From time to time we hear about the concept of the “Open University.” There is sometimes even talk about a “Secret University,” how sexy. Since G.W. Bush took the Presidency, there is of course less of this sort of intuitive view of the world. Based on the things I say and the conversations I have on the job, in almost every cab shift I drive, at least one passenger thanks me for “the education” I give them. Evidently I am participating in the University of the World. And so, I would like to put some thoughts forward in the "Open Court."
Some of the drivers at Yellow Cab used to call me “Professor.” Though I never knew why, most of the ones calling me this were Muslim. At first I was annoyed, because I assumed they were making fun of me, and because it was very painful to me to be reminded of my failure in academia, never having gotten a proper full-time job. But they looked straight at me and there was no disrespect in their eyes, nor were they morose either. They weren't even guys I knew, they had made up their minds about me. There are people I have known for fifty years who don't look straight at me. Before long I realized they were serious: that was my official nickname. Most of the drivers were too frikkin’ unaware to care, though somebody thought I was an undercover police officer, and once wrote “Policeman” over my surname on my time card (time cards were hung on a wall where everybody could get at them; abusing time cards was a common petty insult). I don’t get a Professor’s paycheck or benefits, but I have the title more surely than a Prof who works for somebody else. Hey, I don’t even have to have a teaching job to be a “Professor!”
Common sense is becoming less and less common. Open-mindedness is a two-edged sword. The mind is a sieve, not a receptacle. You can keep what you catch, but you don’t leave it there unexamined. Understanding leads to previously unimagined responsibilities. If you catch a fish, you don’t leave it there to rot. If you catch a diamond, you have to learn stonecutting. Take the diamond and do something with it. Eat the fish.
If you haven’t made it to the level of basic mental clarity, simple analysis and straightforward description, then your mind might still be so open that your brains are falling out.
Please note that the topics below are not necessarily sketched out in “Conservative” or “Liberal” ways. Conservatives are guilty of being sheep just as certainly as are the liberals. Conservatives keep their minds selectively open, not the same thing as using their minds as sieves. On different issues, in different ways, they are just as much at risk as the liberals they think they don’t resemble.
On the point of following anybody else’s direction, it would be well for all people to remember that shepherds eat sheep.
J.S. Bach’s world view is generally pretty turgid. His idea of a musical comedy was to write a cantata against drinking coffee. His world is too damned straight-laced. But sometimes there are interesting things in spite of his Christian orientation. As the bass sings in his Cantata #25, “Die ganze Welt ist nur ein Hospital,” which obviously means “The entire world is but a hospital.” I love his many duets in which the male and female singers sing “Ich komme” duets over and over to each other. In such pieces, we get closer to the truth about what a religion should be doing for us. I wish there were some trios, and larger ensemble pieces, with this sort of textual direction. But other than that, I have been avoiding Bach lately, since the apparent conservatism hasn’t been deciphered as I am suggesting it should be. For that matter, I wish to state for the record that my listening to anybody doesn't imply that I accept their message or their assumptions. Maybe I just want to be informed about what they think or what they have done. Since I work as a cab driver on the streets of San Francisco, I have to admit that my everyday experience does not refute the point of view that the world is a hospital; it supports it.
I have been saying for years that San Francisco is a low security mental institution.
Without wishing to disagree with Bach’s librettist on this type of point, another paradigm could be offered, of the world as a school. And if the world is a school, then some public teaching is very clear.
Certain basic issues in the public forum can be understood as bonehead level courses "taught" openly. Since we supposedly have the freedom to think and say what we wish, we qualify or disqualify ourselves from certain activities all the time. We may have the freedom of speech, but our words are used to, let me say, enroll us in a variety of curricula, and prioritize us within these curricula. I hope you understood that I just said we are all in school, and we are all being graded. I would not take it amiss if this were the method of establishing the Novus Ordo Saeclorum mentioned on every American one-dollar bill. In fact, I believe I shall adopt that as one aspect of my system.
Here are my suggestions for some of the “Courses of Study” that are already being taught openly. You give your transcript out every time you express your opinion.
If you think that Dr. Kavorkian makes sense, you fail the basic test a doctor must pass to be allowed to practice medicine, which is, “First, do no harm.” If this were my university, you would never be allowed to practice medicine, not even to study it very closely, and if I were your doctor, I would limit and observe your visits with my patients, including your own family. Children who dress up as Dr. Kavorkian on Hallowe’en are showing competent, approvable understanding of that former doctor’s teachings. Everybody is supposed to know that Dr. Kavorkian was a monster. SInce Dr. Kavorkian has been imprisoned, and the other issues here are still at large, only on this point is there a correspondence between the Open University and public practice. On every other point than that doctor's don't kill their patients, there is still more evidence that Bach's librettist was right and my idea is problematic: the world is more like a hospital than a school. But to proceed with the paradigm.
Many, perhaps most, of your actual teachers are not benevolent toward you. They consider you theirs until you "master their material," and some of them, such as teachers of War or Sex, but above all teachers of Politics, might restructure your world for as long as they can. Benevolent teachers are the exception, not the rule.
If you think Peter Singer (the so-called philosopher who thinks a pro-human orientation is mere “speciesism,”) makes sense, you should never be permitted to teach philosophy, preach ethics, or scheme to feed the people of the world. Species are prioritized many ways, but the top species is called Homo sapiens, and this may not be allowed to change. All the species below the top species, distinguished by a certain level of sentience, serve the top species, end of discussion. If you want to argue with this, make like an animal and urinate in public to learn in what esteem your philosophy is held, but I strongly suggest you stay out of the stockyard.
Music Appreciation: Three Cases
1. If you think John Adams and John Cage are composers, you are incompetent on the subjects of musical knowledge, aesthetics, human psychology, Buddhist philosophy, knowledge of World War II, or taste.
2. If you think popular music is the
"Classical Music of Our Time," or that Jazz is "The Classical Music of America," then you are utterly ignorant of the wider world of music, including what is meant by "Classical Music."
3. If you think that Classical composers are only appreciated after their deaths, you are a very sick puppy, a necrophiliac at best, and certainly you are someone who has absolutely no connection whatever to any of the various living communities of Western musical culture. This, whether you already know you don't know much about Classical music, or whether you play in an orchestra.
If you think Judy Chicago is an artist in the tradition great art, you fail Art Appreciation AND you lack taste. And if you don't know those flowers are supposed to be vaginas, you are a pretty dumb bunny. Judy Chicago is to art what Austin Powers is to theater.
If you think George W. Bush was competent, you weren’t paying attention. Hello, we lost all our money, all our friends, all our credibility, and became embroiled in the most expensive war in all of human history, and one which was not properly concluded. There is now more talk of states, such as Alaska and Texas, ceding from the United States, than at any time since the Civil War. If you think these are desirable things, you are a traitor, so whatever your politics, they aren’t politick.
Law: Three Cases
1. If you think G.W. Bush was made president legally, you have failed Constitutional Law. The Constitution states quite clearly that in the event of a controversy between the popular vote and the electoral college, the issue is to be decided by the Congress. Since it was instead decided by the Supreme Court, it was decided improperly, that is, illegally, against the express agreements made in the very highest law of the land. The Supreme Court should have thrown the case out and referred it to the proper body, the Congress. Instead, they accepted the case, and thereby became criminals. The Supreme Court is currently no different than a bunch of mobsters.
2. If you think there was any reason to prosecute President Clinton for Perjury, you are incompetent on the subject of proper prosecution. In this country we do not prosecute for the wrongful testimony about facts not pertinent to a case. First of all, we do not prosecute people for accepting fellatio. Even the President is allowed to accept a blow job. But beyond this, if you are being cross-examined for murder and you lie about cheating on your taxes, it is up to a separate, tax court to nail you for that, not the murder court. If it isn’t the murder court’s business to question you about something, in practice they are not entitled to the truth. Unless cheating on your taxes is relevant to the murder trial, the murder court may not prosecute you for lying about cheating on your taxes. Watch out, because, hello, the IRS has wider jurisdiction and greater powers than murder courts. But to return to when we are required to tell the truth, in an everyday situation, it would be like a stranger who thinks you witnessed a fight asking you how much money you make. A stranger may ask you directions, or facts about a fight if he makes clear what his business is and if it is legal, but he may not ask you how much money you make. You may tell the stranger a lie about how much money you make, and no one thinks less of you. If you have reason to believe the stranger wants directions in order to hurt someone, your civic duty is to lie to him if you can without yourself getting hurt. During the Monica Lewinsky scandal the country was once again allowed to act in an hysterical way, the way it tends to act under the Republicans. The English were absolutely right to kick the Puritans out. We should do the same.
For more on Items 1 and 2 here, CLICK HERE.
3. If you think it legal for your local Traffic Court to deny your right to a trial for a moving violation, you are giving away a right you should not have to give away. Your local police are depriving you of rights they should be enforcing, not denying. Another way to think of the situation is that it is precisely in such an everyday situation that your right to a trial should most be protected! A lot of little capitulations of little rights make one big police state. Something is very wrong here, it’s time to wake up.
Literature: Two Cases
1. If you think the meanings in a book are limited to the literal meanings of its words, you are failing miserably at basic inferrential understanding. This is one of the most serious failings any person can ever suffer. There is a very great danger that you believe what you are told.
2. If you think Hollywood offers accurate depictions of the stories in books, you are, plainly and simply, illiterate. This applies just as much to allegedly scholarly programming, such as the History Channel.
If you think that Timothy Leary was a reliable teacher of how to advance human consciousness, you fail this subject.
The most that can be said of Timothy Leary is that he popularized the idea that you can advance your own consciousness. However he actively advocated that the individual cease to interact in a functional with the society around him. This advocacy of an errant social position for the individual is a more serious impediment to the individual than even the other serious liability of Leary's teaching, namely his famous advocacy of the use of drugs to raise consciousness. It is evident that raising consciousness without the use of drugs is to be be preferred to the raising of consciousness with the use of drugs. But even if a tolerant attitude toward the use of drugs may be maintained by an individual's community, a dysfunctional attitude of the individual toward his society is unacceptable, and this is such a serious liability that no devotee of Mr. Timothy Leary can be thought to be a serious student of the subject of the raising of human consciousness.
In practical terms, there is the further difficulty of Mr. Leary's teachings regarding drugs to actually REQUIRE a tolerant society. The less tolerance that is assumed from a society in this world, the more likely a program can be successful.
Religious Understanding (Monotheistic)
If you think that the monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism all worship the same god, with no unacceptable surprises about what God is, then you are really not clear about what is going on or what is at stake. Yes, each one thinks there is only one, the all-powerful God. But if you can’t tell from their teachings, and their methods, that they mean three different gods, you fail Religion 101.
Religious Understanding (Zen Buddhism)
If you think the Koans are direct teachings, you are mistaken. As all people everywhere know, there is no such thing as the sound of one hand clapping, and until you realize this, you are very much a beginner at learning what it means to understanding something. You are not a novice, you are a simpleton if you think there is a sound of one hand clapping. The Buddha himself said, Don’t believe a teacher just because he tells you something and he’s the teacher. Always judge it according to your own experience. When the teacher starts talking about the sound of one hand clapping, you are not supposed to meditate on it. You are supposed to call him on it.
If you don’t understand that the bicyclist demonstration called “Critical Mass” is a blockade, and therefore by definition an act of war, then you are not qualified to make any important judgments in your own community, let alone about whether war should or should not be conducted in foreign countries. The bicyclists KNOW they have crossed the Rubicon; it is up to the populace to realize this fact. Since they do not, emergency services and decent treatment of visitors are not functioning properly, two of the purposes of any blockade. The bicyclists are teaching you an important reality of war, by making you lose what is technically an actual war right here at home. This is a good example or the non-benevolent "teacher" that I mentioned above. Like the Zen master who makes you meditate on Koans, you should reject the teacher, or you fail the course. The bicyclists are not making a peaceable demonstration, and are therefore not protected under the Constitution.
While Karma might be thought to belong to higher than Bonehead levels of understanding, it is so commonly misunderstood that it merits a few words here.
Put simply, you are mistaken if you think karma involves punishment. It does not. Most people think that if a person does something they disapprove, they are bad people, and karma will "come around" and punish them. This is not a teaching about karma, this is the purely monotheistic notion of the just punishment of evildoers. Furthermore, what is "good" or "bad" is usually just the speaker's ideas of such. Karma means nothing more than "action," and any action is karmic. (Non-action can also be karmic, for example, the decision not to decide.) "Good karma" means only that a person has "purified" his decision to take action, and as long as his mind is made up, he takes the path of that action. If his action violates the laws of the civic authorities, he might be punished, but that is not the operation of karma. Under different circumstances the same action might not violate the same civic authorities, and if the actor has his mind made up, he has no problems. Karma does not attach to any particular action, it is in the mind of the actor and he can liberate himself from it, including through an act of decision. For example, killing people is wrong when you do it at the Rec Center; for that you will be punished. But, killing people is right, if you do it in a war under direction of the civic authorities; then you will not be punished. You could mess up your karma terribly by failing to defend your country in its time of need. You may disagree with the action of fighting, but not on the basis of karma. So far, we are still not even talking about karma.
Karma is not about morals. If you take any action, from walking with a deliberate limp, to killing people when you are required to, but you feel badly about it, your karma is "impure," and you will suffer for it. If you pick your nose, and look around guiltily before saving the residue in a secret place, that is karmic; if you pick your nose and blissfully flick it away into the night sky, that is not karmic. The Buddhist teaching is clear: once a militant clansman told the Buddha that he wanted to kill off the entire tribe of his enemies. (This is a Theravadin teaching, so it stands some chance of being something that actually happened.) Because the Buddha himself was a pacifist, his followers assumed he would disapprove this action. But the Buddha said that if the man's motivation was clear, and did not involve deviations from the Dharma, there would be no karmic repercussions. A soldier who kills under orders is healthy if he feels no repercussions about it. The karma of such a warrior is pure. Hollywood usually teaches otherwise, partly because Hollywood is a corrosive factor against Civilization, and partly because it must teach otherwise, since there are many little children watching TV who must not be led to think that killing people is generally OK.
Whatever homosexuals do, it is not sex. Hello, sex is a function, not merely the manipulation of organs. Sex does not exist between persons of the same gender. If you think that what homosexuals do is sex, you have failed Basic Human Sexuality. This is not a question of morals, but of the use of human organs as they are designed to be used. If you think this is a moralistic pronouncement, read it again. Not every round peg belongs in every round hole. That's a different game, played in pre-school; here we are talking about sex, which is not allowed in pre-school. There is nothing moralistic here. This is a purely anatomical definition, based on the facts of what sex has to actually mean. Fellatio and cunnilingus are not sex per se. Masturbation is not sex, any more than finger painting is portraiture. The sphincter is not a sex organ. Whatever it may be, sodomy is not sex, and healthy people know that people who do it are using their bodies as laboratories of disease. Actual sex not only requires two people of opposite gender, it involves a certain physical act, and the sphincter is not involved. There is not one shred of “moral judgment” in this statement.
These are only basic issues, naturally there are many details that follow, as must be the case once the basics are learned, but I am trying to keep elementary matters simple, which seems appropriate. If we were going to go into just a little more detail, we might discuss, in Medicine, the double standard of accountability that is allowed State hospitals, or the fact that doctors are sloughing off their Hippocratic oath by allowing the Accounting Department to ruin the lives of people who can’t pay for their services once they have supposedly benevolently given them. In civics or law, we might discuss whether people have the right to force others to listen to their music from their homes, cars, or frat houses (Of course, the law is already clear on this point). We might discuss whether G.W. Bush’s “Faith-based Initiative” was legal in a land that supposedly mandates the separation of Church and State. We might question why the sex – and the marriage! - laws in this country JUST HAPPEN to be only those permitted by the Roman Catholic Church, or why two-thirds of the Supreme Court are Roman Catholics. Noticing such things is just a little bit more observant than what I am calling “Bonehead” understanding.
But I have not meant to suggest we should limit ourselves to such understanding. Only that there should be basic parameters of definitions, involving a plausible and reliable verisimilitude between word, action, and physical facts.
First Posted December 26, 2009. Updated June 15, 2011.