Sunday, September 28

Malawi Support Group Book

This is the cover for my new book which was designed by my youngest daughter. Included is one of my stories called :RAINBOW WORM- written  for the local school children.

Rainbow Worm was once deep in the earth; a special Worm, longing for freedom, different to all of the other worms digging in the soil. Rainbow Worm was storing up great energy and courage to emerge from his darkness, into the light outside. When he emerged, the sun was bright, and burned colours into his delicate skin, but he was strong and courageous and endured his discomfort for it was not to last for long. Soon came the soothing rain. It increased his strength; giving forth such great energy it caused an almighty wind to sweep Rainbow Worm up into the sky.
We recognise this today as the rainbow!.
Rainbow Worm wanted to help. He viewed the Earth from his wondrous sky place and saw a very poor but hardworking community in the African country of Malawi. He decided that this is where he could help. He realised it was one of the poorest countries on the planet, but he also saw that the
people had generous and warm hearts. This is why Malawi is known as the “Warm Heart of Africa”.
“How can I help?” thought Rainbow Worm.
From his wondrous place in the sky he noticed a group of school children in Eltham on the vast continent of Australia. He decided to take them on a journey to Malawi.
All he needed to do was to tap on the classroom window and they found themselves crossing the wide oceans from Australia to Africa on the back of Rainbow Worm.
On landing they spotted a group of people cooking up a great feast. They learned that it was a feast where all are welcomed; a feast to remember and celebrate the lives of St Kizito, a thirteen-year- old- boy, and his friends, who died because they dared to believe in the Christian God. They were
welcomed into the celebration. There in the midst of the people was an old woman, her face wrinkled, but compassionate, her body bent, her character straight and true, her person small but mighty in spirit. She stood surrounded in a golden aura.

“I am your dear “Sister of Compassion “. I have been here for 25 years now so it is my home. I came here to work with these people, especially those who are suffering so much with the AIDS virus. Before I came I worked in the capital city, Lilongwe, in the hospitals as a medical missionary. But I was asked to come here to help for the suffering is great. Many things need to be done. We need help for special classes to teach families to be healthy and to improve their diets. We need help to
develop language skills and to encourage sporting activities. I am trying to organise concerts around the world to raise money to help these people.” Rainbow Worm and the children listened to their dear Sister of Compassion.

It was time to leave. Sadly there was no time to stay and enjoy the feast. “Never mind,” said Rainbow Worm, “We have much to keep in our minds and hearts, much to pray about”. It was late so their thoughts returned to home where morning was breaking. They told the amazing story to their parents.
Many people in Eltham came to hear about the story. Some formed a group that came to be called the “Malawi Support Group.” This group worked hard to raise funds for Malawi and the good people of Our Lady Help of Christians in Eltham continue to do this to this very day. An act of love for the people of Malawi from the people of Eltham on that great Australian continent.


Tuesday, September 23

Is Love a feeling or a conscious decision we make every day

Love is still one of the more commonly used word in our language, which, according to the Google Books Ngram Viewer represents about .02% of all words used, down from .03% in the 19th century when romanticism figured more strongly in literature. Love’s use can describe anything from a unifying compassion extended to all living things, from unconditional love to mushy affection, to be in love or awe of our universe or to a love of objects or causes or in appreciation of art or music and so the list goes on. Opinions differ as to what it means- for instance is it a conscious decision by us to love or is it an expression of our emotions or feelings. 
What I propose in this short essay is explore these questions.

Widespread usage
The use of love has many more perspectives than those briefly previously mentioned; from personnel affection in intimacy, to devotion to a cause as in love for one’s country which can turn to war, to love as in sacrifice or in the desire or admiration for beautiful objects or art forms or when we simply say with sincerity “I love you.” Yet we are not clear on how love arises; the inclination is to link love as emanating from the heart to revert to feelings of love whilst others think love is a matter of daily decisions to consciously act in a loving manner. Another assumption is to say love is a kind of noble intuitive force which contributes to the greater good, but as we so much evidence of countless crimes committed under the allure of love, this seems implausible.  Biblically this leads those authors to distinguish passionate love as in intimacy -versus Agape, to mean "unconditional love", but who’s rather grand application, given our limitations as human beings, also seems to me to be somewhat of a contentious issue. Rather I think that the power of love gives one the capacity for loving unions to blossom over time, but that in turn is usually dependent upon a continuing encouragement or willingness to compromise, sufficient to withstand the mounting pressures of life’s experiences. The Idea to me then that love leads to a more willing  desire to make compromises or sacrifices seems more realistic than “unconditional love” which I prefer to leave to the province of divine love, as is included in the notion of grace.      

That certain feeling of love   
Our emotions lie in the older limbic area of the brain which send signals to the frontal lobes (the executive manager of the mind) to give rise to our feelings and to disseminate information in order for us to make rational decisions where necessary. The frontal lobes are the most recent development of the brain and are responsible for the richness of our advanced consciousness, a feature that allows us to discern complex abstract matters, or to possibly experience or feel mystical emotions. Hence I think it fair to conclude that love has its origin in our emotions that become intense feelings, to be matters as they say of the heart, capable of being understood by child and adult alike. But not all feelings come from emotions as the mind is capable of empathy to feel the pain of others and so to act in a loving manner to give expression to that feeling, arising from external stimuli separate to those things arising from the physical body.  

The truth of the matter
Our emotions give rise to our feelings which tell us the truth about how we feel, but not necessarily  the truth , so that there remains responsibility not to become so attached to love that out judgment can become clouded. In that respect Buddhism , with its idea that attachment leads to suffering has  much to offer, as its philosophy / religion proffers that love in the form of a unifying compassion extended to all living beings brings us happiness.    

Thursday, September 18

Frederick Nietzsche-the enigmatic philosopher

This short essay attempts to explore some insights into the thoughts of this enigmatic  philosopher.  
Introduction and some broad observations

Frederick Nietzsche was possibly one of the most influential and enigmatic of philosophers, but whose authenticity in my view can hardly be challenged.
A good reference to anyone wanting to more thoroughly understand him is "What Nietzsche Really Said" by scholars   , whose review is :
Friedrich Nietzsche's aggressive independence, flamboyance, sarcasm, and celebration of strength have struck responsive chords in contemporary culture. More people than ever are reading and discussing his writings. But Nietzsche's ideas are often overshadowed by the myths and rumors that surround his sex life, his politics, and his sanity. In this lively and comprehensive analysis, Nietzsche scholars Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins get to the heart of Nietzsche's philosophy, from his ideas on "the will to power" to his attack on religion and morality and his infamous Übermensch (superman).
What Nietzsche Really Said offers both guidelines and insights for reading and understanding this controversial thinker. Written with sophistication and wit, this book provides an excellent summary of the life and work of one of history's most provocative philosophers.
Much of his work is polemic - to firmly  establish his perspective with gusto after opposing mercilessly contemporary viewpoints.

But I do not think Nietzsche was an intellectual bully, but rather he was fond of making highly emotive statements, to ignite our interest and  shock the senses to be persuaded to think differently.

Nietzsche’s view, at that time, was that state power and money underlined a state of stupidity, so that he saw himself as a man in the mould of Goethe, having the courage to suffer for the sake of the truth as he perceived it. Nietzsche did not suggest a political point of view but rather believed his philosophy underpinned noble leadership, so that became sufficient in itself to  ensure a happier and superior moral system of governance.

He also suffered both from severe bad health which was to be an infliction for all of his life, coupled with experience firsthand of the terrible brutality of war. In my view both of which could not fail to have some considerable influence over his philosophy.
Upbringing and early influences  
To understand Nietzsche’s perspective I think it is useful to delve into his upbringing and early development as is usually the case for all of us.

Nietzsche's family ties were to Lutheran ministers, as his paternal grandfather was a distinguished Protestant scholar. His father was the town’s Lutheran minister, but died of a brain disorder when Nietzsche was only 5, so that his childhood nurturing was undertaken by his mother and 2 maiden aunts.

Nietzsche as a teenager began composing piano, choral and orchestral music and was instrumental in leading a music and literature group when attending a boarding school in preparation for a university education. He was later to form a strong bond with Richard Wagner, whose talent he greatly admired, and who gave support to Nietzsche’s early literary works. After graduating from school he undertook theological studies at the university, intent on becoming a minster before gravitating in favour of philology, which is concerned with the interpretation of classical and biblical texts. Nietzsche was a brilliant student and published essays on poets and philosophers such as Aristotle.
The rather obvious conclusions are that his comprehension of the Bible was fulsome, but no doubt lacking in positivism as his subsequent works incorporated the ideals of the mythical ancient heroic GODS. But Nietzsche was not against organized Religion, maintaining it could be of comfort for the masses. His concern was for its application as bad faith, predicated on false notions that bad health arose from sin.  He also thought religion tied its followers to a slave mentality, to enslave the followers to mediocrity and meekness, which ultimately could lead to nihilism. In other words the abstract values of a perceived GOD, born of jealously or envy, confirmed in meekness and in mediocrity were in essence simply the shadows of a poet’s imagery which could lead (if taken literally) to unintended bad consequences.  

A pivotal moment for Nietzsche was his discovery of Arthur Schopenhauer's work which was to capture his imagination but whose influence remains subject to some debate. However in Nietzsche’s publication entitled Untimely Meditations he seems to indicate a definite affinity to Schopenhauer as his educator: For your true nature lies, not concealed deep within you, but immeasurably high above you, or at least above that which you usually take yourself to be. Your true educators and formative teachers reveal to you what the true basic material of your being is, something in itself ineducable (incapable of being educated) and in any case difficult of access, bound and paralyzed: your educators can be only your liberators. (UM3:129 Nietzsche, F. (1983) Schopenhauer as Educator, in Untimely Meditations, Transl. R.J Collingdale, Cambridge University Press, [1874].)
Nietzsche entered compulsory military service, where he suffered a serious injury, and was discharged to return to the university where he became interested in Sanskrit and the Zoroastrian religion, whose prophet was Zarathustra. No doubt the seed here was sown for his later work entitled “Thus Spake Zarathustra”.
The University of Basel offered him the chair of classical philology at the tender age of 24, but during the onset of the Franco-Prussian war, he again enlisted as a medical orderly, only to once again be forced into discharge after suffering from diphtheria and dysentery. He witnessed firsthand the horror of war and the trauma of battle, caring for wounded soldiers.

He returned to the university but was forced to cease work as consequence of deteriorating health and henceforth was reliant on his writing to sustain himself.
Schopenhauer revitalized by Nietzsche 
In in his early formative years, as outlined previously, Schopenhauer was his educator, who in turn was influenced by the Upanishads, Kant and Plato. Schopenhauer saw worldly existence in terms of continuum of the tension of the rational conscious mind versus an underlying unconscious will, as exists universally in nature.  Schopenhauer was of the opinion the primordial will to live domiciled in all forms of life, then created the instinctive desire of all living creatures' to avoid death and to procreate.

Nietzsche valued Schopenhauer’s ideas but concluded ones existence and acceptance of one will, realised to ones higher self through self enlightenment was a more practical morality, capable of achieving supreme fulfilment and hence happiness.
Culture to Nietzsche was the means of aspiring to the higher self, which is a spiritual dimension quite separate to the instinctive forces, but arises from self-enlightenment in the service of the will, to give rise to the new metaphors of life. This is not, however, as most people view "spirituality”, as Nietzsche relates spirituality more as a self-realization, as in a ‘’love of fait ‘’ to live for the moment, to grasping life with gusto as in life affirmation, regardless of one’s physical condition.
Will to power  

Nietzsche’s “will to power’’ Is not clearly defined by most philosophers  who opt instead to numerous references, which to my mind only serve or ask further questions. What I would posit is that his “will to power” is an awareness of this central truth underlying all that we do, to brings with it the responsibility of its use, rather than attempting to suppress that which governs all of humanity and will only serve to make oneself  miserable. The Ubermensch then does not subscribe to any particular norm but rejects mediocrity to realize one’s own unique individuality.
Eternal recurrence
This is one of his key concepts and has its heritage primarily from eastern religions / philosophy (although there are some references in Jewish traditions) which posits time is not lineal but involves infinite circles of recurrence which Nietzsche linked to his idea of love of fate. 
Despite suffering terribly throughout his life, his prodigious work provides a testament to his own will, to leave to us a legacy of immense material to ponder, about which continues to be subject to countless interpretations. I have attempted to shed some light on such thoughts, not least being Nietzsche’s hope that as free spirits one can be unbounded by the shackles of dogmatism and  be willing and able to embrace hardships in a constant state of becoming, joined as he thought we were as part of that circle of eternal recurrence.
For further  reading


Thursday, September 11

Productivity: the forgotten answer

My letter as per below appeared in the AFR today:
In (“A golden age of living standards is now passing”, AFR September 4) Chris Richardson concludes that the biggest boom for Australia in a century and a half is continuing to ease back, to exert pressure on national income. Richardson suggests it’s time to “do the deal time” for crossbench senators to support some stalled budget measures.
But it is also true the past mining boom for Australia, although positive overall, was a catalyst for asset and wage inflation in non-mining industries, combined with a high dollar, rendered large segments of manufacturing uncompetitive.
During this period our productivity declined as we relied too heavily on a continuance of extremely favourable terms of trade, and households leveraged from housing appreciation to borrow more to sustain standards of living.
But in the aftermath we have lost sight of the potential of improved productivity to generate higher real incomes to lead to long-term improvements in the nation’s living standards, by giving prominence to investments in education, training, research, development and innovation.
What is lacking is a concerted industry programme to enhance investment in projects to improve productivity by industry segment, to enhance the nation’s ability to compete. We should not be at all perturbed in borrowing to do that, so long as we are not borrowing to fund current consumption.

Sunday, September 7

Time and time again

The concept has recently been advanced (see references )that our very first responses to things are prior to any realisation of conscious thoughts, giving a lie to the idea of a complete free will. Hence the argument is that it may be just a perception that gives us a feeling we have orderly control over our thoughts, which instead may have been triggered from our subconscious before , even if such a prior period represents just a fraction of a second before.  Furthermore,  our understanding  of the passage of time and its events in terms of a linguistic tense, e.g. the sense of past, present, and future, may be somewhat of a contentious issue. Our conventional view is of course, given the overwhelming evidence of decay and entropy that appears before us is that time can only be linear in nature.  But there is no such thing as time in terms of tense in the universe.
These things puzzled that great philosopher Augustine who concluded : 

'Who shall lay hold upon the mind of man, that it may stand and see that time with its past and future must be determined by eternity, which stands and does not pass, which has in itself no past or future."

Maybe our human perception of time is just another intuitive function of the mind , necessary to make sense of our world from within our earthly confinement. This is indeed a mystery that will remain an unresolved theme for philosophers the world over, time and time again. 
For further reading