Month: September 2016

Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin…and the “war to end wars”

I haven’t posted for the last several weeks because I’ve been drifting…northern France, various places in Holland, also Berlin and what used to be East Germany. Maybe I didn’t post because it was inconvenient, no good place to write. Or maybe because topics were everywhere. How to choose? The theme of war was ubiquitous to one who knows 20th Century history. And yet (other than in Berlin, where they’ve made a tourist industry out of) it could be completely overlooked without that historical perspective. I’m tempted to say war is in our DNA, but I’m more likely to say that simple aggression is. I think there is a difference between individual aggression–over food or breeding partners or tribal territories or personal insult–and the organized aggression we think of as war. Aggression at a national scale by one group on another is largely about power and greed on the part of a few and manipulation of the many. A retaliatory response is understandable, sure. But more than anything else, WWI was about using tenuous alliances to grab territory…and it cost 18 million lives. And that was, in the words of H.G. Wells, the “war to end war.” Yet, within 30 years, 60 million more people had died in WWII. Remnants of all this are ubiquitous in Europe: monuments to executed resistance fighters throughout France, statues to deported Jewish children in...

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Meaning is not a gift, it is an assignment…

This is the third in this little trilogy of posts addressing meaning in our lives.  One catalyst for these was Richad Dawkins’ book, “The Selfish Gene.”  Dawkins makes the argument that the replicating gene is not only the most fundamental element of our biological existence, it is he beginning and the end of it.  He argues that our bodies are really just robots.  They are, in his words, “individual survival machines,” created by our genes to facilitate their survival and continued replication.  Biologically, there is nothing unique about he human body over other forms of life.  In their most fundamental form, the DNA molecule, the building blocks of our genes are identical to those found in dogs and snakes and fish.  Each is just a differently designed machine for gene survival.  One reviewer of the book on Amazon wishes he could “unread it,” because of its implications for meaninglessness to our lives.  In my mind, this is a reactive response, not a thoughtful one.  Dawkins premise takes nothing away from the wonder and mystery that biological life presents, in all its beauty and complexity and savage irony.  The very fact that we, apart from other animals (as far as we know) can conceive of and reflect on this sets us apart.  It challenges us to find purpose within it.  And, in fact, Dawkins concedes that humans are unique among...

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