Friday, October 2, 2009

Kenny on the Mountaintop (last one)

I've always thought that everyone had the ability to stand on the mountaintop. If you look at Caspar David Freidrich's painting Traveler on a Sea of Fog, which is my favorite painting, you see a man calming looking out into the distance at far peaks, after having reached the cliff tops. It's an amazing work. The man himself, just like Howard Roarke standing atop of his masterpiece at the end of The Fountainhead, or Frankenstein at the top of the Alps, has a clear countenance. He has achieved the pinnacle of human thought, and it's this that I want to talk about, to end this series of individuality. Because, like I said, I always thought that anyone could reach this state of being. I have found out that not everyone can, and there are reasons why.

Maslow, a prominent sociological figure, made a pyramid called the Hierarchy of Needs. The premise is that people must fulfill basic needs before moving on to mental and spiritual needs. At the bottom, are food, water, shelter, etc..., Then social needs, happiness, a job, friendship, biological reproductive needs...etc..., and at the top, is total mental and spiritual awareness, something he called "Self-Actualization." And I've seen the people who are mentally aware of themselves. You can tell, it's like they have their eyes open. They are the people that have the ability to reach the mountaintop, the top of the pyramid. They are the individuals that I have talked about in past blogs.

When I ended the last blog, a friend of mine commented that the individuality that I was talking about was not always attainable by all people. The reason, she said, was that not everyone in the world has the same mental capacity and ability to reach the upper stages of Maslow's pyramid. Of course, there are numerous reasons for this, not all of them known to us now. But as the pyramid shows us, if people are not able to achieve basic physical needs - food, shelter, water - they cannot be expected to cogitate on the spiritual world, or deem any sort of meaning in exploring the innermost consciousness or in achieving individuality. In fact, they probably would shun away from such an idea. A person who has been without would not be independent, but dependent on whatever entity would come about to provide them with the basics. This entity could be something known, as a government or charity organization, or it could be supernatural, such as provision given by God.

Government as Entity

The Government has become an primary entity that provides people with the basic steps outlined in Maslow's pyramid. They provide protection (military), bread and food (Welfare and other subsidies), shelter (HUD, Fannie Mae, other Government programs for low-income housing), and other things as well. In some instances, I feel, the government has a right and an obligation to do these things. The government's main responsibility is to protect its citizens from outside threats, and we have the greatest military force ever assembled to help us do that. It also should provide certain basic services for those that absolutely could not afford or be able to live without them (SSI, for instance). This is what the life and liberty parts of the Preamble to the Constitution talked about. It's the Pursuit of Happiness that gets a little more difficult, and is what takes me into my argument.

To me, the "pursuit of happiness" is the liberty to pursue the path of independence. To achieve "The American Dream" as it were. Because it is precisely the American Dream that makes this country as amazing as it is. It is not to be rich, necessarily, or completely successful. Happiness, as I believe the writers of the Constitution saw it, was to have the independence to control one's own life, to live out that life at one's own choosing. In today's capitalist market, that does tend to equate with financial success and wealth, but it doesn't have to. The Constitution doesn't say that we are guaranteed this, because in order to climb up Maslow's pyramid, we have to do most of it on our own. The Constitution simply says that the government has an obligation to start us off. To provide the foundation for individuals who have no foundation to start with. But that is all it is supposed to do. To provide any more, or to expect recompense, is to exert itself onto the individual more than it should. When an individual climbs up to the pinnacle, and finds that an organization is there waiting for him to serve it, then we have eliminated self-actualization and replaced it with another entity. We have become enslaved to the people that are providing for us. Much as the Pharoah was God and ruler to the people of Egypt, so are the organizations and entities that sit atop Maslow's pyramid, waiting to be served and depended upon. It is we that give them the power over us, it is our sanction that allows other people to give us direction in life. And since I'm talking about the Government first, let's look at how the Government takes the pinnacle of "Self-Actualization" and makes it into its own Mount Olympus, for us to be dependent upon.

Looking down from the tower high above London (600 years A.F.), Mustapha Mond smiles in the knowing way that he would have, seeing the horizon of a city filled with happy people. The unhappy ones, like Bernard and Helmholtz Watson, he had banished to Iceland, where independent thinkers would not upstage the world government by challenging the collective laws. The city languishes in amusement centers, drug supplemental centers (places where they give people free drugs, called Soma), and churches (which are little but gatherings for orgies of habitual pleasure). All this, of course, takes place in Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New World, where Mustapha is the leader of the European area of the World. The government of this Dystopian world rules through providing its citizens with everything. From the basics to everything they would need to attain happiness, even to the genetically controlled DNA makeup in their bodies. The provide recreation, sex, drugs, anything except material that would cause those who could think the desire to do so. All education is done through osmosis and sleeping chambers, and during the day, the children are taught the skills necessary to be happy, from games to sexual discoveries. There is no poverty, no unhappiness in life, and death is simply done in chambers where the elderly are "soma'ed" until their bodies stop functioning.

Obviously, today's government doesn't rule our lives like this. But it makes sense. Why would a government rule by fear, such as in Orwell's 1984 or in places like the Romulan Empire (Star Trek) when they can rule by happiness. Give the people everything they want, and then eliminate the need for anything else. There would be no desire to think outside the box, because it would not occur to them that there was an "outside." A government that would do this has ultimate control over the people's lives, and there would be no one to question them. For those who control your life have power over it.

[ As a side note, there are many dystopian novels and programs that will further deal with this issue. Among them:

Andre Norton Outside
Movie: Logan's Run
Ray Bradbury: "The Pedestrian"
Frank Bonham The Forever Formula
D.J. MacHale Pendragon Book 7: The Quillan Games]

The government does provide recreation, happiness, and passivity to all it's citizens, if they choose it. Certainly there is no more addicting game than the lottery to blow your life savings on, trying to get an even bigger life savings. There have been proposals made to provide Underground Atlanta with Casino type machines that would support the economy there as well as provide funds for the Georgia Lottery. There are also instances of medications like Viagra being paid for through government health care programs. Now, with the proposal of health care reform under the current administration, it will be easy to get Prozac, Viagra, Zoloft....anything to make us a happier nation. And, I am sure, the government will have no problems giving those medications out, as it will neutralize the unsatisfied and quell the bitter. Soma, as Huxley called it, is not so far away.

A government that provides happiness does it at a price. The dependency on the government to make you happy takes away your independence, and keeps you from reaching that last level of self-actualization. If you have the American dream handed to you, you have achieved nothing, and so that is what it's worth. Working to achieve your dreams, even if it might be harder, is worth the sweat and toil, because the rewards will be yours. And of course the government will try to take that away from you, because it wasn't given to you by them, so you should give it to them instead. This line of thinking runs right into Ayn Rand's philosophies, so I'll let her finish where I was going.

The proper government is one that interferes as little as possible in the private lives of its citizens. The only thing the Constitution gives them the right to do is to allow citizens the "pursuit" of happiness. It cannot and should not give it to them. Let the people fail. Let the economy tank and see hard times come about. Apart from providing the basics of Maslow's pyramid (shelter, food, water), the Government should let the economic system fix itself. The lessons learned from failure can only make the human race stronger, more durable. Today, it is soft, weak, whining. I see too many stories where 911 was called because the people at McDonalds gave them the wrong burger. I have witnessed the depravity of the human condition on Judge Alex. Makes me wish for a second Noah flood, so sickening are the people that appear as specimens of our society. They are the ones that need hard times so that they can learn what their grandparents learned at the turn of the 20th century. And these are the people I thought could achieve individuality and self-actualization. I realize that this will never happen as long as the government continues to provide economic security and superficial happiness to its people.

Education as Tool

"Give a man a fish, and you've fed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and you've fed him for a lifetime." A popular quote in education circles. Something that makes teachers all warm and fuzzy inside (in return for not being paid what their worth). I know I've looked at Education in the previous blog or two, but there's something I wanted to touch on in regard to the Government (or the Church, as private schools go) as Entities in place of Self-actualization. Public education here in America, while being some of the best "free" schooling in the world, has its drawbacks. I mentioned in the last blog the Biblical verse about "diligently seeking." I heartily approve of this for almost anything that one does. But I hardly call what public schools think is education "diligent." It is as if a giant spoon is coming to each child and force feeding them information, to simply be regurgitated onto some standardized test, before forgotten thereafter. And what is effective in Huxley's novel is clearly not effective here. We can't just download the information into children's heads and expect them to become productive, knowledgeable citizens. They have to want to learn it. They have to seek knowledge out and combine it with a priori knowledge. Else it becomes lost in the mess of consciousness and subconscious yearnings.

As a tool for the government, public education works only half the time. In general, the government sets the curriculum (both stated and unstated) and the teachers do their best to fulfill this. While I could go into a tirade of the political bias of teachers and the liberal leanings of teacher organizations, I won't, because there are too many blogs that deal specifically with this. But if children are taught that the government is here to provide us with everything we could ask for, as if citizens had a right for the luxuries that our anscestors worked so hard for, then children will learn that individuality, that hard work and diligently seeking anything, isn't worth it, because the government will provide everything that is needed. Therefore, self-actualization isn't necessary.

Where education fails in our system, is that it does not provide the students with the skills to do anything with their lives outside of school. True, there is some minimal vocational training going on in some of the schools (Rockdale Career Academy, for instance), but it is certainly looked down upon by those that matter. A vocational degree is often looked at as something that the delinquents get because they do not or could not go to "college." The true path is to graduate with a "college prep" diploma, and then go to college and get a "liberal arts" degree. This is the most highly looked upon path. Then a student can go to med school or law school or wherever. Being an auto mechanic, or a welder, or a plumber, or someone that works on Air Conditioning, that is not a job for a "civilized person." Our public school system treats those careers in this manner. Therefore, everyone that graduates from high school might know how to type, but nothing else useful. And then we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to specialists that keep our machines running and our lives comfortable. We should be able to do it ourselves. But there is no way to learn these skills outside of our parents' teachings.

Therefore I propose that every student in public school take a "Life Skills" course, where private enterprise comes in, teaches everyone how to do basic maintenance and skills that are needed to become self-sufficient (unless a transmission blows). Changing oil, changing the wiring in an electrical socket, wiring a ceiling fan, the parts of a lawn mower, balancing a checkbook, etc... Do what Home Ec. is supposed to do. Sure, taking AP courses and Comparative Literature and Calculus is important, but living life is equally so. We must teach our students to seek diligently their goals and dreams, to improve their lives, to improve all of our lives.

Among the most important things that schools today must teach their students is information literacy. In today's world, reading is not enough. Technology has progressed us beyond simply a reading culture. Now, we use visual communication far more than mere words. Postman's ideas in Amusing Ourselves to Death, that the medium is the message, is as important as what is said. They must learn how to use the information gathered from the Internet, from TV, from the news, and apply it to what they already know. They must interpret the data being flooded in to their brains. This, and only this, will allow self-actualization to occur. I find it surprising, given the amount of revolutionary technology that has been developed since the 1990's, that school curricula have not included information literacy into their requirements. In fact, most schools are languishing behind with out of date technology and limited ability to use what they have. I had a teacher complaining to me about, while she was in a brand new school, made with the most up to date equipment they could get, had no computer in her room. She wondered where all the funding went. Controlling what children learn, and what they don't learn, is the critical tool that any Entity uses to keep themselves at the top of Maslow's pyramid. This includes any government (whether on purpose or subconsciously), or the Church, past, or present.

The Church as Entity

It's amazing how hard it is to write this section. All during my attempts to think this through, I've had to separate the "Church" entity from God as Entity. Because certainly God is one. And there certainly is a difference. In my beliefs, God is the only Entity which accepts mankind climbing as high as he can. Note that obviously God does not want man to climb to an equal footing as He, as the Tower of Babel episode doth explain. But climbing to as high a summit as man's mind will let him reach, this is perfectly acceptable, and even desirable. What would Man be, having been made in the image of God, if he could not reach his full potential? Why would God want to prevent His creation from becoming the most it can be? Therefore God as Entity is perfectly suitable to sit atop Maslow's pyramid of Needs, because God does not supplant Self-Actualization, He merely enables it.

The Church, on the other hand, has for centuries been a force that has kept mankind from reaching his full potential. Even in Biblical times, the Christian church was wrought with problems. Each letter that Paul wrote to the churches of Asia Minor contained issues that the Church faced at that time. The concept of a church, in the way that man has conceived of it, is simply another power heirarchy, where people congregate, and men in leadership roles have power over those below them. This is a perfectly acceptable idea, as William Golding demonstrated in Lord of the Flies. Some sort of leadership structure must be maintained, for those who have not yet reached Self-Regulation (which also cannon happen without self-actualization), need the guidance of those wiser than they. Plato saw it, in The Republic, and America's founders realized this as well, else they would not have made a Federal government at all.

The problem arises when the people in power try to keep mankind from reaching his full potential by withholding necessary steps in Maslow's pyramid. The Church has, for centuries, done just that. It is ironic that, in the Middle Ages, it was the Catholic Church that preserved the knowledge of the Roman Empire while keeping it from the general population. This is done most effectively by not teaching everyone to read. In the Middle ages, with books not readily available, and education handled by the richest private schools, or the clergy, a very small percentage could actually attain the knowledge passed down by their ancestors. Most of those people were either in the clergy or in places of power. Therefore keeping the general population illiterate was most advantageous. This method of control is similar to not wanting slaves to read in America during the 1800's. In this most direct example, the Church of the Middle Ages kept mankind from climbing to the apex of his abilities.

But what about the Church today? Certainly, thanks to Gutenburg, books and other media are quite common. And Martin Luther founded the Protestant movement, where every individual being has direct communication and a relationship with God. In a sense, Christianity should be a Libertarian religion, with each individual having a relationship with God, and seeking to know him better through the scriptures, through other people (church), and through the miracles and wonders of daily life. But more often, I see the power structure of a denomination or an independent church rising up to take the place of individual thinking. In the Baptist denomination, people have long been forbade to dance. In my own family, my grandfather found card playing sinful, but had no problem dating after he was married. Recently, church groups have formed political parties (such as the moral majority) to actively back candidates. It seems to me that churches need to spend less time on telling people what to think, and more time instructing people on how to pursue a relationship with God based on the Bible. Yet we have pastors such as the Rev. Jeremiah Wright preaching from the pulpit that 9/11 was revenge on white people, and such theories. We have pastors telling their congregations who to vote for, and how to decide on amendments and laws and such. Show us the Bible passages, and let us make up our own minds. If we are wrong, then let that be between God and us.

And it goes beyond that. As I have said in a past blog (Adding Points to the Compass), I found "collectible bookmarks" in all of Borders' copies of The Golden Compass basically saying how Pullman's works were sinful and Athiest (true, Pullman is an atheist), and then gave a web site that continues with this line of thinking, linked to a church that passed out the bookmarks to people who requested them. It was an underhanded ploy not meant to be in a bookstore. If the church in question wanted to have people outside our bookstore handing them out, let them go ahead. Or publish a book decrying the philosophies of Philip Pullman, and I'll be glad to put it right next to it. But placing unauthorized material inside the books without our knowledge.... that is beyond the pale. Why not put pro-Jewish bookmarks inside of Mein Kampf, or anti-pedophilia pamplets inside of Lolita? Let the people read as they choose, and decide for themselves what to believe, and let the final judgement be for God.

In the end, it is always up to the individual to decide. I have this theory, and Galileo would agree with me, that if churches let people decide what they want to believe for themselves, that religion would slowly fade away. They are scared that self-actualization would bring about groups of people who don't see the empirical evidence of God, and therefore believe that he doesn't exist. They are afraid of losing their power and influence over all those people who don't have the ability to self-actualize. The church would stand, as Mustapha Mond did, atop the tower in London, and fear for the people below actually being able to think for themselves. And the less people that actually could do that, the better off the Church would be. I am not saying that those Sunday School teachers that I have mentioned in the past were deliberately trying to brainwash us, keep us from questioning the tennants of Christianity, in the fear that we might not find them to be true. But I am sure that somewhere, Church officials would rather us not question the prinicples of their denominations, for fear that we might find that we can believe and worship God on our own.

I wonder though, what God would feel like, if He looked down upon the world and find that Mankind had truly advanced to the point where they were all self-aware. What if God didn't need to do anything, as we had achieved all that he had wanted. (Of course, this isn't going to happen.... however....) I remember, in my youth, playing a game on the Super Nintendo called Actraiser, and, coming to the end of the game, the Angel tells us (the player actually being "God,") that isn't it every Diety's wish for the people that live under them to not need them anymore? For God to be proud of us for reaching the pinnacle of our abilities, to all reach the top of the mountains, and look out unto Paradise. Yes, I think God would be very proud indeed.

I'm gonna move on to other topics, silly and profound, and say good bye to Kenny and Butters and the rest. Honestly, I'm not really a big fan of South Park, but I appreciate the legitimate questions they raise. A note about these last few blogs. There will come a time, undoubtedly, when my opinions change, and I will believe differently than this. If you ask me now, do I believe all that I have written, I will answer, "Probably." But as Emerson said, minds can be changed. If I contradict myself...then fine, I will contradict myself. But for now, this will do.

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