Musings on Whatever: Faith, Religion, and Happiness

We shouldn’t talk about politics, religion, and money. Or so they say. With people having strong views on these sensitive topics, I can see why many choose to steer away from such conversations.

But lo and behold, social media opened the Pandora’s box of people’s deep-seated stance on political and social issues, whether as an informed decision or simply siding with one’s biases. What I am hoping for as an opportunity for open communication to better understand each other led to hate posts and judgments, and losing friends and family in the process.

Enter religion. As a Christian, I grew up believing that our purpose is to sow love and kindness in the world. As you can imagine, this is not always evident in the words and actions of those who claim to follow Christ. Interestingly, all Christians are expected to be morally perfect; as environmentalists like me are expected to be vegans or vegetarians. But it’s not so much as being perfect but the striving to be decent human beings. Which brings me to how the religious try to defend the, in my opinion, questionable leadership of the country. Seems like a case of cognitive dissonance to me.

I watched “PK” an Indian film that bravely explored the world of different religions. Its about an alien who tried to make sense of different faiths and in the end concluded how religious leaders espouse meaningless rituals and beliefs. Incidentally, I got to read “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason” and “Letter to a Christian Nation” by Sam Harris which criticized different religions. It got me thinking about my own faith. And I asked, “What if all I believe in are but a social construct?”

Sometimes having the mindset of “learned meaninglessness” where there is no grand purpose, it just is, can help us not to take everything seriously. But we also want to be happy. In Viktor Frankl’s book, “Mans Search for Meaning,” it states that happiness cannot be pursued. It must ensue, that is, there should be a reason to be happy. That reason could come from meaning we realize from work, from experiencing something or encountering or loving someone, and from turning predicaments into achievements or finding meaning in suffering.

It’s a crazy world we’re living in right now but my faith still gives me hope as I try to find meaning in this collective suffering we’re experiencing. It is my prayer that you find reasons to be happy, too.

The New Normal

Damn, when will this virus die? I wish to wake up one morning and find this COVID-19 gone. But we know it will be here much longer. So what now? Two key things that countries like South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam have done to successfully stop the chain of infection and flatten the curve are aggressive contact-tracing and mass testing.

We can’t help but compare these to how our country is dealing with the crisis. Malcolm Gladwell in his book, “The Tipping Point” explains that human behavior is sensitive to and strongly influenced by its environment. So maybe we shouldn’t be comparing because we have a different context? I do want to believe that the government is doing its best despite challenges. Unfortunately, what I’m seeing is slow response, misplaced priorities, and incompetence from these leaders who don’t seem to know what they’re doing! I mean, seriously?!

But there’s still hope thanks to young leaders like Vico Sotto demonstrating excellent crisis response. Contrary to that Ok Boomer’s claim that the young are pretty stupid. Look who’s talking!

I read Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century” which analyzes globalization and emphasizes the inevitability of the rapid pace of change affecting the way we do things. I think a “flatter,” more accessible world led to the fast spread of the virus. And a “flatter,” more connected world, plus this crisis, is speeding up our transition to a mostly online lifestyle from business, to entertainment, to socialization. Businesses, in particular, would have to adapt quickly if they want to survive.

It’s fascinating and sometimes scary how things change fast. Yahoo used to be the preferred search engine but we’ve been “Googled” and we’re like, “Yahoo, what?” Angkas was a savior in Manila’s horrendous traffic situation but is currently cannot be the transport option due to physical distancing measures. In place of that, bikes are in. Who would have thought that working from home could apply to most of us and that Zoom meetings are now a regular part of our lives. This could mean that there’s really no need for offices. Feeling like a germophobe? It’s okay, that’s completely acceptable, to the delight of hygiene-related commerce. The virus has practically affected every aspect of our lives, harshly on the marginalized, as always.

I remember someone remarking that there’s nothing normal about the situation we are in right now. But we have to adapt and try to thrive in this so-called new normal. This can actually be an opportunity to build a greener and more inclusive future. We should all read “Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered” by economist E.F Schumacher (yes, I’ve been reading a lot of books, lately). Because it’s not all about the money. It’s should be about people. Isn’t that the kind of economy we should aspire for?

There’s also a lot of ongoing conversation on school opening and accessible education, and all that. Since we’re realizing what’s truly important, it would probably best for education to focus more on connecting to nature, and being kind, and becoming decent human beings. So we don’t end up with insensitive, privileged idiots running the world.

 

 

 

Minimalist Me: Books

I collect Stephen King books. I used to collect those of Dean Koontz, too but I decided I’m more of a Stephen King guy (sorry, Dean).

In my previous post on minimalism, I’ve made it quite clear how I’m not a big shopper. But buying books is a different story. That’s something I wouldn’t mind spending money on. For the record though, stingy as I am, I buy from secondhand bookstores. It’s an awesome feeling when you discover a really nice book at a very cheap price. But after reading them, I’ve decided to give these books away.

I’ve kept a few for myself (can’t let go of Stephen King just yet) especially those that I would want to re-read but we have to be honest here, most of the time, they remain in the bookshelves collecting dust.

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I have bookworm friends who have book collections and that’s totally fine. If keeping these books add value to your life, then by all means, collect all the books you can get your hands on.

As for me, finally deciding to be part of the horde, buying my first smartphone, had a perk in terms of allowing me to read e-books. I still prefer holding an actual book, turning the pages and smelling the book paper, and all, but with free e-books available online, I save a lot. Plus, fewer stuff. But borrowing books from friends (hello, friends) and the library (if there’s still one) could be an option.

So yeah, I have minimized buying books. But I genuinely feel happy when I see people going gaga over books fairs and book sales. And in case you’re wondering, I still accept books as presents.

Note to Self

When are you going to die? Ten years from now? Tomorrow? Today? Who knows? The point is, death will eventually come so carpe diem! Seize the day! Make the most of every moment.

Makes you want to not sweat the small stuff because in the grand scheme of things, these inconveniences, and annoyances, and feelings of sadness, even joy, are transient. This too shall pass.

Most of the stuff you fuss about wouldn’t really matter a year from now. So focus on what matters. Be happy where you are. Think of what you already have rather than those that you don’t. After all, this desire to want to have this and that will never be satisfied.

Choose kindness and compassion. Be more understanding. Be patient. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Everyone is fighting their own battle.

Be at peace with the fact that life is imperfect and unfair. And there are circumstances beyond your control. Let go and dwell on what you can change, your sphere of influence. Choose your battles wisely.

Here’s to a fruitful and awesome 2018!

Read “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and it’s all small stuff” by Richard Carlson for more simple ways to keep little things from taking over your life.

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A Green Mind

I woke up thinking how using the AC demands more electricity which primarily is sourced from coal thereby contributing to carbon emissions hastening climate change. But William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s book, “The Upcycle” claims that this is more of a design rather than an environmental problem. If the energy comes from a renewable source, then you don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying the comfort provided by an air-conditioned room.

Same thing with taking a long shower. Nothing wrong with that if the water is recycled.

And this applies to products which don’t necessarily have to end up as trash if they follow the cradle to cradle concept, a holistic and waste-free way of manufacturing.

While reading this fascinating book in the bus, I can’t help but shake my head and wonder how difficult it is to pocket the tiny bus ticket that people put more effort in stuffing it in corners and crannies. Don’t get me started on the supposed inspection of these bus tickets. We do know there’s a better system and is already existing at that. Another design flaw.

Would it make a difference if I confront them? I once did that in the jeepney when this full grown, obviously educated woman, just mindlessly threw the garbage on the floor and I told her, “That’s not the garbage bin.” She just looked at me innocently as if she didn’t do anything. And that’s what I end up doing when encountering such individuals. Stare at them spitefully and they stare back confused wondering what they did wrong.

Littering is bad and everybody knows it but we’re just too lazy to care, that is, if we care at all.

Speaking of trash, another frustration I have is with straws and plastics. When you say, “No straw/no plastic, please” vendors or servers sometimes find that amusing. I was told, “Remove the straw yourself.” So when I see my friends using straws, I judge them, a little. I observed that for most people, these things are not a big deal.

How about health? We know that fastfood, processed food, and too much meat is bad news. Bad for the environment, too. But it doesn’t matter. It’s what’s available, it’s cheap, and they taste so good, as well. I still eat fastfood sometimes because it’s that convenient. And real food is difficult to come by these days. I was a pescatarian for a while wanting to be a vegetarian but options can be very limiting. Add to that the idea of micro plastics in my fish and pesticides in my veggies. Besides, according to “The Upcycle,” we should celebrate diversity and that includes diversity in diet. So right now, being a flexitarian is the best option for me.

I don’t know if it’s just a trend but more and more people are turning to organics, and healthy living, and being more mindful and more sustainable in their ways. This is the right thing to do but who am I to tell people how to live their lives. As zero waste advocate Lauren Singer puts it, what environmentalists can do is to show everyone that there are other better options.

I remember the quote from Inception: “An idea is like a virus. Resilient. Highly contagious. And even the smallest seed of an idea can grow.” So I guess my goal, since it’s Environment Month and all, is to plant seeds of green ideas and hope that these would grow in the minds of people. Because the truth is (and this is not some kind of an alternative fact), environmentalism, this seemingly hopeless idealism, is for humanity’s survival.

Why do people do the things that they do?

Dr. Robert B. Cialdini’s book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” brilliantly explains factors that affect the decisions that we make. Below is a summary in a question and answer form.

  1. Why did I buy the more expensive pair of shoes? The automatic, fixed-action pattern made you think that higher price reflects higher quality.
  2. Why do people announce the good and bad news together? It could lessen the perception of how bad the bad news is. The contrast principle affects the way we see the difference between two things. This is also the reason why it’s easier to say yes to a lesser request.
  3. Why do we feel indebted to someone who gave something or did something for us? The rule of reciprocation says that we should try to repay what another person has provided us. The rule is overpowering, enforces uninvited debts, and can trigger unfair exchanges.
  4. Why can’t we get rid of initiation rights and why are military trainers always mean? These are not acts of sadism. These are acts of group survival that also promote cohesiveness. “Persons who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than persons who attain the same thing with a minimum effort (Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills).”
  5. Why is it easy to go with the flow or follow the crowd? We have the tendency to assume that an action is more correct if others are doing it. Especially in times of uncertainty, we rely on social proof. We normally look around at the actions of others for clues.
  6. Why are there a lot of sports fanatics? Why do we always feel “proud” as a Filipino when a fellow Pinoy wins something or does something great? “All things being equal, you root for your own sex, your own culture, your own locality… Whomever you root for represents you; and when he wins, you win (Isaac Asimov).” Likewise, positive association encourages us to name-drop or to claim that we know or we’re friends with a famous or successful person.
  7. Why do we willingly submit to authority? We are trained from birth that obedience to proper authority is right and disobedience is wrong. The mere command of a higher authority trumps apparent senselessness, harmfulness, injustice, or usual moral standards of a certain act because information from a recognized authority can provide us a valuable shortcut for deciding how to act in a situation.
  8. Why do we eat the “forbidden fruit”? With psychological reactance, we show strong tendency to react against restrictions on our freedoms and the tendency to want what has been banned.
  9. Why do scarce cookies taste better? This perception is an emotional arousal that flows from scarcity influences.
  10. Why do we depend on isolated piece of information even if it could lead us to stupid mistakes? For the sake of efficiency, we must sometimes retreat from the time-consuming, sophisticated, fully informed brand of decision making to a more automatic, primitive, single-feature type of responding.

Politics Classics in Introspection

History is a complete repeat of what was.

What’s happening to our country? What’s happening to the world? What’s happening to humanity? We usually ask these questions and history may hold the answers. Well in my case, reading “50 Politics Classics” by Tom Butler-Bowdon gave me a bit of understanding of the nuances of politics – a topic I’m not a big fan of. But according to Aristotle, man is by nature a political animal so I guess I have no escape.

Politics is all about power. In an ideal world, keeping it in the balance will result to utopia. But that is challenging and even impossible to achieve. Because we’re dealing with humans here. And humans are difficult to predict and to control. So we are left with constant power struggles. A continuous experimentation of some sort on what system could best work in the society.

For Fukuyama, liberal democracy, characterized by open society and equal rights, works best. I share Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel’s belief that a classless state where all means of production and property are shared among all citizens is ideal but knowing man’s selfish nature, this eventually would crumble. Thomas Hobbes also supposed that man is instinctively mean and so I don’t think Emma Goldman’s faith in anarchism, the philosophy of the sovereignty of the individual, will work. In this case, Hobbes putting forward that authoritarianism leading to order and physical protection at the expense of loss of freedom, makes sense.

The purpose of the state is to achieve the happiness and elevation of its citizens (Aristotle, “Politics”). Democratic Philippines has not quite achieved that just yet. But let’s not put all the blame on the government. The price we pay for living in freedom is the expectation of personal responsibility as stated by Karl Popper. Zakaria said that democracy contribute to long-term stability and yet we remain poor. Thanks to failed political institutions ran by corrupt politicians.

The quest for an ideal state constantly lead to roadblocks and now I understand how totalitarian movements rise. Hannah Arendt explains that they get their power from a claim to be the expressions of “inevitable” forces of nature or history. Compared to these forces, the individual life means little, and so is dispensable. Sounds a bit like President Duterte’s war on drugs, isn’t it?

Solzhenitsyn, who wrote, “The Gulag Archipelago,” an account of the horror of Stalin’s regime, state that all the evil of the twentieth century is possible everywhere on earth. But if it’s any consolation, totalitarianism tends to be short-lived.

Tyranny results to revolutions but despite the best intentions, most revolutions simply substitute one ruling class for another (George Orwell, “Animal Farm”). And in the words of Machiavelli, whatever form of government a state chooses, it always seems to become corrupted given enough time. Because power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely (Lord Acton, “Essays on Freedom and Power”).

The political, economic, and moral struggles throughout history continue to the present day. The battle cry of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King for equality and justice would have to go on in the today’s fight against racism and discrimination.

Women empowerment is on the rise but somehow we’re still stuck in the backward notion that women should spend their time looking for love instead of gaining the impact that their abilities should award them (Mary Wollstonecraft, “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”).

In “No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies,” Naomi Klein said that we are citizens, not consumers. And yet to feed our appetite to consume, sweatshops abound in several countries and according to Upton Sinclair, this is a “passing stage” which any industrializing country goes through.

Indeed, history is a complete repeat of what was. Same issues. Same struggles. Same state. We try to be better. We fail. We try and then fail again, committing the same mistakes. Ultimately, it is in trying that gives meaning and purpose to life. And this should give us the courage to continue on.

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