The Natural Imperative

How are we programmed to act?

If one had never seen a murder, heard of a murder, knew of the concept of murder – could that person then commit a murder?

If we were to follow our true spiritual instincts, the yearnings we have, where would it lead us?

Some would inevitably be killers. Some would be abusive. But, I wonder, is it a natural imperative, or a product of upbringing? Nature vs. nurture.

What if, for instance, everyone made the effort to treat children, all children, like their own? All children, regardless of race, creed, nationality, sexuality, intelligence, emotional deficiencies, behavioral problems, disabilities. Imagine what that would do for the children, and likewise what it would do to all who interacted with those children.

Wouldn’t children grow up to respect the older generations? Wouldn’t older generations respect a little more?

Yet it doesn’t shine a light on what the natural imperative is. What’s engrained in our biology, and what’s programmed into us through teaching and upbringing.

What is our natural system, in the absence of power struggles and fear?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about, and will continue to think about.

Alas, Poor Yorick

It’s an interesting cross roads, along one path – civilization; and the other – barbaric punishment.

I’d mentioned in the earlier post, “It’s the W-Word!!!“, a statement made by Gandhi: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”

There are similar quotes, by similarly great men and women, on similar topics. Another that stokes the flames is from Dostoyevsky: “The degree of civil action in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

I’ve seen the criminal justice system. I believe the criminal justice system in the United States does not work. There are statistics. There are first-hand accounts. There are horror stories.

Privatization, capitalism, dehumanization drive a criminal justice system that is unsustainable. The criminal justice bubble, if you will. A bubble that is sure a break.

And I’ve mentioned the issues I’ve had with the criminal justice system before in passing. But right now I’m thinking about the death penalty. This was prompted by the scheduled Tuesday execution of Missouri inmate Marcellus Williams. Newly discovered DNA evidence prompted the Governor to stay the execution. (As I’m working on the finishing touches of this piece, I just got a notice for an execution in my home state of Florida.)

It’s an aspect of our belief that the threat of death will keep citizens in line. That punishment for crimes is the most obvious deterrent. If you can create a punishment harsh enough, eventually it will inevitably prevent all crime. Yet that doesn’t seem logical.

Anyway you slice it, here the numbers are skewed.

A recent study by Professor Michael Radelet and Tracy Lacock of the University of Colorado found that 88% of the nation’s leading criminologists do not believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime.”

Personally, I am an ardent detractor of the death penalty. From a moral standpoint, the taking of someone’s life is something that I will not support. (In a kind of extremist view, I admit I did go vegetarian last year.)

Coming at this from a religious standpoint, I think of the various conservative Christians who will decry abortion, yet at the same time demand retributive justice. This post from Christian Today, 2002, gives you a glimpse:

“Many evangelical christians believe that when it comes to wrongdoers (or criminals), the state’s first task is to make them suffer for the wrong they have done. Whether the lash, or exile from one’s homeland, or a stretch on the rack, or exposure to public shame (The Scarlet Letter), or confinement in jail—or even the noose—punishment is expected.

Is there a Christian principle from which retributive justice is derived? Retributive justice did not arise from any Christian principle; almost every pre-Christian society dealt with wrongdoers by causing them pain. Even so, retributive justice is supported by biblical example.”

A commonly cited verse for retributive punishment is Exodus 21:23:

“But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

And yet, I’ve heard it taught that even this was to encourage leniency in punishment. Prior to the Torah, death would be a common punishment for many crimes. Then Jesus came along, and theoretically upended the whole system. “Love thy enemy”, “turn the other cheek”, et al.

It’s believed now that most religious systems argue for grace and mercy when meting out punishments. Yet, Christians in America have been at the forefront of hateful behaviors. Radical Islamists vie for power and incite fear through terrorist acts. And some Hasidic Jews are still accused of misogynistic treatment of their wives, moving into the realm of domestic abuse.

We don’t seem to have it down yet.

Currently thirty-two states have the death penalty. There are right now over thirteen-hundred people on death row in the US. And from this fact sheet, it seems that roughly 61% of the polled Americans would be favorable to alternatives to the penalty. It’s my hope that eventually we’ll move from this form of retributive justice, in favor of more humane treatment of our citizenry.

Memento Mori

Latin for “remember you have to die.”

This crosses my mind. I had just reread The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin, and he discusses this principle. Art is transitory, all things come to an end, etc. etc.

I’m telling myself this as I look at the cracked face of my new Fossil Q smart watch. It’s a small crack. I banged it on the corner of a keyboard while I was at rehearsal. It is irksome, to say the least.

My first inclination is to send it back (actually, the warranty might cover it, and I’ll certainly check it out). But after the first few moments of discomfort over a broken, fairly-expensive item, I get to look at it from a higher elevation. Memento mori – remember you have to die.

We all die. Everything we know ends. Even the seeming permanence of stone and mountain is but a transitory state, eventually eroded away, though we will certainly be long gone by the time the great mountains have been made flat.

Things of beauty are beautiful because beauty cannot last.

Purpose, it’s that little flame…

We’re here to learn, and these lessons are predetermined. It’s up to us to work through the past karmic debt we carry. We are all connected, aspects of an eternal force, the Godhead, Universe, or Source. We carry with us the possibility for understanding and love.

The meaning of life is to experience. It’s the only rational purpose I can assign to the mystery of it all. Why we suffer, why we grieve, why we continue to love and give of ourselves. It’s a spiritual existence having a temporary physical one.

In that interconnectedness, we must understand that what we do to others is manifest in what will happen to us. Karma. The golden rule. These are the elements of all faiths that show us that behaving well, caring for each other, is a righteous path.

The belief that power over others will somehow fulfill us causes us to seek out status. Financial gains, palatial estates, the ability to hire and fire as we see fit. An ego-driven force that tarnishes our spiritual efforts. 

We are born with a pervasive want, or need, driving us towards some goal. As children, I believe, we have a better grasp of who we are and our place in the Universe. It’s as we age, and become educated, that the neuroses begin to develop. What if we’re not good enough? What if we don’t succeed?

Yet, if happiness can be found in a job well done, and a life well lived, than the other trappings and accoutrement are superfluous. 

America the hateful?

What a terrible week for the Country. External threats, such as North Korea and Iran loom large in the political arena, but it’s the domestic disturbances that are invading the national consciousness.

  • On Tuesday, President Trump retweeted a cartoon of a train bearing the Trump logo killing a CNN reporter, just days after a protester at a white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was fatally run down by a driver who participated in that rally. The cartoon reads “Fake news can’t stop the Trump train.” Thirty minutes later it was deleted from Trump’s Twitter feed.
  • Texas A&M University has called off a white-supremacist rally that was scheduled on campus next month. The rally organizer said he was inspired by the Unite the Right demonstration in Charlottesville for his White Lives Matter event planned for Sept. 11. Known white supremacist Richard Spencer was invited to speak at the event.
  • Charlottesville riots left one dead and nineteen injured, following a car slamming into a crowd of people. The gathering of alt-right protestors coming to oppose the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee collided with leftist counter-protestors, and a large-scale riot erupted, with white supremacist driver plowing into a crowd of people.
  • Protesters in Durham, North Carolina, brought down a Confederate monument Monday night. The monument, which is engraved with “The Confederate States of America,” is of a Confederate soldier. Activists had previously campaigned for its removal. Protesters tied a rope around the statue and pulled until it fell over, doing extensive damage to the piece.
  • Boston Police arrested one person suspected of shattering part of the city’s New England Holocaust Memorial. The person is suspected of throwing a rock at one of the memorial’s six glass towers at around 6:40 p.m. Monday. The memorial was also vandalized in June. A 21-year-old man was arrested for the first incident.
  • The Lincoln Memorial was vandalized with red spray paint, stating what appears to be: “Fuck (law, or perhaps Islam)”.
  • A Google software engineer wrote a contentious memo that has “enraged advocates of greater diversity in the technology industry. The memo has also served as a rallying cry for conservatives and the alt-right who view Google — and Silicon Valley — as a bastion of groupthink where people with different opinions are shamed into silence.” The memo proposed that differences between men and women — like a woman having a lower tolerance for stress — help explain why there were fewer women in engineering and leadership roles at the company. He said efforts by the company to reach equal representation of women in technology and leadership were “unfair, divisive, and bad for business.”

-Stories as reported in New York Times, Daily Beast,
CNN, Fox News, and Washington Post

I get through all of these, and there are more that I could list, but I feel sick. This is what we’re dealing with right now.

But, I continue on, finding that the father of the poor young woman who was murdered at the Charlottesville rally forgives the man who had driven the car. His compassion, even in the face of unimaginable grief, is something that I think many of us would have a hard time practicing.

Yes, the world is terrifying. Or it can be. And it’s contentious being an American. But we can do better. We can be better.

America is beautiful because of its diversity, and its tenacity.

When will the revolution revolve?

It’s scary to live today. There’s a resistance to change, and that resistance is showing up in violent ways. Yet, why are we now so change adverse? The industrial revolution was nearly three hundred years ago. Since that time, it’s been non-stop change. The changes that branched out from that revolution are: the industrial mindset and the alternative mindset.

In essence, what you have us the established – the status quo. And then you have the alternative. Thinkers, creatives, revolutionaries, heretics, those that come along and bring the most disruptive tools they can: ideas. And once an idea is hatched, and if it firmly takes hold, it becomes the new status quo. Perhaps the idea originators are satisfied with that. Perhaps they stop generating original ideas. But someone won’t, that much is certain. Someone won’t settle. Someone will not abide the status quo. For every status quo, there is someone who has an alternative idea.

Generally, and I’d argue that it’s a universal truism, though I’m open to the fact that it may not be, that looking to adhere to a past status quo, once it has been replaced, will not bring with it any positive outcome. Adherents to past systems are often the most dangerous, and not in the form of ideation. Rather, they cling unflinchingly to a system already shown to be obsolete. I’m thinking of course of racism, and the violence and rhetoric of the past week.

Clinging to past perceptions and prejudices is no way to inhabit a current moment. Even with what the status quo is now, it is a time of unrest. Movements are springing up, the products of ideas, with the hopes of unifying. Detractors as well, both with the desire to push ahead, and forge new ground, or with the hope to reinstate old patterns – those former glories.

Occasionally it’s hard to tell the difference. Good salesmen will pitch you what seems like an idea – maybe even a good one. But these flim-flam men and women are just pitching rehashed examples of obsolete former glories. It’s not new. It hasn’t been new for some time.

We understand more about our deficiencies when we’re able to look back. We know that black, white, brown and yellow are equals, not subject to class division, segregation or subjugation. We know that women and men are equals and deserve equitable pay and work opportunities. We know that diversity creates more robust team dynamics, leading to better ideas, and that exposure to arts is as important to developing a young brain as is learning the fundamentals of reading, writing, math and science. We know all these things, and yet our application of this knowledge still lacks universal acceptance.

Old ways are hard to break. Status quo is the norm, and that gets easily hard-wired. Easier to stick to the path than forge a new one. Thankfully, there have always been those uncomfortable with the status quo. And we now live in a time when it’s easier than ever before to forge new territory.

“The new leverage available to everyone means that the status quo is more threatened than ever, and each employee now has the responsibility to change the rules before someone else does. This isn’t about working your way up to the top, or following the rules, and then starting down the path of changing your world. Instead, these innovations are examples of leadership. About one heretic, someone with a vision, who understood the leverage available, who went ahead and changed things.”

-Seth Godin, Tribes

And after all that, I can’t help think of that last speech in The American President. If you haven’t seen it, give it a watch.

Can’t Sleep vol 3

I muse a lot while laying in bed at the end of the day. I'm having trouble sleeping, and I don't know why. I get up early enough. I'll be doing yoga in the morning. I have a pretty full day tomorrow, actually.

I'm thinking about theatre. It's been nearly a year since I was last on stage, and I've just accepted a role in a production of Annie, Get Your Gun. I'm also thinking about what I've been doing with my life these last eighteen months. Plenty of reading, loads of introspection, not much tangible to show. I'm like one of those fresh-out-of-college kids, full of ideas, but no clue on how to make a life for themselves.

Only, I'm about ten years older than most of them.

Trying to plan out the next stages of life.

Where do you want to be in five years, Michael?

Hell, I don't really know where I want to be tomorrow. But I wouldn't mind being well-rested.



Why do we elect who we elect to lead us? How do we elect them? What is it about the representative democracy that makes our elections so interesting?

Take a look at the 2016 presidential elections. While Hillary Clinton won the popular vote (65.8M to Trump’s 62.9M), Donald Trump won the election by securing 306 of the 538 electoral votes. So though a majority of Americans voted for someone else, Donald Trump became this country’s 45th president.

The electoral college system has been hotly contested before, especially in the wake of 2000 election, where George W. Bush defeated Al Gore in a narrow victory.

But the electoral college/popular vote debate was also on display following the 1876 election, in which Rutherford B. Hayes defeated Samuel J. Tilden over a matter of twenty contested electoral votes; and also in 1888, when Benjamin Harrison won over Grover Cleveland.

The 1824 election proved interesting as well, with it marking the “final collapse of the Republican-Federalist political framework.” ( Andrew Jackson won the electoral vote, ninety-nine to John Quincy Adams’s eighty-four. But Jackson’s votes only amounted to 43% of the electoral college, and did not secure him the presidency.

It was then that the choice fell to the House of Representatives, under the Twelfth Amendment. In what was decried by Jacksonian supporters, the corrupt bargain gave Adams the presidency, and he in turn nominated House Speaker Henry Clay as Secretary of State.

If we, in a majority vote, elect someone who then isn’t the winner, where does the burden lay? With the system? With the candidates? With the voters?

Maybe we’ll see a change to the system in the coming years. Maybe it’s time.

Be truly whole

Wholeness is acquired from within. It cannot be attained through someone else. Neither can one remain whole when giving in an unhealthy way, as in obsessive love, in that too much of one’s self is surrendered.

As one cannot be made whole by another, so too can one not make another whole. In such attempts vital energy is lost, and even identity, or self, can be harmed.

Being whole can manifest itself in many forms. Spiritual peace or understanding. A true contentment, or satisfaction.

It is a common misunderstanding that contentment is a corollary of settling. Yet, settling by definition implies that some other outcome was desired, but relinquished because it was either too difficult or the settler was too lazy to pursue that outcome.

On the same token as settling is despair. It is a relinquishment of self through the inability to let go of a desired outcome. When in the midst of despair, no outcome seems satisfactory, except for the clung-to ideal that has slipped from grasp.

This has a sense of Buddhism to it, or Taoism. The quote that has guided my thoughts on this is, “Be truly whole and all things will come to you.” It is attributed to the Tao Te Ching, and I leave you with the thought:

“Nay, if you have really attained wholeness, everything will flock to you.”

-Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching, Passage 22 (John C.H. Wu Translation)

A most important moment

The vast majority of us will never be president. We’ll never be movie stars. We’ll never run Fortune 500 companies, or invent technological advances so profound that they shape human achievement for decades to come.

The vast majority will not become published authors, or produced playwrights. Our canvases or art installations will not be shown in national galleries or private collections. Our musical compositions will not be performed by symphonic orchestras, or sung by operatic professionals.

The truth is, these heights to which we all, at some level, aspire to will be far beyond our reach. However, at one point we’ll look back and see the most important moment in our life. And though it may not hold the immense gravitas of moments in the public arena viewed by millions, it will have been a defining moment in our lives. One that we’ll (hopefully) look back on proudly.

What is that most important moment? Has it happened yet? You already have one, though something more important may come along. Are you proud of that moment? Or would you rather something else takes its place?

We are the heroes of our own stories. Make damn sure the climax is rewarding.