Monday, 24 April 2017

Nazi Scrapbooks from Hell

"Most people live lives of quiet desperation" -- Thoreau
A sad, sad thing has happened in this Foord household in recent weeks. We've purchased a TV license and adverts have become a thing in our lives. I detest their lies, but I'll admit that some adverts can be mildly entertaining.

For many years we subsisted on Netflix, Amazon video and a mountainous collection of DVDs that inexorably grows beyond any human capacity to ever watch them all but not beyond my unbounded desire to own all the things and know all the things. As with all areas of human endeavour, films (like books and music) present an to-all-intents-and-purposes infinite field of fun, informative and edidying, even seemingly essential, stuff that I could-and-possibly-even-should-but-never-actually-would watch.

Our lives are full enough. As I'm oh so fond of saying, the only thing worse than a busy life is all the alternatives. Years ago I decided that I had consumed enough of other people's creativity and I wanted to create myself. So we don't actually watch much television. Delia and I usually have one TV series that we watch together, on the rare evenings when we have dispatched the children to bed early enough that exhaustion has not fully overcome one or both of us. It took us a few *years* to watch enough of Gilmore Girls before it became clear they'd run out of actual things to say and we got bored enough to turn to something else, promising each other we'd come back and finish the final series soon whilst secretly acknowledging to ourselves that would never happen. 

Despite this Irina, our now six year old daughter, wanted to watch CBeebies and Delia wanted to be able to flick through channels idly relieved from the burden of choice. So I capitulated, and we now have broadcast television.

The world hasn't ended and I'll even begrudgingly admit to enjoying endless David Attenborough on Eden and discovering "Forged in Fire" on Discovery - a gameshow type program pitting sword makers against one another and judging their work on strength, beauty and capacity to cut and maim.

Last night I even watched three TV programs in a row. I'd probably have to go back decades to the last time that happened Even counting nights of lonely horror in hotel rooms for programming conferences in far off lands I have rarely stooped to such an orgy of entertainment.

All three shows I would recommend, which I guess is the real reason for this post. "Genius" is a docu-drama (even using the word is nearly as much a horror as admitting to enjoying one) on the life of Albert Einstein. Fascinating, I just hope it's mostly true to life and they aren't lieing to me in the name of entertainment. The first episode was plausible and fits what little I already knew.

This was followed by "The Story of God", as told by Morgan Freeman. A man with gorgeously sonorous voice, but somewhat sullied reputation, now largely reinstated in my eyes by the sensitivity of his exploration and how genuine and human he comes across.

And finally "Nazi Scrapbooks from Hell", a look at the history of Auschwitz through two different scrapbooks of photos. The first a collection of photos from one of the commanders, which commits the almost unforgivable sin of humanizing the Nazis. Realising the horrors of that place, the pit of the worst of human capacity, was a merely human creation is such a hard thing to face. The second scrapbook catalogued the arrival and fate of the Jews, accompanied and explained by the narration of a survivor.

When the show came on I nearly switched it off. I know enough of the holocaust, and it has touched and shaped my own family. (See "A Jewish Love Story".)

But, perhaps mostly out of stubbornness, I won't turn away from the horror. I won't pretend it doesn't exist, or claim that it's dealt with and I have no part in it. So I watched.

Hannah Arendt, in her examination of the rise of totalitarianism, said that the way the Nazis could commit such horrors whilst still holding on (at least outwardly) to the appearance of their own humanity (as evidenced in the laughing photos) was the dehumanization of their victims. If the Jews and homosexuals and gypsies weren't really people then they could switch off empathy and laugh and smile and kill.

The very worst thing, personally, is that I can understand.  If you can totally switch off your view of "the other" as a real person, then how fascinating to see how the human body responds to pain and other horrors. How useful. And how then possible to let out, and enjoy, all your darkest, deepest desires - entirely contained and walled off on subjects who matter not in the slightest because they aren't real. And then you can pet your dog and enjoy blueberries with the pretty, laughing Nazi girls, a mere ten miles from the death camp.

So something of that horror is in me, because it is in all humanity. We did it. And I won't run from it, shut it out, stay blind and mute to the worst of what I am. I repudiate it utterly, I want nothing of it. But I will face it, I will find it in myself, not push it away and wall it off. I will touch the darkness in me, and cry over it. God help me.


"My driving desire is the powerful psychological release I find in the active adoration of love. I long to worship, I love to worship."

Friday, 21 April 2017

Mysticism, Freedom and the Human Will


Chaos is creative potential.
The full key to self-actualisaton (personal growth or whatever you want to call it) is will. This is the freedom that Christianity talks of, a free will capable of making choices and effecting change. Freeing up our capacity to love.

Throughout the ages philosophers have recognised the importance of the human will. For example:
Epictetus: You may fetter my leg, but my will not even Zeus himself can overpower.
Schopenhauer: the world as will and representation
Alphonse Constance: magic is the product of will and imagination
Nietzsche: will to power
Crowley: Love is the law, love under will
Schweitzer: I am life which wills to live
Fankl: will to meaning
Both Buddhism and Jungian psychology see the human psyche (soul) as being extraordinarily deep, but mostly unconscious. Most of who we are, most of our capacity to effect change, is not present in our conscious mind. So our actions are driven by forces and desires that we don't understand, whilst our conscious mind rationalises our decisions so that the ego can maintain its illusion of control. (For what it's worth, the rationalisation of decisions after they have been made has been verified by modern empirical psychology.) Compulsive behaviour and neuroses are the clearest examples of "unconscious drives". In "Doors of Perception" Aldous Huxley argues that our limited awareness, our filtered perception of reality, is an evolutionary mechanism for survival. Complete awareness of all our sensory input (including self-awareness) would debilitate our ability to function in a competitive world.

Our worldview, how we choose to see the world, is one of the ways we filter reality. We reject information that doesn't fit our worldview and seek out information that reinforces it (confirmation bias), allowing us to only have to deal with a small (and safer) proportion of reality.

So in Buddhism, the goal of meditation (and for Jung the goal of psychoanalysis) is to permit our awareness (mindfulness) into the totality of who we are - to become fully conscious of the unconscious self. To really see and accept ourselves. In the process Buddhism says that we will come to understand that what we view as "self" is largely (or even totally) the product of ego, and that who we are is in fact not so separate from the rest of the world we find ourselves in. We are merely a small part of everything.

In becoming aware we become free to choose. In becoming conscious our will is freed from the self-repression (self-rejection a pushing away and deliberate - but through habit unconscious - blindness to what goes on inside us). This is why being willing to face who we are, to take responsibility for ourselves and to stop blaming others, is so essential to finding true freedom. This is full self-acceptance.

As we become more aware of ourselves, as our capacity for action increases and we become more free, we become "bigger people". There is more of us around than there was.

This understanding that awareness brings freedom is why to the Buddhist right living, right understanding and right teaching are all the same thing.

But remember, the only theory worth a damn is the theory of the practise. What does it mean about how we live to understand that freedom means a free will?

It means to take control of who we are and responsibility for what we do, and to put ourselves into what we do rather than being dragged around by habit and routine. We can still do the same things (but we can also be free to stop), but choose to do them. Don't let them be someone else's choice about how you live.

It is through habit that things become unconscious. Look at how a child learns to walk, every nuance of every step is a wobbly and conscious action. So deliberate, and so hard! Yet through practise we barely think about it at all, the thought processes involved in balance and avoiding obstacles have become completely unconscious. It's the same with, for example, learning to drive. At first turning a corner (check your mirrors, change gear, slow down, indicate) is a bewildering plethora of actions to perform simultaneously. After a while you develop an "autopilot", and do it with barely a (conscious) thought. In fact the thought processes and decision making are still there, we're just not consciously aware of them. It's still us. There's no-one else to blame for the actions of the parts of ourselves that we don't see or feel.

So it is our habits that bind us. Our habits of destructive thought patterns and destructive behaviour for example. Step off the vicious cycle and onto the virtuous cycle.

Through deliberate action you can train your subconscious, train your "autopilot" into good habits. Choose to love all the time, and what initially takes deliberate effort becomes habit. Make decisions, do things you're afraid of, step out of routine, do unfamiliar things, choose to live. Face yourself, accepting yourself with compassion (by understanding your motives and reasons) but not turning away from the reality of who you are and what you've done. Choose to love, love under will.

By facing yourself you can master yourself.

One silly example (and I'm full of silly examples) of how I've been doing this in practise is that over the last few years I've been trying to make myself ambidextrous. I saw that my children, early on in life, used both hands almost equally with a very slight preference for one hand. Gradually that slight preference meant that they became more skillful with that hand, so the preference was reinforced - it was easier to do something with the hand they had used more often. I realised that my left hand was almost entirely useless for many common actions, and not as strong, simply because I didn't use it through habit. I started to deliberately choose to use my left hand for everything I could. Actions that had previously been completely unconscious, like stirring a cup of tea, suddenly became difficult and I was very aware of them. As an interesting side-effect I was forced to live more in the moment, putting more conscious effort and will into things I used to do completely passively. A very interesting experiment. Over time the conscious effort required to choose my left hand and arm is fading and it is becoming more natural. I haven't switched for hand-writing yet though, my writing is barely legible with my right hand!

So we can choose to change, by changing our habits. At this point Christians may protest and argue that it is God who changes us. Well yes, but the freedom God wants us to have is a freed will. So God doesn't make our choices for us. God (and I will shortly provide an understanding of God that the atheist may not object to) brings us an awareness of our weaknesses and habits, that awareness is the capacity to change. We must still choose to change.

For me the defining heart of Christian mysticism is Moses meeting God in the wilderness. The burning bush, the fire that burns but does not consume. Moses asks God his name, and in mysticism a true name reveals true nature (c.f. "he has given us a new name"). God's answer is YHVH, Yahweh, Jehovah. I Am. God is consciousness, pure being, pure existence.

So the eye of consciousness is the eye of God.
1 Search me, O God, my actions try,
And let my life appear
As seen by Thine all-searching eye—
To mine my ways make clear.

2 Search all my sense, and know my heart
Who only canst make known,
And let the deep, the hidden part
To me be fully shown.

3 Throw light into the darkened cells,
Where passion reigns within;
Quicken my conscience till it feels
The loathsomeness of sin.

4 Search all my thoughts, the secret springs,
The motives that control;
The chambers where polluted things
Hold empire o’er the soul.

5 Search, till Thy fiery glance has cast
Its holy light through all,
And I by grace am brought at last
Before Thy face to fall.

6 Thus prostrate I shall learn of Thee,
What now I feebly prove,
That God alone in Christ can be
Unutterable love.


Francise Bottome (approx 1872)
Suspend your disbelief for a moment, if you can, and imagine singing that song with genuine passion. And further imagine that the the God you've found and believe in is in fact pure consciousness and the essence of life itself. That you love and adore it with all your heart and open up the core of who you are to it with reverence and respect, even some fear. That you invite it in, to reach into and search out the depths of your being, determined to face who you are and believing you can find purity of life in it. Now wouldn't that be a fine and honest thing. 

I take a different look at what will is in: Soul, spirit and will.

Christians wondering how I see Jesus fitting into all this may be interested in my article "Theodicy and the Problem of Evil".

"Strive not to know but to be. Turn your intelligence not into understanding but into being."

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Are we living in a computer simulation?

Evolution is the key to understanding our nature.
Are we living in a computer simulation and not the "real world"?

So the argument goes, once computers become sophisticated enough to simulate entire worlds, then lots of worlds will exist. Therefore, if there are many, many worlds, the chances of you happening to exist in "the real one" and not a simulation are very small.

I actually think the best answer to the idea that we might be living in a simulation comes from Wolfram. He was talking about weather predicting but it holds just as true for world creation. He points out that to fully simulate any system (e.g. a weather system) you need to simulate the quantum level, and that requires a simulation model exactly as complex as the system being simulated, and therefore at least as physically big as the system being simulated. This is because you can't simulate quantum systems with a smaller quantum system. If you could you would be relying on more subtle interactions, that also happen in the real system (and affect it) and therefore you would also need these in the simulation and can't use them to create the simulation.

So to simulate a universe requires something at least as big as a universe. The way round this is to cheat and not simulate all of the universe, but then you must have a universe with inconsistent physical laws (since some of the observable effects are not genuinely calculated but "fudged"). As far as we can tell our universe runs on consistent (but chaotic) laws, and is therefore probably not simulated.

The conclusion is that you can only fully simulate a closed system, because a simulation is a closed system. This is also, coincidentally, why weather forecasting will always suck.

However, David Cassandra Mertz asks:
"What if the real universe ribs much faster than the simulations, and we live in a timeshare slice of the simulator?"
This does seem possible and quantized time might be an indication that this is the case. Potentially in "the real world" the speed of light is much higher, so the real quanta of time is smaller. A slower speed of light also makes the observable universe smaller - allowing a smaller universe to be simulated within the real one. However, it seems unlikely you'd have the physical space and energy to create "many worlds" this way.

As an interesting aside, computing speed doesn't matter. Time is only experienced by reality in frames (quanta) of the time it takes light to travel the shortest quantum distance, determined by Planck's constant. The unit of Planck Time is approximately 5.39 × 10−44 s. So even if it takes an hour, or a hundred years, for your computer to evaluate each frame the simulated world will still experience each frame sequentially and it will feel like "real time". The problem is physical space for state storage. Storing the state of a quantum system takes at least as much space as the "real" quantum system, you can't store the state (electronically, digitally or otherwise) in a smaller space. So to simulate a universe it requires a universe.

In the sense that reality is the product of collapsed probability waveforms, not resolved until observed (lazily evaluated), it could be said that the universe is already a simulation of itself. Every universe created (within the probably-not-real multiverse) is a new simulation.


"Imagine the best of all possible worlds. Now apply your will to making it happen. Magic is the product of will and imagination."

Sexuality

"Uncertainty means the future is not yet written. Anything is possible."
It's stating the obvious, but a big part of personal development is coming to terms with (and enjoying) sexuality. This has very little to do with how often you have sex. As a general rule, if you're uncomfortable with someone else's sexuality it's a sign that you haven't fully come to terms with your own. You should be able to admire and appreciate someone else's sexuality (of whatever gender or orientation) without discomfort or a compulsion to take or to control. This is the difference between desire and lust. Desire enjoys without needing to possess (emotionally and physically), lust wants to consume.

Desire everyone, lust after no-one...

(However, as an adjunct, never go - emotionally - where you're not invited. Don't make people feel uncomfortable. However you have a right to exist and be you. If your mere existence makes people uncomfortable that's their problem.)

Lust, infatuation and sexual compulsion are actually symptoms of unmet emotional need. They *can* be resolved in a relationship, but are not a good basis for a relationship (mutual respect and determination to love is the best basis). Sex is best as the culmination and celebration of shared lives rather than the quenching of need. Sex can be a literally, and figuratively, creative act when it is giving and loving.

Sexuality, like aggression, is dangerous and capable of causing great harm both to ourselves and to others. Because they're dangerous culture teaches us to repress them (not true of everyone obviously, but often true). Because we repress them we never learn to deal with them, and so when they do come out it can be in an uncontrolled way. This further reinforces the danger and the need for repression.

Male dominated culture is particularly afraid of female sexuality. Because men can't control themselves female sexuality gives women power over men, which is obviously unacceptable. This is why female sexuality is particularly oppressed, except in very male controlled ways. The threat and fear of sexual violence is one way that society systemically represses female sexuality ("don't wear that short skirt, you put yourself at risk" for example). Shame and disapproval are another.

The trouble is that repression doesn't work, it just makes things worse. Sexuality and aggression are both core parts of who you are, your creative life and your strength. If you won't express them consciously they will find unconscious expression. Uncontrolled anger, spite, neuroses, inappropriate relationships and emotional attachments (etc) are all symptoms of repressed character aspects.

The solution is to learn to deal with these aspects of who you are without being afraid of yourself and your feelings. Learn to control yourself without repressing yourself. The journey of a lifetime. Express your sexuality, express your anger, but under your control and without harming others.

One of my favourite scriptures is Ephesians 4:26 which, depending on your translation, says something like "be angry but do not sin". It doesn't say don't be angry, often anger is the right and appropriate reaction to a situation - but let it be something productive rather than destructive. Let anger be a motivator for change. And if you're looking for an expression of sexuality, including strong female sexuality, in the bible then I suggest you read "Song of Songs".

As an interesting aside, another symptom of sexual repression is over-sexualisation. The un-met need for a freed sexuality can be expressed in an over obsession with sex and the sexual. This is how our culture can be both sexually repressed and sexually obsessed simultaneously. Porn addiction and sex addiction are clear examples of how a genuinely released sexuality, free of fear and shame, is very different from an uncontrolled sexuality.

Inside every person resides a great beast. Repress it and forever live in fear of yourself, or tame it and rule yourself.

This article is a follow on to my other articles on sexuality: Sexual Purity in Marriage and Tainted Love?.


"A huge part of personal growth is stopping blaming other people for how you feel and who you are. No matter how hard that is."

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Evolutionary Spirituality V: A Philosophical Quest


"And the spirit of God hovered over the deeps"
My personal philosophical quest is a union of science, psychology and my spiritual experiences, with a sound philosophical basis. Uncertainty is the philosophical basis, and coincidentally the basis of the scientific method plus according to the findings of science also a fundamental part of reality. Evolutionary Spirituality is how I describe my pursuit.

Psychology and science are unified (at least in theory - but a theoretical solution is sufficient) by the work of Daniel Kahneman. Jung unified religion and psychology.

Buddhism and Hinduism (etc) provide a theoretical union of religion and science (consciousness contiguous with physical reality - as espoused, for example, by Deepak Chopra), but no-one has proven it in practise.

Chaos is creative potential. If the boundary between consciousness and physical reality exists at all it is to be found in chaos.

"Imagine the best of all possible worlds. Now apply your will to making it happen. Magic is the product of will and imagination."

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Evolutionary Spirituality IV: Death, Heaven & Hell


"in the joy of others lies our own" -- Guru Swamishri

Everything you are is expressed in everything you do. We are merely the product of history and a series of unfortunate decisions.

As much as it may feel like it, we are not isolated and walled off from the universe and people around us. In fact we exist in a continuum with the rest of the world, everything we are - all of our unconscious mind - is continually shaped and formed by our experiences and interactions. Similarly everything we do shapes and influences the world and people around us.

Even our physical being, down to our genetics, is the product of external reality - ultimately the earth and then the wider universe is the source of who we are. Our genetic makeup and our psyche is shaped completely (at least initially) by everyone who has come before. We are not self made.

Individually we are created from each other and in relation to one another. We were created out of, and in relation to, the land and society around us. We are merely a small part of everything. 

See my article on empathy for a bit of a look at how we form each other psychologically (and how this can be damaging or healing): Soul Healing and Empathy.

Psychological and physical reality are therefore contiguous, since psychological reality was formed out of the earth. Humanity was shaped incrementally, and chaotically, via the process of evolution. (Ultimately my argument will be that this implies - or at least permits - that psychological reality pre-existed humanity. Or to say it another way, psychological reality (including our shared consensual reality) emerged alongside humanity out of the chaotic potential that already existed. But this must remain an aside for now.)

So everything we are is a product of everything else. It therefore doesn't seem so strange to suggest that who we are persists beyond the end of our physical being. Everything we are has come from, and continually existed in continuum with, everything else. The remaining question being: does personal agency persist beyond death? I'm sure many of you have very strong opinions as to the answer to that question. Interestingly Buddhism teaches reincarnation, but *also* teaches that the sense of individual self is actually an illusion - an artefact of ego trying to understand itself. I've never managed to reconcile those teachings.

Everything, and everyone, that has come before exists in part in us - having made us - and we in turn, through what we do, exist in everything else.

As cheesy as it may be I really enjoy the way that the movie Avatar portrays our connection to those who came before us and the communal unconscious. Both Iain Banks and Terry Pratchett explore this theme in interesting ways: Iain Banks in "Feersum Endjinn" (with a Jungian influence) and Terry Pratchett, If I Recall Correctly, in "Thief of Time" (more Taoist).

My own personal musing reconciles Christian teachings with my own instinct that we ultimately judge ourselves, that God does not condemn us. When illusion is stripped away and we are confronted with the reality of who we are, and what we've done, we have two choices. We can either run, until we are completely alone. This is hell. Or we can face who we are, accept what we've done, but recognise love. If we know love (and if love knows us), if we are able to love despite who we are, then we can face ourselves. This is a truth as applicable to life as it may be to death, and I know the reality of hell because I've lived there.

Coming face to face with perfect love is what strips away all illusion, seeing reality as it really is. This is how God can be judge of all things, yet not condemn us, we condemn ourselves.

As for heaven, the teaching of The Christ on the kingdom of heaven, teachings which are so potent, is that we can do it now.



"A huge part of personal growth is to stop blaming other people for how you feel and who you are. No matter how hard that is."

Monday, 10 April 2017

Analytical Philosophy and Meaning


"First define your terms" that beguiling product of Western analytical philosophy, that would dissect the frog in search of its life. It discards the very thing it seeks.

Language is a game. It hides meaning and reveals meaning, but as you systematically unpeel the layers the meaning dances and taunts- snubbing her nose at you in the sheer delight of the game you don't want to play but cannot escape.

Instead woo her, sidle up to her and catch a glimpse of her soulful eyes. Probably she'll laugh at you and flit away, or maybe she'll tarry just a while, just long enough.

Meaning skips and dances along the words, neither contained nor constrained by them.

Meaning won't be pinned down, its as messy as your dreams and as fleeting as the moment. But it's real, like a rock, as fierce as the electron dance of the sun that would flay you alive if you got close enough. Join the dance, snub your nose at her, and if she likes the way you play maybe she will play too.

Communication is the substance of spirit. But what do I mean by that? To commune is to communicate.

"Inside every person resides a great beast. Repress it and forever fear yourself. Tame it and rule yourself."

Evolutionary Spirituality III: A Natural Philosophy

We are physical beings. Our life is the operation of the physical laws of the universe, neurochemical and biological processes. From this understanding there are two possible points of view (excepting a dualistic worldview that I reject for other reasons):

1. Our life, as we experience it and perceive it, is in fact an illusion and we are merely the semi-deterministic (but chaotic) operation of physical matter and energy. "Moist pink robots" as Scott Adams calls us. We are not alive, we are in fact as dead as the rest of the universe.

2. I believe in life. My life is merely the operation of the physical laws of the universe, therefore the same life that is in me permeates everything. I am merely a small part of everything.

In fact these two statements are equivalent, it is literally a matter of which perspective on life you choose.

I do not believe in the supernatural. I merely believe the natural is more super than we give it credit for. I see infinities in the equations.

"Not knowing, but being and doing (which must become the same). Thirst for knowledge is a bad as thirst for power."

Short Meditations II: The City, Desire, Community and so on and so forth

Alphonse Constant: Magic is the product of will and imagination

The Scars of My Folly

The scars of my own folly, the etched lines of lonely desperation, these are precious to me. The wounds I've carried, both self inflicted and those from a careless world, the memory of pain I've held and caused, I treasure. That blindness that wouldn't and couldn't think for itself, that cowed itself out of fear, I remember with compassion. This part of who I am I'm grateful for, because it has taught me. I have learned. I am not there and I will not go there again.

The Rule of Love

First was the rule of force, survival of the strongest and fittest. Then came law. Law was a gift from God, more just than force. But law can only tell you when you have transgressed, it can only condemn and not redeem.

But law lays the foundation, it is the framework. Law permits the rule of love. Love is the fulfilment of the law, it does not abolish the law but transcends it and perfects it. Love is not bound by the law, but is more rigorous than law. Through the law the rule of love can be established. And against such there is no law.

This is a political philosophy.

The rule of law puts in place a practical framework to establish the rule of love. It is a necessary precedent in the evolution of social consciousness.

The City

There is a great city on a hill, where the king and queen abide and rule the kingdom. The name of the city is beauty and its foundations named desire. Its walls are love, and they are strong. The river that flows into the city, and sustains the land, is called hope. From the city shines a great light, whose name is joy.

Those for whom the city is home are the eternal ones. They are many but scattered. Those who feel the call know the way there, even if the road is hard. It is the way of the heart.

Dare to dream.

Community

I do not much care what people believe. I care about who they are. It is my thought that we can live as a community, in mutual respect and friendship, supporting and upholding one another, without us all having to believe the same thing. And the [attempted] practise of this is the substance and outworking of my faith.

Reincarnation

I can see why people believe in past lives (I don't). That feeling where you really meet someone and, maybe just for an instant, you really know who they are and it feels like you've always known them.

Secular Buddhism takes the teachings on reincarnation as an allegory of constant rebirth. Planck's constant tells us how often this happens.

Merely a Story

One of the stories, though poorly told still true, still true.

There is a creature more fair and pure than any other. This divine muse may even be the mother of all true beauty in the world. But men fear such beauty, they cannot look. So in weakness and fear and obedience we have caged her. Walled her into a dark place and surrounded her with guards of lust and greed and fear.

And though the guards howl and wail, still when the breeze is right her melody can be heard. A song of longing and fairer times. We fear the guards, but that song has captured our hearts. We can neither flee nor free our captive treasure. So she sings, and waits.

Her name is desire. Slay the guards and let your heart long.

Love

I believe in love. I think it's just heavenly. Simply divine.

The only way to change people is to love them without trying to change them.

The New Thing

How often when you ask for the new thing, are you actually desperately hoping it will be the old thing again.


"There is only one true passion: passion itself. Everything else is a mere shadow."

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Curriculum Vitae


I'll soon be available for new work opportunities. I'm looking for primarily remote software engineering or technology roles, in either Python or Python and Go. I can be reached at michael AT python DOT org.

Note: I have now taken on a full-time role with Red Hat and am not currently seeking work.

I believe that software engineering is as much of an art and a craft as it is a science. I believe that engineers should care about usability, and that encompasses the whole of the human computer interface from direct user experience to API design. I’m passionate in my belief that testing must be part of engineering if we are to really care about quality. I believe, and my experience has been, that we can ensure quality in what we produce through good practises and processes, whilst understanding that there are always trade-offs involved. Quality means systems that work, that are stable and that can be easily maintained and extended.

Career Highlights in a Nutshell

10+ years Python development experience. 4+ years web development experience with Django. 3 years Go development experience, working on a container orchestration and cloud deployment system (Juju) . Python Core Developer with a special focus on testing and unittest. 4 years C#/.NET experience on Windows.

Author of mock, now part of the Python standard library as unittest.mock. Author of IronPython in Action (2009, Manning Publications). Advanced and Introductory Python training, on behalf of David Beazley and primarily for HP (8 times 2013-2016).

Regular organiser, speaker and presenter at EuroPython, PyCon UK, PyCon US and various other conferences. Microsoft MVP 2008-2010, Python Software Foundation Community Service Award received in 2010. Keynote speaker for PyCon India 2015, keynote speaker for PyCon New Zealand 2014.

Familiarity with industry standard tools such as git, mercurial, postgresql and jenkins. 3 years spent wrestling MongoDB for Juju.

My personal obsession with computers and programming began in the early 1980s learning BBC Basic (a structured programming language on an 8 bit microcomputer) followed by 68000 assembly language on the Amiga (which had the first consumer operating system with pre-emptive multitasking).

Employment History


March 2013 – February 2017

Software Engineer, for Canonical, working on Juju

Juju is a service orchestration tool for deploying and managing systems in the cloud, on bare metal and with containers. Juju is written in Go, making heavy use of the Go concurrency primitives, and interoperates with (amongst other things) lxc/lxd and KVM containers and virtualisation, Amazon Web Services, Azure, OpenStack and the Canonical Metal As A Service project. From early 2016 on I was part of the team with a special responsibility for the networking features of Juju.
The Juju project was managed with tools including git & github, Leankit Kanban Board, Launchpad and Jenkins for Continuous Integration. Juju is built on top of mongodb.


2013-date

Python Trainer, for David Beazley LLC

Delivering Python Mastery (advanced) and Introduction to Python (beginner) courses on site throughout Europe. Courses delivered 8 times from 2013-2016.


2010-2013

Software Engineer, for Canonical, Web Development

Working as part of a team doing web development with Django. We primarily worked on the payment service and single sign on systems. We broke these monoliths down into microservices and worked with our system administrators on revising our deployment practises to enable us to rapidly deploy updates using current versions of dependencies whilst maintaining system security. One achievement I am particularly proud of during my time on this team was the large scale refactoring of payment services to replace the business logic scattered throughout the codebase with a single state machine. This made invalid transaction status transitions impossible, as well as reducing duplication and making the system more stable and easier to maintain.
Both SSO and Payment Service were built on top of Postgres and provided REST APIs as well as a web front end.


2009-2010

Freelance Developer

My largest customer has been a German firm, Comsulting.de, working remotely developing business web applications with Django and Silverlight. I travel regularly to Germany (about two weeks every two months), but most development is remote including some remote pair programming. Particularly fun was building a test suite into the Silverlight application, so that functional tests of the graphical front end could run in the browser.


April 2006-November 2009

Senior Software Engineer and Community Champion for Resolver Systems

Working as part of a small team of programmers, creating a spreadsheet development environment (a programmable spreadsheet) aimed at the financial services industry.
This was programmed almost entirely in IronPython (for the Microsoft .NET platform) with some C#. It used Windows forms for the presentation layer. The whole team has played a part in the architecture decisions and constant refactoring to maintain code quality and readability.
Because of my contacts with the Python and open source community, I was also the team 'Community Champion' (Technology evangelist).
We used agile development techniques like pair programming, test driven development (both unit tests and functional tests), continuous integration and iterative development.
This has involved some work directly with the Win32 API, primarily for automation in the functional test suite but also for remoting and a few other areas.


1995-2006

Sales Manager for TBS Ltd, an independent builders merchant

Managing the sales team at the Daventry depot of TBS, including:
  • Day-to-day management
  • Sales reporting
  • Appraisal, training and personal development of staff
  • Management of performance
  • Ensuring excellent customer service from all team members
  • Working with customers on project requirements including:
  • Initial contacting phase
  • Specification and product requirements
  • Quoting and Price negotiation
  • Project management of orders including post delivery follow up
  • Negotiating with customers and suppliers
  • Monitoring the stock profile
  • Researching and advising on new products
  • Responsible for winning new business and new customers
  • Resolving problems and disputes including customer service

Education

First year of a law degree at Corpus Christi college, Cambridge UK completed.
A-Level Maths, Physics and English all at Grade A.
GCSE Maths, Physics, Chemistry, English Language, English Literature, Economics, History, Technology all at Grade A.


References available on request.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Feminism


One of the reasons I call myself a feminist is the horrible damage that the "normal" expectations of the male stereotype did to me when I was younger.

Those expectations actively ruined my life for a while (which was entirely my responsibility and fault that I let it happen). Whilst at university I was so ashamed of being a virgin that I let pursuing sex (very, very badly because of how bound up I was) take over my life - to the extent that the humiliation of the things I did and said in pursuit of that were a substantial factor in my drug psychosis which resulted in homelessness and years spent rebuilding my psyche (obviously the copious quantities of LSD were also a substantial factor).

So I can personally attest that the societal pressure to conform to the male role is, and can be, horribly damaging to men. Feminism, the pursuit of real equality and the destruction of "normal gender roles" is the movement I see actively working against this - and it can be of tremendous benefit to men as well as women.

I also identify as pro-choice. Pro-choice doesn't mean being pro-abortion, it simply means supporting a woman's choice - regardless of whether it be abortion, adoption or giving birth and raising a child. I don't feel like I have any right to make these kinds of difficult decisions on anyone else's behalf.

I strongly believe this is the morally righteous attitude and I will fight for it whenever I can.

A Momentary Lapse of Reason



All that exists is now. All that ever will exist, or ever has existed, is this tiny moment. And how precious it is. How worth fighting for, this fleeting instant

It dances, it is and we are.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Theodicy and the Problem of Evil


Theodicy in a nutshell. If God created everything, then God created suffering.

If, as Christian doctrine teaches and indeed is the pursuit of the Christian practise, we are headed for a state where suffering and evil is not even possible, why did God not choose just to start there instead of putting us through all this? (Assuming that perfect love is God, as is the experience and premise of Progressive Christianity.)

Because evil is even a theoretical possibility the only theoretical solution is that we must live in a universe where evil is defeated. What we now experience is the outworking of that. That is one philosophical answer.

To put it another way. Even if God just created heaven and paradise, if evil was even just a theoretical possibility then eventually - given enough time - it would happen. Creation would fall and evil must be defeated. And so, here we are.

In order for evil to not even be possible it must have happened and been defeated. So the way things are is the only way they can be if we are to have true perfection.

Christianity cuts the Gordian knot by saying that evil is defeated by God incarnate dying to pay the very real price for suffering. There is a price and it is exacted in blood, the blood of perfection itself.

Friday, 27 January 2017

The Power of Your Love


Another recording of me singing. This is probably my favourite worship song of all, and one I can get totally lost in. 

"The Power of Your Love" by Hillsong Music, from around 1992.
Lord I come to You
Let my heart be changed, renewed
Flowing from the grace
That I found in You.
And Lord I've come to know
The weaknesses I see in me
Will be stripped away
By the power of Your love.

Hold me close
Let Your love surround me
Bring me near
Draw me to Your side.
And as I wait
I'll rise up like the eagle
And I will soar with You
Your Spirit leads me on
In the power of Your love.

Lord unveil my eyes
Let me see You face to face
The knowledge of Your love
As You live in me.
Lord renew my mind
As Your will unfolds in my life
In living every day
by the power of Your love.

Theology and Apologetics Yet Again

"Theology must mean knowledge of God, not knowledge of scripture, or it has no value"
Theology and apologetics is one of my least favourite topics, but as a Christian and a person who moves in Christian circles, it is a topic I often return to.

However much I dislike "theology", I am a Christian. Here is a statement of my faith and my struggle with faith and what seems to be the normal expression of faith.

As a Christian I uphold the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. I believe that Christianity as a practise and a philosophy stands or falls on the divinity of the Christ and on the resurrection as a historical event. I understand that to the non-Christian this leaves a case to be proven, and I understand why these claims alone would cause many of my thoughtful and loving atheist friends to reject Christianity. They understand that I disagree and we are able to love and respect each other despite our differences.

I also uphold The Eight Points of the Progressive Christian Network (PCN Britain) as a beautiful expression of faith and practise.

  1.     Seek God, however understood, guided by the life and teachings of Jesus
  2.     Affirm that there are many ways to experience the Sacred and that we can draw on diverse sources of wisdom on our spiritual journeys.
  3.     Recognise that following Jesus leads us to act with compassion and to confront evil.
  4.     Place hospitality at the centre of our communal and worshipping life and see the sharing of bread and wine as an expression of our common humanity.
  5.     Seek to build communities that accept all who wish to share companionship without insisting on conformity.
  6.     Know that the way we behave towards others is the fullest expression of our faith.
  7.     Gain more insights in the search for understanding than we do in certainty.
  8.     Work together within and beyond the Church to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world.
What I repudiate as a great error and failure of understanding (an intellectual and moral abdication) is the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy of 1978, which makes claims about scripture that scripture does not make of itself! Unfortunately, for many in the Charismatic Evangelical Christian movement, a movement that started in genuine and great love, the attitude exemplified by the Chicago Statement is the foundation of their faith.

On this point hinges much of the divergent way of seeing the world between myself and Christians from a more "traditional" Charismatic background. Ironically, many of those who see themselves as part of the "progressive movement" are part of traditions much older than the Charismatic movement (birthed in the seventies), which they feel is so "philosophically immature" as to barely count as part of the Christian tradition at all (not my words I assure you).

Point seven of the PCN eight points highlights what I consider to be this grave (although well intended) error of the Charismatic movement (and again, lest I be accused of arrogance for thinking this - this is a view shared by many, many other Christians - the witness of those of our brethren supports me). Point six of the eight points I find to be the most significant and the most convicting.






 So there you have it. My faith and my struggle with faith.

My great hope for the near future of my church is that where there are doctrinal differences we can genuinely - nay even officially - acknowledge that it's alright for us to not all think and believe the same things. To accept that we can have unity of heart whilst being in different places on our own respective journeys into the heart of God. My desire for doctrinal tolerance comes, at least partly, because I think that doctrinal issues actually matter not one jot in the grand scheme of things and the only thing that really matters is the substance and depth of your love, for this is the extent to which you actually know God who is love. (A view supported by scripture.)

For those who profess to adhere to the Chicago Statement, I would say that if the role you ascribe to scripture requires you to say that Numbers 5:11-31 was ever the heart of God towards women then you know a different God to me. That's before we look at the intellectual dishonesty required to ignore Paul's attitude to women (which no church follows now because it's abhorrent) whilst still claiming it is the word of God (the mental trick is to invent a cultural context that makes him mean something other than what he says).

I find philosophical proofs of any aspect of Christianity (i.e. pretty much the whole field of apologetics) unsatisfying. Either we prove God, and Jesus, is real through our life and the reality of how we love people (i.e. God must be evident, and therefore evidenced, through us) - or any other form of proof has no value anyway. So either people are convinced that God is real because of who you are and how you love, or your words are worthless. Very few people (but not none) have been debated or argued into the kingdom of heaven.

This is why I say, the only theory worth a damn is the theory of the practise. Trying to practise the theory is entirely the wrong way to approach Christianity. It may seem like a subtle distinction but in my experience it makes all the difference in the world.

The reason it makes a difference is because if you attempt to practise your theory and it doesn't seem to work, your likely conclusion is that you're not doing it right or not trying hard enough. This is a vicious trap, and it's the same old trap there's always been: "law". Just try harder, you're not doing it right, you're getting it wrong. It's a lie, that's not who God is. God is love. So *only* concentrate on loving, and work on understanding the nature of love in practise. And then you'll know God. At least that's what John says in scripture. (The ones who know God are the ones who love. A slight paraphrase of 1 John 4:7.)

If you attempt to practise your theory you project your view of the world onto it (something we all do anyway to some extent or other), and you limit what you can see and experience. If you seek to understand the practise of loving, finding the theory of the practise, then you work  hard to accept reality however you find it - and no matter how much truth differs from your preconceptions. 



When I say concentrate on loving people, I don't mean that in a weak and wishy-washy way. I mean work hard at it, make it your goal, you're only goal dammit! Then we can make it real.

The danger is that theology becomes a form of tribalism: we're right, they're wrong and these are all the reasons why... By this means Christianity becomes (as all tribalism is) a way to reject and exclude people instead of a path to love and include. A horrible tragedy.

I love tribes, I hate tribalism.

Visions of Heaven and Hell

"The truth is like a Lioness, you don't have to defend her. Let her loose and she will defend herself."
 In 2016 I went on a meditation retreat in Norwich and spent three days focused on prayer, meditation and furthering my pursuit of knowing God. I typically meditate for an hour a day, doing mindfulness of breathing. This is an exercise of the mind, deliberately stilling the soul in order to focus. During this practise I've had minor and brief visions, often of water, thrown up by my subconscious mind.

During this three day retreat I had an extraordinary series of visions like nothing else I've ever experienced. I've been reluctant to talk about them lest people would accuse me of lying or think me delusional or worse. But they happened and I don't appear to have gone mad.

Visions are regarded by mystics, and those who study mysticism, as the least reliable source of divine knowledge. This is because they are, like any spiritual experience, completely subjective. Visions come through, and perhaps are the product of, the depths of the subconscious mind. The meaning and significance of any vision is rarely objective truth, but a subjective expression of the state of the recipient. Not unlike dreams, but carrying more significance and potency as they are experienced by the conscious mind rather than the unconscious.

So I present this writing here merely as a very brief and inadequate record of an extraordinary experience.  I do not need to know, nor care, how "real" any of it is or was. However, I am happy to let the experience change me and work in.

I looked into the fire and I was all ashes. I have been unmade.

I made friends with death and the destroyer and I think I'm no longer afraid of death. Death makes things new. As strange as it seems death and the destroyer are good and they're on our side.

I felt the rule of heaven. We've won.

I saw angels and gods and they helped. I was bitten by the snake of beauty, but I couldn't look at beauty. I don't think you can, I think you die.

I was in the mouth of the lion.

I've never felt more ill than I did on the second night. But the third night was gentle. Agony and torment but never too much.

I saw the trickster and I did not go mad. I danced with the nightmare.

I saw the mouth of hell, but I wouldn't look and I won't go there. And I felt heaven destroying hell. Hell is not something to fear. Hell is good, it is where the evil goes. First we must rescue the people trapped there.

I saw people choosing hell, choosing ugliness. And we must let them.

I spoke death to evil men who must die before we can be free.

I went very deep, right to the edge of the realms of the dead, and that made me very ill. However, I felt that there was a path there and a path back and that gave me much hope.

I saw and felt the godhead incarnate who was dead and yet lives and who makes all things new.


"When it comes to life, my most considered conclusion, the one on which I have spent the most time and effort and the one of which I am most firmly proud, is that I really do not understand in the slightest. Not one little bit."

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Purify My Heart


 
 
Something of an experiment. A youtube video of me singing one of my favourite songs. It's a song of desire. "Purify my heart".

Done in a single take with an iPhone in a kitchen. So about the quality you'd expect. The song is by Brian Doerksen, from 1990.

The refiner's fire is a potent metaphor recurring throughout scripture. The refiner's fire is where impure ore becomes pure and precious metal.

Christian's sometimes teach that suffering is the refiner's fire, and therefore it is a place of pain to be feared. The refiner's fire is actually the fire of life. A place to abide.

"Desire is beautiful. She may even be beauty."

"I have fire and I know how to burn. What could possibly be more fun that that."

Rage and Roar




Let the worlds rage and roar,
Let the madness sing and soar,
For when she's spent reality remains
Our friend.

She'll join whatever song we sing.
Songs of joy she loves the most,
But when we sing of pain, of loss, of misery and heartbreak,
Her heart breaks too but she joins our song,
If we together sing of misery that's our right,
She won't stop us.

So let the worlds rage and roar,
But sing a happy song and sing it loud,
In the end love wins, it's just a better song.

And my friend, reality,
She'll sing that one loudest if we let her.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The Power to Curse or to Bless: On Swear Words

The most important thing is to find out what is the most important thing.
To those of you who dislike swearing, it is perhaps worth considering how much power you are willing to let certain words have over you.

If I can shock you, interrupt your train of thought viscerally and change your mindset with a word, merely because you have chosen and trained yourself to be offended by that word then you give me a power over you that I don't deserve. When understood, it is therefore possible to express something with great force, in a way that you can be certain will remain with the recipient for some time, by the careful use of specific words.

I promise to mostly use that power judiciously and in a considered manner, but the only person who can remove that power is you; and to do that you have to choose not to be offended. If you have any respect for my intelligence it is worth considering that when I curse it is not because I am out of control, but maybe because I understand what I am doing. This of course is only worse...

(And sometimes I use this power to deliberately force you to not take offence and to reduce the power these words have over you: for which you may think the less of me, whilst I believe I am genuinely helping. Both of these things are our respective rights and the only reasonable recourse either party has is to complain. I am sure we will all play our part in this. Those of you able to recognise and enjoy instead I salute.)

If you think that being offended by "curse words" is the right thing to do then you will already have all sorts of reasons at hand as to why I am wrong to think like this. I promise you that all you do is give me, and others perhaps less honourable than me, utterly unnecessary influence over your state of mind. And after all, when it comes down to it "you" are ultimately little more than a "state of mind".

I'm not talking about gratuitous swearing. This has no impact because it is easy to filter. It is only in the power to shock that these words have any effect. But when you have spent a lifetime training yourself that they are "bad words" then you, by deliberate choice, give them the effect of their affect.

This is why I choose not to be afraid to swear. If you tell me that you are not afraid but you merely choose not to do it, then I'm fairly convinced you're kidding yourself. That of course is your choice, and as always I may be wrong. I do test my ideas empirically however and feel I have reason for confidence in this area.

Naturally however, in the truly immortal words of Ben Goldacre, "I think you'll find it's more complicated than that". Each of the specific words we find distasteful has a root and a history, a reason for our fear and disdain. Mainly they refer to fecal matter and bodily excretions, sexual organs or the sexual act itself. Why we fear and disdain, or are so willing to fear and disdain these words and are willing to let them embody concepts that arouse disgust within us is itself another extremely interesting topic. At the risk of causing further offence, I would intimate that fear of the body and fear of the raw sexual act are at the root of why these words are chosen to be imbued with particular significance.

The key question I believe is this: if swearing is "wrong", is it because swear words are intrinsically bad words or because they express concepts that are intrinsically bad? To answer this we have to be willing to ponder what it means for a word or concept itself to be "intrinsically bad" and unacceptable to express. Without addressing that question in detail, my experience is that the mere process of rationally examining this question inescapably leads you to the conclusion that it cannot be never acceptable to express an ugly concept because there is much in the world that is very ugly that we must often discuss. Additionally, a word in itself, a mere sound or collection of letters, cannot be "intrinsically bad" because when you get right down to it language is nothing more than the expression of concepts. Words themselves are empty vessels to be filled with meaning by the recipient. (Wittgenstein has much to say on this topic, unfortunately in an utterly impenetrable manner, which itself is perhaps a terrible irony.)

The most common argument I hear amounts to little more than "I must be offended by swearing because other people are offended by swearing, and if I too am not offended then I risk causing offence". I am genuinely sorry to find that argument ridiculous. But I do.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Christian Music and the War in Heaven


Christian music can be so insipid, so tame, so limited in its expression of the whole range of human emotion and experience. So musically weak. But it also points me to God and a deeper experience of love, which is the only thing I care about.

This song however is not insipid and it inspires we greatly. As sung by Noel Richards, from around 1994. My only issue is the gendering of God, which has historically been such an excuse for the denigration of women, but we'll overlook it on this one occasion:
The Lord is a warrior
We will march with Him
The Lord is a warrior
Leading us to win

Waken the warrior spirit
Army of God arise
Challenge the powers of darkness
There must be no compromise
We shall attack their strongholds
Our hands are trained for war
We shall advance the Kingdom
For the victory belongs to God

Our God is awesome in power
Scatters His enemies
Our God is mighty in bringing
The powerful to their knees
He has put on His armour
He is prepared for war
Mercy and justice triumph
When the Lion of Judah roars

Many Christians love singing stuff like this. How many of us want to experience, and live, a love that is genuinely as fierce as this? Personally, I'm up for it.




Do you know what it means to have hands trained for war? I have no idea what you've been up to in the last few years. Me, I've been learning how to fight. And I call you all to the war.

But perhaps let us be clear what I am fighting for. My religion is love and that trumps, in every way and every time, doctrine and tradition. It's not that these things have no value, but the law of love supercedes them every time. My single obsession is to experience reality and to learn to love love with everything I am. I don't particularly need to believe anything to do this, reality exists (of that much I am certain) it doesn't need me to believe in it. This actually draws from Christianity, Buddhism and science and is essentially progressive Christianity in action. (I am not an evangelical, I am a progressive Christianity.)

Elements of Christianity, particularly the person and pain of the Christ, are my "current working model" which is an approach based on rational scepticism and the scientific method. What I would add, without I think too much pride I think, is that if you get to know me, and see how I live, my "current working model" is working out damn fine thank you very much...

So I seek and aspire to fight for love. I seek to fight for the oppressed, the lonely and the hurting, and in large part at the moment that seems to mean those hurt and oppressed by modern Christianity! Which is a tragedy that breaks my heart and makes me so angry. And then my Christian friends get angry that I am angry. And that hurts.

It is worth adding a further footnote about the language of war, because it makes some people very uncomfortable when used in a religious context. This is understandable but I still believe it is appropriate. Appropriate not because of religious beliefs but because of the reality of being alive and seeing how people are treated! It's not a war we started, or even want to be in, but if you genuinely care about people you must respond to the call.

The war I see is the exact same war the Social Justice Warriors fight, and boy am I smug that we got our enemies calling us Social Justice Warriors. Too damn right! The only weapon worth fighting with, the only weapon worth having, is love. Look at what is happening particularly in America with the hate directed towards gay and transgender people, the regular killing of young black men, and so on. The same things happen here and in the rest of the world too, there is a genuine struggle for life against "forces of evil" (personified in individuals and understandable as an abstract movement of bad ideas). I am not at war with people, I seek to love people, I am at war with bad ideas and the hateful actions that are the consequence of those ideas.

I understand the fear and distaste for warlike language. I still strive to understand what it means to be a warrior, with real warlike capacities inasmuch as it's possible for these concepts to have any real meaning, the better to be able to support the cause of love. Ultimately, and gradually, yes I believe the rule of genuine love can and must be imposed by force. However, let's rightly understand what that means. The force I refer to here is merely the legitimate exclusion from voluntary social structures of anything that isn't love. As those social structures become clearly better, and larger (therefore more powerful - but power being merely a side-effect and not the intention or goal), people will not be able to tolerate exclusion and be forced to love. That is a path fraught with difficulty and danger, genuinely, but I do not believe it to be an unnavigable path.

One of the tangible things I have done in the last few years to "learn how to fight" is train in Krav Maga for six months with the Krav Maga Defence Academy. Krav Maga is a non spiritually pretentious martial art for self defence, based on the principle that the best defence is to ensure your attacker is not able to get back up again for a while. In essence it teaches the ancient and noble art of street fighting. I am so grateful for the lessons I learned, the most important of which have nothing to do with physical violence.

Krav Maga taught me how to manage, and channel, a great deal of aggression without fear or losing control, something that is useful and powerful in a personality utterly unrelated to physical violence. The specific practical technique I learned that has stayed with me (I am generally physically inept) is how to punch hard, fast and repeatedly. I've never had to use it, but knowing I can allows me to be confident in situations that used to scare me a great deal. I feel that these are both very good reasons to appreciate and be grateful for those who taught me.

On Social Media

Haters gonna hate
Through social media, modern technologies enabled by pervasive internet access and cheap devices for accessing the internet, I feel globally connected to networks of people who love and uphold each other. Facebook, twitter and the like are how we make this real on a daily basis. This is not without dangers and can be a source of consternation for those who see the risks and for those who fear the public nature of social media interaction. It is nonetheless very real human interaction, with all the dangers and mess that come with any form of human interaction. In fact you can see the whole of the internet as the global psyche of humanity on display for all to see: weird, horrible, wonderful, beautiful and terrible. Just like us. My main plea would be that we are as quick, indeed quicker, to praise and laud the beautiful than we are to denigrate the ugly.

I am aware (because I have been told) that my own use of social media is a source of consternation to some people. Here are my thoughts on the topic. As you would expect, it originated as a facebook post.

True love, true beauty, the source, is actually a poison: a deadly longing. It will unmake you if you look too long. True love is a slow acting but inexorable toxin, if you've already looked then maybe it is now too late for you. And if you refuse to be unmade, well, perhaps you die.

Anyway, back to the topic of social media that some of us were discussing over the last few days. First of all I see all of life as performance art. The only thing to be taken seriously is love, and that we take deathly seriously. About everything else we can't be certain anyway so why take it too seriously? If you try to take everything I post seriously it might actually*drive you mad. I'm not even kidding, I have actually been mad - so I know the path there and I know the path back. I don't recommend it.

It's very hard to tell the difference between a released personality and showmanship, mostly because in many cases there isn't a great deal of difference. Russel Brand is someone who I consider does both to great effect, and I admire him for it. He is much more astute than many give him credit for and he greatly enjoys being himself.

On twitter I maintain two accounts, one geek (@voidspace) and one non-geek (@mfoord). This allows my beautiful and genuine (amongst the most beautiful people I've ever met) programmer friends who distrust religion to interact with me without being subjected to my spiritual craziness. And the non-geek account allows my non-geek friends to interact with me without being subjected to the impenetrable nonsense that goes with being a high level geek. This means that everyone thinks I'm crazy for some reason, but they can interact with the parts of me that they can relate to (I don't think they're wrong that I'm crazy - I just enjoy and can cope with being this way). Some people can cope with all my craziness and follow both my accounts.

On facebook I have just one account and I post whatever I want. It's my account and if you can't cope with me then unfollow or unfriend or whatever. I like to respect people's boundaries, which is why I don't post spiritual content on my geek twitter account, but I need people to respect my boundaries too. I enjoy being me and I have lots of wonderful friends who enjoy me too, and I enjoy them. If you don't enjoy me, then I'm very sorry, it probably just means we're not really friends. That's sad, but it's a fact of life. In direct interactions with anyone I will modify my behaviour as much as I feel is reasonable in order to avoid hurting or offending people unnecessarily whilst still standing up for what I think is right. On facebook I get to be me.

It's worth noting that I have no problem with my geek friends not wanting, nor being able to cope with, religious and spiritual content. Many of them have had terrible (evil) experiences of religion and the religious and I respect their right to hate it.

For those who question the integrity of seeing life as performance art I have two things to say. Get to know me and see how I live. I take loving deathly seriously and, human failings notwithstanding, it is what I seek to do all the time. Secondly, calling it performance art doesn't mean I don't mean it. I think beauty is a poison that will change everything about how you see yourself if you let it. And to not let it is even more dangerous. It's a wild, idealistic poem, but it's also a warning.

Love means business, do it or die. Those are the only two options. The war in heaven has begun.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Passion versus Peace: The Sith Code


So, this may come as no surprise to many of you, it looks like I may be more Sith than Jedi. I concur with the Sith code:
Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.
Drawing a slightly problematic parallel between spirit and the force, perhaps made less problematic if we recast as "the living force", and seeing myself as a man of war rather than a man of peace, I can agree with this whole-heartedly. I fight just because there is a battle to be fought.

It is through strength we find freedom, and strength can be found in its passionate pursuit. Power is merely a side-effect of real strength (the direct pursuit of power is evil).

Actually the idea that Buddhism and Yogic teachings contrast passion with peace (or desire with peace - but passion is merely desire in motion) is a western misunderstanding of eastern teachings.

Buddhism teaches that craving is the cause of suffering. Both craving and suffering are inadequate translations of the original Taṇhā and dukkha. The craving (desire/passion) that causes suffering is a craving to escape suffering (the pain and basic dissatisfaction of life) through external means. Ultimately it is a desire for obliteration.

To earnestly, indeed fiercely, desire and pursue life and wholeness is not a cause of suffering but the motivation towards freedom - both for yourself and others.

To that extent the Sith code is correct.

The next mistake however is to confuse hardness and strength. Real strength is capable of great tenderness and of accepting pain without numbing itself. Strength is both gentle and fierce, one without the other is not true strength.

The root of the western misunderstanding comes from not really believing in life. No matter how small you dissect the frog you don't find the life; life is in the whole.

And of desire I say, well. Desire is beautiful. She may even be beauty.