Posted by: Patrick Mosolf | Wednesday, 19 November, 2008

Song: A Case of You, Originally Written by Joni Mitchell

I am re-publishing this song because I have made a new recording of it which is much better than the previous one. Click on the speaker icon above to hear my performance of the song “A Case of You”, written by Joni Mitchell, and included on her album “Blue” in 1971.

I first learned this song around 1994, and relearned it in 2006. It is performed in the same key as the original, only sung one octave lower.

Any comments are welcome!

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Posted by: Patrick Mosolf | Thursday, 13 November, 2008

International Issue Forum Reaches 4,200 Page Views

When I started this blog I was too shy to have one of the counters on the bottom of the site which say how many “hits” the site has… So every now and then I inform readers of the most recent tally. A few days ago the total number of page views for the site reached 4,200.

I’m still thinking about the concept for the site and where to take it next…when I’m not pondering more serious concerns, chatting wi

Posted by: Patrick Mosolf | Wednesday, 29 October, 2008

I’m Still Here…

I’ve been wanting to write lately but am not able to access the internet so often and I am also quite busy seeing all the different things to see in the latest country I’ve been traveling in. It seems like there are never enough hours in a day to do all the things I need/want to do. But I hope to write more soon, if at least just to say what I’ve been doing.

Tonight I went out to play music as a street performer- a good way to practice and maybe make a little money. Its hard to find a good place to play since other street performers are using up all of the good places around town. I meet a lot more people that way since it gives people some reason/ excuse to talk to me.

If you’re reading this please leave me a comment or get in touch!

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Posted by: Patrick Mosolf | Wednesday, 1 October, 2008

Song: The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face- New Recording

Please click on the player above to hear an audio recording of my performance of the song “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, popularized by Roberta Flack.

This is a different version than I had previously here on the blog. This new version features a much better quality of recording.

Thanks to the internet and digital technology I can share these recordings with you online. Let me know if you have any comments on how I can improve the quality of the vocals, guitar playing, etc.

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Posted by: Patrick Mosolf | Monday, 28 July, 2008

International Issue Forum Reaches 2000 hits

Well, I’d just like to announce that recently this blog reached the level of 2000 hits.

In the last few months so many different people from different countries have been reading this blog- its really exciting to see all those different people from different places. I wish that even more people would take the time to read it- but then I also have to work on writing some interesting stuff.

Please leave comments! Thanks to all those who have left comments already!

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Posted by: Patrick Mosolf | Tuesday, 1 July, 2008

Fallacies of Karma and its Relation to Injustice

You have a motorbike accident and hurt yourself. Or you lend money to a friend and they don’t pay you back, causing you to feel stress over whether you will ever recoup the money you lent. Another friend, resenting something from a personal conflict, smiles knowingly, and announces that this is a result of your karma for having hurt them. Nice isn’t it? Something bad happens to you and your friends or acquaintances jump on it as proof of your wrongdoing. Welcome to the world of popular use of the term “karma”!

(this is the first part of two posts on karma.  To view the second part (click here))

Karma in Conflict with Concept of Injustice

But my concerns with the concept of karma go beyond this popular use of the term karma, to more fundamental issues with its use in its original context in eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. The concept of karma poses philosophical problems to the concept of injustice, since it poses the idea that if something negative happens to a person (in some cases what we might consider an injustice), that is actually as a result of actions taken by that individual or group previously. This concept that a person/ group is actually responsible for incidents of injustice which happen to them essentially negates the idea of injustice, since injustice fundamentally holds that something unfair happened to someone (i.e. it wasn’t their fault).

Many people around the world are struggling to remove and reduce injustice and I would like to think that I am one of them. Recognizing that injustice exists is of course a main priority as a prerequisite for this task, and thus requires that we deal with the concept of “karma”.

The Origin of My Interest in Religious- Philosophical Ideas

I was born in to the Catholic faith but have long since left that faith as I became more intellectual and well educated. As a high school student I began to question basic tenets of the Catholic religion, particularly whether someone like the Pope should be able to make decisions on my behalf, and then command that I agree with him.

Ultimately my answer was “no”. At around that time I embarked on consideration of religious/ spiritual issues and began to search for my own answers. My first direction was to “look East”, since the Eastern religions are the most different from Christianity, and since in the US they are imbued with a sort of exoticism.

I practiced meditation, and over the years read the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad Gita. My understanding of these religions remains somewhat limited, but my limited knowledge is also supplemented by a strong critical thinking capacity.

Basics of Karma

One of the main concepts from Eastern religions which has penetrated the Western consciousness is the concept of karma. This concept has a number of folk meanings as well as its more specific meaning as propagated by a specific religion’s proponents.

The basic concept is that when something happens to you, that this somehow reflects a response generated by your own actions previously. In other words, “you reap what you sow”. The word “karma” actually means “action”, which implies that when one takes action, there will be some kind of counter- reaction.

One fundamental misunderstanding of karma is that one aims to achieve “good karma”. In fact, in Buddhism and Hinduism, the highest goal is to reach the cessation of karma- one wants to have neither good karma nor bad karma. However, for most laypeople, this is perhaps an unrealistic goal, and a positive intermediary is to aim for good karma.

Three Domains in Which to Consider Karma

For the sake of this discussion, I would like to consider karma in three domains- 1) the interlife dimension, 2) the total system domain of karma in this life, and 3) the “immediate sphere” of karma in this life.

Most traditional discussions of karma are grounded in the concept of reincarnation- the idea that a person is reborn into a new body after death, rather than going to heaven or hell as prescribed by the Western religions. Linked to this belief is the idea that a person is born into this life based on their karma from previous lives. That is, their actions in previous lives affect or prescribe the “conditions of their birth” in this life.

The problem here as it relates to injustice is that the world’s people are born into highly variant conditions which have a strong impact on how they will experience their life. Some people are born into poverty which affects their life chances, as they will be unable to attend school and work their way out of poverty. Or a person is born into a country that is at war, and they become a refugee, or even worse are killed in the fighting. Once I was at a session where a great Buddhist teacher was speaking, and during one of the breaks, one of the attendants told me that they felt that if someone is born into a country which is at war, that reflects their karma from a previous life.

Ultimately I reject this view. While there is no way to disprove this thesis, on this type of issue I often ask the question “which perspective will empower us to have the greatest impact on the world and its suffering?” If on the one hand we believe that a person deserves their disadvantaged status because of actions in a past life, that will not really empower us to help them. If, on the other hand we assume that this is a result of chance, and that the person did not deserve those things that result from their birth, then we will feel inspired to do something about it.

The Third Domain of Karma

Let me skip now to the third realm of karma, the immediate sphere of karma in this life, and leave the most difficult one (the second) for last. I do believe that our karma in our immediate sphere of relations affects us and is our responsibility. This can be broken down into thoughts, words, and actions. For example, I create my own thoughts, I structure my living environment, I make my own choices about which path to take in life, I choose who my friends will be, etc. This is clearly a person’s own responsibility and does affect them, so I do believe that karma exists in this sense. If on one hand, I am always thinking angry thoughts, or I am always despondent about life, then this will affect me. Or if I am often unkind or cruel to others, this will not only affect how other people treat me, but also how I feel about myself.

The Second Domain of Karma

Let me now turn to the second domain of karma, that is the universal, or total system domain of karma in this life. A belief in karma in this sense would hold, for example, that if a random act happens to you, such as another person, who is intoxicated, runs into you while you are driving and you are injured, that this is somehow a repayment for one of your own actions. Or if your wallet is stolen by a stranger, that this is somehow a result of your own bad karma.

These are seemingly random acts from anonymous people that you did not know and had no effect on. The belief in this idea of karma would have to posit that in some way, your previous actions dissolved into the surrounding world, and somehow were reformulated and directed towards you again at a specific time and place.

From a purely cause and effect point of view, this seems unlikely. In my view, negative or positive karma often dissolves into the much larger world system, is “absorbed” by it, its effects are felt elsewhere, and it never returns to affect the original actor. Holding that karma does affect a person in these impersonal events would need to presuppose some kind of Spirit, God, or devil which is redirecting karma towards a person. In science, one must have a testable hypothesis in order to gain knowledge through inquiry. This perspective of the “return of impersonal karma” cannot be tested, and so it falls outside the realm of scientific discourse. That is, it is purely in the realm of belief.

See my further continuation of the discussion of karma in the second post, in which I discuss karma and caste and injustice, and karma in interpersonal relationships. (click here)

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Posted by: Patrick Mosolf | Tuesday, 1 July, 2008

Karma II: Average Karma, Karma and Caste, Interpersonal Karma

The Law of Average Karma and Good and Bad People

(this is part two of my discussion of karma. view the first part (click here))

Here I propose the existence of a certain level of karma which I will describe as the average level of karma in the world or in a specific karmic system (such as a country). In fact there cannot really be a limited domain of karma since all countries and communities in the world interact, although not always to a great extent. But the idea is that there is a certain average level of karma, at which about half of the people will be above, and half of the people will be below.

Outstandingly good and outstandingly bad people, are in my view affected by this differently. The very good person, who has rather good karma, is held back by the average level of karma around them. They are constantly constrained by the reactions and actions of those around them, which prevent them from reaching higher levels of achievement.

The rather bad person,on the other hand, is able to take advantage of the positive karma of people around them for their own benefit. If most people are good for example, the bad person can use this to their benefit. For example, if most people do not lie, and we don’t expect people to lie, the bad person can take advantage of this, because they can be dishonest, and many people will believe them. If most people are non-violent, they can do many bad things and never suffer any bodily injury because of their behaviors, because the ethical codes of the people around them prevent them from doing physical harm to that person.

The point is, that rather than good people always being rewarded by their actions, they may actually encounter resistance which is quite unjustified by their conduct. And the bad person can actually escape without ever truly bearing the karma or consequences of their action.

Of course, good and bad people are affected directly in other ways by their own actions. The good person will have an inner sense of peace at being a good person, while the bad person will either 1) construct elaborate psychological defenses to prevent them from feeling like a bad person, or 2) they will feel like a bad person inside. Even constructing a defense mechanism is hurtful in that it prevents that person from having a more truthful perspective on life and achieving higher levels of understanding, of which a certain degree of realism about their own behaviors is necessary.

The truly good person can also benefit and insulate themselves to a certain degree by surrounding themselves with other good people. And truly bad people will be relegated to the domain of other bad people, or they will constantly be moving around to avoid their previous actions catching up with them. This will prevent them from having enduring positive relations which are important to us as human beings.

I also theorize that the average level of karma in the world could improve or get worse at different points in time. For example, right now in the world, many people are suffering as a result of higher fuel and food prices, which may, in desperation, lead them to commit acts which they previously would not have considered. At the same time, people are probably more frustrated and overworked at this time, which may make them more irritable and less able to be kind to others. Similarly, the current high degree of polarization in geopolitics, especially between the Muslim and Western worlds, could lead people to develop greater prejudice and hated towards members of other groups.

Karma, Caste, and Passivity in Issues of Justice

One of the reasons that I reject the interlife (reincarnation) view of caste is that it serves to justify and perpetuate systems of injustice such as the caste system. It should be apparent to anyone that the caste system is extremely unjust. Yet the belief that one’s birth is conditioned by previous life actions justifies this, proposing that if one is born into a low caste, that it is actually one’s own fault. This not only justifies the system of caste, but disempowers those who should fight against it, since they often buy into the belief system of interlife karma.

Belief in the idea of karma can also make a person passive in the face of injustice. This can happen in two ways. First, people I have observed in Buddhist countries sometimes believe that if a person is wealthy or powerful it must be because of their good karma. This makes them accept class injustices in their society which actually should be challenged. Or if one of these wealthy or powerful people is the perpetrator of some kind of abuse, the people’s awe of this person prevents them from seeing the perpetrator as they really are.

The second way it makes people passive is through the belief that “karma will somehow repay the perpetrator”. The person involved feels like they need not do anything to the perpetrator, since they will ultimately suffer as a result of their bad karma. As I have said, I think bad people can get away with it because their bad karma “dissolves” into the larger system, without ever coming back to the perpetrator. In that sense, for justice to be served, the victim, in my view, should actually pursue justice themselves rather than expecting the karmic system to do justice.

As an example, a friend of mine was recently discriminated against by her employer and fired in a way that was a violation of the law. I advocated the person should pursue the offense in the context of the law, and assert her rights, but she was content in the thought that karma would eventually make that person suffer for their wrongs. This is just an example, and perhaps not pursuing it was the best choice, but it illustrates the concept. I feel pretty strongly that the perpetrator in this case will never suffer from their wrongdoing.

Karma in Interpersonal Relations

We often take very simplistic views of karma in interpersonal relationships. We tend to emphasize the karma of the other person and fail to recognize our own. For example, I do something, and it “makes” you act in a certain way. You emphasize that I MADE you act that way. However, this ignores the reality that a third person may react totally differently to the same stimulus, which shows how important the receiver of the original action is in their own reactive behavior.  I’ll use the terms person “A”, the original actor, and person “B”, the receiver and reactor, to make it easier to follow my discussion.

In fact, in any interpersonal relationship, the reaction is a function of both the initial action (from A), and the person receiving it (B). The person receiving it acts a filter, through which the action passes, which then conditions the response that they give. The filter is formulated by the accumulation of their karma and experiences in life.

The original actor(A) will then act as a filter to the reaction, and produce a further reaction from the original doer.

Let me give an example. Recently a friend of mine did something to me that I didn’t really like. I felt like she was being unfairly judgmental towards me. As a result of that, I took certain actions designed to eliminate this kind of behavior in the future. My friend was really hurt by this reaction, and complained to me about how mean I had been. However, she was unable to see her own role in it through her original action, and instead placed all the blame on me.

I tried to emphasize to her that it was at least partly her own karma by her original action. However, I did not claim that it was all her fault. Instead, I recognized that my reaction was partly my own karma as well, since the person I am is conditioned by my experiences and choices in life. And ultimately, I chose to react in the way that I did. I also recognize that another person in my same situation may have reacted completely differently.

The value of this perspective is two-fold. First, it allows us to recognize that in any events between two people, there are always two players involved. We should never say that “you MADE me do that”, thereby acting as if we had no role in it.

Second, in any conflict, we may allocate blame, but we need to recognize that ultimately it is a subjective process. I may argue that you were at fault because you yelled at me, but the other person may say that they yelled at me because of something I did. The only way we can resolve this is to appeal to some standard of proper behavior, which may be held by a majority of people, but which is usually not universal. Only if both people accept the standard can there be a resolution about allocating blame. There may also be cultural or even gender differences about what those same “standards of behavior” are or should be.

Often, however, what really stands in the way of one person accepting blame is ego, emotion, or fear. For example, their sense of ego prevents them from recognizing their own fault. Or they may feel hurt by something that happened, and ultimately don’t want to accept responsibility because of that. Or they may fear the consequences of accepting blame (for example the end of the relationship, or demands for a change in behavior that they aren’t prepared, or able, to make).

Which is one reason why I think in interpersonal relationships, one should not be attached to one’s sense of self, or ego. And at the same time, two people must always try to moderate their emotions (i.e. not get too emotional).

Going Back to Popular Use of Karma

As I noted at the beginning of the other post on karma, it is popular when something happens to someone, to allocate that to their karma. This is a kind of self serving judgement which reflects our hope that they will be repaid for some perceived injustice. While I cannot say that a person should never entertain this thought, we should always question this thought process, and remain open to the idea that what happened to our friend or acquaintance was actually a result of injustice or chance. And ultimately, even if we are thinking that, we probably should not tell our friend that we think it was their karma that caused their misfortune, as they are most likely hoping for sympathy at that moment, not judgement!

I would be very interested in your thoughts on this subject! Please leave a comment- I think its an interesting philosophical point…

View the first post of two on karma- (click here)

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Posted by: Patrick Mosolf | Saturday, 31 May, 2008

Please Leave Comments!!

My recent article Chinese Internet Users Suspect US of Causing Earthquake was by far the most popular post I have written on this blog.  But I am not getting any feedback.

If you are reading here, please take a moment to reply and let me know what your thoughts about this, or other subjects, are.

This site is not meant to be a one person show, but actually to stimulate discussion.  Any kind of discussion would be greatly appreciated!


Posted by: Patrick Mosolf | Friday, 15 February, 2008

Spielberg withdraws as advisor to Beijing Olympics

“US film director Steven Spielberg has withdrawn as an artistic adviser for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

– From BBC website, 13 Feb 2008

Comment: Why does no one seem to notice Beijing´s support for the Burmese military regime?

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Posted by: Patrick Mosolf | Friday, 11 January, 2008

Introduction to this website

This website/ blog is intended to be the forerunner of a new blog which will be created soon to replace it. In fact the new site will be, in the long run, intended for multiple users, and intended to help citizens and activists work together to address issues in the world, in their countries, and locally.

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