Thursday, June 25, 2009

Doctrine and Covenants 104
16 [B]ehold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.
17 For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.
18 Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Information Technology and Freedom

Iran is showing that information technology, from movable type, to mobile phones and the internet have always played a pivotal role in the march of freedom. I think I remember President Kimball saying that the Lord had provided inventions to enable the gospel to be preached to more and more people. This has been dramatically shown to be true over the years. Now I am seeing that information technology is opening up formerly closed societies, hopefully bringing about their access to the gospel.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"Winners" and "Losers"

I am continually shocked at the cavalier way the terms "winners" and "losers" are used in public policy debate, particularly regarding healthcare in the United States. If someone dies because of a healthcare snafu, isn't everyone a loser? Isn't there any sense of collective responsibility or collective benefit, or collective loss. Is the vestigial anti-communism so deep and so compulsive that we our discourse on public policy has to assume we are all monads, or nuclear family groupings. The terms "winners" and "losers" come directly from sports. The mythology in America is that participation in organized sports by children is the highest and best way to foster "values." But there is no query into what these values are. The most fundamental value that underlies organized sports (i.e. that lead to tournaments, etc.) is the zero sum gain, that there is one winner and one loser. This concept is behind all the problems I see in America (and increasingly, the world) today. It justifies greed, and doing horrible things to other people and the earth. We believe competition is a positive in itself, a cure-all, and you can't get in its way or you will cause all kinds of problems.

When I was a kid, I loved to play sports mainly for the exhilaration of various types of physical activity, the miracle of motion of bodies, balls, wheeled vehicles, etc. Friendly competition could make it fun and a little more urgent. But organized sports were always unpleasant to me, not so much because of the competition between teams, but because of the negativeness within a team--getting benched, etc.

I would suggest that the collaboration involved in creating new things is a much better way to teach values to children. Collaboration, working with people toward a common and creative goal, being respectful of what others have to offer, these are what children need to learn to foster a better society.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Coming Up: My Problems with Hip Hop

Automation and Utopia - The End of Jobs

What happened:
We have automated most of our work. We don't need to do much work anymore. At first we used technology to create more work for ourselves. During the past few decades, while most actual work was shipped overseas, most of the labor of the bourgeois was spent in speculation, trying to work the system to amass more resources. Information technology enabled/forced us all to become bankers/accountants/attorneys, etc. But eventually the "winners" won out. They amassed the most and there is not really any work to be done for hire. The result of automation was supposed to give us huge amounts of free time, resulting in a flowering of the arts, leisure, good deeds, etc. Mankind has been developing technology with the eventual goal of utopia. What other possible goal could/should there be? But, because of the cold war, any kind of macroeconomic cooperation or planning is branded as "socialism" and we are frozen in dogma. I just don't see jobs returning to our economy, and they shouldn't. We need to accept that the essentials of life need not be tied to work. Everyone has to work, but we need to come up with another model for how to incorporate work into life.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Debussy's Clouds

I just played Debussy's Clouds for my theory students today. In my older years I am blown away by how evocative his music is. It really grasps sensations - sight, sound, kinetic energy, smell, temperature, moisture, etc. I always thought that was corny and preferred absolute music. I told my students I used to think his music was effeminate. Now I love natural sounds and sensations more than ever and see a bit more the divinity in them. I think L. taught me the concept that there is divinity in the earthly and even the worldly. Humans are children of God, and thus what they do is always touched with the divine.

We also listened to the first page of all 24 Preludes. Such a wealth of textures, and, again, so evocative.

Yesterday we listened to Sirenes from the same set as Clouds (Nocturnes). I couldn't get the vocal melody out of my head all night and into the morning. Again, an almost magical feat, considering the subject matter. I'm saying this because, again, I have never really "gotten" Debussy, and I think I'm starting to.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bird and Insect Sounds

Last night I slept on our back porch for the first time this season. I love falling asleep and waking up to the beautiful sounds of wind, rain, insects, and, at dawn, the birds. Last night was a full moon which made it a bit tricky to fall/stay asleep, but it was worth it. Try as we might, we will never measure up to the beauty created by God.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Better Days

When I was in high school I was turned on to reggae by friends. I couldn't afford new records, so I bought various obscure reggae/rock steady compilations from used record stores. One of them had a really beautiful song on it by an artist I had never heard of before, nor have I since, in fact I had to intuit it from google. The artist is Carlton and his Shoes, and the song is Better Days. The groove is one of the best in existence, but there are some very out of tune backup vocal interludes. I still like it. But the really amazing thing is the lyrics which kind of sum up so many aspects of our sojourn here on earth. The lyrics include the following:

God made man and he made us all
An equal share of blessing.
Some men want to take it all
And keep the rest of the world
In bondage and oppression.

What more can one say. It starts in kindergarten, I guess. Perhaps the "some men" learn it from their fathers who do it in their homes. The song ends very optimistically, though, with "Better days are coming for you and for me."

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Millennium


I’ve been teaching the Sunday School lessons in the LDS services in the Forensics Unit of the Utah State Hospital lately. Today’s topic was the Millennium. I’ve always been fascinated by the millennium. I wonder if I have a fascination with the kinds of topics that people of my demographic subgroup, the liberal intellectual Mormons, tend to shy away from? I’ve never been much for Unitarianization of Mormonism. I’m becoming a bit more Unitarian as I age, but I still like the quirky, memorable concepts/events/images that radiate other concepts.

I tend to use a Socratic method and I tend to challenge the students more than some might think is advisable. My theory is that everyone is susceptible to thought and changes in their thinking, and that most people are smarter than we think. I also don’t mind if some students don’t get everything, I guess because I tend to “get” about 60% of what I read or pick up from talks, graduate seminars, conference presentations, etc. I find that I think about things I don’t quite get off and on for long periods of time. It often results in a cumulative epiphany which is the source of a lot of what I come to know.

Here is a bit of an outline of what we discussed today. First, I asked them to list the things that are wrong with the world. They included war, disease, economic problems, greed, natural disasters, pollution, etc.

Second, I asked them to list things they would like to change about the world. They included peace, generosity, kindness, no more disease, a hospitable climate with clean air, water and land, etc.

Then I asked why things are the first way and not the second way. We kind of determined that most people want things the second way, but it takes just a few ill-intentioned people to bring about things in the first list. There’s a reggae song by Someone and the Shoes, that I remember from a record I had in high school that said something like “God gives all men an equal share of blessings. Some men want to take it all and keep the rest of the world in bondage and oppression.” There’s a really interesting scripture in Alma 46 about Amalikiah who makes a goal to conquer both the Lamanites and Nephites and comes pretty close, causing untold suffering and upheaval along the way:

9 Yea, and we also see the great wickedness one very wicked man can cause to take place among the children of men.

Of course he doesn’t do it all by himself. But the important thing in discussing macro problems involving countries in the world, is the source or the impetus of mischief, which always tends to be a few really bad apples. Nevertheless:

10 Yea, we see that Amalickiah, because he was a man of cunning device and a man of many flattering words, that he led away the hearts of many people to do wickedly.

Then I asked why the few are allowed to ruin everything. I got two different lines of thought on this. One is that, because of free agency, some people will end up doing dumb, bad, and often very damaging things. The other was that their actions fulfill our need for opposition in all things. One remembers the parable of the wheat and tares, that tares (weeds) grew up next to the wheat. The workers asked the master if they should pluck up the tares who told them not to, because they would likely also pluck up the wheat with the tares. Better to let them both grow up together and separate them at reaping time.

What starts to take shape is the very clear tripartite division of the world into celestial, terrestrial, and telestial people, each of which has a role. I think that terrestrial people make up a majority of the world. These are the basically decent people who don’t join the Church, but are guided by ethical and/or religious principles, that listen to their conscience, that are reverent and basically kind to other sentient beings. Then there are the few to whom I have alluded, who bring most of the mischief, suffering, etc. into the world. The people who seem to want to spread violence, immorality, dishonesty, inequality, etc. and who are largely successful, inasmuch as Satan gives them power over parts of his realm. These are the telestials. Because of them, the world is essentially a telestial place. Mankind has always dreamt of reaching a terrestrial state, but it seems like it is impossible as long as there are telestials here to muck things up. Celestial people should focus on working with the terrestrials more, because we have essentially the same goals. And we will be living together in the millennium.

I was reminded of a study recently of foreign aid by country as a portion of GDP. The top countries were all Scandinavian. The U.S. was at the bottom of the industrialized countries (though, I should say, at the top in actual aid dollars). Scandinavia, and Western Europe in general, seem to be essentially terrestrial societies. They are mostly secular and not very open to the restored gospel, but they seem to be working toward, or to have achieved aspects of terrestrial life. America seems to be more of a mix of the three types.

We then talked about characteristics of the millennial (or terrestrial) world, which matched up pretty well with the things we had discussed earlier. The one that interested me was in D&C 101:
26 And in that day the enmity of man, and the enmity of beasts, yea, the enmity of all flesh, shall cease from before my face.
Imagine if the conflict not only among humans, but among all life forms disappeared. What a remarkable, fascinating place the world would be.

Then I asked if we know when the second coming will happen. The answer is, of course, no, and the scriptures state that neither we, nor the angels, nor even Jesus know the day or the hour. I then asked why not. My idea was that maybe there is no set time for the second coming. Maybe it is contingent on human events and human will to some extent. What is interesting is that the events to precede the second coming involve an increase in wickedness on the part of the telestials (wars, pollutions, etc.) and an increase in righteousness on the part of the celestials (preaching the gospel to the whole world, etc.)

As for the “tribulation”, or the dangerous events that precede the second coming, I suggested that we not worry too much about them specifically, any more than one should worry about death in general, or auto accidents, or cancer, etc. World War II alone would certainly be anyone’s definition of fulfillment of the negative signs of the times. I’m not saying things won’t get worse, but I think there is a lot to be hopeful about. For example, the gospel will be preached to every nation. Well, every nation that has had the gospel has moved toward democracy and away from oppression. We can expect the most oppressive regimes to go away as they did behind the former iron curtain. One thought is that while freedom is creeping over the earth, I don’t see a lot of will to solve environmental problems. I also see a lot of economic inequality that no one seems that interested in getting rid of. We’ve all got to die some time and some will die in auto accidents, cancer, and other ways that are more or less unpleasant. The righteous (i.e. the terrestrials who are, as I said, more than half of the world) are promised a great degree of protection.

In other words, I think the day or the hour is unknown because it is yet to be determined, for the most part by the actions of the celestials, i.e. in bringing about the great work of sharing the gospel, perfecting the saints, temple building, etc. We should never assume anything is a done deal. The story of Jonah proves that prophecies are always contingent.

A couple of other questions I asked were:

Do we have to wait for the millennium to live a terrestrial life?
We can certainly make our homes and communities better. Again, I think that while Scandinavia is not celestial, or on the way to being so, it seems (from my limited vantage point) to be pretty close to terrestrial in some ways. Our homes can certainly be terrestrial or even celestial.

I didn’t get to the two really nice quotes:

President Gordon B. Hinckley taught: “How do you prepare for the Second Coming? Well, you just do not worry about it. You just live the kind of life that if the Second Coming were to be tomorrow you would be ready. Nobody knows when it is going to happen. … Our responsibility is to prepare ourselves, to live worthy of the association of the Savior, to deport ourselves in such a way that we would not be embarrassed if He were to come among us. That is a challenge in this day and age” (Church News, 2 Jan. 1999, 2).
Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve gave the following counsel:
“Teenagers also sometimes think, ‘What’s the use? The world will soon be blown all apart and come to an end.’ That feeling comes from fear, not from faith. No one knows the hour or the day (see D&C 49:7), but the end cannot come until all of the purposes of the Lord are fulfilled. Everything that I have learned from the revelations and from life convinces me that there is time and to spare for you to carefully prepare for a long life.
“One day you will cope with teenage children of your own. That will serve you right. Later, you will spoil your grandchildren, and they in turn spoil theirs. If an earlier end should happen to come to one, that is more reason to do things right” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1989, 72; or Ensign, May 1989, 59).