This Article May Save Sanity Of Many TFUSA Affiliates

Brief Thought by F. Sheikh on Article. Sometime in anger, frustration or irritation we may say or write things that we regret later on. It is especially true on social media and websites like Thinkers Forum USA (TFUSA) where we sometime write such a hurtful and insulting stuff that we will never find the courage to say to someone’ face. We do not know what effect it may have on targeted individual or individuals, but it surely has ill effect on writer’s mental and physical health because no mind at ease and peace can pour out insulting and hurtful thoughts. Massimo Pigliucci has written a great article on this subject and some worth heeding advice on how to avoid an anger talk trap, which in reality is a temporary insanity. Article is below.

People get angry for all sorts of reasons, from the trivial ones (someone cut me off on the highway) to the really serious ones (people keep dying in Syria and nobody is doing anything about it). But, mostly, anger arises for trivial reasons. That’s why the American Psychological Association has a section of its website devoted to anger management. Interestingly, it reads very much like one of the oldest treatises on the subject, On Anger, written by the Stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca back in the first century CE.

Seneca thought that anger is a temporary madness, and that even when justified, we should never act on the basis of it because, though ‘other vices affect our judgment, anger affects our sanity: others come in mild attacks and grow unnoticed, but men’s minds plunge abruptly into anger. … Its intensity is in no way regulated by its origin: for it rises to the greatest heights from the most trivial beginnings.’
The perfect modern milieu for anger management is the internet. If you have a Twitter or Facebook account, or write, read or comment on a blog, you know what I mean. Heck, Twitter anger has been brought up to new heights (or lows, depending on your point of view) by the current president of the United States, Donald Trump.

I too write quite a bit on online forums. It’s part of my job as an educator, as well as, I think, my duty as a member of the human polis. The conversations I have with people from all over the world tend to be cordial and mutually instructive, but occasionally it gets nasty. A prominent author who recently disagreed with me on a technical matter quickly labelled me as belonging to a ‘department of bullshit’. Ouch! How is it possible not to get offended by this sort of thing, especially when it’s coming not from an anonymous troll, but from a famous guy with more than 200,000 followers? By implementing the advice of another Stoic philosopher, the second-century slave-turned-teacher Epictetus, who admonished his students in this way: ‘Remember that it is we who torment, we who make difficulties for ourselves – that is, our opinions do. What, for instance, does it mean to be insulted? Stand by a rock and insult it, and what have you accomplished? If someone responds to insult like a rock, what has the abuser gained with his invective?’

Indeed. Of course, to develop the attitude of a rock toward insults takes time and practice, but I’m getting better at it. So what did I do in response to the above-mentioned rant? I behaved like a rock. I simply ignored it, focusing my energy instead on answering genuine questions from others, doing my best to engage them in constructive conversations. As a result, said prominent author, I’m told, is livid with rage, while I retained my serenity.

Now, some people say that anger is the right response to certain circumstances, in reaction to injustice, for instance, and that – in moderation – it can be a motivating force for action. But Seneca would respond that to talk of moderate anger is to talk of flying pigs: there simply isn’t such a thing in the Universe. As for motivation, the Stoic take is that we are moved to action by positive emotions, such as a sense of indignation at having witnessed an injustice, or a desire to make the world a better place for everyone. Anger just isn’t necessary, and in fact it usually gets in the way.

The philosopher Martha Nussbaum gave a famous modern example of this in her Aeon essay on Nelson Mandela. As she tells the story, when Mandela was sent to prison – for 27 years – by the Apartheid government of South Africa, he was very, very angry. And for good reasons: not only was a grave injustice being perpetrated against him personally, but against his people more generally. Yet, at some point Mandela realised that nurturing his anger, and insisting in thinking of his political opponents as sub-human monsters, would lead nowhere. He needed to overcome that destructive emotion, to reach out to the other side, to build trust, if not friendship. He befriended his own guard, and eventually his gamble paid off: he was able to oversee one of those peaceful transitions to a better society that are unfortunately very rare in history.

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 posted by f.sheikh

Were liberal ideas responsible for Modern State?

(A worth reading article by Mark Koyama stating that Medieval States lacked resources and infrastructure to fund wars and state’s expenses, and hence depended on Church’s infrastructure to supply funds which in return exerted political influence on State. As the state’s expenses increased due to more wars, it developed its own infrastructure and institutions to collect funds and rely less on Church. State also instituted freedom of religion to bring minority religions, which Church persecuted, into tax base, improve economy and at the same time make revenue collection uniform and efficient. This necessity led to separation of state and church and freedom of religion, rather liberal ideas of Locke, Spinoza and Voltaire which may have followed the trend, and not initiated it. f.sheikh)

One of the concluding paragraph in the article;

What implications does our argument have for the modern world? Most important perhaps is the need to recognise that liberal ideas were not necessarily responsible for the emergence of liberal societies. Instead, the rise of a new type of political organisation, the modern state, led, for its own reasons, to rulers enforcing general rules of behaviour – rules incompatible with religious discrimination.

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Why Spinoza is revered by many secularists, atheists and religious people alike!

(One may not agree with the views expressed in the article, but it is a fascinating article by Steven Nadler on Spinoza, especially his understanding of God and core message of sacred scriptures. f.Sheikh)

In July 1656, the 23-year-old Bento de Spinoza was excommunicated from the Portuguese-Jewish congregation of Amsterdam. It was the harshest punishment of herem (ban) ever issued by that community. The extant document, a lengthy and vitriolic diatribe, refers to the young man’s ‘abominable heresies’ and ‘monstrous deeds’. The leaders of the community, having consulted with the rabbis and using Spinoza’s Hebrew name, proclaim that they hereby ‘expel, excommunicate, curse, and damn Baruch de Spinoza’. He is to be ‘cast out from all the tribes of Israel’ and his name is to be ‘blotted out from under heaven’.

Over the centuries, there have been periodic calls for the herem against Spinoza to be lifted. Even David Ben-Gurion, when he was prime minister of Israel, issued a public plea for ‘amending the injustice’ done to Spinoza by the Amsterdam Portuguese community. It was not until early 2012, however, that the Amsterdam congregation, at the insistence of one of its members, formally took up the question of whether it was time to rehabilitate Spinoza and welcome him back into the congregation that had expelled him with such prejudice. There was, though, one thing that they needed to know: should we still regard Spinoza as a heretic?

Unfortunately, the herem document fails to mention specifically what Spinoza’s offences were – at the time he had not yet written anything – and so there is a mystery surrounding this seminal event in the future philosopher’s life. And yet, for anyone who is familiar with Spinoza’s mature philosophical ideas, which he began putting in writing a few years after the excommunication, there really is no such mystery. By the standards of early modern rabbinic Judaism – and especially among the Sephardic Jews of Amsterdam, many of whom were descendants of converso refugees from the Iberian Inquisitions and who were still struggling to build a proper Jewish community on the banks of the Amstel River – Spinoza was a heretic, and a dangerous one at that.
What is remarkable is how popular this heretic remains nearly three and a half centuries after his death, and not just among scholars. Spinoza’s contemporaries, René Descartes and Gottfried Leibniz, made enormously important and influential contributions to the rise of modern philosophy and science, but you won’t find many committed Cartesians or Leibnizians around today. The Spinozists, however, walk among us. They are non-academic devotees who form Spinoza societies and study groups, who gather to read him in public libraries and in synagogues and Jewish community centres. Hundreds of people, of various political and religious persuasions, will turn out for a day of lectures on Spinoza, whether or not they have ever read him. There have been novels, poems, sculptures, paintings, even plays and operas devoted to Spinoza. This is all a very good thing.

It is also a very curious thing. Why should a 17th-century Portuguese-Jewish philosopher whose dense and opaque writings are notoriously difficult to understand incite such passionate devotion, even obsession, among a lay audience in the 21st century? Part of the answer is the drama and mystery at the centre of his life: why exactly was Spinoza so harshly punished by the community that raised and nurtured him? Just as significant, I suspect, is that everyone loves an iconoclast – especially a radical and fearless one that suffered persecution in his lifetime for ideas and values that are still so important to us today. Spinoza is a model of intellectual courage. Like a prophet, he took on the powers-that-be with an unflinching honesty that revealed ugly truths about his fellow citizens and their society.

Spinoza is a role model for intellectual opposition to those who try to get citizens to act contrary to their own best interests

Much of Spinoza’s philosophy was composed in response to the precarious political situation of the Dutch Republic in the mid-17th century. In the late 1660s, the period of ‘True Freedom’ – with the liberal and laissez-faire regents dominating city and provincial governments – was under threat by the conservative ‘Orangist’ faction (so-called because its partisans favoured a return of centralised power to the Prince of Orange) and its ecclesiastic allies. Spinoza was afraid that the principles of toleration and secularity enshrined in the founding compact of the United Provinces of the Netherlands were being eroded in the name of religious conformity and political and social orthodoxy. In 1668, his friend and fellow radical Adriaan Koerbagh was convicted of blasphemy and subversion. He died in his cell the next year. In response, Spinoza composed his ‘scandalous’ Theological-Political Treatise, published to great alarm in 1670.

Spinoza’s views on God, religion and society have lost none of their relevance. At a time when Americans seem willing to bargain away their freedoms for security, when politicians talk of banning people of a certain faith from our shores, and when religious zealotry exercises greater influence on matters of law and public policy, Spinoza’s philosophy – especially his defence of democracy, liberty, secularity and toleration – has never been more timely. In his distress over the deteriorating political situation in the Dutch Republic, and despite the personal danger he faced, Spinoza did not hesitate to boldly defend the radical Enlightenment values that he, along with many of his compatriots, held dear. In Spinoza we can find inspiration for resistance to oppressive authority and a role model for intellectual opposition to those who, through the encouragement of irrational beliefs and the maintenance of ignorance, try to get citizens to act contrary to their own best interests.

Spinoza’s philosophy is founded upon a rejection of the God that informs the Abrahamic religions. His God lacks all the psychological and moral characteristics of a transcendent, providential deity. The Deus of Spinoza’s philosophical masterpiece, the Ethics (1677), is not a kind of person. It has no beliefs, hopes, desires or emotions. Nor is Spinoza’s God a good, wise and just lawgiver who will reward those who obey its commands and punish those who go astray. For Spinoza, God is Nature, and all there is is Nature (his phrase is Deus sive Natura, ‘God or Nature’). Whatever is exists in Nature, and happens with a necessity imposed by the laws of Nature. There is nothing beyond Nature and there are no departures from Nature’s order – miracles and the supernatural are an impossibility.

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posted by f.sheikh