VS 71 on Choices and Avoidances

You can believe anything you want to believe. The only thing that **must** occur to you is death. The decision to believe or not believe anything less than the existence of death – which happens to you regardless of whether you believe it or not – comes down to Vatican Saying 71. …. “What will happen to me if that which this desire seeks is achieved, and what if it is not?”” In other words, “What will happen to me if I believe this, and what will happen if I don’t?

Must I Believe XXX that Epicurus said?“, NewEpicurean.com

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John Oliver’s Brilliant Indictment of Televangelists

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Trump Threatens the 14th Amendment

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. – United States Constitution, Amendment XIV, Section 1

In the past I’ve written on natural community, and contrasted real community versus political community as reflective of the tensions between cosmopolitanism and statism. However, while I recognize the very different natures of political (Platonic) and communal (experienced) identities, the Supreme Court decision in June on gay marriage made me think of the intellectual and political evolution that led to equal marriage, and how citizenship and the constitutional guarantees that come with it can easily be taken for granted. The ideas enshrined in our Constitution and in our laws may be of a different nature from the organic communal spirits that we are immersed in daily, but nonetheless they do matter, they do have real and tangible relevance to our everyday lives, to our stability, and to our happiness.

The 14th amendment was something I was only vaguely familiar with. It guarantees individual freedoms and rights, and limits the power of government in order to protect citizens against the possibility of tyranny. I did not think my life would be affected by it as it was on the day of that fateful decision, which for most of my life I did not think I’d ever live long enough to see.

Suddenly at that moment, the deeply help beliefs and ideas of long-dead people like Thomas Jefferson and John Locke impacted my ability to be happy and my sense of dignity in a manner so intimate, that it’s difficult to argue against the value and importance of living in a Republic that secures the rule of law … particularly when life is so precarious, dangerous, and full of misery for gay people in so many other parts of the world.

But the honeymoon after the gay marriage decision is over, and with the start of the presidential campaign we are now being constantly reminded of the decay in America’s philosophical and intellectual life. It seemed unthinkable, but with Donald Trump’s ludicrous and clownish run for the presidency, American anti-intellectualism and idiocy keeps reaching new lows. If Trump ever becomes President, the first thing that will be required of him will be an oath, precisely, to defend the Constitution of the United States.

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:—”I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” – United States Constitution, Article II, Section 1

Article V of the Constitution allows for Amendments to it and explains the process by which these Amendments are adopted, saying that they “shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution”. Therefore, the 14th Amendment is non-different from the rest of the Constitution which, as a President, he would have to take an oath to defend.

But oath-taking, decency, being a man of his word, and honor are not meaningful concepts to Donald Trump, who has openly declared war on the 14 Amendment of the Constitution, saying that he wishes to abolish it in order to avoid illegal aliens coming to the US and having what he calls “anchor babies”. A natural-born bully, Trump seems to have decided that vulnerable, illegal Spanish-speaking immigrants must be the new target of abuse by Republicans now that gays have gained equal legal standing and it’s no longer as popular or politically useful to bully sexual minorities.

The 14th Amendment of the Constitution says that every human being born on US soil is automatically an American citizen. This is perfectly understandable, as we are a nation of immigrants and the only people for whom America is truly an ancestral land make up merely a tiny fraction of the population of the United States.

Few things are more dangerous than an ignorant electorate willing to vote into power evil leaders, who then gain the ability to destroy the entirety of the civilizational achievements of a society. When in recent decades, fascist presidential candidate Le Pen began to gain traction in the French Republic, hedonist philosopher Michel Onfray founded the Université Populaire de Caen in order to help heal the severe decay in the intellectual life of the people. He considered the rise of Le Pen as a symptom of a new dysfunction which was prevalent in French society as a result of the Platonized manner in which philosophy was taught in academia, and how citizens weren’t being taught critical thinking skills. It’s difficult to argue against the fact that we in the US are suffering from an intellectual deficit far more dangerous and embarrassing than anything that has even been seen in the French Republic.

But where is our intellectual class to save us from being Trumped? Where are the celebrity philosophers ready to found new and free popular educational institutions that might actually make America great again? A country 4.5 times the size of France should have at least four times as many of these intellectuals. If these intellectuals rise to the occasion with Trump and create popular intellectual movements to revitalize what remains of America’s philosophical life, then maybe something good can come out of Trumpism. I have to confess I’m extremely pessimistic about this prospect.

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Rasta Reasonings

Ras Tafari

Ras Tafari

I’ve written before on the merits of the parody religion of Pastafarianism. It may have escaped my readers that I referred to the Flying Spaghetti Monster as Pastafari. I almost felt tempted to talk about I-and-I, but I’m aware that most of my readers will be unfamiliar with one of the youngest Abrahamic religions, the only one to have emerged from the Caribbean island of Jamaica, and the one which is being parodied by the Pastafarians.

Who is Ras Tafari

Rasta faith was made popular through the spiritually and politically awakened reggae lyrics and music of its most famous adherent, Bob Marley. But it’s more than a cultural and musical movement. It’s an Afro-diasporic theology of liberation that emerged among the impoverished descendents of slaves in the British colony of Jamaica. In the early 20th Century, Marcus Garvey–who is considered a prophet by Rastas–had been calling for Blacks to return to the African motherland and preaching the coming of a Black Messiah-King, who would soon be crowned. When the Ethiopians crowned Ras Tafari Makonnen (aka Emperor Haile Selassie), the last vestige of the dynasty believed to be descended from King Salomon and Queen Sheba through the lineage of Menelik–as per the sacred Ethiopian scripture of Gebra Nagast, the Chronicle of the Ethiopian Kings–Rastas believed their Messiah had finally arrived. A new latter-day religion was born. In the lyrics of his song Get Up, Stand Up, Marley explains his belief:

We’re sick and tired of your ism and schism game
Die and go to heaven in Jesus’ name, Lord.
We know when we understand
Almighty God is a living man.
You can fool some people sometimes,
But you can’t fool all the people all the time.
Now you see the light!
Stand up for your right!

Ras Tafari is revered as a God in Jamaica. The colonial realities of the island, and perhaps the thirst in the souls of Black diasporic people for a Black divinity, produced this strange epiphany.

To this day, Ethiopia is the only country in Africa to have preserved its sovereignty during the colonial era. This is thanks to Emperor Ras Tafari, who successfully prevented the Italians from taking over his kingdom. All the other lands in the entire continent have been owned and mercilessly exploited by foreign, European powers at one point or another, except for this–considered by Rastas the most holy land–of Ethiopia. Ethiopia is also mentioned favorably in the Bible, and it is considered Sion, the promised land, in Rasta liturgy and in the lyrics of Bob Marley’s songs.

We can expect this religious and racial ideology, born and bred as it was in resistance, to carry within it a political narrative and philosophy. Rasta is, to a great extent, shamanic and anarchic. The smoking of ganjah–marijuana–as a sacrament makes it shamanic. It’s justified with a Bible verse that speaks of qaneh bosm as a holy herb used to anoint priests, and to anoint God’s chosen one. This term is at the root of our modern word cannabis.

As for the politics, the colonial experience in Jamaica produced naturally a strongly-embedded distrust of the state. In Rasta, the (British and Western) state and its corruption is known as Babylon. “Babylon will fall”, Rastas say, and they chant down Babylon. The concept of consecration and holiness revolves around an eternal hostility, also seen in Epicurus, between nature and culture, between the wholesome order of (the God of) nature and the polis, the political order of Babylon and of this world. Politicians are known as politricksters in Rasta discourse.

We must admit there’s something profoundly clever about Black Jamaicans taking the sacred book, theology and symbols of their colonial overlords and projecting their own politically-awakened narratives against them with such force and insistence that an entirely distinct religion and liberation theology emerged with so powerful a cultural and moral force, that it’s come to define Jamaica before the rest of the world.

Rasta Yeshu

Rasta Yeshu

Rastas accept Jesus as one Messiah, but naturally the Rasta Yeshu is quite different from the Jesus of traditional Christianity. Having descended from the lineage of David and of Salomon, this Yeshu has Ethiopian ancestry and is believed to have lived in Ethiopia during the exile from his birth (when the Bible says Joseph and Mary took baby Jesus to Africa) to the age of about his Bar Mitzvah, when he was next seen in the Gospels discussing Torah at the sinagogue.

I-and-I: Intersubjectivity in Rasta Philosophy

The philosophical process of the Rastas is known as reasonings. This is interesting from the perspective of Epicureans, who are said “heal through arguments and reasonings”. In Rasta, people gather to smoke ganjah and reason with God and with each other, following the instructions given in Isaiah 1:18

“Come, Now, Let us Reason Together”

Rastafarians’ ganjah-induced reasonings, naturally, produce a quite different variety of insight than the sober reasonings of the Epicureans. It may be easy for us to dismiss the rants of destitute, sometimes illiterate, weed-smoking Rastas who are submerged in their religious opium and in their herbal ecstasies. And while it’s true that their dread talk and their God-fearing, angry, anti-colonial discourse are anything but Epicurean, Rastafarians have also come up with their own dialect in order to purge their language from Babylon’s colonial corruption in a way not to different from how in On NatureEpicurus and the other founders argued that words must correspond with things that exist in nature and that we must purge language from Platonisms.

This conception of reality and of the role of philosophy as a tool needed to purge our words of a certain fundamental corruption that is pervasive, is present in both Rastafarian and Epicurean discourses.

But the Rastas, in their evaluation of power and of human relations, have also come up with an important overstanding (as they say) concerning intersubjectivity. They criticize the colonial language of England as having been used to objectify their ancestors. They rebel against the very structure of the colonial language, referring frequently to I-and-I instead of me and you.

In English grammar, notice that the I is used as a subject, whereas the me objectifies the self. I is the active doer, whereas me is the passive one to whom things are done. In I-n-I there is a we, but there is no object, only two subjects. InI makes us all equal, it’s egalitarian and inclusive, it’s shared spirit, unity, One Love without competing, without objectifying and enslaving, without oppression and power struggles. It represents an ideal of intersubjectivity that is prominent in anti-authoritarian and anarchic philosophies.

The Rastas make this interesting commentary on language, and have developed a quite complex dialect known as Iyaric, where they have systematically corrected the subtleties of the colonial language of Babylon that they have found issues with in their reasonings. Although Iyaric is beyond the scope of this blog, it is worth mentioning. We should definitely be concered with words, their meanings, their uses, and how those in power employ them.

On Feeling Irie

Irie is a word from the Jamaican dialect which means “feeling pleasant” and resonates with our conception of ataraxia. Here are some of the definitions of the term given in UrbanDictionary.com:

  • to be at total peace with your current state of being. The way you feel when you have no worries.
  • powerful and pleasing.
  • the state of feeling great.
  • I Respect I Eternally. Meaning you have respect for yourself; being happy with who you are.
  • To be at peace and harmony with your self and the status quo of your existance.
  • Jamaican term for everything is good, higher self, serenity
  • cool, good, nice.
  • a state of peacefulness or harmony either with oneself or the world in general.

Feeling irie means feeling good, being alright and confident, with healthy emotions and peaceful vibrations (sometimes accentuated by wholesome or religious music). Irie vibration, like ataraxia, is not merely a passive state. There are irie vibes in reggae music. Marley’s lyrics indicate that Jah (God) makes people feel high and irie; the sacramental consumption of ganja does also. It’s possible, however, to be irie without ganjah or any other opium, and in fact many Rastas do not consume ganjah or only consume it infrequently.

What’s interesting about Rasta culture is the natural, uninhibited approach to ataraxia, unlike the calculated angle taken by Epicureans, which is perhaps typical of the Western, scientific approach to all things. The experience of being irie is celebrated in Rastafari, as are the traditional Rasta tools, shortcuts, and techniques for cultivating irie spirit. This includes togetherness among friends, unity, singing, and of course reasonings. What we end up with is, in fact, a culture built around the cultivation of ataraxia with its own vibrant musical, cultural, and intellectual life.

The Problem With Dread as a Value

Rastas are known for their dread-locks. The practice of not cutting their hair emerged in imitation of the Nazarene vow, a sign of consecration to God that is believed to have given Samson his strength. The Sikh religion, from India, also has a similar taboo against cutting one’s hair. Unlike Rastas, they keep their hair under a different sign of consecration: a turban. Sikhs have strong affectionate ties to their turban, which is a sign of their sense of identity.

But dread is hardly a positive human value. In Rasta, dread has to do with fear of God. In the dictionary, dread carries connotations of terror and panic. Can we love what we dread? The first two of the Four Cures taught by Epicurus were antidotes against fear-based religion.

The term locks carries the connotation of chains, restriction, of unbreakable hold, and perhaps of security. One anecdote I remember from a former Rasta that I knew in my younger years, has to do with the time he broke his Nazarene vow and cut his hair, saying he wasn’t humble anymore. He had deconverted, and his bald head had become an expression of his rebellion not against Babylon, but against all religion.

We may disagree with Rastafarian choice of dread-locks, but there are still curious insights in this practice. Heads are where choices are made, and therefore our destiny and ultimate identity is created from them. A Yoruba proverb says that the head is the ruler of the body. The African conception of the head as sacred is tied to the Yoruba Goddess of pleasure and beauty, Oshún. As such, she rules hairstylists, hair-cutting, braiding, and head garments, among other things. Having someone work on one’s head is a pleasure, a therapy that relieves stress.

Hair can be a sign of consecration. It can also be a battleground for ideology and self-expression. Many African diasporic religions, like Voodoo and Santeria, are adamant about how people must protect their heads and keep them cool, and even provide ceremonies for washing and cooling the head. Anyone living in tropical climate can appreciate the importance of this, as excessive heat can easily produce ill moods.

The Vital Diet

Rastas have a dietary code known as the ital diet, based on the idea of vitality found in food that is natural and fresh. They are vegetarians and do not eat processed foods.

Hermarcus, one of the founders of our school, said that flesh was an unnecessary desire and seemed to favor a vegetarian lifestyle. On the other hand, Epicurus seems to have been more concerned with the importance of friends eating together than with what was eaten. Perhaps there is some merit in these days of dietary dysfunction in considering what we bring into our bodies.

Closing Reasoning 

I’ve always been fascinated by Rasta philosophy. It reminds me of the concept of grassroots, effortless, natural virtue that emerges when happy people come together, rather than the authoritarian, unnatural, top-down virtue of established religions and institutions.

Pastafarians are fond of parodies of faiths, and they already borrowed the name of this dancing, singing, joy-inducing island religion. Perhaps they should take another look at Rasta and elaborate a more coherent liberation atheology inspired in Rasta philosophy.

Some Irie Songs:

Don’t Worry Be Happy

One Love

Om Namah Shivaya – a Hindu Rasta Chant

Imagine – a Secular Psalm

Here Comes the Sun

Stand By Me – a Song About Friendship

Live Every Moment

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Stages of Development in Hedonist Spirituality

I recently had the pleasure of reading Sam Harris’ Waking Up, which raised many interesting philosophical questions. The author proposes that non-religious people can develop a coherent, rational spirituality based on a science of contemplation and wellbeing, and on experimenting with psychedelics, but mostly based on a secular appropriation of Buddhist doctrine.

I found myself agreeing with some things and disagreeing with others. One aspect of spirituality for secular people that caught my attention is the distinction between instant enlightenment, as promoted by Advaita and some schools of Buddhism, versus awakening by stages as favored by some Mahayana schools of Buddhism.

Many spiritual traditions, like the Sufis, have historically developed quite elaborate guidebooks and initiatory systems, with a kind of map guiding them through stages of spiritual development based on the declared goals of the system in case. The relevant passage made me ask myself whether a similar conception exists in the teachings of Epicurus.

My first thought was teaching on the three kinds of pupils, which seems to indicate a kind of evolution towards being a scholar who needs no guidance, and with autarchy/self-sufficiency being the goal of a philosophical education.

A fellow Epicurean then pointed out Norman DeWitt’s three levels of experience in the fifth chapter of Epicurus and his Philosophy, titled The New School in Athens. DeWitt mentions the following three stages: somatic, social, and emotional.

  • the somatic level is the stage of awareness of the body, because bodily sensation are of paramount importance. Feelings concern themselves with physical pains and pleasures. DeWitt says, “the innate ideas/anticipations are still latent or barely emergent”.
  • the social level is one of development, where the child is becoming an active member of the family, the neighborhood, and society. Feelings operate in the sphere of justice and injustice. Anticipations begin to operate, and religion usually emerges.
  • in the emotional stage, the possibility of maturity emerges and physical pains and pleasures have been “superseded in importance by fears, hopes, suspicions, hatreds, envies, ambitions, etc.” It is at this stage that feelings (the hedonic tone, the pleasure/aversion principles) reach their peak of importance as criteria.

It is at this third stage that the telos (the goal of life, which is pleasure) attains importance and functions as a criterion. A person who does not understand that pleasure is the end, and assumes another artificial or arbitrary goal instead of the one that nature imposes, will likely produce unnecessary suffering, perplexity, and confusion through his misguided choices and avoidances.

This includes not only the actions and words one chooses, but also the opiniones one holds and for which one is also responsible. For instance, if an individual is haunted by fear of death and of the gods, he will need to evaluate his false opinions to treat these fears. Not doing so will bar him from maximizing the pleasures available in this life. The purpose of the third stage appears to be tied to ataraxia, to the development of a healthy character that is stable and self-sufficient in its pleasure and equanimity.

On the level of infancy pleasure was pursued by instinct and without thought. On the third level the intelligence has at length identified pleasure as the goal of living and the telos is purposively pursued (and) becomes an incentive.

Epicurus used to utilize the example of a newborn child to demonstrate that humans and other sentient beings naturally seek pleasure and shun pain if left to their own devices. Some have criticized this example by saying that man, in his adult life, must be different from an infant child. DeWitt’s three levels of development take into account the important distinctions between infantile and mature hedonism.

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NASA Discovers More Earth-Like Planets


“I have no doubt that the doctrine of innumerable worlds is true!” – Diogenes of Oenoanda, writing during the Second Century

Originally posted on Sarvodaya:

After generating a lot of buzz following the announcement of, well, a big announcement, NASA has finally revealed the big news it has apparently been harboring (and no doubt carefully scrutinizing) for some time: more potentially life-bearing planets. As The Washington Postreports:

The latest update from NASA’s Kepler space telescope — designed to spot distant exoplanets — adds more than 500 new possible planets to the fray. That’s in addition to the 4,175 planets already found by Kepler.

And of those 500 new potential planets, scientists say, a dozen could be remarkably Earth-like. That means they’re less than twice as large as Earth, are potentially rocky and are at the right distance from their host stars to harbor liquid water.

Of that dozen, one planet has been confirmed: Kepler 452b, which sits 1,400 light years away from us and orbits a star much like our own…

View original 260 more words

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Dudeism.org’s Jesus Christ entry

Bearded prophet of the meek and early archetype of the 1960s hippie.

Jesus was born Jewish, but then converted to Dudeism after he realized that the Romans and the Pharisees were fucking fascists. Today lots of people think he’s the son of the guy who created the universe and that our life is in his hands. But probably he was just a dude who thought people should mellow out and stop getting so worked up about stuff. Sadly, few of his followers seem to actually realize that. Remember: There’s not a literal connection.


Also Read:

Dudeism’s Article on Epicurus’ Four Cures

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