Category Archives: Philosophy

Holiday Rain

When your eyes well up

they remind me of a day at the beach

with small children shivering

underneath the dark clouds

of suppressed emotion.

 

Then you give me that look,

and it’s like an afternoon shower

on the fourth of July.

Guests scurry inside,

leaving muddy tracks

across the carpet of my regard.

 

With trembling lips

you unleash the storm.

Faces press against the window

bemoaning the loss of sunshine,

and our lighthearted romp

through life’s mysteries.

 

Your tears are like holiday rain.

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Filed under Philosophy, Poetry

Politeness is a Virtue

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I just finished reading The Way of the Samurai by Inazo Nitobe.  Nitobe was of the samurai class in Japan but was western educated.  He wrote The Way of the Samurai in English in 1900 around the time Japan was westernizing.  Nitobe does a good job of explaining the philosophy of the samurai as it relates to western civilization.  Specifically, he compares the ways of the samurai warrior to that of medieval knights in Europe, and compares Japanese culture and philosophy to the christian west.

Not surprising, he describes the Japanese as being more culturally focused, whereas westerners are more individually focused.  He does this without judgement.

The bulk of the book is taken up with explanations of the virtues to which the samurai adhered.  These virtues are: Rectitude, Courage, Benevolence, Politeness, Veracity, Sincerity, Honor, and the Duty of Loyalty.  As I read this book, the virtue that resonated with me the most was Politeness.

If you watch Japanese anime, news from Japan, Japanese shows, or know someone Japanese, politeness is probably one of the first things you notice.  The Japanese are polite, and it is a sharp contrast to American culture.  It could be argued that politeness is disappearing from American culture.

According to Nitobe, “Politeness is a poor virtue, if it is actuated only by a fear of offending good taste, whereas it should be the outward manifestation of a sympathetic regard for the feeling of others. . . In its highest form, politeness almost approaches love.”

So it seems that the samurai virtue of politeness is not much different than the Golden Rule that we were all taught as children.  You know, the ole mind your manners and love your neighbor shtick that seems to be going out of style.

For a true samurai, using his sword was the last resort, not the first instinct.  Virtues, such as politeness, came first.  Hmm, maybe we could try that for a change.

 

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Filed under Books, Culture, Philosophy, Society

Is AI Bad?

Recently, several companies that work with developing Artificial Intelligence (AI) sent an open letter to the UN.  The letter was to voice concerns over the use of AI in weapons.  These companies are concerned that AI will be used to develop weapons that will act independently of humans.  They call it the “third revolution in warfare” which will “permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend.”

This is scary stuff, but it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that this is a possibility.  Especially if you have read or watched much science fiction over the last few decades.  Most people would probably point to the Terminator movie franchise as an example where Skynet takes over the world from humans.  There are other examples, for me the first one that got me thinking about this topic was 2001: A Space Odyssey.

HAL

I’m Sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.

HAL’s monotone voice only enhanced the creepy factor.  There was no obvious malice involved HAL’s non-compliance, was there?

2001: A Space Odyssey came out in 1968.   I remember watching it as a kid and thinking it was weird, but that voice has stayed with me since.

Over the years, there have been several movies that took on the AI question:

  • Wargames (1983) – AI bad.
  • Terminator (1984) – AI bad. (First movie bad, but mixed in later movies with “good” terminator)
  • Maximum Overdrive (1986) – AI bad. (Of course this one is a bit campy, but it does have AC/DC music)
  • The Matrix (1999) – AI mixed. (First movie bad, but got mixed up in later movies)
  • AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001) – AI good.
  • I Robot (2004) – AI mixed.
  • Chappie (2015) – AI good.

The AI comments are mine (you may not agree).  I’m sure there are other movies that I didn’t see, but there seems to be a trend where AI is becoming more acceptable, less scary (in the movies at least).  What does this mean about the acceptance of AI in our society?

I’m with the letter writers.  Yes, Artificial Intelligence is cool, but it is way too scary for me to be happy about it being developed.  A couple of recent developments reinforce my concern:

While human intelligence maybe somewhat of an oxymoron at times, I say let’s keep the robot programming simple, and let people think for themselves.  Who’s with me?

Hey, what’s that button?

download

 

 

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Filed under Culture, Philosophy, Science Fiction, Society

Super Genius

Coyote

My daughter calls me Super Genius, but not in a good way.  She doesn’t mean Fruit Loops with marshmallows genius (If you haven’t tried this perfect breakfast cereal, stop denying yourself).  When she calls me Super Genius, the words are accompanied by a smirk and an eye roll.  She means Wile E. Coyote Super Genius. . . and I’m okay with that.  She even bought me this nifty shirt.

Genius shirt

I earned this designation by sharing all the trivia stuck in my head with my family at the dinner table.  So this means we made a habit of sitting down and eating dinner together, and even (gasp) talked as a family during that time.  So yeah, I tell too many “dad jokes” and spout off nonsense trivia, but it beats each of us burying our heads in our cell phones only coming up for air for a “pass the bread.”

Besides, Wile E. Coyote is one of my childhood heroes.  That dude never gave up!  Get blown up, fall off a cliff, get hit by a train—it didn’t matter, he always came back for more.  That coyote had a goal, and he was determined to reach it no matter what.  To be honest, I always cheered for Wile E. Coyote.  He was the underdog (or would that be undercoyote?), and that roadrunner was a bit too arrogant for my taste.

So when my daughter calls me Super Genius, I just smile.

That’s me.

genius

When the roadrunner finally slips up, I’ll be the one strapped to my Acme rocket ready to swoop in and finally reach my goal.  Or, maybe it’s off the cliff again.  Who can say, but you can’t stop trying.

Coyote Bye

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Envy is a Powerful Motivator

I am envious of other writers. I am envious of their success and their ability to connect with readers.  I am envious of those people who can step into a crowd and walk away with a gaggle of new friends.  I am envious of you.

Envy is that green-eyed, nine-armed monster who menaces us all, especially writers. Why, because we are human.  We covet what others have, or maybe just what we don’t have.  So no matter how much I try to follow a stoic philosophy and accept things as they come, I am constantly reminded of my shortcomings through such base emotions as envy.

My most recent bout with this ugly monster occurred just yesterday. I went to a writers meeting and listened to the guest speaker read from his work, and was instantly overcome.  There are a lot of writers out there that are good, but occasionally you run across one that takes your breath away.  This guy was an entertaining speaker, inspirational motivator, overall nice person, and worst of all, a great writer.  He had the full package.  I wanted to be him.

This is the type of encounter that can propel you in one of two directions: either you realize you’ll never get there and quit, or you become motivated to try even harder.  I’ll admit that I sat on that fence for a good hour after the meeting, but finally decided to keep moving forward.  That’s the positive side of such a base emotion – it can inspire you instead of devour you.

I recognize that the argument will be made that we get together, critique, and workshop to lift each other up. We celebrate each other’s successes and have all these positive emotions that drive us forward together.  Still I wonder if those feelings are as powerful a motivator.  I wonder if that is the real reason why we have such meetings—to be inspired through our envy of others?  You would think there would be an easier way, but maybe not.

I think I want to be in a group with people that piss me off with their success. I want to be striving to catch up to them.  I want to envy them all the way to the bank, quit my day job, and then envy them some more.  Oh yeah, and have fun doing it.

 

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Filed under Philosophy, Writing

The Book Review Quandary

When I joined Goodreads a few years ago, I felt like I should write reviews for the books I read. After doing this for a month or two, I changed my mind.  I still will rate a book (as long as I finished reading it, and if I liked it enough to read it then it will get a decent rating), but don’t typically write a review unless I really liked it.  We all have our niches.  I enjoy writing and reading, but I don’t enjoy writing book reviews.  I have two main reasons for not liking to give them:

  1. “If you don’t have something nice to say . . .” – Remember when your mom told you this way back when? In the writing world, I’m more interested in gaining readers than I am in evaluating the writing of others. Don’t get me wrong, I have posted reviews on Goodreads of the books that I enjoyed, but I prefer to keep my criticisms to myself. Honestly, if I didn’t like your book I won’t finish reading it or probably read any others you write. I’m not sure either of us are gaining anything if I tell you so. Writers’ egos get bruised enough without me adding to it. Then I was thinking that I owe it to other readers, but decided that was my own hubris talking.
  2. I am brutally honest and critical by nature – It is in my DNA. I tell people all the time, “Don’t ask for my opinion unless you really want to know what I think.” If I don’t like it, I’ll tell you so. I’ll also tell you what I don’t like about it and why. I don’t mind giving feedback as long as the recipient realizes this is what they are getting. For example, doing critiques in a writing group because they asked for it and hopefully are looking for input to make their story better.  Even if the author is a friend, I couldn’t give them a good review if I didn’t like the book. That being said, a book review is typically done for someone you don’t know. Since they didn’t ask me for my opinion, I don’t want to give it unless it is positive (see reason #1). Of course, if I don’t know you, it has to be really good for me to take the time to write about it because I’d rather be writing my own stuff.

I don’t mind receiving book reviews as long as they are productive in nature (not that I have a choice either way). Like anyone else, I prefer a positive review, but as long as the criticism shows thought (like they read the book) it doesn’t bother me.  There is nothing worse than receiving a low rating with an explanation like “I didn’t read it.”  If you didn’t read it, don’t review it.  Are any of our opinions that important that we should kick someone we don’t even know in the gut?  I prefer to torture the people I know who ask for it.  Does that make me twisted?

 

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Filed under Philosophy, Reading, Writing

Do You Re-read?

My philosophy has always been that there are too many books out there to spend the time to re-read.  I’ve only consciously made a couple of exceptions to this rule.

A few years ago I re-read Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.  In my opinion, this is one of the classics of science fiction and it was one of the first books that I remember having an effect on my world view.  In other words, it made me think.  I probably read it in my early teens and I decided to read it again as an adult to see if it still elicited the same response.  It is still a powerful book, if you grok Heinlein.

I have also read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius a few times, and will probably read it again.  There are few books worth the time to read them repetitively, and this is the one I choose.  Marcus Aurelius was a roman emperor and a Stoic philosopher.  This is a great combination as far as I’m concerned because I have always been interested in the Roman Empire, and I’m pretty much a Stoic by nature and inclination.  If you are looking for words to live by, look no further than:  He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.

These are the only two books I have purposefully read more than once, but the list grew by two more in the last year.  The titles don’t really matter because it was more a result of my mind slipping with age than a conscious decision.  So twice in the last year I found myself reading a book that I had read in the past.  Maybe you’ve had that feeling a few chapters into a book where you realize you’ve read it before.  What do you do?  To quote Marcus Aurelius:

Whatever the universal nature assigns to any man at any time is for the good of that man at that time.

In other words, just go with it.  I recognize that I have to accept this occasional slip as I get older.  Also, a little flexibility in my book reading philosophy isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I have a feeling the universal nature is not done with me yet, so I might as well accept what comes next.

An exception to this rule, of course, is my own stories.  We call them revisions, but it’s pretty much re-reading the story multiple times to find errors and make it better.  Maybe if I call it re-writing it will make me feel better about it.

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Filed under Philosophy, Reading