Saturday, October 17, 2015

Mental Firewalls

Much of your worldview is shaped not by reason or experience on the subject, but by the inculcation of fear through the application of systematic messages and subtle abuse such as humiliation.  Unfortunately many of our beliefs regarding religion and politics are formed this way.  This is a misuse of this function of your mind which is designed to protect you from traumatic events.  In fact the symptoms of post traumatic stress are caused by this same mechanism in your mind.  When a stimuli similar to the trauma is encountered, the mind starts to attempt to protect itself from the trauma by triggering the neural pathways created from the original trauma.

This technique actually creates biological neural pathways in your brain, actual physical alignments of your neurons that "fire" a certain way upon encountering the stimuli a they were formed around.  I call them mental firewalls.  So your response is more like a mechanical movement than it is a rational reflection.  Like Pavlov's dog who could be stimulated to drool upon the ringing of a bell, it was a biological mechanical reaction, not the response to a rational conclusion.

So it shouldn't be surprising that if you disrupt the ability for these established neural pathways to fire in response to stimuli, that you'd free the person's mind to consider what they actually THINK about the stimuli.  The physical nature of these pathways is such that they can be disrupted with electromagnets, it can also be done with drugs.

Here is an example of scientist using electromagnets to accomplish bypassing the minds mental firewalls: 

If you don't have an electromagnet or drugs you can also use words.  If you can begin a thought process in the person's mind using words that do NOT trigger the "firewall" of preconditioned neural pathways, and then suddenly link by analogy or metaphor that idea to an idea that does trigger the stimuli, then you create a kind of conflict or paradox, a cognitive dissonance that the mind will work to resolve ultimately "rewiring" the neural pathway that make up the firewall.

For instance, if I show you a suffering child, and then I show you the child healed and happy, I've safely entered your mind without triggering your firewalls (or at least without triggering the firewalls I'm attacking).  Then I tell you that the child was healed with marijuana.  Since marijuana is a word that triggers an inculcated fear response (a firewall word), the thought of the healed child conflicts with the irrational fear of marijuana, and eventually weakens or rewrites the neural pathways associated with that irrational fear.

If you consider that in our culture religion, education, and politics are highly standardized and interrelated you can see that there are many people operating almost exclusively out of paradigms built upon these firewalls.  Almost like zombies in that they are not living a life based on beliefs they have reasoned through and come to own, but are simply responding to stimuli that either trigger a pre-programmed mental firewall or not.  This creates a pseudo objective reality that can be controlled through propaganda.  With this in mind you also see the importance of spreading ideas that tear down these firewalls and force people to consider reality with their own minds.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Today I was stopped at a railway crossing waiting on a train.  I'm looking at all the cars on the train and trying to guess what's in them, reading the graffiti, etc. Then I saw something that shocked me, and upon reflection, greatly concerned me.  Some very crude graffiti (not like the stuff that is actually very artistic) ignorantly screamed in big red letters: "RISE UP AMERICA KILL ISLAM".  I was too slow with my camera to take a picture, for a few seconds I just sat and stared as it went by.  It was shocking because of what it said and the grotesque and uncreative way in which it was presented but also because of how it stood out, like a sore, from the other messages and art painted on the train's cars.  Then I began reflecting on it. 

The other graffiti on the train was colorful and bold, artistically done and although I don't know what it communicated, it intrigued me, it even captured my imagination a bit to ponder its meaning.  It was the art of a sub-culture that I'm not familiar with, that seems to have its own stories and even language.  Where did it come from?  Who wrote it? How far away is it from the person who painted it?  What were they like?  What was their purpose in painting it?  Maybe it's gang signs, or simply eccentric street artists, or an expressive teenager in love.  It was definitely, and almost comfortingly different.  It wasn't a corporate brand, or a cliche phrase, it was its own thing.  To me, that's kind of cool.

Yes, it was vandalism, and it seemed irrational, but it was nearly, if not completely harmless,  and maybe even the contributor of some beauty into the otherwise dull view of a passing train.  If there is to be crime, it seems to me, then this is what we want:  Artistically gifted vandals expressing their irrationality in ugly places and making those places a little prettier as a result of their crime.

But the other, it was just more of the parroted drivel of the demagogues on television.  I knew exactly where it came from.  It was born of ignorance and bigotry, there was no need to be curious as to the personal insight of the author.  It was just copy and paint hate.  What personal connection or interaction could the vandal who painted that obscene challenge to America have with Islam?  How many Muslims do they know?  I can almost guarantee none, and if any, it's on the basis of a peaceful coexistence in their community. The unique and colorful language and art of the train graffiti that caused me to imagine a culture of its own expressing itself was suddenly sullied with the bland and obtuse propaganda of the network news.  It concerns me, and it should concern all of us that the hateful rhetoric of the Islamophobes and war mongers can penetrate this far.

Yes, it was also vandalism, and it also seemed irrational, but this time it wasn’t harmless.  It was exposing the symptoms of the sickness of our society.  Of a society that can nurture and transmit hatred to the depths of our most independent sub-cultures and fester even there an unwarranted hatred of people they don’t know.  “RISE UP AMERICA KILL ISLAM”: words that have little meaning to the vandal who scrawled it barely legibly across the train, except for what he was told by the television, and through those peddlers of hatred that seem to permeate all of our media. 

Sit down America.  Love your neighbor.  

Maybe I should grab a can of paint and catch that train!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Real Solutions for Gun Violence

I can see from most of my left leaning friends that you have lapped up the anti-gun agenda.  I believe you've done this with good intentions, however you've also perched yourself on a moral pedestal and are using that position to berate peaceful gun owners and attacking and insulting an important part of their culture and heritage with a very disrespectful and pompous tone.  It is a losing battle as guns will not be going anywhere in America anytime soon, so all you are achieving is to further divide the country against each other.  There are actual solutions to the problem of gun violence that don't require us to pin the blame on responsible gun owners.

If you look at the numbers, mass shootings are not the incidents by which to deal with gun deaths.  Accidents and assaults are by far the real problem, and I'll agree, they are a problem.  Way too many people are killed or injured by accidents and assaults involving firearms in our county.  However the way to address this isn't to attack the American culture and encroach upon people's liberties.

Let's look at accidents.  The way to prevent firearm accidents is the same way you prevent accidents with any other piece of equipment:  training and education.  The NRA and organizations like it used to provide excellent firearms training and education, they even did it in public schools.  However, the left has purposefully been demonizing weapons and has been increasingly attempting to prohibit them by law.  Not to mention making it difficult to even teach a firearms safety class in school.  This forces organizations like the NRA to focus their resources on lobbying against these measures (measures the American system of government has no authority to dabble in in the first place), instead of on training and education to promote responsibility in our culture.  

Firearms are a reality in our culture, as are cars, which is why they should both have a place in our educational environment to so prepare children to live in our culture.  The current educational propaganda is focused making children terrified of guns, going so far as to discipline them for playing cops and robbers, or for making a gun out of a pastry.  This is an irrational approach that only serves to demonized firearms and doing so only makes them more desirable to someone nurturing a homicidal ideation.  Education should focus on normalization and familiarity, which removes the mystical allure of the weapon and allows children to view it as the common tool that it is.

Training would go far to prevent firearm accidents, it would likely also have an affect on assaults, however ending the drug war would likely reduce firearm assaults more than any other measure.  The illegal drug trade is more common in areas and among the demographic where firearm assaults are higher.  This is because black markets such as the drug trade do not provide access to the courts for dispute resolution, so people tend to resort to violence.  This simply doesn't happen on anywhere near the same scale with legal transactions.  The black market also provides the money for the guns to facilitate the assaults.  By legalizing the drug trade the black market margins will be dried up, there will be less money to purchase black market arms, and disputes would have access to the courts for resolution, instead of solving them on the streets. 

We live in a gun culture, and a frontal attack on that culture is only good for creating animosity and division.  The responsible and sane solution to the problem of gun violence is to accept the reality of our culture and create policies that make it safer.  Education will absolutely reduce firearm accidents.  Getting rid of black markets through legalization will  absolutely reduce firearm assaults on our streets.  These are two real solutions that don't require the government to encroach upon the rights of anyone, and will have a profound effect on the safety of our communities.  Why wouldn't we try this first?  The only reason I can think of is that we are more interested in disarming the people than we actually are in facilitating their safety.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Prohibition is Vain Sword Bearing.

When the state bears the sword to enforce drug prohibition, it does so in vain as doing so not only fails to accomplish what it set out to accomplish, but in fact accomplishes the opposite.  Prohibition is merely the state flexing its might in order to be seen as mighty.  This is vanity.  It is not done for our good, and it only rewards and increases evil.

Prohibition makes the authority of the state illegitimate. By agressing against peaceful people and barring them access to the civil courts, prohibition delegitmizes the government that enforces it. Biblically, a government that enforces prohibition does not fit the definition of an authority that ought to be obeyed:

“For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”
Romans 13:4 NKJV

Prohibition delegitmizes good government and legitimizes violence.

Prohibition doesn't prevent the prohibited item from coming to market, it only prohibits those involved in the transaction from accessing the courts to resolve their disputes.  Prohibition guarantees fraud as victims cannot appeal to the civil courts for fear of the criminal ones.  Prohibition prohibits the state from hearing the pleas of injustice from those victimized as a part of the drug trade.  It only allows the state to deal with everyone involved as a criminal.

Prohibition incentivizes violence because those parties in conflict have been disenfranchised from the proper role of the government, the administration of justice.  If they are facing the sword of the state simply for entering into the transaction, what difference does it make if they face the same sword for cheating, stealing, or killing?  So fraud and violence are encouraged and violence becomes a much more common method of conflict resolution.

The incentive to deal honestly is actually greatly diminished by prohibition.  If the state removes the risk of the sword from the transaction itself, but appropriately keeps bearing it upon those who commit acts of fraud and violence, then the risk of committing fraud or violence becomes much higher than the risk of simply dealing honestly.  This makes our communities safer as drug transactions would become normalized and as prone to violence as a trip to the store for bread and milk.

As a drug policy, prohibition not only fails to rid or even reduce the amount of drugs on the streets, but it also invites violence into our communities.  It is prohibition, the misapplication of the sword of the state, and not the drug dealing itself, that must be targeted and eliminated in order to protect the peace. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Can we lose our humanity through technology?

I really enjoyed this talk by Father Thomas Hopko that he gave a while back at St Elijah in Oklahoma City.  He really brings up some powerful questions for me concerning what it means to be human, and how allowing technology to augment us too drastically may threaten our humanity.  His point of view on the end times isn't that things will get "worse" in the way that most people consider it, his suggestion is that people will cease to be human as we try to engineer away every aspect of our humanity that we don't find appealing, yet somehow still attempt to call it Christianity.  The verse came to mind "My strength is made perfect in weakness", meaning that at some point I may have to say no to some awesome technology and remain weak, so that I am purposefully human, weak and dependent on God.  Not to eschew technology as something evil, but to do so to purposefully guard my reliance upon God as something sacred.

I think there is a ethical and even a biological element to consider to all of this as well.  It is wonderful that we live in an age that I can learn to do almost any task by simply youtubing it and mimicking the instructor.  The learning curve for so many things has drastically been shortened because of technology, however I can't help but to wonder if we aren't missing out on some other aspects of life that may be just as important, the chaos, uncertainty, and humility that is found when you have to figure something out all on your own, or even depend on some time in prayer to seek the answers.

In what way are we affecting brain development if our brains never experience the terror of that abyss called the unknown?  The humiliating aspect of learning something new?  That place where we find ourselves reaching out to others and even to God for answers as we try to solve a complicated problem?  If technology allows us to overcome that, and we grow accustomed to not having to experience it, will we even endeavor to take on challenges that haven't already been conquered and figured out by someone else?  Will we even be physically capable of challenging the status quo to seek something better?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Plenty of Hope

I'm not an expert, nor am I a Muslim. And I'm not trying to be disrespectful of anyone. And maybe I have it all wrong, and if I do, please chime in and educate me. But it seems to me that the thing about Islam is that in some ways it can change. Not the religion or the scripture itself, but in how it is carried out and understood by it's believers. Their approach to their scripture is not the same as the approach of other religions, particularly not that of Western Christianity (which, by the way, has a different approach to scripture than much of the rest of Christianity).
From my understanding, there is no apostolic (obviously) understanding that is passed from generation to generation, but instead, a deference to scholars and thinkers who can apply the message of the Koran to their current context. There is no central authority, but instead a general consensus that develops over time, obviously with outliers.
In many ways this is like the Post Reformation Christian handling of the Christian Scriptures in their rejection of the Roman Church . The differences being in the vestiges of interpretation that are left from the pre-reformed and ancient times (the great Church Councils, etc) that most all of modern Christianity accepts as authoritative by default, even while implicitly rejecting the actual authority of those bodies of believers (but I digress). The point is that modern reformed Christianity also claims to have no central earthly authority and defers to a consensus of scholars (theologians, authors, etc) to ascertain meaning that is, over time, unofficially accepted by general consensus, and also with its fair share of outliers.
Now, from the stand point of holding to a true interpretation of Scripture, I would say that overall this is not really a good thing for Christianity and has lead to many problems, as the Church's tradition helps to protect the context and original meaning of what was written, and departing from that authority is what opens the doors to heresies. Particularly this method threatens the actual gospel and our definite understanding of the person of Christ (which were some of the primary concerns of the early Church councils).
However, when speaking of Islam, and again, me not being a Muslim, I would say that the way in which I understand their method of interpretation leads me to have great hope, because the consensus seems to be building toward an Islam that marginalizes the violent sects, focuses on the love and forgiveness of God, and encourages believers to act in charity and good will toward their fellow man.
If this is the case then one can imagine that there is plenty of opportunity and even theological basis for Muslims and Christians and people who believe in peaceful philosophies of life to come together and really explore the differences that they have and the similarities that they share and to do so with mutual respect. I would think that people of every religion would see this as the ultimate opportunity for evangelism.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A wink and a nod.

Personally and as an Orthodox Christian, I can't seem to justify homosexual behavior. I have been reading and considering a lot from all sides and the arguments are compelling, however I can't let go of the idea that our physical nature as human beings is heterosexual, and spiritually our union is a picture of Christ and the Church, not only in a sense of sacrificial love, but also in the creative sense of how the words of our marriage covenant become flesh through childbearing, in a like way that Christ became flesh by means of God's covenant with mankind.

That being said I cannot help but to empathize with those who are homosexual.  I cannot imagine the struggle it must be, particularly in our culture.  The standard counsel given to homosexual Christians seems to simply be that they must be chaste from sex.  And I agree with this, theologically, however I also shudder.  It's a burden that almost all heterosexuals could not and do not bear, even the most pious being able to flee to marriage and safely contain their passions.  However, it seems that for the homosexual, in most Christian circles, including my own, that is not a possibility, and I understand and agree with it, while I still lament it.

It seems so reasonable to me for a Christian homosexual to be able to also flee to a committed relationship to contain their own passions and also enjoy the other fruits of such a bond.  In many ways I can truly see how God could be glorified in their commitment to Christ and to each other and in their desire to honor each other and to contain their sexual passions within that commitment.  

This may seem strange, but I am heartbroken that I cannot fully join them them in rejoicing in such a covenant.  I can't because I can't deny our human nature.  Not our human nature to love or the admirable qualities of commitment, I'm simply speaking of our actual and ideal physical nature, that we were created as male and female.

I'm saying this to say that I won't be advocating for Christian Churches to recognize homosexual marriage, because I don't believe it is appropriate.  However, there is a big part of my heart that is happy that there are Churches who are willing to see this differently than I do, and provide gay couples, as couples, a place to seek the same grace and mercy that I seek daily from Christ.  I cannot support it, but by grace, and seeking God's mercy, I applaud it. I at least can give it a wink and a nod.