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If this is more information than you need to know, you might prefer my Simple Bio. If you really want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes, however, let's continue...
Well being a generally philosophical person, I see this question of who I am as a bit deeper than it appears on the surface. This question often actually consists of a combination of various different questions. So first I will discuss:
I will then answer each one of those more particular and concrete questions encompassed by the broader question of "Who Am I?" including:
But let's begin with an attempt to answer the actual question of who I am, the way that I interpret it.
My Concept Of The Self
I'm an agnostic with a strong relation to the Buddhist idea of no self. What I mean by this is that there is no ONE voice or personality that is your definite self. I DO strongly believe that we have false selves, illusory parts of us that really do not reflect our true identity. So I guess you could say that I see the self as a spectrum that lies within a limited range. I don't believe that the self is so flexible that a midget can become an Olympic pole vaulter through affirmations and will-power, or a mentally retarded child will become Albert Einstein's successor. But, I do believe it is flexible enough that a hardened criminal can later become a successful teacher, lawyer or businessman, for instance, or a learning disabled child can become a world-class professor. No jokes about lawyers and businessmen already being criminals please!
I guess the main point is that the potential within our selves, I believe, is limited, but we really can't be sure where our limits are. So a good plan is to balance realism and idealism, and test just how far you can go within your potential.
My Range of Self
I range from intellectual and serious to fun and goofy as a clown, though to see the really goofy side I have to be pretty comfortable with you. I range from very athletic at times to couch (well computer) potato. I am a walking example of the phrase I first heard from George Carlin - "scratch a Cynic, and underneath you will find a disappointed Idealist." I can range from very shy in certain situations or around certain people to quite outgoing and confident with others. In general I consider myself a freethinker, but I definitely have my limits, and am not an anarchist. I can be very compassionate or very stubborn and protective of myself depending on how you treat me. I think I am usually a generally kind and giving person, but I can get angry if I feel that I or someone I care about is being mistreated. In many instances, I reflect the way that I feel I am being treated.
Labelling My Self
"The first step to wisdom is getting things by their right name." - Chinese proverb quoted by Edward O. Wilson in Naturalist
My view of my self, as a philosophical concept, is always evolving. Right when I think I have finally defined myself as clearly as possible, a new concept comes along that is even more specific. For the last several years - ever since I became self-aware enough to even attempt such specific identification - there have been several religious, philosophical, or political concepts that I felt either partially or completely defined me at various times, including:
Despite periods where one or more of these concepts seemed to most completely define me, there was never any of them that seemed to be able to do so permanently. Ultimately, I found that my true view of my self encompasses parts of all of these. Then, in 1998 I read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn and, after researching the roots of his ideas further, discovered the paradigm of Systems Thinking.
- Bright - No this doesn't just mean smart. Click the link to learn more.
- Gifted (I always hate the arrogant connotations of this term. But what it really means to me, in short, is an individual with high emotional, intellectual, and even physical sensitivity in various areas.)
- INTJ (also see) - My personality type on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
- Long-term Pragmatist
- Pragmatic Idealist
- Secular Humanist
At this point, the concept that I think most completely and specifically defines me, taking into account all of these various labels, is the concept of Systems Thinking. I am, at the core, a Systems Thinker - hence the title of this website. You can read more about Systems Thinking elsewhere on this site.
Defining My Life Roles
So given my self-concept, what is my purpose on this planet, if I do, in fact, have one? As an agnostic, I am open to the possibility that there is no purpose. However, for practical purposes, I often act as if there is one. As for defining roles, I usually end up seeing myself as an awakener and a connector.
"I am not a teacher, but an awakener." -- Robert Frost
By awakener, I mean that I seek, rather than simply telling things to people - teaching them - to bring them closer to understanding their own ranges of self and breaking past barriers of denial or fear. In other words, to bring things out of them, rather than just put things into them. This is closely related to the humanistic concept of self-actualization. It is through this awakening process that we actualize.
Admittedly, I have a long way to go, as well, in such matters, and have plenty awakening left to do in myself. I don't mean to imply that I am fully awakened myself, simply because I enjoy helping others to awaken more. We are all at various stages of this process, and all have much to learn from each other. Appropriately, the more awakened, actualized, and in touch with my true self I become, the more able I am to awaken others in the same way.
By connector, I mean that I seek to consolidate the range of areas in which I have expertise or knowledge, and connect others to that information or to those resources. Furthermore, many of my areas of interest and my activities seem to overlap, in much the same way that they all seem to play a part in making up my whole self-concept as a Systems Thinker. This overlap is also evidenced in my experience with other people, where these same interests seem to tend to coexist in many of the same people that I meet, despite being subtly different ideas. I seek to help people not only connect with information in those areas, but also connect with other people who share those philosophical views, most of which are not the majority views in our culture.
I find that many who have some combination of these philosophies can feel like outcasts or end up depressed or confused because of a lack of support from others. I have found that meeting others of like mind has been invaluable in helping to solidify my self-esteem and my commitment to being true to myself, and I hope that in helping others to find each other, I can help them to experience some of those same benefits.
Above all, I try to help others, along with me, to connect to our most authentic, true selves.
Now let's answer some more concrete questions, which are what I think many - though not all - people really mean when they ask who I am anyways.
Where Am I From?
At this writing, I reside in Oak Park, Michigan. This is just north of Detroit, Michigan, and right near Southfield and Royal Oak. I was born in Carlsbad, California. We moved back to my parents' hometown of Metro Detroit when I was a baby, living in Southfield and then West Bloomfield. When I was 4, we lived in Dallas, TX for a short time. After high school, I lived in Ann Arbor and attended University of Michigan. I then lived in Southfield while attending Wayne State Medical School, before moving to my present location in Oak Park.
What Do I Do?
There are two ways to take this question. It is one of the sad facts about our modern culture that when people ask "What do you do?", they so often mean what do you do for money or to make a living. Even worse, sometimes people ask "Who are you?" meaning what do you do for money or for a living. To pigeonhole an entire person simply by what they do to earn money is very narrow-minded, in my opinion. Somewhat better, though still narrow-minded, is pigeonholing a person's activities by just what they do for a living.
While I find this extreme focus on money and jobs somewhat troublesome, and feel that there is a lot more to life than these aspects, I realize that this is for most of us simply habit of language. So let me first answer "What do you do for a living?" and then answer the broader question "What do you do?"
What Do I Do For a Living?
My career path spent a long while in a limbo state, before finally beginning to take shape. For my entire life, up to the age of about 25, I was destined to be a doctor. I had extreme reservations about this path, but I took it nonetheless because my parents were quite encouraging of it, and I was very unsure of who I was yet or what I wanted to do for a living. I started down that path very early, at the age of 17, with the college pre-med prerequisites and just kept going. I was admitted to medical school at 21. It wasn't long before I knew that this path was not for me, but unlike many other graduate programs, medicine is an all or nothing endeavor. You don't get a masters degree after a year or two. You either finish all four years of medical school and obtain your M.D., or you quit and get nothing. By the time I had put in a year or two, I knew that I had to at least finish, and I did. I graduated in 2000 with my M.D.
Having a strong interest in the mind from a very young age, the only medical field I had true interest in as a career was psychiatry. For reasons articulated quite well by Sigmund Freud, I was utterly disgusted with the medical path into psychiatry, as well as the modern practice of pill-pushing psychiatry. After graduating medical school, I took a year off to seek out an alternative path within the mental health field. This exploration brought me into contact with a number of fascinating people. After a year of attempting and failing to find an alternative route or a psychiatry program that I felt would fit my personality and interests, I resigned myself to simply entering a program here in Detroit.
A few months before I was to begin my residency, a friend offered me a job with a startup software firm that he was involved with. I looked at the business plan and was thrilled. It was a very exciting idea and opportunity, so I began working there. This company began growing and my instincts told me it had enormous potential. I was so excited, after years of memorization and regurgitation, to be doing something more creative and with seemingly unlimited potential. I was soon promoted to Vice-President with promises of stock options and more. The company began growing, with an international presence and several large customers. We were featured on the front page of the Detroit News technology section, in an ironically headlined article - my first fifteen minutes of fame! Things were looking up! I decided to commit to this company, and informed the residency program that I would not be attending. This was the end of trying to fit myself into a medical and psychiatric community that I simply could not particpate in with a clear conscience.
Soon, the software company was doing very well, but internal problems began to arise. Without getting into specifics, let's simply say that Martha Stewart and Ken Lay of Enron combined couldn't have sabotaged things more efficiently than this group sabotaged the not only possible, but almost inevitable, success of this company. Nonetheless, I found myself looking for employment a few months later, the company's dreams dead and the staff either completely gone or in a shambles. While this experience was extremely painful, it also played an important role as a transition for me. It woke me up to the fact that corporate America was most likely not somewhere that I would be able to reach my highest potential, and taught me a great deal about myself and others.
At this point I was unemployed and I considered doing medical transcription to make ends meet for the time. That never materialized. However, luckily for me, I had just recently began the Under The Hill group for younger members of Southeastern Michigan Mensa. A friend of mine in the group offered me a part-time job at a local non-profit. I took the job, and while certainly not a lifelong dream job, it was a very flexible and effective way of making a living for several years, while allowing me time to work on all of my other interests and projects. In the course of this more exploratory phase, I was able to figure out more fully who I am and a career emerged that is more in line with my increasingly awakened and actualized self.
After exploring in a number of areas, I narrowed down my most suitable career options to a few. One was a career in Systems Thinking. One was a career in Humanistic Psychology. One was a career in Evolutionary Psychology. Finally, one was in Public Interest Law like Ralph Nader, someone I have long admired. I began to consider the pros and cons of each of these fields, as well as searching for ways to integrate them. I wrote thirty pages in this process, only to find I still had no clear idea of what to pursue. All of these fields had huge pros and huge cons and none of them felt like they alone could encompass quite enough of what I really wanted to do. Then, as so often happens when things click, providence stepped in and the answer emerged in its own time.
For several years I had talked with my friend, Mark S. Meritt, trying to piece together all the elements of the systemic worldview that we had both been so inspired by in Daniel Quinn's writings, and which had inspired our work together on Mosaic Magazine. By 2004, we had gotten to a point where we were fairly comfortable with our intellectual understanding of the material and were now anxious to learn how to apply it more actively in our lives, as well as how to make a living in a fashion in line with our beliefs.
In November, 2004, I flew to upstate New York to visit Mark and take part in a conference where his friends, Bill and Lisa Giruzzi, introduced us to the field of Appreciative Inquiry. A few days of discussion with Mark, catalyzed by the introduction by Bill and Lisa of this new discipline to the mix, led to the idea of starting a company that would combine all of the various elements of our worldview and of my own psychological background and skills, within the framework of Appreciative Iniquiry. And so, by February, 2005, Emergent Associates, LLC, our coaching, consulting and training company, was born.
The early stages of building Emergent Associates has been incredibly rewarding and exciting. It has taught me a great deal about myself, allowed me to help others improve their lives, and set the stage for me to finally make a living doing what I do best, while playing all of the life roles I believe I am best suited to play.
What Else Do I Do?
For quite some time, the things that I did outside of my job were far more reflective of who I was and my core self. Now, due to the creation of Emergent Associates, my activities are generally far more integrated into my core self. However, I'm still very proud of many of the things I have done in the past, many of which I continue to do. My interests and projects are elaborated upon at length in this site and all of them contain important elements of who I am.
What Do I Believe?
My beliefs generally fall into one of three categories. Religious, political, or philosophical. If you ask my opinion on any issue, it most likely will be influenced by a matrix consisting of these three general areas.
My Religious Beliefs
I was raised in a Jewish family, but I was simply never able to fully accept that religion, nor Christianity or Islam or any other Western religion. I remember even at age 12 having arguments about the inconsistencies and contradictions inherent in these religions. Moreover, I couldn't understand the concept of man as fallen and sinful. Why would God give me qualities and urges and an intellect, and then hold me in contempt simply for using those qualities and for not believing in his existence without any evidence? As I got older, I found even deeper issues with religion. I traced many social problems that I had encountered in terms of relationships, work, education, and other areas back to what I see as the extreme rigidity and anti-reason attitude of Western religions.
No wonder, then, that in my early twenties when I began to learn more about Buddhism, I was intrigued. Here was a system of beliefs that more closely matched my experience. It didn't tell me that my natural urges were wrong and sinful. It did say some of them were perhaps unhealthy, and I should think about whether they are in my best interest for MY sake, not because a man in the sky would strike me down otherwise. It told me to learn by experience, not to blindly believe in anything I was told, even its own teachings. It taught me about meditation, which helped me get in touch with and understand my experience of multiple potential selves/no self competing inside me, as well as sparking the curiosity and ability to better ascertain which parts were true and which false. From that point on, I knew that, if any religion was for me, it was an Eastern one, not a Western one.
Over the years I read a bit about Hindu and Tao. Some Tao concepts I found very intriguing also, but nothing was as close to a religion I could subscribe to as the more scientific, down-to-earth branches of Buddhism. As much as I relate to its principles - some of them very similar to Systems Thinking principles - I never could buy into the mystical parts of Buddhism much more than the mystical parts of Western religions. I would say I believe strongly in a huge portion of Buddhist concepts, however there are certainly areas that I cannot completely agree with.
Ultimately, I would say I am closest to being a Buddhist or Taoist if I had to pick a religion, but I would prefer not to pick one because I see things in every one of them that I agree with and others I disagree with. Buddhism and Taoism just have the most I agree with and the least I disagree with of the ones I know about. Admittedly, there are many I don't know about. In recent years, Daniel Quinn's work has introduced me to some of the more nature-based religions, with which I was completely unfamiliar. I agree strongly with many principles in those religions, as well.
If there is one theme that runs through all of the religions that I most agree with, it is a lack of dogma and the lack of a rigid view of God. I have likened humans trying to understand God to a dog trying to understand calculus. At this point in my life, I don't feel the human mind is capable of understanding anything nearly as complex as God. As my cousin once told me, "Any God that humans can understand is by definition not God." Or as biologist-mathemetician-philosopher J.B.S. Haldane wrote, as quoted in Sociobiology: The Whisperings Within by David Barash: "The world is not only queerer than we imagine, it is queerer than we can imagine."
As Haldane lived long before gay pride parades, I am certain he was referring to the fact that the true nature of the universe necessarily lies outside of the realm of human sensation and comprehension. If there is a God, I am putting my money on him/her/it being far more complex than anything the human mind can even fathom. However, in the end, believing in God comes down to faith. I am simply unable to completely abandon reason and profess 100% certainty in God's existence (or his nonexistence, for that matter). As one scientist said "Whether there is a God, or is not, it is equally unbelievable."
This is not to say that I haven't experienced any of the things that cause others to believe strongly in God. I have had many experiences that feel mystical and sacred, that feel as if the universe is suddenly one and I am completely a part of it. However, due to my beliefs regarding epistemology, I am still unable to declare these with total certainty anything more than feelings. Are they signs from God, or are they lobes of my brain firing neurochemicals? I will never know, and I doubt you will either. I could be wrong, but that is what I believe at this point in my life. Hence, in a word, I am agnostic.
My Political Beliefs
When I started feeling things were not exactly in tip top shape in our society, it didn't take long to start looking the way of government. Our government is so corrupt that you are seen as naive if you even think for a second that it isn't. Hardly anyone truly claims that the government and our leaders are working fully in our best interests in a fair and decent manner. It is so bad that it is common knowledge even among most schoolchildren - especially since Watergate - that you can't trust politicians as far as you can throw them.
And yet, despite everyone knowing this, most people still support the two major parties. Despite now having a deeper understanding of the herd mentality behind this phenomenon, I was like this too only a short time ago. I supported Clinton in 1992 and 1996. In 2000, I was almost awakened to the point of ditching these two parties, but George W. Bush saw to it that I remained long enough to vote for Gore that year. Never before had I so strongly felt the need to vote just to vote against someone. I actually wasn't going to vote, and then at the last minute realized that if Bush won, I wouldn't forgive myself for not voting against him.
Well Bush did win, and in my eyes has taken this country to a new level of insanity. And yet, when I asked myself what Gore would have done had he been in office, I kept coming to the conclusion that all the Democrats would do is the same things the Republicans would do, only slower. The Republicans will corrupt this country fast, the Democrats will corrupt it slowly. Well, one day I was at a local place which supports the Green Party. I knew about Ralph Nader and respected him, and had also by then heard Michael Moore ranting about how the two major parties are really just one corporate party. Of course, I had started to consider the idea of supporting a third party, being so fed up with the two majors. However, I saw the Green Party as a bunch of hippies who just wanted pot legalized so that they could smoke weed all day. This wasn't me. I was looking for a party that supported fair treatment in terms of economics, the environment, gender and sexual orientation, and everything else. I wanted a party that employed Systems Thinking principles - principles embodied by the Green Party's key value of Ecological Wisdom.
Well that day I picked up a flyer that asked "Are you already Green?", and listing their ten key values. I read it. At that moment, I became aware that I had been a victim of a stereotype. That isn't to say that there aren't many Green Party supporters who are just looking for a place to rebel, legalize drugs, and escape rather than make true positive reforms. But that is not the stance of the party, nor everyone, or even most people in it. I still consider myself an independent in that I will always make decisions and form opinions on each issue and on each candidate on its own merits. However, I think that there are only rare occasions where those independent choices don't match up pretty closely with the stances of the Green Party. Thus, for all intents and purposes, I am a Green.
In fact, reading over their ten key values, I often wonder how anyone could actually be against most of them. What American is against grassroots democracy? Who is against social justice and equal opportunity? Who doesn't want a non-violent society? Certainly I can see the other side on issues like decentralization, and I wish that the value was just gender equity, rather than feminism. But overall, these principles seem to me just common sense if we want humanity to continue to exist on this planet for much longer.
Can the Greens win? On a local scale, in certain areas of the country, they already are winning, and that is how most movements must start off. But, I am not naive enough to think they can win on a national scale yet, especially without crucial electoral reforms. It is the unfair election laws that keep any minor parties from seriously building significant national support, and that keep people like Ralph Nader, who are respectable and involved Americans, from even being allowed to run for office unhindered. Only in a corrupt system of democracy can someone run for office and be blamed for someone else winning.
It is for this reason that I strongly support Instant Runoff Voting and am working to implement it in Ferndale, MI. Along with Campaign Finance Reform, I feel that this is the most crucial political reform we can make. One major party will corrupt us quickly, the other will do it slowly, and without establishing a fair election system and getting the money out of politics, nobody else can make a dent in their stronghold and we all careen down together with them.
In short, I'm an independent who leans very strongly towards the Green Party's platform on nearly all issues. My two biggest political concerns are Instant Runoff Voting and Campaign Finance Reform because these two reforms will make all of the other necessary reforms possible. Without them, most of the other reforms will remain out of reach.
My Philosophical Beliefs
I guess my stance as an agnostic carries over to philosophy. Only I would say I'm even MORE agnostic philosophically, but more due to lack of knowledge than any stronger belief in man's inability to understand. Nonetheless, here is how far I have been able to define myself in each of the five branches of philosophy - aesthetics, ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, and politics.
Aesthetics - Dealing with art and defining beauty
Like Ricky Fitts in American Beauty, I have always seemed to have a very sensitive spot for beauty. In the words of Adam Duritz of Counting Crows, whose songs are some of the most beautiful to me, "We all want something beautiful". Obviously, I'm not alone in appreciating beauty. However, I have often felt even more intensely affected by beauty than most of my friends or family. This may simply be because some of these emotions are not encouraged for public discussion. Regardless, beauty and the attraction to it have certainly played a major role in my life.
One of the biggest conflicts for me for a long time was between physical beauty and emotional/spiritual beauty. I could be extremely attracted to a person or thing, even though I did not respect its behavior or what it represented. I could be so attracted to a woman whose beliefs I despised, or to a structure or building that was in practice ruining the environment. I could see beauty in things I felt almost guilty about seeing beauty in.
Alternatively, I could feel guilty about not seeing beauty in certain things. I could know a person and feel they were beautiful in their beliefs, behavior, and heart, and yet not be attracted to them. I would feel that I should be attracted. Yet, I knew I couldn't force myself to be attracted to anything. This same conflict existed in many areas where I sought beauty, including art, literature, and music. I found things beautiful that I shouldn't, and found other things ugly that I should find beautiful. What a dilemma!
Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance helped me clear up this conflict and helped define my view of beauty. In the follow up to Zen, which is called Lila, Pirsig attempts to define quality. The book deals with whether a physically lovely woman, who is otherwise a rather contemptible person, does or does not have quality. Pirsig answers both yes and no. She does not have static quality, but does have dynamic quality. In other words, he reconciles the problem by recognizing two different forms of quality.
Similarly, I recognize two different forms of beauty. I don't need to see both forms in the same places, but when I do it is a remarkable experience. However, I need not feel guilty anymore if I only feel one form of beauty from a person or thing, and not both. They are qualitatively different and represent different things.
I realize the inherent oddity of writing so academically about beauty. But there is no way I could put into words the feelings that beauty inspires in me. All I can say is that they are intense. The only way I have ever been able to convey even a fraction of that feeling is through the little poetry and music I have written. But mostly, I turn to those who have said it far better than I to explain to people these feelings. I am constantly found quoting songs, especially Counting Crows lyrics, or referring to scenes from movies or books to give analogies to some of these feelings about beauty, as well as other things that inspire intense emotions.
What I can say is that even in the moments where I am suffering most, I still manage to somehow see the inherent beauty in the intricate ways that the world works, and in humanity. Certain friends, family, and artists keep me in touch with one or both forms of beauty, and this is all part of what makes life worth living.
Epistemology - Dealing with our methodology for understanding reality (how do we know?)
In this age of tabloids, infomercial evangelism, and new-age hucksters, epistemology takes on an importance of great magnitude. We live in the information age, and the ability to critically decide which of this voluminous information we believe or do not, is crucial. This is one of the most important things our schools can possibly teach our children, and probably one of the ones they most fail at. For, if they were to truly teach the kids to think critically, before they knew it, the kids would be tearing their own incomplete, inaccurate textbooks to shreds. But, I digress.
If you throw a claim at me that sounds questionable, I'm definitely going to ask you how you know. And if your answer boils down to "I feel it", then I am going to tell you that you don't know, you feel. I believe in the power of intuition strongly. I believe our bodies and emotions often sense what we should do instinctively, before our rational brains understand why we feel that way. But I also feel that that is not knowing. Perhaps that is just my own strict interpretation of the word "to know". However, I think that knowledge has an air of certainty that feelings and intuitions do not. I know the sun is going to come up tomorrow with almost complete certainty. I only feel that I may someday go on a trip to Asia. I don't know. In many ways, it is only a matter of degree.
When a person tells me that they know something, I interpret that to mean that they are certain of it with a very very high degree of probability. If they get upset at my desire to test it out, then I have to question just how high their confidence in it really is. Many times, the first sign that someone does not in fact know, but only feels, is that they get very insecure or even hostile if they are questioned. A person who knows doesn't mind being asked to show evidence, but instead relishes the chance to strengthen his belief and that of his questioner. He views it as an opportunity, not an attack.
I think that people who are more intuitive and emotional often get upset at being told that they do not actually know the things that they sense. But this response is only because many people use a condescending attitude in placing knowledge higher than intuition. I don't try to compare them in this way. They are as different as the two forms of beauty that I discuss in the section on my aesthetic beliefs. Both forms of understanding are useful in different situations. But, to me, it diminishes the meaning of the word "to know" if intuition is used interchangeably with knowledge. I don't believe they are the same thing, but instead, work in tandem to help us make decisions and live our lives.
If you ever meet someone who is constantly saying he knows things which you believe he really doesn't, there is a time-tested way to settle the problem in a way that works for everyone involved. Make him put his money where his mouth is. Once you're a few bucks richer, you'll feel better about wasting your time listening to the person's nonsense. And once his wallet is a bit lighter, he may be a little more likely to think twice about what he knows versus just feels. It's amazing how quickly someone's view of epistemology can suddenly change the second he is forced to actually put something concrete on the line to back up what he claims to know.
Ethics - Dealing with the standards by which we should behave
How should we behave? Well this is far too complex a question to do justice to here. But I'll give some basics about my beliefs in this area. My feelings in this area necessarily overlap with my political views. Basically, I believe that human beings evolved to live in a balance between individuality and community. I do not believe in individual anarchy or complete libertarianism where people can then ethically do anything they want. I do believe people should be allowed to do what they want as long as they don't hurt anyone else.
However, I must add that sometimes I think we are unaware of the harm that we are doing, thinking that we are committing a victimless crime when we really aren't. In today's era, we are connected by electronic communications, shipping routes, and - as we recently learned - power grids. Such connections can give the illusion of disconnection. We are not reminded of these connections the way you were when you had to go to your neighbors for your food, clothes, household goods, and everything else. You couldn't always just order these things from the internet, or have them shipped in from around the world.
Therefore, it is often easy to think we are acting ethically, while forgetting that our actions are affecting others who are not directly visible to us. A good example is when we support a company that behaves unethically overseas, whether it be by running a sweatshop or ruining the environment. In our modern age, it is nearly impossible to live ethically, I believe. Our current system of supporting 6 billion people on earth is unsustainable and unethical, often by necessity, many times by greed. We all need food, shelter, and water to live, and many of us in America need a car, and other items, as well.
These resources have been, in large part, coopted by large corporations, leaving us few good or convenient options for obtaining them. Thus, we many times have little choice but to partake in some unethical behavior. As Derrick Jensen has said, "In our culture, every act is an atrocity." I don't hold people responsible for this type of unavoidable unethical behavior that is really a matter of survival. I do, however, hope that they act with awareness and try to minimize such behavior when possible. Nobody can do it perfectly, but we can all do our best.
I would say that my basic ethic is simply the golden rule with a few caveats. Firstly, if you are a masochist, then obviously treating others as you want to be treated may not be a good idea. In other words, using our own desires as standards for how others want to be treated is flawed. I would amend it to treating others as you can best guess that they want to be treated, within the limits of your own ethical parameters. Secondly, I would amend it to include a more long-term focus. A person may want you to treat them one way today, but you may realize that it will hurt them even more later. Alternatively, a person may not want you to do something today (ie. a child being given a vaccine) that you realize will be of great benefit in the long run.
Ultimately, I try to treat people as they treat me, and to be as tolerant of differences as I can be when it comes to gender, sexual orientation, race, or anything else. I try my best to treat each person with respect until given a reason to do anything else. However, I also maintain my right to defend myself when wronged, and to set healthy boundaries around myself.
Metaphysics - Dealing with the nature of reality
Well, as discussed in my religious beliefs, I don't think human beings have the capacity to fully understand God. I think it goes without saying, then, that humans, in my opinion, do not have the capacity to fully understand the nature of reality. We are ourselves but a tiny tiny part of a massive reality, which we can never get outside of to view in full. Therefore, if you ask for my opinion on the nature of reality, you will get a big fat "I don't know!". Again, my agnosticism shines through.
I can, however, tell you that I have certain leanings, mostly away from certain interpretations of reality. Even as a part of something of which you can't see the whole, you can make some pretty reasonable guesses as to what it is not, despite being unable to say definitively what it is. I consider myself open-minded, and I don't rule out the possibilty of anything. But when it comes to probabilities, that is a different story. I find it highly unlikely - though possible - that people are talking to the dead in any very direct fashion, that ghosts are haunting your home in any direct fashion, that magic crystals are curing your diseases, etc. I do believe strongly in the placebo effect, so I don't doubt that belief in some of these things brings certain results.
I also don't discard for a second the idea of perceptions that go beyond our understanding, or lie on the fringe of our awareness. I simply don't find it very probable that these abilities are mystical or magical. Just as infections once attributed to witches are now easily explained as the effects of microbes, such mystical abilities I believe may one day be shown to stem from perfectly explicable physical properties of energy which we are just unable to measure presently. In a nutshell, I am open-minded about the nature of reality, but I tend to lean away from the extremely mystical, new-age side of things and towards a more rational, scientific view. All of this, however, does take into account the admitted limitations of science, especially as practiced in the current age of mega-materialism.
Politics - Dealing with how individuals should live together in society
This is discussed at length in the section on my political beliefs, as well as in my section on politics.
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