Learning Balance

March 15, 2008 at 12:41 pm 24 comments

My icon around here is a yin/yang symbol with a black leopard. (I’ve put a larger version of it in this post, as it’s just too small to see next to my comments.)

There are a number of reasons for my choosing this as my icon. In part, I chose it because black cats are so darn cool. In part, I chose it because it associates well with my long involvement in martial arts. Finally, I chose it because it’s such a great visual summary of balance. Of course balance is what the yin/yang symbol was created to represent.

yin yangFor any who may not know the yin/yang symbol well, here’s a brief primer on it, along with a simpler symbol.

It is circular to represent the world/globe. It is half black and half white to represent the opposing or complementary categories into which much of the world can be divided. [For instance black and white (opposites) or male and female (complements).] To show that these categories are not always neat or absolute, the black portion bulges over to the white side and likewise the white bulges over to the black side. Lastly, there is a spot of black in the midst of the white field and a spot of white in the midst of the black field to indicate that even in the midst of any division, there may be elements of its opposite or complement.

For years the concept of such balance and intermixing of opposites and complements has occupied my mind. As I tried to set aside preconceived notions about a lot of things, I’ve found that this yin/yang view makes a lot of sense.

Science, where I make my living, may often be presented with absolutes. Yet, when you delve deeply, you may learn that there are exceptions and nuances to hard-held theories.

Religion likewise is often presented in absolute terms. Yet again, upon rigorous examination, hard-held doctrines may be nuanced, and not so all encompassing.

Much the same can be said of politics, learning theory, child rearing, or any other area of human experience and action. Beliefs, habits, opinions, policies, and all the other things that we may take as givens, even good/bad, right/wrong, true/false, and the other dichotomies that we divide our world into, may not really constitute the nice, sharp-edged boxes that we hoped would keep our thoughts, and our world, so neatly categorized.

It appears to me that a lot of the strife in our world comes from the efforts to create and maintain these inflexible dichotomies.

  1. By insisting they are “right” liberal and conservatives generate endless political infighting.
  2. By insisting that they “have it all figured out” many religious folks alienate those who don’t share “the faith”, sometimes they even manage to turn their fellow man into implacable enemies. And lest any of us pat ourselves on the back for “escaping religion”, this condemnation holds much the same for many de-converts who make their former confession out to be “the root of all evil”.
  3. By insisting “my team”, “my country”, “my music”, “my opinions”, etc are the best, we humans bring fistfights, feuds, vandalism, and all manner of bad blood.

I’m beginning to think that real root of all evil isn’t money, or power, or ignorance. I think it’s the arrogance that says, “I have arrived, I have it all figured out, I have the answers. The rest of you can just learn from my magnificence.”

My wife used to try to tell me, “Hon. The world just may exist in more shades of gray than your black and white vision can see.” It took a long time, but I finally started believing that. And I finally started to think that neatly sorting my world into dichotomous “files” wasn’t actually representing truth or reality. Nowadays I’m sorting the world into messier categories. Neatly separated piles are spilling onto one another. Concepts that “ought to stay” in category 1, wind up leak into categories 2 and 3.

So I’m putting less effort into sorting things neatly. They just get into messy jumbles anyway. It seems a messy, jumbled worldview correlates better with reality. It doesn’t come naturally to me, but I am trying to adapt to a messy, mixed up, jumbled, diverse, confusing, chaotic reality.

And I’m finding it’s easier to remain balanced on a broadly spread conceptual pile than on an ideological razor’s edge.

- LeoPardus

Entry filed under: LeoPardus. Tags: , , , , .

What if I behaved toward Christians like they behave towards me? God, Zombies, and the Meaning of Life

24 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Thinking Ape  |  March 15, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    For some reason I was waiting for this post for awhile from you Leopardus. The world at times is very chaotic, or at least very complex – in order for us to comprehend even the simplest aspects of this life we must categorize everything we know – it is as necessary for thoughts as it is for language.
    I do not mean to hijack this so early on, but I am wondering, Leopardus, what do you think of this passage by Bertrand Russell:

    And so, even when we have a sacred book, we still choose as truth whatever suits our own prejudices… People’s beliefs have various causes. One is that there is some evidence for the belief in question. We apply this to matters of fact, such as “what is so-sand-so’s telephone number?” or “Who won the World Series?” But as soon as it comes to anything more debatable, the causes of belief become less defensible. We believe, first and foremost, what makes us feel that we are fine fellows… Mr Homo [Sapien], if he has a good digestion and a sound income, thinks to himself how much more sensible he is than his neighbour so-and-so, who married a flighty wife and is always losing money. He thinks how superior his city is to the one 50 miles away… He things how immeasurably his country surpasses all others. If he is an Englishman, he thinks of Shakespeare and Milton… IF he is a Frenchman, he congratulates himself on the fact that for centuries France has led the world in culture, fashions, and cookery. If he is Russian, he reflects that he belongs to the only nation which is truly international… But there are not the only matters on which he has to congratulate himself. For is he not an individual of the species homo sapiens?… Self-importance, individual or generic, is the source of most of our religious beliefs. Even sin is a conception derived from self-importance… The whole of theology, in regard to hell no less than to heaven, takes it for granted that Man is what is of most importance in the Universe of created beings. Since all theologians are men, this postulate has met with little opposition.
    -An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish

    I suppose I see a lot of what you said in Russell’s words. I have always loved this passage and was ecstatic when I saw it included in Hitchen’s collection of atheist works (The Portable Atheist).

  • 2. vanessa  |  March 15, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    I like the icon which you have used here.I think i will have same kind of tatto on my arm.I guess it will look really cool.

  • 3. LeoPardus  |  March 15, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    Vanessa:

    I’m not a tattoo person but, I guess it would make a cool tattoo. Glad you like it

  • 4. LeoPardus  |  March 15, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    TA:

    You been spying on my desktop. I did have this article sitting there for quite a while. Kept fiddling with it and not liking what I was writing. Finally decided to just put it up and see how it does.

    I was very much in agreement with the passage from Russell. (And to think how I used to disagree with him as an almost knee-jerk response.)

    I also agree with your statement that, “in order for us to comprehend even the simplest aspects of this life we must categorize everything we know”.

    As a scientist I must categorize all the time, and I must establish certain things as definite truths. For the most part this all goes for matters of fact. But I must agree with Bertand about what happens “as soon as it comes to anything more debatable”. And it’s that latter category that I’m mainly aiming to sort more messily.

  • 5. karen  |  March 15, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    Beautiful perspective, Leo. Thanks for your wisdom!

  • 6. the chaplain  |  March 15, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    I second Karen’s comment. Very nice, thoughtful post.

  • 7. ned  |  March 15, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    LeoPardus: why is it that the chinese characters in the icon say “Flying Tiger”?

  • 8. LeoPardus  |  March 16, 2008 at 12:59 am

    ned:

    ‘Cause that’s what they say I guess. :) It’s not like I can read any oriental characters. But now I know.

  • [...] For some more food for thought, and some nicely written thoughts on balance, read this blog post by LeoPardus.  [...]

  • 10. Yurka  |  March 19, 2008 at 11:36 am

    Fine, LP, as long as you’re not tempted to radical skepticism or liberal theology. Statements like “You cannot know the truth with certainty”, or “You cannot know the truth value of any proposition about God with certainty” are self refuting, since they put themselves forth as that which they say cannot exist. This is the great danger of our current society.

    Like it or not, there are boatloads of non-negotiable absolute truths, and we can’t let our “polite” age brow beat us into forsaking those. If someone I loved were not getting proper medical treatment because Benny Hinn, Jehovah’s Witnesses or New Age pagans were feeding nonsense into their heads, I wouldn’t hesitate to call them on it. Neither, I hope, would you.
    The categories may involve making a few more subdivisions and distinctions, but for the most part they aren’t “messy” or “intermixed”.

  • 11. LeoPardus  |  March 19, 2008 at 11:57 am

    as long as you’re not tempted to radical skepticism or liberal theology.

    Skepticism? Definitely. Radical? Nah. And I’m definitely not for liberal theology. Not sure how I could be since I’m essentially an atheist.

    Statements like “You cannot know the truth with certainty”, or “You cannot know the truth value of any proposition about God with certainty”

    I didn’t make those statements.

    Like it or not, there are boatloads of non-negotiable absolute truths,

    I like it just fine. I’m all behind, “If you step off this skyscraper, you’ll go splat.”

    If someone I loved were not getting proper medical treatment because Benny Hinn, Jehovah’s Witnesses or New Age pagans were feeding nonsense into their heads, I wouldn’t hesitate to call them on it. Neither, I hope, would you.

    I’d let them know I thought they were blooming idiots. Yep.

    The categories may involve making a few more subdivisions and distinctions, but for the most part they aren’t “messy” or “intermixed”.

    What categories?

  • 12. Yurka  |  March 19, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    “What categories?”

    I was thinking mainly about morality. Liberals tend to say things such as since immorality such as divorce, adultery, prostitution are so prevalent, we should be more accepting homosexuality as well (the Texas supreme court case). “After all”, the liberal would say, “We’re all sinners.”

    It is here I’d draw a distinction between penitent and impenitent sinners. Eliot Spitzer isn’t trying to get public education to teach that prostitution is ok. There are no adulterers or divorcees pride parades. Since homosexuals are not repentent or even acknowledging of their sins, and seek to promote it, they are in a different category altogether and it is a mistake to equate them as just another type of sinner. But the liberal would like to dismiss sexual behavior as a grey area.

  • 13. LeoPardus  |  March 19, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Yurka:

    You realize, I hope, that your last post could cause this thread to veer wildly out of control, thus destroying all semblance of balance. :) / :(

  • 14. Yurka  |  March 19, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Sorry – I agree, we can fight that out another day. I dislike hijackers myself.

  • 15. GoDamn  |  March 20, 2008 at 6:35 am

    Yurka,
    When consenting adults engage in activities that are not dangerous and do not affect anyone else and are done in the privacy of their own homes, who are you to say it is wrong? Why is it wrong? What harm has been done? I don’t understand why xians have such a hard time accepting that gays are just born that way, they cannot change it. Why would they want to join a group that is despised? Did it ever occur to you that to a gay, having sex with the opposite sex is just as repulsive as gay sex is to a heterosexual? By the way, since you’re a stickler for gods word, since the good lord did not say anything about lesbians, is that ok? What if we fantasize about our wife having sex with another woman (other wife even)? What if a man remarries after his wife dies, can he fantasize about the dead one (perhaps having sex with the live one? Is that wrong? Is oral sex wrong? What about kinky stuff? Hell, even Jesus got ‘nailed’. Odd that he was always hob nobbing with 12 guys. Why not chicks?

  • 16. LeoPardus  |  March 20, 2008 at 10:52 am

    Yurka:

    I was thinking about some of what you said in #10 above. Part of balance as I’ve always understood it, is finding the truth about something and sticking to that truth. There is nothing balanced or sensible in equivocating about something that is decidedly true.

    Physical laws are an obvious example or this. If someone thinks they are invulnerable to bullets, we all recognize that their mind is unbalanced. If someone thinks they are a fire truck, we know their mind is unbalanced.

    So there are times where balance means taking a stand.

  • 17. LeoPardus  |  March 20, 2008 at 11:06 am

    GoDamn:

    Since this thread is about balance, and by that I mean taking all factors of an issue into account, permit me to ask a couple questions and/or point out some things that you seem to be missing in your post.

    When consenting adults engage in activities that are not dangerous and do not affect anyone else and are done in the privacy of their own homes, who are you to say it is wrong?

    I’d generally agree with you here. Let me ask though, what do you do with the fact that male homosexual behavior results in large increases of risk and incidence of a number of easily preventable illnesses and dysfunctions? (I’m assuming that you know about these, but if not, I can list some for you.)

    I don’t understand why xians have such a hard time accepting that gays are just born that way, they cannot change it.

    I’m not sure what percentage have trouble accepting that people may be born with a tendency toward homosexuality. A lot of the Christians I’ve hung around with over the years can accept such an inborn trait/tendency.

    The part about not being able to change though doesn’t ring true. There are just too many examples of people who have left being gay to become straight. Just as their are examples of people going the other way.

    Psychologists are always saying that whatever issues people come to psychotherapists for, psychology can’t really help until and unless a person wants to change. So it would seem that gays or straights can change if they really want to. At least that would seem the conclusion to considering the balance of evidence.

    By the way, since you’re a stickler for gods word, since the good lord did not say anything about lesbians, is that ok?

    I don’t know what you’re Bible knowledge level is, but you missed Romans 1:26.

    Your thoughts/reactions?

  • 18. GoDamn  |  March 21, 2008 at 3:59 am

    LP,
    Hetrosexuals are just as likely to contract diseases. Furthermore, sexually contractable diseases due to homosexuality would remain amongst the gay community, so its not like its botherig the straights.
    As for gays becoming straights, there are people who are bisexual and they may end up preferring one sex over another, but gays who supposedly go straight are more liky to be doing so due to societal/family pressure, not because they have actually changed their sexual preference. I havent come across any evidence that sexual preference is changeable. Take a look at the clergy thats been banging boys. They would have the strongest incentive to avoid gay behavior. That dint happen. Im not sure how you concluded gays can change. And anyway, dont you think gays provide a balance to straights? ;-)

  • 19. LeoPardus  |  March 21, 2008 at 11:00 am

    GoDamn:

    Hetrosexuals are just as likely to contract diseases.

    That statement requires a lot of caveats. Just as examples:
    - Promiscuity must be taken into account.
    - Gender makes a big difference. (Women get STDs about 10-15 times more easily than men when normal vaginal intercourse is used)
    - Practices must be taken into account. (The 10-15 fold difference mentioned above vanishes if you compare among those who frequently use anal penetration.)
    - When you talk of homosexuals, you must separate males and females. The disease incidence among male homosexuals is higher than among female homosexuals.

    So you must go back to my statement “male homosexual behavior results in large increases of risk and incidence of a number of easily preventable illnesses and dysfunctions”. I failed to state what I was comparing to, so that’s my bad. The increased incidence would be seen upon comparison to female homosexuals, or monogamous heterosexuals.

    sexually contractable diseases due to homosexuality would remain amongst the gay community, so its not like its botherig the straights.

    Not entirely true. The bisexual community acts as a bridge between the two. Obviously the trouble here isn’t orientation. It’s promiscuity. Which is a high risk factor regardless of orientation.

    As for gays becoming straights, there are people who are bisexual and they may end up preferring one sex over another, but gays who supposedly go straight are more liky to be doing so due to societal/family pressure, not because they have actually changed their sexual preference.

    Perhaps. But if they have changed, then they have changed, regardless of why they sought change.

    I havent come across any evidence that sexual preference is changeable.

    There has only been one substantial study that I’m aware of. Spitxer, 2003. One of the sad facts about the issue is that the APA has assiduously avoided doing (or even allowing) any carefully conducted, well controlled, peer reviewed large study of the issue of change in sexual orientation. Many members of the APA feel that the whole issue is so politically and emotionally charged that rational discourse and research has become almost impossible. THAT is definitely not a balanced situation.

    Im not sure how you concluded gays can change

    Because there are actually a lot of people out there who were practicing homosexuals for years, who sought to change and are now practicing heterosexuals. Spitzer’s conclusion on such people was that they are a fairly small group numerically, but that they are real.

  • 20. The Apostate  |  March 21, 2008 at 11:31 am

    Another gay issue debate – how?
    Applying what we learned about balanced, homosexuality is as complicated, believe it or not, as heterosexuality. Since when do people only love another purely for sex? Is that not what this conversation has reduced the homosexual? Of course there are many that do reduce such actions to the core of who they are, and “promiscuity” is always going to be more prevalent among a group that has been pushed underground for the most of the last seventeen hundred years – the same goes with teenagers.

    But then again, what do I know – I am a heterosexual, male, white, anglo-saxon, ex-protestant – I am no longer allowed to have any criticizing opinions on homosexual, female, non-white, people of various religions.

  • 21. LeoPardus  |  March 21, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Since when do people only love another purely for sex? Is that not what this conversation has reduced the homosexual?

    I didn’t think it was reduced only to that. But what do I know…..

    But then again, what do I know – I am a heterosexual, male, white, anglo-saxon, ex-protestant – I am no longer allowed to have any criticizing opinions on homosexual, female, non-white, people of various religions.

    LOL :D But ya know, it’s OK. As two HMWA-SxPs we can talk amongst ourselves.

  • 22. GoDamn  |  March 24, 2008 at 2:41 am

    LP,
    There is a big difference between changing your preference and professing to do so. Bisexuals would continue to be bi’s, but they would prefer a particular sex more than the other. That doesn’t mean they’ve changed or actively made the choice to prefer one sex over another. It means they were confused. I think a study of the religious beliefs of converted homosexuals and the society they live in would shed some light on whether they have really converted or not. My idea of a converted homosexual is based on my heterosexual pref. To me, the thought of having sex with a man is just repulsive. So a convert, according to me, would be a man who has gone from a similar feeling about having sex with a woman to the other extreme, which is having those feelings with regard to a man. There can be social elements that drive a person to homosexual behaviour (jail?) or heterosexual behaviour. However, that doesn’t make them loose their original pref. They have simply added one. So that cannot be called a conversion. More of an incorporation.

  • 23. LeoPardus  |  March 27, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    GoDamn:

    It’s a tough line to draw and even tougher to assess.

    Do we define homosexual ONLY as wanting sex with members of the same sex and finding the opposite sex repulsive? Do we make a scale of some sort and try to categorize orientation on that? [Your attraction to other men is a 7 on a 1-10 scale, and your repulsion to women is a 6. You are semi-bi-sexual not a homosexual.]

    And what would we say of a person who finds the same sex attractive but deliberately avoids that and has sex with only members of the opposite sex? Do we condemn such a person? Do we applaud him/her? Do we avoid him/her?

    It gets awfully complicated.

  • 24. Mariadejesusgomes  |  November 16, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    I go back and forth on this. On the telling hand..it might be nice to hear SOME onniiops on the name. If our parents hate the name, I think I’d like to know before the baby arrives. And it can be a fun way to involve our family in the pregnancy. We might tell just our parents and siblings but I’m not sure they could keep it a secret. On the other hand: I’m usually pretty good about ignoring other people’s onniiops but I’m not sure I will be able to ignore onniiops about my kids name. I don’t want someone to “steal” the name. I don’t particularly want a bunch of monogramed stuff with the baby’s name because it limits the use of the items with future kids and I don’t want my kid’s name on all their clothes/bags/whatever where strangers can see when we’re at the grocery store.

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Attention Christian Readers

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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