Death is so terrifying to many that fantasy is a welcome alternative to truth. So it was for Hans Gaardner who became known in Norway for denying COVID-19 as a hoax and conspiracy. Sadly, Gaardner was infected by that virus at a public resistance event that he organized and died.

I’ve read that some American politicians champion Gaardner’s claim that COVID-19 is a hoax. Anyone who leads others to ignore a clear, present, and deadly danger is culpable for the consequences. Any political leader who dismisses the danger of COVID-19 and labels it a “hoax” is making criminal use of public power. Our elected leaders are responsible for presenting the strongest information available, to which they have priveledged access, not just saying whatever comes into their heads or read on social media.

Gaardner’s ignorance was amplified by politicians and pundits who know better. The cold hard fact of death brought Gaardner to account. Let’s also hold to account the politicians who encouraged such false and tragic beliefs in order to advance their personal gain.

Do you want to improve your mind? Would you take direct action to feel and live better? If so, then practice a simple, though challenging, process: intend and send loving kindness to the people you most dislike.

Wishing harm for someone is a reflection of the pain and anger within oneself. Until we address the strife in us, we cannot find our personal power.

Wishing someone good is an expression of personal power that transforms without as it heals within.

It may appear as if intending evil is the same as intending good, only the opposite value. That is not so. These intentions are not symmetrical polar opposites. Consider a key difference between them:

Intending harm for someone is prospective and causal. Malicious intent seeks to create an effect in the world that is negative for someone. Curses, vows of revenge, and harmful wishes aim at future states of the intended recipient.

Intending good for someone is conspective and intelligible. Loving intent seeks to perceive a state of reality already occurring. Loving kindness and compassion act in the present.

The difference between prospective and conspective intentions is the difference between wanting to change the world such that it becomes more like oneself and striving to transform oneself in order to see the good in the world as it is. Prospective curses try to revise the world, conspective compassion reinterprets the world.

Hating one’s enemies is an insistence on self-preservation. One’s anger and hurt become the central principles of one’s consciousness.

Loving one’s enemies is a practice of self-transformation. One’s consciousness is expanded by perceiving the world that is beyond one’s personal sphere of influence, which includes inherent good that we had not earlier recognized.

Try it out sincerely and find for yourself how conspective loving kindness changes you and the world. Picture someone whom you really do not like. Stronger, you know that person to be a danger and a fear to what you love most. That is quite an enemy.

The technique, which is also the challenge, is to accept the fact that by their very existence that person has a part to play in reality as it is. The moment that we start telling reality how it has to be in order to fit our desires, we descend into fantasy further divorcing us from the truth. The further our thoughts are from reality the more susceptible we are to inner and outer strife.

Take a concrete example that is on the minds of many around the world as I write this: Donald Trump, President of the United States of America in infected with the corona virus. That fact prompts some folks to imagine and hope for a negative outcome for him; that he gets sicker.

If you have twinges of that negative intention I urge you to reflect and seek a reinterpretation of your world view. Just as our physical selves produce anti-bodies to disable threatening pathogens, so also our spiritual selves produce grace-bodies to dissolve disabling illusions and feelings.

Here is a way that you may strengthen your spiritual immune system. Invoke the following triad of assertions:

I hope that Donald Trump is touched by my loving kindness being comfortable, safe, and on the road to a healthy recovery.

I hope that the people for whom I care feel my loving kindness for their health and safety.

I hope that my loving kindness is strong enough to bring out the inherent good in the world and myself.

Speak these three assertions with sincerity and feeling three times each day: morning, mid day, and evening. Notice how you feel when saying these. You do not need to do anything to change how you feel, just keep up with the process of voicing these intentions with as much sincerity as you can give. Also notice that the statements are structured from the remote external (and possibly counter-intuitive for you) to the inner self. Continue this process for at least three days, though I recommend doing so much longer, such as long as Trump’s illness persists.

Why do I pick the controversial case of this President? Precisely because Donald Trump does not deserve our compassion. He does not deserve our compassion partly because he has shown systematic contempt for other people’s illnesses and disabilities in public. Mocking pitilessness in word and action for people who are sick, wounded, and disabled is part of his normal repertoire. Donald Trump performs exactly as a school yard bully taunting and tormenting others who have weaknesses, disabilities, differences, names and ethnicities that the dense hateful mind so enjoys twisting in order to inflict hurt. Sadly, many of Trump’s faithful delight in his cruelty as is always the case with the willful audience for whom the school yard bully performs. It is a source of collective shame that such a man is the leader of our nation.

Well, if I believe that then why in the world do I prescribe not hating Trump and even giving him the blessing of loving kindness? The reason is precisely because he is so clearly the antithesis of compassion. By his words and actions Donald Trump provides a clear baseline for indecency. Rejecting his sadistic character is an intentional movement away from the evil and into the light of good. Send your loving kindness to the man for his physical, mental, and moral disease because doing so is the opposite of what he does for others.

Maybe you believe that President Trump is a great man. Given what you believe to be true you may be right. Still I implore you to make greatness your ideal. Greatness does not participate in the mockery of the illness and tragedies of others. You may think that I am wrong about Trump but you know that I am right about the meaness of being cruel no matter who does it.

The awesome power of loving kindness is that it is undeserved. You do not give it because you are morally or socially obligated to do so. You give loving kindness when its quality is so strong in you that you have a surplus to share, especially for those who least warrant it. Listen, opportunities like this do not come along every day. Seize this moment and you will experience the power of free and full self-transformation.

I sincerely hope that Donald Trump’s health suceeds against the corona virus. I earnestly pray that the light of compassion enters his heart so that he may come to care for others.

Believe that there is good even where it seems the least likely.

Believe in the power of loving kindness to transform deceptive interpretations of reality.

Believe that practicing loving kindness for yourself, those around you, and for your enemies is more powerful than blustering antics the school yard bully.

Don’t believe me. Try it with sincerity and see for yourself how the world changes around you as you act on your view of the world. The sun rises gradually across the whole.

Image Acknowledgments



Terry Tan De Hao

  • A halloween tale with gratitude to Poe, Camus, and King.

The plague devastated the cities, the country, and the world. No pestilence in the last century had ever been so contagious, so fatal, so frightening, so vast. Fevers and sudden weakness then lungs filling with fluid and organs failing. The scarlet stain of the pestilence lay within, assailing the cells and vessels of the blood making it known in its time as the Corvus. The Corvus virus lay in wait for weeks before setting it’s malice in motion within the infected hosts. And the whole destruction and termination once it had fully bloomed were agonizing moments of mere minutes.

But Prince Prosperous Trumpet was merry and dauntless. While his nation was overrun by sickness he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the rich and ultra of his retinue, and with these retired to the inner sanctums of Golden Largos and the House of Whiteness. Extensive and magnificent were these redoubts, newly endowed with amenities the invention of which exalted the autocrat’s eccentric yet august taste. A strong tall lofty wall which he had so often praised girdled his strongholds. The vast underground chambers and secured airways were sealed by an iron curtain of exotic vicious weapons of which the public little knew. At the Prince’s side at all times were his loyal cadre of Nordic Ruthless warriors and the Pride Boys wearing their stylish brown shirts. The bolts were thrown, the way was sealed. As was the fate of those without.

They resolved to leave means neither of ingress nor egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The strongholds were amply provisioned; the chefs and stewards having great storehouses of delicacies and wine cellars from which to draw. Upon these precautions the courtiers bid defiance to contagion. Prince Trumpet declared the Corvus a hoax since he felt no personal danger. The country and world could care for itself.

Meanwhile it was folly to grieve or to think at all. As the Prince so boldly asserted over the months in which the pandemic ravaged the populace;

“Totally under control. Just one person. Just fine. Beautiful. It’s going to disappear one day like a miracle it will disappear. Anyway only old fat people get Corvus. No, I’m not concerned at all.”

For Prince Trumpet was not concerned at all. It would all be just fine for him and his friends and his brown shirts. They behind the wall guarded by special forces, entertained by musicians, perfect ten courtesans, and his cabinet of buffoons. There was beauty, there was laughter, there was power. All these and security were within. Without were poverty and death.

It was after the election that Prince Trumpet, again gloriously triumphant, entertained his thousand friends at an unmasked ball of the most unusual magnificence.

Going unmasked was the sign of loyalty to the Prince. Covering one’s face was the thin thread of protection remaining to the masses and vain hope was this meager ward. Yet the Prince and his entourage exalted their freedom by going forth unmasked at all times. He bestowed upon the masses, many now in packed prisons, the privilege of witnessing on television the glad liberty of those behind the wall. He knew that seeing Him the greatest man and brain in all of human history as safe and happy would comfort the many, whatever travails they suffered. In particular the Prince’s magnificent balls were televised to the public so that all could witness for themselves how everything was just fine. Perfect. Beautiful. Standing tall on camera he spoke to the nation about masks and freedom;

“You can do it. You don’t have to do it. I’m choosing not to do it. I don’t feel that I’m in danger.”

Asked about the suffering of the many Prince Trumpet spoke with deep abiding wisdom;

“It is what it is. I Am That I Am.”

The multitude comforted by this beautiful saying cannot be counted.

It was a voluptuous scene, that unmasked ball. But first you must know of the lavatories of which it boasted. The Prince had directed, in great part, the lavish embellishments of the magnificent chamber pots. There were seven in all – three for women, three for men, one reserved for the Prince alone. The Prince’s salles de bains were disposed so that one’s vision embraced the entrances of all seven from any vantage in the grand ballroom. Each washroom door varied in accordance with the prevailing hue and materials and the decorative theme adorning the chamber into which it opened.

The Prince’s own bathroom was adorned with Platinum encasing precious taaffeite costing two thousand five hundred dollars per carat. How extravagant and rare! The tremendous toilet seat was inlaid with Benitoite acquired at four thousand and fifty three dollars per carat. The number of carats so employed in this sumptuous wonder numbed in the thousands. That one bathroom alone, though priceless, may have been valued at seventeen billion dollars. Great.

The other six lavatories suited similar decor being fitted with rhodium faucet handles, koa panels, iridium inlays, palladium fixtures, seats of Makassar ebony, and door knobs of serendibite. In short, the seven bathrooms held greater wealth than all of the possessions of ninety-one percent of all of the people living on the planet. Prince Trumpet and his friends piddled in pots worth more than the totality of those who had not a pot to piddle in. Life was good. Beautiful. Perfect.

The Prince was not lonesome in his splendor. Through holo-video conferencing he communed with his brothers in Russia, Brazil, the Philippines, and especially his North Korean lover Kim. They too had girded their loins against the plague and prospered in luxurious security. Was ever there so spectacular a collective of great souls in the world? The advent of global death was the moment for the prosperous to shine. The rich are different. The rich deserve what they got. It is better for the rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than the poor man to pass the eye of a needle. God bless and Make Affluence Great Again! Tremendous! A gay and magnificent revel.

There the revel went willingly on, until at length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the tenor of a singular voice. And then the music ceased. The voice rang out. A familiar voice. A voice of insistent unending volume that sounded at intervals like the gong of a vast clock. The Prince spoke;

“You are here. I am. Many people have said. Believe me. They have called me and said the job you are doing. Who knew. Nobody knew. It’s unbelievable. It has never been done before. I am the first. Maybe someone else, but not as good. This is the first time. Beautiful. Perfect. Terrific.”

By the last word of this noble speech the masses had utterly sunk into silence.

Some of the revelers, however, had registered the presence of a figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before. And the rumor of this new presence having spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, of horror, and of disgust. There among them was the visage of figure adorned as the Red State.

The figure approached wearing a mask. Perhaps the figure of a woman though surely wearing a mask. A mask of the Red State blazoned with the emblem Make Avarice Great Again. What brazen mockery! A mask at the maskless ball? A mask mocking the greatness of the assembly and most of all the Prince? Outrage!

The Prince arose with vigor.

“Who dares insult us with this blasphemous hoax? Seize and unmask her– that we may know whom we have to pay back for this treasonous disloyalty!”

For the Prince was a brash and loud man and the music had become hushed at the waving of his hand and single raised finger.

There in the Official Oval stood the Prince with his group of pale courtiers at his side. The ghastly specter of the masked intruder loomed motionless before them. The Prince shook in anger shouting out the vitriol which had subdued so many before.

“Dog! Loser! Anarchist! Take off that mask you stupid bitch!”

He took one decisive step toward the masked silent figure waving his hand in the air, two fingers famously poised in his familiar Q symbol. The froth at his lips seemed to amplify his rage as he leveled his greatest verbal artillery;


Yet the word did not come but lay frozen in his throat for Prince Trumpet had fallen, eyes gleaming, upon the sable carpet. Motionless he lay, the grimace etched on his face a death mask of his perpetual rage.

Then summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of Pride Boys at once threw themselves upon the masked terrorist. They tore savagely at the tall figure which stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the doorway and gasped together as one in unutterable horror at finding the grave corpse-like mask untenanted by any tangible form.

And now was acknowledged the presence of the mask and its meaning. She had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revelers of council, cabinet, and comrade each in the despairing posture of his fall. Were this the end it would be ill enough. But the mask of the red state never dies or disappears for good; it lies dormant for decades in cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and to whatever heights humans aspire the day will return, for the bane and realization of all, that it should rouse up its vermin yet again and send them forth to die in a happy city.

  • This story is an experimental mash-up of elements taken from Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death,” Camus’ “The Plague,” King’s “The Stand,” and contemporary media stories. It was written and posted as a fictional horror story for the Halloween season. The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.

Every death is caused and as any astute student of nature knows, most effects are the results of multiple causes.1

Any astute student of politics knows that demagogues are seldom limited by facts, science, or reason and will loudly trumpet multitudes of falsehoods to advance their power.

A corrupt means of acquiring power through confusion is to deny cause-effect relationships by selectively emphasizing and de-emphasizing parts of a multi-cause system. This fallacy is on display in the convoluted interpretations of COVID-19 death statistics.2

Here is a fact. Some microbes can kill us and they do so by compromising our bodies through effects such as respiratory failure, renal failure, dehydration, internal hemorrhaging, heart failure, shock, and the like. So, deaths from viral infections are the results of multiple causes that are set in motion by the infection.

Here is a fallacy. People who do not understand how infectious diseases work interpret COVID-19 death statistics to show that the virus is hardly fatal at all. They arrive at that conclusion because most of the people whose deaths are related to the infection actually die from multiple causes as reported on their death-certificates. So (as the tweet goes) if someone’s death-certificate states that they died from the infection AND some other related cause, then COVID-19 didn’t kill them.

Here is how this twitter-brained thinking works;

‘Cholera does not kill anyone, dehydration does.’
‘Ebola does not kill anyone, multiple organ failure does.’
‘HIV does not kill anyone, diseases that exploit immune deficiency do.’
‘The Black Death does not kill anyone, septic shock does.’
‘COVID-19 does not kill anyone, multiple causes do.’

‘So a death certificate that lists multiple causes proves that COVID-19 did not kill.’

The conclusion given in the above line of thought is the main idea in the social media posts which claim that only 6% of COVID-19 related deaths are actually caused by the COVID-19 virus.

On that view, since 6% of the 180,000 COVID-19 death certificates list “COVID-19” as the sole cause, the social media posters argue that the virus is reponsible for killing only 9,000 people instead of 180,000 people.

This claim is shared by the President of the United States of America.3

I pray that any capable thinker can see the logical weakness in these claims.

One feature that makes the novel corona virus “novel” is its effectiveness in attacking different organs for different patients. That makes it hard for physicians to predict and treat. A hypothesis for how this virus has such a variety of attack strategies is that it works through the circulatory system. It may be primarily a vascular rather than a respiratory disease. Since all body organs are sustained by the circulatory system, the opportunity for COVID-19 to damage any of them is very high.4

Infection by this novel virus may result in many different conditions including blood clots, brain swelling, eye inflamation, heart attack, lung fluid, liver damage, renal failure, extremity bruising, intestinal disruption, skin rash, and blood vessel collapse. Many of these conditions can be fatal, especially in combination. There are several hypotheses as to how the COVID-19 virus operates in the body. One possibility is that the virus stimulates chemical releases in the blood stream that in turn cause an increase in the cells that COVID-19 attaches to, thus increasing it’s own reproduction.5

COVID-19 infection is complex and the virus’s strategies are sophisticated. Much of human evolution has been driven by a continual dynamic between pathogens and the body’s defenses, each adapting to defeat the other over many mellenia.

We should not take statistical reporting for granted. All science and reasoning are open to challenge. They are open to the challenge of stronger reasoning. Questioning official information is critical.

We cannot be complacent in the face of deniers who use weak reasoning to sow confusion. It is critical that we not mistake doubt as refutation, nor should we confound misunderstanding for rationality.

We must not allow political myopia to occlude intelligence and common sense.

Causation is complex. Simplistic thinking does not change that. Even when echoed loudly.

In good spirit

Jon Louis Dorbolo


  1. Dresser, S. 2016. We must recognise that single events have multiple causes. Aeon.
  2. Spenser, S.H. 2020. CDC Did Not ‘Admit Only 6%’ of Recorded Deaths from COVID-19.
  3. Gray News Staff. 2020. False COVID-19 claim retweeted by Trump removed from Twitter. FOX8.
  4. Smith, D. 2020. Coronavirus May Be a Blood Vessel Disease. Elemental+.
  5. Smith, T. 2020. A Supercomputer Analyzed Covid-19 — and an Interesting New Theory Has Emerged: A closer look at the Bradykinin hypothesis.

Image Acknowledgements
“Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.jpg” by NIAID is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“The Law of Cause & Effect” by Silly Deiy is marked with CC PDM

For some people the simple act of driving home from work carries the weight that they may be pulled over for suspicion on no grounds other than who they are. Some parents live in persistant fear that their children may be harmed by the very officers who are empowered to protect them. For some people even open cooperation with power is met with cruel violence.

Ancient Athens was An original experiment in rule by the people (albeit flawed by its omissions) [1]. The three principles of Athenian democracy being: equal right to speak, equality under the law, and equality of vote. In the wake of a ruinous war the Athenian democracy was replaced with an authoritarian government later known as “The Thirty Tyrants.” There are always people in any community who are eager to inflict authoritarian control. The first order of business for the Tyrants was systematically reversing the democratic principles of law that were carved into a wall in city center, the Agora. The Tyrants turned the army against their own people leading to arrest, seizure of property, and executions without trial.

One of the methods of the Tyrants was turning the Athenian people against one another. They summoned certain citizens with the order of carrying out the arrest others. This policy was designed to undermine any unity of populace and integrity of individuals. Twentieth-Century East Germany made a total culture of betrayal by recruiting hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens to spy their families and friends.

Socrates (469–399 B.C.E.) was called before the Tyrants and ordered to arrest a fellow Athenian. At his own trial (which ended in the death penalty) he recalls;

When the oligarchy came into power, the Thirty Commissioners in their turn summoned me and four others to the Round Chamber and instructed us to go and fetch Leon of Salamis from his home for execution. This was of course only one of many instances in which they issued such instructions, their object being to implicate as many people as possible in their crimes. On this occasion, however, I again made it clear, not by my words but by my actions, that the attention I paid to death was zero (if that is not too unrefined a claim); but that I gave all my attention to avoiding doing anything unjust or unholy. Powerful as it was, that government did not terrify me into doing a wrong action. When we came out of the rotunda, the other four went to Salamis and arrested Leon, but I simply went home.” (Apology, 32 c-d).

Socrates refused to participant in perpetuating an unjust government. He accepted that his civil disobedience might lead to punishment for him. Later, after the Thirty Tyrants were overthrown, Socrates was brought to trial for “impiety and corrupting the youth.” Basically the charges amount to his showing people how they may think for themselves rather than be controlled by power, reputation, and appearance. His doing so, of course, offended people in power.

There are many tyrants in our lives; the bully on the schoolyard, the internet troll, the angry talk show host, the cruel parent, the insensitive boss, the impersonal bureaucracy, the politician who sees the increase of their own power as the only good. Yet the most dominating of tyrants is the fear in our own hearts. It is the fear that we too may suffer and that we might be criticized or mistaken. This inner fear causes us to shrink back while others among us are oppressed. It is this moral paralysis that Socrates addresses in his recounting his appearance before Thirty Tyrants. They gave him an unjust order under threat of death. But Socrates did not fear death, so he did not fear them. He could not be manipulated by the great weapon of all tyrants – fear.

Look into your own heart. Do you find fear? Do you want to act on the side of justice but find no clear way to do so? Another ancient philosopher, Siddhartha Gautama of 4th century B.C.E. India, was asked by a student; “But what can I do in the face of such great suffering and injustice in the world?” The philosopher answered;

When you see great injustice and suffering in the world, take it as a sign to you to increase your loving-kindness for the people you see everyday.

There are people now who frame peace as antithetical to justice and kindness as an obstacle to equality. Beware, this is a long worn formula for self-righteousness. From that vantage justice serves as justification, usually of violence. They will also speak of the absence of options in the situation, such as; “We have no choice except to…” (fill in the blank with whatever the righteous one truly desires).

We always have options. There is always something that we can do to choose justice, compassion, and truth. Fear is an innate rejection of change. Yet all is change, so all that we really have to lose is our fear.

In good spirit,


[1] Athenian democracy was limited to adult male citizens. Women, slaves, foreigners, and children were excluded from participation in the political process. 21st century democracies still have room to improve upon that ancient example.

photo-1558258932-d435783a2626.jpg, luliia Isakova, @asredaspossible, Unspash,

photo-1587951326187-c9baa4606bff.jpg, Tyler Scheviak, @tylerscheviak, Unspash,

On the long view, you and I are living in extraordinary times. One hundred years hence students will study us now as a pivotal moment in the history of our species. What we are experiencing right now – the responses to a perceived crisis – is unprecedented. Once covid-19 passes, our world will not be the same as it was a month ago. There will be sad, bad, good, and better – but most of all there will be change. We are in a major disruption.

What changes may we expect? I believe that our species has developed the means for general self-regulation. It is an emerging consciousness on a global scale. This is mediated by our ubiquitous information network (internet and internet-of-things). Since the 1990’s we have been struggling to use that capability effectively and are frequently frustrated by the spread of false information and social triviality spurred by apparently out-of-control technology. Yet there have also been signs of new forms of social organization. Flash mobs, Improv Everywhere, social media, internet organized social movements, and more gave us indications of what new human self-organizing systems may be like. Bruce Sterling imagined such transformations in his 1998 novel Distraction. We now have this occurring in reality globally. This is a major change in the general patterns of collective thought and behavior. We in 2020 will be studied for centuries to come on the level of, say, the industrial revolution and the Great depression. You are living it now. Pay attention.

What are the implications of this change? We have been struggling for decades with the prospect of a failed species and planet. We are confronted by visions of mass-destructive war, economic collapse, social pandemonium, and the collapse of Earth’s ecosystem. Many of us feel helpless in this and our political/economic leadership provides no positive direction. The problems feel too large for us to manage and human-nature too limited to meet the demands of affirmative shift.

Yet, if our species is capable of a self-organizing modification of individual behaviors and social systems in order to respond to existential threats, then the game changes completely. That is what we are seeing now. We are spontaneously adopting behaviors, perceptions and beliefs that allow us to adapt to a generalized threat (pandemic) both individually and collectively. Can you see and sense it? I think that you do and grasp what I mean.

Humankind will not be the same after this. We will come forth with a universal shared conception of new conventions, choices, and ways of thinking with which we may address our wicked problems. Coordinating our choices and behaviors to reduce global threats will be our norm.

In short – the human conception of what we are and how we think is changing and the pandemic of 2020 will provide confirmation to everyone that it is possible to change the world by changing ourselves.

In this new environment we will need thinkers who can perceive, analyze, synthesize and explain what is happening. These will be our new philosophers who shine light on the possible and on the essential. You my dear friends will be among those philosophers because you are aware of the power of the life of the mind. Even a small quantity of philosophical consciousness carried forward by you will combine with others to create new global consciousness. You are an integral part of that.

Don’t be afraid. Listen to people. Help one another. Realize yourself as a spark in a growing flame that casts our world in a new light.

In good spirit,


william-navarro-82Xsw-pGsJI-unsplash.jpg, William Navaro, @williamnavarro, Unsplash,

benjamin-davies-__U6tHlaapI-unsplash.jpg, Benjamin Davies, @benvisual, Unsplash,


One way to characterize philosophy is as the art of questioning. New questions and new types of question open previously unexplored possibilities. The assumptions of an entire culture or generation can be altered by the posing of new questions.
Questions are often not welcome. One way to deal with questions is by force of authority:

*Many times I have witnessed young children asking questions which the attendant adults dismiss as irrelevant, silly, or worse.

*History shows many situations in which asking certain questions is dangerous to the individual. For instance, authoritarian religious leaderships have often equated questions with doubt and then unbelief. In cases such as The Inquisition, questioning is dealt with by severe force.

*Sometimes when people ask questions of their governments the reactions are strong. In some cases, when the questions probed too deeply or challenged to much, they are not acknowledged at all but rebuffed with accusations; such as “You are anti-Soviet, anti-Turkish, anti-American, enemy of the people, etc.”

*In interpersonal situations, among friends and family, unwelcome questions (i.e. those which challenge the status quo) may be met with anger, ridicule, or denial.

*Questioning ourselves to ourselves can be very difficult. Some thinkers have aptly described mechanisms of the human mind that resist change and challenge. It is not hard to test this on yourself by trying to seriously question your most basic and cherished beliefs in a sustained way. The defenses go up pretty fast – and they really are convincing when we are the ones putting them up. Here is one simple way to detect a defensive shield against some area of questioning in yourself: study some topics that are quite different from your usual interests or invest effort into understanding views that are opposite to your own. If you find yourself reacting with strong and involuntary emotion, especially with immediate and intense judgement of the topic as “pointless,” “boring,” “ridiculous” etc. – chances are you have identified a personal defense system that protects you against new, thought and potential change. Self-knowledge of this sort is very valuable.

*Even in education we can find questions to be unwelcome. In 3rd grade I recall being in a class in what was then called “New Math.” The teacher showed us the various symbols of operations including =, >, <. One symbol was called “less than or equal to.” I asked; “Since there is already an equal sign and a less than sign, what is the use of the ‘less than or equal to’ sign?” The teacher was angered by this and told me; “Stop asking stupid questions and just learn the lesson!” Instead, I responded by refusing to learn any more lessons from her ever again. At that moment I closed my mind to math altogether. Have paid the price for that defensive reaction my whole life with sub-par math skills.

I realize now that the teacher really did not understand my question. I meant it honestly. I suppose she thought I was smarting off (I was also known for asking unwelcome questions in catechism [i.e. religious doctrine] class). Even as I look back on this experience, I think that my question made sense. After all, a quantity can be less than another or equal to it, but not both. I know now that there was a mistaken assumption in my question, but that did not make it a poor question (much less a stupid one).

The problem was that I was not asking a question that fell within the domain of assumptions. If I had asked a question that accepted and made use of the symbols, how to work within the system, the teacher would have likely been glad to sho

w me what to do. My question, however, was about the givens. It challenged the reasoning for the system itself. If you want to get yelled at, shunned, ridiculed, fired, failed, etc., an excellent approach is to ask serious, intelligent questions about the assumptions of the given system.

When we ask questions such as “What is truth?”“What is reality?”“What is Good?” – or “What is reason?” we are asking to open the system itself to examination. deep-thought-1296377_960_720They are calling our most basic givens into question. It is natural that some people will receive such questions as ridiculous, irrelevant, and a waste of time. Some folks are inclined to say; “Stop asking stupid questions and just get on with it!” To be fair, perhaps those folks have a point worth considering. Maybe some things are not meant to be questioned. Maybe it is impossible (nonsensical) to pose some sorts of questions. But see? Even by opening this possibility I am doing it again! I am inclined to take their thought seriously even if they dismiss mine as worthless.

What is your own experience with questions? What are your most important questions? How have those questions been received by others throughout your life? Do you have an idea about how questioning will influence your future? What is the single most important question that you may ask yourself.

It seems to me that a question is a form of openness. By asking a genuine, serious question, one presents oneself as incomplete and uncertain. There is a vulnerability in the sincere question and an assumption that the universe remains open-ended in some respects.

I think that the idea of an open-ended universe populated by incomplete minds comes into conflict with some other ways of addressing reality. One common view (or my interpretation of that view) assumes that most of the important questions have already been answered and all that remains is filling out the details. Asking questions such as; “What am I?” and “Does my life have purpose?” and “What is death?” are impertinent and silly from that perspective.

I believe that how we respond to such questions shows much about our assumptions concerning the structure of experience, the relationship of the individual and authority, and the limits of human possibility.

My plea is this: when you encounter a question that evokes intense reaction such that you are inclined to dismiss the value of the question entirely, consider the possibility that your interpretation of the question and associated ideas is incomplete. Maybe it is not, but this is always a hypothesis worth testing.

Assignment – Pose and ponder these two questions several times in the next year:

What is the single most important question that I may ask myself.

What question about myself do I least want to ask?



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Who wants to talk about death?vintage-1751222_960_720

Many people, it turns out.

Every week for the last two years, Death Café Corvallis has met to give anyone who cares to a space to share their thoughts on mortality.

Some weeks it is one person, at others it is ten. At most sessions there is someone new to the conversation and often folks who keep coming back.

On a recent sunny afternoon McKenzie and Piper showed up; both Oregon State undergraduates pursuing a writing assignment.

At first they listened thoughtfully taking notes, soon they began to share their own experiences.

Their participation resulted in an article that instructor Thomas Strini deemed strong enough to publish in The Corvallis Review: Death Café Corvallis: A Club All About Death.

We applaud McKenzie and Piper for their thoughtful work, Thomas for the inspiration that he gives to learners, and to all the intelligent and sincere individuals who continually make and remake Death Cafe Acknowledgements:  

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Errata: In regards to academic rank, I am an Instructor of Philosophy, not a Professor.
Much of my life has been in the company of young people like McKenzie and Piper, 17-25 years old, the typical age range of undergraduates. I believe that is part of what sustains me in a youthfully optimistic state.

Conversations on topics such as in this post are common at Death Café Corvallis, in which you are welcome to participate.

172352729A vital factor in who we are as individuals is how we conceive of death.

This is because how we conceive of death conditions how we value life.

Few of us value all lives equally, even when it comes to human beings.

Nor do many of us think of our own deaths in the same terms as we do for others.

Some folks may have a degree of clarity in these variations, but I suspect that for most of us the deep questions about life and death are a confused tangle.

Plenty of the day-to-day disquiet of our minds arises from this confusion.

Our mortal struggle is explored by Stephen Caves, a philosopher at the University of Cambridge, in his essay Not Nothing.

“When I squidged it, I summoned the Reaper to my desk. If only briefly, I caught his eye.”

Caves sets out the dilemmas of life/death values starkly then seeks a balance point between them.

The degree to which he succeeds at this depends upon the insight gained by an attentive reader, such as yourself.

I suggest that you read this article and come back to it on successive opportunities for at least three readings.


Take your understanding of Cave’s analysis into conversation with people in your life.

They may embrace the topic outright, recoil at the mention of death, or dismiss the entire issue as meaningless.

In any of those cases, and the points in between them, you will at least gain a perspective on the various ways that people think about dying and accord value to the living.


Image Acknowlegements

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John Shields was not a man to let death get in the way of a good party.

His wife sent out the email invitations so that at 78 years, John could leave this life surrounded by family and friends.

He chose to die by assisted suicide rather than by the amyloidosis that was shutting down his body.

A New York Times article – At His Own Wake, Celebrating Life and the Gift of Death – by Catherine Porter explores voluntary dying, love of life, and John Shields’ legacy.

Conversations on topics such as in this post are common at Death Café Corvallis, in which you are welcome to participate.

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