Two Roman Gladiators

This is a post that indicates mariner is bored and looking for something to do. Most readers will find little benefit in reading further. Nevertheless, the mariner grows bored with the Presidential Campaign. Some readers may be bored as well. We have learned who the candidates are by watching endless interviews, and reading redundant commentaries. By now we intuitively know our four candidates’ personalities, platforms, location on the spectrum of liberal-conservative, rational-irrational, useful-irrelevant, and plutocrat-egalitarian among many more. Whatever else is to be known is minimal and fodder only for the gristmill of the news media.

What will keep our attention for the next seventy days?

The post title implies what the mariner will not watch. He will focus on the larger perspective of two combatants sparring in a coliseum – more like boxers than gladiators. We have grown tired of the meaningless debate points (punches); we may be more interested in watching a higher level of competition: It’s not what they say; it’s whether they successfully counter the other one thereby gaining or losing the match to the Whitehouse.

This means we must keep track of polls, betting odds, electoral probabilities, one or two political websites, related national and international news, and which pundits are brought to the glass tables of cable news. The specific detail of the candidates’ comments will not mean as much to our spectrum analysis – it’s whether the campaign changes a candidate’s momentum.

If the reader chooses to pursue this more sophisticated comparison, his reasoning powers will be enhanced by practicing ‘vector analysis.’ Assume the reader has the task of keeping a washer centered over a small circle on a large table. This is made difficult because the washer has seven strings attached to it hanging over the table edge each with a different weight tied at the other end. The task is to rebalance the weights on all the strings so that the weights are complimentary to the task of centering and stabilizing the washer over the circle. In the example of the campaign, it’s how much out of balance the strings are – the distance away from the center; the farther, the more momentum for one of the candidates….. Perhaps this is too much trouble.

But for those who may enjoy casually thinking about the campaign from the point of view of all the elements of a campaign instead of just the words of the candidates, entertainment may be had for seventy days. The personal benefit from this effort is that the reader will know why the candidate won, not just because the Electoral College and FOX/CNN says so.

Ancient Mariner

The Yard

Mariner is one of those obsessive gardeners who keeps adding to his projects and workload in the gardens until the whole process threatens to break down – neighbors insinuate that it already has. Primarily, this is because the mariner is very old but his visions are as expansive as ever. He tells his neighbors that at his age it takes eight hours to do four hours of work. It also takes two years to do a three month project – and a neighbor’s help in lifting a 100-lb bag of anything.

One traditional process that has not changed over many years is how the mariner makes compost. Needless to say, his lawn-fascist town considers the area behind the garage not to be an attractive site. Simply, over the year, mariner throws anything (garbage to grass clippings, finished annuals, etc that will decompose into a big pile). Anything – any dirt, sand, last season’s old pot dirt, garage sweepings, etc. Occasionally he will salt the mound with triple ten fertilizer. The newer stuff is piled on top of older stuff. If the mound becomes dry, mariner waters it as if it were another garden.

In the spring, when fresh soil is needed, he digs into the pile until he strikes decomposed soil. He granulates the retrieved soil (removes larger clumps that aren’t decomposed), adjusts the ph and adds horse manure.

To the mariner, all this mound building is nothing more than chores. What mariner enjoys is exploring the mound each year to see what vegetation grows on the mound. He has retrieved feral tomatoes, watermelon, acorn squash, bell peppers and this year a full crop of cantaloupe – all surviving a year or two as seeds in the compost biome. Further, he discovered miniature cattails which will be kept for the proposed water feature. A couple of years ago two attractive but different trees emerged; he has kept them for the patio project.

By the end of summer, the mound is a wilderness of huge weeds and endless groundcovers; redistributed zinnias flourish in unexpected places. Trees are sprouting all the time – especially Oak and Maple; they must be pulled or they become a difficult nuisance. Frogs, toads, crickets, sow bugs, ants, stink bugs, centipedes, spiders, rabbits and dogs stop by this wilderness McDonalds all year.

All in all, this has been an empty tale but it can be a tiny slice-of-life story.

Ancient Mariner

 

The Simple Religion

Lifted from a small daily calendar providing a profound statement for each day:

“This is my simple religion. No need for temples. No need for complicated philosophy. Your own mind, your own heart is the temple; the philosophy is simple kindness.”

– The Dalai Lama

Indeed a profound statement. One feels release and wisdom. If only humans could live by such a simple philosophy. It seems, though, that humans need discipline; they need doctrine; they need a harness to keep them on the path. Otherwise, humans degrade to undisciplined grazing for personal gain of some sort – a human’s own mind and heart no longer just a temple. They become the deity as well. Ownership of one’s own deity is not wise nor of its satanic gargoyles – wealth, greed, prejudice, violence, revenge and persecution.

Today’s turbulent transition in every aspect of human life throws down old bastions not only of faith but also of science, technology, culture, physiology and political strife. The core of human worth is laid bare for reconsideration.

Will humans survive into the next age?

Will satanic gargoyles and their human owners be struck down?

Where is a real God?

How does an individual clothe oneself in the harness that will keep them on the path? The answer is to dedicate one’s self to the lives of others; live by personal values that do not live inside the mind but live in the minds of others. The harness that keeps a human on the path has been a theme in recent posts: It’s what one does for others, not themselves. It is Campbell’s “Path of the Hero,” Jesus’ two great commandments, Albert Schweitzer’s lifelong commitment to lost tribes in Lambaréné, Africa. Adorned with the harness, don’t worry about God; God will have the traces in hand.

Ancient Mariner

An Issue or Two

Regular readers know the mariner is a fan of thoughtful ideas wherever they may occur. Here are a few that are contemporary:

Required voting: Recently universal voting came up on Fareed Zakaria’s show. It occurs to mariner that a citizen movement at the state level may be the easiest (hah) way to correct several issues with our democracy. If everyone were (a) required to vote or face a nominal fine and (b) automatically registered with their driver’s license or, as in the draft, registered at age eighteen, votes for Federal elected officials would reflect the cultural attitude and, of course, be immune to gerrymandering for Federal positions (President and Congress). It may possibly be immune to purchased elections (Illinois); even state elections would suddenly be unprotected by plutocrats.

There are two strong objections to this. First, given the spirit of the founding fathers in a time of slow communication, there are those who fear egalitarianism (rule by the population who are considered too uninformed and too irrational to understand national priorities). Those are called Federalists. They say such complete voting influence would contaminate the Electoral College and further denigrate the independence of Congress. It may be that the Republic may be truly altered from its 1776 political environment. But in 1776 communication is tied to mail on horseback; just consider social media – even Presidential candidates run their campaigns on a world-wide, instantaneous communication system.

Second, the sin of coveting would be laid bare. Today, Federal politicians have arranged election laws and political party politics such that it is very difficult and expensive to roust them from their lucrative, life long careers – one that the founding fathers never intended. A common citizen complaint is that lobbyists can buy elected officials like pets – the public be damned. Name a large corporation from Monsanto to Fossil Fuel to Banks to Google and the mariner will damn them as uncontrolled greed and irresponsible destruction of citizens’ rights.

Our nation was set up to assure freedom. Freedom from prejudice and abuse and the opportunity to accomplish independent and successful lives.

Every single person with one required vote may be the best option we have.

– – – –

Donald Trump: Donald is evaluated by the principles of Joseph Campbell . To encourage you to read the website, the mariner offers one quote from Joe:

“A hero properly is someone who has given his life to something bigger than himself or other than himself. – Joseph Campbell

See:

http://billmoyers.com/tag/donald-trump/

– – – –

Michael Moore: As a curiosity piece, see the following link. Further, in an interview on one of the news networks, Donald’s son said that Trump will turn over operation of domestic and foreign policy to Mike Pence. Trump will be an overlord with no accountability. Can one fire a Vice President?

https://medium.com/@MMFlint/is-trump-purposely-sabotaging-his-campaign-91b11fe07a91#.9pcv1e4rj

Ancient Mariner

 

No One is talking about the Economy

2016 Presidential Election

It’s been a long, long campaign. Odd that neither party has a candidate who lifts the spirit of voters – with the exception of the hard core base for each candidate. For them, what their candidate says can do no wrong. It is a campaign without policy – especially economic policy. One candidate is full of character assassination; the other is full of detailed objectives not bound by policy. In each case, we’ll have to discover policy after one is elected President.

The press, too, has done a poor job. We should be used to it; they have done a bad job since Murrow, Huntley and Brinkley were news anchors. Unfortunately, the on-the-ground news journalists really would like to do a better job but they are constrained by bosses who want only news that brings viewer share. Not only should big money be removed from the politicians, it should be removed from news rooms as well.

Many voters the mariner has spoken with have placed their hopes on the Congressional races. It will take nothing short of collusion between voters to replace a decadent and bought Congress with a modern, statesmanlike one.

Lack of economic plans for the next ten years and beyond.

Neither Donald nor Hillary has had a sit-down with the American voter to discuss the realities of US economics. To quote economist Robert Gordon[1]:

“Even if innovation were to continue into the future at the rate of the two decades before 2007, the U.S. faces six headwinds that are in the process of dragging long-term growth to half or less of the 1.9 percent annual rate experienced between 1860 and 2007. These include demography, education, inequality, globalization, energy/environment, and the overhang of consumer and government debt. A provocative “exercise in subtraction” suggests that future growth in consumption per capita for the bottom 99 percent of the income distribution could fall below 0.5 percent per year for an extended period of decades.”

In a past post, the mariner took a thread of thought from Gordon’s paper published in August 2012, Is U.S. Economic Growth Over? Faltering Innovation Confronts the Six Headwinds. Gordon’s logic is a central pillar in the mariner’s economic perspectives. The topic in the post was whether rapid product versions were actually growth. In a recent interview on PBS’ News Hour, Robert touched on this thread, covering his entire presumption about future growth – the six headwinds.

Given the nation’s current state of affairs – especially an election offering a rich narcissist or a richer establishmentarian, Gordon’s concern about restoring an historically robust economy is real. To paraphrase Gordon, We invented cars – no more horse manure to clean in the streets; we invented electricity – no more drudgery for housewives and services; we invented air conditioning and heat – no more coal to shovel or sweaty homes; we invented airplanes – transforming travel; we invented Interstates – now everyone can travel coast to coast; we invented radio and computers and speed of light communication. What is the next “new” phenomenon that will change the world and provide huge numbers of jobs for generations?

This requirement for a new direction in the daily life of 300 million Americans is a stiff requirement. Already, the US has reported that ‘there are no more jobs.’ Unions are driven out of existence, salaries continue to drop precariously as a percentage of GDP, and oligarchy is entrenched in the American culture. Rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, from potholes to fiber optics, will not be a permanent reprieve.

Gregory Clark[2], an economist as well, challenges Gordon’s view by suggesting a computerized future is the new economic force. The mariner agrees with Gordon: Already we have invented computers; Gordon sees computers as a dividing force in economics – making the rich richer and the other 99% poorer.

Well, Donald and Hillary, what say ye?

[1] Robert Gordon is a renowned economist who has published many books and papers challenging many economic assumptions. Liberal in thought but conservative in assumptions, he is a leader in predicting future economic conditions.

[2] Gregory Clark, a professor of economics and department chair until 2013 at the University of California, Davis is most well known for his theory of economic history related to the change in behaviors that enabled the Industrial Revolution, discussed in his book, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World.

A Farewell to Alms discusses the divide between rich and poor nations that came about as a result of the Industrial Revolution in terms of the evolution of particular behaviors originating in Britain. Prior to 1790, Clark asserts, man faced a Malthusian trap: new technology enabled greater productivity and more food, but was quickly gobbled up by higher populations. In Britain, however, as disease continually killed off poorer members of society, their positions in society were taken over by the sons of the wealthy, who were less violent, more literate, and more productive. This process of “downward social mobility” eventually enabled Britain to attain a rate of productivity that allowed it to break out of the Malthusian trap.

Ancient Mariner

On Being Human

While having a free breakfast at an Albuquerque motel, mariner and his wife watched TV. David B. Agus was a guest on the Kelly Ripa Show. Dr. Agus was speaking to a number of healthy habits most of us don’t pursue. One that caught the mariner’s ear was the Doctor’s promotion of walking as a preventative or deterrent for many disorders and discomforts about which we lazy humans have become vulnerable.

His entire solution is we don’t walk enough – not 15 minutes; not a half hour or hour; maybe 2 hours without stopping may do some good. [Health note: don’t start with these times; start very slowly, building steadily but within capacity]

The Doctor’s most salient and undeniable premise is that Homo sapiens, over our species’ 100,000-year evolution beyond four-footed and tree-swinging cousins[1], emerged as an ape that could walk and trot continuously all day without stopping except for a bit of water and a few nuts, plants and berries! The mariner looked into this a bit; it seems the Doctor is main stream among physiologists.

Dr Agus goes on to say that our physiology is designed so precisely for walking that many early-brain functions don’t wake up until we’re walking. This includes hormones, enzymes, and organ and brain functions that work better when we’re walking. Intestines and circulation, lungs, richer blood (like sports doping?), control of mood swings, a shot of dopamine, faster response to sensate awareness, and like everyone in mariner’s family, walking while talking on the phone is virtually required. Mariner conjures that the walking manages the body and brain which makes talking without focus on anything else work better.

The Doctor’s focus on physical disorders included back trouble, curvature of spine and neck, balance, arthritis, pulmonary disorders and physical weakness, headaches, etc. Many of these discomforts are caused by not having strong muscles on the entire back nor a strong diaphragm. The stoop that develops in our upper backs as we sit through our fifties, sixties and beyond is entirely caused by bad posture, that is, not walking enough and sitting way too much. The muscles weaken and don’t support the spine. The mariner has noticed on talk shows that female guests make every effort to sit with an erect back; they look much more attractive. Males tend not to. If we sat as erect as the females whenever we sat, curvature will be less likely – and it may be conceivable that we could be more attractive as well.

Imbalance is caused by weak muscles in the legs. Walking a meaningful length of time each day will improve the rusty link between our brain where body control and balance occur and the smaller, more sensate muscles in the legs. As for the quads and hamstrings, add jumping and sprinting to your walk. Just go out in the field and pretend you are hairier, swifter, and can leap small sticks. Don’t stop until you come back.

More a sailor than a walker, mariner may have to acquire a walking hobby. How about treasure hunting with a magnetometer? Or he could return to one of his childhood pleasures: rock hunting. Perhaps Forest Gump knew a lot more than we thought he did!

– – – –

The day before yesterday was Earth Overshoot day. To remind readers, here is information about a foreboding yearly celebration:

Earth Overshoot Day 2016: August 8

As of today, we humans have used as much from nature in 2016 as our planet can renew in a whole year. Nothing will seem to change for many of us from this day to the next, but collectively we are draining Earth’s capacity to provide. Overshoot Day is a red light warning of trouble ahead — and it is flashing five days earlier than it did last year (Aug. 13); eleven days earlier than the year before (Aug.19).

Earth Overshoot Day is devised by Global Footprint Network, an international think tank that coordinates research, develops methodological standards and provides decision-makers with a menu of tools to help the human economy operate within Earth’s ecological limits.

End quote

As the overshoot day retreats earlier into the calendar year, the deficit of resources will be made up by denying others the right to their own individual resources. Those who can will steal from the fair share of others – eating off a starving man’s plate so to speak.

(A line of thought from Guru suggests that eventually capitalism will collapse because sharing of resources will be necessary if we are to remain humane. Otherwise violent and destructive cultures will hasten our extinction)

[1] The Wikipedia timeline begins at 4000 MYA with the appearance of the earliest life-forms and includes 10 MYA for when human ancestors speciate from the ancestors of the gorillas.

The first anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) appear in Africa some time before 100kYA — they evolved from Homo heidelbergensis.

Ancient Mariner

Earth the Artist

Regularly, Amos holds forth lamenting the failures of the human species. It is his wont. But there are places on Planet Earth where the planet can still display its own beauty, timelessness and independent reality untarnished by humans. For those traveling the North American Southwest, many earthen displays are available.

The mariner traveled through the Southwest on his way to Los Angeles to attend his daughter’s wedding. Having experienced horrendous traffic, indescribable waste of Earth buried beneath 12-lane highways and interchanges large enough to be cattle ranches, and slowly dying roadside trees and other vegetation from fossil fuel waste, the mariner was sensitized to those moments when Earth’s timeless beauty was on display – beauty undisturbed for eons because there are scant resources for human consumption or destruction.

The first moment with Earth’s museum of art is the Glenwood Canyon in western Colorado on I-70. When highway contractors planned to bulldoze their way through this magnificent canyon, the public rose up in protest led by many environmental organizations and championed by John Denver. The highway planners were forced to redesign I-70 in such a way that the splendor of Glenwood Canyon was preserved as much as possible and wildlife was not disrupted in its natural behaviors. Granted, the canyon would be even more inspirational without the accoutrement of automobiles but still one can view the majesty that only Earth can produce.

It comes to mind that the canyon is one of the planet’s cathedrals. Glenwood Canyon is narrow with vertical cliffs rising far above the Colorado River. The mind senses an upward thrust to the heavens and beyond; the cliffs frame a portal to the Universe. As with all Earth’s displays, the human experience is one that makes us aware that we are not in charge as much as we think we are. 5,972,000,000,000,000,000,000 metric tons is in charge.

Traveling on toward Las Vegas, there is a relatively short canyon that will be missed unless one is looking for earthen inspiration. The Virgin Canyon displays the massive power of Earth. While Glenwood Canyon displays unity with the Universe, Virgin Canyon displays the no-nonsense nature of Planet Earth. The rock formations are huge, suggesting immovable strength. The formations suggest that we are not as strong as the planet by a long shot; the mariner was impressed in the same manner a muscle builder may impress – overwhelming flexes of strength and potential energy.

Driving through the Mohave Desert/Red Rock Canyon, Earth offers continuous entertainment as only large deserts can. If you like colors, Red Rock and the Painted Desert east on the way to Albuquerque are phenomenal; it is obvious the planet was in its bright color phase when these colorful, vast canvases were painted.

Returning from Los Angeles, the mariner and his wife did not stop at the Grand Canyon. The canyon is impossible to absorb all at once. There are the displays of color; observers remark they must be painted by humans but not so. Earth is the origin of all colors and will use whatever color fits its purpose. Further, the vast cut into the canyon by Earth’s own history – a history before time and with no assistance by H sapiens, makes one become aware that the Earth has been around a lot longer than humans; one is reminded that a shallow sea once covered the canyon long before it became a canyon.

There are other artworks in Earth’s museum that are not rock formations. The mariner is in awe of the planet’s oceans. Sitting still on silent rolling swells makes one aware that oceans will do what they will regardless of human intent. The oceans surrounding the planet speak of Earth’s independence and they cavort only with the Sun and Moon to create tides.

When we look at the Milky Way and the Solar system, Earth shares with us its own family of inanimate siblings, cousins and stars. If nothing else, viewing Earth’s family shrinks our species to its proper importance. In times gone by, we borrowed the Zodiac from space as an attempt to explain Earth’s place in human understanding. We continue to this day pondering the existence of gravity and the cause of dark matter. Earth already knows.

Ancient Mariner

 

Where is God?

The eloquence of Reader Fred in his reply to The Greatest Sin is Prejudice has sparked responses that reflect the same plight in others. The Christian faith, among many, has not answered the need of “secular” individuals who, despite the rejection of classic doctrines and Biblical mythology, still want a place in a divine world. Where is God?

Many theologians try to address this; Dominic Crosssan, Marcus Borg and Walter Brueggeman are three prominent writers. Marcus Borg in particular has focused on transferring Christian values to a new Christian paradigm not dependent as much on Biblical mythology.

In the last post, mariner referenced a YouTube site showing several videos central to Joseph Campbell’s interpretation of myths as a tool to explain something we cannot understand or a value important in our lives but difficult to describe. The importance of Campbell’s work is that it allows us to observe how other ages and cultures used myths as a means of having faith. Campbell’s insight places faith and belief in a more understandable light.

As secularists pursue faith and doctrine that is meaningful, they must be willing to accept new beliefs of divine forces that replace inadequate beliefs; new beliefs that provide an understanding of extra-human realities that, for the individual, are not subject to human interference.

Six thousand years before Christ, the earliest cultures had no scientific basis for anything. These cultures, most found around Western Turkey, believed that an obese woman, quite fecund like a queen bee, was the source of all creation and for centuries was the origin of human beings. Clearly, we today consider this belief to be in error. However, it was the story that explained creation; faith in it was strong and lasted millennia.

How did we travel from a fecund woman as the source of life to Adam and Eve, to sorcerer powers like separating the Red Sea and turning a snake into a stick, to the belief in a personal god that manages our lives, to Jesus, to the source of love and grace and to an amorphous, impersonal god as the source of creation? Millions of pages have been written about the changing of spiritual icons and the power behind a universe we still are discovering.

After Saint Augustine, the story of love and giving became accepted as the true, central principle of Christianity. All other stories expressed lesser, but still important virtues that were meaningful to many believers. However, true faith lies in the two great commandments. Today, love itself as the power of creation is becoming popular. Could a secularist believe love – in whatever form – is the power behind the universe? Love is a power that humans can use that somehow has the ability to ameliorate a situation. Is amelioration a form of creation? Once asked in an earlier post, is love the true measure of evolution rather than intellectuality? Further, is “God” constrained by anthropomorphic assumptions?

The natural adoption of meaningful theological principles is relatively easy. It may take time but the process is simple. Continue to search for overarching ideas that cannot be disturbed by human knowledge but are a dynamic influence in your life. Your ideas must support a reality that explains how the universe was created, how the universe works – including all elements of evolution, both stars and bacteria.

There are many social behaviors that leave open questions: Will computers be the ultimate evolution of humanity? Is Stephen Hawking right that Homo sapiens will be extinct within ten thousand years? Whatever your belief, it must encompass all potential events.

The Book of Revelation in the New Testament speaks of an Armageddon that will end all life save the righteous. Interestingly, the end indeed will be an Armageddon when the Sun begins to die. The theological question is: what is the definition of “righteous?”

Ancient Mariner

Donald

Chicken Little was hyper after Donald’s acceptance speech at the Republican Convention. The entire speech provided no solutions, no specific resolutions, only promises that Donald will do something. In later interviews with Donald Junior, it turns out that Donald doesn’t intend to oversee Federal Policy; that job, described as domestic and foreign policy, is Pence’s job.

What disturbs Chicken Little is the fact that the entire speech sat on a foundation of authoritarianism. It’s Reaganism all over again but run with less voter input. Donald sees himself as a CEO, not the Executive Branch representing public policy. How close can a President get to dictatorship in a Republic?

The mariner feels the TV polls are not accurate. If cell phone users share the mariner’s habit of not answering calls that he doesn’t have in his directory, or not answering phone numbers on a land line with caller ID, any poll will not reflect the opinion of a large section of voters. The mariner does not listen to polls. He listens to Nate Silver, who has a stellar reputation collecting valuable information that affects betting odds. See:

http://www.bing.com/search?q=nate+silver+2016+presidential+predictions&qs=LS&pq=nate+silver&sk=LS1&sc=8-11&sp=3&cvid=187BAD3BDABD4840A57B41C4C8464FC6&FORM=QBLH&ghc=1

If the reader would like an analysis of how Donald may win, see from Nate’s website:

http://www.newsweek.com/2016/07/29/donald-trump-can-win-481404.html

Also, check out http://fivethirtyeight.com/politics/feed/ probably what the reader wants to know in the first place. The article covers everything in the world of polls.

Finally, if you want to poke around in trends, see:

http://fivethirtyeight.com/politics/features/

The point is this: This is a culture-changing election. It’s comparable to FDR, Kennedy, Johnson and Reagan. The voter is required to think beyond the news, beyond the political ads, beyond the water-cooler advice, and beyond the reader’s clique of friends. There is a lot at stake in this election that is not covered in news media. The reader has an obligation to think hard – not something the American citizen is often required to do in a general election.

REFERENCE SECTION

The mariner’s wife has contributed an excellent website that is focused on the spiritual side of life’s experiences – not spiritual in a religious doctrine sense but the website provides a rich collection of short essays about the fragile side of our species and how empathetic roles are important to our survival. For liberal arts readers, it is an excellent site. See:

http://www.onbeing.org/program/xavier-le-pichon-the-fragility-at-the-heart-of-humanity/transcript/8832#main_content

The Olympics is days away. This is an unusual Olympics fraught with Zika and Russian doping. Type ‘2016 Olympics’ into your search engine to catch up not only on the sport aspects but the politics and health issues.

Ancient Mariner

 

What is Empathy?

In the mariner’s last post, “The Greatest Sin is Prejudice,” it was suggested that the real measure of successful evolution was not intellectual prowess but empathy. The post prompted notable interest in the midst of confusion about the differences between sympathy, pathos, compassion, empathy, etc. It is important to understand empathy as a unique experience because the post suggests that empathy is a positive phenomenon capable of shaping evolution.

This post will focus on words that often are mistaken for empathy and a focused note about empathy as an evolutionary influence.

Aware – On the scale of emotional interaction, being aware of human behavior in others is more a result of the five senses behaving normally. At best, ‘sensitive’ may mean the same. For example, ‘I am aware that you are a democrat. Being aware of that opinion helps me adjust my sociability when interacting with you.’

Pathos – Often used to express ‘sympathy,’ it is not the same. Pathos is an intense response to a situation usually intensified by art or other imagery.

Pity – While pathos can be an intense response, it lacks personal engagement. Pity, on the other hand, suggests that you are aware that the person(s) do not deserve their difficulty; you have a perspective about the circumstances in which they find themselves but rarely stop to involve yourself in easing their plight unless they already have a bonded relationship with you.

Passion – The key to recognizing passion is that you are at the center of the emotion. Passion is a self-serving response which drives your focus to accomplish something that has captured your emotions. Examples are infatuation, personality tendencies, response to a perceived threat, perseverance to modify an important social situation, etc.

Sympathy – Surprisingly, rather than being focused primarily on one person, sympathy is an allegiance to a group ethic or morality. Sympathy means your reality is intertwined with values and experiences of others. Sympathy is the feeling that binds you to what is important to others – enabling you to experience the ebb and flow of group or individual values. Often used erroneously in place of pity, a closer synonym would be ‘loyalty.’

Compassion – A common expression among married couples of long standing is “Passion turns into compassion.” The meaning of the phrase represents the replacement of personal passion with a commitment to the wellbeing of the spouse, that is, your personal emotions become integrated with your spouse’s emotions such that neither stands alone. This same allegiance, when applied to social situations, means you and others experiencing that situation are bound to support the well being of others involved, engaging physically in real time response to achieve solutions. A popular distinction in literature follows the theme, “A warrior has passion; a hero has compassion.”

Empathy – Empathy obviously is derived from the same Greek root as pathos. Empathy carries the same intensity as pathos but has an added dimension: empathy also means the ability to infuse one’s understanding of another’s inner feelings so amazingly that it seems as if you could become that being. One becomes so obsessed with the other being’s gestalt that the two beings appear twin-like in behavior, motivation and awareness. This does not suggest magic or weird music; rather, you become so aware of the internal feelings and values of the other person that you can fully represent their gestalt.

A simplified example of not exercising empathy by choice is common among dog owners. Animal psychologists have determined the following:[1]

Dogs do not like to be hugged. They feel trapped and unable to escape if necessary.

Dogs are born to run. They are hunters very much like their wolf ancestors – even if it is a Shih Tzu. Life in a pocketbook or at the end of a chain or locked up in a house all day must be hard.

A great experiment (and something that will probably have your dog sighing with relief) is to try to spend a whole day not saying a word to your dog, but communicating only with your body. You’ll realize just how much you “talk” with your body without realizing it.

Most humans think that dogs like being patted on the head. The reality is that while many dogs will put up with this if it’s someone they know and trust, most dogs don’t enjoy it. You may notice that even the loving family dog might lean away slightly when you reach for her face to pet her. She’ll let you because you’re the boss, but she doesn’t like it.

Fortunately, over thousands of years of breeding, we have made dogs more empathetic than we are.

The future for the current environment and all its inhabitants is not bright. Homo sapiens has overrun the planet in a savage way and every day is driving species of every kind into extinction. Already humans consume more than the Earth can provide each year; the oceans show rates of depletion that suggest the oceans will be fished out by the end of this century. The Earth itself is slowly shifting to a warmer environment that in time will stress all living creatures.

The philosophical question is, how will whatever is still alive continue to exist? Futurists are suggesting competition between species and between ourselves will only hasten extinction. The opposite of conflict is empathy – living in close harmony with the best interest of any living thing as closely managed as we can. That may grant our biosphere a few more centuries.

Empathy is a parallel behavior to what religions have been espousing for 8,000 years: love and giving is the true key to survival. There will be no room for expensive idiosyncrasies, greed, or waste. Love and giving, i.e., empathy may be our best chance to evolve properly for the end of our age.

Ancient Mariner

[1] From Jaymi Heimbuck, http://www.mnn.com/family/pets/stories/11-things-humans-do-that-dogs-hate