Random Thoughts
By Tim Frayser

Some folks seem to life a life of fantasy.
They actually seem proud to live in a fantasy world.
For instance, when they look at a dark cloud, they see only the silver lining...

The problem is, the silver lining isn't really there.
It's an illusion.
The cloud is what's real.
The cloud is what's actually there.
The cloud is what brings the shade and the nourishing rain.

I'll take the cloud.

In the Stars

I used to be really into astrology. I found it fascinating that you could predict a person's personality just by when and where he was born. I collected charts and graphs and lists of traits and had a pretty good collection of data.

But then, it all started to bother me. If you've got prior knowledge of how you're day's going to turn out, wouldn't that change the outcome of the day, or are you predestined to live out whatever cards the stars deal you? With all the billions and billions of people in the world, what were the odds that they'd all fall into only 12 kinds of personalities? Suppose you're a Leo, and people born under Aquarius have admirable traits you'd like to have-- are your desires hopeless because you're not an Aquarius? Do people not have a choice in how their personalities turn out? Astrologers tell me that the movements of the stars and planets make an infinite number of variations possible... But if that's the case, how accurate could an astrological forecast ever be? If there's an infinite number of possibilities, how can anyone pin down forcasts specific enough to be useful? Astrologers get around that by never being very specific; the vague forecasts end up meaning lots of different things. The local weather forecast is more accurate than astrology (which isn't saying much), and if astrology is going to end up inaccurate, no matter what you do, what's the point of messing with it at all? It either works or it doesn't, and if it doesn't work, why should I bother with it?

Astrology says our lives are governed by objects in space, but only takes into account some of the objects in space. Where, on the astrological charts, are the moons of Jupiter, or the Asteroid Belt, or comets in the Oort Cloud? They're a lot closer than stars thousands of lightyears away-- wouldn't they have more influence? Not to mention what should be the most influential object in space--Earth! It's an object in space, right? Seems to me like the immediate proximity of the Earth would cancel out any other astronomical influences. When the day comes that people start living on the Moon or Mars, how will those people do their horoscopes? They'll be on objects they're supposed to see in the sky. Wouldn't that change the relationships of all the signs with each other? If a certain alignment of stars was particularly lucky for your astrological sign, could you stay lucky forever by traveling around in a spaceship so that they were always in that same configuration?

What I've always felt was a disturbing aspect of astrology is that it labels people. He's a Taurus, she's a Libra, he's a Water Sign, and so on. The problem is, labeling people is just another form of prejudice-- it's star-sanctified discrimination. Affirming that some signs get along with each other and some don't is astrological segregation, and that's not right. We already have too many things keeping people apart from each other.

I know a lot of people get enjoyment from stuff like this, but I hope they'll understand if I don't get as excited about it as they do.

A Reiki Parable

Some years back, I was introduced to Reiki, a practice kind of like therapeutic touch, which is supposed to help people feel better by working on their "energy fields." If you work at it (and pay enough money for lessons), you can become a "Reiki Master" and use Reiki to treat people; you can even teach Reiki to other people. (From what I've been able to find on the Internet, teaching Reiki to other people seems to be a lot more profitable than using Reiki to treat people.)

A friend of mine became a Reiki Master, and set up shop to do sessions of Reiki treatments on people. The problem with the shop was that it just wasn't bringing in enough money. So, she started  giving lessons to her patients and teaching them to do Reiki, training them to become Reiki Masters themselves.

Right away, I saw problems with that plan. It's kind of like this: Suppose you're a bicycle repairman. You fix bicycles, and you're really good at it. However, people don't need their bicycles worked on very often, so your repair business doesn't do too well. So, you decide to make some extra money by teaching other people to be bicycle repairmen. You start teaching some classes to your former customers, and train a bunch of of them to repair bicycles as well as you. Afterwards, however, you have even less business than before. Your former customers don't come to you anymore, because they can fix their own bicycles now. Not only that, but a bunch of them have opened up their own bicycle repair businesses --creating competition for the available market -- so it'll be harder for you to find new customers... But bicycle repair and Reiki are very different things. The difference between Reiki and bicycle repair is this:

With Reiki, you can't do anything until you sell me on the idea that I have a bicycle.

Medical science has yet to prove the existence of any kind of "energy field" surrounding the human body. I can't see any "energy field" around my body, but I've gotta believe I've got one for a Reiki Master to manipulate it and cure my problems. Whether or not this energy field thingy really exists, why do I have to believe in it? Why is my belief in it important to the outcome? How come I don't have to believe in the power of penicillin for it to work? How come I don't have to believe in the power of a shovel to be able to dig a hole? It either works, or it doesn't.

If Reiki is so helpful, how come there's so much concern about money involved in learning it?  I can look up information on just about anything I need at the library or on the Internet, but Reiki Masters carefully guard the secrets of their craft. If it's that beneficial, why don't they post the "secrets" on the Internet so that everybody can learn it?  I can take CPR classes at the Red Cross for free, but I gotta pay for this?

If the "secrets" are complex, powerful and potentially dangerous, then it's a reckless oversight for the Reiki Masters to not create a regulatory board to certify Masters and to make sure everyone's doing it right. Without some kind of regulation, what's to protect people against malpractice and fraud? I've been told Reiki is only used for good, and that it's impossible to do harm with it... but if that's the case, what would be the harm in announcing the "secrets" to the world for free? Wouldn't that help more people? Isn't the point of Reiki to help people? What's to keep someone from pretending to be a Reiki Master and just take people's money? How would the average Joe off the street know a real Reiki Master from a fake one? That's how the whole Reiki Master business looks to me.

But then, I guess that would make some folks think of me as a "closed-minded" person.

On Open-Mindedness

When someone says they're "open-minded," what exactly does that mean? What are the qualities of open-mindedness? Can you tell someone is open-minded by their actions? By how they dress? By how they vote? I can see how a person can be open-minded about a certain subject, like tax reform, or what snacks go well with beer, but what makes an open-minded person?

The definition I hear a lot is that an open-minded person accepts all ideas, all possibilities-- literally, they do not close their minds to any ideas.
But think about that for a second: an open-minded person accepts all ideas.
If that includes ALL ideas, I have to wonder if that includes the idea that non-white people are inferior to white people, or the idea that the Holocaust of the Jewish people during World War II never happened, or the idea that all women should be subservient to men, or that all homosexuals are monsters.
Whenever I hear "open-minded" people speak, I ask if open-minded people also accept those possibilities; they usually get defensive.

From what I can see, being open-minded takes faith. Faith is an empowering thing. There's a lot of beliefs, practices,  and philosophies in this world that might be considered by some to be out of the ordinary, un-average, weird, unconventional, or just plain out there.
When a person accepts one of these way-out ideas, however, and puts his faith in it, that faith gives him power.
It gives him (a) the satisfaction of being on the frontline of The Powers That Be,
and (b) the excitement of being a revolutionary, a rebel, a heroic, persecuted loner. They become attached to their faith.
Faith gives people comfort and security. So, anyone or anything that challenges that faith --up to and including common sense-- is considered a threat.

An open-minded person "accepts all ideas"... But does that mean he has to? Does it mean he can't choose one idea over another? Does it mean he can't have an opinion? Is it wrong to have preferences? When the road forks into two different directions, is he supposed to take both? If being open-minded means not choosing any idea over any other, what's the difference between that and just  being indecisive?
It's like the bookshelf of computer reference books I've got at work. All of them have directions on how to fix computer problems, but a lot of the information in those books is either out of date, repetitive, not relevant, misleading, or just plain wrong... If being open-minded means I'm supposed to accept all ideas, does that mean I have to invest my faith in the wrong ones, too? Am I a "closed-minded" person if I don't?

In martial arts, faith doesn't have anything to do with techniques. I might use a certain blocking technique, and have a lot of faith that it will work when the time came...But if I use that technique to block someone's punch, and it doesn't work, the punch goes through and I get hurt. (For those unfamiliar with martial arts, let me explain one thing: In a fight, getting hurt is bad.) It doesn't matter how much faith I had in that technique...if it doesn't work, you drop it and do something else that does work. That same technique may work well for someone else, which is good for them, but if it doesn't work for you, you move on.
Faith is irrelevant. Increasing your faith is irrelevant. It either works, or it doesn't. So if a belief doesn't work for me, why should I hang on to it? Why do I have to?

Is this what "open-mindedness" is all about? Do the so-called open-minded people of the world ever think this far ahead? Do they ever take into account the ramifications of "accepting all possibilities?" From my own experience, the definition of "open-mindedness" seems to be centered on a person's own personal beliefs.
You see, when someone says, "You need to be more open-minded,"
what they really mean to say is,
"You should think like I do."  ...But you don't have to take my word for it.
You can see it for yourself by taking the test.
The test of whether or not you're an open-minded person is, inevitably,  the degree to which you share the beliefs of the person telling you to be open-minded. If you agree, you're in the club!

Part of the power of faith comes from the idea that you're part of a select group of people-- being part of such a group makes you special.  Being part of a group of like-minded people reinforces the stand that your belief is right, and creates a community that reenforces your beliefs and helps shield you from the "closed-minded" people of the world. (The illusion here is that if so many people believe in a certain thing, it must be right.)
Calling yourself an open-minded person isn't so much about having an open mind
as it is about differentiating yourself from the "closed-minded" people of the world-- the people who don't think like you do.
To put it another way, it's about drawing the line between US and THEM.
Being one of US means being on the team, in the family, a member of the exclusive club, being in the zone, becoming part of the community. Everybody wants to be special. Everybody wants to one of US... who'd want to be one of THEM?  Ewww...

Calling someone "closed-minded" is a convenient excuse to ignore their opinions-- even when they might be right. (Even a fool is right sometimes.) The US versus THEM situation fosters elitism, intolerance and bigotry. This may sound like how some major religions behave... but followers so-called "alternative" beliefs are not immune to this behavior. The belief that a person is absolutely right can turn him or her into an intolerant jerk, whether he's following a tratitional or a nontraditional philosophy. I've encountered plenty of intolerance from people involved in "alternative" beliefs. (Try playing devil's advocate in a roomful of UFO conspiracy buffs and see where it gets you.)

It's possible for someone to get so attached to their beliefs, whether they follow a traditional way of doing things or not, that they lose track of common sense. People following nontraditional lifestyles need to remember that freedom is also the right to be mundane, to be ordinary. When you're surrounded by "alternative" believers, and everyone you know in your community follows the "alternative" path, is what you believe really that "alternative" any more-- or has it become the norm? Is it still an alternative to traditional lifestyles, or is it just a new but different traditional lifestyle? (In that situation, it's the mundane people who'd be the "alternative.") It's hypocritical to preach tolerance of your lifestyle and practice intolerance of others, even if their lifestyle is boring. It's a historical fact that people in nontraditional lifestyles have, yes, sometimes been persecuted for their beliefs... but when they themselves turn around and persecute people in tratitional lifestyles for their beliefs, it's not poetic justice--it's presumptuous, pretentious, and just plain rude. There's plenty of people in "mainstream" beliefs that act like jerks. When followers of "alternative" beliefs act like jerks, it's not an improvement. Tolerance goes both ways.

I accept that some beliefs work for some people, and some just don't. Everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe. Different people believe different things. Accepting the differences in people is the first step towards peace. Intolerant, angry people do not grow... But faith in something has to coincide with logic and common sense, or else it's indistinguishable from mythology. Freedom includes the right to choose what works for us, and not choose what doesn't. People can disagree on things and still be friends. We should accept people by who they are, and not by whatever labels we slap on them. We should be tolerant of other people's beliefs... and if there's a place in the world for intolerance, we should be intolerant of bigotry, crime, racism, violence and prejudice.

If being an open-minded person means you're open to all ideas,
one of those ideas must be,

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