Morality

Morality is a quality of consciousness.

It is the basis of enlightenment and the nexus of ultimate and relative realities.

The Buddha spoke of enlightenment only by saying what it is not.

Even when we consider moral acts with great care, we can never be entirely certain of our judgement because there is always more that we do not and cannot understand or know.

We can be cautiously certain only that we have tried or are trying to act morally.

Do we act as if in a role? Or do we act as if in a mind stream, a stream of karma?

God’s Will implies we have a role to play. What does a karmic mind stream imply? Are we attracted to the Tathāgata or not?

I think it’s best to consider all points of view.

Status as a fetish

Fetish can be defined as “a part standing for the whole” or “one thing being made bigger than it is by having become a psychological fixation.”

A good example of what I mean is pornography. Insofar as a mere image can stand for or replace instinctual sexual objectives, it is a fetish.

A sign (pornographic image) is as strong or stronger than the animal instinct. Or a sign can direct or redirect the animal instinct. That is a fetish.

Secondary sex characteristics do the same thing. You could call them nature’s fetishes but that would be stretching the concept. Human utilizations of makeup, clothing, and grooming could be said to stand “halfway” between the basic sexual instinct and the fetishized porno image.

Let’s apply that reasoning to status.

Two social psychologist I respect—Jordan Peterson and Kevin MacDonald—have both claimed many times that status is a fundamental human instinct and that it drives human behavior in many ways.

In posts on this site, I have disagreed with these ideas several times. I just don’t see it that way. Here are two of those posts: Status and hierarchy are as fundamental to human life as murder and Jordan Peterson on the gender pay gap, campus protests and the patriarchy.

In the second link just above, I said:

…I do not believe that social status is any more fundamental to human nature than murder is. Humans also possess reason and spiritual inclinations both of which can guide us away from status competition if we decide to do that and/or our conditions allow.

I still think that but over the past day or two a new understanding of the importance of status and human hierarchy has dawned on me. In essence, I think I have come to see that status really is a huge deal for many people; a much bigger deal than I had ever realized.

My explanation for that is people like me (and there are many of us) during childhood and adolescence see the “status game” as a choice. And we decide not to play it.

My SO made that choice. When we talked about this subject this morning, she said people like us are more open to art (in a broad sense) and less concerned with social hierarchies. I think that’s true. One good friend years ago used to call me a “now person,” meaning I am always living in the here and now and not doing a lot of planning for the future. I think she also meant or implied that I am not doing any thinking about my social status or the human hierarchies that surround me.

A Buddhist nun who is a close friend has often described mundane human behaviors as being motivated by jealousy. I have often disagreed with her, believing that her emphasis on jealousy was influenced too much by her culture (Chinese) or by the innocence of her monastic lifestyle.

Today, I think she was influenced by the status-conscious world she had grown up in and as a young adult renounced for Buddhism. But I also think she was able to see something I have been almost completely blind to. For me status has always been a very small cloud on the edge of the sky, not a major thunderstorm in human motivation. For her it is, or was, a storm in the human mind.

Status is a fetish. And fetishization does explain a lot about it. But if lots of people have that fetish or have that strong understanding of status, that’s how it is. As a social construct the status fetish can be even bigger and more imposing than the basic instinct it rests upon.

I hope this post helps people who see status as important understand people like me and my SO, and vice versa.

From a Buddhist point of view, I think it is important to fully understand the entire status spectrum—from instinct to fetishized sign—and to understand where you are on that spectrum and where the people you deal with are on that spectrum.

My guess is that most people reading this blog do not think of status as being very important. People like us need to appreciate that status is probably largely what motivates good people like Jordan Peterson as well as bad people like Bernie Madoff.

Might also be good if status-conscious people would understand that people like us are not all slackers or losers, nor are we seething with envy over your status. We simply do not even see the game you are playing. We do other stuff like become monastics or perform ordinary tasks cheerfully and without complaint.

Word order and word choice affect how and what we think

A new study shows that the word order of the language(s) we speak affects how we remember spoken information and perhaps more.

An article about the study can be found here: Word order predicts a native speakers’ working memory.

The main novelty of this study is that the link between language and thought might not be just confined to conceptual representations and semantic biases, but rather extend to syntax and its role in our way of processing sequential information. The language we speak affects the way we process, store and retrieve information.

The study can be found here (no paywall): The word order of languages predicts native speakers’ working memory.

Word choice can have even bigger effects on how we think and what we think about.

For example, using the term default mode network in place of unconscious mind or the Freudian Id yields a very different kind of understanding about what people are and how they function.

If you pay close attention to your default mode network, I am certain you will find yourself making judgements about other people. I am also certain that many of those judgements will have been repeated many times in the past and without intervention from your meta-self will be repeated many more times in future.

These judgements affect how you think and feel about many things; they tend to be fundamental to the workings of our psychologies.

Often our default mode judgements include our desired punishment for the offense we have just judged: “I hope that SOB falls in the river” or however you would put it.

A wonderful side of our minds is we can see that. We can see what we are doing and even figure out ways to act on what we see.

The next time you notice yourself wishing someone would fall in the river, stop and ask yourself if that is what you really want.

I am not saying get all moral with yourself and pray for the person. I am just saying ask yourself if that is what you really want. Do you really want them in the river?

I bet most of the time, if not all, you would much rather see them repent, reform, apologize, make amends, sin no more.

If you see that, you can see there is no spiritual need for revenge or punishment. What we need and want is the betterment of the person we have judged and the betterment of ourselves.

The way we think about our real-world minds and uses of language can be changed by how we think about them.

Associations of Religious Upbringing With Subsequent Health and Well-Being From Adolescence to Young Adulthood: An Outcome-Wide Analysis

In the present study, we prospectively examined the associations of religious involvement in adolescence (including religious service attendance and prayer or meditation) with a wide array of psychological well-being, mental health, health behavior, physical health, and character strength outcomes in young adulthood…. Compared with no attendance, at least weekly attendance of religious services was associated with greater life satisfaction and positive affect, a number of character strengths, lower probabilities of marijuana use and early sexual initiation, and fewer lifetime sexual partners. Analyses of prayer or meditation yielded similar results. Although decisions about religion are not shaped principally by health, encouraging service attendance and private practices in adolescents who already hold religious beliefs may be meaningful avenues of development and support, possibly leading to better health and well-being. (Source PDF)

Pope says ‘silence’ is the best response to ‘people lacking good will’

…In his homily, Pope Francis said the reading should help Christians “reflect on how to act in daily life when there are misunderstandings,” but also to understand “how the father of lies, the accuser, the devil acts to destroy the unity of a family, of a people”.

According to a Vatican News report on the homily, Pope Francis said that it was with his silence that Jesus defeated the “wild dogs”, the devil, who “had sown lies in the hearts”. (Source)

Edit 9/16/18: FWIW, while I find it interesting that the Pope has said the devil uses accusations as a weapon against good people and while I find this idea worth considering, I doubt its application in today’s context is entirely pristine. That said, false accusations are very common, very destructive, and very much worth analyzing before reacting emotionally to them.

As for using “silence” to deal with false accusations or “people lacking good will,” this fails as do so many general religious rules. Christianity in particular suffers from too many decent but overly simplified heuristics not being subject enough to human valuation and wisdom.

Silence is good when dealing with narcissists and others in some situations, but not in all situations. When we decide on our own—or even with the help of the Pope—that someone is “lacking good will” and deserves the silent treatment, we run the risk of cowering behind false “virtue,” to say nothing of the possibility that we may also be engaging in a false accusation ourselves even if that accusation is kept silent.

Buddhism is not immune to the same problem. For example, Buddhists are frequently counseled to be careful about what they say but rarely counseled to be careful about what they hear or how they hear in general. Many bad ideas can form in the mind through simply mishearing or misunderstanding what someone has said.

Traditional religions, as with most belief systems, contain too many simple ideas that absolutely must be analyzed in each context before they can be wisely applied. ABN

American Pravda: Holocaust Denial

…The obvious reason for this glaring omission is that the authors are constructing a morality-play in which the Jews must be portrayed as absolutely blameless victims, and even hinting at their role in the numerous Communist atrocities that long preceded the rise of the Third Reich might cause readers to consider both sides of the issue. When purported historians go to absurd lengths to hide such glaring facts, they unmask themselves as propagandists, and we must be very cautious about trusting their reliability and candor in all other matters, whether great or small. (Source)