Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Trobriand Culture Installment 2 (H01)

“If a man has yams, he can find anything else that is needed”; a man’s yam house is equivalent to a bank account. The harvest from most of a garden belongs to others in the community rather than the cultivator. The plots in a farmer’s garden are referred to by a specific woman’s name as a woman is the only individual whom can own yams- the pile of a chief’s wife will not only be the largest, but it will also be decorated, partially explaining why many chiefs participate in polygamy. At the beginning of the harvest, the yams will stay on display in the gardens for about a month before the gardener transports them to the owners and loads them into the husband’s empty yam house. Early on the day the yams are delivered to the owners, the young girls and boys that are related to the farmer visit the gardens, dressed in their youthful and festive clothing, to carry baskets of yams to the hamlet in which the owner lives. Upon arrival, the young individuals will sing and dance, moving their bodies sexually. They will then recreate the conical piles in front of the woman’s husband’s yam house and the gardener will return a number of days later to load them into the house. From this point on, the husband is responsible for the yams and repaying the gardener- usually by feast. A man’s yam house is not always filled; this could be the result of weather- a result of magic- or perhaps the farmer was privately upset with the man from a particular past incident.  

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              Yam Pile                 Villagers gather yams             Yams

Trobriander culture has for the most part persisted despite a globalizing world- a term that is actually not as modern as we believe for history tells us a myriad of empires conquered surrounding lands way before the development of technology as we know it today- around them. It is an example of one of an innumerable amount around our planet; differing parts of the world perceive aspects of civilization in a myriad of ways; what is the “wrong” way and what is the “right way? Sure, there are facets that the majority of Earth’s population agree on and consent in abiding to, but there are also features that are not so black and white. Anthropologists play a vital role in maintaining a diverse world that can also work together for something greater than you and I. 
The Trobrianders rely heavily on unspoken implications between individuals as well as magic stipulations. Their “philosophy” so to speak is to never forget a past correspondence for it could explain future situations. Why shouldn’t we reject rationalisms of the Trobrianders? It is important for us as human beings to understand our origins and also understand the cultures of the world outside of our own. Anthropologists “bridge the gap” between various cultures- diversity is essential… what would a world of ultimate uniformity is terrifying-  in order to promote communication and cooperation around the globe. From various cultures, we learn that what we think and what we believe are not the only ways to think and to believed lot of our perceptions are controlled by experiences. When we look at other peoples’ experiences, perceptions, and understandings, our knowledge becomes greater and our understanding of how things, including ourselves, work becomes much more vast.

  1. https://cophilosophy.blogspot.com/2016/11/this-i-believe-part-me-final-report.html?showComment=1480570969388#c63140059152464636
  2. https://cophilosophy.blogspot.com/2016/11/church-and-state-pt-1-h3.html?showComment=1480822807350&m=1#c8585976433699512554 

First Installment: http://cophilosophy.blogspot.com/2016/11/is-there-right-and-wrong-installment-1.html

Final word count: 2,586

This I Believe Continued - Altruism and the Earth (Final Installment Part II)

(H3) I have been asked more than once why I seem to be so worried with the state of the planet, and when answering I usually spend a few seconds looking baffled before responding with something along the lines of "why are you not?" When asked questions like this I am reminded of this scene from Guardians of the Galaxy, both in the similar phrasing and attitude. It really seems to be that simple, at least in my opinion. I live here, you live here, and the future generations will live here on this big ball of rock we call home. Why wouldn't we want to do what we can to help it all last a little longer, even if what we are capable of doing is small?

Following a link to a TED talk I got to listen to a Buddhist monk named Matthieu Ricard talk about altruism in regards to not just how we treat each other (which is what I was expecting after seeing the title) but also about the health of the Earth and how we treat it, which came as a welcome surprise. In case someone does not know what "altruism" means the definition a quick Google brings up is "the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others." Or as Ricard simply puts it, "it is the wish: may others be happy and find the cause of happiness." It was an interesting thing to listen to, very enlightening and leaves a person with a very positive feeling. Though I may have felt that way because I already believed a lot of what Ricard was saying. An altruistic perspective should be aimed towards not only other human beings, but also towards other species and the world that we live on. The way the man speaks is also fascinating on a more linguistic level, flowing easily between talking about altruism in regards to people and the environment, as if the two were interconnected in a way that could not be ignored. To some though, the two are not things that can be separated. Some people see the act of caring for the Earth as caring for future generations. This line of thinking had never really occurred to me until this philosophy class. Of course we should take care of the Earth because we really only have the one at this point, but to take care of it for the future generations had never explictily occurred to me. Odd, now that I think about it. 

Being altruistic towards people and towards the world are different in some ways. Being kind to people, is for the most, part fairly easy. If you just wait around long enough chances are that eventually an opportunity to be kind to someone will just fall in your lap. Being kind to another person can be as simple as doing someone a good turn. I've even heard of instances where doing someone who was at the end of their rope a small kindness saved their life. However, a simple "good turn" is not really enough to save the planet. Being kind to the Earth is harder is harder than being kind to humans. It takes work-- constant, active work that usually involves a little more effort than just sitting around and waiting until an opportunity shows up to do some good.

This is not to discredit the small efforts though. Every little bit helps, and a little bit is often only what some people are capable of doing. That said, I once saw someone on the internet write a post about how it isn't the individual's fault that the planet is dying, that what pollution individual people and families cause is nothing in comparison to businesses and factories and that those are the things we need to be focusing on. While I suppose these are the kinds of sentiments that could breed excuses, I do think that they are correct in so much that corporations are the cause of majority of the pollution and that the pollution laws need to be changed for the betterment of the planet and not for the betterment of company owner's wallets.

But I digress, the planetary altruism that Ricard is talking about does not seem to just be about the individual or the corporations. Of course, he does talk about the individual making an active effort in changing how they think but he also brings up societal changes. It is not only about individuals or only about businesses, but everyone collectively. Everyone should make the effort to change, to care a little more about others, and not just the others of the present. Ricard says in his talk that he once heard Steve Forbes ask "Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?" Ricard believes that this is not the right way to be thinking about the subject, that it is a selfish way to see the issue, and I agree. In fact I would say that it is the exact opposite way to look at the issue of environmental problems. To reword a popular phrase: ask not what future generations can do for you, ask what you can do for future generations.

Ricard continues quoting Steve Forbes with another line: "I find it absurd to change my behavior today for something that will happen in a hundred years." Aside from the fact that I think that this is an absurd way to look at the oceans rising (which was the issue that Forbes was referring to), I think that this is an example of the selfishness that Ricard mentions throughout his talk. It is this selfishness that bothRicard and I think we need to try to avoid. We as people need to try to start seeing the bigger picture. Not just automatically going with what immediately satisfies us or just going with the easiest or cheapest solutions to questions. We should try to start cultivating what Ricard says we need: cooperation, sustainable harmony (as opposed to sustainable growth), caring economics, a local commitment and a global responsibility.

Typing up the list of things Mattieu Ricard says that we need to be a more altruistic society makes you realize just how much of a challenge it seems to be. There is quite a bit that he thinks people need to start develping in themselves and in their society for us to become more altruistic. Change is hard though, especially the sort of change Ricard is talking about. I think that we already know it is hard- if it were easy we would have started doing these things on a large scale decades ago! Difficult does not mean impossible though. I certainly believe that with effort anyone can become a better, more caring, more altruistic person. In one of the last moments of his speech, Ricard says the best way to think of this; he says that "sentient beings are co-citizens in the world." This is how more people need to look at their fellow humans, and not just humans but other creatures that inhabit the Earth too. Do not just see them as other people and other species, but as co-citizens of this Earth, beings that we share this planet with and together we will share it with the generations to come. The altruistic revolution he mentions will not be achieved by everyone working alone. What starts out as personal growth and change leads to bigger changes. Individual change can lead to cultural change, and that will lead to us being able to shift into a society that cares more about the things that are going to occur one hundred years after we are gone. We will not question what the latter generations can do for us but what we, here in the present, can do for them. 

Total word count: 2,522

First Installment Link

Why Philosophy Class Scared Me: Installment #1
This I Believe: Life is about Love

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Taoist Faith/Philosophy (Installment #2 H2)

Installment #1

            In my first installment, I wrote about Lao Tzu. A man who is widely considered a myth or legend to many historians today. This does not diminish the Taoist way any less. It is difficult to gauge how many people adhere to the Taoist teachings as many internet sources tend to disagree; some say 2 million, some say 6, one site claims its possible there is 173 million followers. The internet makes things so complicated that it makes any one site unreasonable compared to another. For all we know, these online researchers are jumbling up people who follow Confucius and those who follow The Tao (“The Way”). So, it would probably be a good idea to try to untangle everything that modern culture tangles up. For this second installment, I will be explaining the Taoist Faith/Philosophy, along with comparing and contrasting Confucianism and Taoism so that way there is a clearer understand of what each religion or philosophy represent.
            The first thing I wanted to get out of the way was this symbol:

I’m sure many students of philosophy have seen the Taoist symbol Yin and Yang. But it’s origins are surprisingly not Taoist at all.  The origins of the yinyang idea are obscure but ancient. In the 3rd century B.C.E.  it formed the basis of an entire school of cosmology, whose main representative was Zou Yan. Upon reading through the website “Ancient History Encyclopedia” and other encyclopedias, they said that he believed that life went through and was made up of five phases/elements - fire, water, metal, wood, earth - which continuously interchanged per the principle of yin and yang. There is mention of him in the Shiji but it is brief and does not offer much as to who he was but this idea of Yin and Yang followed through much of Chinese culture, even seeping into Confucian and Taoist thought. But the Taoist religion and philosophy pull more from this symbol due to their stronger connection with nature and its position on life. I tend to mix Yin and Yang up, but the idea is this: Yin = feminine, black, dark, north, water (transformation), passive, moon (weakness and the goddess Changxi), earth, cold, old, even numbers, valleys, poor, soft, and provides spirit to all things. And Yang = masculine, white, light, south, fire (creativity), active, sun (strength and the god Xihe), heaven, warm, young, odd numbers, mountains, rich, hard, and provides form to all things. The Taoists favor yin whilst Confucians favor yang in keeping with the prime focus of their respective philosophies. The Taoists seem to emphasize reclusion to gain a bigger sense of the universe whilst Confucians believe in the importance of engagement in life.
So, what else could Confucius and Laozi possibly disagree on? Or agree on? In the broadest sense of each Religion/Philosophy they are put thusly: Confucianism mainly deals with interpersonal relationships, social conduct, and a lot of rules; while Taoism mostly deals with a person’s relationship with nature, the universe, and going with the flow that comes with it. According to an article written by a grad student at the University of Hawaii, “Confucianism clearly defines what is proper and what is "right". Daoism does not define with words what is right or wrong; it encourages you to find out for yourself what it means to be in harmony with nature”. The Tao Te Ching offers another insight between the two. It states that Confucius and Lao-tzu did in fact meet to discuss the Imperial Archives and other rituals. But Laozi was unimpressed by the “beautiful robes” worn by Confucius, and did not agree with looking back on the past. "Put away your polite airs and your vain display of fine robes. The wise man does not display his treasures to those he does not know. And he cannot learn justice from the Ancients." Laozi in this instance seems like a very straight forward kind of guy… until you read some of his quotes. "Without going out of your door, you can know the ways of the world. Without peeping through your window, you can see the Way of Heaven. The farther you go, the less you know. Thus, the Sage knows without traveling, sees without looking, and achieves without struggle." Or "Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river." That last one reminds me of what Bruce Lee once said about being like water.

To flow like water is to follow the current, or its path. That is the essence of the Taoist teaching. The Tao, or “The Path”, is similar to Buddhist idea of finding the “middle way”. Laozi believed that the way to happiness was for people to learn to "go with the flow." Instead of trying to get things done the hard way (Confucianism), people should take the time to figure out the natural, or easy way to do things, and then everything would get done more simply. This idea is called "wu-wei", which means "doing by not doing". But in this teaching, he was trying to reach another goal. Laozi was against wars, government, etc., because he believed in The Tao and that everything in the universe was connected by a special energy that many scholars just labeled as the “Life force”. This life force is where a lot of Taoists introduce the Yin and Yang as the Light and Dark sides of the life force. One cannot exist without the other. But when war is fought and blood is spilt, it disrupts this energy and Laozi hated that people reveled in that. This partly explains his leave during the fall of the Zhou Dynasty when war broke out.
But none of this explains how exactly a philosophy from way back when, became religious. You see, the Chinese use separate terms to distinguish between two major trends within Taoism. Tao-chia, more commonly known as “Philosophical Taoism,” consists of mystical teachings about the Tao, “roughly but inadequately translated as ‘Way’” as stated by award winning Author and Speaker Caroline Myss. And the art of wu-wei, as mentioned earlier, defined by Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu. “Through meditation, students of Tao-chia learn to let things proceed as they ought. Because it is philosophically oriented, Tao-chia was never institutionalized, passing from teacher to student without the mediation of an organized church.” (Caroline). Philosophical Taoism tries to reduce the friction that comes with most of life’s actions and to conserve one’s vital energy. On the opposite end, Tao-chiao, or Religious Taoism, focuses more pragmatically than Tao-chia on ways to achieve longevity or even immortality through the augmentation and preservation of one’s essential vitality, or ch’i
 I know this can get confusing, it was confusing to start with when I was doing all my research. Everyone jumbles up the history and statistics so much that there is so much to sort through. Even finding a concrete beginning of how to explain Tao was confusing: Yin and Yang, its correlation to Confucianism, or The Tao itself. But that should not stop anyone from trying to learn the practices of Religious or Philosophical Taoism.

Morgan's Installment on Buddhism
Robin's Installment on John Muir

(H3) Final Report pt 2- Pythagoras

Here is a link to part one of my final report that focused Pythagoras’ scientific and mathematic contributions, which I encourage everyone to read through first.

Pythagoras is simultaneously known as a philosopher of great wisdom and as one of the weirdest philosophers to date. For every scientific contribution to mathematics, he had an equally bizarre idea on religion and mysticism. Bertrand Russell’s only remark on Pythagoras was in his third chapter of History of Western Philosophy. It is very short but still very important to include, “Pythagoras is one of the most interesting and puzzling men in history. Not only are the traditions concerning him an almost inextricable mixture of truth and falsehood, but even in their barest and least disputable form they present us with a very curious psychology. He may be described, briefly, as a combination of Einstein and Mrs. Eddy. He founded a religion, of which the main tenets were the transmigration of souls and the sinfulness of eating beans. His religion was embodied in a religious order, which, here and there, acquired control of the State and established a rule of the saints.” 1 Pythagoras could easily be described as an agent of accidental chaos. Despite being a humble, soft spoken (or rather silent) man, he created one of the largest schools of thought at its time, and had one of the largest influences on modern philosophy. Part one of this report focused on his fact-based (despite being not factual anymore), scientific beliefs, and now we will cover the group he created and his ideals on mysticism. It is important to note that Pythagoreanism eventually developed into two different schools of thought: the mathēmatikoi, the teachers, and the akousmatikoi, or the listeners. The Mathematikoi are modernly acknowledged as Pythagoreans because it is said the Akousmatikoi derived their instructions from Pythagoras but from another philosopher named Hippasus. Hippasus, while starting out as a Pythagorean philosopher over a century after Pythagoras had passed, was put to death by the Pythagoreans after he was credited with the shocking discovery of irrational numbers. There is a lot of division and controversy about Pythagoreanism after the life of Pythagoras, as none of his teachings are still intact, so we will try to only talk about his direct contributions within this report
The life and religious beliefs of Pythagoras are easily comparable, and directly influenced by, the prophet Orpheus. Pythagoras was born on the Greek isle of Samos and blessed at birth by the Pythian Apollo, the name for the Oracle of Delphi. With this he was raised into great renown as a follower of Apollo. He spent his youth like this until he sought further wisdom and went to travel the known world (which at this time refers to the Mediterranean, northern Africa, and Central Asia).2  Throughout his travels he was encountered numbers of people who were astounded by his mysterious, almost god-like, allure so much that he quickly became an influential figure known around around the world. This is much like Orpheus, who was also blessed by the Greek gods, specifically Apollo, and sent to spread his wisdom to others. Like Orpheus, Pythagoras’ words were said to be so powerful that even animals and irrational beasts adhered to his word. According to the philosopher Iambachus, Pythagoras saw an ox at Tarentum feeding on green beans, which were considered to be sacred to Pythagoras (which we will discuss later in this essay). He informed the herdsman that his ox should abstain from this food and was immediately mocked by the herdsman. Pythagoras then went to inform the ox himself and after speaking to it softly for a very long time, the ox not only stopped feeding on the beans, but never touched them again. Being directly influenced by Orphism, Pythagoras began to lead an ascetic lifestyle, or one without worldly pleasures usually for the purpose of pursuing spirituality. Pythagoras found his wisdom from various social experiments and year-long vows of silence. Pythagoras’ authority followed him throughout his travels, and when he returned to his home in Samos he set up his first school.
(His followers celebrating the sunrise)

Where we seem to lose respect or understanding for Pythagoras is the basis of his Pythagorean order sect that was governed by mysticism. The cult was centered around the Muses and their head Apollo, but also around a number deity usually referred to as God (separated from the Christian God). He set up a number of tenets that were supposed to be a guide for living a harmonic life. While deeply preaching of the beauty and harmony of complex mathematics, he also lived his life by some of these rules:
  1. To abstain from beans.
  2. Not to pick up what has fallen.
  3. Not to touch a white cock.
  4. Not to break bread.
  5. Not to step over a crossbar.
  6. Not to stir the fire with iron.
  7. Not to eat from a whole loaf.
  8. Not to pluck a garland.
  9. Not to sit on a quart measure.
  10. Not to eat the heart.
  11. Not to walk on highways.
  12. Not to let swallows share one's roof.
  13. When the pot is taken off the fire, not to leave the mark of it in the ashes, but to stir them together.
  14. Do not look in a mirror beside a light.
  15. When you rise from the bedclothes, roll them together and smooth out the impress of the body.
His school, despite seeming free-spirited and welcoming, was very conservative and strict. All members of his cult wore only white garments, abstained from eating meat, and rejected any form of luxury. The brotherhood itself was very secretive and required a number of difficult trials to enter. From various sources, Pythagoras himself interviewed the candidates, and if they passed they were to be neglected for three years in hopes to reject glory and silence themselves. Once brought down to the bare minimum of being, they were welcome to begin their new journey into understanding the universe and its harmony. What also distances us from Pythagoras’ views are his obsession with numbers related to the universe. While some of his contributions are still being still used today (The Pythagorean Theorem), a lot of his ideas on numbers were superstitious and unnecessary. Aside from the Numbers of the Cosmic Order (refer to part one), Pythagoreans went to find every possible pattern and paradigm that was considered a key to understanding the universe and all realities. The universe was separated by monads, which were all various sets of numbers and figures that, when used correctly, formed said universal balance.
Before we completely lose faith in Pythagoras, however, it is worth noting his most famous addition to Pythagoreanism: the transmigration of the soul, or essentially reincarnation. He is not credited with its creation but rather popularizing it in Greece. Our souls, according to Pythagoras, are stuck in a cycle of death and reincarnation, only to be freed by obtaining a higher understanding of the universe through introspection and philosophy. Pythagoras claimed to be able to remember all his past lives and the past lives of his friends. In one story Pythagoras heard the cry of his late friend in a dog being beaten in the street. What separates this form of reincarnation from the one found in Orphism is the influence of numbers. The philosopher Philolaus explains, “The soul is introduced and associated with the body by number, and by a harmony simultaneously immortal and incorporeal… the soul cherishes its body, because without it the soul cannot feel; but when death has separated the soul therefrom, the soul lives in an incorporeal existence in the cosmos.”3 Essentially, our souls and body bring balance to one another, and by meditating and studying numbers, we create universal harmony.
Regardless of the extremely advanced (for his time) yet unmistakably bizarre ideas on numbers and rituals, what we know about Pythagoras and his philosophic contributions must be taken with a grain with salt. Most of what we know about Pythagoras today is from his later followers who turned him into one of the most important figures in the Hellenistic religion and pre-Socratic philosophy. Not only becoming a legendary figure, Pythagoras was one of Plato’s greatest influencers, and through him influenced all of western philosophy. Despite having no interest in Pythagoras’ ascetic lifestyle, his preoccupation with mathematical beauty has definitely influenced my personal philosophy and views as a Hellenist. We didn’t get to cover Pythagoras in our class time, so I went as in depth as I could without boring everyone.

(I wrote citations anyway because there are a lot of different sources on Pythagoras and specific figures and facts will vary book from book.)

  1. Russell, Bertrand. A History of Western Philosophy. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster,
1972. Print.
  1. Guthrie, Kenneth Sylvan, and David R. Fideler. The Pythagorean Sourcebook and
Library: An Anthology of Ancient Writings Which Relate to Pythagoras and
Pythagorean Philosophy. Grand Rapids: Phanes, 1987. Print.
  1. Navon, Robert, Leendert Gerrit. Westerink, Thomas Taylor, and Kenneth Guthrie. The
Pythagorean Writings: Hellenistic Texts from the 1. Cent. B. C.-3. Cent. A. D. ; on Life, Morality, Knowledge, and the World ; Comprising a Selection of the Neo-Pythagorean Fragments, Texts,... Kew Gardens (N. Y.): Selene, 1986. Print.
  1. Wescott, Wynn W. "NUMBERS." Numbers, Their Occult Power and Mystic Virtues: Part
I. Pythagoras, His Tenets and His Followers. Sacred-Texts, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.