A general observation:
The world is, by and large, what you make of it. While physical laws cannot be broken, humanity is what you believe it to be. Your beliefs about others shape your perceptions, determine who you will become, and influence the development of those around you. They will also subtly guide who you associate with, and the sort of people who choose to associate with you.
Thus if you believe that people are basically good and charitable, marred by the occasional evil impulse, it will be born out by your life experience. Conversely, if you believe that human beings are essentially selfish, short-sighted, dishonest and lacking in compassion, then that is what you will find to be the case. Being well-acquainted with the harsh realities of life, you will see through every ostensibly good or indifferent action to the selfish motive that must lie behind. Memories of people at their worst moments will stick in your mind, while all others fade. Burned by your constant cynicism, more sensitive people will distance themselves from you – confirming, to you, their insincerity. You will feel most comfortable with people who share – and confirm – your jaded outlook. In their coldness, selfishness, and lack of trust they will live down to your expectations, and will therefore seem more “real” to you, less phony. The news, dominated as it is by gore and evil deeds, will constantly reassure you that the world is consistent with your view of it. Everyone you meet will reflect your harsh outlook back to you.
I have also observed that which of these worldviews someone adopts is often dependent on how they view themselves.
Heaven or hell, you choose the world you live in. You can be surrounded by flawed angels or by demons. But remember, your choice is not made in a vaccuum. To make the world a better place it is not enough to be one of the embattled few who choose to rise above their own depraved nature. Your actions reflect your attitudes in subtle ways, vectors for the spread of either charity or contempt.
And that is why so many religions put emphasis on loving your neighbor.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. You can do great works, and hold yourself to a high standard of behaviour; but if you view yourself as the exception, and see those around through a haze of disgust, you still feed the vicious cycle of hatred and violence. Like quantum particles, your observation of those around you effects them. Only by consciously choosing a charitable outlook – no matter how foolish and naive it may seem – can you make a positive change in the world.
Rejoinder.. pt 1
While I agree with you on a few of your general points–i.e. that worldview shapes and structures your perceptions of the world–I disagree with most of the conclusions that you draw from these positions…
1. The world is not just the dichotomy that you paint it to be.. It is not just that “people are loving wonderful generous beings OR they are craven evil fuckers wanting to flay you alive at any point”..
It is not just angels or demons.. but often just the fact that we are surrounded by sheeps and goats.. (and cats and dogs etc etc..)
Very rarely do we really come across angels or demons..
what about all those people who really just don’t give a damn one way or the other? or those that are sometimes moral and other times immoral…
2. You seem to assume that you can only make a positive change in the world if you are one of those who “loves everyone”…
And I just don’t find that to correspond to reality. On the one hand, there are numerous cases of individuals who have generally seen most people as self-interested, brutal, or just downright attached to baser insticts, who have also attempted to improve the world through their own actions and also by trying to construct systems whereby all people could live more constructive lives… Many of the founders of the Enlightenment fit into this mold–think Montesquie (sp?), Voltaire, and numerous others… On the other hand, I can find just as many examples of people who espoused views that “people are good wonderful things” who then went and perpetrated grand acts of evil because just because you believe people are good.. doesn’t mean that you necessarily view all humans as people… Case in point, Mr. President claims to be a loving, born again Christian who loves everyone but whose actions don’t correspond to that in the slightest..
3. You seem to disregard the possibility of holding the philosophical position that “Even if I think most people are generally self-interested and egotistical in most of their actions, I still believe that they inherently possess the quality of Human dignity and thus I must respect them as individuals just as I would respect myself.”… To treat people well, I don’t have to like them, I just have to respect them. While I admit that this position may not be possible for all, to claim that it is impossible would be an even greater fallacy.
4. Your argument tends to be predicated upon the assumption that people inherent these half-full/half-empty frameworks in tact and that this shapes their views from the outset… This denies any kind of experiential acquisition of frameworks. I, personally, was a very open child, if a bit shy.. Only after years of teasing, of being picked on for being different did I finally decide in my late teens/early twenties that people generally tended to be more understandable if I assumed that they were inherently selfish.. Does this mean that I hate everyone? No.. although it does mean that I’m not going to trust anyone until I find that they are not going to abuse this trust.. (and there, I have often been fairly generous in practice and have suffered accordingly from a number of individuals continually abusing my trust until I cut them off..)
5. Quantum physics is a poor metaphor here.. In the quantum world, you can’t observe something without actually smacking it.. In human affairs, observation and the perception of such observation are not nearly as intimately linked–and thus the direct impact that you posit isn’t really that good of an analogy.
Re: Rejoinder.. pt 1
I find this a problem as well “You seem to assume that you can only make a positive change in the world if you are one of those who “loves everyone”…”
I feel I have often done good precisely by being what avdi might call jaded, either by helping alert someone who is being taken advantage of in some way to see what is going on, to their benefit, or by helping someone acknowledge the more “selfish” drives guiding behaviour that they previously only thought of as being noble, which often leaves them more option to tolerance of those who disagree with them as well as more capable of assessing their own life wants and needs accurately.
Rejoinder pt 2
6. Which religions are you referring to? Christianity is obvious–but where in Judaism does it say to love your neighbor (this is a real inquiry)–especially if that neighbor is of a different tribe or religion. About Islam, I’m betting there is something to the effect there about loving one another.. but I don’t know..
Beyond that, I can’t think of any other religions that observe this view.. Hinduism certainly doesn’t, Buddhism speaks of cutting yourself off from the world, and most pagan religions aren’t predicated upon this.. (perhaps the Neo-pagan revival religions are..but old-school pre-christian paganism was quite a bloody affair from my readings… )
So.. beyond 2 big religions, any others?
7. A final observation.. that corresponds to almost all of our previous conversations.. You are presenting this view in a very idealistic fashion.. It is painted in very sweeping brush strokes with stark color differences.. and you seem to want to discredit any more pragmatic, less unified views of the world situation. While I’m sure that your viewpoint works very well for you–that your actions with others correspond directly with your views towards them–and that this needs to be true for you for you to make sense of the world (at least this seems to be my experience from reading your past posts)–this is definitely not the case for me, and it could, if I were more inclined to be combative, come across as rather patronizing.. Sort of “If you don’t love everyone, then you obviously are deluded about being able to be good and ethical in this world.. ” That is a common charge that I have had fundamentalists level at me, even as they knew nothing about me..
anyway.. you didn’t think this post would get past me, did you.. ;)))
The most well known Jewish prayer, The Shema, is followed by this very command. It’s actually in the prayer itself, but not in the part commonly known. The prayer begins thus,
What follows is more commonly known as the “V’ahavta” –
Despite having had tons of Jewish friends growing up, I know remarkably little about the inner content of the religion.. (beyond generalities).. so this is very helpful…
Perhaps my ignorance of this point comes from my current reading of the bible.. (I’m just about done with the book of Daniel now).. and most of the passages that I read seem to imply that there should be a strong connection with other jews.. but beyond that, all other tribes/groupings are pretty much treated as second class citizens and Jews are told not to associate to closely with them…
Do I believe that this is how actual Jewish people act in the real world–no… I know this is not the case due to all my experiences of having tons of friends who didn’t mind hanging out with my atheist/catholic ass… 🙂
but this kind of attitude in the bible is where my confusion comes from…
There’s actually a much more benevolent spirit in Torah than one find at a glance. Even with in depth reading it is sometimes missed.
The thing that a lot of non-Jews miss when they read the Jewish Bible is context
For example, it wasn’t just any one at all that the Jews were forbidden to associate with in the Bible. It was specific groups of people – nations that were a threat to the Israelites with their alien gods and cutoms. The God of the Israelites wanted them to remain pure and devoted to them, and was painfully aware of their tendency to wander spiritually and get involved with other Gods of other nations. That is, the Israelites had a tendency to take up with other Gods and totally drop HaShem. (If you read carefully The Ten Commandments, you’ll see that God – the one of the Jews – wants to be first with his people, not necessarily the Only.)
Anyway, the v’ahavta extends to the “strangers within the gates” and not just to Jews only. Those strangers, btw, were typically the ones who either wanted to be an Israelite by conversion (sorta), or wanted to be associated with the Israelites for whatever reason.
These days the rabbis extend the circle even wider to include all strangers, all people who aren’t Jewish. We should love everyone as ourselves (but especially our Jewish neighbors! LOL)
I also don’t necessarily but the gravitational theory – for ex, i am incredibly attached to faith, precisely because her sunny trusting nature helps balance out my darker one.
Does Faith realize this?
Though trendy, I tend to think of things like this in terms of Karma. Obviously, spreading good moods, good attitudes, and good works makes for good Karma.
Faith in humanity is a much harder issue to deal with. Ideally, I generally agree with you that you must expect the best of people in order to get the best, but in practice, this rarely works for me and I am constantly dissapointed in people.
I would even go as far as to say that you are not actually capable of doing truly great works if you view yourself as the exception, and see those around you through a haze of disgust.
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