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Review: Tribal Criminal Law and Procedure

tribalcriminallawTribal Criminal Law and Procedure is the second book in a series of comprehensive studies of tribal law in the US. This book examines the complexities of tribal criminal law utilizing tribal statutory law, and case law, weaving into the narrative Native cultural values. The authors discuss histories and practices of tribal justice systems, comparing traditional tribal systems with Anglo-American law, with a focused discussion on the various aspects of jurisdiction. They examine the elements of criminal law and procedure and alternative sentencing vs traditional sanctions. A valuable resource for legal scholars, this book was published in cooperation with the Tribal Law and Policy institute at Turtle Mountain College and the Native Nations Law and Policy Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Comparing Tribal criminal law and American criminal law

Foundations of Traditional law is discussed in Chapter 2 discuss the differences in Native systems. Mainly, that these laws do not come from man, they come from the Creator and are belief-based. Understanding this is critical to understanding the complexities of Tribal law. Traditional Native law based on values, deities, and responsibilities, linked to spiritual beliefs. Belief that the Great Spirit is the Creator and protector, the source of earthly blessings. The Great Spirit is given thanks for all things including preservation of native lives, social privileges, and prosperity. There is also a belief in the Evil-minded who creates monsters and poisonous creatures and plants. Humans stand somewhere in-between and are free to control their own destiny.

The framework stemming from this system of beliefs responds to problem behavior and how the system is focused on personal responsibility rather than prohibited activities; which American law focuses on. Tribal law focuses on how social harm affects the community rather than the harm done to or by a single individual. For instance, the Haudenosaunee Great Law based on beliefs about the Creator defines that a person’s duties and responsibilities are more important than their individual rights and privileges. Indeed, the principles of the League of the Iroquois address a similar idea that a man’s rights and privileges never exceed his duties and responsibilities. (1)

Tribal conceptions of social harm are more broadly interpreted compared to the American legal system. An aspect of social harm within tribes rests on community-based rights or duties, while other tribes might focus more on the individual’s responsibilities. One reason for the focus on community is that traditional laws address the responsibility of each to their family, clan, and tribe, since the strength of these groups, depends on the survival of its members. Decisions come down to whether a community or the individual will respond to the problem.

Behaviors are addressed according to the customs and the beliefs of each Nation and this dictates which entity will perform enforcement functions. The Iroquois Confederacy used social or political entities to resolve wrongdoing; thus, crime was rare with their lives revolving around the clan. The council of clans addressed problem-solving; however, if this did not resolve the issue, it might go to the Nation’s council. Councils were not the only entity enforcing laws. Parents enforced laws regarding disciplining their children. Additionally, Keepers of the Faith could act as censors of the people and possessed the authority to report evil deeds.

The Menominee and other Algonquian developed formal three-party judicial proceedings to prosecute crimes. A mike-suk would act as investigator and prosecutor, while a pipe-holder or sukanahowao, or even a warrior chief might act as a defense attorney. Additionally, a go-between acted as a mediator to negotiate settlements.

Native cultures focus on rehabilitation and restoration of peace and harmony to both the individual and community. One method of restoration might be banishment to protect the community from harm or could include gifts from the individual’s family to restore peace. The main point here is the emphasis is on restoring harmony to the community and not on proving someone’s guilt or innocence.

Some tribes focus on healing the wrongdoer and the Ojibway is one of these. Their point of reference was if they could heal the individual, they could restore him and peace to the community. This way people can forgive the wrongdoing as their notions of blame differs to more Western thought.

The Cheyenne focus as well on restoration and rehabilitation. While banishing a person from the community might restore peace, the individual might be introduced back after rehabilitation. Stigma, used as an enforcement tool, as well as social control, since a community’s ridicule served as a strong deterrent to social harm.

An interesting element to this book is the author’s use of native anecdotes to show an example of how tribal law might have been decided. This book serves as not only a comparative analysis of the differences between Western legal practice and traditional Native applications of the law, but it also gives us more cultural insight into various tribal practices and historic parables used to show an example of thought and practice.

Using American criminal law to control Indian Nations

Conflicts over land and resources led the American legal system (and their Spanish, French and British predecessors) to use criminal law as a tool of destruction against Native peoples. Western criminal justice systems were used to not only outlaw cultural practice and tradition but to punish those who wished to continue practicing their Native spiritual beliefs. Federal officials attempted to control the Native people. Western legal systems imposed their values of punishment to outlaw tribal mechanisms used to address problem behavior within the Tribe. Additionally, Western criminal law was used by the Feds to confine native people to reservations, however, it did not protect them from harm and was rarely used to protect them from the criminal conduct of the settlers, this author states.

The American system of law worked as a method of indirect rule over Native nations, leading to massive distrust of modern criminal justice systems and even to distrust of their own tribal systems in some cases when funded by the Federal government. Culminating in the Office of Indian Affairs, which later became the Bureau of Indian Affairs; the OIA created Courts of Indian Offenses or CFR courts. (Courts of Federal Regulations) and it was this code of regulations that outlawed many cultural practices. At least twenty of these courts still exist today. The Courts of Indian Offenses imposed federal regulations to prohibit misdemeanour offenses, as well as cultural practices that they deemed immoral. The author cites a Congressional report which lists some of these types of offenses from 1892.

This author also references other texts detailing technology used by the OIA for controlling Indian behavior, such as Thomas Biolsi’s “Organizing the Lakota: The Political Economy of the New Deal on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations.” While this book reviews additional literature on the subject giving anyone with an interest in this topic more resources to investigate for further reading.

Ultimately, federal agents under the BIA wanted federal courts to have jurisdiction over Native people using American laws in criminal cases. A decision made by the US Supreme Court called Ex parte Crow Dog in an 1883 ruling resulted in tribal exclusive criminal jurisdiction over a murder case. This controversial decision brought about the BIA convincing Congress to enact the Major Crimes Act in 1885, which imposed federal criminal jurisdiction on Tribal nations without their consent. For further reading on the Crow Dog case, see Harring’s Crow Dog’s Case (2)

Traditional law today and Traditional criminal jurisdiction

Chapter 4 discusses how traditional tribal values and beliefs have been included in contemporary criminal law. Introducing coercive American law enforcement disrupted tribal governance. This resulted in the Tribes developing their own strong criminal justice system. The biggest challenge is how to incorporate traditional indigenous principles. Many are working to restore traditional practices in a modern context. The author gives many examples throughout this chapter, which makes for interesting reading.

Chapter 5 discusses various types of jurisdiction and goes into detail about different tribal criminal jurisdiction and specific criminal code used by Tribal courts. Chapter 6 discusses in detail traditional criminal jurisdiction.

  • Limitations on Tribal criminal jurisdiction imposed by the US
  • Exercising jurisdiction over crimes committed by non-Indians
  • Criminal jurisdiction as defined by Tribal Courts.
  • Tribal restorative justice

Each chapter contains a section on terms used and suggested further reading which I found very interesting and useful for anyone interested in studying the intricacies of Tribal Law. Jurisdiction is defined in the traditional sense before Europeans settled in America and is detailed with examples from various Tribal Laws. The Haudenosaunee Great Law is referenced as well as Osage practices by the leaders known as the Little Old

Men who developed their laws and decided jurisdiction. The Choctaw Nation developed a constitution in 1860 dividing its government into three branches. The Treaty of 1866 and the Treaty of Separation (1859) which further designated Choctaw law and jurisdiction over other tribes residing within including Chickasaws, Cherokees, Creeks, and Seminoles are discussed in detail. Many tribes had strict geographical boundaries, which they held jurisdiction over. So they did use and practice the concept of jurisdiction, which must have been problematic once the settlers and Federal government decided to impose their on jurisdictions both geographically and legally over the tribes.

Chapter 7 defines the limitation of tribal criminal jurisdiction as imposed by the United States, discussing ‘Indian Country’ as defined by Federal Law for the purposes of criminal jurisdiction; the General Crimes Act; the Major Crimes Act; Intrusion of State Jurisdiction in Indian Country: Public Law 280; upholding Tribal sovereignty with the United States v Wheeler435 US 313 (1978); Oliphant v Suquamish Indian Tribe et al 435 US 191 (1978); Duro v Reina 495 US 676 (1990) and the Congressional Duro-Fix.

Chapter 8 discusses jurisdiction over non-US citizens and Treaties as a basis for criminal authority, again using case examples, while Chapter 9 goes over jurisdictions as defined by tribal courts. Chapter 10 leads on from the two preceding chapters by detailing Tribal criminal jurisdiction reform citing The Tribal Law and Order Act and the Violence Against Women Act. Since 2006, the Federal law began to address criminal jurisdiction scheme in Indian country and the laws are changing slowly with tribal leaders pressing for inherent sovereignty. Chapter 11 builds on this topic discussing building collaborative bridges between States and Tribal courts. This only covers half of this comprehensive text, which spans 629 pages.

 

(1) Newell, W. B., 1965 Crime and Justice among the Iroquois Nations 47.

(2) Harring, S. L., 1994. Crow Dog’s Case: American Indian Sovereignty, Tribal Law, and United States Law in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge University Press. 129 – 141.

 

Authors:

Author Sarah Deer is a lawyer and professor of law at William Mitchell College, and a 2014 MacArthur fellow. She advocates in Native American communities and has been credited for her instrumental role in the 2013 re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act and testified for the passage of the 2010 Tribal Law and Order Act. She received her BA and JD from the University of Kansas and is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Carrie E. Garrow is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Syracuse University College of Law. She is the Chief Appellate Judge for the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Court. Previously she served as the Executive Director for the Center for Indigenous Law, Governance & Citizenship at Syracuse University College of Law.

She received her undergrad degree from Dartmouth College and her law degree from Stanford Law School. She has a Master’s in Public Policy degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

She has worked as a deputy district attorney for Riverside County in Southern California, and a tribal justice consultant for several non-profit organizations, including the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, the Native Nations Institute, and the Tribal Law and Policy Institute.

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Peter, Paula and the Pelican

Peter, Paula and the Pelican.  Brent Cheetham.  Grosvenor House Publishing Ltd, Surrey, England.  ISBN 978-1-78623-019-5  Paperback. 41 pages.  Available from Amazon UK  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Peter-Paula-Pelican-Brent-Cheetham/dp/1786230194/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_3?crid=25VZW7VKTDDKZ&keywords=brent+cheetham&qid=1552144194&s=gateway&sprefix=brent+cheetham%2Caps%2C179&sr=8-3-fkmrnull

IT’S BEEN a long time since I’ve read a children’s publication.  I’ve never reviewed one before, so I didn’t know what to expect.  Therefore, Peter, Paula and the Pelican was a first for me.  If that wasn’t enough, the author is an old mucker of mine, Brent Cheetham!

Published towards the middle of 2016, Peter, Paula and the Pelican is the first of several booklets he has written.  The others include The Rake’s Regression (Nov 2016), Ecstatic Essays (Apr 2017), andCuffley Capers (Aug 2017).

Before delving into any publication I always like to look at both the authors and publishers notes to get an idea of what I’m about to read. Peter, Paula and the Pelican was no exception.  Here I got a hint of thewhimsical nature of the booklet and the sense of humour employed by the author.  We are told that the book is:

‘a romp of a story, combining humour, pathos and nonsense for the edification of the young and the not so young adults who are still young at heart.  The author confirms that he has not yet had a visit from the men in white coats.

The author is aged 60, lives in the village of Cuffley, Hertfordshire, and still is partial to the odd peanut butter sandwich although he says he prefers a nice strong cup of English breakfast tea over a glass of ginger beer’.

Peter, Paula and the Pelican is set in England in 1925 and tells the tale of brother and sister Peter and Paula Brown who live in a cottage in the village of Sleepy Hollow.  Like many children they are getting under their mother’s feet so she sends them out to play.

Making their way to the local woods they come across hole in the bottom of a hedge which in turn leads to a large oak door.  Peter, who is the oldest, is all for opening the door.  Paula, on the other hand, worries in case there are ‘monsters, lions or dragons’ on the other side.  However, Peter notes that the last dragon was “killed years ago by somebody called St. George.”  (I thought that this was a nice way of weaving a little heritage and tradition into the book).

Disaster strikes when the door slams behind them as they become stuck in this ‘strange land’ that boasts two suns in the sky.  However, this is relatively normal compared to the adventure that follows and the characters they meet!

First up is a talking Pelican who informs them that they’re in Back to Front Land.  The only way of getting back home is to see the Prime Minister, Herbert Spencer.  He can gain them an audience with King Lupin the Second so that they get the key to unlock the door.  The King lives ‘in a big house in the big city’ but is unlikely to see the children ‘on account of the Brent.’

So who or what is ‘the Brent’?  In the best traditions of any children’s publication he is some form of ogre.  He ‘is a great big ugly giant, with moles on his face, who goes to the big city every now and again and demands peanut butter sandwiches and often knocks off chimney pots from the roof of the city houses’.

The Pelican has offered to take them to the ‘big house’ and so the adventure begins.  As mentioned earlier they meet some very weird and wonderful characters.  They include talking chickens who are knitting square egg cosies for the square eggs that they lay.  There’s also atractor-driving talking monkey, ‘silly sheep’ who have a problem as they never tell lies, a talking tablecloth, peanut butter mines (for some reason Back to Front Land seems to thrive on peanut butter) and a sign that points in two opposite directions – but to the same location!

Two more amazing characters include an owl who has such bad eyesight he has to wear glasses.  Indeed, this owl defies convention by coming out during the day – yes, you’ve guessed it, he’s a day owl as opposed to a night owl!  There’s also a retired dancing horse called Brian who talks absolute nonsense.  For instance, when asked what are the ingredients to carrot soup he replies ‘carrots and soup of course.’

I laughed at the method of transport that was taken to see the Prime Minister and King Lupin in the ‘big city,’ for Peter and Paula sat on Brian’s back whilst the Pelican perched on his head.  This must have been a sight for sore eyes.  Needless to say, Brian the nonsense horse talked absolute nonsense during the journey.

At last they reach their destination and manage to sort out ‘the Brent’ problem.  I don’t want to go into any detail how they did this – I don’t know if I’m over-thinking this part of the booklet, but I think much of what’s wrong with modern Britain can be explained here.  Read it for yourself and see if you come to the same conclusion.  The only thing I will say is that Paula is the hero of the hour.

I hope I’m not spoiling things by saying that the children make it home ok.  However, they do get some help from the Pelican, ‘the Brent’ and a bi-plane made of wood and canvas!

I must admit I really enjoyed Peter, Paula and the Pelican.  I chuckled to myself as some of what was said (especially by Mrs. Brown) brought back memories from my own childhood, which admittedly wasn’t exactly yesterday.  Typical English eccentricity flows through it – Peanut Butter sandwiches and Ginger Beer feature heavily – and I wondered how Brent (the author as opposed to the ogre!) managed to dream up these characters.   Indeed, where did he get his inspiration from?  It’s also Politically Incorrect in parts and the gender stereotypes would give the Orwellian ’thought police’ many a sleepless night.

The only downside were a few spelling and grammatical errors, which the author has acknowledged.  Hopefully, they’ll be sorted out in any reprint. However, they don’t really spoil this booklet at all and I’d happily recommend it to anyone who reads to their children.

  • Reviewed by John Field.

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Stealing History : Art Theft, Looting, and Other Crimes Against our Cultural Heritage

stealinghistoryStealing History : Art Theft, Looting, and Other Crimes Against our Cultural Heritage Colleen Margaret Clarke and Eli Jacob Szydlo

Stealing History concisely addresses an area of criminal justice studies which has historically been inadequately represented, thus filling a void in the literature. Well-sourced, this book is an excellent primary or supplemental text, which as a discourse views art theft as a crime perceived by authorities as less important than other more violent crimes. Art and cultural crime ranks third largest in criminal enterprise worldwide, and, the author of this book attempts to break down why crimes of this nature matter. Furthermore, she delineates which steps law enforcement should consider to prevent it in the future.

Cultural crimes include appropriating objects found in museums and private displays, but also objects which represent cultural identity and national history. Historically, heads of state have looted freely while empire building. Various leaders from Great Britain were guilty of this, as well as, Napoleon, Hitler, and more recently ISIL/ISIS, by systematically destroying cultural sites, churches, collections, both public and private, and looting archaeological digs to eradicate any evidence of a culture they want to absorb and oppress, as well as a means to raise money to support their cause. They use it to destroy the hopes of those who grew up with these cultural artifacts as a part of their history and identity. Soul destroying and very calculated, so that they might assimilate the community into their more extremist world view, it is done to prevent the culture from re-emerging.

UNESCO considers the intentional destruction of cultural heritage, not just a crime, but a war crime. Clarke’s main point is that in order for law enforcement and governments to prevent these types of crime, they must first understand what it is they are fighting. She feels many do not respect the severity of this type of crime and classifying it as an art crime means justice is not accorded to the history, culture, intellect, and scholarly works which are being annihilated.

While the US views these as property crimes, Clarke feels they should rather be viewed as cultural crimes or war crimes, which is how the United Nations perceives them. Stealing History addresses the question of priority. The US is the largest market for illegal and illicit artwork globally; and Clarke appeals for more preventative steps by law enforcement, in addition to instituting better security to meet international standards as a step towards reducing these crimes.

She makes the point that destruction of important buildings and monuments are used to shock us, therefore why doesn’t destruction of art and cultural artifacts elicit the same response? A society’s culture is depicted by its art, and history has chronicled primordial cultures through the discoveries of remnants of more ancient societies. Why then, is more reverence given to archaeology than to art? Clarke relates that it is difficult to separate culture from art, a defining factor in a society’s self-identification.

Clarke discusses how damaging it is to a culture to destroy the provenance of historical artifacts by removing them from where they were found, furthermore, not only are pieces damaged by careless thieves, but they are taken out of context; therefore we lose the history connected to the culture of origination. Looting is fairly common in third world countries, and according to Interpol, hundreds of sites have been looted; between 60 and 90 percent of tombs and other archaeological sites. This, Clarke relates is due to lack of government control, as well as opportunistic looting in war zones and poorer economies where government control might be inhibited.

During WWI and WWII works of art in Europe were stolen by invading forces, including Gustav Klimt’s Woman in Gold which was renamed from the original Adele Bloch-Blauer to hide its origin. Since the onset of the war, targeted families were removed from their homes and anything of value was taken and documented by the German military, done to such a scale that it was impossible to document the extent of it. Van Eyck’s Ghent Alter piece of 1482 was taken twice by Germany; once during WWI, when the Treaty of Versailles forced its return and again in WWII. These painted panels have been targeted at least thirteen times, from theft to destruction to censoring. Prior to WWI the victor of a war could plunder without much recourse, however during this period the international art community began to discuss cultural preservation and its protections during times of war, with a focus on monuments.

Sometimes stolen art is bartered back to its owner as a ransom, fetching a better price than selling on the black market, and evading the chance that the work might be recognized and reported. Ransoming is far safer and more profitable for these thieves. While few cases exist of a thief stealing a piece of art merely to enhance their own personal collection exist, Frenchman Stephane Breitwieser stole 239 pieces of art worth $ 1.4b. Unfortunately, he stored the stash at his mother’s and upon his arrest; she shredded the works with scissors, before grinding them in the garbage disposal. Many thieves damage art in the process of stealing it, while, others duplicate the work and then sell the original. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London actually has a display of such forged works of art, over a 100 such pieces.

It wasn’t until 1970 that the United Nations took an official stance on these types of crimes forming UNESCO and as of 2011; these guidelines for awareness and prevention of cultural crimes have been ratified by up to 190 nations. The fault in this convention is that it is not retroactive and crimes committed before the signing of the convention are exempt.

Clarke covers the following topics: media’s portrayal of art crime; history of art and related crimes; cultural differences between the US and Europe and their effect on art crimes; looting and archeological sites, economic impacts, police demands, scrutiny and the future; security and policing globally; and growth of and prevention of art crime. A concise and interesting read with thoughtful suggestions aimed at prevention of future art and cultural crimes in an evolving world. Clarke writes an interesting chapter on police scrutiny discussing how things have changed since 9/11 with local law enforcement having to respond as the first line of defense against terrorism, and indicating why art crime is so far down the priority list as it is lumped in with property crimes and why logistically, it just cannot be given the attention it deserves. One solution, she writes is to educate local forces on the idea that art crime is generally not local, but global, connected to antiquity theft, fraud and terrorism within international criminal organizations, thereby changing the perceptions of these types of crimes.

Author Colleen Clarke, PhD. has been director of the Law Enforcement Program at MSU, and formerly a police officer at Thunder Bay PD. She has contributed to Encyclopedia of Street Crime in America (Sage, 2013) and The Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice (Wiley, 2013). She has written for the National Social Science Journal, International Journal of Police Strategies & Management and Law Enforcement Executive FORUM. Co-author Eli J. Szydlo received his background in law enforcement from his undergraduate studies at MSU, and previously studied at the Kansas City Art Institute, encountering the field of art crimes.

Reviewed by Rosdaughr

Published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Pages: 176 • 978-1-4422-6079-5 • Hardback • April 2017 • $36.00 • (£24.95)

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Free Will – Sam Harris (Free Press)

freewillbysamharrisThere’s a thought that strikes me in Sam Harris’ book Free Will that there is a kind of ‘fudge’ at the core of his argument. It’s as if he wants his ‘fudge cake’ and to get to eat it! Okay I’m going to demonstrate this, I trust, in this review – but this ‘fudge’ is my main problem with this otherwise very thought-provoking (and short) book.

Harris argues that we haven’t free will. Now, before going on, here’s a summary of where I am on this issue of ‘free will’. In the book he refers to an experiment I was aware of which seems to show the brain making decisions up to a full SEVEN seconds before the conscious mind appears to ‘decide’. That has had me thinking for some time and probably drew me to this book in the first place. I’ve also been looking at consciousness and am half-way through (probably not clever to admit that) Julian Jaynes book: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind – It’s a fascinating work and has provoked much thought (thus far) on the nature of consciousness.

We certainly do much in our life that is ‘unconscious’. Imagine when we drive a car – most of our actions (once they are learnt) become ‘automatic’ and unconscious. If you were to consciously think about everything you were doing you would most likely crash. We learn one thing, then another – these two learnt actions then become ONE and then we can add another skill and these two can then become ONE etc. When playing the drums, for instance, the four limbs learn their parts in stages. And when playing a new rhythm everything can fall apart when you consciously think about what you are doing. Naturally in learning to drive a car or attempting a new drum rhythm, the amount of conscious effort begins at a greater level and then, gradually, becomes automatic. In certain conditions our conscious mind can be called on (by what/whom?) to ‘take the reins’. I have often gone out in my car and followed – say – a route to a workplace only to consciously realise that I’m not actually going to this place. My conscious mind takes over, manoeuvres the car and puts me back on track. And once I know where I’m going I can continue in an – at the very least – semi-conscious way.

There  is also the idea – I have read – whereby the brain takes in all the information from the various senses and collates them and then our consciousness presents this stimuli to us as if it were all happening ‘at the same time’ – as the speed of sound is slower than the speed of light etc. Because the brain has had to collect all the data then our conscious perception lags behind the ‘real present’. But what is doing this preparation and selection? How is it being done and where is the interface with our consciousness?

Harris introduces his thoughts on free will with a harrowing example of a brutal (and sexual) attack and murder of a family; only the patriarch surviving. This certainly concentrates the mind! (There is in fact a running motif  regarding crime and how we should deal with criminals.) Following on from this example he writes about popular conceptions of free will that:

Each of us could have behaved differently than we did in the past. And that: we are the conscious source of our thoughts and actions in the present.

He argues that free will is an illusion and that we do not have the freedom we think we have. That whatever we do is a state of mind we cannot (and could not) change – that it is the sum of many inherent factors. That thoughts and impulses APPEAR in our consciousness and do not originate in it. There is some compelling argument too – can we DECIDE our next mental state? How much control do we have over our thoughts? Do we create thoughts or are they presented to us? Try and think of your next thought!

Harris writes: ‘There is no question that (most if not all) mental events are the product of physical events.’ And were this NOT to be the case then: ‘The unconscious operations of a soul would grant you no more freedom than the unconscious physiology of your brain does.’ Reflecting on this then, perhaps to have total free will, we need to say we control ‘everything’ – every thought. And, I suppose, to be totally aware of that! And if we have no free will where is this seeming will (idea of free will) coming from – where does our consciousness come from? Some argue that as our brains, our neurophysilogical processes, are deciding things at SOME level, then we have free will – it’s just not what we think of as our conscious ‘real self’. In response Harris writes: ‘As we have begun to see, however, this feeling of freedom comes from our moment-to-moment ignorance of the prior causes of our thoughts and actions.’

Now later Harris writes, ‘Losing a belief in free will has not made me fatalistic – in fact, it has increased my feelings of freedom.’ Here’s where the fudge comes in, I think. ‘A creative change of inputs to the system – learning new skills, forming new relationships, adopting new habits of attention – may radically transform one’s life.’ But can we do that other than in a mechanical pre-determined way? ‘Getting behind our conscious thoughts and feelings can allow us to steer a more intelligent course through our lives (while knowing, of course, that we are ultimately being steered).’

Getting behind our conscious thoughts and feelings?

Recently I went for a walk with my son to a water-mill, now converted to a restaurant. Near-by there’s a weir and where part of the river has been channelled to the former-mill’s water wheels. It was a beautiful afternoon – butterflies flitting between plants settled and floating on the water’s surface; two châteaus close by keep silent watch. We were leaning on a small bridge when I noticed a large ant moving across the wood of the side of this bridge. I pointed to it and said, ‘Stop!’.  Now my conscious mind presented that ant to me, I pointed to it, and said ‘Stop!’ – which I think it didn’t! My son was watching me and we laughed about this. Now, evidently, this innocuous act seemed a conscious decision of my free will. Had it NOT been – then there are a number of things to discuss. Firstly: my son thought he was consciously reacting in the present and with free will (as did I). I deliberately pointed at the ant – that was operating in its own way in this world. I pointed to the ant at one particular point. For me to have decided that beforehand I would have needed to know that the ant would appear and that it would follow a certain path and arrive at a certain point that I could POINT at! Was that moment the sum of all three of our experiences of life? My son’s, to have unconsciously ‘decided’ all previous  moments to arrive at that point; mine the same AND the ant to have appeared and moved across the wood? At this point we could UNRAVEL every moment of our lives (including the ant’s) to track back down every event that brought us to where we were THEN. One pre-determined action following another!

Well, I guess that’s possible – a fait accompli if you will. We all WERE there and I certainly pointed and cried, ‘Stop!’. So in this ‘play out’ of unconscious direction EVERY consciousness is (must be!) part of the great PLAY we find ourselves in. Because if I am not aware I’m going to do something and I interact with someone else (who is also not aware) then we are part of some vast, intricate, script that unfolds, amnd is still unfolding, from the very beginning of time. We are here because of the actions of others.

Yet I could only point to the ant if the ant had been there – that was empirically so. I think Harris would say that no other person could have been in the place and with that mental state that I was in and that I would have been unable to be anywhere else or in any other state. Also – what is tricking our conscious minds to make us think we are doing things of our own volition? Where is the bridge between unintentional decision and apparent consciousness of that decision? When does ‘consciousness’ take over from the deeper decision?

Now the motif I described earlier that runs through this book is the idea of crime, punishment and guilt (or otherwise). We certainly look at crimes differently given our perception of the intentions of the criminals. And if someone has a brain tumour – say – we don’t regard their criminal actions in the same way as someone we believe acts with ‘free will’. And Harris continually argues that we cannot have had any other mental state but that which we had at the time and therefore we need to look at ‘guilt’ differently. He writes that criminals might have: ‘Some combination of bad genes, bad parents, bad environments, and bad ideas…’ Looking at this though – how can we introduce a moral definition (‘bad’) to these actions if what he says is true? There cannot be any ‘bad’ – only ‘what is’. Later he argues the idea that human behaviour can be modified by punishment and incentive…I am slightly confused. More cake? Or maybe it’s me!

In the chapter headed ‘Politics’ we get the ‘liberal’ idea that one must be ‘lucky to be able to work.‘ So it’s luck. I’ll get back to that idea. He writes, ‘Laziness, like diligence, is a neurological condition…’ Luck again? ‘But this does not mean we must be taken in by the illusion of free will. We need only acknowledge that efforts matter and that people can change.’ Well he says they can’t change any past actions…and how are they to change? ‘We do not change ourselves…but we continuously influence, and are influenced by, the world around us and the world within us.’

Okay – so ‘we’ are influenced by our internal world – but how can we escape that influence or use it through volition. I THINK he is arguing for a kind of change through osmosis. Such that, as we are a product of things we have no control over (including our supposed free will) then our past, set actions, history, biological influences can only be added to. He writes: ‘Am I free to change my mind? Of course not. It can only change me.’ Maybe that could be highlighted or achieved say, for example, by forcing folk to have a good iodine intake, especially those living far away from the sea. The intake would have a subtle influence on their well-being and maybe influence their unconscious actions? An outside force would have an impact on their internal world. But someone would have to decide to do that! And that – one presumes – is also decided for them.

It is the concept of ‘free will’ that gave rise to sin – he argues. And, in this, perhaps he is correct – for Adam and Eve were seemingly given ‘free will’ (and not at the same time!).  Their actions have affected all of us – if we believe so. But God would have known the outcome. If he gave them free will knowing they would act the way they did, and take the fruit from the tree – how free were they?

What if you are controlled by others? Your actions and thought directed by others? Would that be a form of double ‘non-free will’?

Are we Beings experiencing this world from the point of view of our consciousness – with no control…as if we are on a roller-coaster that could take us anywhere it desires? Hold on…sit back…tighten your seatbelt and enjoy the ride. Are we puppets of a Greater Being? Are we a strand of conscious experience that snakes back to a greater, composite experience? In fact – even without free will – are we living a spiritual life? Are we simply the observers of our life?

I’ll leave you with two quotes from the book, one in the body of the text and the other in the notes.

Harris: ‘The illusion of free will is itself and illusion.’

And in the notes, Schopenhaur’s: ‘Man can do what he will but he cannot will what he wills.’

And finally – we may/may not have free will, we may/may not be fully conscious – but the life we lead APPEARS as if we have free will and that is the ONLY way we can lead it. Be thankful for whatever life you have – it’s a one and only experience.

Thanks.

Reviewed by Tim Bragg

Tim Bragg is the author of the recently published Lyrics to Live By: Keys to Self-Help, Notes for a Better Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lyrics to Live By Keys to self-help – notes for a better life

IT’S often said that the best ideas are the simplest. And this is certainly the case with the idea behind Lyrics to Live By. Indeed, I’d go as far as saying that the idea behind the book is so simple it’s absolutely brilliant.

So what’s the idea, what makes it so simple and why is it literally a stroke of pure genius?

The idea’s so simple because it relates to something that we probably do every time we hear a song – and that’s to sing along to it and wonder what some of the lyrics actually mean.

This basic query about the meaning of the lyrics can also generate many other questions. For instance, how did the song come about, how long did it take to write, what is the writing process and what’s the idea behind the song? Why use the particular set of lyrics that appear? How personal is the song – and does it contain any hidden or subliminal messages?

With this in mind, the publisher of Lyrics to Live By has asked Tim Bragg to interpret the lyrics of a dozen songs. Ten songs were provided by the publisher whilst Tim chose Paul Simon’s Slip Slidin’ Away and one of his own compositions, Some Answers.

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For those who don’t know, Tim Bragg is a multi-instrumentalist and a writer of songs, novels and short stories. Indeed, he has several albums and books to his name. He also has a deep interest in English and green politics and is the founder of English Green – https://www.facebook.com/groups/167522623276444/?ref=br_rs – which describes itself as ‘a group interested in ecology and its relationship with all aspects of human activity. How we co-exist with the flora and fauna and how we conduct ourselves in an ecologically healthy manner and how we achieve a spiritual and material well-being are of particular interest’.

Tim is also a really deep thinker – he describes himself as “the eternal outsider” and has been described as “a provocative intellectual renegade”. He is also interested in issues relating to free speech and English culture, previously describing Stratford-upon-Avon as his “spiritual home”.

In his Foreword, Bragg sets the scene by highlighting the importance of music:

‘But we are drawn to particular songs and musicians who seem to speak to us. They really do help guide us through life and come to our aid when most needed. At our lowest, a song can be played over and over, and this repetition seems to heal. When we are blue a blues song seems to do the trick. And the very personal nature of a song makes it effective for our own personal situation – bad/good or otherwise. I am thankful to the musicians who wrote songs that helped me through difficult times: the end of a love affair … for instance’.

I’m sure we’ve all wondered, why certain lyrics have the ability to strike a chord deep inside us. Indeed, every reader could probably suggest the lyrics of several songs which have really touched them – almost in a spiritual way. To me, it simply illustrates the beauty and power of song. However, has it always been like this – and will it be like this forever?

The lyrics Tim comments on are really varied – they include those from Hey Jude, Stairway to Heaven, Wicked Game and Big Yellow Taxi. The musical genres covered are also fairly broad. Writers include Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, John Lennon and Paul McCartney of the Beatles, David Bowie, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.

I’m not going to give you any details of what he makes of any of the lyrics (and I know that this is extremely strange for a review!) as I want to encourage readers of Lyrics to Live by to really think for themselves. That’s because we live in a world where all sorts of information is readily accessible and Wikipedia is king. Such easy access to information is very much a double-edged sword. On the positive side it enables folks to learn about more-or-less anything under the sun. On the negative side, I fear that many folks are – or have – lost the ability to question information and think for themselves.

Earlier I mentioned that Tim is a very deep thinker, and this is certainly borne out in how he interprets the lyrics. I must admit that I’d often sing along to a song and spend a few minutes contemplating what the lyrics mean. But to actually sit down and to probably spend hours really analysing the lyrics is probably an art form in itself!

This is the first time I’ve read an examination of lyrics to such a high level. Indeed, Tim noted that the process was ‘almost as if meditating’. I really do think that most people will be in awe of (or even shocked at) the depth of thinking employed here. Whether you agree with Tim is open to debate. However, it would really be interesting to know what readers think of his in-depth interpretations.

Lyrics to Live by also poses many questions in itself. I’m not too sure if this was the original intention or simply a by-product of the subject matter?

For instance, I’d particularly like to know how and why the particular songs – and more importantly, the individual lyrics – were chosen by the publisher? I also wondered if there was any sort of thread linking the artists? I presume they must mean something to the publisher, but what? Are they in some way personal, or do they contain any hidden or subliminal messages? Indeed, does Tim’s interpretation of the lyrics match those of the publisher, or are they wildly different? Furthermore, I found it interesting that Tim looked at the lyrics of one of his own songs – I wonder if this was therapeutic in any way?

The Foreword mentions Tim’s admiration for Phil Lynott and Van Morrison, who ‘have certainly helped me through my life’s journey’. Yet neither of them feature in the book. This got me wondering what artists would any of us choose to analyse– and why?

A couple of other things also came to mind whilst reviewing the book:

Firstly, Tim Bragg is a multi-instrumentalist and is comfortable with different genres of music. With this in mind, I presume that a Heavy Metal singer would be more at home looking at the lyrics of a Heavy Metal song. The same would presumably go for a Folk musician with Folk lyrics. However, what would happen if you gave the Heavy Metal and Folk singer the lyrics to a Country and Western song? Would the change of genre completely throw them – or would they both apply the same thought process, successfully analyse the lyrics and manage to overcome the change in musical style?

Secondly, this review has thrown up many unique and interesting ideas and questions. They all lend themselves to a series of books looking at various lyrics and their meanings. I’d love to read the thoughts of other artists – and, in particular, independent artists – in the very near future. Here’s hoping that the first follow-up book is at the planning stage already.

Reviewed by John Field

Lyrics to Live By is available as a Paperback or E-book from all Amazon stores

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Locke’s Political Thought and the Oceans Pirates, Slaves, and Sailors

lockeandtheoceans

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Sarah Pemberton, PhD., examines John Locke’s political thought on the laws and freedom of the oceans by examining the Two Treatises of Government. Locke argued that the seas were collectively owned by all humans and governed by universal natural laws that prohibited piracy. His Two Treatises provided insight on international and maritime law. In this book; Pemberton analyses Locke’s political thought in an absorbing weave which draws together the Treatises along with Locke’s unpublished writings and other intriguing archival finds.

John Locke was born in 1632 near the port of Bristol. During his ‘Shaftesbury’ period (1666-1683), he was employed by Lord Anthony Ashley-Cooper, later Earl of Shaftesbury. A radical proponent of religious freedom, individual liberty and conscience, he believed power should be controlled and used to secure national interests. He was politically conservative, economically mercantilist, and morally authoritarian. He was a puritan with a modern and empirical vision. He was a member of the Board of Trade in England in the 1690s. Shaftebury is considered by some to be the founder of liberalism.

Locke’s Two Treatises are said to have been written at the pinnacle of his political philosophy. The Treatises contain his theory of government, power, property, trust, and rights. He wanted to build an empire on both land and sea. He proposed an anti-piracy treaty between Europe’s largest maritime players. He advocated English piracy laws and supported the idea of deploying the Navy against pirates. His ideas on piracy were consistent with natural law theory developed in the Two Treatises.

There has been much debate about when Locke’s two treatises were originally written. Published in 1689, they were possibly, written earlier. Considered an apology for the Glorious Revolution, British historian Peter Laslett, feels the writings date back to 1679. This lapse in time would have allowed Locke to amend the original, giving it the appearance of an apology, rather than a prescription for revolt, which could have caused him contention at the time.

In his first Treatise, he rebuts Sir Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha. Patriarcha’s main premise embraced the divine right of Kings. Filmer’s theory is a diktat that “all government is an absolute monarchy: since Adam was an absolute monarch, all princes since his time should also be absolute monarchs.” Filmer did not believe that man was born free, nor should they be governed by consent, as the masses do not possess the intellectual wherewithal to elect their leaders. Pemberton discusses this in her examination of Locke’s political theories.

Filmer claimed that man was not born into freedom, and a father, like a Monarchy; possessed unlimited rights over men’s lives, however Locke refuted this idea as unjustified. He argued against Fillmer’s attempts to provide a theoretical basis for patriarchy and examined his assumptions for logical cohesion. Taking issue with his ideas, Locke countered the theory of divine rule. He argued that Adam’s creation alone did not presume sovereignty over anything. Locke felt that rights must be established and argued that man is a governor in habit; potentiality did not imply actuality – he wrote, “A very pretty way of being a Governor without Government, a Father without Children, and a King without Subjects”. He argued against Divine rule, then outlined, in his second Treatise his justification of consensual government.

Locke’s Treatises are consistent with his later work on the board of Trade. There, he advocated forced migration and forced labour for English convicts. He felt forced labour was consistent with theories on penal slavery for the period and he discussed these in the Two Treatises. Pemberton feels Locke’s theories were intended to justify the current practice during the period. She sees a tension between his arguments in the Treatises with policies of forced naval service, which Locke, as a member of the Board of Trade, supported. Locke had a good relationship with King William and was very involved with colonial and trade policy during this period. His theories guided English government policies in the arenas of slavery and piracy, and he was influenced by Grotius’ Mare Liberum; whose central argument was based on freedom of the seas.

Locke’s theories of law and freedom on the seas also influenced his vision of English National Identity.

Locke was a colonial thinker, devoting much attention to the settlement and governance of the colonies. He was in the minority of political thinkers active in the practical aspects of business promotion and administration of overseas settlements, due to his position on the Board of Trade. Locke suggested that Europe come to a formal agreement on how to deal with international maritime law about piracy in his second Treatise. The international piracy agreement would be known as the Power of War and Peace, Leagues and Alliances and all the Transactions with all Persons and Communities outside the Commonwealth.

Locke considered the grandfather of liberalism; in the standard histories of philosophy, was also an exemplar of empiricism. His position on the Board of Trade had a bearing on his philosophies in the Treatises, just as Grotius’s writings on Natural Law came from his defence of the Dutch East India Company’s maritime activities. He argued freedom of trade across the oceans in The Free Sea (1609). Locke understood Grotius’s position well.

Locke acknowledged extractable resources such as fish and ambergris produced by the ocean could be acquired as the property of man. He glossed over that fact that these resources might be finite and risk extinction due to over-extraction. Conservation efforts such as with fisheries would have been consistent with Locke’s concerns about acquisition of private property. His theory of property had concerns. Starting with the premise that potential productivity of natural resources derived from human labour and not in the inherent value of the resource itself. He ignored the finite nature of natural resources, and he underestimated the value that eco-systems could provide. Overly concerned with human contribution, he completely ignored resource depletion. Furthermore, he criticized Native practices of land use, feeling they did not use the land productively enough, he felt that sustainable fishing wasted resources and again, ignoring resource depletion he emphasized man’s contribution and focused on over-productivity. His Treatises provide a systematic political theory of the seas and did not feel oceans could be considered ‘appropriated’ because they cannot be managed or improved in the same way that land can be improved.

Pemberton relates that Locke first addressed piracy in an unpublished manuscript called Pyracy which now resides in the Bodleian library. In this manuscript, he ambitiously proposed extending England’s existing piracy law to the colonies and extending protection of European trade to those involved in the Treaty of Ryswick and urged them to reach a formal international agreement on the piracy issue. Described as Power of War and Peace, Leagues and Alliances and all the Transactions of all persons and communities outside the Commonwealth, he wished to create a coordinated approach to piracy, to extend these laws across the World’s oceans. Unfortunately, he missed the issues of jurisdiction under Admiralty law. Like a good Loyalist, he felt that these laws could be extended to the colonies thereby preventing colonials from exercising autonomy on this issue. Locke’s contribution to piracy was consistent with his ideas on natural rights and the rule of law under the Two Treatises.

Locke had theories on penal slavery which stemmed from his position as a member of the Board of Trade and his work on piracy. This resulted in him advocating expanding English legal and naval power at sea and reducing political autonomy in the American colonies, which gave rise to tension between liberty and empire. He felt that penal slavery, including the English convicts, was justified. Those who broke natural law give up their rights and they should be punished proportionately, which he felt would deter future crimes and allow for making victim reparations. He argued attacking someone’s liberty was equivalent to murder and felt that participants in an unjust war broke natural law and should be legitimately enslaved or killed.

A practice England had already been taking part in for quite some time. The colonists including many so called ‘free’ subjects co-existed with those sent there under forced labour (penal) and forced migration. Pemberton relates that between 1600 and 1800 more than a million Europeans migrated to America and the Caribbean and up to a third of these immigrants were transported convicts or indentured servants, or bonded slaves, due to the cost of transportation across the Atlantic. Some came during this time by choice, but they forced many. After his death, his political philosophy in turn impacted on ideas leading to the Age of Enlightenment. It related to the development of separation of Church and State in the American Constitution. Pemberton takes us on an interesting journey, dissecting the Treatises, adding social and political context so we understand the period and why Locke was formulating the theories he was, his influences, along with other possible economic and political factors which may have played a part in the formation of his ideas.

Reviewed by Rosdaughr

 

Further reading recommendations on Locke:Tully, J., Rediscovering America: The Two Treatises and Aboriginal Rights’.
An Approach to Political Philosophy: Locke in Contexts. 1993.
Arneil, B., John Locke and America: Defence of English Colonialism. 1996.
Farr J., ‘Locke, Natural Law, and New World Slavery’, Political Theory. 2008.
Israel, Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man, 1670-1752 (Oxford, 2006).

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­Who I am

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whoareyou

The following article first appeared as the ‘Foreword’ for:

Who Are You: Philosophy, Physics, and Eastern Mysticism (Paperback – January 5, 2018): Chandran Tattvaraj

It is re-published here with the author’s consent. The original title was ‘Who I am’ and we have reverted to that here.

Who I Am

How long have we been questioning who and what we are; where we’ve come from and where we’re going? Perhaps throughout our existence we have questioned the very notion of ‘self’. Ideas of this self are there to read in Eastern religious and philosophical writing, and in the West, was philosophically enshrined with Descartes: I think therefore I am. But long, long before Descartes, religious philosophers had contemplated the nature of the ‘self’ and within the self – the ‘soul’…that there was (is) something intrinsic to us that also seems to be apart from ‘us’ – a part and apart simultaneously.

When I was a child I was fascinated by two mirrors placed near opposite each other in the family’s bathroom. The reflected images disappeared into infinity and thus timelessness. Maybe this triggered in my developing mind an idea of eternity…and an idea of an alternative reality – for I could see many ‘me’s seemingly projected into the future and into a kind of reflected past. As I recall now I can see/feel myself wishing to step into those multiple ‘other worlds’. Ten years later or so, on one of the few occasions I took LSD, I was aware of passages within the space, the air, surrounding me…Had I the wherewithal, I could have turned into these passages, or corridors and entered a world normally hidden from (or by) my ‘normal’ perception.

In medieval time in England it was thought there was a powerful connection between things and the names of those things. That everything naturally had a name that was somehow bestowed and fixed. The bond between this name and the thing was irrevocable. Now we think: a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But we live in and are trapped by our language and thought. The self and our idea of who we are comes to fruition along with understanding both the concept of self-hood and our gradual understanding of our-selves – a paradox from birth that develops and changes through time. We physically and mentally grow into ‘being’. We slowly join the unfolding narrative of the world. As unfolding selves we receive and are affected by the scientific, cultural, religious, fairy-tale narratives of the ‘main characters’. They tell us who we are, what to do, how to behave and what to think. We are seeds scattered into the ground…healthy or rocky.

We are born into a world that seems locked into time and space…a concrete world of ‘reality’. And we are given the ability to perceive this world through our senses in a consensual manner. But is there an ‘out there’ a ‘world’ that exists extraneously to our mind’s perception? Our brain collapses the ‘out there’ (the waves and particles of light photons) into the world we live in and deem ‘real’. Of course in one sense it is so very real…run a blade across your skin and you’ll feel pain and see blood flowing. But the mind that perceives and ‘holds’ our thoughts…the thoughts that perceive the world we grow into has no definite location (there are areas of the brain that correspond to certain elements of the mind…but under given circumstances these can be changed and/or re-routed) – and further, the thoughts themselves have no location or indeed space. You cannot grasp a thought and though it may re-appear as a memory in the ‘future’ its existence feels completely ‘out of time’. Yes we seem to experience the passing of time (and we can look into a mirror or view old photographs to verify this) but that too is seemingly an illusion. But. Let me state, this illusion and all that the brain creates is a necessity for us to exist in this illusory world. No wonder we have constantly asked those enduring questions and the shortest and the most effective and relevant being: Why?

What kind of trick has been played upon us frail humans…and even beyond this trick there being dealt a false trump card – a card that has given us the desire and need to discover who and what we are and where we are, where we are going and ultimately if we were created by some unknown supreme being. We frail humans given cards of nobility and poetry but also fear and violence. Each is dealt his hand…by chance, by providence, through DNA?

I think therefore I am – yet I am aware that I am thinking – therefore I am ‘we’ – both the thinker and the observer. And because I think in English: I think therefore I am English and all that I am aware of through this inherited language. And everything I think comes from where? I think therefore it is I that think. Or: I think unbidden thoughts therefore I am me and something ‘other’? We seem to be a paradox. That’s the nature of the trick.

When we dream – who is it that dreams? Who is it in the dreams? Who creates the dreams and sets the play in motion?

For many people it is enough to live and die – to work and play…some struggle some seem gifted by ‘fate’. Some folk give their lives to ideas and some are tortured and killed for having these, or indeed contrary, ideas. That is how strongly we are caught in our language, in our being. O I truly admire those who have died and suffered in the name of beauty or truth or spirit. But how odd it all seems too. That some men should dictate to others how they might feel, think, believe, say, write and act. When nothing is, indeed, quite how we think it is. The ancient Eastern religions understood this and now modern ‘cutting-edge’ science seems to be verifying these ancient beliefs. There’s more to us perhaps than even we thought.

If this life is a trick, a game…whose rules are we playing to? Is there a reason for us to be here. What is our true nature. There is the argument that we are ‘one’ (non-dual) and that we exist without time and matter. An idea that we are drops of the ocean or fragments of a hologram – all belonging and connected to the whole. In this sense we have been tricked into an earthly state of division and unique personality. When I talk with people about this there comes the idea of ‘re-birth’ (reincarnation) and that our mission, if you will, is to ‘escape’ from captivity of the flesh. That our essence is something beyond and eventually apart from who we are (or who we think we are). On the one hand I see the logic and even justice to this and on the other hand I see cruelty and lack of justice. Most of us are destined to relate as the ‘I’ – and we create our life story correspondingly. The idea of re-birth seems to be the loss of each personality (but maintenance of the ‘spirit’). Who we are is annihilated – and yet some part of ‘us’ carries on. Is this the ‘divine spark’ the droplet of the divine ocean. But if there is no connection between that droplet and my perception of ‘me’ – why would/should I care? Are ‘we’ but fading dreams of another?

How cruel to birth us into this material world with senses to experience it – and to feel its love, hate, warmth, cold, benevolence and cruelty and yet also be locked within a ‘secret’. This secret being that we are NOT truly part of this earth and that we must – through lifetimes of repeated existence – find a way off and out of this material plane! Were I the playwright of such a play I might congratulate myself on its playful and clever conceit. But discovering one is but a fictional character with no life beyond the page…well…I might feel somewhat misused. Especially as my appearance on the stage is so brief and apparently futile.

My father used to say to me: There is only one thing worse than dying for ever and that is living for ever. Here is the great conundrum. This conundrum seems rarely to be challenged. Is there any connection between this earthly existence (the test) and the existence ‘as one’ (connected to all and everything and perhaps The Godhead) beyond time, space and matter? There certainly seems much credible (and incredible!) evidence for existence beyond this life but the nature of that also seems poorly transmitted. It maybe that we enter a lighter consensual reality, amidst others we relate to…a more spiritual place (for some) but dark and heavy for others…who perhaps maintain much of their earthly existence. Maybe we’re being given spurious information as but yet a further test?

The nearest I get to understanding another life beyond the mystical glances sometimes obtained in the beauty of nature…or through music or a piece of sublime literature or art is within my dreamscapes. In dreams it seems as if there is a natural narrative…everything ‘makes sense’…it is us and we comprehend our seemingly natural environment. It’s only on waking that our dreams might seem very strange. And then they begin to fade despite our best efforts to resurrect them or keep the narrative going. It’s like reading a story and the last few pages have been ripped out. Dreams make sense even when nonsense. It really is another reality. It is REAL or as real as this reality. Only waking from a dream does it seem odd or different. Of course there are those who can hop in and out of dream-states and even travel beyond into the astral realms. Or somewhere. Another avenue of reality? A place where our conscious mind (and/or spirit) goes on death? Do dreams offer an insight into the connection between this world and the ‘other’?

These days we can slip into virtual reality. A time seems fast approaching when being in virtual reality might be as common as falling asleep and dreaming. Though we might become masters of our movement in VR land it is not a ‘consensual reality’ but rather a reality created by both humans and machines. I can imagine all sorts of wonderful experiences and the most frightening too. In a future world, grossly over-populated we might enter VR to see, smell and experience nature. But who knows what might have been designed to roam through those lands too. VR certainly can but make us consider what THIS reality is. Like self-induced other realities it will be ‘real’ at the time of experiencing. The mind can be fooled and sometimes quite easily. And the mind can be manipulated too. If we create a VR that transforms the human experience are we creating a VR within a VR. If we can create effective virtual reality who’s to say THIS life isn’t a ‘virtual reality’!

Were we created in God’s (or The Great Creator’s) image? If so – what a disappointment we must have been and still are. I immediately think of us the ‘sons and daughters of God’ creating our own reflections – ‘Artificial Intelligence’ and Robots. Here again the whole notion of consciousness might be forced vehemently into our collective consciousness. The idea – say – that consciousness is received by humans (and not self-created) seems interesting in that the future might see robots obtain their own consciousness. If the reaction to this is – never!…well, that would mean that only the human organic brain (or an animal’s?) can tune into radiating, and yet personal, consciousness. Consciousness is also said to be whole (oneness) but if we receive consciousness we do so in personalised packages. Are we bundled up and packaged pre-birth? If it is the will of the sender that determines who and/or what receives consciousness then why not robots? At the moment robots are fairly ‘primitive’ and yet there has already been a case of robots creating their own language. If humans did come from apes and were subsequently to receive the consciousness we have now – then why not highly sophisticated robots? Of course all this is but scratching the surface. But as an aside there have been experiments with humans where simple choices have been offered (left/right on/off) and their brain reactions monitored. These experiments seem to show quite large gaps between the brain deciding what to do and consciousness deciding what to do! In other words our consciousness (decisions seemingly made in the ‘present’) lagged behind the actual brain decision by seconds. This would mean our ‘present’ is in an eternal ‘past’. Not only that of course but it would suggest all is mapped out and we’re here just for the ride…though we have been tricked (once again) into thinking we are masters of our own fate. Maybe robots of the future though highly evolved will always lag behind their programming? Maybe robots will feel tricked.

If we are beyond time, space and matter (the soul nature) then again we have been tricked into believing we have a beginning and an end. And yet the beginning is hazy and comes together through our perception of time and self and unfolds in retrospection. Most of our perception of ourselves is retrospective. There is also the sense of deja vu (or deja vecu) that haunts us…Do we re-live our life over and over – and if so for what purpose? The world we live in seems to have constant birth and rebirth – as in Nature. Yet we and our surroundings SEEM to be eternal. Others may die (like a leaf/flower/cow/dog or even fellow human) but surely not us. The Sun will one day burn out but can we (do we) perceive of Earth’s ending? And the universe in which we live perhaps has no boundaries and ‘just is’. Like puppets we gaze up into the sky at night, our strings lost into the blackness…Our helplessness and lack of understanding is full of pathos. Why were we tricked so?

What is the antidote to our existence in this world that both is and isn’t? For me it is the art and act of creation. If all was created by The Great Creator – the original creative act – then being creative is truly a spark of godliness. Life can be cold, hard and cruel but we have shown throughout our time on this earth that we can rise above hardship and persecution, above torture and even walk to the gallows with our heads held high. There is something in us that is greater than ourselves.
My own philosophy of life and death draws on the ideas and communications of others (both alive, dead and perhaps beyond the ‘veil’). At death our consciousness/spirit travels on and alights at another place of consensual reality. In this place we flock together with like minds – some others are drawn to the heavy earthly states – some are light and finely tuned. Thus we begin the next stage of our journey. Perhaps this journey involves the ‘release of ourselves’ – the ‘release of attachments’…though we continue to learn we also learn to give up. Gradually we will indeed become ‘one’ – leaving the unique self behind. By becoming ‘one’ we will no longer be aware of time, space or matter…we will no longer fear the loss of ourselves and loved ones…as we will be melded into a greater and all-encompassing love. As I write these words I feel panic…I am attached to the poetic in this life and the connection to others. But being melded with love and being ‘one’ will not – I trust – mean the loss of anyone or anything but rather the gaining of a higher connection and higher ‘love’. Poets, mystics, philosophers, religious thinkers and perhaps even each one of us has at rare times had an in-sight into the greater-ness that we are normally so unaware of. Maybe we’ll get to comprehend the ‘Great Trick’ that has been played on us – maybe we’ll laugh out loud and understand the very true nature of who we are and what we are for. In the meantime we can but dream…we’ll continue viewing the stars above and continue making enquiry. And we’ll continue asking: Who am I?

I hope and trust you will enjoy the essays that follow…and that you might step back from this stage for a while and view from the wings…view the actors so caught up emotionally in the play. Maybe you’ll catch a glance of the playwright him/her/it self viewing from the balcony and maybe you’ll catch a wry smile on that playwright’s face. After all, the playwright knows the trick that’s been played all along. And we are but the stuff that dreams are made on.

Tim Bragg (copyright 2018).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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