[America] is really where the experiment is unfolding. This is really where the races confront one another, where the classes, where the genders, where even the sexual orientations confront one another. This is the real laboratory of democracy”
– Leonard Cohen
“After baseball, America’s favorite pastime may be the process of reinventing itself, continuously redefining its identity and searching for its soul”
– Brenda Payton
“We take freedom for granted, and because of this we don’t understand how incredibly vulnerable it is”
There is much to be done wherever you are.
Quotations from The Sun, Issue 493, January 2017, p. 48.
Recently, New Philosopher magazine published an article by Massimo Pigliucci that we think you’ll find interesting – and useful for your own life:
“People think that philosophy is about pondering, and ideally answering, questions like the following ones: Does life have meaning? What is a life worth living? How can we best deal with the negative moments in life? But if you walk into a typical modern philosophy university department, seeking a professor to help you out with those queries, you will be sorely disappointed. Instead, you will be offered training in formal logic (which doesn’t hurt, for sure), a bit of history of philosophy (mostly dead white men, but increasingly less so of late), and a lot of thought experiments based on absurdly unlikely situations – such as a trolley bearing down a track and about to kill five people, unless you push a fat man (sorry, a corpulent individual) off a bridge, thus trading one innocent life for five others.
That’s too bad, as philosophy used to be eminently practical. Indeed, in ancient Athens and Rome the questions above were precisely the ones you would ask Socrates, Aristotle, Epicurus, Diogenes of Sinope, Cicero, Epictetus, or countless others who spent their lives trying to help people figure out the best way to navigate existence. So, despite being myself an academic philosopher (specialty: philosophy of science), I will endeavour to answer those three questions from a particular perspective, that of the Hellenistic philosophy known as Stoicism, of which I try to be a decent practitioner.
Let’s start with the first one on the list: Does life have meaning? The Stoics were materialists, believers in universal cause and effect. They were also very much into science (as we would call it today), and understood that human beings are a particular kind of animal, with two distinctive characteristics: we are highly social, and we are capable of reason. It follows that we should, as they put it, live life “according to nature”, meaning human nature. And this translates to the notion that our purpose in life is to use our intellect to help others, to make society a better place for everyone to live in. As Marcus Aurelius, the emperor-philosopher, wrote: “As you yourself are a component part of a social system, so let every act of yours be a component part of social life.”
Well that was easy, wasn’t it? OK, on to the second question: What is a life worth living? Here the Stoics had an immediate and unflinching answer: a life of virtue, specifically one in which we practise the four cardinal virtues: practical wisdom (the ability to navigate morally complex situations in the best possible way); courage (to stand up and do the right thing); justice (knowing what is the right thing to do); and temperance (acting in right measure – not too much, not too little).
The reason for this emphasis on virtue, and therefore on the development of one’s character, is eminently Socratic. Socrates argued in the Euthydemus that wisdom (of which the four virtues are different aspects) is the only thing that is always good, because it can never be used to do bad. Everything else, including wealth, health, education, and all the other externals, are morally neutral: they can be deployed for a good or a bad use, depending on the character of the individual. The life worth living, then, is one by the end of which you can look back and think, yes, that was a good thing. As Epictetus tells his students, that judgement isn’t going to depend on whether you’ll be rich, or famous, or whatever, but only on who you are as a person, and hence on your relationships with others:
The following are non sequiturs: ‘I am richer, therefore superior to you’; or ‘I am a better speaker, therefore a better person, than you.’
The last question that remains to be addressed is: How can we best deal with the negative moments in life? The temptation is to play on the common stereotype of Stoics as people who go through life with a stiff upper lip and respond, “well, life is tough, deal with it”. But the actual Stoic take is more sophisticated. It is centred on what is known as the dichotomy of control, which Epictetus famously summarises at the beginning of the Enchiridion:
Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.
If this sounds familiar it is because the same sentiment is found in 8th century Buddhism, 11th century Judaism, and – of course – in the 20th century Christian Serenity Prayer adopted by 12-step organisations like Alcoholics Anonymous. The idea is to make a sharp distinction between what is completely under our control, what actually defines us, and everything else, whether it is entirely outside of our control (like, say, the weather) or if we can influence it but ultimately do not control it. That is why Epictetus puts in the second class things like our body, reputation, and career. Sure, I can influence my body by going to the gym regularly and sticking to a healthy diet, but disease could strike at any moment, through no doing of my own. Yes, I can influence my reputation, or make career choices, but the outcomes are not entirely in my hands.
This implies, according to the Stoics, that we should aim at internalising our goals, while at the same time developing an attitude of equanimity towards whatever the universe throws our way. This is most definitely not a counsel for passive acceptance: we ought to do our best in whatever it is to which we apply our mind. But we also need to enjoy (without glee or arrogance) when things go our way, and accept (without resentment or self pity) when they do not. Why? Because that is the way the world works, and a sure recipe for unhappiness is to constantly assume that the world isn’t the way it actually is.
If we succeed in internalising the dichotomy of control, Epictetus promises us that we “will never be subject to force or hindrance, [we] will never blame or criticise anyone, and everything [we] do will be done willingly.” Now that’s a recipe for a life worth living!”
(New Philosopher,#19: Life, p. 59-60)
For more on “How to be a Stoic,” go to Pigliucci’s blog
Aloha, R & B
The small book by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles shares advice from the residents of the Japanese village with the highest percentage of 100-year-olds in the world. In addition to the wisdom about purposeful, active, shared lives of these seniors, the authors note the importance of the Japanese concepts of wabi-sabi and ichi-go ichi-e.
“Wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept that shows us the beauty of the fleeting, changeable, and imperfect nature of the world around us. Instead of searching for beauty in perfection, we should look for it things that are flawed, incomplete.
This is why the Japanese place such value, for example, on an irregular or cracked teacup. Only things that are imperfect, incomplete, and ephemeral can truly be beautiful, because only those things resemble the natural world.
A complementary Japanese concept is that of ichi-go ichi-e, which could be translated as ‘This moment exists only now and won’t come again.’ It is heard most often in social gatherings as a reminder that each encounter –whether with friends, family, or strangers–is unique and will never be repeated, meaning that we should enjoy the moment and not lose ourselves in worries about the past or the future.
The concept is commonly used in tea ceremonies, Zen meditation, and Japanese martial arts, all of which place emphasis on being present in the moment.
In the West, we’ve grown accustomed to the permanence of the stone buildings and cathedrals of Europe, which sometimes gives us the sense that nothing changes, making us forget about the passage of time. Greco-Roman architecture adores symmetry, sharp lines, imposing facades, and buildings and statues of the gods that outlast the centuries.
Japanese architecture, on the other hand, doesn’t try to be imposing or perfect, because it is built in the spirit of wabi-sabi. The tradition of making structures out of wood presupposes their impermanence and the need for future generations to rebuild them. Japanese culture accepts the fleeting nature of the human being and everything we create.
The Grand Shrine of Ise, for example, has been rebuilt every twenty years for centuries. The most important thing is not to keep the building standing for generations, but to preserve customs and traditions–things that can withstand the passage of time better than structures made by human hands.
The key is to accept that there are certain things over which we have no control, like the passage of time and the ephemeral nature of the world around us.
Ichi-go ichi-e teaches us to focus on the present and enjoy each moment that life brings us. This is why it is so important to find and pursue our ikigai [a meaning and purpose in life that keeps you busy or as the New York Post says, “ ikigai is the art of doing something—and doing it with supreme focus and joy”].
Wabi-sabi teaches us to appreciate the beauty of imperfection as an opportunity for growth” . . .
One step in lasting longer and being happier in your life is –
“Get rid of the things that make you fragile . . .
Ask yourself: What makes me fragile? Certain people, things, and habits generate losses for us and make us vulnerable. Who and what are they?
When we make our New Year’s resolutions, we tend to emphasize adding new challenges to our lives. It’s great to have this kind of objective, but setting ‘good riddance’ goals can have an even bigger impact. For example:
- Stop snacking between meals
- Eat sweets only once a week
- Gradually pay off all debt
- Avoid spending time with toxic people
- Avoid spending time doing things we don’t enjoy, simply because we feel obligated to do them
- Spend no more than twenty minutes on Facebook per day.
To build resilience into our lives, we shouldn’t fear adversity, because each setback is an opportunity for growth. If we adopt an antifragile attitude, we’ll find a way to get stronger with every blow, refining our lifestyle and staying focused on our ikigai.
Taking a hit or two can be viewed as either a misfortune or an experience that we can apply to all areas of our lives, as we continually make corrections and set new and better goals. As Taleb writes in Antifragile, ‘We need randomness, mess, adventures, uncertainty, self-discovery, near traumatic episodes, all these things that make life worth living.’ . . .
Life is pure imperfection, as the philosophy of wabi-sabi teaches us, and the passage of time shows us that everything is fleeting, but if you have a clear sense of your ikigai, each moment will hold so many possibilities that it will seem almost like an eternity” (p. 172-179).
No matter your age, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life is likely to give you useful ideas on how to lead a good life.
For 25 years, Kathy has been tending her garden. The result is spectacular. Recently, friends Audrey, Gail, and I were invited UpCountry to see her island paradise.
Before you get too impressed by my knowledge of all these plant names, you should know that Kathy is the source. 🙂
Hohenbergia stellat (left); Azelas (top right); and Amaranthus (bottom right)
The flowers varied in color, shape, texture, and smell.
Medinilla scortechinii (top left); Gail & Kathy (bottom left)
Blossoms of various colors and shapes:
Fishtail palm seeds (left); Bloodleaf (right)
Beauty was everywhere we looked in Kathy’s garden.
In addition, Kathy’s garden has been the source of many of the ti leaves that have become part of the “Leis of Aloha” – begun in Kihei, Maui, at Nalu’s Restaurant and sent around the world as an act of solidarity and love after the tragedies in Paris, Las Vegas, San Bernadino, Orlando, . . . and most recently, with other islands contributing, a 3-mile ti leaf lei was sent to the children in Parkland, Florida. Such leis have also been created for celebration of the Hawaiian outrigger Hokulea’s return from its three year world-wide voyage – “Malama Honua.”
Happy Spring. Enjoy planting – and visiting – gardens wherever you are.
P.S. Banner photo: Obake anthurium
All plant names supplied by Kathy with technical assistance from “the lawn boy”; all photos, except for the ti leaf leis, are by me. 🙂
March 24, 2018 – March and Concert – on Maui – wonderful, hopeful:
The people, the signs, the unity –
The volunteers –
After the March for our Lives, we had the Concert for our Lives, Maui style:
This being Maui, we also saw famous surfers and water people and Hawaiian cultural practitioners. Ram Dass was there! Students came to the concert for free. Adults paid $10 for the fabulous concert. All the proceeds from the sold-out event will help promote sensible gun- control laws.
Not everyone attending the concert wanted stricter gun laws. In going around offering forms for voter registration, I met a man from Alaska who has his assault rifle in his locked gun safe. He explained that he needed the high-power weapon because of bears and moose. Wouldn’t a regular rifle offer protection in the unlikely event of an animal attack? (And then you would be able to eat the meat). He also tried to explain why he didn’t vote – so he wouldn’t be responsible for voting someone into office that he later found didn’t make good choices.
Why do we desperately need gun change in the U.S.?
Mom’s Demand Action (for gun sense in America) notes a few of those excellent reasons we need change:
- Every day, 9 3 Americans die from gun violence.
- Since Newtown, [the Sandy Hook Elementary School 2012 shooting that killed 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six adult staff members] there have been over 200 school shootings – one almost every week.
- American women are 16 times more likely to be shot and killed than women in other developed countries.
- Close the deadly loopholes in our background check system that allow dangerous people like felons and domestic abusers easy access to guns
- Support reasonable limits on where, when and how loaded guns are carried and used in public
- Promote gun safety so that America’s children will no longer be exposed to unacceptable level of risk
- Mobilize popular support for policies that respect Second Amendment rights and protect people
Go to: www.momsdemandaction.org
If you live in the U.S., please Register, Educate Yourself, and then Vote. If you live in Hawaii, you can check your registration status and/or update your information, by going to: https://olvr.hawaii.gov/.
We can at least get rid of the assault weapons and keep mentally ill and domestic abusers from getting guns legally. It’s time for positive action.
Our children are asking for help. Guns cause senseless killings every day in the U.S. – including “too easy” suicides, too easy disagreements and domestic abuse incidents that turn deadly . . . Even the hate-filled, mentally-ill men who see killing others as an option – need help.
We must take action to stop gun violence in the U.S.
In Peace and Aloha, Renée
From the poetry of Raymond Carver – Late Fragment.
One reason I love the State Fish of Hawaii is because of its impressively long name. The Humuhumunukunukuāpua’a is colorful and beautiful – and if you can say its name quickly, it probably means you’ve lived in Hawaii for a long time and have practiced saying it. It’s a reef triggerfish, and in Hawaiian, its name means, “”triggerfish with a snout like a pig.”
Recently, I learned that there is another fish here in our waters with an even longer Hawaiian name: the lauwiliwill nukunuku ‘oi’oi.
In “Lauwiliwill nukunuku ‘oi’oi – A small fish with a big name,” Evan Pascual notes in a recent Maui News article, “Lauwiliwili refers to the similarity between the shape of the fish’s body and the wiliwili tree’s leaf, which is oval in shape and turns yellow as it ages.
Nukunuku (snout) and ‘oi’oi (sharp) describe the fish’s narrow, elongated mouth. Together, it loosely translates as ‘long-snout fish shaped like a wiliwili leaf.’
There are two species of longnose butterflyfish in Hawaii: The common longnose butterflyfish (Forcipiger flavissimus) and the big longnose butterflyfish (Forcipiger Iongirosis). They share the same Hawaiian name, stunning yellow coloration, elongated mouth and flaring dorsal spines. Their sleek, flat-shaped bodies allow them to quickly maneuver between corals while their sharp spines protect them from predators.
Nearly identical in appearance, the common longnose butterfly has a much shorter mouth than the big longnose butterflyfish. Their beaklike mouths are used to probe corals and reef crevices in search of small invertebrates and crustaceans, but are also used in cleaning stations to remove crustacean parasites from their fellow reef fish.
Another difference between the two species is their main habitat. The common longnose butterflyfish lives in shallow water environments throughout the Hawaiian Islands and is more visible to snorkelers. However, the big longnose butterflyfish is rarely seen as it lives in deep-water environments beyond coral reefs, most notably off the Kona Coast of the Big Island.
The lauwiliwili nukunuku ‘oi’oi has a unique and perhaps lesser-known history in Hawaii. The British explorer Capt. James Cook embarked on a Pacific-voyage 1776-80 where he and his crew would become the first Europeans to encounter the Hawaiian Islands. During this expedition, which included documenting scientific observations, the big longnose butterflyfish is believed to have been the first Hawaiian marine species to be collected and identified by an English scientist.
In more recent years, over 55,000 public votes were cast in 1984 to name the Sate of Hawaii’s official fish. The lauwiliwili nukunuku ‘oi’oi finished in third place following a narrow defeat by the manini (convict tang) and a landslide victory by the humuhumunukunuapua’a. Today, it remains as a living testament to the beauty and wonder of Hawaii’s reef fishes.
At the Maui Ocean Center, a few common longnose butterflyfish peacefully swim alongside other reef fishes in the Living Reef exhibits. When we look at a coral reef, whether at the aquarium or in the waters surrounding Maui, we often see a single image of a living community rather than the individual species that make up this brilliant seascape. But if you look closely, every animal has a unique role, a connection to local culture, a lesser-known history, and in the case of the lauwiliwili nukunuku ‘oi’oi, a really, really interesting name…”
From: The Maui News, March 4, 2018, C2.
Another interesting fact about the lauwiliwili nukunuku ‘oi’oi is that the Waikīkī Aquarium adopted the longnose butterflyfish as its logo – as it represents a meeting and common interest in the marine environment by both Hawaiian and European naturalists.
Take a close look at the animals wherever you live; you are likely to find interesting facts and have more appreciation of each one.
Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop, the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever. Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive. Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend.
“Imagine you open the faucet of your kitchen sink expecting water and instead out comes cash. Now imagine that it comes out at the rate of $1 million a minute. You call your plumber, who thinks you’re crazy. To get you off the phone, he opines that it is your sink and therefore must be your money. So you spend it wildly. Then you realize that the money wasn’t yours and you owe it back.
Now imagine that this happens every minute of every day for the next three years. At the end of the three years, you owe back more than $6 trillion. So you borrow $6 trillion to pay back the $6 trillion you owe.
My analogy about all that cash in your kitchen sink that just keeps coming is not about voluntary commercial transactions, which you are free to accept or reject. It is about the government’s spending what it doesn’t have, the consequences of which you are not free to reject.
Government produces no products that consumers are willing to pay for voluntarily, and it doesn’t sell shares of stock in its assets. It doesn’t generate wealth; it seizes it. And when it can no longer politically get away with seizing, it borrows. It borrows a great deal of money — money that it rolls over, by borrowing trillions to pay back trillions to prior lenders, and thus its debt never goes away.
Last week, after eight years of publicly complaining that then-President Barack Obama was borrowing more than $1 trillion a year to fund the government — borrowing that the Republicans silently consented to — congressional Republicans, now in control of Congress and with a friend in the Oval Office, voted to spend and hence borrow between $5 trillion and $6 trillion more than tax revenue will produce in the next three years; that’s a few trillion more than they complained about in the Obama years.
That’s borrowing $1 million a minute.
Obviously, no business or household or bank can survive very long by borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. Yet the federal government, no matter which party controls Congress or the presidency, engages in staggering borrowing — borrowing that will cripple future generations by forcing them to pay for goods and services that were consumed before they were born.
The $30 billion President Wilson borrowed from the Federal Reserve and others has been rolled over and over and has never been repaid. The federal government still owes the $30 billion principal, and for that it has paid more than $15 billion in interest. Who in his right mind would pay 50 percent interest on a 100-year-old debt? Only the government.
Wilson’s $30 billion debt 100 years ago has ballooned to $20.6 trillion today. At the end of President Donald Trump’s present term — because of the Republican budget signed into law — the government’s debt will be about $27 trillion.
That amount is a debt bomb waiting to explode. Here’s why. Every year, the federal government collects about $2.5 trillion in revenue and spends it all. It borrows another $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion and spends it all. To avoid paying back any of the $27 trillion it will owes, the federal government will need to spend about $1 trillion a year in interest payments.
That $1 trillion is 40 percent of the revenue collected by the federal government; that’s 40 cents on every dollar in tax revenue going to interest on old debts — interest payments that are legally unavoidable by taxpayers and voters.
By – * Andrew Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is the senior judicial analyst at Fox News Channel.
Register – and vote!
Aloha, Barry & Renée
Here’s a point of view that I hadn’t considered from the Krista Bremer’s essay, “American Winter.”
“The fact is he [my husband] was disturbed by the outcome, but not shocked or dismayed. He did not lose sleep or become paralyzed with dread. He has not given in to despair. Long ago, while growing up in Libya, my husband developed the skills needed to endure a Trump presidency. Living under Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi taught Ismail how to survive a narcissistic, sociopathic leader. My husband is as matter-of-fact about the election outcome as my favorite cashier at our grocery store, a Christian from Gambia who wraps her hair in plain black cloth and wears men’s running shoes that appear to be a size too large. Her dream is to buy land to farm back home. She and her husband, who is working in Europe, are sending as much money as they can back to their children in Gambia. She has worked in this country for more than a decade and hasn’t seen her youngest child in seven years. This is her second job and, at nine dollars an hour, her highest-paying one. . .
When I made a comment about the election results, she lowered her voice so no one else would hear. “Of course Trump won,” she said with a hint of impatience. ‘God is not sleeping.’ Stuffing my purchases into thin plastic bags, she added, ‘God sees the suffering America has spread around the globe.’ She . . . [feels Trump is] a fitting representative of a rich country that pursues its interests with callous disregard for vulnerable people at home and abroad.”
Read the essay at: https://www.thesunmagazine.org/issues/494/american-winter