Friday, March 30, 2007

91. Live whatever you believe

"Eternal Recurrence," as contemplated by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, is the idea that time repeats itself in a circular pattern. The significance of this idea, or perhaps the consequence of it, is the possibility that the life we are living is part of an endless cycle which is repeated throughout time. Nietzsche proposed the following:

"What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything immeasurably small or great in your life must return to you-all in the same succession and sequence... The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over and over, and you with it, a grain of dust."

Depending on the perception of your life, this idea could be quite joyous or, it could be most disturbing. What if we were to live this life over and over indefinitely? What if this life laid the foundation for our eternal recurrence?

This concept could be argued to be no less realistic than the alternatives, specifically the religious afterlife and the atheistic proposal that our existence ends at death. Thus these three ideas, excluding for now others such as reincarnation, suggest that either life ends at death, is repeated indefinitely, or is spent, for eternity, in heaven or hell. This consideration places burdens of varying degrees on our present lives. Whether these ideas are cognitively considered beyond the overwhelming monotheistic belief in an afterlife, or not, each effects how our present lives are to be lived.

If we believe that we have been saved and are entitled to an eternity in heaven, then this life means little, a drop in the bucket, worthy of any and all sacrifice and suffering. The only goal is to get into heaven. If I believed that, I would devote my entire life to living according to my religious principles- attending church regularly, for example.

If we believe this life is our only form of existence, as Atheists do, it encourages living life to the fullest, and according to one's principles. There is reason to neither accept sacrifice and suffering- nor impose it. Furthermore, there is an inherent understanding that if this is my one chance at life; the same is true for all other living persons and animals. For if my life is precious, so are the lives of others, and life is best lived with mutual respect. It also places a measure of urgency on our lives, for each day is one less day we are alive and essentially the days on a calendar are a countdown to our deaths. It emphatically emphasizes the phrase, "Carpe Diem."

If we believe in Eternal Recurrence, the burden, as Nietzsche suggests, bears an incredible weight. For the incentive to live a good life is all of eternity. The redundancy of living this life repeatedly through time, with all accompanying pains and pleasures, places a lot pressure on living this life to its fullest. If this life is spent in prison, then eternity is spent in prison; likewise if this life is spent doing what one loves to do, then eternity is spent doing what one loves. To make the idea more poignant, imagine that tomorrow were to be lived over and over. What would you do with that day?

While the idea of Eternal Recurrence is not to be taken seriously, it is the point that matters. It was Nietzsche's point as well. These ideas measure across a spectrum of views about this life. On one side, individuals are willing to sacrifice this life for an eternity of rewards, on the other; individuals are desperate to make the most of this life. In between are the Atheists who are encouraged to live life to its fullest, but without the burden of reliving mistakes.

What we believe should dictate how we live. For example, I find no greater hypocrisy than those attempting to get to heaven without living a life according to that premise. Furthermore, with everything on the line, I wonder why people do not invest more into making this decision. A recent book by Stephen Prothero's, entitled "Religious Literacy," noted that most Americans, despite being one the most religious countries in the world, are religiously illiterate. The book notes,

"Approximately 75 percent of adults, according to polls cited by Prothero, mistakenly believe the Bible teaches that "God helps those who help themselves." More than 10 percent think that Noah's wife was Joan of Arc. Only half can name even one of the four Gospels, and -- a finding that will surprise many -- evangelical Christians are only slightly more knowledgeable than their non-evangelical counterparts."

The truth is that most people conveniently configure their beliefs around their lives; affording themselves an afterlife in heaven without making the human sacrifice.

To me, it does not matter what one believes, only how one lives his or life. Whereas what it all means is merely speculation; this life is a certainly. I have made the argument that for all we know we are a fifth-grade experiment for some superior species, just as we, for example, experiment and study ant farms. Or maybe the "Big Bang" was nothing more than a chemistry project to one day be exterminated and washed down the sink as a matter of unimportance. Despite the diversity in opinion, none of us know what our death will bring. We can however, decide how to live our lives. And who knows, maybe we will have the chance to live it all over again- and again.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

90. Philosophy- Any original thoughts?

Philosophy is an engaging academic discipline. While I have not studied it formally, I enjoy a wide range of philosophical teachings- from Socrates and Aristotle, to Hume, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Kant. Fortunately through audio books, video lectures, the Internet and the classics themselves, the discipline is more available than ever to amateur philosophers.

Wikipedia defines philosophy this way: "Philosophy concerns itself with what is the best way to live (ethics), what sorts of things really exist and what are their true natures (metaphysics), what is to count as genuine knowledge (epistemology), and what are the correct principles of reasoning (logic)." In a sense, philosophy is about thinking- thinking about everything. What could be more enjoyable?

However, the study of philosophy today is largely regulated to discussing and analyzing previous philosophers. And, of course, as time goes on, the ideas of ancient philosophers become antiquated either by the commonalty of the information or the advancement of science. Thus, without an influx of modern philosophical ideas, some, including myself, are wondering if philosophy, as a social influence, is becoming obsolete. Free Inquiry Magazine posed the same question a couple of years ago, and the following highlight some of the comments:

"There are roughly 9,000 Philosophy Ph.D.s in the country. More than 5,000 of them teach in four-year colleges...but few Americans would be able to recognize the name, much less the work, of a single one." -Peter Edidin, New York Times

" may be that cognitive science is poised to settle core debates over human nature that were formerly the philosophers' exclusive preserve." -Tom Flynn

"...every success of the scientific and technological endeavors weakens the hold of religion and its secular arm, namely philosophical idealism" -Mario Bunge

My concern is that modern philosophers spend too much time in their ivory towers, socializing in private clubs or narrowing their interest in studying constricted philosophical ideas or philosophers. They often seem to share a propensity for attempting to impress others with their archaic references rather than promoting an original idea. Furthermore, if philosophy encompasses some of life's most difficult questions and moral dilemmas, I wonder why there is not a greater social contribution from modern day philosophers.

Mario Bunge similarly asked, "Why do not moral philosophers devote more attention to the problems affecting billions of people- such as those of poverty and unemployment- than those that only affect a few such as abortion or euthanasia?" I think the question is a fair one. Perhaps the answer is that philosophers prefer to dwell into those questions that cannot be answered objectively. Philosophies concerning poverty can be tested, the moral basis for abortion, is relative, and cannot. Or, perhaps, issues such as abortion may offer greater attention than the plight of the poor.

In offering the question to members of a local philosophical club, I was disappointed in the lack of passion expressed. Some said philosopher professors worked too hard to contribute modern works; while others attempted to take credit for ideas such as "string theory" as a philosophical premise. It would be apt to dismiss both accounts. I find the idea that philosophy professors are busier than other publishing professors a ridiculous one. And while there is a matter of philosophy, which science cannot test, in string theory, it is an idea born from scientists- based on chemistry and physics, not Plato.

Certainly science has encroached on philosophy, as Bertrand Russell proposed, "Science is what you know, philosophy is what you don't know." Our scientific knowledge, from moral and social issues, to in depth disciplines such as neuroscience, has eroded that which may be pondered in relation to the human experience. Russell's proposal, thus, may be reworded to "the more we know, the less philosophy we need." Philosophy flourished in ancient Greece through the mid-nineteenth century, a period of time void of significant scientific influence.

I will not conclude that philosophy is obsolete, however I will concede that is has lost much of its influence on modern society. I think there is much to learn from the great philosophers of yesteryear. However, I would love to see some modern applications of those philosophical ideas. Our human experience has a number of social issues, including poverty and social injustice, which might benefit from fresh philosophical ideas.

Socrates used to walk the streets of ancient Greece asking "What is truth?" and "What is justice?" Modern philosophers just may need to return to their roots, step out of their ivory towers, and ask ordinary citizens, "Why is there poverty?" and "Why is there injustice?" I think they would find the undertaking rewarding, and if they do, we will keep the hemlock on the shelf.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

89. Deserving to win is best

Coaching high school sports was a wonderful opportunity and endeavor. I coached four years of high school baseball- two years at Elyria Catholic, one year at Keystone and one year at Lake Ridge Academy. It was always a difficult arrangement, attempting to "work around work." Coaching high school baseball is a passionate that I certainly miss.

Coaches usually coach because they love the game, the kids, teaching- or all of the above. In my case, it was all of the above. I spent my youth playing and studying baseball, and I wanted to share my knowledge. I also loved being out on the ball field in the spring, interacting with the kids and stirring up my memories and competitive spirit.

Like any other occupation, there are good coaches and, unfortunately, there are bad coaches. Usually bad coaches lack knowledge, teaching ability or a pure interest in the game. However, most coaches are in it because they love it (it certainly is not because of the salary), and I always cringe when I hear of a parent-led takeover of sport program. While some are certainly warranted, I can vouch to the fact that coaching is very difficult. There are a lot of decisions to be made, some of which are very complicated.

These decisions include measuring or weighing factors, such as talent compared to effort, potential versus ability, and, of course, the best interest of the team. Parents are not often privy to what happens in practice- in terms of effort, sportsmanship or attitude. And unfortunately, each coach has his or her own standards for making these decisions. It is rare that a parent has all the information available to note whether or not a coach is being fair. And let us be honest, the opinion of the parent usually hinges on whether or not their child is playing.

One issue that always comes up is the idea that all kids should play. I agree with that notion up until high school- depending on the sport. Sports are competitive, and those players that give a team the best chance to win should play. Sports represent the "real world" much better than other endeavors. And in the real world, people compete for jobs, and they compete with other companies- for it can be tough out there. Much can be learned, both in handling success and failure. If kids quit on their team now or is bailed out by a parent, simply because their personal goals are not being met, one has to wonder what will happen in the future when they are passed over for a job or a promotion. It is a lesson much better taught in sports and when one is young.

When I coached, I attempted to emphasize the idea of maintaining a good work ethic. I did not care how talented a player was, I cared about his commitment. I wanted my players to learn that if you want to succeed, you have to work at it- and those that work the hardest have the best chance at success. For example, if your opponent is taking 30 minutes of batting practice, then you might consider taking 40 minutes of batting practice- less talented players perhaps even longer. In fact, individual sports are better at making this point. You either win or you lose, and it is largely a result of your effort and training.

Rick Patino's book, "Success is a Choice," details the idea that one needs to "deserve success." In life, we cannot always be certain that we will be successful, but we can assure ourselves that we deserve success. This is a great statement. There are a lot of factors that determine how successful we are which cannot control- however, we can always control whether or not we deserve success. Some of us will live according to what we deserve, some will live unrewarded- and still others will get lucky, living far beyond what they deserve. Alas, that is life.

I had some rewarding moments with the kids I worked with. And I was lucky that I never had a problem with a parent. There is nothing like the feeling a coach has when a team has worked hard to accomplish something together. While I was at Lake Ridge, we struggled considerably. Lake Ridge is more of an academic prep school than an athletic power. In fact, we barely had enough players to field a team. We started poorly, something that was witnessed by other teams, coaches and even the umpires. However, at the end of the year, we won the first tournament game in Lake Ridge baseball history- an exciting 10-9 win over a team that had beaten us miserably earlier in the season.

Walking off the field that day, the umpire, who had seen some of our previous performances, looked at me and said, "Coach, I don't know how you did it, but you did it." Of course, I did not do anything; our team did it- by working hard and deserving success. It was a satisfying accomplishment, and I loved it.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

88. Silence hides true feelings

Former NBA star Tim Hardaway did not say anything that millions of people still feel in this country. Hardaway went on a Miami sports radio show and said, "You know I hate gay people, so I let it be known, I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States."

This outburst was in response to the announcement of former NBA player John Amaechi, that he was gay. Amaechi is the first former NBA player to reveal his homosexuality.

Since this announcement, Hardaway has apologized- twice- for his comments, yet he was surprised at the amount of attention his comments received. "It was like, you know, I had killed somebody. ... I never knew that this was going to escalate that high," Hardaway said. Not only did his comment garner him unwanted attention, it damaged his reputation. The NBA dropped him as a spokesman at the All-Star game and, according to, he has lost at least one endorsement deal.

His remarks, both about gays and the reaction to his anti-gay comments, demonstrate the disconnect he has with society. I do not believe for one second that his apology was sincere, especially since he felt the need to do it twice. I am sure his agent went into immediate damage-control following his ill-advised outburst. Obviously if he did not feel this way toward gays he would not have made such strong statements in the first place.

Unfortunately, despite the disconnect, Hardaway does speak for a large segment of our population. I am sure he expected an outpouring of support from others that embark on this sort of discrimination. I think he thought people would be happy that someone was outspoken about it. In an ESPN correspondence, one reporter noted that many NBA players feel the same way, but that they would not offer public support. I am sure what Hardaway is getting the type of personal feedback that says, "I am with you, man, I agree, I just can't help you out."

Maybe his comments were extreme, in that he "hates" gays, rather than voting against allowing them to get married, but nonetheless, it would be naïve of us to think that many people do not feel the same way.

States across this country voted to prohibit the marriage of gays, often amending their state constitution. Where are these people when he stands up and says what they think? Why are the Christian groups that campaign against homosexuality not offering him their support? Is their stance really that they do not hate homosexuals, just that it is sin and that they do not deserve the same rights as other Americans? Where exactly are people drawing the line?

Regardless, Hardaway should have been smart enough to know that his comments would draw the wrath of many gay and lesbian organizations, as well as other liberal-thinking Americans. Fortunately, there are a number of groups that spring into action following incidents like this to force the issue- in this case an apology. The ACLU will do it regarding civil liberty issues, PETA will do it when animals are mistreated and a number of environmental groups will do it when ecosystems have been harmed. Often regarded as a nuisance, these groups are sometimes successful in deterring otherwise heinous acts.

Thanks to these groups, and an evolving liberal attitude, I predict the day will come when people are no longer discriminated against because of their color, gender, religion or sexual preference. Its tale is still being told, as narrow-minded beliefs and archaic scripture still captivate the souls of many people. At least for now, it appears the discrimination is best left to the privacy of pews and voting booths- strategically escaping public scrutiny.