Email to Jeannie, my sister
Source of Morality
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To: Jeannie
From: Scott Sinnock 5:47pm, December 27, 2012
Subject: Jeannie, here are two notes I wrote to you on December 14 and 23. I didn't send the first, then my phone (and internet) went out so I didn't send the other too. Here they are.

Written Friday, December 14, 2012
Kindergarten Killings: Several times you have called and told me to "Turn on the TV so you can see what's happening in the world", like today's kindergarten mass killings. Today I hit you pretty hard with a, "No thank, you, I am busy". Perhaps a little explanation might be in order, a topic I am sure you have wondered about (which really means "I assume" you wondered, as hinted later).

After establishing that I was unaware of the killings, you asked, no insisted that I drop what I was doing and do something else, that is, watch the story "unfolding" on TV.  I guess you did this for unselfish motives, perhaps because you thought that would better serve my own interests, and you were doing me a favor by letting me know of important things happening in the world that I would want to know about. Thank you. I appreciate the call. But when, with a gentle explanation, I said "No thank you" you persisted and told me the channel number and said, "You really should see this". In this case I think my words were, "No, I don't think I will do that". A discussion followed during which you asked, "You really don't care, do you?", whereupon I think I said something to the effect of, "No, not one whit." Then I continued something along the lines of:. I don't know any of those children or their families, which are grieving deeply I am sure. They are but some abstract concept to me. Anyway, s uch mass killings happen all the time, so what's unusual, what's to learn? I continued: perhaps the killings represent the abstract "idea" that "people" should not suffer and die like that, especially "children", and that the event reminds us of this idea (Note 1) and of our own grief at times past, which we wish upon no one (but which you wished upon me by asking me to attend to it).

Well, as I said on the phone, I care about you; I care about the clerk who I buy coffee from every day; I care about the people I interact with; but I really don't care about those I don't know, except in some abstract, unreal way (Note 2).

So what was I doing that was so important that I would not interrupt it to watch such an unusual, tragic, horrendous, unimaginable event? Reading Epicurus's Letters to Herodotus and Pythocles. You see, I think the ideas, the imagination expressed in that book were more important to me, because that was what I was attending to at that moment. Your suggestion to change my attention was good, and welcome, the persistence was not (similar to the situation where I said you insulted me when you kept persisting that you had ways to help me solve my computer problems; the initial suggestions are welcome, thank you, the persistence after my declining the offers is not). I think I ended the conversation with my best wishes for you to enjoy the misery as you continue to watch the story. You replied you did not enjoy it, to which I said you must, else you wouldn't watch it.

So, it seems I judged reading Epicurus was more important (more enjoyable) to me than keeping abreast of the latest mass killing. All my life people, parents, teachers, community leaders, novelists, movie makers, newscasters. etc., etc., etc.,  kept telling me "education is good". But for two reasons, not just one, as I got it. Everyone knows that education secures a better job, that's reason 1. But, I learned, also, education provides insight into unlocking the key to human happiness in the human soul. Here, as for jobs, education is just an apprenticeship for a lifetime career. A career very few choose but one easy to pursue with libraries, bookstores, radio, television, the internet, etc.;  the entire world of ideas is easily accessible, including ideas about mass killings of kindergarten children being broadcast today. I don't believe you have pursued this career, added after our latest phone conversation.

So while everyone seemed to stress "education" to me, "education" then seemed to stress some ideas that have persisted since writing began. I figure if the ideas are still around (in Karl Popper's maxim for scientific knowledge) can't be shown to be false, then they must have something going for them, especially considering all the wanna-be attackers who would just love to discredit some ancient "truth".

For example, since I am currently open to page 10 of Epicurus' book, a quote: Indeed, there can never be a recurrent similarity between, on the one hand, mental images from application of the intellect or any other faculty of judgment; and, on the other hand, what are considered to be beings that exist truly. Just a random selection from my current "TV" on the world.

OK, so what has that got to do with the price of tea in China. Not much, but a lot to do with why I don't care about the unusual way that somewhere, some children recently suffered and died. Those children and especially the images on TV are merely "mental images from application of the intellect" ........ to me (Note 3).

OK, so what has that got to do with the price of tea in China. Not much, but a lot to do with why I don't care about the unusual way that somewhere, some children recently suffered and died. Those children and especially the images on TV are merely "mental images from application of the intellect" ........ to me (Note 3).

Happiness: That’s just one example of the wisdom of the ages that can be very useful in the "pursuit of happiness". Many of my "nasty" conversations of late arise from a bad habit of holding a mirror of some of these ancient wisdoms up to current events, especially up to the often unspoken, even "un-thought-about", morality underlying both sides of the events. My dark side takes some glee, I know, in mirroring the side people think they are on by conjecturing how the other side must feel. The "events" of the day almost always involve conflict, often conflict with "evil" as does the kindergarten killing story, though sometimes just conflict for sport between "fair" competitors (the Sun Times is 1/3 to 1/2 sports). One of my favorites, as you know, is "Kill bin Laden for Christ" held up to Mathew 5 - 7. However, "Kill bin Laden for empire" (Kill the Killers) is a perfectly logical and defensible morality, it just doesn't pass through the Christian filter, which it seems we feel compelled to push it through. In fact, no such Machiavellian actions hold up well to that ancient writing. My current author, Epicurus suffered a similar fate, i.e. having his philosophy turned completely on its head as he is now associated with hedonistic "Epicurean" delights, especially food.

But, despite all these wisdoms I have in my head (as you have in yours), if I don't care about "mental images", what then do I care about, since it seems EVERYTHING, everything we can bring into consciousness at least, is a mental image, including any "wisdom" I may claim to have? Now we are getting to the crux of the issue.

Thought Process: I think the first scientist of the modern age got it right, "Cogito ergo sum", often translated as "I think therefore I am". Though Rene Decartes used this "unassailable foundation" as a launching pad to prove the existence of God, some of us modern existentialists stop here while others are uncomfortable with the amorality of such a stop. However, I suspect amorality is impossible. We humans, it seems are blessed or cursed with a compulsion to categorize and rate everything; every "thing" from material to abstract.

So, because I am, I think, and because I think, I categorize in space and time and rate by placing things somewhere along some scale of "goodness/badness". I "think" I will categorize and rate the wisdom of the ages, as do we all, though some, like me, have more limited exposure than others. But something that might set apart the branch of sages to whom I seem most attracted is an attitude that thanks god for what is and for the ability to wonder about it, rather than curses god for what is not but what should be. It is this latter view that I think is far more common, and one, that I think, curses "what is" (god, existence, nature) and tries, even to the point of compelling others, to change "what he hath wrought" to make the world better than "she" made it in the first place. A common response is "that's why God gave us ingenuity, to improve upon his sketchy designs by filling in details as he would have them". The "as he would have them" causes all the problems. I realize my attitude is r are, but, it seems to me, it was also the way of many who are supposedly admired in history, at least they are widely acclaimed to be admired, though I doubt they really are: Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tsu, Epictetus, as well as Sister Theresa, Nelson Mandela, and Ghandi to name some recent advocates.

MoralitySuch passivists often link "compassion" for others to happiness. Then many go farther, and lay on "obligation" of others which often entails, sometimes requires active participation in the community of humans to reduce suffering. They thus abandon "passivism" and become community "non-violent activists". Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tsu, Epicurus, Epictetus, The Preacher (in Ecclesiastes), and others, I think stayed behind. They, I think, all point to a "promised land" here and now, not sometime after death or somewhere else, a "good" land, a god-given land, a land in no need of change, a land to be thankful for, a land of "what is", including the killing of kindergarten children by a lunatic (Note 4).

There is a widespread myth that humans in the past lived in greater misery than we do now, both materially and morally (e.g. barbarism, primitivism, human rights, women's rights, gay rights, terrorism, etc). (Note 5). In our age, it seems to me (my chronobias or chronocentrism) this idea is used to justify extensive imposition of some wills upon others in the name of "community betterment", and here the shibboleth shines, "because of the great advantages community and its progress"' bring to us all, as evidenced by greater misery elsewhere or past wise. Without civilization (ours) and its reasonable rules life would rapidly descend into miserable chaos." You have told me version of this several times. But is this "caring" "community" myth true?

I think the true passivists' wisdom of the ages says a resounding "No". (Note 6).  Ice-age Europe was a garden of Eden. Life was everywhere, luxuriating in the great summer meltwaters from the glaciers both north and south (the Alps) with summers days just as warm as now and winters a little colder, but, hey, Eskimos can move south but most don't. Game was abundant, berries were abundant, pinyon nuts were abundant, food was just a few step away while gossiping with your friends, which were almost all family. "People", both females and males probably lived to their eighties, like elephants and gorillas (Note 7). Was life "focused on obtaining the necessities of life"? Of course. Life, by definition focuses on obtaining life's necessities, that's redundant.

But was that all there was? I doubt it. For 50,000 years, probably more, human nervous and endocrine systems were probably quite similar to ours (I mean, hell, chimpanzees share 99.9% of our genes, how much more do cave men and women share?). So in "primitive" "chaotic" "misery ridden" societies, I suspect most attention (thought, abstract images just as we have now) probably focused on gossip about who was sleeping with whom, where the "hidden" grove of paw-paws is, what the weather is, and how the kids NEVER behave, all while absent-mindedly attending to the necessities. Just like now. Disease could strike at any time, just like now, starvation could occur if the weather failed, just like it does now (Note 8). Life was hard, just like now.

That's the myth, just like now. Life was really easy though, just like now.

Purpose: So what have we gained by this obsession with "improvement". Not life expectancy, that's a myth. Not health, that's a myth. Not happiness, I suspect that's a myth too, but there is no evidence one way of the other for that one. However since writing began, I have seen no change in that either. Each individual life still, as always, is born, grows, and dies, leaving little behind, which is all forgotten in a very short time ("Vanity of vanities, all is vanity", Ecclesiastes 1:1). Perhaps we have lessened sorrow and misery. Do you believe that? Reading the newspaper every day convinces me otherwise has at least equal standing. Misery and sorrow are choices that many make, as are all "mental images" that extend beyond "reality" into the world of the "other", the "supernatural". Here I think is a cornerstone of most beliefs, that most unnatural thing of all, immortality, therefore "H OPE". Nature, "what is" is to be cursed for this unforgivable fact of mortality. But, we humans are more clever than you, God, so we command you to abandon the world of reality and make us immortal.

This "spirit" world, if not discovered was then elegantly expressed in the caves of France and Spain long, long ago; similar to the spirit I yet express in my Christmas gift to you this year (epoxy "Universes" sculpture). Of course the "pursuit of happiness", which is the pursuit of "tranquility" for passivists, as well as other such mental pursuits, are all illusory pastimes that occur in this fantasy world. So as I see it, all our deep, deep concern, love, and sympathy we tend to have for other "people's hardship" is really a way of cursing god for all the misery she lets loose upon the world. Thank God for the killings. By the way, I don't believe in God, but the language is useful.

Appearance and Reality: written Sunday, December 23, 2012
Jeannie, I am back to this same document nine days later. I did not send the above. Based on yet another conversation in which you strongly objected to my demeanor, and, as I put it, perhaps not totally accurately, strongly insulted me. I feel the  need to write some more about my take on the situation. Perhaps what's written above just fuels your beliefs in my "manic" states caused by my bipolar condition, states where I am totally, or at least significantly, out of touch with reality. If so, you now insult rational discourse. But perhaps I am losing touch with reality and the above paragraphs are nothing but the schizophrenic notes of a John Nash, though I think I am finally gaining touch with reality.

This last conversation occurred two days ago when you insulted me to the point where you threw me out of your house. Again, perhaps I deserved it, but since I don't think so, it seems to me to be a another very deep insult. Then today, you hand delivered a note to my unused newspaper box but not to me in person. Perhaps you knocked; I was asleep and found the note when I went out for the paper about noon today, which I always do first thing after my "morning" shower. The note told me (not suggested, the language was in the imperative mood; you are an English major so you know that mood) how to resolve my telephone problem (thank you, but I had already done, twice, what you advised, no, commanded (imperative mood). The note, in handwritten additions, then disinvited me for Christmas at Tracy's. I note that I had never been invited in the first place, so you merely said I would not be, based on your "observations" of my behavior that you shared with Tracy and Ken. Fair enough. Their house. (I m ust note here that you still have not told me why I should have apologized to them, which I have not done, for my "behavior" last Christmas other than I spoke loudly, was obnoxious, and that I therefore should apologize. Loudly? see the last sentence in this missive; obnoxious? perhaps, but what was it that I said?, how can I  know if it was or was not obnoxious if you won't tell me what I said or how I said it that was so obnoxious?).

You also said in the note (current) "You are not a healthy person & we should talk about it". Again, I don’t agree that I am an unhealthy person, if fact I believe I have never been healthier mentally, which I presume is what you mean by my "unhealthiness", and I am in pretty good shape physically, which I don't think you meant. However, I am certainly open to talk about it, either one. In fact, if you will recall, I said the next time you call me, tell me what you think of the portion of Matthew 5 dealing with adultery. That is my way of starting the conversation.

Because we fundamentally disagree about my mental state, we need a referee. I was trained whenever disagreement occurs, go to an impartial third party to arbitrate; it’s the way of science as well as law, and I am, if nothing else, a scientist among other things. I suggest Jesus as an arbitrator, only because that is the language of our culture. I would prefer using Lao Tsu, the old chinese gentleman, or Epicurus (of Epicurean Delights fame), or several others, but Jesus seems to be a more common point of reference for us. After all we did take turns saying "blessings" around the table now stacked in your garage (or what did we call them, "prayers"?, I don't think so, "grace", again I doubt it, just "thanks", maybe, what do you recall we called them?).

You can bring any other referee and anyone else you want to the conference. We can conduct the conversation in person or email, set specific times, perhaps record it (I would love that). But by a referee, I don't mean a person or a hundred people who agree with you, because I realize I am the odd-man out. I mean a moral system I can read, think about, respond to, and deconstruct (in the Jacques Derrida); something written, in general, about "morality" or some other such "goodness and badness" or "rightness and wrongness" that YOU think establishes my sin. Perhaps I should not call it sin, perhaps just "misbehavior" because I know, I know, "I am not a bad person, I just do bad things." Sociology and psychology systems of morality are fine, if you can find them. I suggest Jesus for a start for the reason stated, but am open to any other.

You have insulted me most deeply, Jeannie, again. I have saved letters going way back, one telling me I, though unable to see it (that's the insult), must divorce Susie because she is not right (that was an insult to her), another how I completely misbehaved in Las Vegas during my brief contact with someone claiming to be my son, and several others condemning my chosen ways to their very core. I believe I have a legitimate request to ask "Why". Please note, the referee, Matthew 5 or any other referee, is to prevent another "talk" from you telling me "how the world is and what the consequences of my actions are and will be if I persist in my unsocial ways". OK I get that. But please, for that part of the conversation that you do lead, please tell me what you think the consequences are, and then, more to the point, if I am able to live with the consequences, then please tell me why my "unsocial ways" need change, to paraphrase and extend "not a mentally healthy person". But again, tell me in li ght of some recognized authority on morality and allow me the opportunity to also interpret the referee's words.

Do I have strange thoughts?, Well as Sarah was fond of saying, "You betcha". You have only seen the faintest surface glimmer of the warming embers that smolder deep within, embers left from the fires lit by the sages of the ages, to use a silly metaphor. If you believe that I am SOOO unconventional that I require intervention, well, let's talk about convention as a way to judge people.

But I am becoming redundant. Again Mathew 5 is as good a place to start as any, unless you can come up with a better one. My phone is still out. AT&T says it might be after the first of the year before they can get to it, so I can't send this as an email until then. I could deliver it in person; I won't. I suspect in the interim you will fret that my phone is out and that you can't contact me and will worry that I might hurt someone or myself or do something untoward and will try to call me often. I just hope you don't do something silly again in your "need to act", like that stunt with the police. I love you Jeannie, but I suggest greater peace of mind for both you and me if you would just stop trying to change me to "make me better" or, perhaps this is the true cause, "because I embarrass you". I am fine thank you, long hair, beard, ugly front teeth, baggy clothes, deafness with rudeness for not wearing a hearing aid, loud forceful voice, and all; in fact, I'm really quite a character if yo u would get to know me instead of try to change me.