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Some thoughts for 2015

Thu 1 Jan 2015 by mskala Tags used: ,

On this first day of 2015 I'm writing down some things that are important and that I wish people around me would know. There's nothing here that I haven't said before. My usual pattern is to say something and treat it as settled, because I expect everyone present at the time to remember it once they've been told. But not all of my friends have been paying attention to all of my writings for all of the decades I have been writing, and maybe at this time some repetition is appropriate. I wish I could have ten thousand readers for this and for all of my important postings. I may be lucky to get as many as ten readers. But if nothing else, the exercise of choosing what I want to say today is of some use to me personally, whether anybody reads it or not.

Some years ago I adopted the motto "People before principles" as something to put on my Web site and in my email signature. It was and remains important to how I view the world. People and the relations among us are what really matter. Abstract principles and ideologies may be valuable to the extent they make the world a better place for people; but if it ever comes to a conflict between real people and an abstraction, the choice must always be clear.

If you have a personal connection with me, the easiest way to destroy it is to place some ideology at a higher priority than your connection with me; and by the same token, I care more about you and your actions than about what you believe. I routinely tolerate people and their behaviour when ideologically it would seem I shouldn't, because I do put people before principles. You may also sometimes notice me behave in a way that may seem contrary to statements I make in this very posting, because I am putting people first.

It has always been a part of my life that I do the things that must be done, and nobody else will do. Occasionally these are things that nobody else can do, but often it's just that nobody else is willing to face the consequences. Similarly, I am often the one to say what needs to be said and nobody else can or will say it.

There is an eternal stream or direction in life that is sometimes perceptible to me. At times I know that I am in the space where I must be and doing the thing that I must do right then and there. I think this is the same thing people call "destiny," "dharma," or the "Beauty Way." I sometimes call it the Shining Path, though some of you who've read my less public writings will know that that term in particular has some additional meanings and does not necessarily refer to a good thing. The simpler meaning of doing what one must do is an invariably good thing.

I don't know whether there is a way in which the personalities of human beings survive after we die, nor if so just what that afterlife is like, and it seems not to be possible to answer those questions in any really satisfactory way from our current vantage point. That is not what we should be spending our energy on in our current lives. We have other responsibilities that are more immediate

Every life belongs to the one living it. Killing each other, for instance in the context of capital punishment, is wrong. But the right to one's own life also includes the right to end it, even if such a decision is very rarely the right one. We do not owe it to anybody to continue dragging things out after the quality of life has gone.

It is inappropriate to put a price on anybody's rights or on anybody's suffering, or to attempt a ranking among issues that are all of overriding importance, or among people who are more or less deserving of our help. "Yes, but" is poison, as is "your hands must be clean first." We should not only reject ever taking the action of summing and comparing human needs as quantities, but also any purported ethical system capable of being twisted into an endorsement of such action. The fact that it endorses a calculus of suffering is prima facie evidence that a system does not work.

Responsibility is important. Although I've talked a lot about rights in the past and will continue to do so, it'd be better to reframe everything in terms of our responsibilities. We are responsible to provide for each others' needs, and not only in terms of bare survival. "Rights" flow naturally from that responsibility. Responsibility is different from blame, and it is still appropriate to think about who is responsible for solving a problem even if we think we should avoid "blaming" someone for its cause.

To be absolutely clear, victims can and often do bear some responsibiliy - not the same thing as blame - for healing whatever they are the victims of.

Promises, as responsibilities we create for ourselves, are similarly important. That does not mean promises are absolute; very few things are absolute. But promises are important.

Sex is a human need, not a want, and a human right, not a privilege. You have the right to sex with a suitable and consenting partner. There is no "if" in that sentence. It applies to everybody.

Although I have no obligation to do this, it is my firm decision that anybody who makes sincere romantic or sexual advances to me, without clinging to plausible deniability nor shifting the risk to me instead of themselves, should have both an honest answer and the most positive answer I can give subject to it being honest. That doesn't mean I always say "yes" but it means that my default answer is "yes" absent an important reason to say no; and I am unhappy that those important reasons to say no come up so frequently as they do. This is my decision because it's how I wish everybody would live, even though I know and am also unhappy about the fact that my example in this matter will not change anyone else's behaviour. It's not necessary to gather testimonials on how well I have fulfilled this responsibility.

There is power in the universe. Whether we choose to see it as something beyond ourselves or as a manifestation of the fact that human beings are magical creatures in ourselves, is not the most important question. To the extent that power can be said to have feelings, the power likes us, and it wants to be invoked.

For many years I called myself a devotee of the goddess Pele. I no longer do that. Since 2009 I still call myself "pagan" but I don't consider myself aligned with any specific personal deity. I'm not happy about this situation, but just as when my faith was formed years earlier, my path here is clear. The reasons I can no longer call myself a devotee of the Fire of Creation are personal, though not mysterious. The reasons come down to broken promises and abdicated responsibilities - and as I said, responsibilities and promises are important. Those things are important even among us as human beings; how much more significant a promise from the divine?

There are things that would have to happen before I could call myself aligned with a specific personal deity again, and I don't know if they ever will happen. I have, nonetheless, continued to participate in ritual with other pagans, and you should be able to guess why.

Persons other than ourselves exist, and have human instrumentality. I am not responsible for the actions of anyone except myself. "Now look what you made me do" is dishonest and should be treated with contempt; but it remains important to understand and anticipate the influence our actions will have on others.

Sometimes good people do bad things, and sometimes bad people do good things. The people don't stop being good or bad just because of it; and neither do their actions. Since a person's actions are the only thing we can know about them, then no useful distinction can be made between good and bad people, and so I reject classification of people into good and bad people as a useful way of understanding the world.

The tactics of doxxing or in other ways bringing disputes from the Net into off-Net spaces; public shaming; involving someone's family or employer; ascribing one's opponent's behaviour to mental illness; and torture are unacceptable, especially when they are justified and effective and when the other side did it first.

"Grow up" is not an acceptable thing to tell anybody, and if you do use it, then you are automatically and without appeal wrong on the factual point you were trying to win. You have not only lost the privilege of continuing the discussion. This tactical move often is part of a strategy of cooling out the mark, which we should reject in all its other forms too.

An apology by definition is an admission of wrongdoing. Tactical fake apologies that do not include such an admission are unacceptable, as is any attempt to deflect responsibility in framing an apology - for instance, with "I'm sorry about your reaction."

Facts exist and some things are objectively true even if you don't believe them.

4 comments

Lancelot
Thank you, Matthew, for articulating these things. In my opinion, it would be a good thing if more people would periodically share their philosophies thusly, beneficial for themselves as well as thought-provoking for others.
Lancelot - 2015-01-03 14:40
Bo
The principle of "people before principles" is wonderfully Russellian. A koan worth medidating upon.

Some things just cannot be willed consciously. Stupidity is the surest way to happiness, and yet you cannot will yourself stupid.
Bo - 2015-01-11 07:35
Greg
Or, "people before prophet"?
Greg - 2015-02-04 13:33
Raymond Lutz
Merci, Matthew. Any toughts on conflicts with peers? What about political activism? What about violent people who don't share your values and want to hit you, literally. That kind of things.
How do you change the world? Is a peaceful revolution possible? Is a revolution even necessary? I'm not trolling... just typing down questions as they came.

I quite liked your Hawaiian tapes... Any danish tapes coming? 8-)

bonne année 2015
Raymond Lutz - 2015-03-03 07:41


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