Sunday, January 20, 2013

On the Radicalization of Martin Luther King

"... an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.  Questions must be raised ... when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question who owns the oil, you begin to ask the question who owns the iron ore, you begin to ask the question why we have to pay water bills in a world that is 2/3 water.  These are words that must be said." - MLK

Ataraxia and the Visceral

1. of or pertaining to the viscera. ….
4. characterized by or proceeding from instinct rather than intellect: a visceral reaction.
5. characterized by or dealing with coarse or base emotions; earthy; crude: a visceral literary style
- from
Hunger and thirst are the two most fundamental metaphors and experiences of desire.  In Buddhist poetic language, thirst and hunger are associated with desires and with need.  Buddhist folklore depicts and designates lost souls that are consumed by the misery of uncontrollable cravings as hungry ghosts.
The English word naughty is, furthermore, tied semantically to need, to being needy (poor), and originally both words were one and the same.  It is often the condition of need that brings people to act in an evil manner.  It is often in the poorest areas that we see the most crimes.  Among great apes, conventional chimpanzees are the most violent sub-species whereas bonobo chimps, having evolved amid far less scarcity than their cousins, learned to resolve conflict easily through lovemaking multiples times per day.
Hunger and thirst produce suffering, violence, and evil.  Plenty and satisfaction produce joy and good.  In view of this, the Epicurean theory on happiness lucidly suggests:
If thou wilt make a man happy, add not unto his riches but take away from his desires.
In philosophical materialism (the view maintained by Epicurus, by Marx, by Sartre, and many others), all things that appear to be metaphysical or spiritual (the mind, the soul, even the gods when they were believed to exist) are physical, material, made of atoms as if to say that without a physical form of expression, things are not, and therefore there is nothing to speak of.
Whatever soul there is, would require an atom or group of atoms.  Whatever god there is, would require divine atoms, etc.  In this manner the ancients attempted to reconcile with the intensity of existential, emotional and mental experience in light of no evidence for supernatural or non-physical reality, whereas now we know that joy, bliss, well-being, fear, anger, etc. assume bodily expression as serotonin (the feel-good chemical), cortisone (the stress chemical), etc.
All of these materialist philosophers also remarked that humans have basic needs that arise out of our facticity, our physicality and materiality, that cannot be escaped: shelter, food, water, etc.  Marx’s materialism led him to a theory on how to build a society where these basic needs are met whereas Epicurus’ materialist theory led him to a philosophy of personal happiness that lists being fed as one of the preconditions for its practice.  The Garden, in addition to being a place for meditation and for discovering simple pleasures, doubles as a source of sustenance.
When Sartre wrote about the psychosomatic effects of existentialist angst and sought to dramatize it, he specifically wrote a novel titled Nausea, ergo recognizing that the physical repercussions of angst are manifested in the stomach.  Perhaps he did this in acknowledgement of the knot that we get in our bellies when we get bad news about a family member passing, when we fall in or out of love, or when we have relational difficulties that leave us emotionally blocked.
One study says that about 85 % of hospital visits ultimately are the result of mental and emotional problems.  Many eating disorders (diabetes, anorexia, etc.) are known to have emotional roots.  We are in the midst of numerous societal health crises linked to psychosomatic disorders.
However, rather than focus on the pathology, on the disease, I’d like to focus now on the mind in its healthy state, a trend that is prevalent in the burgeoning positive psychology movement.  This takes me to a very interesting insight that Epicurus gave us, which raises many interesting questions and hypotheses now that we have the science to explore the depths of its meaning.
The beginning and root of every good is the pleasure of the stomach. 
- Epicurus’ epistle to Menoeceus
How true is this?  And in what ways is this true?  It seems, from the survey of observations made above, that the stomach not only serves to help us consume nutrients but also has evolved to serve as a type of warning system that advises us that we are not surviving properly, a type of emergency communication system.  This primitive neural system evolved into our current neural super-highway: the brain and nerves.
Let’s ponder the case of the helpless baby, since this is a metaphor used by Epicurus in his exploration of pleasure as a fundamental human experience, the one thing that humans are born knowing instinctively to seek.  When hungry, the baby will cry and demand the attention of a nurturer.  We’ve also evolved an instinctive empathy and desire to help nurture and protect an infant: babies evoke tenderness, love.
My own theory on ataraxia, has to do with our primal memories of infancy that are hidden in the deepest layers of our unconscious.  Soon after we were born and when we knew only pleasure and pain, we were satisfied when nestled in the arms of the mother and we were fed and nurtured by her breasts.  This constitutes a major part of our earliest layer of memory.  We felt entirely safe, warm, happy, even ecstatic.  Pure pleasure.  We first learned to bond with another member of our species through this primal blissful experience.  No one had to teach us to suckle or bond with our mother: we knew instinctively, that is, we inherited the instinct to do this.  It’s archetypal, universal, it is part of what it means to be human.
This primal state of pleasure that all religions speak of and that all humans intuit, which in philosophy is known as ataraxia, is known as the state of nirvana by Buddhists, and in many traditions is compared to gardens.  Not only is this primal state set as our ultimate goal and destiny in many religions, but the authors of our myths also have expressed that we once lived in this state: there’s an intuitive recognition of its primality.  We read about Eden in the Bible, the garden that was the cradle of humanity.  Epicurus sought to create a space conducive to ataraxia in the form of a garden.

My theory on ataraxia is that it’s possible that in these first days of our lives as members of the human species, we learned to associate the experience of being nurtured, being loved, and being fed as one and the same.  That the primal pleasure of breast-feeding and forming a bond with our mother linked our stomachs forever to our sense of safety and well-being, or neglect and suffering if that was the case.  It is in light of this insight that we can begin to make sense of Epicurus’ teaching that the beginning and root of every good is the pleasure of the stomach.
If this theory is correct, then one who was not nurtured, or not nurtured properly as an infant, may exhibit considerable emotional difficulties in later life.  If the neglect is chronic, there is research that suggests that the damage consists of a permanent inability to bond with others.
In my acquaintance with the Hare Krishnas, who sing, dance, find ecstatic exuberant bliss through Krishna consciousness, and feed people vegetarian foods, I learned that the motherly, nurturing qualities one cultivates when feeding the poor have positive emotional benefits.  Both the act of feeding another person and the act of being fed evokes ataraxia.
This insight also helps to elucidate another one of Epicurus’ teachings which insinuates that as important as what we eat, is who we eat with and the manner in which we eat; that the entire psychological experience of consumption is fundamental when we consider our well-being:
Only wolves and lions eat alone.  You should not eat, not even a snack, on your own. 
- Epicurus
I believe that by building or studying Epicurean cultures of communal and empathetic feeding (not just of the poor and homeless but of people in general), these issues can be explored, observed, and subjected to the necessary research in order to produce an updated, empirical Epicurean theory related to the primal brain in our gut and its relation to ataraxia.
Some of the questions we should seek to answer revolve around how much quantifiable emotional well-being can be observed in these interactions.  Members of a community who know that they will be lovingly fed should be less inclined to theft, violence, and hostility.  They should feel safe and perceive less threats to their survival.  And they should perceive the site of their feeding as a nurturing, cozy place of refuge.  They may even, like the bonobos, be inclined to create an entire environment and culture of affection and safety.
What if they’re fed in a manner which is angry or indifferent?  What if children are fed in such a way in their infancy and early childhood?  Does this have emotional repercussions in the child or adult?  These might be some of the other questions to ponder in further research.
Another possibility is the development of a diet for ataraxia: one that produces a blissful condition.  We know that raw cacao has anandamide, the chemical of bliss, and that there are certain foods that provide our brains with the tryptophan needed to produce serotonin, the feel-good chemical.  And so we have the beginnings of an Epicurean diet (that is, a diet conducive to happiness by fulfilling our most basic needs and desires).
But in addition to these dietary sources of well-being, perhaps there are other comfort foods that (either because of their flavor, warmth or ingredients) remind us of mother’s milk and awaken our memory of primal ataraxia.  The Romans, after all, decided to name cereals after the Mother Goddess of the Earth and its fruits, Ceres–or was it the other way around?  Did they name the Goddess after their experience of consuming cereal, which is traditionally consumed with milk?
Most humans stop producing the enzymes needed to digest human milk after a certain age, and many are understandably lactose intolerant as adults.  It might be interesting to research whether there are non-milk-derived foods that are particularly good at re-awakening our primal memories of safety and pleasure, and whether these culinary instincts are recognizably universal or highly personalized.  My hunch is that we should look at foods rich in probiotics, the “good” bacteria that populates our guts.
Recent studies show that the gut has neurons –100 million brain cells, in fact.  We literally think with our gut.  The human stomach has a brain of its own the size of a cat’s brain, it has its own agenda, and acts somewhat independently from the other brain.
What neuroscientists are calling the second brain, I am more tempted to call the first brain, having evolved earlier.  Our main brain could have only grown out of a less complex, more primal organ.  This article published in Scientific American concludes:
Cutting-edge research is currently investigating how the second brain mediates the body’s immune response; after all, at least 70 percent of our immune system is aimed at the gut to expel and kill foreign invaders.
UCLA’s Mayer is doing work on how the trillions of bacteria in the gut “communicate” with enteric nervous system cells (which they greatly outnumber). His work with the gut’s nervous system has led him to think that in coming years psychiatry will need to expand to treat the second brain in addition to the one atop the shoulders.
As a result of this research, many of the medicinal solutions to depression, anxiety, and other psycho-emotional problems actually already target the gut.  John Cryan’s research on the bacteria found in cheese, yoghurt, kim chee, kombucha, and other milk by-products and fermented foods suggests that some of the bacteria in milk and fermented foods reduces anxiety.  Earlier research done by Max Gerson, proponent of the Gerson therapy, suggests the possibility that a dietary regime (his live foods lifestyle) might work just as well as pharmacology to treat almost every known disease.
The fact that our gut brain has a basic cognitive function and is constantly in communication with the main brain has enormous philosophical and spiritual implications.  It implies that our understanding of the neural complex has to evolve to include diet as a manner of becoming, of communicating with our own selves at the neural and cellular level in order to elicit certain states of mind and being.

Consumption can be understood as an act of willful becoming.  We choose existence, but also we choose our state of mind and of existence through the physical and psychological act of eating.
Thus, a whole new scientific understanding of Epicurean existentialist spirituality emerges: one that places our society’s dietary and health crisis within the context of a spiritual crisis.  I believe it is no less than that.
Hippocrates said Let food be your medicine and let medicine be your food.  In ancient societies in our own hemisphere, the word for spiritual energy was medicine.  Like the classical sameness between the words sanity and sanctity suggests, to be sane means to be wholesome in body and spirit.
We exist by consumption.
We therefore existentialize matter via the act of eating.
Conscious consumption is then the same as conscious being, conscious living.
In all mammals, the primal bond with one’s mother is also highly olfactory.  One of the first things most mammals do when they give birth or when they’re born is to seek each other’s smell.  When we fall in love, one of the things that happens in the brain is that we get addicted to the chemical signal in our mate, the pheromone, which we inhale.  Might there be an unconscious olfactory cognitive function that relates certain odors to a sense of primal safety, familiarity, and pleasure?  Studies suggest a strong link between our sense of smell and our memory banks.  Can we smell ataraxia, and therefore even reproduce it via certain aromas?  Further research is needed.
Discovering these truths would lead to a science of ataraxia that would have been impossible to fully develop in the days of Epicurus, but that we now have the means to begin to explore, not just in a lab but in our daily experiments with feeding and relating to others.
The fact that Epicurus had an insight into the stomach as the seat of our emotions demonstrates that he was a humanist and philosopher in the fullest sense of the words, recognizing the importance of not just the rational, obvious brain but the earlier, primal one as well.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Epicurean Revival

Now, farewell.  Remember all my words.- Epicurus' parting words
A funny twist happened in the 2012 meta-narrative when the world didn't end and no significant historical events transpired on the solstice.  Many 2012-ers began to speak of the world coming to a start.  Although I normally remain cynical, I liked the idea of a fresh perspective, the idea that periodically one can start again, remove the dross of the ages to use Marxist verbiage, or bad faith to use existentialist verbiage.  Alan Watts said our history is not our destiny.  Without renewal, we'd be slaves to the past.

At around the beginning of 2013, I decided to not only send an Act of Defection to the dioceses where I had been baptized as an infant without my consent, but also to take a vow to formally adopt Epicureanism as my philosophy, as was done in antiquity according to the sources which indicate that Epicurus "instituted a hierarchical system of levels among his followers, and had them swear an oath on his core tenets".

I did this, in part, because for months I've been saying: "Wouldn't it be great if the ancient schools and the Epicurean Gardens had not been dismantled, but had continued to exist until our day?"  Now, I've decided that rather than continuing to say this, I will be the change I want to see.

The formality of the Act of Defection led me to research the Epicurean oath, and after deliberating on whether or not to formally adopt the philosophy as my own, I wrote a simple discipleship resolution that reflected my level of adherence and am now officially and formally a proud disciple of Epicurus.  The following is a generic contemporary version of the vow that I wrote for this:
I, ___ , freely and out of my own authenticity declare myself a disciple of Epicurus and I resolve to follow his teachings and to adopt his doctrine as my own, to further it, update it, and make it relevant in my context.  I take refuge in his teachings and I resolve to share them with anyone who expresses a genuine interest in them.  I resolve to treat my mind as an Epicurean Garden and to cultivate it.  I resolve to apply the four remedies, to seek the three goods and to cultivate a blissful state of ataraxia.
In recent months, I took to delving into the Epicurean doctrine in a full manner, seeking to maximize the benefits and the consolations of philosophy.  And so I did not take this oath, until I had thoroughly studied the foundations upon which I was setting my spiritual welfare and, having considered that Epicurean Gardens persisted for seven centuries and obviously fulfilled the social, mental, and other needs of adherents, I decided that this noble philosophy was worthwhile, robust, relevant, and inspiring, that it represented the best and the highest of the secular humanist tradition, and that I needed and desired the light discipline that it provided me with.

In the process of cultivating an Epicurean spirituality, I bumped into gems such as the wonderful, Jules Evans' Epicureans piece in his Philosophy for Life Series, and several other contemporary sites, as well as collections of modern and ancient writings like the one found at

I also administer a forum (only) for adherents of our school of philosophy, the Epicurean Garden.  It's meant as a space where we can discuss issues like philosophy as a practice, how to effectively apply the Epicurean theory and philosophical / empirical methodology to the pursuit of happiness, etc.

Below is a portion of a commentary by a modern Epicurean, Nikos, on one of the 40 Principal Doctrines which points to how by being instead of wanting, we can begin to peer into the Zen-like lake of serenity that is ataraxia.
For Epicurus, the key to taking maximum advantage of the pleasure life affords is appreciating who we are and where we are .... The sickness of desire – more, more, more.  Enough is never enough for the unwise man or woman.   If we are not experiencing physical pain or mental pain, which is the vast majority of the time, we should enjoy and value the pleasures life affords.  If you cannot enjoy the simple pleasure of taking a deep breath or the taste of your morning coffee or listening to the birds sing or the sight of trees turning in fall, you are missing the natural rhythms of being alive.  In a very real sense, all we have is the present moment - relax and enjoy. 
Nikos the Epicurean

Friday, January 11, 2013

Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.  

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Father of Cynicism

Diogenes was asked why he always begged.

"To teach people," replied Diogenes.

"Oh yes, and what do you teach?" people would ask him scornfully.

"Generosity", he replied.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Prophilactics 5

in the days of wifi the land was plagued by talibans
and the westboro klux klan roved the plains
with signs uttering blasphemies against the Spaghetti Lord
coocoo they were, our Noddly Lord judged
coocoo fur shit's sake
blow them all away!

and a waco-like cloud of manjuice exploded
like sperm from a pornstar's ballsaque
and there was a great white flood
and the spaghetti spirit laid its meatballs on the face of the heinous, hated hate-preacher
and said "you wanted divine fury motherfucker?"
and the devil that was in the body of reverend phelps left
and the entire klan was made into goo before our eyes
yay, thusly they entered a black hole in the center of the galaxy
never again to be heard of again
but our noodly numen knew better
and revealed that they had been sent to the planet of the apes

and so the great spaghetti monster saved the day again
from the evil that had settled itself
like a tick in our asses
this is why henceforward the people called this day
"the day of our lord's cumming"

Friday, January 4, 2013

My Act of Defection

When I was an infant, my parents baptized me into the Catholic Church. Like almost all children who grow up in Christendom, at no point was I ever consulted and the ceremony, plus the indoctrination, all took place without my consent. It took me many years to realize the fraud and the dangerous cult that is the Catholic Church, to begin to realize that the high clergy of the church where I was nurtured as a child has always had fascist sympathies and seeded them in the culture, and how detrimental its agenda is to global human rights, and gay and women's rights in particular.  Once I left the church, it's taken me many more years to overcome the anger of having been lied to on so many fronts.

After having last year compared gay people to the Ku Klux Klan, this year Chicago Cardinal George does it again! Now that gay marriage is likely to be approved in Illinois, he wants to play politics even as he dodges his taxes by writing a lil letter calling gay marriage unnatural.

Let's put aside the fact that his church has spent 2 billion dollars covering up the crimes of predator priests and that the pope has headed an international criminal conspiracy to cover up child molestation over generations.

Isn't morality itself unnatural? It's meant to tame our natural aggression. Nature is completely amoral: there's cannibalism in nature, some species of birds sacrifice one chick if that increases the chances of survival of the stronger chick.

Plus, dogs, dolphins, octopi, apes, and almost all mammals engage in homosexuality. What does he mean by unnatural, and in what way would that be relevant to ethical questions?

No species exhibits celibacy.

His doctrine is so unsophisticated, feudal, archaic, bigoted and stupid, and his church so lacking in credibility that it's embarrassing that this type of nonsense is still coming out of his mouth and that he even thinks he has the moral authority to utter this.

But there's more. The pope has given a blessing during the Christmas holidays to a Ugandan Parliamentarian, Representative Kadaga, who had promised her constituents earlier in December that she would pass the Kill the Gays bill in Uganda as a Christmas gift. She was unable to pass the bill because the Parliament went on vacation but it will be considered during January. News about her visit with the pope, how the pope blessed her (and presumably didn't admonish her or mention the Kill the Gays bill) and how the papacy has not ever, not once, assumed any type of leadership role with regards to stopping the bill from passing, as well as pictures of her kneeling and kissing his hands, have gone viral in Western secularist media.

Generally, the Catholic Church makes it nearly impossible for people to declare apostasy and formally leave the church: they try to talk you out of it, to convince you to consider returning "home", to continue treating you like a child. But after exchanging some emails with former Catholic atheists on January 2 of 2013, I figured out what I needed to do and sent this letter to the assistant of the bishop at the dioceses where I was baptized as an infant:

January 2, 2013
Nicholas DiMarzio
Bishop of Brooklyn
310 Prospect Park West
Brooklyn, NY 11215 
Dear DiMarzio, 
I am hereby formally defecting from the Catholic Church and request an execution of the Actus Formalis Defectionis Ab Ecclesia Catholica for myself to begin this process in accordance with canons 1086, 1117 and 1174 of the Code of Canon law as well as notification Prot. N. 10279/2006 from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts (PCLT). 
This request is being made by me personally, freely and consciously in order to sever all bonds of Catholic faith, sacraments, and pastoral governance and constitutes a willful act of apostasy of my part. I am providing herein all necessary information with an explanation for my decision.
I was born on ... in Brooklyn, NY and as a matter of custom received baptism as an infant in New York. In 1991, shortly after turning 15, I stopped believing in Catholic doctrine and left the Catholic Church. I have now chosen to leave the Catholic Church in a formal and open manner for a number of reasons: 
  • I am not a believer in Catholic teachings or any other salvific or revealed doctrine 
  • I am not religious, and in fact consider organized religion to be fraudulent and harmful to society in many ways 
  • I exhibit a profound distrust and skepticism of supernatural claims in general 
  • I am a gay male and consider the anti-gay doctrine and the open hostility of many in the ranks of your clergy to be insulting to our human dignity and harmful to LGBT youth struggling to come out
  • I am a firm believer in the equal validity of same-sex marriage 
  • I am appalled at the culture of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church 
  • The decision to baptize me, and to raise me as a Catholic, was made without my consent when I was an infant 
  • As an adult, I have found that most of the authentic questions I have are best answered within the realm of secular philosophical discourse 
  • I find that my political and ethical views are in direct contradiction with those of the Catholic Church and I vehemently disagree with Church teaching with regards to, among other things, human sexuality. I consider these doctrines as harmful, feudal, archaic and irrelevant 
The decision and declaration of initiating excommunication is made out of my own free will, being of sound mind, and in full cognizance of the repercussions. I do not expect to ever get married in a church and see no need to be a hypocrite in order to participate in sacraments. I also do not wish to be considered Catholic for census and demographics purposes.
I recognize that many members of your church exhibit a high quality of character and it is not my intent to personally attack you or any member of your staff, but simply to respectfully assert my right and my choice of pursuing philosophy instead of religion and to raise my voice in stalwart dissent against the teachings and actions of Catholic leadership. 
For these reasons, I hereby request to be officially excommunicated as soon as possible, to have my name removed from all church accounts, to provide that this act be noted in the baptismal registry (cfr. can. 535, § 2) with explicit mention of the occurrence of a “defectio ab Ecclesia catholica actu formali” and to record that I am no longer a member of the Catholic church according to the PCLT. I want no membership in your church for the rest of my life and expect these wishes to be honored. 
Should you require further information to proceed, please advise accordingly. I look forward to receiving official confirmation of this action at your earliest convenience. 
..... (signed)
And so there it is. I now await my certificate of apostasy (or whatever they send us post-Catholic gentiles), glad to have not been among the sheep that, while not really believing their lies, still went along with the hypocrisy so that sensibilities of sincere Catholics would not be insulted. I am sickened by the cardinal's comments and by the pope's blessing of a woman who has vowed to subject gays in her country to genocide.

I am happy to formally commence the process of excommunicating the Church of Rome from my life. I'm happy to pronounce a firm indictment against at least a small portion of the innumerable crimes that it has engaged in throughout the world's history, and having finally done this I am happy and proud of my place in history.
"If you never wanted to hurt me, why am I running away?" - Madonna
As part of my act of defection, and having read that in antiquity the followers of the Epicurus made a vow when they entered the school of Epicureanism, I also created a certificate on my computer where I formally declared myself a disciple of the philosopher Epicurus, and signed it, in order to formally assume the practice of philosophy in lieu of religion and I have the pleasure to announce that, after many months of studying the philosophy and cautiously pondering my need for this discipline, I am now formally a bona-fide Epicurean.