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Renovation of the Soul

If there's nothing to be learned in life then in my opinion, you aren't living life. This past week has been full of anger, tumult, hate, love and renewal. Just today I was caught between bliss and indignation, the latter caused by a failure to stop and take repose. In moments of intense pressure, the head takes flight and the heart gears for war.

Rationality has no meaning and in some cases, the sounds coming out of one's mouth would sound almost foreign to you and others in calmer moments. A industry colleague of mine, after unjustly calling him "unprofessional" (I later apologized and thanked him for his good work and kind words) advised me to "kick back."

Kick back! If only I could kick back, I thought. I have work - paid, unpaid and academic to finish. I have all these attachments that signify anything other than kicking back. But why? Was this true? Had I forgotten my GS training? Were my meditations and self-reflections all for naught?

These items of paper with instructions printed on them are not the cause of my stress and worry. Ultimately, I am the culprit. If I am dissatisfied with an aspect of my life, then I can only really blame myself. So I took his advice. I poured myself a double whiskey and sipped a while. My feelings told me that I was putting myself under the "pump" rather than anyone else. My thoughts were not in alignment with reality - 3,000w of 4,000w done with 2 full days to complete the remainder? Hardly a challenge for me. It has been done before and can be done again. My internal map was very much out of alignment with the blank, "objective" territory.

Reading my colleague Sandi's blog, she has learned a lot in 26 years. She makes some good points, others I disagree with. But there is one point that remains pertinent:

Disappointment and hurt is everywhere in life. Happiness and wonder is also everywhere in life. Choose what you decide to focus on.

Just like a modern day Marcus Aurelius, we sometimes have to sometimes stop and remind ourselves: "The universe is change, life is what our thoughts make it."


Slick with Untruth

Facebook, some contend is an affront to our intelligence. But what happens when the collective intelligence of Facebook isn't much to speak of in the first place? I stumbled upon this Facebook group: “30 days without Shapes: so that rainforests can last the future” started by Ms. Amy Smith. It claimed:

You probably don’t know this but Arnotts have snuck palm oil into their shapes and have called it vegetable oil. Palm oil is a major cause of deforestation at the moment which is threatening the existance of countless species. I’m hoping if enough people join in we can change what a company puts into their products one product at a time. So please don’t buy or eat shapes for a month and tell everyone you know… because nothing tastes so good that it is worth distroying a whole eco-system for. And remember it worked for Cadbury chocloate and kitkat.

(All typographical errors have been left intact.) Being a journalist I expected proof to be shown that any of these contentions had even a modicum of truth to them. So, I began to investigate.

I probed the main thrust of the claim: that Arnotts have “snuck” palm oil into their products. So I called Arnotts, Choice Magazine, The Borneo Orangutan Survival (Australia) Group and the Rainforest Information Center (Palm Oil Action Group) to find out. Arnotts, Choice and The Palm Oil Action Group all responded to my queries.

The short answer?: No, they weren't.

Arnott's supplied me with a fact sheet that informed me that the company is making efforts to ensure their palm oil is being sourced sustainably. They work with its palm oil supplier, Cargill who is an active member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Arnotts will have switched to sustainable palm oil completely by 2015 (Prior to August 2010, it was not) and will have decreased their total palm oil usage by 25%, switching to alternative products. Arnotts also say they use 0.05% of all palm oil produced globally, annually. So where was the deception if this was freely available information?

Choice Magazine has not investigated such a claim which lead me to believe that Ms. Smith had not done her homework, at the very least. On Saturday, I got a call from the very chatty and knowledgeable Charlotte "Charlie" Richardson, coordinator of the Palm Oil Action Group.

Arnotts have admitted to using palm oil in their foods yet do not label it as such explicitly, rather as "vegetable oil." So were they lying? No - there is no reason why they "they shouldn’t list palm oil" apart from internally driven policy. So we should be upset at Cargill? Wrong again: They have switched to 60% certified sustainable crops and that "more was to follow." Ms. Richardson says there’s “room to improve” but it was "not realistic to call for a total moratorium."

Surprisingly, when I pressed Ms. Richardson if people should stop eating Shapes to punish Arnott's for their past sins, she replied:

"I don’t think they should be punished for anything; they should be rewarded for heading in the right direction."

So apart from the economic devastation it would cause to over two million people over Asia, Latin America and Africa if palm oil production was suddenly halted, Arnott's, providing it was sourcing its palm oil unsustainably and contributing to environmental damage was only a very very minor player in the overall scheme of things. Even so, the boycott is redundant; they already have achieved what they campaigned for a month before they started.

So was Ms. Smith committing a crime of omission or passion? Either way, she has mislead over 13,000 people (at the time of writing) and libeled Arnotts Biscuits as taking part in something they are in no way involved with in the process.

In sum, the raison d'etre of her group is based on a lie.

I implore Ms. Smith to dismantle her group, apologize to all of those she has lied to and retract her call for a boycott of Arnott's Shapes biscuits. For all the potential damage she has already caused, it's the least she can do.

UPDATE: Amy Smith has updated the event to reflect the new facts that I and others have presented. She now intends to raise awareness of the unsustainable palm oil industry.


Clarity and Passion

Either August will kill me or I will kill it.

In addition to my actual studies, I'll also be:

I'll probably need a drink at some point. Its also come to my attention that a candidate for the Secular Party of Australia is running in my electorate against incumbent Simon Crean who holds Hotham with a 13% margin. Since I don't want to vote for or even preference the ALP, Liberals or Greens or (shudder) Family First in the Lower House it makes sense to vote informal to avoid my vote going to a party I disapprove of. Then there's the dilemma of voting for the Secular Party to grant it some measure of public campaign funding for the next election and their ambiguous policy on "banning religious attire at schools" (Yarmulkes? Hijab? Crucifixes? what?) which seems to contradict their call for maximizing civil liberty. Though I have decided to preference Stephen Conroy dead last in the Senate Group Voting Ticket (below-the-line) I'm still undecided as which party to preference first. I am of course leaning toward the "Triumvirate of Libertarians" - the LDP, the Australian Sex Party or the aforementioned Secular Party. It seems politics, like everything else in life, one size rarely fits all.


Far Away and Here Again

Last weekend, I went away to Paradise Beach on the Gippsland coast of Victoria, Australia. I stayed by myself in a friend's holiday house and worked on several things and did some reading. I re-read parts of Korzybski's Science and Sanity and touched upon a part on "Unsanity vs. Sanity" that I am sure many people would find beneficial - I intend to expand upon this finding and deliver it as a talk at the first Australian General Semantics Society National Conference.

Towards a theory of "conservative characteristics." (an abstract)

Conservative characteristics are the tendency of "neurotics" (as described by Korzybski) to confuse the orders of abstraction and revert to Aristotelian "allness" as an infantile, learned behavior.1

In childhood, we make underdeveloped, either-or evaluations. Mother, teddy or television is either positive or negative. We seek to reinforce and seek pleasure and minimize disappointment, anger and frustration. These maladaptive behaviors may persist into adulthood.

According to social anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, humans underwent a process of socialization from their initial self-awareness thousands of years ago to their current state of societal development. Children up until around the age of 14 undergo their own individuation and socialization process. From the ages of 7-14, the child is thought to be in its "narcissistic", "egocentric" stage and through this stage, patterns of evaluation are seen to occur. Real world events and their evaluation could in fact take the form of if/then statements. For example:

"IF I keep quiet and tell no one that I am feeling hurt, THEN I may escape scrutiny and further pain."

This map or method of evaluation may form as the fundamental reasoning process behind most behaviors in the future. In RET or Rogerian therapy this may be called "toxic shame" or irrational thinking. If this becomes a repeated response with no attempt to adjust the behavior, this could be considered a conservative characteristic.

Methods for overcoming conservative characteristics:

1. The consciousness of abstraction.
Using the structural differential or the ABC model in RET. Read more on the ABC model here.

Preparation for a transition to evaluation of probabilities, not absolutes. Asking "If I do this, the outcome will be this" instead moving toward a Hypothesize-Test-Revise model of behavior.

2. Non-attachment to outcome.
Realization the test is more important than the result. Without the real-world test, NO results or data can be gained for later revision. The outcome has no bearing on the efficacy or worth of the tester.

3. Unconditional self-acceptance.
From this, new experiences may be formed. The beliefs of inherent "badness" or "worthlessness" can be safely abandoned and each situation may be seen as a "tabula rasa" for perceiving and evaluating anew. Realizing that situation1 is not situation2.

Korzybski, A., Science and Sanity (5th Ed.), Institute of General Semantics: Dallas, 1994. p. 495.


Uncertainty and its Virtue

"[B]elief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence." - Robert Anton Wilson

"If you go into any party or place where people conversationally interact with one another, you will find that half the energy is spent in trying to convince the other that you have the right idea." - Ernst von Glasersfeld

In the social sciences, something that I am well acquainted in as I hold my BA in Political Science and study toward an MA in Media and Communication, it becomes apparent that the ideas that construct the landscape of debate are hypotheses with no extensional, definitive answer. Politics is no more a science than literature, which is no more a science than religion - it is purely the domain of human agency. No scientific test can answer "Will this legislation improve society?" since it is by and large an unanswerable question. Even as our entire existence relies upon chance, uncertainty and probability we as humans never fail in our capacity to believe in perfect exactitude within our own thinking.

Rigid, inflexible thinking has produced much of the horrors of the human age. Dogmatic, two-valued (i.e., right vs. wrong, good vs. bad) thinking has invariably produced the Crusades, the Holocaust and other unimaginable terrors. Atheists invariably turn their ire toward religion as causing these ills and many more. Religionists believe that Atheists will lead us toward a lawless, immoral society due to their non-belief or disputation of a God.

"Is there a God" is, at this present time, an unanswerable question, much like the question of "What does the dark side of the moon look like" until the invention of lunar spaceflight. There is no test, no measuring device, no real way of knowing definitively either way. In my estimation, there is a high probability of the non-existence of a God, but this is my own rationally-derived guess based on my own ideas, my own studies and etc. I can no more prove that God exists than saying that Heavy Metal is the greatest music ever created.

I can agree with the assertion that religion and the Bible is not the word of (a) God; it did not appear spontaneously - it was written by humans for consumption by other humans. The Catholic Church is administered by humans and was created for the benefit (and detriment) of humans.

Despite the empirical evidence that religion is the sole domain of humans without aid from divine intervention, it does not absolutely disprove an existence of a God, it merely confirms that humans conceive a creator in these certain images (Jesus, Buddha, Allah etc.) which has been widely accepted (or foisted upon them) by others. The Christian model of God differs from the Jewish model and the Islamic model and in the absence of any evidence to the contrary or to the affirmative, all models are equally valid.

Leaving the debate as to whether religion "poisons all things" or subjugates certain peoples, it does force people into Aristotelian, two-valued thinking if they so choose to believe all premises offered by their chosen religion. Humans in their own agency have the choice to follow a religion - irrespective of the consequences of its renunciation or not - just as much as they have a choice in which football team to favor.

Telling someone they are wrong in matters they themselves cannot prove does not confirm their rightness. Karl Popper, the philosopher accused Theism of being "worse than an open admission of failure, for it created the impression that an ultimate explanation had been reached." Now (some strands of) Atheism offer the same ultimate explanation, mostly through the works of Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution.

The current scientific paradigm that prevails today is that this evolutionary process is the explanation for humanity's current form. However, a scientist would also concede the point that Darwin's theory could one day be invalidated by a superior conjecture and hypothesis as our technology grows. So even Darwin's theory has a very high probability of being true-to-fact and true-to-observation, but cannot be deemed 100% correct.

Of course, the virtue of being content in verisimilitude is that it relieves a lot of mental pressure on being totally "right" all the time. One can sit back and explore his own universe and marvel at its complexity. Then again, you could tell me I'm full of shit - and that's fair enough too!