Wednesday, April 23, 2008

(20) Kinship

"More significant was the emphasis the Stoics placed on the
essential kinship of all men through their participation in divine
reason, or logos. They spoke of a universal society, a kind of
brotherhood of mankind, transcending the state. They refused
to attach any significance to noble birth and showed concern
about the position of the slave."
[Encyclopedia Americana, "Stoicism," p. 735.]

Comment: The above quote represents an on-going idealism
that has followed us down through the ages. This "kinship" is
like a dream that won't go away, no matter how we decry such
a possibility through our actions.

Unfortunately "positions of power," usually no longer attached
to nobility (whether inherited or instilled), still rule our world.
As for "slaves," maybe no longer chattel or serfs, there still
remain far too many enslaved peoples--whether to dictators,
to religious authorities, to unfair economic systems. Also,
enslavement is made possible through ignorance that--in turn--
is propagated by a lack of education or at least a lack of
information. These days much of the flow of information we
receive can be manipulated by those in a position of power,
employed for their own purpose.

Sounds negative, but that wonderful dream of kinship still dwells
in quiet corners. The question is about the "how" of it. How can
we humans ever reach a stage of development wherein this
kinship can ever hope to become a reality?

The Stoics talked of "divine reason," the Logos, as the path to
such a kinship. Their teachers talked of the "City of Zeus," which
indeed transcended governments, states, nations. This grand
City was cosmic, universal in nature. Even the Christians took
up the banner, talking about the "City of God." Alas, even after
such undertakings as the League of Nations and, later, the
United Nations, we are splintered. Why?

If I had any precise, correct answers, well I would be a sage. I'm
not, however. I can only guess that our connection with "God"
isn't all that tight. We have even splintered God. Indeed it is a
long on-going habit. The ancients had their pantheon of gods,
and we moderns have our ever splitting denominations! And
too many of us declare that we *know* what God thinks and does.
This kind of mindset always makes trouble for the rest of us who
aren't sure.

As for "divine reason," well some religious traditions do inject
Reason into their repositories as somewhat of a necessity when
it comes to an understanding of God. Just as much, alas, some
religious groups seem to forgo Reason altogether. We are a far
cry from the ideal kinship the Stoics stressed.

How can we even begin to approach such a possibility nowadays?
Maybe scientific discoveries might begin to point the way. The
Human Genome project tackled our human DNA. Beyond this,
we have come to understand that no matter Religion, Color, Gender,
Nationality, or any other kind of separation can deny that we humans
share a common DNA. Gads! We even have discovered that our
common DNA doesn't differ much from our cousin, the Chimp.
This discovery--disturbing, surely, for some--links us with the
Natural World. Hateful a discovery it might be, there it is!

Our DNA declares our human kinship. It's universal. Our DNA even
connects us with other species, linking us to that natural Web of
Relationship that is declared by both scientists and philosophers of
"Deep Ecology." Perhaps we need attend "divine reason" from far
different perspectives as we come more informed. If we look at
Creation and all the discoveries we are making therein, we just
might get a glimpse of "divine reason" long at work, seeing how
we are all strung together under its aegis.

Monday, February 4, 2008

(19) Happiness

"We hold that happiness as understood by mature and fit
agents is a property of whole lives, not of transient mental
states. We hold that is is achievable only through a proper
balance of stability and control..."
[Lawrence C. Becker, A NEW STOICISM, Princeton University
Press, 1998, p. 138.]

Comment: I agree generally, but slightly disagree specifically.
There are some moments of happiness that can happen to
us unexpectedly. These moments perhaps should be seen
as gifts of Fortune, if you will. And just because we didn't
generate these special moments does not mean that we need
deny such.

But generally I do believe happiness is a state-of-mind that
spreads out into our life, stays sweetly, calm and content.
It's a matter of outlook, perhaps. And reaching towards this
condition is not a matter of specific happenings. As Becker
puts, this more steady form of happiness is not something
that is transient--that comes and goes.

However, this more general form of happiness is easier said
than done. I believe, as Becker does, that it's a result of
"stability and control." But these are attributes that take time
and effort, when it comes to developing them.

Stability? What does that really mean? In the monastic world,
stability is an essential that revolves around "staying put" in a
specific location; i.e., a monastery. But this idea can be expanded
in lots of different ways. There's long been talk that the *person*
is the living monastery, instead of some geographic spot behind
walls. But evolving personhood does depend on developing
personal stability. And with this, we are right back with the Stoics!

The next question is how does one develop stability? Surely
the answer depends on the person's personality. How you might
become stable might differ from the way I might evolve stability.
Perhaps I can only speak for myself in this matter. Mainly, I think
the big (or biggest) step is coming "To Know Thyself." I believe
the ancients had it right in this case.

More questions arise. Is knowing one's self a much more
complex issue today? Do we now live not only in a more
complicated outer world, but also a more complicated inner
world? Are ancient quotations really applicable for moderns?
In general terms, probably so. But, specifically, nowadays we
face far more variables!

Depth Psychology has made some headway into the complexities
of our mind. There's also Cognitive Science and Consciousness
Studies that also point towards a more challenging situation when
it comes to personhood. To be honest, it's obvious we probably
face a more hefty self-encounter than the ancients.

Nonetheless, "stability and control" remain essential. "Knowing
Thyself" involves self-acceptance. It's at this point where we reach
a kind of quiet, just knowing who we are. It's at this point that we
have garnered together all the different elements that compose
our personhood. If we can do this, then we have stabilized our
self. To use common parlance, we have "got it together" and then
it is a matter of "following our flow."

As for control, well that's like being the helmsman of our soul.
Steering through the sea of Life involves constant encounter(s)
that engage the stability of our ship, so to speak. We now *know*
who we are, but we may not always know what Life might be
throwing at us in the next moment. And it's at this point where
we need take control of our self and remain stable. If we can do
this, I guess you could call us a successful person--and that
can translate into happiness.