Category Archives: Thoughts

God Doesn’t Speak But Money Does


In 2004 I found myself going through a personal crisis and of all places I found solace in religion. I grew up in a Jewish exceedingly anti-religious family with very strong Jewish traditional values. I know, it sounds controversial, however, we celebrated every holiday with no exception, but hardly observed the laws and we never went to temple. No way, my grandparents, my father, my uncles, would not be caught dead at the synagogue but we owned – along with other families – a Jewish school where Yiddish, Hebrew, Jewish law, Jewish history, literature, etc. was taught. Go figure.

In 2004 I found myself re-evaluating many aspects of my personal history and behaviors and as the crisis developed I found myself observing many of the elements I was instructed to loath by my upbringing. Harsh huh?

Here I was in the Chabbad of the South Bay mingling with religious folks, studying the Torah, having fantastic discussions, enjoying myself and finding a new sense of community that I had not had since I had left Argentina 20 years back. It felt good. Very quickly my crisis was under control and life continued on. New friends, new challenges, my kids going to Sunday school and beginning to understand more about their heritage, who they were as part of a people and the challenges that Jews continue to face every day.

The High Holidays came around and I spent them for the first time at temple. I had contributed a little money to the community through the Rabbi. I think that as a whole it was $1000k or less. It was not that I was at the top of any list. However, during the Yom Kippur services I was called to hold the Torah. I did not want to go but it is such an honor. I was there to meditate, to be with the community, to be with myself on such a holy day. I went up to the Torah and held it. During Iskor I cried. I felt such a connection to my father that it overwhelmed me.

It is important to note that I am opposed to religion, but just as my father, grandfather and uncles, I feel a bond to Judaism that is unbreakable.

High holiday after high holiday, Shabbat after Shabbat, Purim after Purim we went to temple and celebrated. I even wore a Iarmikle for a while.

A couple of years later I moved about an hour north for a job. I was introduced to the local Chabbad Rabbi and enrolled my kids in their Hebrew School. All was good. My kids and wife felt their approach was too militant and pushy but they were committed to the “cause” so they dealt with it but for example, we never went to Shabbat services. One Sunday I get a call from the director of the Hebrew School regarding an auction they were having to raise money for the school and with an accusatory tone of “why aren’t you here” I was “invited”. I asked the Rabbi if I sent a donation would that please him and excuse me as I was in the middle of dinner at a friend’s. With scorn the Rabbi answered: It depends how much. The conversation continued for a while longer in a similar tone.

Now … While I do come from a very well to do family I am not well to do myself. As a matter of fact I struggle financially every day and have a hard time meeting some of my financial obligations – still, I am very fortunate in other areas – so whatever money I donate comes with some hardship for me. And to be honest, I’d rather pay for private lessons for my kids than to donate, still, when I can I do. I sent the Hebrew School director $250. It did leave me with a bad taste in my mouth, especially when in comparison to the South Bay Rabbi, he would make it easy and not “incriminatory” if you could not donate. That year I also donated $2000 to the community center as well.

The year went on and the High Holidays approached. I was warned that the ascensions to the Torah were auctioned off in the middle of the service and that it is a common practice. I did not fully appreciate the warning, in particular because:

A – I did not grow up in a religious context where that happened so I was ignorant of the practice.
B – because that was not the practice in the South Bay Chabbad and that was my only frame of reference.

I went to Rosh A’Shana services at the Hyatt Hotel. In one of the Ball Rooms. HUH??? Whatever happened to the synagogue? Apparently it is not big enough to host everybody that shows up. So? Neither is the one in the South Bay and they figure out ways to make it happen. And I promise you, the community in the north is way more affluent than the one in the South Bay.

So be it. Services at the Hyatt. I went. Not exactly a holy place, but the community was there so some of the energy was there as well. I fed from it. I started to “meditate” and quickly was transported to times of old. The mojo was strong with this community. You might think of me schizophrenic, but I saw myself at a court yard outside of The Temple a thousand years ago. I saw myself walking around and discussing Torah with others. I had been transported to the past. I was looking at the Temple as it was with my own eyes; I could not believe it. I was touching “God’s face with my hands”. And then somebody stood up and said: “Now we are going to auction off the ascensions”. I felt sick to my stomach. It took me three minutes to realize what was going on and when I did, I packed my Talit and left. The moment I was outside I vomited.

It was as though somebody had kicked me in the testicles really hard. I did not go back. And next year I spent Rosh A’Shana in the South Bay, where I was not interrupted. I have not gone back to temple really. In general the experience has jaded me somewhat. I am not opposed to collecting moneys. I am not even opposed to selling off the ascensions, but do not do it in the middle of a service. Do it in private so people like me that can not afford to play do not feel bad and can participate in the service anyway. Do not be exclusive and shame people. It is a community after all.

Beyond the emotional aspect of the experience and after a few years I have processed the events from a philosophical point of view and after everything is said and done, I think that what bothered me the most is the fact that it feels like the time of the second Temple. If you did not have money and were well to do you had no access to the Torah, in particular, to study the Torah. Really, we have not learned anything from our past?

I guess not.

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The Economy and The Middle Class


Not much of a post, but more a comment. The current economic policies and trends are totally destroying the middle class. While the upper/rich class may be the “brain”  and the lower/poor class the “body” and “muscles” of society, the middle class is the “lungs” and “heart”. Mobility will never stop. Peoples will move up and down  the social strata. But what is going to happen is that less people will move up and more people will move down – all the way down. The middle class is like a midway house that allows recovery.

BTW, if you were wondering, I am a staunch capitalist, thus I fully support the middle class.

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The Closing of 2009


Just as I do every year, I sat down to write this post. I found it particularly difficult; you see, it was not a good year. I always try to focus on the bright aspects of the year that passed. This year is difficult.

I do have a few bright things to report however …

My children, as always, keep on making me very proud. When I think that they can not make me any prouder, they up the anti. What can I say, they are indeed my heros.

My wife … well … she is my pillar. She is my support and, together with my children, my inspiration. I love her. No buts or ifs.

My friends. While this may have been a hard year, I am one lucky guy when it comes to friends. I have some good solid friends. They have been there for me when I needed them. They have provided support, encouragement and growth.

2009 has been a year of terrible disappointments for me in many areas, but, no matter how I dice it or slice it, I have good people around me and reasons to look forward to the future.

In the last couple of weeks, just like in the last weeks of every year,  people around me could not wait for this year to end – partially because they share my disappointments and on their own right their year has been hard. I was of the opinion that I did not want it to end because I was not sure 2010 would be any better. Interestingly, now that I have written this post, I am looking forward to 2010, when before I did not. Sometime putting your fears down on paper (or a file on a computer as in this case) is the best healing.

Happy New Year. May 2010 bring happiness and prosperity.

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Thinking In Time And Space


When I was a child I wanted to be a Theoretical Physicist. Maybe the fact that Albert Einstein was somebody I looked up to might have had something to do with it. However, looking back into it, he was an influence but not a determining factor. My father had a bigger hand in what I wanted to be in addition to my own curiosity. I remember clearly playing, as a child, that I was an interstellar and time traveler. It was not, however, your standard child play … it was more mental.

While my childhood is long gone and I have abandoned many of the topics that interested me then, Theoretical Physics remains an interest. I do not have the required time to pursue it in the manner I would normally do something that interests me – all time consuming – so I stay at a very high and abstract level; conjectures, theories, mere ideas and imagination.

Two very basic and important elements in Physics are Time and Space. These elements can also be understood as concepts and used as basic building blocks. One small disclaimer, while I believe that Mathematics is a Universal language – and by it I mean Universal in the cosmic sense – I will not use it as part if this writing. I would like to say that is because people will not be able to follow, but the truth is that I am way too rusty in it.

Some definitions first:

Space

1 A continuous area or expanse that is free, available, or unoccupied : a table took up much of the space | we shall all be living together in a small space | he backed out of the parking space.
• an area of land that is not occupied by buildings
an empty area left between one-, two-, or three-dimensional points or objects : the space between a wall and a utility pipe.

2 The dimensions of height, depth, and width within which all things exist and move : the work gives the sense of a journey in space and time.
• (also outer space) the physical universe beyond the earth’s atmosphere.
• the near vacuum extending between the planets and stars, containing small amounts of gas and dust.
• Mathematics a mathematical concept generally regarded as a set of points having some specified structure.

Time

The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole : travel through space and time | one of the greatest wits of all time.
• the progress of this as affecting people and things : things were getting better as time passed.
• time or an amount of time as reckoned by a conventional standard : it’s eight o’clock Eastern Standard Time.
( Time or Father Time) the personification of time, typically as an old man with a scythe and hourglass.

When I think of space I think in multiple levels. Just like the definition above, I think of the standard mathematical construct – a point in space is defined as 3 points, one on the x plane, one on the y plane and one on the z plane – I guess I can not escape my training. I think about the laws of Physics – two objects can not occupy the same space concurrently (but that is in 3 dimensions). I think of the house I live in, the office I use every day, the car I drive. I also thinking about distance. The distance from my office to my home, from my home office to the bedroom, and so on.

But the space that concerns me most is the distance between celestial bodies, such as planets, stars and galaxies; similarly, the distance between atoms, electrons, protons, neutrinos. The full understanding of these spaces are key to understanding Physics and thus, the Universe. Often times I ask people what kind, or what size, of a space they can hold in their heads. The most interesting one was “from here to the door”. I though the person was kidding, but it was true. He could only “imagine” the distance he could “see”, which was from where he was to the door. The interesting part was that he fully understood the question and the concept I was after. The rest of the answers were a combination of confused looks to small distances. The reality is that by-and-large people did not comprehend the question and/or have a limited way in which they think about the subject. Not everybody is bothered with such triviality.

When I ask the same question of myself the answer is very different. I can keep in my mind, in my imagination, in my consciousness, several million light years. I know it sounds not only presumptuous but strange. I can travel in just instances across large expanses of the Universe. I can see it in my mind and I can feel each meter going by. But what I can not see is the details.

I can see planets, but not if the planets are inhabited. I can see the color of their atmospheres but not the content. I can bounce from sun to sun and feel their warmth. The Universe is enormous. And the several million light years that I can keep in my mind are but just an tiny portion of the Universe. The Universe is infinite; so a few million light years means nothing. So, proportionally speaking, I can keep in my head not more than “from here to the door”.

While space is something in the “here and now”, time is a different story. Presented to the same “space” question but in regards to time, all people I have asked are at a loss. First, they do not understand the question. After I explain, they do not understand the concept. The question/concept is simple: How long a time can you “remember” and/or “perceive” in your mind.

I can keep billions of years in my head. However, unlike space, I can not travel through time. I wish I could, but I can not. The past is in the past and the future is yet to occur. I am not in particular a student of history. I like history as it serves the purpose of providing a somewhat of a context for understanding events, their cause and effect and how current events are influenced from past events. But history is hardly a means to “travel” to the past.

So, what do I exactly mean by saying I keep billions of years in my head? I feel that I have a good understanding of time and how events have a potential for unfolding. I do not claim, and I want to be clear about this, that I have a full and precise understanding of how events unfold, but only a full understanding that events do unfold and there are ramifications – this is obvious. The question I often ask is: If I could go back to the past and change something, would I now enjoy my children? The cold answer is “most likely not but I would have other children to enjoy”; or “my reality would be different so it does not matter”. And I also want to be clear that I love my children more than anything.

Extend the above simple example to prehistoric man. Or even beyond. What would have happen if a rock that fell to the left had fallen to the right when the primordial soup had first come together. An extra Carbon? Maybe Silicon? And beyond? What was there beyond … if The Big Bang Theory is what happened what happened instances after or before? And finally, what was there before the big bang?

Similarly, what does tomorrow hold in store for me? And in 10 years? What about my kids in 50? Or great-grandchildren in 100? Humanity in 1000? And how will the Universe look in 1 Million years? And that is where I stop, believe it or not. I keep questions in my mind, events with different possibilities and cause and effect from before the alleged Big Bang to 1 Million years in the future. As I said: Billions of years. After that my thoughts become confused, diffused and all together incoherent – you can argue that it is my general state of being, but … hey, pot shots later please.

An important question: Do I subscribe to The Big Bang Theory?

The important answer: Absolutely not.

Surprised? I hope not. When I was about 13 I had my first formal Physics class in High School. In grammar school Physics was a part of Math and Science. Argentina at the time had a different school structure than now. Grammar School was between 6 and 12, and High School between 13 and 17 or 18 depending if you went to a Normal or  Technical school. In class we were explained The Big Bang Theory. In its simplest terms the theory states that at one moment there was a singularity, like a dot made by a pencil and the next moment it expanded to our current universe; and in the expansion process, big amounts or energy were released, thus, BIG BANG!!

Most of my classmates did not really get it. However, being in a technical school they took is as dogma. A few of us scratched our heads. Half of us had come from a very strong religious background. So, the teachings of The Bible came to bare on  the discussion that ensued. The other half – I was amongst this second half – had come from a strong science background. For a time the discussion was monopolized by the religious folks. They brought up some good points; of course, all based on religious views. The teacher was somewhat of an ignoramus and could not intelligently or eloquently discuss The Big Bang from a religious point of view.

Eventually the religious chatter gave way to the science geeks. The teacher was a little better prepared for us than for the other students. But not that much more. My chief argument was that “while the creationist views did not make much sense in general given fossil evidence across multiple subject” – somebody said background radiation? – “The Big Bang Theory did not make sense either in spite of the fossil evidence” – again, background radiation anyone? – “How can a singularity no bigger than a pencil point be so dense as to “pack” all the necessary “matter and energy” to spawn the Universe? And what was there before the Big Bang – “NOTHING” would just not cut it.” The teacher was dumbfounded.

There was no conclusion to the discussion and it soon died out as the teacher continued with the lesson. What a wasted opportunity!!

The basic principle of the conversation remained with me to this day. Evidence needed to be found to support the theories, including creationism. I embarked on a life long venture to discover the evidence. I started with religion; I was foolish enough to think it was the easiest and most accessible. We will leave that for a different blog post.

Science, while still lacking, provided many of the answers I was looking for. But not all of them. To this day “modern” Science lacks the same depth that religion has achieve over a much longer life span. But it will get there and I suspect religion would not be anywhere close.

I do have to say that I have a great deal of respect for religious people, specially the ones that can carry out a conversation in “scientific” terms – and even better if there is some libation fueling the mood. Being able to have faith is enviable.

What do I propose as an alternative theory? For starters, the Universe has always been and will always be. While it may sound as a cop-out, I feel very strongly that from a logical point of view it makes more sense. Consider Einstein’s conservation of mass and energy: No mass is lost but transformed; no energy is lost but transformed. No matter how dense a singularity can be, in my wildest imagination I can not conceive it to have as much mass as the imaginable Universe has – not to say the rest of the Universe, the un-imaginable.

What I can imagine is all of the celestial bodies’ and their gravitational field synching up and attracting each other. This occurred a long time ago; trillions and trillions of years ago, if not more. We now observe the Universe expanding, but to an observer on those times, the Universe would have been contracting. As the bodies got closer together, their collective gravities started to tear the bodies apart further increasing the overall gravitational field and accelerating the bodies to each other converging in some “Point” in “Space”.

Again, from an observers point of view, it would have looked as a very dense singularity  and relatively speaking, possibly as a “lead point”.

At some point in time gravity was so strong that all bodies collapsed on each other creating a massively dense – not only mass but also energy in the form of gravity – conglomerate of bodies to a point that stored and potential energy in the system became so large that it needed to be released. And this release is what has become known as the “Big Bang”.

Maybe I need to restate what I previously wrote – it is not that I do not believe in the Big Bang, but that I think the theory is incomplete and erroneous in its assumptions from a timed events point of view.

There is another point that needs to be brought up: What is the definition of “ … some ‘Point’ in ‘Space’”? In other words, how is this point expressed and what is its dimensionality? And again … that is a topic for a different post.

Further Reading:

http://www.fortunecity.com/emachines/e11/86/big-bang.html

http://www.universetoday.com/2008/06/13/thinking-about-time-before-the-big-bang/

http://www.tomcoyner.com/before_the_big_bang_there_was__.htm

https://filer.case.edu/dts8/thelastq.htm

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Customer Service In The Era Of The Internet


I despise talking to customer service. Most of the companies I have had to call either for information, to report a problem, ask for a refund, get an RMA, or anything related to service, have resulted in horrible experiences. The customer service reps have been rude, they have lacked product knowledge, they have been less than attentive and willing to listen and have made no efforts in trying to find a solution that worked; to make matters worse US based reps can barely speak intelligent English. To the above equation you need to add reps not based on the US. It is not the accent that bothers me – mine is so thick you can cut it with a knife – but the lack of a customer centric culture. The accent just gets further in the way and aggravates the situation.

There are two companies where the experience is 180 degrees in the other direction: USAA and LaCie.

To call USAA’s customer service exceptional is to not do them justice. They are superb. I am not sure how the reps are trained, but I am yet to talk to a rep on the phone and not gotten the help I needed. What impresses me is that when a rep does not know the information, they freely admit it and they are not exactly apologetic. However, they know where to go get the information and who to hand you over to. The hand over from one rep to another is also fantastic. The first rep introduces you to the second. The second greets you and the first one asks the second if he/she has you. If the answer is positive, the first bids you good bye and now you are talking to the second rep, who had been fully briefed before you started talking, thus, not having to repeat yourself. Of the few times I had to call USAA – they have a great track record – and in those few times the experience has been consistent: Great customer service every time I call.

The experience with LaCie was completely different. I called to complain about an order I had placed where one of the items was back-ordered. My complaint was that I had been charged for the back-ordered item even though it had not been delivered, or so it seemed. The customer service rep, although I was very short, was nice, cordial, composed and quickly turned the situation around by being understanding of how I viewed the situation. He very quickly changed the mood and tone of the call and resulted on a happy customer. I am not sure if that is the experience I will get next time. Regardless, it was a pleasant one. The most important part of this experience was that even though I was in “the wrong”, I was never made to feel that I was wrong.

Few other experiences rival LaCie’s. So few that I can count them with one hand and have change. By at large, my experiences are really crappy and frustrating. The worst experiences are the in-store experiences. Two companies are notorious in my book: CompUSA and Fry’s Electronics. I will not go into details of these experiences because there is nothing to learn from them and in all honesty, I would waste your time describing them. But let’s just say that the reps where less than intelligent; their knowledge of what the products they carry is near nil; their interest in taking care of you is non-existent; their personal hygiene and presentation also lacking. And their vocabulary … well … let’s just say that my children have a better vocabulary than the people I encountered have.

I completely understand that the opportunities for education these people have had are not, to any degree, comparable to mine or my children’s. And I do not blame them for their lacks. I will, on the other hand, make them responsible for it. Who I really blame is the store managers (who probably also do not know any better) or regional managers. I blame people all the way to the top. They are the ones that lack customer focused service and since they lack it, they can not expect their chain of subordinates to react any different than they currently do.

A while back I was recommended I read a book called “Raving Fans” by Blanchard and Bowles. This book is a good example of why USAA and the CS Rep at LaCie are so effective in providing exemplary customer service. I recommend you read it. To think of it, the person that recommended it should read it again. His organization’s customer service is beyond lacking to the point that Fry’s and CompUSA’s in comparison are not too bad.

The customer service landscape today is, based on my experiences, a minefield with a few safe havens. But it needs not to be such a disaster. Traditionally customer service had information issues. In other words, a customer service rep lacked complete and accurate information. And when the data was available, it was hardly ever integrated and presented in such a way that helped the rep. Once upon a time I used to work for Prudential Group Insurance, West Coast Operations. My main responsibilities were to provide technical assistance to customer service reps (CSRs) and help them navigate a series of disconnected mainframe based systems. This was in 1994, ages ago in internet times.

Fast forward to today. CSRs’ operations are no longer, for the most part, mainframe based, and most system have been integrated in such a way that the information is presented in a series of screens that make life much easier to find. To make matters better for CSRs, many of the system offer key-word search to assist finding information more efficiently. A clear example of some of these advances is banking. When you call your bank, in many cases (BofA Credit Card Services for example), you are connected to CSR in India, The Philippines, and other. The rep has access to a great deal more of information regarding your account and transaction history.

Putting the cultural and language elements aside, the first issue starts with security. Some person in some country half across the world has access to some of your most important financial information. But that would not change if the CSR was located here in the US, or for Europe in Europe or however local. What would change is the ability to do background checks. Secondly, what level of encryption in maintained for the connection between the outfit in India, for example, and the data repository in Colorado, again for example? If it was local, then there are regulations that need to be observed and regulatory bodies that conduct audits. Although these regulatory bodies extend their scrutiny to vendors and providers, I am not sure of the level of efficiency and transparency rendered in the above mentioned audits.

However, security, technolgy and data/information even though paramount, the problem remains with my chief complaint: Lack of customer focus on the part of the CSRs. And with the information they have at their disposal and the installed systems providing the information, I am utterly surprised service is still lacking.

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Ethics And Morality


For a while now, I have been concerned with Ethics and Morality. What they mean,  how they relate to each other, how humanity interprets and implements them, whether they extend beyond humanity and planet Earth, the history of Ethics and Morality and how they have evolved through time. Ethics and Morality did not start with Greece and the classic period, but for all accounts, at least as far as I know, the concepts were formalized then.

I have spent a few weeks now reading definitions. In the original version of this post, I had included a few of them. But then the post became too technical and about definitions rather than discussion and intellectual investigation. Moreover, I encountered contradicting definitions from different sources. I am enclosing a summary of the encountered definitions since they provides a frame of reference for the rest of the post:

  • In one set of definitions Ethics was defined as the study of Morality, while Morality as the study of Ethics.
  • A second set defined Ethics as the study of Morality and Morality as “the principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior”.
  • A third definition defines Ethics as the study of “what is good and what is bad and how it applies to behavior” and Morality as the study of Ethics.

Now you see the problem. The first definitions create a circular reference. It defines one in terms of the other and provides no scope as to what the true nature of these words really is. The second and the third are in direct conflict with each other. One defines Ethics in terms of what the other defines Morality.

My concern with these concepts goes beyond definitions, meanings and interpretations. I often argue that humans as a specie has yet to develop intellectually. We lack vision and imagination to truly incorporate time expanses of trillions of years and distances of billions of light years. And along those limitations, we lack the capacity to understand the true nature of the universe. Moreover, we have developed this limitation in the tongues we speak and write.

I try to think outside the box. I try, with some level of success, to think beyond the intellectual limitations inherent to humanity. Not because I am more intelligent, but because at least I recognize the limitations are there and I attempt to break through them. At the risk of sounding conceited and arrogant, if Einstein did it, so can I. In trying to break through the limitations I often try to organize concepts in hierarchies. Proof of my limitation is that I have started to think in trillions of years and billions of light years, while time and space are infinite; and no matter how I reconstruct my hierarchies, I can not visualize and internalize this infinity. But slowly, I am getting there.

Ethics and Morality are part of this thinking outside the box and organization. Just as Mathematics (I will argue the universality of Mathematics in a separate post) and mathematical concepts are true here on Earth, as in the Moon, Alpha-Centauri or 100’s light years away in any direction, other constructs and concepts must be as well. So, if the concept of  1 + 1 = 2 here on Earth or 10 Billion light years away holds, so does the concept of Good and Bad. However, before we can define this concept we need a framework.

Looking back at the summary of definitions above, I subscribe to the second one:

“… defined Ethics as the study of Morality and Morality as ‘the principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior’”

This definition provides a workable framework for the way I see Ethics and Morality. Ethics is an abstract concept while Morality deals with specifics. In other words, Ethics is a theory, a collection of ideas and concepts that describe esoterically a state of being, while Morality is the implementation of the theory. There is no weight in Ethics. There is no judgement in Ethics. There is no bias in Ethics, just the description of how to build a system of moral values, whatever these values may be. On the other hand, Morality is all about weight, judgement and bias. Morality is the implementation of an ethical system.

The table below is provided as an example of other conceptual and implementation associations in the hopes that it will clarify the argument above:

table_001.jpg

From the definition and table above I have established that Ethics is a theoretical construct while Morality is its individual implementations. Thus, what follows is that there is more than one morality, which indeed there are.
If we want to think of Morality as a complete concept, whether or not as an implementation of Ethics, we need to think of it as a collection of individual moralities. These moralities, in the majority of cases, are based on religious or cultural basis. We can consider a Christian Morality, which in itself could be considered a collection of individual moralities following the different Christian splinters (Roman Catholic, Baptist, Episcopalian, Church of England, etc.) Similarly, a Jewish Morality may follow an alike pattern and be a collection or moralities in the same form as Christian Morality. So on and so forth. (But, outside of religious based moralities, what other moralities can we find? We will come back to this later.)

These moralities all deal with specific behaviors. In the case of Judaism, in particular within the orthodox communities, there are 613 Mitzvoth (commandments) that must be followed and observed. A portion of these are regarding good: “You Shall”, and a portion regarding not good:”You Shall Not”. These commandments are the basis for a behavior and the compendium of moral codes. Yes, I am equating commandments to behaviors, but that is exactly what a commandment is: a discrete behavior. A commandment is a quantifiable action and the collection of quantifiable actions represents a behavior(s). I will assume that Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, etc., follow a similar pattern of commandments and behaviors. Furthermore, while I do equate commandments or compendiums of moral codes to behaviors, I am not equating religion and dogma with morality. This distinction is important.

Does Ethics deal with good and bad? Or Good and Evil? This is an important question. In my opinion no it does not. However, when discussing Ethics we normally fall into discussion of good and bad, Good or Evil. Why is that? Because our inability to maintain a level of abstraction. Based on the above definition: “ … Ethics as the study of Morality …” we can clearly see another reason why we fall into identifying Ethics with good and bad, Good and Evil, it seems implicit in the definition since Morality is defined as the study of good and bad “behaviors”. What seems implicit, it may not be.

Athenians and Spartans shared the same logical bases and by at large the same code of Ethics. But their moralities had points of difference. While Sparta condoned euthanasia, Athens repelled it. The moralities of the two city-states where based on the same set of religious beliefs, the same set of logics, same philosophical backgrounds and bases of governments. However, Spartans, based on their needs supported the systematic disposal of undesirable genetics traits by killing new-borns that did not measure up. Today, we would consider this practice evil. But that would be our morality speaking and not Ethics.

To summarize

  • Ethics is the theory of actions and behaviors that can lead to good and bad, Good and Evil. However, it does not label any of the identified actions and good or bad, Good or Evil. It also deals with the concept of good and bad, Good and Evil but does not create an association between actions and these concepts.
  • Morality creates associations between actions and behaviors and good and bad, Good and Evil. These associations are normally built in the context of religious dogma and culture.
  • Ethics is universal. Since it does not deal with associations, the concepts can be transposed to any part of the Universe without loosing validity.

The exceptions that prove the rule

There are two questions that I will not answer, but are pertinent to the topic in this post:

  1. When we talk about business and the concepts of good and bad, we discuss them in the context of Business Ethics. However, isn’t this the case of a mislabeled morality?
  2. Is “truth” (not THE TRUTH) part of Ethics or Morality?

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Filed under General, Thoughts

God


So … here comes Bob and tells me that he had a discussion with a Rabbi and the Rabbi suggested that God might have created the Universe several billion years old and earth with all the fossil evidence of an older system. However, the Universe and the planet is indeed only 6000 years old or just about. Well … it is a possibility. In our limited definition of God (or a God), an entity with the assigned “powers” could have done things in such a way. I fail to understand the logic of such creation – except as a joke – but then again, there are many things that have nothing to do with logic as we understand it and are beyond our limited understanding.

When I started to study Torah with Josale – he is a good guy, not only smart but VERY intelligent – he tried to explain Torah to me in terms I would understand … business terms. So, God creates and does a marketing study and runs a pilot. If he does not like it, he starts from scratch. And from the ashes and sparks of his “failures” he starts again. I guess God does not believe in reusability and building up from solid foundations. But that is OK; since we are made in his image, many of us do not believe in reusability either – but I do.

My questions is: Why doesn’t God reveal himself more clearly to us? What’s the mystery? Why such cryptic signs? Religious people would argue … indeed they would … that God reveals himself VERY clearly. There is no mystery. That mystery is created by people in order to deny God. What does denying really mean?

Let me state my position clearly:

1 – I have a hard time believing in God. At the same time, I have a hard time not believing in God.

2 – I do not have to believe or agree or even share other people’s view points, ideas and believes. But I do have to accept them for what they are, view points, ideas and believes. Moreover, I have to accept the peoples whose believes, ideas and view points I do not subscribe to.

Believing in God – or not – has many levels. Let’s assume, for the sake of this part of the post, that not only I believe there is a God, but I believe that the Torah, Gospels, Koran and other holy books represent the word of God as His own word. So, somebody transcribed for God. Moses, Mohammed, Buddha and many others were God’s prophets and they put down God’s words. Good for God, it had secretaries!! But … do I believe in those words as the truth? How about the ultimate truth? These books, to some extent or another, are full of laws and regulations that were pertinent 5000 years ago. Some of them are still VERY valid today, but many are not. Obviously some religious people will argue with me that those laws and regulations are valid today as they were valid 5000 years ago. It may be so, however, I just do not see it that way. God’s words would have a level of permanency and validity beyond time. And some of the laws and regulations are obsolete. On the other hand because they are obsolete, as long as they can be applied, I see no problem on people keeping with them.

The Torah describes in extreme details the different offerings for the different times of the years, situations, festivities, etc. Most of them are not kept anymore because they have become impractical. But those offerings are not written as optional. They are written as laws and regulations. Rules that people MUST follow no matter what or else, the wrath of God would descend upon the people. Those laws and rules have been adapted to coexist in today’s world. But if you really want to take the WORD of God seriously, then the adaptation is outside of the words themselves.

The word of God maybe is not really the word of God. Maybe it is the word of a few people that had the foresight to see the problems with society at the time and decided to help. Did they have contact with God? Maybe their foresight came from God. Maybe they were en-tuned with humanity because many of these rules’ validity lasted for a long time.

So … I am not so sure about the words!! And if they are the words of God, I am not sure I believe in those words. It leads then to question God’s existence itself. If God is omnipresent and omnipowerful, then the words should carry more weight. Clearly in my case they do not.

Does this mean that I do not believe in God? No, it does not. What it does mean, at least on a first approach, is two things:

A – I do not necessarily believe in God in the same way I may not believe in what somebody tells me. It has to do with authority. Just like I assign very little authority to a police officer I assign, potentially, very little authority to God since its authority comes, initially, from those written words.

B – In the assignment of some authority to God implies that God may exist after all. You can not assign authority to a non-existant entity.

As I wrote above, I have a hard time believing or not believing. But I do accept the possibilities, wether intellectually I agree with them or not. This leads to Acceptance and Tolerance ..

From the New Oxford American Dictionary (I finally figured out what dictionary I had in my computer):

acceptance |akˈseptəns|
noun
1 the action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered : charges involving the acceptance of bribes | [as adj. ] an acceptance speech | he had an acceptance from the magazine.
• agreement to meet a draft or bill of exchange, effected by signing it.
• a draft or bill so accepted.
2 the action or process of being received as adequate or suitable, typically to be admitted into a group : you must wait for acceptance into the club.
3 agreement with or belief in an idea, opinion, or explanation : acceptance of the teaching of the church.
• approval or favorable regard : the options proposed by the report gained acceptance.
willingness to tolerate a difficult or unpleasant situation : a mood of resigned acceptance.

ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: from Old French, from accepter (see accept ).

tolerance |ˈtäl(ə)rəns|
noun
1 the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with : the tolerance of corruption | an advocate of religious tolerance.
• the capacity to endure continued subjection to something, esp. a drug, transplant, antigen, or environmental conditions, without adverse reaction : the desert camel shows the greatest tolerance to dehydration | species were grouped according to pollution tolerance | various species of diatoms display different tolerances to acid.
• diminution in the body’s response to a drug after continued use.
2 an allowable amount of variation of a specified quantity, esp. in the dimensions of a machine or part : 250 parts in his cars were made to tolerances of one thousandth of an inch.
ORIGIN late Middle English (denoting the action of bearing hardship, or the ability to bear pain and hardship): via Old French from Latin tolerantia, from tolerare (see tolerate ).

These definitions not withstanding, I see Acceptance and Tolerance as natural antonyms. Acceptance is about openness and understanding. It is about transparency and education. While Tolerance is about closedness and separation; about being opaque and selfish.

Let’s expound on Tolerance first. Tolerance is about degrees. It is about the breaking point of not being tolerant. For example you can tolerate a baby crying for so long. If the crying persists, and your “tolerance” is low, then you will get annoyed and request to be remove from the annoyance. In the extreme, you will take matters into your own hands and make sure the baby stops crying. Tolerance is used often enough within the context of Religious Tolerance. The message is loud and clear, tolerate the baby while you can, and when you can not, take matters into your own hands. The Museum of Tolerance is adeptly named. It is all about the breaking point of tolerance and what happens when certain people take matters into their own hands.

Acceptance is not about degrees. It is about black and white. It is about realizing that we do not like something but learning to live with it. It is about coexisting in a community (neighborhood, city, country, world) where differences exist. It is about understanding (or not) those differences and making room for the differences to mature into a common language of understanding. I do not have to agree with the baby crying, but the baby will cry nonetheless. I have two viable choices: either I learn to live with the crying baby or I have to move on. Taking matters into my own hands is never a choice.

Back to God …

When I was much younger I engaged in the quest of answering whether there is a God or not. At some point I decided that the question did not make any sense and that nothing changed one way or the other however the question was answered. A few years ago, through my children and friends, I was brought back to the quest. This time around I benefit from experience and knowledge. I have lived not only longer, but in many places and have interacted with many more people. Those interactions have provided different perspectives on the subject and many inputs into my thinking.

One of the elements that I have been able to factor out is the difference between Tolerance and Acceptance and how it pertains to God. I have no idea still if there is a God or not. I am not a man of faith (read The Faithful And The Intelectual) and will never be. Faith is not my game so to speak. The only way I would get to God, for better or worse, is through the intellectual process. And in this pursuit I have learn that Acceptance is key and Tolerance is destructive. Acceptance has opened my mind to possibilities while tolerance does not. The world is full of possibilities. Whether coincidence or design, whether Nature or God, the truth is clear but our vision is clouded.

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Filed under Religion, Thoughts