Initial Conditions, Part Two

Two days of heat; yesterday set another record high for the date.

Today is a tad cooler although tomorrow may again challenge records before a taste of early autumn arrives for the weekend. In the woods, there is a slow, steady increase in reds and yellows among the deep greens. The rivers and lake are low as our intermittent bouts of moisture have not made up for the summer long deficit.

Our local farmers’ market is filled with the colors, aromas, and tastes of late summer. For a few splendid weeks here at the confluence of summer and fall, we can, if we arrive early, purchase all the peaches, berries, pears, apples, melons, and nectarines we want! Oh, and the vegetables!

In the midst of this abundance I’m still thinking about initial conditions. Maybe this is something we do as we age?

Clearly, the problem of initial conditions is a thorny one. I remember my college philosophy professor insisting, logically, that things are either determined or they are not. Yet, it seems to me that we would be closer to live experience, and to what we think we know about physics, were we to postulate a high degree of determination alongside some wiggle room. This yields the useful psychological and shamanic insight that we cannot always control what happens to us but we have a large say in how we respond. That is, we can be in a useful, meaning-making dialog with Fate, a conversation that sometimes yields change!

Still we are frequently faced with the necessity of actually applying our understanding of how things work to making real-world decisions. This can generate so many questions!  For instance: If our lives are profoundly influenced by forces larger than ourselves, how are we to understand reality, or form notions of misdeed and punishment? And, when an individual or group acts in ways that harm others, how are we to understand them and what are we to do?

In dark times, as many of our ancestors knew well, these questions take on added import. As global climate change accelerates, resource conflicts and border disputes will increase, as will the flow of displaced persons. Categories such as political, economic, and environmental refugees will blur beyond recognition, and the definition of crimes against humanity will broaden even as the voices of greed, racism, and ethnic division will surely become even more strident. My guess is that even as we seek firm moral and ethical footing, the questions we will encounter going forward will defy easy answers.

Looking back on my last post, I wonder, along with others, how we might actually act to promote a future for many generations of all species and remain kind? (I am reminded of Pema Chodron’s insistence that sometimes acts of violence arise at the intersection of necessity and compassion.)

There are no absolute, unchanging rules of conduct in complex situations; there are just sets of ethical guidelines that evolve over time. (Just look at Torah and the innumerable commentaries on it!)  Complex dilemmas carry both the risk that we will act in harmful ways and the possibility that we will become moribund in the face of uncertainty.  Given this, treating ourselves and our adversaries with kindness and compassion makes a lot of sense, even as how to do so remains territory requiring careful exploration.


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