is a masterwork. It tells a monstrous story of human trafficking and organ harvesting in the US Southwest. Lentz is a highly gifted author whose strengths are his meticulous research skills and fluid prose.

The business of this book’s narrative involves the Russian mafia, profiteering medical administrators and practitioners, officials at privately run prisons, and corrupt and criminal government officials and employees at various local and state levels.

The heart and soul of the narrative, however, is expressed through ancient notions of honor, sanctity and justice still strong among the Hopi, Navajo and Apache. This includes a growing number of these cultures’ youth who find meaning and purpose for their lives, and moral guidance in long-standing indigenous cultural beliefs and practices.

Through the actions of the book’s ethnically diverse protagonists these spiritual and moral foundations are coupled with the secular-scientific ethos of medical science, honest law enforcement, and forensic anthropology. In opposition on the dark side are the immoral antagonists involved in illegal, for-profit human trafficking and organ harvesting and transplantation.

Though fictional, there is much truth in this book about the cruelty of the heinous transnational crimes of human trafficking and organ harvesting.

This book is a must read for most of us who know too little about the often hidden, money-driven atrocities of human trafficking and organ harvesting.

August 14, 2018

Luck - When Reason, Religion, and Common Sense Fail

Luck is a judgment many people produce after an unanticipated or uncontrollable outcome. It is a mental posture individuals learn and associate with their hopes for their future. If we decide an occurrence benefits us, another or anything’s wellbeing we conclude the occurrence was good luck; if not, it was bad luck. Luck’s most appropriate corollary is serendipity but even that is a human judgment. In raw, pre-human physics, yes, stuff happened. But, there was no luck, happenstance, serendipity. For example, when atoms combined to form a molecule with properties that the single atoms did not have, and no human was there at the time making a judgment about the event, there was no good or bad luck. There was simply, as far as we know, a non-judgmental occurrence. It happened and was neither an inherently good or bad event.

But, how far can such thinking be pushed - just how useful is it? Darwinian evolution would not have come to dominate the life sciences had Darwin not seen, judged and communicated that natural selection led to improved wellbeing and group continuance for some animals in certain contexts. That in the process, I dare say, some organisms were lucky. To say that such and such just happened would not help in understanding how it happened. That is, unless there was demonstrable, factual evidence supporting a judgment that the change was somehow beneficial. This was the genius of Darwin - to see that stuff happens but the consequences, though not predetermined, under certain circumstances, can be said to have been favorable for some critters and not for others, the unlucky ones if you must.

In the end, both views are correct and worthwhile. Things just happen and it is sometimes normal to see and communicate about the advantages of what has happened. Judgments declaring an outcome to be lucky, good or bad, account only for causes that are absolutely unknown, unknowable or possibly discoverable. “Don’t know why it happened. Must have been luck.”

I wrote the above before I read the following essay: The Unreality of Luck by Steven Hales, philosophy professor at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania, USA.

Regrettably, the author made little to no effort to discuss the notion of luck itself. His interests focused on differences between test subjects who had been ranked using an optimist-pessimist psychological test. Hopefully this broader and necessary discussion of luck will be found in Hales and his collaborator, experimental psychologist Jennifer Johnson’s, forthcoming article in Philosophical Psychology.

Toward the end of Hales’ article I found this:

August 3, 2018

Strange Brew: Religion, Politics and Business in America, Part II

August 5, 2018
Today, Pam Dewey, author, blogger and video producer, posted her latest video, "Strange Brew, Part III: Eye of Newt and Foot of Frog." It may be accessed here. Here's an accompanying note from Pam:

"If you have not yet seen Part 1 and/or Part 2, links to all three current videos in the series are available at the YouTube "Playlist" page linked below for the STRANGE BREW series. Be sure to watch them in order...the material in each one builds on information and commentary in the earlier entries. And stay tuned for more to come in the series. Links will show up on this playlist page on the YouTube website each time a new video is added to the collection. 


"The ongoing STRANGE BREW Series is an examination of the weird symbiosis of GOP Politics, Big Business, and Evangelical Christianity during the presidential administration of Donald Trump, which is affecting a wide swath of US issues including the climate change and ecological crises debates, public education, economics, civil rights, and social justice.

"I believe my 30+ years of intensive research into “homegrown American religion” that I share on my Field Guide to the Wild World of Religion website, coupled with a decade of intensive research into the nooks and crannies of US history that are not covered in the standard narrative fed to kids in grade school and high school history classes, that I share on my Meet MythAmerica website,  has led me to a unique perspective on the interplay of these forces."

Pam Dewey

On July 24, 2018, Pam Dewey, author and video producer, made the following presentation at Owl & Ibis - A Confluence of Minds: “Strange Brew: Religion, Politics and Business in America, Part II." Part I may be accessed here.

A central theme in Pam’s talk was the belief among many Evangelical Christians in the U.S. that President Donald Trump is a gift from God. That he has been sent by the Almighty to rectify the ungodly direction that liberal progressives have taken the country. As for his crudity, misogyny, and racism, the ECs say that is none of our business. That, they say, is a matter between him and God.

An outline of Pam’s presentation is available, with her permission, here. Prominent during the evening was the viewing of two of her masterful videos. Both are available free on YouTube:

In these three remarkable videos you will find the following ECs who play a dominant role in Trump’s ascendance, his staying power, and what his “bedfellows” envision for the future of U.S. society: Paula WhiteBenny HinnKim ClementJim BakkerTammy FayeLance WallnauMark TaylorRick JoynerKenneth Copeland, and Kenneth Hagin.

You will likely be as stunned as the O&I Confluence was after viewing the videos and learning about these people and their plans for the future of the U.S.

Congratulations to Pam on her deeply researched and professionally presented talk on one of the most serious problems facing America and, many believe, the Enlightenment Project.

Owl & Ibis also highly recommends Pam’s 2011 Book, Field Guide to the Wild World of Religion. It may be purchased here.

Owl & Ibis
}:> & ~:)

P.S. Twenty Richest Pastors in the World (2018)

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