When democracy fails

There is this idea that humanity has evolved to its highest possible level of existence; that the structures in our cultures are as good as they can be; that our understanding of how the world works is complete. It does not take much to poke holes in such an idea if you think about it carefully. But sometimes people don’t think about things carefully, they just take things for granted. And then they are very surprised when other people hold different ideas or when things don’t work the way they thought.

Often people say that there are no holy cows; that nothing is above scrutiny. But when you interrogate them, you find that there are concepts and idea that they cling to. Often the current way of thinking about things is a holy cow to such people. It is a contradiction that exists in the current way of thinking held by many people of which they are not even aware. It is like when people say that one should not believe things without scientific evidence and then they cling tenaciously to ideas that they believe without any scientific evidence. Or where they criticize people for not following the scientific method in their convictions and then go ahead and violate the tenements of the scientific method in their own conduct.

Humanity has come a long way and there is much that happened during their long history that one can study and learn from. It does not matter whether it is general history, the history of science, or art, or any other aspect of our cultures. We see that there has been many different ways in which people viewed the world and different ways in which they thought about the world and how it works.

I want to believe that there has been a general progression in this understanding, but I do not believe that our current understanding is the ultimate and that (assuming we survive beyond our current challenges) there is not improvement possible. In fact, I can already think of some improvements that are possible. Moreover, I do not believe that all previously held convictions are necessarily inferior to our current way of thinking.

One thing that can be improved is the way we view previous ways of thinking. There is a general tendency to criticize other world views, especially those from the past. It reveals a general arrogance and also ignorance, because such a tendency is blind to the fact that our currently held way of thinking may not be the ultimate. What universal criteria that are independent of any world view can be used to assess world views?

To expand this idea further, one can ask whether it would have been good if people during the bronze age would have had our current world view. Perhaps you would argue that it would not have been possible, because it would have required some knowledge that we have today, which they did not have then. What about some concepts that did not need the knowledge we have today, like a political system, for example democracy?

Raphael, The School of Athens

It is interesting to consider that democracy is a very old idea, having been introduced in ancient Greece. Still, monarchy remained the dominant political system for most of the time since then. For a while Roman was a republic and then it became an empire. If this idea of democracy, which is tacitly held as a such a holy cow today, is really so wonderful, how do we explain the fact that it only became fairly dominant quite recently?

What it reveals is that the journey by which humanity achieved a certain idea is as important as the idea itself. In other words, if we believe that some political system is great, then it doesn’t help to enforce this idea on a group of people unless they have taken the same journey to reach this idea. There are enough examples in the world today where people that have not gone through the necessary journey are introduced to an idea that work so well in other groups, where it does not work in this group.

So, my suggestion is that we should not only consider the current status quo, but also the arduous process by which the current status quo has been achieved. Thinking that we can save people from the arduous journey by gifting them directly with the “final” result, we may discover that we have gifted them with an abomination that introduces an unnatural situation leading to much strive and anguish. Instead, we should allow people to evolve along the natural path and stop judging this path as if you have some superior vision that supposedly knows better.

Morality in a changing world

Current developments in the world makes one concerned about whether humanity or civilization will survive for much longer. If you are a person that is concerned about more than just yourself and those dear to you, then you would want to do something to improve the situation. (Perhaps you disagree that the current situation is anything to be concerned about. That is a debate for another day.)

An obvious aspect of the current situation that is threatening humanity is the way people behave. To improve matters, one would need to change people’s behavior. That begs the question: “what is considered good behavior?”, which brings in the notion of morality.

Sometimes one gets the impression that morality is consider to be an old out-of-date notion. However, if our survival depends on how people behave, then morality is definitely not an outdated notion. Nevertheless, morality itself changes with time and different cultures view it differently. So how can we argue that morality would have anything to do with the survival of humanity if it is so variable?

The purpose of this post is to explain that although it is variable in the ways stated above, morality has structure that ensures the survival of humanity. To support this explanation, I use a source which has dealt with morality authoritatively: the Bible. I realize that there are many people that do not consider the Bible as an authoritative source. For those people, I ask that you do not judge on the basis of the origin, but on the statements themselves, their intrinsic value and their implied consequences.

In the Bible, it is stated that the command to love your neighbor as yourself, represents the complete fulfillment of the law. In other words, this simple principle forms the foundation of all morality. So, although morality may vary from culture to culture, unless such moralities are founded on this principle, they are basically flawed.

That still leaves much that can change within the different moralities. Which one would be the correct one? That is the wrong question. A better way to pose a question would be to ask: how should we view the different moralities?

Here I want to use two more statements from the Bible: The one is “For with the measure¬†you use, it will be measured to you.” The other is “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” What is the common theme here? It means that moralities are based on how people define them. Each person should therefore live according to the morality within the context of that person’s culture. In other words, the morality that a person should adhere to is the morality as defined by the culture of that person.

The Bible does not say much about the concept of a culture and how we should view culture, at least not explicitly. But it does so by implication. If God created humanity, then obviously He also created culture and then one can conclude that culture was created with a definite purpose in mind. It is the mechanism that replaces the survival-of-the-fittest principle, valid for the animal kingdom, by the love-your-neighbor-as-you-love-yourself principle, which enables the development of a civilized humanity.

One last quote from the Bible: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

These words can either be understood to refer to all the various commandments as explicitly stipulated in the various books of the Bible, including those in the Old Testament. Or it can be understood in the context of cultures as explained above. The most widely used understanding is probably the former, which leads to much animosity, because how can we still be expected to obey those old laws which were relevant in the context of those old cultures? However, in face of our current world and all the changes, I think it more valid to consider the latter understanding. It then states the importance of being obedient to every aspect of the morality of the culture within which you find yourself.

So, if we want to change the world to become a better world in which humanity or civilization has a better change to survive, let’s uphold the morality associated with the culture within which we find ourselves. Let’s communicate these moralities to everyone, especially to the next generation. Although moralities may change, we need to make sure that it never violates the principle of love: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Have a blessed Merry Christmas!

The beholder’s prerogative

Early this morning, I went outside onto my balcony to witness the sunrise. It made me feel good to experience something so beautiful.

Beautiful sunrise in Canada

So, I thought to myself, it must say something about the Creator who creates such beauty, even if it is just for a few fleeting moments. Then it also occurred to me that the Creator probably also instilled in me the ability to appreciate such beauty. It also includes the freedom to choose whether I would find it beautiful or not.

Canada in my garden

The seasons are opposite in the Northern and Southern hemisphere. So, while the Northern hemisphere is moving into autumn (or “fall”), we are having spring down here in the Southern hemisphere.

Therefore, I am glad to see the leaves coming out on the trees. The world is beautiful. It makes the neighborhood looks like an urban jungle.

I have a favorite tree in my garden. Not sure what kind of tree it is. Perhaps some kind of maple tree? In autumn its leave turn red. That makes me remember Canada.

Mu favorite tree

Most trees don’t turn red. Some even remain green right through winter.

For some reason, I was worried that it would die during winter. Therefore, I was very happy to see that it is sprouting new leaves.

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A gracious garden

Let there be no doubt about the matter: I am far from being an avid gardener. Previous attempt in this direction has led to uncontrollable laughter. However things are looking better than it had for a while.

Much of the improvement in my garden is thanks to my gardener who keeps a hand on plants and makes sure the weeds don’t take over. It is not that much that needs to be done, but somebody needs to do it and that person is not me.

Then of course there’s the rain. I tend to use water sparingly due to the dry climate and my fear that our taps may run dry at some point. Fortunately, it has rained copiously a few weeks ago and the garden just loved it. Everything is green and there are flowers everywhere.

It is a pleasure to be in such a garden. Sometimes I would take my book and sit there reading. If only I can do something about all the bugs.

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