Love, Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized

An Open Letter To My Muslims Brothers & Sisters

Assalamu alaikum

The world tells me we are inherently different. I’m not a Muslim my self, but I’ve always been fascinated & inspired by Islamic contribution to human civilization. The history of & historical figures from the Islamic world have fascinated & inspired me for years, especially the era of the Islamic  Renaissance in North Africa, the Middle East & Spain. As a student of philosophy the works of Muslim thinkers & scholars have always grabbed my attention, particularly Abu al-Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rushd (known in the West as Averroes). I first encountered Ibn Rushed in a wonderful Philosophy class I took in college for my minor. My German born professor admired him & introduced us to the basics of his system of though. This passage from his book The Decisive Treatise stood out to me

The double meaning [of religion & philosophy] has been given to suit people’s diverse intelligence. The apparent contradictions are meant to stimulate the learned to deeper study.

What this has always seemed to mean for me, a non-believer of God, is that religion & philosophy often have the same goal: to understand the Universe, what takes place in it, our own place in it, and how to live with and understand one another. There is intrinsic difference between people of faith & people of freethinking philosophy, just slight variations in emphasis & ontology. We all live by moral standards, we all have family or communities, we all seek knowledge, we all seek to better ourselves & those we love & care for. The differences in how we come to understand ourselves & our world are not nearly as important as the fact we do all seek to know, to feel, to love, to explore. 

There are many paths to truth, to happiness, to wisdom. We do a great disservice to ourselves & our fellow human beings when we close off a path because it may not seem familiar at first. I have found that when one takes the time to take, as Frost wrote, “the path less travelled”, you see that what at first seems to your eyes and mind to be alien is in fact your own world made new again through difference; a tree is a tree is a tree again, and a wise thought is wisdom in any tongue or any culture. We translate our seeming differences by experiencing them, through a striving to see love in unknown places, and emerging from the path to a shared destination.

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A beautiful building stands near my apartment in Bolingbrook, Illinois, a Masjib & community center. It represents to me the wonderful diversity of this country & its people, people who make our community stronger & more enlightened. I smile when I think of the young Muslim families I see at the library or at the store; how proud they seem, how kind & friendly they are. On a more personal note, when I was in college it was hard for me to make friends (I am autistic and social skills are not my forte) and many of my peers ignored me or did not take the time to try to understand my life or point of view. That is until I met a group of Muslims students, some of whom I worked with at the College library. They were warm, open, non-judgemental, invited me to sit with them at lunch, introduced me to new people & ideas. We enjoyed the time we spent together, and even though we saw the world differently sometimes, we never let these differences get in the way of caring for one another as human beings. Their friendship during this hard time in my life is not something I will ever forget.

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Today many of our non-Muslim leaders in government, medias & culture are telling us to fear Muslims, to hate them, to shun them. They tell us Islam is an “evil” religion, one that has no intellectual tradition worth studying, no love for women or those outside of Islam. I know these are calumnies, blood libels told to benefit those with power & who want power, whose imperial aims thrive when Muslims and non-Muslims fight & terrorize one another. I know that the West has blood on its hands and has done much to earn the distrust of some in the Muslim World. I know that fanatics on both sides need this hatred & use it to wield power over people who just want to live safe, happy lives. I know that those who hate, who want us to hate, believe that there are two worlds at war. I know the truth. I know there is one world, one humanity. I know refugees are seeking what I seek: a home, love, education, enrichment, happiness, community. I know most Muslims know this too. We are not different, we have no reason to fear one another. We must love one another. I support Muslims, I support refugees, I support immigrants. I support my brothers & sisters. I reject Trump & his fascist ideology, his fascist programs. I stand with you, and I know many more stand with you too. We are not different, you and I. We are the same people making our way, sometimes on different paths, sometimes on the same path, all heading to the same destination.

yours in friendship,

Noah Mann-Engel

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Feminism, Philosophy, Sexuality, Uncategorized

An Immodest Proposal

The main issue I have with the so called “modesty” movement, is that even when it is ostensibly about “women choosing to be modest” for their own reasons, there is an unspoken undercurrent of judgement and shaming. For what is one if one is not “modest”? One is immodest. And if someone is labeled or considered, even by default, immodest, shaming, violence, punishment, and ostracization are tacitly approved of against the person. It is a subtle way of upholding patriarchal cultural norms, and an insidious on at that, because it turns the “decision” to impose an arbitrary morality into one ostensibly made by the women herself. Even the word, modesty, and the accompanying concept and activities that expected in regards to it, are assumed to be set in stone, a certain set of inherent values. The assumption is made that modesty is inherently the act of covering oneself up, specifically the parts of the body that MEN have traditionally deemed there purview to either view, sexualize, control, or shame.

There is no such thing as “natural” modesty, or an inherent human modesty in regards to sartorial choices, it is all begging the question, with the answer being “there is something inherently shameful about the female form, something that one can “choose” to decide to cover up and hide in order to possess some sort of aura of inherent goodness or purity. It is reverse objectification, and sexual violence by stealth, making women into willing accomplices to the continuation of the idea that the female form is special in its potential for physical and moral corruption. Women are told that their “beauty” is better and more morally “celebrated” by “respecting” it with arbitrary, and male gaze focused, garment coverings/veils, as though beauty was something objectively enhanced or degraded by the use or non-use of a certain prescribed accoutrements.

Modesty, in and of itself, is assumed a priori to mean a form of veiling, modifying, distracting from the physical and the female, which underlines the assumption that there is something inherent to the female form that makes it “more beautiful”, more “worth protecting”, more “pure” than the male form. Hence there is no equal movement to compel men to “make the choice to be modest”, at least not with the same subtle shaming and prodding that women face. Modesty itself is a concept that must be discarded if we are to ever live in a truly equal society, at least the idea of modesty that assumes certain arbitrary parts of the human female form are to be hidden or de-emphasized.

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Philosophy, racism

The Bronson Fallacy

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The Bronson Fallacy: 1. That “The Streets” and the “thugs” that populate it are more dangerous and more likely to do you and your loved ones and your neighbors harm then your neighbors or your loved ones are, though the opposite is statistically and practically true. 2. Believing this as fact, and acting on that belief, often by arming oneself with weapons seen as “equal” to the “firepower” of the perceived threat from “The Streets” and the “thugs” that populate it. 3. A priori belief that one is not safe, not sensible, not serious unless one is armed, and that that the presence or use of a gun is what “keeps crime at bay” or “keeps us safe/protects our rights”. 4. Any argument or system based on a belief in the preceding. 5. Named for Charles Bronson, star of the cult Death Wish revenge/true crime film series of the 1970’s & 80’s.

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Philosophy

We Are the Evil Empire

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This Essay is Dedicated to the victims of Imperial Violence everywhere, and throughout time

I realized the other day that the Invading US Military, controlled by Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and nominally George Bush II among others, appoint a AMERICAN MILITARY/COLONIAL DICTATOR to rule Iraq, a nation of over 20 million independent, living, breathing, worthwhile people. His name was L. Paul Bremer and he was aided by Gen. Ricardo Sanchez and they were no different than General Iwane Matsui in Nanjiang in 1937, or Lucius Flavius SIlva at Masada, or Nathan Bedford Forest at Fort Pillow or Field Marshal Walter Model in Warsaw in 1944…they were functionaries, brutal ones, of the imperial/fascistic order of their national/ethnic system of power. We are no different than any other violent, expanding, brutal, greedy, ambitious empires in history. The scale of the violence inflicted upon Iraq, for no reason other than petty revenge by the ruling Bush family, profit and for Dick Cheney, the then dictator of the US, and out of shear myopic xenophobic rage against anything that challenged or even irritated US imperial authority and economic control, is on par with the violence inflicted by the Mongols on Baghdad in 1258, or the IDF in Palestine since 1948, or the Germans on Spain in 1936.

The only objective differences between our empire and any other in history is time, distance, technology, and professed ideology. We are convinced of our moral superiority to, our difference from, the “others”, these “truly evil” empires. We killed at least a million people in war in Iraq, surely if we count the death toll from starvation and illness caused by our invasion and occupation and the sanctions, that total is closer to 2 million. We would count these deaths as part of the war victims if we were analyzing the Soviets, or ISIS, or Imperial Japan in their imperial debacles. The founding imperial myth of “American Exceptionalism” notwithstanding, a US Sniper killing a child in Baghdad because he “may have been a potential terrorist” is not different morally from a Soviet Private running a Berlin shopkeeper through with a bayonet, or British Regulars gunning down women and children at Amritsar. Iraqi lives are no less valuable than American lives, or Jewish lives, or Tibetan lives. Iraqis are no more or less prone to “evil” or “savagery” then any other arbitrary grouping of peoples in the world. How is a US soldier killing an Iraqi civilian in Anbar Provence any different than a Chinese Communist beating a Nationalist Sympathizer to death in Xian? THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE. We are no more or less evil than any other empire in history. Our belief in the righteousness of our moral/political/philosophical/economic/religious systems are not unique, every empire has its self-sustaining myths and belief in its own self evident superiority. I mention Iraq because it is the most egregious recent example of our imperial brutality, but I could also mention the fire bombing of Tokyo in 1945, the nuclear obliteration and slow radiation poisoning of 500,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the ideological motivated and justified genocide committed against the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, the wholesale slaughter of Indians over 200 years of Manifest Destiny warfare. China occupies Tibet, and Russia occupies Chechnya, but we occupy the Najavo Nation, the Cherokee Nation, the Iroquois Confederacy. There is no moral difference. Only the cast of characters, the slogans, and the justifications are different. We are what we condemn. We are the evil empire. We are the most dangerous and violent empire now existing on Earth.

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art, Philosophy, Science

Santayana’s Folly

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We must not fall into the trap of seeing the world as a teleology, or worse, as a function of an unmoved mover. We must, as Santayana implores, look to the past in order to not repeat it, but we often misunderstand this dictum. Events as they are do not seek to move forward with a preordained or mechanical certainty for want of human agency. Events, history, movements, revolutions, are all aspects of human agency. The world will behave according to the laws of nature unless acted upon by human beings, and even then we must remember that humans are animals and a part of nature. So perhaps we must reword our original preposition: Events as they are will move, and any perceived direction is a projection of human need, fear and desire. Humans are self-obsessed animals, self-aware of their own awareness, captivated and intimidated, overwhelmed, by their potential for agency in the natural world. We are apes and subject to the sort of whims and whimsy, and instincts, of that class of organisms. We are pattern seekers and have indeed created a world for ourselves that exists, within our own minds at least, independent of the realities of nature and physics. Philosophy is a wish the human mind makes, a striving for order in a system that is inherently chaos. We are instinctually inclined to see chaos as a negative state of affairs, but it is neither “good” nor “bad”; chaos is, and that is all there is to it.

There is no good or evil, there is only cause and effect. We do and then that which is done upon acts in response. We are conditioned, as social animals, to see the good in the group we belong to. The violence done by, or in the name of, those who we associate with is not seen as violence, but as a reaction against a constant war that rages around us and against us. The world is a “dangerous” place for “our sort” and this is and has always been true. Humans will do anything, convince themselves of anything, in order to feel safe in the group, safe in the community, safe in the society. We all live in a spotlight that we believe is projected only onto ourselves. This is not narcissism, this is a sort of human naturalism, a built in mechanism that had its place in our development. It undermines us now only because we chose to attempt to transcend the purely animal and to achieve something that would allow us to “not repeat history”. We cannot help but “repeat” history because we will always conform to our natures. It is as much in our nature to create as to destroy, to rage as well as to love, to learn as well as to stick our heads in the sand.

But, we can make a change in the application of our personal, and collective, agency in order to better our own circumstances and those of our fellows. One can live well and live healthily, safely, and comfortably without violating the laws of nature. Nature allows for human comfort and happiness, but it will never allow human utopia. The problem the philosophical systems we have created (and continue to create) and let run rampant is that all are based on the premise that the human is perfectible. What we fail to realize is that the human animals already is perfect, at least insofar as perfection has a place in nature. We are what we became, and we became what we are because of natural forces. Natural Selection is not wish fulfilment, and it does not act so much as it exists. Species change over time, we are all transitional forms, changing not out of some “striving” to “become”. Firstly, nature does not strive, nature acts and reacts according to the laws of nature, and nature does not become because there is nothing to become save for what is at the moment, and that moment changes constantly. Nothing is now how it was a moment ago.

History cannot repeat itself as there is nothing to repeat: nature exists as a perpetual “is” and this is a result of laws we have discovered and continue to discover. Heraclitus was right all along, in a simple all too human way. One cannot step in the same river twice because the river is never the river, it is only the sum of the constantly moving atoms that comprise what we see as a flow of water, that we wade into for refreshment and pleasure, which we call a river, and which we bestow with the attributes and the attitudes of what we have decided comprises a “river”. We see parts where there is only a whole, and this is fine, for an animal, natural. The ape will reach for the brightest fruits, and he will choose from those only the sweetest. This will serve the tree as much as it will serve the animal, for it will spread its seeds as far as the animal will sojourn and make the kingdom of the trees that much more diverse and vital. Change is the only constant, a constant being only that which human beings have decided will (or must?) transpire based on what they have observed.

Science is that human propensity for observation refined into systems and measures that allow us to glimpse the fine print, and past drafts, of natural law. Our most noble attribute is the need to explore and to learn from that exploration. After this primary value is the penultimate, Art. Art is the human propensity for taking in what we observe in the world, filtering it through the unique contents of our individual minds, and expressing it through creative activity and behavior. Art is the ultimate human commentary on nature; where science quotes, or attempts to paraphrase, art rhapsodizes,criticizes and excoriates. Art allows us to create something that is our own and to try our hands at being in control of nature, God over the universe (and God is only our self-obsessed conception of ourselves projected onto the chaos of nature) or at least a little creative universe of our own. Art allows us to express emotion, as much blessing as curse for our ape minds, without inflicting our emotions on our fellow creatures. Art can rage as much as it can sing. Without science art would have no mythology to draw upon, without art science would have no music to inspire us. We reached for the Moon, and traveled thereto, not just because we observed it as an aspect of nature, but because its light has inspired a thousand tall tales, and gave mood and color to countless works of art. Apollo 11 was propelled as much by poetry as much as by rocket-fuel

 

Art thou pale for weariness

    Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,

Wandering companionless

     Among the stars that have a different birth,

And ever changing, like a Joyless eye

    That finds no object worth its constancy?

All this, then, is Santayana’s folly: it is not possible to learn from the past because the past is only a flawed human perception of the present. The philosopher was far more on point, if not in such a broad way as his assessment of the past, with this comment on human agency


An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world.

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Philosophy, Politics

Art And The Revolutionary Society

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There is no such thing as a “Marxist society”…Marxism is a philosophy of materialism and human development. In a Socialist society the people would own the means of production and would democratically control the allocation and application of the fruits of labor. Profit would be an alien concept as it would be superfluous to the needs of the people, needs that would be met by the just use and distribution of the products of labor. The goal would be to move towards the elimination of want, or else to have a system in place where those who want are provided for in a just and human way according to their needs.

I do not have the answer to the question of what such a society would look like in detail as it has not come about yet, the foundations for such a system have yet to be built. That is where the aspirational, and revolutionary, nature of Marxist-Leninist philosophy and analysis is essential. the debt of history: the debt accrued when the fruit of generations of labor and innovation and thought culminate in an ingenious new application, therefore negating claims of proprietary ownership of the new application. One aspect of this application is the human artistic urge.

Art In Relation to a Revolutionary Society.

Art does not originate from the secluded person and mind in order to re-enforce the sacred seclusion (genius) of the artist. art exists to create the chance for an a priori secluded (genius) mind to connect with others and enjoy their thoughts and affection and company. art is not a product of loneliness but a way to overcome loneliness, the way the inherent uniqueness and loneliness of the artistic mind tries to connect and interact with the world. artists do not seek out the acclaim of the people, they seek out their company, they seek to become a part of the “ordinary”, the “society” through a gift of their inherent quirk, their art. art is communication failing all other communication; art is speaking, alienated from words, in the hope of achieving compatibility with and acceptance from the Other, other people, an object that can only be approached by the artistic (or autistic) mind through a gift of subjective creation. The artistic (or in many cases autistic) mind thinks “I cannot be you, I cannot be the Other, other people, I cannot relate to you as a person, therefore I will give you myself in art, a token of the chaos and constant creation and destruction in my mind, a piece of art (autism) and through your appraisal and appreciation of that piece you will come to know something of me and I will be be able to relate as the Other, other people, and for a brief moment be free of the need to create and to swim in chaotic thought”

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Philosophy

Memento Mori: A Philosophical Musing on Death

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Death is often postulated as one of the eventualities over which we have no control. “Remember, you will die”, we have been told this many times and in many ways over our collective history. And while it is true we cannot choose not to die, we can certainly, if we are lucky, choose when, where and how we die. Suicide is the last, and most powerful, moral choice possible for an individual. This choice leaves you with some control over the circumstances of your existence. Life, on the other hand, leaves man without any form of suasion against existence. You are born, or you are not, but you have no choice over the circumstances of your creation. You are or you are not, and only by being do we know that we could not have been. We were never given a choice over whether we wished to endure the hardships and the pain of existence, or partake in its pleasures and puzzles. We are slaves to the whim of our creators, our parents, at least insofar as the circumstances of our own being. Life is the the one thing over which we have no control, no culpability, no responsibility. We are victims of life or we are benefactors of it, but we have no choice in having to be faced with the choice.

Long have our moral philosophies and ethical systems made the assumption, forgivable given the inevitability of our existence a postiori, that life is an ultimate good and something which must be preserved at all costs. We see this in the various religions prohibitions against suicide, the fanatical Christian devotion to the cult of the fetus (the unborn, a strange and altogether horrifying concept that brings to mind reanimated corpses or vampirism), and the obsession with a “natural” death, frowning upon medical euthanasia or other pain ending alternatives. Even our secular moral philosophers have weighed in on the side of existence, Camus and his Myth of Sisyphus being the most prominent example that comes to mind. The “other great Algerian” posited a defiant and heroic insistence on life in the face of the apparent absurdity of reality, but he neglects to explore the inherent problem of existential inevitability, the chaos of the individual life that can only be understood after the fact of coming into being. There is no choice in coming to life, but Camus chooses to if not ignore then disregard this fact in favor of an embrace of the  problems inherent to the “power that is”, a life ex post facto. This is an understandable response given the puzzle we are given when it comes to the unaccountable spontaneity of existence. Any philosophical attempt to deal with the realities of life and of its inevitable result, death, must knowingly or unknowingly confront at one point or another a problem. Unaccountable spontaneity, the coming into being without the being predisposed to coming, is something of  a Gordian knot that exists in two dimensions; confront and justify a response to the puzzle of death and you have only untied the part of the knot that you have access too. There is always another part of the knot that came before capacity to confront or even to comprehend. It has been said that life is a sparrow flying in from the cold into a warm reoom before exiting through the opposite window, but that presupposes a realm outside the warm room. We have no “cold place” to come in from; we either are or we are not. Once we realize we are in existence, or at least experience that existence, we have already become, the knot has already been tied, and the chance to puzzle out the solution or too avoid it altogether by choosing oblivion is made for us. We are creatures made at the whim of another, not some Abrahamic deity or deistic life force, but by the biological reproductive imperative itself. We are what our parents fuck, to put it bluntly, we have no part to paly in our own creation besides accepting it as a fait accompli.

A theocratic argument would seem to help solve this paradox, a first cause, a motivating force that decrees our existence and deals in the murky metaphysics of the immortal soul, but this argument, the god postulation, of course falls apart in the face of 3000 years of materialistic and scientific thought and experience. We do not need to go into the fact that even a god would be faced with the paradox of its own existence. Any problem experienced by man can be multiplied in magnitude and made intractable when applied to the divine. If willed into existence, then by what, if willing itself, then how? God is therefore just a more elaborate and monumental version of the same problem: why being? Why no accountability for ones’ own existence?

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