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L. C. Moss

According to Accounts

Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason” Is A Timeless Must-Read


Thomas Paine, a deist and one of the American founding revolutionaries after Ben Franklin invited him to immigrate to the restive colonies, in this book pillories organized religion.

He does so by dissecting both old and new testaments of the bible and pointing out the hypocrisy of the established clergy. The book was very controversial in its time and landed the publishers in hot water.

Paine, like Thomas Jefferson, was no atheist but had no use for organized religion or its doctrine. The book makes a perfect gift, and I recommend it to everyone, especially teenagers and young adults in the process of figuring out what they believe.

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Aural Medication Earthly Experience

The End Is Always Near!

Dan Carlin’s eagerly anticipated first book “The End is Always Near” doesn’t disappoint. In his freshman treatise, the journalist offers us a loosely threaded anthology of essays on past and potential existential shocks to our human civilization. For those who aren’t familiar with Carlin, he has a professional background as a journalist, and he insists he is no historian, though his undergraduate education was in history and he may have done more to popularize history than anyone else in English-language media today.

New media czar Dan Carlin is as important to podcasting as Rush Limbaugh is to AM Radio, Edward R Murrow was to news, or Johnny Carson was to nighttime TV.

Carlin takes us back in history to cases when regional civilizations were wiped out, such as the Assyrians, the Medes; he talks about the fall of Rome, the plagues, and asks us along the way “could it happen again? Could it happen here? Could it happen to all of us?”

The book, an anthology of loosely threaded essays tied to an apocalyptic theme, is very different than his podcasts, so the fan should be prepared for that. It’s by necessity, the podcast format wouldn’t be so ideal in book form. It is also odd for the longtime fan to hear Carlin read from a script. He does a great job at it with his gravely voice and expressive dynamic range, but it is odd for those who are used to his voice dissecting a topic freeform.

My only criticism is that Carlin didn’t dive into one of the most persistent patterns of civilization destruction: Whenever a more sophisticated or powerful civilization or even species encounters a less sophisticated or powerful one, the more sophisticated or powerful one either eats the weaker one, or exploits it. He gets around this but doesn’t address it directly.

Overall Dan Carlin does what he does best. He teaches, he tells us compelling stories, and he asks us to think.

I highly recommend this book in either its print or audiobook format, read by Dan Carlin himself.

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Coexistence

On Civility in Boys

"The Fight Interrupted" (boys fighting outside school) engraved by Lumb Stocks after a picture by W.Mulready, published in The Art Journal, 1875. Steel engraved antique print.
  • Don’t foul the staircases, corridors, closets, or wall hangings with urine or other filth.
  • Don’t relieve yourself in front of ladies or before doors or windows of court chambers.
  • Don’t slide back and forth on your chair as if you’re trying to pass gas.
  • Don’t touch your private parts under your cloths with your bare hands.
  • Don’t greet someone while they are urinating or defecating.
  • Don’t make noise when you pass gas.
  • Don’t undo your clothes in front of other people in preparation for defecating, or do them up afterwards.
  • When you share a bed with someone in an inn, don’t lie so close to him that you touch him, and don’t put your legs between his
  • If you come across something disgusting in the sheet, don’t turn to your companion and point it out to him, or hold up the stinking thing for the other to smell and say “I should like to know how much that stinks.”
  • Don’t blow your nose onto the tablecloth or into your fingers, sleeve, or hat.
  • Don’t offer your used handkerchief to someone else.
  • Don’t carry your handkerchief in your mouth.
  • Nor is it seemly, after wiping your nose, to spread out your handkerchief and peer into it, as if pearls and rubies might have fallen out of your head.
  • Don’t spit into the bowl when you are washing your hands.
  • Do not spit so far that you have to look for the saliva to put your foot on it.
  • Turn away when spitting, lest your saliva fall on someone.
  • If anything purulent falls to the ground, it should be trodden upon, lest it nauseate someone.
  • If you notice saliva on someone’s coat, it is not polite to make it known.
  • Don’t be the first to take from the dish.
  • Don’t fall on the food like a pig, snorting and smacking your lips.
  • Don’t turn the serving dish around so the biggest piece of meat is near you.
  • Don’t wolf your food like you are about to be carried off to prison, nor push so much food into your mouth that your cheeks bulge like bellows, nor pull your lips apart so that they make a noise like pigs.
  • Don’t dip your fingers into the sauce, and the serving dish.
  • Don’t put a spoon into your mouth and then use it to take food from the serving dish.
  • Don’t gnaw on a bone and put it back in the serving dish.
  • Don’t wipe your utensils on the tablecloth.
  • Don’t put back on your plate what has been in your mouth.
  • Do not offer anyone a piece of food you have bitten into.
  • Don’t lick your greasy fingers. Wipe them on your bread, or wipe them on your coat.
  • Don’t lean over to drink from your soup bowl.
  • Don’t spit bones, pits, eggshells, or rinds into your hands or throw them on the floor.
  • Don’t pick your nose while eating.
  • Don’t drink from your dish, use a spoon.
  • Don’t slurp from your spoon.
  • Don’t loosen your belt at the table.
  • Don’t clean a dirty plate with your fingers.
  • Don’t stir sauce with your fingers.
  • Don’t lift meat to your nose to smell it.
  • Don’t drink coffee from your saucer.

From “On Civility in Boys” by Desiderius Erasmus, published in 1530

I first heard this in Steven Pinker’s book “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” which I highly recommend. It made me laugh out loud, but then again, aren’t most of these these timeless? Not just for boys, but I think for everyone. Some things don’t go out of style.


Headline Image:  “The Fight Interrupted” (boys fighting outside school) engraved by Lumb Stocks after a picture by W.Mulready, published in The Art Journal, 1875. Steel engraved antique print

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Applied Virtue

Everything You Take, You Owe

Photo: Huaxtec female deity, Tlazolteotl. Ethno. Q 89 Am 3.1. British Museum. by Ophelia Summers. Tlazolteotl is the Aztec goddess of filth and purification.

The Aztecs in their theology believed that their gods sacrificed themselves to create the Earth, the heavens, and everything in them. Because of this, humans owed a debt to the gods. Everything they ate or drank, the air they breathed, the land; in their theology the gods provided this for them, and thus they owed their gods. They believed that their gods also depended upon them, and just as their gods fed them, they had to feed their gods.

They did this with gruesome human sacrifice.

Many people distant from Mexico don’t realize that not all Mexicans were Aztecs. The 15th century Aztec civilization was based in their capital of Tenochtitlán, in a lake that has since dried up and was where Mexico City now sits. The surrounding peoples were not Aztecs but other tribes and civilizations that were either subjugated by or enemies with the Aztecs. The Aztecs, to pay what they thought they owed to their gods, would sacrifice, in a bloody gruesome ritual, captives from the surrounding peoples. They sincerely believed that if they did not do this regularly, the world would end.

Not surprisingly these peoples, victims of the Aztecs were only too eager to team up with Hernan de Cortez and the Spanish conquistadores to battle and bring about the fall of the Aztecs and their then-ruler Moctezuma, but little did they know the Spaniards would unleash their own brand of horrors on the locals for the next 3 centuries.

The Aztecs show how a true principle, a good idea, corrupted by myth, superstition and theology can go horribly wrong.

Right principle, wrong interpretation.

Everything you take, you owe. Every breath of air, every bite of food, every sip of water, every ray of sunlight. We are too often oblivious of this basic principle. The better off we are, the more stable our environment, the less we need to think about it. Certain religions from the Indian subcontinent have the concept of Karma, which is a somewhat similar idea.

Some people take very little. They consume little energy, few resources, they “walk with a small footprint.” That’s not bad.

But it may surprise you that it is not, in itself, good either. Big fish in the sea eat more than little fish, but they have no more or no less virtue than little fish.

The question is: Are you giving as much as you are taking? Many people, maybe even most people in the modern world reach the end of their lives having taken more than they have given. This is not about money or economics or consumption, though all those are part of the grand equation. It’s not even about charity or penance or guilt. Are you making an impact? It’s not so much what you do, as what you do with what you do.

Are you the big man in the big hut in the little village? Are you using your power to bully and steal from your tribe, or are you protecting and providing for the weak and the old?

Are you the big shot in the private jet or the motor yacht? That’s great. There is not a thing wrong with that. Just make sure you are balancing the equation.

Relative to the resources you had, the opportunities you encountered, and what you took, when you are dead and gone, how much better off is this earth and all the life on it, on account of your existence?

If you are a parent or a teacher, what impact did you have on the children entrusted to your care? If you are a cook, do you take care to provide clean, safe nourishment to those you feed? If you are a rancher, do you care for your animals and provide for their happiness as well as their physical care?

Do you take care not to be wasteful? Everything you take, you owe. Keep that in mind, each and every day. Avoid selfishness. The principle is the same for everyone, rich or poor; famous or unknown. Whether you live in a mansion or a tree.

However you live your life, whatever your circumstances, are you keeping a tally? Everything you take, you owe. You have a lifetime to pay it back, just make sure you are doing so.

It isn’t as difficult to apply this principle as the Aztecs made it out to be, after all.

 

Photo: Huaxtec female deity, Tlazolteotl. Ethno. Q 89 Am 3.1. British Museum. by Ophelia Summers. Tlazolteotl is the Aztec goddess of filth and purification.

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Applied Virtue Coexistence

Why Be Good To Others?

If your motivation to do good to others is because of fear of a hell or supernatural punishment, if your motivation is to attain a reward, a post-mortem heaven, or to return to life in a higher caste, you are still unworthy.

The correct reason to do good is simply because it is good. That is the best reason. It is the end unto itself.

But when we help others, when we do good for others-with others, we still are planting a seed that will be harvested later. When we are good to others, whether to people known or unknown, it spreads; especially when combined with the acts and gestures of others. Not every act or gesture and not every time, and not even with every person. Every drop does not raise the level of the creek, but countless drops together do create the flood.

People generally think of a smile as an expression of happiness. A smile can also create happiness. You smile and you feel better. If you are sad, you are slightly less sad. If you are in a bad mood, smiling makes you less cranky. (Try it if you don’t believe!) Doing good works the same way. Do good to others, and you are doing good to yourself. This doesn’t need any supernatural lever to make it true. Sorry, no hocus pocus. Comfort others and you are comforted. Help others and you are helped. Nothing supernatural is necessary.

In the larger sense, the result is that we create a society, a humanity with a higher propensity to be good to one another. That means there is a higher propensity that others are good to you, and if we keep feeding our humanity with goodness then we create a better future for our descendants.

Your only reward is more goodness. Don’t do it and your only punishment is less goodness.

But isn’t that enough?

 

Image: 2011 Holi festival in Broward County, Florida sponsored by the Indian Religious And Cultural Center. My daughter, second from left, and I were invited by friends.

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