Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A response to a gay Baha'i

Back before the Internet's widespread use, when people were using electronic bulletin boards and e-mail lists to discuss various things, I was often engaged in groups that discussed the Baha'i Faith.  Back then, a common topic was the fact that our religion, the Baha'i Faith, teaches that people ought not express love through homosexual behaviors.  The sources of that teaching, the actual teaching, how that teaching is interpreted, what was actually intended, how the teaching is implemented in Baha'i community life... all these things were regularly discussed.  And then, in the later 1990s more people became involved in internet discussions of these things.  It seemed to me the same things kept getting discussed, and the same ideas were repeated so often that I became very bored with the whole topic.  It's been over ten years since I've ever posted on this topic, but a recent blog post inspired me to write about it again.  I think I offer a few insights that are not often repeated in these discussions.

I've never actually cared much about this issue.  For a while, perhaps for several months when I was in my late teens or early 20s, I did think that homosexuality was probably unhealthy or wrong, but I never felt any emotional negativity about gay people. I've had very close friends, whom I loved very much, admit that they felt homosexual attraction to me, and I have felt some slight regret that I was never able to reciprocate those feelings in any way, and I have sometimes felt that my non-sexual or non-erotic love for other men has been devalued because, in general, American culture devalues non-sexualized love.  But, anyway, gay behaviors don't strike me as worth much attention, outside of the social context that makes them important (because of the persecution of gay people). I understand that because many people feel extremely prejudiced against gay people, and society inflicts harm on gay persons, therefore we have a need to protect the rights of gay people, and defend them, and so forth, and that appeals to me.  But, having never had strong emotions about it, I sometimes don't understand the fuss at an emotional level.  Some people enjoy playing chess, and some don't, but who cares?  If there was no persecution and discrimination against homosexuality, people's sexual orientation would be, for me, of about the same importance as people's orientation toward enjoying a game of chess.

I am, however, very thankful for the social critique that gay activists have brought to us, because in my opinion, heterosexual behaviors are generally quite problematic in this world; and I think gay theorists give us some very useful insights into the problems of sexism, homophobia, machismo, and so forth.

Anyway, I'll share my response to the blog post here on my own blog.  The original post to which I was responding was at this link, and may still be there.


Thanks for sharing a lovely essay with the world. Your heart seems pure and loving, and your faith seems strong.  I agree with your friend, the Baha'i Faith needs famous gay Baha'is who stick with the Faith.

A few points to consider:

Homosexuality and homosexual behaviors, and the experiences of homosexual behavior or identity, will be extremely diverse. In different times and places, with various cultures, such behaviors have been quite frequent or extremely rare. Evidently, the social context matters for how people express their sexuality.

There is always a biological (emerging from our biochemistry and evolution quite independently of the family and cultural environment we grow up in) element to everything in human behavior. Obviously.  What else could there be? Even supernatural or spiritual aspects will be manifested in actual body changes and chemistry, which will exist because of biological evolution.

Homosexual behavior and feelings, or sexual orientation, in general, speaking about populations of humans, seems to exist along a continuum, which is sometimes measured by the Kinsey scale.  If you are at an extreme end of the Kinsey scale, your orientation may be purely homosexual or heterosexual, but some sexuality researchers believe most people exist along the continuum, and it is our language (which divides us into pure categories) which pushes us into "homosexual" or "heterosexual" categories (although, if you are at extreme end of the scale, you would presumably be purely homosexual or heterosexual, and so, from that point of view, it might be appropriate to think of the issue in dichotomous--homosexual or not homosexual--terms).

All speech is, to some degree, political.  After all, Baha'u'llah pointed out that "utterance is an essence which aspires to exert an influence".  When we use language, we are attempting to influence others.  "Politics" (broadly defined) is the effort to influence others.  So, suggesting someone's work is "politically motivated" rarely tells us much that is useful.  What work isn't?

The Baha'i Faith and the "Cause of God" can be understood in many ways.  In one sense, the Baha'i Cause is the general cause of God for this age and for all ages: people ought to create societies that maximize human flourishing and happiness; people ought to be ethical and treat each other well; men and women ought to be equal; prejudices should be eliminated; peace should replace war; justice should dominate, while tyranny and injustice should be diminished; people should cultivate their spiritual natures and seek to worship and respect the Divine, etc. In such a general sense, many people who have never heard of the Baha'i Faith are already "Baha'is".  In another sense, Baha'is are members of the organized religion of the Baha'i Faith.  To what extent that organized religion is an imperfect but honest attempt by flawed human beings to create a system and organization that reflects the intentions of Will of the Creator of the Universe, and to what extent it is an actual incarnation of the Will of that Creator, is somewhat mysterious, and it may be impossible to distinguish those two aspects of religion (its existence as a creation of humans and their societies, and its existence as a supernatural embodiment of Providence).  In another sense, the "Baha'is" are persons who actually live up to the teachings and ideals promoted and revealed by Baha'u'llah, and in that ideal sense, everyone can strive to be a Baha'i, but no one should expect to actually be one, just as no one can realistically expect to be "perfect" in some absolute moral sense.  

Baha'i individuals and Baha'i communities vary tremendously in regards to their strengths and weaknesses, their failures and successes. Gay Baha'is might be able to find complete acceptance and love in some Baha'i communities, and certainly in some loving friendships with Baha'i individuals, whereas in other communities the homosexual Baha'is might suffer cruel persecution and ostracism.

Religions must offer guidance to persons in many different cultures, in many different times. On one hand, they need to stand above historical trends, so they can condemn what is wrong, even in times when what is wrong becomes widely accepted.  On the other hand, they must also be flexible, embracing moral thinking and new insights about reality as civilization advances and humanity matures.

When it comes to moral laws and truth, we must consider what is absolutely true, and what is true in particular contexts.  As a thought experiment, imagine that homosexual identities and behaviors are objectively morally correct and favored by God in 0.5% of humanity, discouraged but tolerated in 1.5% of humanity, and spiritually harmful in 98% of humanity.  Suppose that human nature being what it is, if a religion is entirely supportive of homosexual behaviors and identities, 5% of the population would identify as homosexual, and 20% would sometimes engage in homosexual behaviors; whereas if a religion is mildly unaccepting and discouraging, only about 0.5% of its believers will take on the homosexual identity and perhaps fewer than 2% will ever engage in homosexual behaviors.  From a utilitarian point of view, if that was the objective situation, which position would be more spiritually healthy for the religion to take?  But, I'm not a strict utilitarian, and the psychological and social suffering of the small minority who would persist in following their core nature in their homosexuality while worrying about their rejection of the guidance offered by their religion concerns me.  And, by the way, I'm not at all certain the scenario I've suggested bears any resemblance to the actual situation. Perhaps homosexuality in the modern North American sense is objectively morally neutral, and what Shoghi Effendi was describing was the homosexual behaviors he knew from the Middle East and upper-class 1920s England. Or, perhaps homosexuality really is a spiritual sickness or distortion in all its forms and manifestations. I don't know, and I don't even have an opinion, it just doesn't matter to me, as there are so many other problems in the world that are very clearly wrong.  

God doesn't seem overly concerned with our psychological suffering or physical suffering.  After all, this universe relies on natural selection, with all the death and misery that includes, and uses predation, competition for scarce resources, mutations, diseases, and death, as the process that forms atoms and molecules into bodies capable of manifesting the human spirit. Also, natural evil, like the disasters that kills thousands, millions, or possibly somewhere in the universe, billions of lives, seem fairly regular.  God seems mostly concerned with our spiritual well-being, and supposedly, when we understand that, the emotional, mental, and physical suffering we sometimes endure may seem more acceptable, since such suffering offers us opportunities for spiritual growth.

I hope some of these ideas or observations are useful in our mutual search for truth and "whatever is pleasing to God".  Please remember that I write with no more authority than anyone else on this subject.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Tolkien: Archetype and Word

I have just enjoyed reading a fine essay published in October of 2013 examining the Lord of the Rings in terms of Jungian archetypes.  The review essay is by Patrick Grant (of the University of Victoria in British Columbia), and it is entitled: "Tolkien: Archetype and Word" (published on the Jung Page).  It's quite long, but if you are seriously into Tolkien and have some interest in Carl Jung, I think you'll enjoy every paragraph of it.

Why do so many people still admire Osho?

Osho is quite popular here in Taiwan.  Some of my friends share quotations from him, and some of his ideas seem quite inspiring to people here.

I know Osho as Rajneesh, and my main knowledge of him came from reading magazine and newspaper articles back in the 1980s when he and his followers created an intentional community in Oregon (Antelope, Oregon). I’ve had a life-long interest in alternative lifestyles, intentional communities, communes, and spiritual teachers, both those within the mainstream religious traditions and those outside those traditions. But, I haven’t really read or studied Rajneesh, and haven’t been interested in him.  

When evaluating the teachings of someone, or judging whether their insights and wisdom are actually wise or accurate, it’s important to do independent investigation.  The essence of justice is using our own eyes and ears, instead of just relying on what we hear second-hand, and I realize most of what I know about Osho (Rajneesh) is second-hand.  I’ve read some of his materials, and watched some old videos with him, and I have some observations.

There are plenty of hostile writings about Osho available on the internet.  Some people seem to think he belongs in a category with other mind-control cult leaders such as Jim Jones, David Koresh, or Shoko Asahara. Others seem to think he was a great New Age spiritual leader like Emanuel Swedenborg, Paramahansa Yogananda, or Rudolf Steiner. I’d put him more in a category with people who offered a mix of wisdom and silliness, who meant well, but didn’t always live up to their potential, and associate Osho with people such as G. I. Gurdjieff, Helena Blavatsky, Jidda Krishnamurti, or Edgar Cayce (although to be fair to Cayce, he was never a teacher or leader of anything when in a waking state, but the things he revealed when in a trance offer a similar mix of profound and inspirational wisdom combined with baffling pronouncements that are obviously ridiculous). 

By the way, my personal favorite guru was ‘Abdu’l-Baha, although I am fond of some of the works of Abū al-Faḍl Gulpāyigānī, Thomas Merton, Loren Eiseley, Rene Dubos, Buckminster Fuller, Philip K. Dick, Edgar Cayce, P. D. Ouspensky, Charles Fort, Edmund Gurney, William James, Frederick W. H. Myers, Alfred Russel Wallace, Frank Podmore, Carl Jung, and sometimes for intellectual entertainment I like engaging with the ideas of persons such as Graham Hancock, Rupert Sheldrake, Stuart Hameroff, John Polkinghorne, Werner Heisenberg, Stanislav Grof, Bertrand Russell, and William R. Corliss.  Recent and contemporary gurus who I think are better than Osho would include: David Deida, Thich Nhat Hanh, Shih Cheng Yen, Jack Kornfield, Thomas Moore, the 14th Dalai Lama, and Pope Francis. However, I strongly recommend anyone who admires gurus and spiritual leaders to give a few hours to “The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power” by Diana Alstad and Joel Kramer, which should provide an engaging intellectual and spiritual challenge.

There are many things I don’t like about Osho.  I’ll describe a few. 

His community and followers seem very much centered on him, his person.  I prefer communities centered on ideas or ideals, teachings and principles. When I see a community with too much emphasis on a leader or guru, this repels me. This probably comes from my Protestant and Baha’i spiritual background, as I was brought up in a liberal United Methodist tradition that emphasized a direct relationship between the individual and the Divine, and I have been a practicing Baha’i for over thirty years, and the Baha’i Faith forbids clergy, teaching that in this age people are enlightened and wise enough to read for themselves and think for themselves. I also know enough about psychology to be cautious about the unhealthy dynamic between gurus and their followers. I’m too egalitarian for that.   

Osho seemed to have too many psychological problems.  Some people suggest he had narcissistic personality disorder, but I don’t know if that is accurate. He also supposedly had issues with addictions to medications. Again, these allegations may not be true.  There are worse allegations about his problems, but I don't know if those are true, either. But, all in all, I sense that he was more psychologically troubled and damaged than most people I know, and when I admire the writings and ideas of someone, I like also knowing that the person whose ideas I’m admiring was also a throughly psychologically healthy and well-adjusted person.

He allowed people with horrible agendas to do horrible things on his behalf.  When he lived in Oregon, the person he put in control of his affairs attempted to murder people and attempted to poison the food supply of a town in Oregon.  Osho claimed he knew nothing about what was done, and I think there was no evidence that he was guilty of anything, but still, it shows his poor judgement that he promoted a person so deeply flawed into a position of trust under him, and allowed that person to amass such power while he was still alive.

Some of his teachings about sex were, I think, not especially healthy or helpful to his followers. I think the women who experimented with working in pornography or prostitution to get over sexual hangups, based on advice from Rajneesh, were probably not helped much by following his advice.  This is just my intuitive sense of things, as I don’t think anyone researched this. 

I don’t like how he collected luxury cars and insisted that material things were no barrier to spirituality. It may be true that for some enlightened persons, the material things and luxuries could be meaningless, and perhaps Rajneesh was trying to show that he didn’t care about material things by having so much luxury around himself. But, I think for most people wealth and material luxury is a barrier to spirituality, and I think science will probably confirm this, and therefore, I think Rajneesh was wrong.  

His spirituality seems to me very much centered on personal growth and personal spirituality, but I think better spirituality combines in approximately equal measure the teachings for personal spiritual cultivation with commitment to others through the charitable love, empathy, and compassion that lead to solidarity, self-sacrifice, activism, volunteering, and philanthropy. There is nothing wrong with helping individuals autonomously reach personal wisdom and spiritual insight, but if that aspect is emphasized and the commitment to community is neglected, I am dissatisfied.

In his rhetoric, he was given to hyperbole. I object to some things he said, but I don't know if those things I object to were intended as literal truth or as exaggerated positions he used to shock and alert his audience.  For example, he said that he rejected all religion, or all human history. He wanted new people to arise, new people who were free from the mental shackles of the past and of traditions. I don't think he could have been serious in some literal sense when he said that. Human nature has potential for good and evil, and rejecting all religion or all past conventions of humanity is to reject all the good that is already present in human nature and achievement, simply because it is associated with all the bad we have also committed or suffered. Radical rejections of everything seems to indicate to me a discomfort with the facts of human nature, and a rejection of reality.

For an example of the type of foolishness or folly I find mixed in with his wisdom, I will take two claims from “Understanding the Nature and Nurture of Love” from “Being in Love: How to Love with Awareness”.  First, Osho wrote: “Love cannot be learned, it cannot be cultivated. The cultivated love will not be love at all. It will not be a real rose, it will be a plastic flower.”  This sets up a false dichotomy between “learning and cultivating” something and having something occur naturally and spontaneously. It is natural for people to learn things, to cultivate things, and to practice behaviors or thoughts until they improve. There is nothing artificial about people improving themselves or improving their feelings and behaviors. Intuition and spontaneity may sometimes be preferable as a means for achieving something, but even so, achieving the same thing through effort and struggle doesn't mean the end result is false or diminished. If I find a gold nugget lying in a stream, I’m luckier than the miner who had to blast and dig through hard rock to find a similar quantity of gold, but in the end, the gold is the same. 

Osho also wrote: “When you learn something, it means something comes from the outside; it is not an inner growth.”  I think here Osho is forgetting that we exist partly as individuals inside bodies, but also as relationships and interactions in environments. My “self” includes, to some degree, the people with whom I interact. I express myself and exist partly by what I say and do with others. Learning is simply taking knowledge and behavior from the environment and internalizing it and incorporating it into our own individuality. Inner growth usually comes from our interactions and responses to external stimulation. Learning (from outside) is to great extent the process by which we experience inner existence and inner growth. 

On the other hand, Osho was quite correct to say that love could be our natural, spontaneous being. I think we have within us the spark of the divine, or the clear mirror capable of brightly reflecting the splendor of the holy. As “love” (compassion, altruism, affection, devotion, intimacy, mutual aid, altruism, kindness, attraction, benevolence, joy, and caring) seems to be a very fundamental aspect of human nature (and a tendency in the universe, and a force I associate with God), I think Osho is correct to suggest it is natural for us to love, and much of our inability to love correctly arises from bad information and unpleasant experiences we’ve learned from our environments. So, while I think love can be learned and cultivated, and learning and cultivating something good (such as love) is often admirable or necessary, the other insight (that acquired knowledge or experience may be blocking a natural love) is probably quite useful and accurate in some cases.
Osho is too proud.  He compares himself to Messengers of God such as Jesus or the Buddha. Osho is not a Messenger of God, and it’s a marker of his folly that he would compare himself to those Messengers. But, on the other hand, Truth is Truth, whether it comes from the mouth of a Messenger of God, or a modern guru, or a friend having a nice conversation with you, so in that sense, as we are all sometimes vehicles for expressing Truth, Osho can compare himself to Jesus or Buddha, but so can anyone else. 

I can see why people are attracted to Osho’s teachings. I admire some of what he says.

Osho had an admirable ability to use humor and ridicule in his teachings. 

In the communities of Osho followers, people tried to make spirituality fun.

Osho was strongly against nationalism.

Many of Osho’s teachings are quite reasonable and wise. Looking through some of his books, I can see that he does have some deep insights, some clever ways of putting the problems of life into a healthy perspective. Although I find within his books of wisdom some utter foolishness and ignorance, there is nothing unusual about that. Most of us are capable of some deep wisdom and some folly and foolishness. Osho is like all of us. 

Osho has a playful way of presenting his ideas.  His lack of seriousness is refreshing.

I like how Osho knows enough about religion and philosophy to bring together ideas from many sources. I’m a scholar, so I’m concerned that he doesn’t usually refer to his sources or inspirations, and I as I read his ideas and find ideas I’ve encountered before, I do note that he frequently is not giving credit to earlier thinkers who have said essentially what he is repeating.  However, he is a teacher giving sermons and lessons to followers, and not an academic presenting theories at a conference or in an academic speech, so I guess his approach is appropriate for what he is doing. I do find that many of the things he brings in from philosophy or religion are the same sorts of ideas that I found attractive, so in most of what I’ve read, I find Osho’s ideas generally to be a pleasant mix of the sort of ideas I find attractive.

A guru or autocratic leader may have some brilliant ideas worthy of admiration, and some bad ideas as well. Even the worst doctrines had at least some reasonable and good teachings, otherwise they would never be able to hold on to followers and supporters.  The Nazis supposedly had good animal welfare policies and taught reasonable things about nutrition and public health. Transcending selfishness and egoism is a worthy spiritual goal, but taken to excess and used by gurus or political leaders, this noble tendency can be distorted. The North Korean regime survives by forcing North Koreans to leave behind egoism and devote themselves to the adoration of the Kim family, and the Nazi Party in Germany attracted people by visions of self-sacrifice for the “greater good” and surrendering of personal interest to the complete devotion to Hitler. The group called “Daesh” or “ISIL” asks sincere Muslims to give loyalty to God (as understood by the Daesh theologians), which would be all fine and good, except that their understanding of God is horribly wrong. Jim Jones of the People’s Temple taught many progressive spiritual critiques of modern racism and capitalist excesses, but he was always a bit crazy, and finally forced or convinced hundreds of his followers to commit suicide with him (much as Hitler convinced so many Germans to engage in hopeless wars that led to the destruction of Germany).  Osho seems to have been far less dangerous or toxic than these mind-control cultists like the Nazi leadership or the People’s Temple or the current regime in North Korea. On the contrary, in many respects he seems benign or harmless, and perhaps even quite helpful or useful to persons exploring spirituality and critiques of mainstream mindlessness in conventional society or religion.  

However, I do wish people would explore a wide variety of gurus and spiritual teachings, mix in a bit of serious scientific or philosophical work with their new age spirituality reading, and keep an open mind about some of the wisdom to be found in conventional and mainstream religious traditions and organized religions. The Western and Eastern traditions have precious insights to offer everyone, but they also have imperfections.  People ought to keep this in mind, and even if you give yourself over to certitude and faith and devotion, it’s wise to preserve some detachment from one’s own passionate belief and faith.  Love can be a sort of attachment that leads us astray just as much as hatred, and the constructs we hold in our mind, whether they seem fair or foul, might be wrong. As long as people retain this bit of doubt and maintain a seeking or critical attitude, at least in respect to their personal understanding of what it is they believe, I think people can enthusiastically embrace faith and devotion to religions and spiritual leaders.  But people must maintain their common sense ethical compass, and look out for religions and spiritual leaders transforming the religious experience into mind-control cults. When our gurus or religious leaders become promoters of violence and hatred, or turn their followers into zealous loyalty-based groups defining the world in terms of “us versus them” where only the in-group of true believers are treated with the decency and respect that everyone deserves, then it's time to leave. Osho didn’t teach violence or hatred. He didn’t get extreme in the “in-group versus out-group” loyalty game with his followers.  Although in certain times and places some of his followers seem to have attempted to set up a mind-control cult in his name, it doesn’t seem Osho was directly doing that.   

But it is remarkable that, despite the serious flaws in his life, teachings, and his community of followers, his lectures and teachings have been gaining popularity, and many people today find them quite inspirational.  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Seven Valleys



《四谷經》晚於《七谷經》,同樣啟示於巴哈歐拉流放巴格達時期。它是寫給伊拉克庫爾德斯坦地區基爾庫克的博學之士謝赫·阿卜杜勒-拉赫曼的。 《四谷經》闡述了發現那不可見者的四種方法,人心的四個層級,以及尋求所傾慕者——那配受讚美者、吸引者、受愛戴者——的四種神秘行者。該經所描述的四種神聖狀態源於《古蘭經》(第五十七章第3節):“祂是首與末,是顯者與隱者;祂知曉萬物。”




讚美歸於上帝!祂令實有自虛無中呈現;將先存隱秘銘刻於人之碑碣;教諭他未曾知曉的神聖宣說之奧妙;令他成為已信者及臣服者的明晰之書;使他在此黑暗與衰敗時代見證萬物之創造, 並在非凡聖殿裡自永生之巔以奇妙之音道出——最終,人人皆能以其主之顯示者的身份獨自親身見證:誠然,除祂之外,別無上帝;人人皆因此而能奮力攀登那實在之巔,直到目空一切,惟見上帝。

[...見證萬物之           Kullu Shay’(庫勒謝)。]
[並在非凡聖殿        喻指 顯聖或顯聖者(the Manifestation)。]  


[  ...哈邁德        Aḥmad,同艾哈默德,穆罕默德在《古蘭經》裡的名稱。 ——譯註 ]
[  ...哈茂德        Maḥmúd,公元971-1030在世,伽色尼王朝素丹(蘇丹),著名軍事家,一譯“馬默德”。穆罕默德、艾哈邁德和馬哈茂德均為先知的名字和稱號,派生自動詞“讚美”和“頌揚”。 ——譯註]


[  高西耶園       the garden of Ghawthíyyih,出自阿里的佈道。]


[自萬恩者示巴              Sheba, 舊譯賽百或賽伯,猶太教和伊斯蘭教傳說中的王國,象徵安居之地或家園,位於阿拉伯半島西南。據《聖經·舊約》記載,所羅門王在位期間,示巴女王曾親率駝隊前去拜見他。 《古蘭經》亦有她會見所羅門王情形的描述。而據北非另一種傳說,示巴嫁給所羅門王,其子曼涅里克一世創建了所羅門王朝。 ——譯註]





[凡尋求“為我們”之“克爾白”者       [Ka’bih,位於麥加的聖所,這裡意指“目標”。]]
[“我會在我的道上引導他們。”  [《古蘭經》:“無論誰為我作出努力,我都會在我的道上引導他們。”]]



[奋力追逐其约瑟之雅各…    Jacob,又名以色列,希伯來人的祖先,以色列人傳統以他為本民族的祖先。 《聖經·舊約》稱他是以東人的祖先以掃的孿生弟弟。在前往亞蘭人部落途經伯特利時得到上帝的特別啟示,後來返回巴勒斯坦並再次得到上帝的啟示。約瑟(Joseph)為其子。晚年期間,雅各率眾子逃荒至埃及,投奔已在那裡的約瑟。後死在埃及,葬在巴勒斯坦,在《古蘭經》中,雅各被稱作葉爾孤白,據麥加古本載,葉爾孤白是易卜拉欣(亞伯拉罕)的兒子;是易司哈各(以撒)的哥哥而非其子。 ——譯註]

尋者須以愛之馬季農的標準來衡量其探尋。據說,有一日,他們看見馬季農一邊篩土,一邊落淚。他們問:“你在做什麼?”他回答說:“我在找蕾莉。”他們驚叫道:“哎呀,蕾莉可是純潔之靈啊,你竟然在塵土裡尋找她!”他說: “我無處不尋,只要能找到她,哪怕走遍海角天涯。”

[尋者須以愛之馬季農....  Majnún,字面意思為“瘋狂”。原為古波斯和古阿拉伯一著名情聖的稱謂, 其所愛者名叫蕾莉(Laylí),是一位阿拉伯王子的女兒。他們相愛的故事象徵著近乎神聖的人間真愛,成為很多波斯浪漫詩篇的主題,尤以尼扎米寫於公元1180-1189年的最為著名。]

誠然,智者不屑於在塵土裡尋找萬主之主,但馬季農的話語卻表明其探尋熱忱的熾烈程度。 “凡懷熱情尋覓者,必得所願。”     [阿拉伯諺語。]



在本旅程中,倘若 他在上帝扶助下發現那無踪蹟之聖友的一絲跡象,自上天使者那裡嗅出失踪已久之約瑟的芳香,便能立即進入

 [自上天使者    [參見《古蘭經》和《聖經·舊約》有關約瑟的故事。]]



[全名法里德丁·阿塔爾(Farídu’d-Dín ‘Aṭṭár),公元1150-1230年,波斯偉大的蘇非派詩人。]









[利維坦,“聖經”裡講述的一種海中怪獸, 多見於“舊約”的“約伯書”.--譯註]
“還有嗎?”   [“古蘭經”第五十章第29節。]


[出自魯米(Jalálu'd-DIN魯米,公元1207至73年年)的詩集“瑪斯納維”(該Mathnaví,意為“心靈對句” - 譯註)。魯米又稱毛拉納(毛拉納,意為“我們的主人。” - 譯註),為最偉大的波斯蘇非派詩人,亦為毛拉維教團(亦稱“旋轉的德爾維希”)的創始人]






Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Why is there no Social Democratic party in Taiwan Politics?

On Monday the 8th of December in our English social work class at Tzu Chi University, we discussed the absence of a leftist party in Taiwan politics, and we especially discussed an article by 吳媛媛.  Taiwan has two coalitions, a "pan-blue" coalition led by the KMT and a "pan-green" coalition led by the DPP, but both of these parties seem to primarily serve the interests of Taiwan businesses and the military and civil servants. The DPP presents itself as more "progressive" than the KMT, and to a limited extent this claim is well-deserved, certainly in terms of social legislation, but neither party has so far shown an interest in making any radical changes to change Taiwan into a society with higher taxes and more government involvement in wealth redistribution.

So, for example, a couple weeks ago in Chiayi City, my wife and I met an 84-year-old woman sitting on the side of the street selling a few fruits and vegetable. My wife recognized her, and the elderly woman soon recognized my wife, whom she had known as a girl. This elderly woman was an acquaintance of my mother-in-law, and had worked in the local park as a groundskeeper at some point in her life, but was now, at her advanced age, sitting by the side of a busy road trying to earn some money selling produce. Then this past weekend I volunteered with some friends from a hiking club with a social agency serving the elderly in Taipei, and we helped clean an apartment in which an 82-year-old man with no family to support him was living.  He had retired at about age 61, and used his retirement money to purchase a car, and had lived out of that car, without a fixed home, for 20 years, until last year when the agency found a small room for him to have a home.  I could go on and list other examples of elderly persons, in their eighties, working hard to make ends meet. The old-age pension in Taiwan is quite small, and not everyone qualifies for it.

So, why isn't there any major political party that represents the interests of the poor and working classes in Taiwan?  Who represents the interests of the many people working in the little shops all along the streets?  Why are both of the major parties in agreement on most policy issues?  As 
吳媛媛 writes, “除了中國議題以外,我感覺不到任何決定性的區別” [Aside from issues concerning China, I can't discern any difference to distinguish the parties].

Taiwan’s “economic miracle” from 1950 to 2000 (but especially from 1970-2000) was based on exports, first agricultural, then industrial, then high tech.  Trade and free trade has formerly been the tool for economic growth, so it would make sense for neoliberal pro-trade ideologies to dominate in Taiwanese politics. And trade has done a fair job of raising the standard of living in Taiwan.  The Taiwanese enjoy about half the per-capita income as Americans, about the same as a poorer European country such as Portugal or Greece. However, since 2000, the vast majority in Taiwan have experienced no increase in their income (just like the lower 80% of the American income distribution, see article by Heidi Shierholz and Lawrence Mishel  or the Frontline article about Two American Families), so perhaps people in Taiwan will question neoliberal assumptions about the value of free trade. The Frozen Garlic blog suggests this may already be happening.

America, like Taiwan, doesn’t really have a left party, as the Democratic Party in the USA is centrist coalition party, although social democrats and socialists in America often support and vote for Democrats since voting for leftist third party candidates splits the vote and makes reactionary Republican victories more likely. Taiwan, likewise, has authentic socialist and social democratic voices, including a genuine Green Party (which won a couple local elections in the recent voting), but these are fringe organizations, and their hostility toward the so-called “communist” regime in Beijing deprives them of support from potential “leftist” sources.

There are many cultural parallels between the USA and Taiwan. It’s worth considering these.

Neither society has a strong leftist political party (although the USA has a strong leftist tradition, and I recommend John Nichol’s flawed by interesting book, “The S Word” for a highly accessible description of Socialism in American history).  Explanations of why a strong labor party never gained power in the USA often observe some of the following: 

In America, everyone wants to be rich, hopes they may become rich, and identifies with the wealthy elites (whom everyone expects someday to join), so a pro-worker party that would constrain capitalists has never been able to emerge as a dominate national political force; 

America has a special history that, until about thirty or forty years ago, made a true leftist party “unnecessary” since the centrist and right-wing parties needed to do relatively little redistribution to keep the electorate happy, as economic growth, special circumstances of being a nation that had experienced ten generations of cheap or free land on a frontier, and other unusual geographical situations distinguished America from Europe. 

American politics have been more dominated by concerns about immigration, religion, American identity, race relations, and foreign policy, and these matters have captured the attention of the electorate, distracting them from issues of economic justice and unfairness in capitalism or income inequality.

American anti-socialist hysteria from the 1920s on through the Cold War made the growth of a true leftist party difficult. The fact that some American leftists were sympathetic to the totalitarian regimes in the Soviet Union and elsewhere further alienated potential American leftists.

Parallels to Taiwan could include the following:

Taiwan, like the United States, is a society of strivers, where most people hope to be successful in business or in climbing to higher levels social and economic status. As in the United States, Taiwan people may especially admire businessmen, capitalists, and other economic elites, and identify with those persons, either hoping someone in their family will eventually join in such a high level of economic success, or else perhaps in some sort of feeling of deference and obligation to paternalistic bosses who have created wealth for their workers and Taiwan society.

Taiwan was, like the United States, a society without a distant gap between elites and common people.  During the Qing Dynasty, a few wealthy land-owning families may have dominated the society, but for most immigrants from Fujian or elsewhere on the mainland, the society was a relatively egalitarian frontier society.  As with the United States, a certain degree of opportunity existed for people to make a living on land taken from oppressed indigenous persons. Then, when Taiwan became Japanese, all Taiwanese were equally put lower on a hierarchy with the Japanese on top. When Chinese refugees replaced the Japanese as a ruling class of Taiwan, they were hardly a typical ruling class, as many were peasant solders in KMT, with educational and class backgrounds similar to those of the Taiwanese. Additionally, the KMT (with pressure from military and political sponsors in the USA) redistributed land in Taiwan, greatly equalizing opportunities in the agricultural society. These are all unique geographic and historical circumstances that made  the emergence of class consciousness and a leftist party difficult in Taiwan. 

Just as in the United States, where concerns about immigration, race, or military strength distracted people from concerns about issues of wealth redistribution and economic justice, the people of Taiwan also are constantly distracted from meaningful policy issues by the ongoing political controversies concerning superficial matters such as national identity. 吳媛媛 mentions this.  And, while American children probably have better civics education than their Taiwan counterparts, and American schools and universities seemingly put a greater emphasis on public sphere engagement than in test-obsessed Taiwan, both American and Taiwanese education systems do far less than European schools to teach young people about political ideologies, philosophies, or the history of political ideas or class struggles. 

The United States had anti-socialist hysteria in the 1920s and 1950s, and engaged in a cold war against the Soviet Union, but this sort of anti-communism pales in comparison to what Taiwan experienced with the White Terror (the KMT killed off or imprisoned many of the Japanese-educated Taiwanese intelligentsia, as well as anyone suspected of leftist sympathies) and the very real existential threat from so-called “Communist” military forces across the Straits of Formosa. In both the USA and Taiwan, talk of wealth redistribution could be associated with the rhetoric of a potential military enemy that had weapons targeting citizens.

The KMT was initially a broad coalition of military and political leaders, and for a while it included Communist Party members and sympathizers.  The 1927 massacres of leftists and communists initiated by the right-wing of the KMT purged the National Party of leftist elements.  The non-communist leftist faction led by persons such as 馮玉祥, 汪精衛, and 閻錫山 was further discredited when 汪精衛 collaborated with the invading Japanese. Thus, there are specific unique reasons related to interpersonal relationships among KMT leadership, the decisions of Chiang Kai-shek, and the behavior of individuals identified with the leftist wing of the KMT, that made the development of a leftist party in KMT-controlled areas difficult.

吳媛媛 is, I agree, quite right to observe that Taiwanese people are poorly-served by their media.  During the demonstrations around the Legislative Assembly in March and April of this year, I regularly visited the site, and engaged in hours of conversations with demonstrators and visitors to the festive street scene. Over and over again, people repeated this complaint, that they did not understand the policies, and they did not trust the media to give fair explanations of the policies, nor did they trust the government to honestly explain their policies. The sort of people attracted to the demonstration were naturally more skeptical, perhaps even cynical, about government leaders, but still, the protestors all seemed to desire a society where at least some media outlets would offer honest, fair, and critical analysis of policies and proposals, trying to educate the electorate about likely benefits and costs, both the certain and uncertain consequences of legislation or treaties. Everyone I spoke with lacked trust in the KMT or the DPP to give people honest analysis of legislation or treaties.  In particular, I heard from many of the people  a vague sort of class consciousness, as people kept saying they favored trade and development, but they wanted the sort of policies that would offer benefits to most Taiwanese and allow the Taiwanese to preserve their society or culture, and they thought that both parties, but especially the KMT, would be more likely to create legislation and policies that would direct all benefits to those who were already wealthy and powerful, or those who were well-connected to the politicians. 

By the way, 吳媛媛 describes the difference between modern welfare states where the government sector makes up a third to half of the economy and Taiwan, where taxes are very low and government services are minimal. For the percent of the economy under public supervision (Government spending as percent of GDP) there are several sources of data, including the IMF, the OECD, the Economic Freedom Index, the European Union, the United Nations Online Network in Public Administration and Finance, and so forth.  The numbers don’t always agree, and sometimes they fluctuate more than one could imagine possible, so I wonder if one reason the data conflict is that these analyses use different methods for estimating local or provincial/state spending in excess of national government spending. It’s extremely difficult to calculate provincial/state and local spending without double-counting since most national governments allocate money to states and local/tribal governments, and provinces/states also “spend” money by giving it to localities to “spend” again. There are problems with all these data sources.  Anyway, here are two examples, and they are slightly different than the numbers cited by 吳媛媛.

The International Monetary Fund (October of 2012) at The Guardian.
which shows…
France 55%
Sweden 49% 
the UK 45%
USA and Japan 40%
Australia 35%
Taiwan 22%
South Korea 21%
Singapore 18%.

The 2014 Index of Economic Freedom (created by the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation, two actors highly biased against government spending) is easily available, and suggests these percentages of the economy under public supervision:
France 56%
Sweden 51% 
the UK 49%
USA and Japan, both around 42%
Australia 35%
Taiwan 23%
South Korea 30%
Singapore 17%.

吳媛媛 was reporting a government sector in Taiwan of about 12.4% of GDP, based on the 2012 Heritage Foundation index of Economic Freedom, but the number of 23% comes from the 2014 report, and there is no way government spending nearly doubled in the past two years!

For critiques of measuring Government percentages of GDP, I recommend 
Dean Baker’s opinion at CEPR (Dean Baker is one of my favorite economists),
which critically discusses Lew Daly’s July 2014 essay in the New York Times, which also critiqued how GDP and government spending are considered. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ten "Non-Commandments" for atheists and humanists: I reject eight of them.

Lex Bayer and John Figdor have a new book out: “Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart: Rewriting the Ten Commandments for the Twenty-First Century,” and I've just read a review of it.

I'm glad to see such a book.  I do hope non-religious persons and materialists and atheists and so forth will devote time and effort to defining their ethics and trying to live according to their ethics.  I think non-religious ethics are not likely to give us a sustainable world or a particularly good society.  But at least the attempt is important, and I wish them well. By the way, I consider myself most definitely a humanist. I'm a religious humanist, and there is no contradiction in that.

The review I read included the ten "non-commandments" for atheists and humanists, and I find I personally could only give full agreement or commitment to two of the ten.  

The Ten Non-Commandments:

I. The world is real, and our desire to understand the world is the basis for belief.

The world has an objective reality.  In that sense, it is real.  This world may be a contingent world, and its reality may depend upon a deeper reality.  In that sense, this world is less real than the deeper reality upon which it depends. For example, if this world is a projection, or analogous to a computer program running, then the source of the projection, or the source of the computer program, would exist in some “more real” reality than this world.  

Our desire to understand the world does not inform our understanding of the degree to which our sensory perceptions of “the world” are accurate and reveal to us “reality”.  The basis for our belief that the world is real is that other minds agree with us about what we perceive. Because I seem to see and experience the same things as others around me do, I believe what I perceive and experience is real. Shared perceptions are a basis for belief.

II. We can perceive the world only through our human senses.

I doubt that we are limited to the use of our human senses.  Empirically, I believe there are cases in which people have perceived the world while in comas, or while asleep, while dreaming, while unconscious, or even while in a state of temporary death.  The statement that “we only perceive through our senses” can be correct if we define “our senses” to include some of these seemingly non-physical abilities to perceive the world.  But people usually mean by “human senses” our ability to witness with eyes, ears, touch, and so forth, or our ability to witness the output from the machines we use to enhance our perceptions.  

I also believe our imagination, our creativity, and our intuition can perceive the world, and the perception of these non-sensory approaches, while less reliable than the perception of our physical senses, is also a valid and potentially accurate way to perceive the world. To rule out intuition, creativity, and imagination as methods for perception is to needlessly limit our understanding of human perception.

Someone might say that "human senses" take information from outside and imagination, creativity, and intuition are based on the generation of information from inside, not taking from the outside, but I think that we can access "outside" influences through intuition, creativity, and imagination. 

III. We use rational thought and language as tools for understanding the world.

Yes, I agree that we use rational thought and language, and ought to use these, while recognizing that there are probably limits to what can be understood about the world through thought, through rational thought, and through language. The nature of these limitations may be such that we cannot understand or accurately measure these limitations using thought, rational thought, and language. We don't know what we are missing, we can't perceive the limits.  So, in our attempts to understand the world, we may sometimes use things other than rational thought and language, such as trust in experts, intuitive insight, traditional wisdom, and other sources of understanding, as imperfect supplements to what we gain through rational thought and language.  Language, for example, could be defined broadly to include music, visual arts, movement, and so forth. Sometimes we understand the world through music, visual images, and other sources of communication and knowledge exchange that are not especially rational. 

IV. All truth is proportional to the evidence.

The sort of “truth” that we can agree upon amongst ourselves is proportional to the evidence.  There may be better, more accurate truths that lack evidence (the sort of evidence we find through our senses and rational thought).  There may be truths that exist in a way that defies our ability to accumulate evidence to support those truths. For such truths that lack the evidence we are capable of gathering, the truth is “weaker” only in the sense that we are less likely to reach agreement amongst ourselves about those truths. We ought to have lower expectations that people will reach a consensus about such truths.  Those truths about which we can reach consensus will be the truths that have evidence that is most widely available and acceptable. 

V. There is no God.
The term people use for “God” is a term used by human minds to refer to something beyond the ability of the human mind to grasp.  If you can narrow “God” by applying definitions and conditions to what God is, than that “God” you have imagined is, by definition, a thing that you have “created” through your thought (your definitions, conditions, your imagination, your language), and may or may not correspond to whatever “God” actually is.  When a person says, “there is no God” they mean: 
I do not accept or believe in any of the evidence that God (any "god" I can imagine) exists, and I cannot conceive of the possibility that I could be open to a hypothesis that God exists, and I hold that my attitude toward belief in God is correct, accurate, and closer to truth than the attitudes of those who believe through faith or trust in authorities who reveal truths rather than reaching truths through sensory evidence and rational thought. 
I am not such a person.  I believe that there certainly is an Unknowable Source of reality beyond our abilities to comprehend and understand. I am willing to take, (with some slight reservations), testimony of persons who claim to have direct intuitive understanding of the reality of a “God” as equally valid or even superior to the lack of evidence in what my physical senses and rational thought can give me.  So, I simply don’t agree with this commandment.  And, I do not see why it is necessary.  Certainly agnosticism is the more rational and logical approach to God, rather than disbelief.

At any rate, this all boils down to Occam's Razor and whether that particularly useful tool of logic and rational thought ought to become an object of worship to replace God.  I'm generally in favor of logic and Occam's Razor, but I don't feel obliged to deify it.

VI. We all strive to live a happy life. We pursue things that make us happy and avoid things that do not.
But the sort of happiness that is associated with good moods and emotional well-being is not the only thing we pursue.  We also pursue value, connection, achievement, engagement, accomplishment, growth, right action, good reputations, perfection, beauty, intimacy, and knowledge, and we may sacrifice happiness to achieve these things.  Happiness may be the central and core thing we pursue, but it is not the only thing, and value, connection, achievement, engagement, accomplishment, growth, correctness, reputation, perfection, beauty, intimacy, and knowledge may in many cases be more important than happiness, and we may trade happiness (accept a degree of unhappiness) in order to achieve these other things.

VII. There is no universal moral truth. Our experiences and preferences shape our sense of how to behave.

There probably are universal moral truths.  Even an atheist might be able to accept them as emergent properties of the universe that, when recognized and followed by intelligent beings, increase long-term chances for survival, while maximizing happiness, growth, development, intimacy, beauty, connection, etc.  Aside from these moral maxims that probably hold true as principles that might be discovered from experiment and evolution and computer simulation or game theory, I personally believe that there are probably universal moral truths embedded in this reality by our Creator. Most of human “morality” is relative, and our experiences and preferences do shape our unconscious ideas about ethics and morality, and most of our logical argument about what is moral is an after-the-fact attempt to justify our intuitive sense of what is right and wrong. That intuitive sense of justice or morality is unconscious, and is also likely to be biased in our personal favor.  But, despite the fact that moral truth is relative, at least in general, I still think there are probably deeper moral truths in this universe that are universal, and simply emerge in slightly different forms according to different situations. 

VIII. We act morally when the happiness of others makes us happy.
We are more likely to act morally when our own happiness is enhanced by the happiness of others. However, we may also act morally when the growth, wisdom, knowledge, achievement, accomplishment, engagement, connection, intimacy, etc. of others increases our own happiness.  Sometimes other people need something other than happiness. 

IX. We benefit from living in, and supporting, an ethical society.
Yes.  We do.  I totally agree with this point.

X. All our beliefs are subject to change in the face of new evidence, including these.

Yes.  I agree.  This is the second point I agree with.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I've read the generalization that all religions can be misused to support violence, and the sweeping accusation that all religions have in fact been used to support atrocities and violence.  I think, however, that this is not technically correct.  My understanding is that there are several religions for which nonviolence and anti-warfare principles are central to the core belief system, and I am unaware that these religions or sects have perpetuated any atrocities, violent persecutions, wars, or generally supported aggressive warfare or communal violence.  I would include in this list:

Jehovah's Witnesses

I think it's also important to recognize that when religions have become militant, or supported nationalistic or imperialistic wars, there have been heroic persons who stood up for a vision of peace and humanistic spirituality that rejected warfare and nationalism.

Let's start with Buddhism, which has recently been in the news because of Buddhist anti-Muslim and anti-Christian violence in Myanmar and Thailand (plus anti-Hindu violence in Sri Lanka). When anti-religious zealots claim all religious are violent, people sometimes suggest that Buddhism isn't so violent, and the example to contradict this claim is the fact that Japanese Buddhist leaders generally supported the nationalist militaristic agenda of Imperial Japan during World War II. However, a few Buddhists disagreed with the nationalism and militarism, and suffered for their thought crimes; people should know about figures such as Makiguchi Tsunesaburo (1871-1944) and Toda Josei (1900-58), or other Japanese who opposed militarism and nationalism.  Within Buddhism, there have been peace-oriented benevolent societies trying to improve people's lives (e.g., Soka Gakkai International; Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu-Chi Foundation), although like any large human institutions, these groups are plagued by internal politics and intrigues, the corrupting influence of power, authoritarianism, and the inevitable problem of human personalities importing their own mental and cultural issues into their religious organizations.  This is not a problem unique to religious groups or religion: it is a problem of human nature and any large organization using hierarchical structures and bureaucratic control systems (which seem necessary in all large human institutions).  Some Buddhist activists for peace include members of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Thích Nhất Hạnh, (of Vietnam, now in France) and Daewon Ki (of Korea, now in Hawaii).

Lately, some people have claimed that Islam is especially violent. In the Islamic world, there have been a number of famous champions of peace, including Shaykh Aḥmadu Bàmba Mbàkke (1853–1927) in Senegal, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890-1988) in British India, and Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) also in British India (although Ahmad's movement in Islam, the Ahmadiyya Community, may or may not be an independent non-Islamic religion, depending upon your premises of how religions and religious movements should be defined and distinguished). Currently there are many significant Muslims working for peace and non-violence, including such distinguished persons as the scholars Farid Esack (South Africa) and Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah (originally from Mauritania), as well as the Palestinian activist Mubarak Awad; and there are many non-violent movements in the Muslim world, including supporters of the Green Movement in Iran, The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers,  La'Onf in Iraq, and so forth.

There are groups like the World Council of Religions for Peace as well.

The Christian tradition of non-violence is probably well-known (Martin Luther King, Jr., Leo Tolstoy, etc.), as is the Hindu tradition (Mahatma Gandhi).

People who have supported violence, warfare, and oppression of other human beings have often justified their murderous aggression and heartless cruelty by appealing to religious traditions or values, but there are some religious that have not been used for violence, because their core teachings are for peace and against war. Likewise, religious have inspired leaders who worked for peace and human dignity.  Secularists and atheists have also worked for peace, and have also used non-religious secular ideologies to justify cruelty, violence, and warfare. I'm very skeptical of arguments that religions are especially bad ideologies, or that secular non-religious values are inherently superior or less likely to be used to justify oppression, cruelty, and warfare.  It seems to me that religions offer an important alternative view to whatever ideology or value system is supported by the state, the ruling elites, or political leaderships.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Thoughts on UFOs and aliens.

What are UFOs?  I don’t know what they are, but people continue to see objects in the sky (and rarely, on the ground, or on water, or under water) that they can’t identify.  The objects are usually stars, planets, planes, human satellites, balloons, experimental aircraft, drones, meteors, bolids, strange weather phenomena, hallucinations, or other things that have no supernatural or extraterrestrial origins.  There are also many reports that are hoaxes, or honest witnesses who have been deceived by hoaxes. But, I’m convinced there is a residue of sightings that are still unexplainable, and even among the hallucinations, I think there are cases that defy logical explanations (as some hallucinations may not conform to typical patterns of hallucinations, or multiple persons share a nearly identical subjective experience of the hallucination).   

I have always been intrigued by the similarities between alien and UFO encounters and folklore concerning faeries and supernatural creatures.  There also seem to be parallels between the entities encountered by persons who go into dissociative trances brought on through rituals or use of hallucinogens and the UFO experiences and encounters with faeries or elves in folklore.  I’ve often wondered if there might be some connection, where some sort of an objective experience of a different sort of reality is distorted through subjectivity and the psychological states of witnesses during their encounters.  

There are also photographs and films of some UFOs, and while most of these are hoaxes (especially now that people know how to create computer graphics and merge these into film using Adobe products) or simply prosaic objects (e.g., insects flying across the field of vision), some of the images may be authentic and may show objects that fall into the unexplainable category. And, if so, this further suggests an objective reality basis for the subjective “UFO encounter” experiences. 

There are some emotional reasons pulling me toward openness to the idea that at least some of the UFOs represent technologies of advanced non-human civilisations.  In the first place, the Fermi’s Paradox problem of why we have not detected intelligent alien life yet suggests a few frightening possibilities: 1) we are the first species to evolve to our level of civilisation in this region of the galaxy; 2) we are the only species or the first species to evolve to a stage of technological civilisation; 3) there is some sort of a barrier that makes it impossible or nearly impossible for a species at our level of civilisation to advance to becoming an interstellar colonial civilisation (perhaps civilisations such as ours always destroy themselves, or always fail to establish enduring interstellar civilisations, or always are destroyed by something before they can establish interstellar colonies).  The idea that some UFOs represent alien civilisations helps us get rid of the problem of Fermi’s paradox, and reassures us that we are not alone in this part of the universe. Otherwise, we may face a frightening destiny almost certain to wipe out our species or limit our ability to get off this planet and out of this solar system. Another emotional reason for believing that some UFOs represent advanced non-human civilisations is that it increases our sense of possibilities and unexpected knowledge. If some UFOs are from advanced non-human civilisations, their behaviours and technologies are quite different from what we expect. And, if there is a connection between entities encountered while in altered states of consciousness and folklore entities and UFO aliens, it seems reality is quite different from what we so far have understood through our use of the scientific method. That seems like an exciting possibility to me, so I’m emotionally attracted to that possibility.

Another reason to think that non-human civilisations are responsible for some of the UFO phenomena is that this helps resolve unexplained mysteries.  Many people are uncomfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty.  Currently, if you share my opinion that some small fraction (representing hundreds of cases around the planet each year) of UFO events defy explanation, you are left with perplexing mysteries.  I have no answer or explanation that satisfies. Simply leaving the matter at that becomes deeply dissatisfying, so introducing the hypothesis, and then the belief, that some of these encounters represent contact with non-human civilisations offers a resolution and some sort of answer to the problem.  It is far more satisfying (for most people, I suppose) to “know” that UFOs represent aliens or else always represent hoaxes, natural phenomena, hallucinations, and so forth.  Allowing that some cases may not fit into either category, or may possibly represent non-human civilisations, creates a tension of having no answer to a question.  That tension is too uncomfortable for many people.

There are good reasons for thinking UFOs are not evidence of alien non-human technologies.  It currently seems that the resources necessary for interstellar travel would be immense. For a civilisation to send a craft across dozens of light years, or hundreds of light years, and then have that craft controlled by a biological entity rather than advanced computers and artificial intelligence, and then have that biological entity behave as most unexplained UFOs are reported to behave, defies all common sense. But then, if any of these things are representatives of non-human civilisations and technologies, that is perhaps exactly what we should expect: they are not human, and human common sense may be utterly unable to grasp their non-human motives.

So, here is where I stand on the UFO phenomena: I think some of the unexplainable encounters with UFOs may represent non-human technology.  I have no idea what sort of non-human civilisation might be behind the UFOs: are they time-travellers from this planet, or visitors from other dimensions, or visitors from other solar systems light years away from ours?  I suspect there is a connection between encounters with UFOs, deities (such as bodhisattvas, Mary, various other saints, local or traditional gods), and folkloric magical humanoid entities (elves and faeries).  I would not be surprised if encounters with ghosts are also somehow connected. For the present, the connection I make is that it seems to me that the unconscious mind of the persons who encounters these things is playing a large role in shaping the experience, and the collective ideas of the culture (archetypes) also seem to shape the experience and its interpretation. 

I think some aspects of consciousness and memory exist outside the brain.  That is, I believe consciousness plays a role in shaping brains and physical reality as we experience it, and I believe that brains “receive” the mind as well as generate mental phenomena.  I believe this because I think there have been sufficient cases of out-of-body perceptual experiences, near-death experiences, reincarnation phenomena, and some forms of telepathy to give me a reasonable empirical grounding for suspecting that consciousness is not entirely depending on brain functioning.  The fact that I am a religious believer and my religion also teaches me that reality includes things that are not usually available for scientific testing and that some aspect of personal identity survives death also informs my opinion that consciousness is not entirely dependent on the brain (although manifestation of consciousness in the material world does seem to generally require brain activity). Because I believe consciousness exists in some form outside the material processes of the brain, I’m open to the possibility that UFO and alien encounters represent interesting “consciousness” phenomena or technology, rather than advanced spaceship technologies.

Since I already believe in consciousness existing outside the brain, I’m open to the possibility that UFO and alien encounters have more to do with human consciousness than interstellar travel. I recognise that some of the unexplained UFO phenomena involve physical objects, or at least physical evidence that multiple witnesses see or things that can be captured with photographs and movies. That suggests interstellar travel rather than some sort of supernatural paranormal encounter involving altered states of human consciousness, but it doesn’t rule out the possibility that technologies involving consciousness might be able to create physical phenomena such as “spacecraft” or whatever. If there are non-human alien civilisations, they may have had hundreds of thousands, or tens of millions, or even billions of years to develop their science and technology so that what they do appears indistinguishable from magic to us.

At a personal level, saying I wouldn’t be surprised if some UFOs represent non-human alien technology is quite different from making a scientific claim that this is indeed true. I am not convinced at a level where I would “reject the null hypothesis” and claim I have high confidence that aliens are visiting humans. That is, I’m guessing there is a greater than 5% chance that all UFO phenomena have accurate explanations involving no alien non-human technology or entities. But, I guess there is a 85% or 90% possibility that some UFO phenomena do represent alien entities or technologies, which means I generally think non-human entities are sometimes observed or experienced by humans. Unlike many true believers in UFO phenomena, I don’t think encounters with aliens are extremely important. I’m unimpressed by the claims of people who say aliens are giving them guidance or using them as mouthpieces to send messages to humanity; these people always seem to be self-deluded or actively lying. If aliens are contacting some humans or allowing humans to observe them, but they are not landing craft at the UN headquarters, I assume they prefer to remain observers and unobtrusive and not influential.  I also assume if aliens visit Earth they represent civilisations that are tens of thousands of years older than ours, or perhaps millions of years more advanced than ours, and so I assume they are wiser and more far-sighted than we are. If they want to remain a mystery, and do not seek to reveal themselves in some unambiguous way, I trust they have their reasons. 

I am comfortable with ambiguity, unanswered questions, and lack of definite final resolution of mysteries. So, I like the mystery of UFO phenomena. I like the way UFO and paranormal fields create a sort of counter-culture that questions the dominant mainstream, because I am generally suspicious of dominant mainstream hegemonic discourse and world views. The UFO and paranormal scenes are too full of crackpots and charlatans to attract much of my time or attention, but I admire people who try to do quality investigative work and theorising related to these mysteries. I respect people who are more certain than I am in their conclusions about non-human civilisations visiting Earth. And, I admire some of the skeptics that help expose the hoaxes and charlatans and crackpots.