With much trepidation about laying out the “tenets” that underlie this work for fear of sounding cocksure about things I cannot possibly be sure about, I feel compelled nevertheless to try to be explicit about where I’m coming from. So here are some of the convictions that drive this work:

  1. The amount of justice in the world and equality in the world are far too little for us, the human race. The degree of inequality, the gap between people who live decent lives and those for whom a decent existence – a real home, water free of germs and chemicals, food sufficient to grow and to raise one’s children, education, good medical care – are luxuries they cannot come close to affording. It is fundamentally unjust because wealth and poverty are connected, that those who live horribly well do so at the expense of those who live horribly. Many of the horrors and fears of our age are caused by the “need” of the few to dominate and exploit the many.
  2. Despite all the forces that impinge upon us, each of us defines our own life by the choices we make. There’s a profound difference between those who act with integrity and concern of others and those who act only for their narrow self-interest or, worse, sadistically taking pleasure the misery and pain of others. We are all imperfect, all do things that are violences against our fellow beings, but some are far more imperfect than others. Nearly every moment of our lives we make choices that affect ourselves and our fellow humans. Neither determinism nor indeterminacy alters the fundamental importance of choice in human affairs. Put all the religion and science aside, what matters is that each of us chooses among the paths that are possible.
  3. “And now for something completely different”: It is a virtual certainty that living, conscious beings exist in the universe. But they are so far away and likely so amazingly different from us that we may never be able to communicate with them. If so, we are simultaneously “not alone” and very much alone.
  4. Our consciousness is tied to the physiological organism that is our brain and nervous system. It is difficult to accept that the miracle of conscious life is tied to such a fragile, fallible and finite biochemical creation. Yet, there’s no denying it: Alive is alive and dead is dead. Maybe consciousness somehow carries on without our bodies, but it doesn’t seem likely.
  5. Dylan’s line, “He not busy being born Is busy dying,” says it well: We choose to grow or to deteriorate.
    Sex is important. Pleasure is not all there is to life, but it’s a big part of it. Sexual exploitation is wrong. Prudery, moralistically regarding simple human pleasures with scorn, is wrong also.
  6. There are more alternatives about how to live one’s life, how groups in society can be organized, and how societies can be organized than most of us conceive of. It is a form of cynicism that the current state of society is the best we can ever come up with. Communities can exist that are not tied together primarily by familial bonds. Societies can function more cooperatively, sharing resources equitably rather than facilitating grotesque inequalities. Socialism is neither synonymous with tyranny nor incompatible with democracy.
  7. There are risks in trying to create alternatives. Chief among them is problem of power: To change existing structures, leadership is needed. Unfortunately leadership is often insidiously linked to the abuse of power. Those who seek power usually say they wish it for the benefit of others, but often actually use it for themselves against others. Nevertheless, change is necessary for growth and leadership is necessary for change.
    Creative self-expression is an essential human need for everyone, not just for the few. Amateur creativity is undervalued in our (i.e. Euro-American) culture. At its best, amateur creativity is an act of love. Any act of love should be taken very seriously. But no act of love should be taken too seriously, lest it lose its wonder.
    Each of us is unique. I’ve had a few cats in my life and every one of them was different from every other one. I have a cat now that won’t eat unless you pet her while she eats even though, at other times, she doesn’t like to be pet at all. If cats are unique, for god’s sake, surely people are.
  8. Though unique, we are all more alike than different. We all have hopes and fears, visions and illusions, strengths and weaknesses, insights and insanities.
  9. We have made a horrible mess of our lonely planet. We are a biological and geological force. We toy with the stuff the universe is made of, dig inside the atom to find its secrets, and then use our discoveries to blow ourselves up. What a species! We toy with the genetic code of our food supply and create seeds that can not reproduce. We have solved so a million arcane problems, but we cannot solve our own self-destructiveness. We are evolved and devolved. We are smart enough to build skyscrapers and airplanes and vaccines and medicines to cure our ills, but we are not smart enough not to blow each other up, not smart enough to avoid annihilating the human spirit.
  10. Consciousness, human consciousness, is the ultimate amazement. Without consciousness, the universe is nothing but a bunch of fireworks and rocks in the vast emptiness of space.
  11. I don’t think it’s possible to know about God, not really. It is inconceivable to me that any religion is right and the others are wrong. It’s bullshit that all religions are saying the same thing in different ways. What one religion forbids, another requires. What one exalts, another scorns. I just wish they’d stop killing each other and maybe me along and my loved ones as well. Certainly what people believe gets all wrapped up with other things, like power and wealth and control, but I just would appreciate a moment’s peace in the world. So, at the very least, maybe everyone could realize that what they believe to be true may or may not be the Ultimate Truth, and maybe be a little more accepting of people who believe something else, or who don’t believe that there is an Ultimate Truth.

Essays on creativity, community, social change, and the search for meaning