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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Empowerment II
"I am what I will be"  --  Ex. 3:14

Brain studies show that, at birth, a human is a powerhouse of potential.  However, at that stage, humans have no self- control and little, or no, self-identity.  Something must release and direct that potential in order to produce a person who interacts in the world.  That something is the world itself.

Initially the parents are the most influential in directing the child's potential.  Then, over time, the immediate family and the culture in which the child is embedded becomes increasingly influential.  By the time the child reaches maturity and the ability to make independent choices, those choices nave been significantly limited by the influence of family and culture.

In some respects, computers mimic human development.  It might be that we have developed computers in our image.  An infant is born with a "basic input-output system" (BIOS).  It has been developed from the genetic information provided by the parents.  The child has no choice or control concerning this information.  However, it establishes the physical and many behavioral attributes of the person.  This regulates how an individual will connect to the outside world.  However, it does not determine what a person will do with that connection.  For example, tendency toward aggression is included in the genetic code.  But, it does not determine how that tendency will be manifested.  That could be for good or evil.

After birth, the person develops an "operating system".  This is "programmed" by parents, family and community.  It determines much of the individual's identity and how he/she will respond to society.  All together, family and society determine the initial identity of the person.

As people mature, they acquire their unique identity through their experiences in the world.  This is the equivalent to developing "programs" to deal with incoming data/information and committing it to memory.  However, as we have seen, much of the processing capability has been determined by the previous stages of development.

At this point, the allegorical relation between human and computer ends.  All living creatures, to varying degrees, have the ability to experience and adapt to the world.  Only the human has the capacity to observe and adapt the world to his/her requirements.  This is what makes humans the most magnificent and dangerous creature on Earth.

From this perspective, we can see why previous generations are so very important in the development of future generations.  It is the current generation that provides the means for the emerging generation to become "human".

This is the intent of the Biblical statements, "Honor your father and your mother" (Ex. 20:12) and "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, to the third and to the fourth generation" (Ex. 34:7).  However, these are conditional statements.  For our current purpose, let us take "fathers and mothers" as representing the current generation of a society.  Then the condition is the presumption that the society has achieved the self-control needed to subdue their [evil] inclination.

At birth, every human being has the potential to achieve self-control and empowerment.  They only need the support and guidance required to achieve it.  It would seem that the highest function of a society is to provide that support and guidance to all of its members.  Unfortunately, that is not true in the "real" world.

To the contrary, our world is more like the world described after the Biblical story of the "Tower of Babel" (Gen. 11:1-9).  It is divided into many societies with different "operating systems" and "programs".  In most cases, their purpose is not to encourage and guide all of its members to self-control and empowerment.  Rather, their purpose is to give power to a few, leaving most dependent and powerless.  Further, that power has little or nothing to do with the self-control of the Pirke Avot.  This is true whether the society calls itself democracy or dictatorship, capitalist or socialist, or any of the other words that societies have used to describe themselves.  There have been only a few times in history that a society has tried to to achieve the self-empowerment of the Pirke Avot.

If each generation is born with the capacity to achieve self- control and to form a society that can pass that capability on to the next, what has gone wrong?  What are we missing?

-- To be continued --

Original content copyright © Secular Kabbalist

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Empowerment I
"I am what I will be"  --  Ex. 3:14

The Pirke Avot ("Sayings of the Fathers"), asserts, "Who is he that is mighty?  He who subdues his [evil] inclination."  The sages have taught that anything taken to excess and, thereby, deviates from the balance of creation is evil.  Then, an empowered person is one who has self-control that is directed to maintaining balance.  The same view is echoed in Kabbalah, Yoga, Zen Buddhism and other metaphysical systems.

We will now apply the concepts that we have derived from the Kabbalistic model of the Sefirot to the process of empowerment.  These are the principles of balance and connection that lead to: 1) the morality of "respect your neighbor as yourself", 2) the justice of "measure for measure" and 3) the acquisition of the knowledge of God's governance found in "you shall be holy; because I the Lord your God am holy".

The statement from the Pirke Avot implies three major steps to empowerment.  The first is that no one can empower you.  Only you can empower yourself.  The second asserts that empowerment comes from the acquisition of self-control (or self-discipline).  Finally, empowerment must be directed toward a purpose beyond oneself in order to be realized.

 The first step is to recognize that no one can empower you.  Others can delegate power to you.  However, the power still rests with the delegator.  You are still dependent on the delegators for your power.  They can withdraw that power at their will.  Teachers can show you the way to power.  However, they cannot make the journey for you.

You can make the choice to use delegation of power and teaching on your path to power.  A teacher can provide you with guidance.  You must apply that guidance to achieve your own empowerment.  Delegated power can provide an apprenticeship to power.  Through it, you can learn to enhance your own power by learning to develop it in the midst of the world in which you live.  This, too, depends on your choice.

In a recent article, Jack Welsh, former CEO of GE, provided an example of the characteristics a person can develop during this "apprenticeship".  "Everyone knows that to succeed in today’s competitive global marketplace, you also have to be smart, curious, and highly collaborative. You have to be able to work with diverse teams and ignite them as a manager to excel together. You need heaps of positive energy, the guts to make tough yes-or-no decisions, and the endurance to execute—get the job done. And, indeed, you do have to possess self-confidence and humility at the same time. That combination is called maturity."  

An empowered person is motivated by the drive to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.   Achievement requires self-control.  A great athlete is focused on beating his/her last performance.  This is true for any achiever.  In a world of competition, you achieve when you are your primary competitor.

Clearly, achievement requires self-confidence.  You must believe in yourself in order to achieve.  As the boxer Sugar Ray Leonard said, "A champion is someone who knows he's a champion before anyone else does".  Self- confidence grows from self-awareness.  When you can recognize your strengths, and talents, then you have the foundation for self-confidence.

However, it also requires the humility of seeing and dealing with your limitations.  There are two types of limits, those we can overcome and those we cannot.  The former are related to our talents and strengths.  Overcoming these provides the motivation for further achievement.  The latter are natural limitations.  For example, some people have musical talent, others do not.  To try to overcome lack of talent is futile.  Children of very talented people do not, necessarily, possess the talents of their parents.  There is something intrinsically mysterious about talent.  This underscores the importance of recognizing your strengths.

Humility is also needed in competition with others.  If your own biases block you from seeing others as they really are, you will be at a disadvantage.

Thus, empowerment requires the balance of self-confidence and humility.  However, something is lacking in this discussion.  As any parent knows, an infant is born with no self-control.  It is dependent on others to fulfill its needs.  What is the source of the self-control that will lead to its empowerment?

-- To be continued. –

Original content copyright © Secular Kabbalist


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life"  --  Deut. 30:19

Most people live a life of paradox.  They want the stability of certainty, and, at the same time, they demand freedom of choice.  Logically, this appears to be impossible.  Freedom of choice requires uncertainty.  Whenever we make a choice, there is an element of uncertainty with regard to the outcome.

This is illustrated in chapter three of Genesis.  Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  They expected to become god-like.  After making the choice, they discovered that there were unexpected consequences. 

A contemporary example is a football game.  The coach makes a choice based on his knowledge of the capability of the players on both sides.  He calls the play.  The other team intercepts the ball and carries it to a touchdown.  This is representative of the "game" of life.  Every time we make a choice, there are unforeseeable outcomes.  However, would you pay $50 to attend a game where the outcome of every play is known beforehand?

Nevertheless, we crave for stability.  Stability is comfortable because there are no surprises.  Unfortunately, this is true only if everything around us stays the same.  An earthquake or a rebellion will quickly end our stability.

In contemporary life, bureaucracies are an example of the striving for stability.  As a government or business grows, bureaucracies become increasingly rigid.  They resist change in order to reduce choice.  This is a self-protective device that the bureaucrat believes will reduce error and enhances his/her position.  However, experience has demonstrated that the consequences are a growing inability to respond to change.  This leads to increasing error.  Furthermore, it results in growing disconnection among the various subdivisions.  The outcome is reduction of the effectiveness and ultimate collapse of the organization. 

Once again, the resolution is found in the principle of balance.  In this case, we are looking for the balance between certainty and uncertainty, or stability and adaptability.  If the outcome of every choice is certain, then there is no need to acquire new knowledge.  On the other hand, if the outcome of every choice is totally uncertain, then there is no ability to acquire new knowledge.  Everything is chaotic.  At both extremes, there is no need for an observer.  In either case, our postulate that our purpose is the acquisition of knowledge of God is invalid.  Creation requires a balance of certainty and uncertainty.

This conclusion is supported by modern Physics.  The Uncertainty Principle of Quantum Theory asserts that, in the domain of atomic dimensions, the results of an experiment are uncertain until the outcome is measured.  The acquisition of knowledge of a quantum system depends on a balance of certainty and uncertainty.  Everything in the universe, including ourselves, is composed of particles of atomic dimensions.

However, in this uncertain creation, there is also need for certainty.  That certainty provides the "platform" for advancing knowledge.  The application of new knowledge requires reproducibility.  This application gives us the technology needed to extend our ability to acquire new knowledge.

Uncertainty and certainty are built into God's Creation.  Without it, we could not fulfill our purpose as observers.  If we do not recognize the necessity of this balance, we also lose control of our lives.

If you cling to stability, the changing circumstance of Creation will ultimately overwhelm you.  On the other hand, if you recognize and accept the instability of stability, you can reduce, not eliminate, the risk.  This is the reason we have insurance.  By creating an "insurance community", we reduce the potential loss to any member of the community.

In order to control our lives in the midst of cosmic uncertainty, we need the three elements of Kabbalah and Torah.  These are: 1) the morality of "respect your neighbor as yourself", 2) the justice of "measure for measure" and the knowledge of "you shall be holy; because I the Lord your God am holy".  These are not the fanciful wishes of an unrealistic world.  They are the solid rocks that insure our survival in the cosmic reality of uncertainty.

Original content copyright © Secular Kabbalist

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy." 
--  Lev. 19:2

Thus far, we have encountered two of three levels of Kabbalistic growth.  The first was the balance of self-respect and respect for others.  This is embodied in the principle, "you shall respect your neighbor as you respect yourself".  This led to the discovery that we are all connected.  Recognition of this connectedness leads to the responsible individual.  The only way that a person becomes self-empowered is to accept responsibility for his/her actions.

That recognition of connection took us to the next level.  That is, we can only achieve our freedom and empowerment within a just society.  A just society requires the balance of strict judgment and compassion.  The principle that creates a just society is "measure for measure".  This produces a community that is focused on the well-being and security of every member.

These two steps are necessary but not sufficient.  They provide the process, but they do not provide the purpose.  The validity of any process is determined by the outcomes it produces.

This can be illustrated with a parable of a baseball game.  It is the ninth inning.  The winning home run has just turned third base.  The third baseman catches the ball, chases the runner and brings him down with a superb flying tackle.  The crowd boos.  The winning run goes to the opposition.  The third baseman is fined and is fired from the team.  The lesson is that you have to know what game you are playing.  If it were football, he would have been a hero.

In the "game" of life, you have to know what game you are playing.  Who wrote the rules?  What are the expected outcomes?  In both a metaphysical and a scientific context, these are determined by something beyond us.  You may call that something God or nature.  The essential issue is it is beyond us.  We must observe the "game" in order to know what game we are playing.

The third metaphysical level is knowledge.  This brings us back to the observer of the Anthropic Principle of science, and to Maimonides metaphysical principle that the perfection of humanity is the acquisition of knowledge of God.  Many metaphysicians claim that complete knowledge of God is beyond human comprehension.  However, Maimonides and others assert that knowledge of God can be acquired by the study of God's creation.  This is the nexus of science and theology.

Knowledge is achieved through the balance of reason and revelation.  In science, new knowledge begins with the "flash" of revelation that comes from the discovery of unexpected phenomena in creation.  Then reason is applied to order and describe the data.  Finally, the description is tested to confirm that it correctly corresponds to the observed phenomena.  This process is duplicated in metaphysics.  In this case, it provides the connection between humanity, and God and God's creation.  This is embodied in "You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy."  This is the purpose of the responsible individual and the just society.

What does it mean to be holy?  The Hebrew root means to be separated.  In Genesis, God created by a series of separations.  The final separation was that between God and humans.  This separation was necessary so that humans could become observers and acquire knowledge of God.  However, the separation can never be complete.  If the observer and observed were totally separated, there would be no connection between the two.  The acquisition of knowledge would be impossible.

This process of self, society and knowledge of God is cyclic.  Responsible people create a just society.  A just society provides the proper environment to acquire knowledge of God's creation.  That knowledge supports a just society, which, in turn, contributes to the growth of responsible people.  It is analogous to "Jacob's Ladder" (Gen. 28:12), with angels (messengers) ascending and descending. Except, this time we are the messengers.

These concepts of balance, connection, self, society and knowledge of God's creation are all contained within the Kabbalistic model of the Sefirot.  The metaphysical study of the Sefirot requires the same effort as the scientific study of Cosmology.  However, it is not necessary to know all of the details in order to appreciate the results of either.  The five basic concepts cited here will give us the basic tools for appreciating that application of Kabbalah's influence on our daily reality.


Original content copyright © Secular Kabbalist


Monday, April 1, 2013

Crime and Punishment
"Justice, only justice shall you pursue"  --  Deut. 16:20

There is a humorous story about the person who killed his parents.  Then he begged for mercy on the grounds that he was an orphan.  This little tale raises the essential questions of the purpose and application of justice. 

What is the purpose of justice?  Is it for the well-being of the community?  Or, is it for the well-being of the individual?  If it is for the community, then it should provide the greatest protection for the community.  If it is for the individual, then it should seek the greatest compassion for the accused.

In previous posts, we have examined the role of the individual.  However, we discovered that, in order to maintain the principles of balance and connection, the individual must be viewed in terms of his/her interaction with others.  The balanced, or responsible, person must have self-respect and respect for others.  Cain's lack of respect led to the death of Abel.  Then, responsibility ensures the well-being of each individual.

In a society, each person is connected to the other members. Then each person's action can threaten the well-being and safety of the community.  The metaphysical principle of connection implies that if one person violates the social contract, the entire community will suffer from the consequences.  Then the goal of justice is to restore the well-being and safety of the entire society.  Furthermore, the success of any justice system can be measure by the outcomes it produces.

In the Bible, the Sinai Covenant is the social contract.  Any violation of the social contract is an offense against the entire society.  Then it is the responsibility of the community to respond.  That response must reflect the principal of balance.  In this case, the balance must be between strict judgment and compassion.  The community must measure the degree of the threat.    Then it must determine the appropriate reaction to a specific individual's action.  That reaction must require restitution from the offender that will restore balance to the society.

Justice requires balance between strict judgment and compassion.  Either, carried to an extreme, can produce an evil outcome.  Strict judgment taken to the extreme becomes vengeance.  Vengeance breeds more vengeance.  Compassion taken to the extreme encourages repetition of the offence.  In either case, balance cannot be restored.  This explains why the balance scales have been the symbol of justice since ancient Egypt.

Within this context, how must a just society deal with those who choose to violate the contract?  One way is restitution another is removal.  For example, if the offense was stealing, then the offender must restore the stolen object to its owner and pay a penalty for any loss incurred because of the absence of the stolen property.  If the object is no longer available, then the offender must pay for the total loss or provide services to the owner that represents the value of the loss.  It is important to recognize that restitution must go to the victim.  The balance of the community is achieved through the restoration of balance between the parties involved.

If the crime was murder, there is no way to restore the victim to the society.  In that case, the only restitution available is the life of the offender.  The sixth commandment correctly reads, "Don't murder".  It does not say don't kill.  It recognizes that there are times that killing is unintended or justifiable.

Now, let's return to the case of the "orphaned" offender.  The matter must focus on the protection of the society.  Clearly, in this case, his status of "orphan" is irrelevant.  He was the means that led to his being "orphaned".  The only relevant issue is will the safety of the community be restored after his case is adjudicated.  If he murdered because he wanted to turn a video game into reality, then he will likely continue to be a threat to society.  He must then be removed from society. 

On the other hand, what if his parents had become an immediate threat to his life and he saw no other way out?  The balance might be restored in a way that will benefit the community.  For example, with proper supervision and training he might commit his life to assisting others in a similar situation to find another way out.  Notice, in this scenario he still must make restitution with his life by benefitting the society (strict judgment).  At the same time, he is given the opportunity to live (compassion).

True justice is the highest form of respect for all people in a society.  Those who choose to keep their contract are respected for who they are - contributors to the community.  And, those who choose to violate their contract are respected for who they are - threats to the community.

Original content copyright © Secular Kabbalist