March 14, 2013

A man is made Providence to himself

The theme at Goat Rope these days, aside from occasional rants when things get on my last nerve, is the life and work of Ralph Waldo Emerson. At this point, I'm on his Harvard Divinity School Address, which managed to tick off even Unitarians.

As I've mentioned before, Emerson and Thoreau were both forerunners of American Buddhism. In this essay, Emerson expounds a subtle idea of karma whereby people become more like what they invest themselves in. Compassionate people get better at compassion. Greedy people get better at greed. He sees this as working like a law of nature:

See how this rapid intrinsic energy worketh everywhere, righting wrongs, correcting appearances, and bringing up facts to a harmony with thoughts. Its operation in life, though slow to the senses, is, at last, as sure as in the soul. By it, a man is made the Providence to himself, dispensing good to his goodness, and evil to his sin. Character is always known. Thefts never enrich; alms never impoverish; murder will speak out of stone walls. The least admixture of a lie--for example, the taint of vanity, the least attempt to make a good impression, a favorable appearance--will instantly vitiate the effect. But speak the truth, and all nature and all spirits help you with unexpected furtherance. Speak the truth, and all things alive or brute are vouchers, and the very roots of the grass underground there, do seem to stir and move to bear you witness. See again the perfection of the Law as it applies itself to the affections, and becomes the law of society. As we are, so we associate. The good, by affinity, seek the good; the vile, by affinity, the vile. Thus of their own violition, souls proceed into heaven, into hell.

To which I can only say, with Hamlet's friend Horatio, so have I heard and do in part believe it. Or I'd like to  anyway.

COAL COUNTIES AND DEATH RATES seem to go hand in hand.

PLEASE CHECK OUT THIS WEBSITE to learn more about Medicaid expansion, whether you can qualify for coverage, and how you can take steps to make sure it happens here.

I CAN HANDLE BATS EATING SPIDERS, but the thought of spiders eating bats kind of grosses me out. Maybe it's a mammalian solidarity thing.


March 13, 2013

This is more like a tweet than a blog post, but...

We interrupt Goat Rope's ongoing and edifying series on the life and thought of Emerson so that I can rant about the antics in the WV legislature lately, particularly in the House. After watching events there for the last few weeks, I think I have come up with the perfect piece of legislation that would sail through in an instant.

The perfect piece of WV legislation this session would give tax credits to corporations who made guns out of coal in our rivers, with preference given to those who use lots of selenium. It would also increase penalties on anyone who had a problem with that.

(Emerson and links resume tomorrow.)

March 12, 2013

Karma, New England style

The theme at Goat Rope these days is the life and work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was a huge influence in 19th century life and letters in America and beyond. I mean, even Nietzsche liked him.

At the moment, I'm taking a look at his 1838 Harvard Divinity School Address, which was so controversial at the time that he wasn't invited back to that institution for 30 years. In a day or so, posts here will take a look at some of the things he wrote that got him into hot water with even relatively laid back New England Unitarians.

Today, though, the first passage that hit my eye is one that echoes classical Buddhist teachings about karma. Contrary to popular belief, Buddhist views on the subject are pretty subtle. It's not like if you do a good deed you get a Lexis. It's more like if you act nastily, you'll get better and better and being nasty, with all that that entails. And vice versa.  (Emerson, by the way, was an admirer of Indian philosophy and was moved by the limited amount he could read about at the time of Hindu and Buddhist ideas).

Anyhow, here's the passage. I must admit that while Ralph drives me crazy sometimes, I like this one:

The intuition of the moral sentiment is an insight of the perfection of the laws of the soul. The laws execute themselves. They are out of time, out of space, and not subject to circumstance. Thus; in the soul of man there is a justice whose retributions are instant and entire. He who does a good deed, is instantly ennobled. He who does a mean deed, is by the action itself contracted. He who puts off impurity, thereby puts on purity. If a man is at heart just, then in so far is he God; the safety of God, the immortality of God, the majesty of God, do enter into that man with justice. If a man dissemble, deceive, he deceives himself, and goes out of acquaintance with his own being. A man in the view of absolute goodness, adores, with total humility. Every step so downward, is a step upward. The man who renounces himself, comes to himself.
Everybody got that?

Note: this post was meant to come out early this morning but there have been internet problem on the farm.


THE LONG HAUL. Here's a profile of a friend of mine from the Gazette.

THE FUTURE OF UNIONS. Here's a look at the challenges the labor movement is facing and possible ways to deal with it. Suggestion: take a look at the I.W.W.


March 11, 2013

Try that today

I love Unitarians. The only thing I like more than Unitarians is a good Unitarian joke, which is one reason I've decided to remain a fan of Garrison Keillor. I mention all this because the theme at Goat Rope these days is the life and thought of 19th century Transcendentalist sage Ralph Waldo Emerson.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, New England went through a theological sea change from the days of settlement in the 1600s to the 1800s. Originially, a hard core Calvinistic Puritanism prevailed. Over time however, the theological fever cooled and Unitarianism gained ground. Emerson himself was a former Unitarian minister.

One of his most famous, and notorious essays/lectures was the 1838 Harvard Divinity School Address, in which he pulled off a feat that would be hard to replicate today. He gave a talk in which his views were so unorthodox that even many Unitarians couldn't take it--and as a result, he wasn't invited back to talk to his alma mater for 30 years.

(If it was too much for them, imagine what the Baptists would have thought!)

This week, we'll take a look at what set them off.

JUST DO IT. Here's another good article on why WV Governor Tomblin should expand Medicaid.

DEFICIT HYSTERIA is unnecessary, according to Krugman.

POLITICS ON THE BRAIN. I find articles like this one interesting, but think there's a danger in essentializing a contemporary trend. People seeking a genetic basis for our current polarization may be forgetting that this probably isn't an eternal fact of human nature but rather something that changes over time.