Saturday, December 30, 2006

Pardon me?

As the media looks back through rose-colored glasses at another dismal President, Gerald R. Ford, the subject of the power of presidential pardon comes up, if only obliquely, due to Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon, a controversial and (rightly) unpopular act that may have contributed to his defeat in 1976.

It’s remarkable how infrequently this power has been examined, even in legal circles. It originates from Article II, section 2 of the Constitution: “...he [the President] shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”

The ideas of our nation’s founders almost never seem naïve to me—much of their thought was based on a healthy awareness of the inherent dangers of political power. But in this case I wonder. Of course they couldn’t foresee the extreme corruption of government as it has developed in the last century, culminating in our current situation, in which the White House is operated by what amounts to a criminal gang. But surely there were precedents in the 18th century for heads of state excusing the crimes of their families and associates. It would seem that the motive for instituting this power in the Constitution was, in fact, distrust of the tendency of courts towards severity in punishment. It was common in England for minor offenses to carry the death penalty. Alexander Hamilton thought that the conscience of a single person, the President, was necessary as a corrective to such unjust severity. In Federalist #74, he wrote: “The reflection that the fate of a fellow-creature depended on his sole fiat, would naturally inspire scrupulousness and caution; the dread of being accused of weakness or connivance, would beget equal circumspection, though of a different kind.”

In regard to the second clause of this sentence, I believe history has proved Hamilton to be naïve. Weakness and connivance no longer carry enough shame to prevent the abuse of this power. Bill Clinton pardoned his own brother Roger, and this is only one example of that President’s high tolerance for weakness and connivance. Of course, it’s argued that it can be politically risky to pardon someone—but in Clinton’s case he was at the end of his final term, so there was virtually no political fall-out for him to consider. He pardoned former Arizona Governor Fife Symington in a case involving the defrauding of union pensions. It turns out that Symington, an old pal, had once saved Clinton from going under in a riptide. The working people who were Symington’s victims mattered for nothing compared to the personal loyalties of the wealthy Clinton.

Ford’s pardon of his predecessor was remarkable in that Nixon had not been charged with any crime. It was not at all certain whether the special prosecutor would pursue an indictment of Nixon. Ford’s action basically cleared Nixon of any charges that might be made against him in the future regarding actions he performed when President.

The impression of weakness and connivance is very much magnified by the pre-emptive nature of the pardon. It’s one thing to pardon someone who is in jail, or even someone who’s been indicted and is facing trial, but pardoning someone before he’s even been charged with anything is about as naked an exposure of political favoritism on the part of an arrogant elite that one could ever expect to see.

The official excuse for this was that the prospect of having a former President go on trial would be too much of a trauma for the nation. Thus a thoroughly phony principle of protecting the public from emotional upheaval was made to supersede the ancient, venerable, and simple principle of justice. The office of the President was cloaked in a bogus aura of imperial prestige, thus putting the President effectively above the law. It is dangerous to underestimate the power of this prestige, as we can see from the behavior of the current occupant, who has advanced the idea of the omnipotent “unitary” executive who is subject to no law but is himself the measure of all law, just like the kings and emperors of old Europe.

Now we discover, according to Ford’s memoirs as leaked by The Nation, that Nixon’s chief of staff, Al Haig, offered to Vice-President Ford the possibility of Nixon resigning in return for an agreement that Ford (who would of course have become President when Nixon resigned) would grant Nixon a full pardon. Oh, what a tangled web we weave! Ford denies agreeing to this, but when such a subject is even broached, involving the assumption of the Presidency by one politician depending on the pardon of another, one can see what a nasty can of worms the power of pardon can become.

Now that we’ve come to the point where we have a President who has no shame at all, a President who insists that the Constitution is just a “goddamn piece of paper,” the power of pardon (granted to him, of course, by that same Constitution) grants the Liar-in-Chief a wider range of corruption. Consider the Scooter Libby case, which has the potential of exposing a criminal conspiracy to lead the nation into a war under false pretenses. Bush could pardon Libby at any time, and for anything he might have done while he worked for the White House, not just the perjury charge. To be honest, I’m not sure why it hasn’t happened yet. As hard as it is to imagine from a President so indifferent to criticism, it could be that Bush and his handlers fear that the political fall-out from such a pardon (in a case involving, we need to remember, the outing of a CIA agent) could be too devastating for Republicans who have already been rocked by the disastrous war and various scandals. Perhaps they fear it could tip the White House to the Democrats in ’08. But when it comes down to a choice between losing politically and having the criminal actions of Bush, Cheney, et. al., exposed in a court of law, I would think that the current regime would eventually choose political loss. (In addition to the Libby case, it has become evident in recent months that Bush is scrambling to make everyone involved in his murders and tortures immune from prosecution. That was why the Military Commissions Act had to be passed in a big hurry.)

To sum up: the Nixon pardon stands as a warning to the nation. The more corrupt the political elites become, and the less accountable they are for what they do, the more likely it will be that the President’s power of pardon will be used in order to conceal corruption and evade justice. I might dream of amending the Constitution to eliminate or at least limit this power, but the chances are slim to none. We can hope, however, that the issue will become more prominent in the public mind, and that a debate will be opened in legal circles and in society at large regarding the proper use and function of this power.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Flesh-Eating Ghouls: How Liberals are Stalking and Crushing Our Innocence with their Monstrous, Oozing Tentacles

In a future less distant than we might suppose, the many books that have been published by right-wing gasbags in recent years will molder on thrift-store shelves, gather dust at flea markets and garage sales, and disintegrate en masse underneath thousands of landfills. Their contents will be as thoroughly forgotten as the works of Louis Dodge. For indeed, there has rarely emerged a more breathtakingly empty genre of literature than the conservative whine.

Despite an apparent multiplicity of subjects, there is only a single guiding idea behind all these books: to point a finger of blame at liberals and leftists. Let us sample a few titles, shall we? (The names of the authors have been concealed to protect them from undeserved attention.)

The Terrible Truth About Liberals; Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild;, The Enemy Within: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Churches, Schools, and Military; Liberal Racism: How Fixating on Race Subverts the American Dream; Liberal-itis: A Thinking Disorder Destroying America; The New Thought Police: Inside the Left's Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds; Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism and the Unmaking of Civilization; Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left; The Lethal Liberal Society in America: We Will Bury You!; Surrounded by Idiots: Fighting Liberal Lunacy in America; Liberalism is a Mental Disorder; Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton.

Then there are the “how” books—usually a snappy main title, followed by a “how” subtitle outlining the insidious threat. (I’m listing most of these books without the main heading, so as to highlight this aspect of the, um, mental disorder…)

How Liberal Democrats Undercut Our Military, Endanger Our Soldiers and Jeopardize our Security; How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First; How the Left Created the Outsourcing Crisis; How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity; How the Left Was Won: An In-Depth Analysis of the Tools and Methodologies Used by Liberals to Undermine Society and Disrupt the Social Order; How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help; How Liberals Brought Corruption Into the Catholic Church; How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military, and Sports; How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought.

You must understand that there is no engagement with actual issues in these books. The problems in our country, in our world, are due to the presence of certain groups who are bent on destroying us—“us” being the right-minded citizens who buy these books and listen to talk radio. The liberals (or the Democrats, leftists, feminists, environmentalists, whatever—the terms are interchangeable) represent a malignant force of motiveless evil. They “assault” everything we hold dear, endanger our safety, undermine our culture. They even “plot” against Christmas. Why? Who knows? They’re just evil, folks, and they need to be stopped at all costs.

In the upcoming publishing cycle we may expect books that explain how liberals want to rape our children, make Satanism the national religion, put LSD in our food supply, force everyone into gay sex, and legalize cannibalism.

I’m trying to imagine the poor credulous reader who buys and eagerly reads these books. What does he get out of it? A confirmation of his status as a victim, perhaps. An echo of every secret, self-pitying complaint against whatever people or groups he hates, or who seem to threaten his imagined privilege. And every succeeding book helps him to snivel a little bit longer, and to get angrier and angrier.

The reader imagines an earlier time, a blissful American Eden that existed before the rise of the dreaded liberals. A time when you could buy almost anything for a nickel, when men were men and neighbors were friendly, when family was the most important thing. A time when black people were in their place, and if they got unruly you could lynch 'em. A time when women knew their role: raising babies at home, not working or voting. The golden age, when there was hardly any crime, no unions, no do-gooders, when you could safely piss into the lake without worrying about the EPA. The golden age, my friends, the American Arcadia.

So what is the solution to our problem? Clearly, if we just lined up all the liberals, feminists, loony leftists, gays, environmentalists, animal rights activists, and antiwar protesters against a wall and shot them—then everything would be ok, right?

I wonder what it will take for people to realize the infantile nature of this thinking, to realize that with all the talk of a “culture of complaint” and the weakness of liberal concern for the victim, that no movement has been more characterized by whining, complaining, and pointing the finger, by a complete and total victim mentality, than this pathetic right-wing movement in America. Why, they could take over all three branches of government (and they did), dominate the media discourse (which they also did), and reduce the Democrats to a cringing, ineffectual minority (it happened, and could happen again), but they are still somehow the victims of a powerful liberal enemy determined to corrupt everything good and decent. Now, imagine if the “enemy within” were finally crushed by the righteous power of the conservative state, what meaning would be left for the right-wing whiners? What on earth would they do?

Wouldn’t they have to find someone else to attack? Maybe the Jews—that’s always a good one. Or maybe they’d just end up eating each other. Because, you see, when you run screaming from your own shadow, there is ultimately no escape.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Afterdeath (Part 2 )

The attribution of moral significance to the afterlife is a relatively recent development. For most of human history, the notion of survival after death proceeded simply from assumptions about spirit, i.e. that the self, subjectivity, could not be mortal. The fear of death prompted much in the way of ritual, ceremony, and propitiation, for the sake of the departed spirits as well as for the living community. But ensuring the best outcome, the best experience, of the spirit’s travel to the “other” world was a process primarily magical and sympathetic in nature, not moral.

To speculate on the historical motivations behind the invention of heaven and hell is to risk confusion between conscious decisions and unconscious cultural developments. For the sake of exposition, we may discuss it as if a group of priests (of whatever ancient religion) got together to devise a strategy, but the truth concerning the history of religious beliefs involves great inward struggles followed by emergence of new convictions wielding the force of sudden insight or revelation. The birth of our beliefs about things unseen does not take place through cunning or calculation, despite the impression that is presented by later history to the atheist or skeptic. Such beliefs would have no power unless they emerged from the depths of our nature, from needs and desires that are imperative. This is a truth that it is important to remember at all times when investigating religion: all the concepts which seem so strange to the rationalist would not have arisen unless they had deep-seated causes, and one must take these causes seriously and respect their importance in order to understand the concepts.

There came a time in human history, then, when the desire for justice took on the nature of an overwhelming priority—indeed, a crisis in human affairs. The invention of law had allowed great advances, but its fallibility became more and more evident as society became more complex. Although the origin of law was attributed to the gods (and later to God), the idea that the Divine would reward good actions and punish bad ones on earth became impossible to credit. For one thing, law could be subverted by men who performed bad actions and then codified these bad actions as law. For every person who was judged by the law, there were many who escaped punishment and were able to hurt other people without consequence. The power principle itself, the dominance over others through brute physical force, presented a contradiction to the idea of justice, because the outcome depended on the degree to which the person wielding power was just, and this seemed increasingly a matter of chance rather than Divine will. Ultimately, tte suffering of innocent people presented a challenge to the notion that the cosmos was just—and thus we have the Book of Job. That great poem maintains human limitation and fallibility regarding such questions, but the religions and cultures committed to beliefs in an afterlife could not be satisfied with such an answer. (Here we must focus on the Western traditions—the Eastern religions took a different path, which we will postpone discussing until a later time.)

Then comes the revelation, the sudden thunderbolt of insight. If human beings are judged for their actions after death, then our desire for justice no longer contradicts the drama of life—there is no contradiction any more, because our preparation for the “next” life is now conceived as a moral one. Those who have acted justly, therefore, will be rewarded after death in such a way as to resolve any injustice experienced in this life. Those who have acted unjustly will be punished after death, so that even if they died peacefully in their sleep after committing terrible crimes against the innocent, the desire for justice will ultimately be satisfied.

Of course, the sum total of our actions are rarely, if ever, completely good or bad. So the process of judgment after death will have to take both good and bad into account, and the degree of reward or punishment will vary accordingly. But as absolutist thought became increasingly ascendant in human culture and religion, so heaven and hell gradually lost all degrees and became an either/or proposition, a development that injects a greater element of peril into the notion of judgment. (The Catholic Church tried to compensate for this by introducing purgatory, and also different circles or levels in heaven and hell).

The first phase of belief in the two great traditions born from Judaism—i.e. Christianity and Islam—indicates a final day of judgment in which all are judged together, a day conceived as occurring in historical time. This is actually a radical departure from the age-old beliefs about the survival of an individual spirit after death, because it posits a sort of interval of nothingness or cosmic sleep for the dead, between their death and the day of judgment. (In the case of Christianity, there’s the equally radical idea of an actual resurrection of the body, but that’s another issue).

Eventually, popular belief triumphed in the form of an individual surviving after death, being judged immediately, and then going to heaven or hell. An uneasy combination was made between this and the millennial doctrines, and there has always been controversy on this point. In any case, the moral significance is identical. The practical result, the design emerging in the form of human conduct, if you will, is that the fear of punishment after death is supposed to prevent us from committing bad actions, and the desire for reward after death is supposed to motivate us to performing good actions.

The eternal, or never-ending, nature of reward and punishment is a peculiar outcome of this development. Not only, then, are we punished or rewarded after death, but there is no end to these punishments or rewards. They last forever. To do evil is to risk not only painful consequences, but consequences that will never be exhausted, leaving the judged spirit without hope of ever finding relief from punishment. (It is noteworthy that this aspect of hell is more psychologically vivid to us than the corresponding eternity of reward in heaven. I think this is because the entire complex is motivated by fear of death, and therefore has an essentially negative character.)

Thus the great problem of justice seemed to have been solved. But was it really? The complexity of the after-life system presented its own contradictions. People eventually perceived the doctrine of hell itself as a symptom of injustice. The arguments are too many and diverse to enumerate here. Perhaps the most basic is simply that reward and punishment are not compatible with the true realization of virtue, that they represent a limited, self-centered view of human conduct that fails to comprehend the nature of good actions, or indeed of goodness itself as a subjective quality for human beings.

On the purely practical level, though, can we say that heaven and hell have improved the overall state of human conduct? It’s impossible to say for sure without speculating on how human history would have proceeded without the introduction of the moral element in the afterlife. Maybe it did improve things. But I think it should be abundantly clear that this belief did not result in the faithful and virtuous human society that one might have hoped for. The atrocities of human oppression, the massacres, tortures and cruelties of the last two millennia in the West have all taken place within a culture proclaiming the belief in heaven and hell.

To put it on a more personal, and therefore more comprehensible level, I will pose a question. If a person really believed that committing a sin would sentence him or her to a hell of eternal punishment, would that person ever sin? Or let us ask instead: if a person really believed that committing a sin would open up even the slightest possibility of eventually being punished in hell for eternity, would he or she ever sin? Could you imagine taking such a risk? If you really believed in eternal punishment of sin, wouldn’t you make every effort to live a blameless life, a life of such moral purity that you could manage to live in some ease from the fear of such a horrible and inconceivable punishment? And wouldn't therefore, the majority of people in our society, who believe in heaven and hell, be virtually blameless? We would expect, then, to be experiencing a more peaceful world, a much less violent world, than what we have.

The answer to the riddle, I think, is that no one, or at least very few people indeed, actually believe with full conviction in eternal reward and punishment. Religious people try to believe. They persuade themselves that they believe. But at a deeper level they don’t believe, because at the deepest and most unconscious levels of subjectivity we intuit reality, the absolute, essentially non-verbal reality of which we, so to speak, partake. And at this level, we know, despite all conscious suppression of knowledge, that these beliefs are a fiction. No one alive can actually tell us about an afterlife from experience, and this fact is perhaps the most obvious aspect of death we know—in a sense, it could even be said to define our intuitive awareness of what death is. So no matter how many sacred revealed scriptures we are given, or how many visions or stories we are told of, we know that it’s a fiction. In the form of mythology, such fiction has undeniable meaning and relevance for us, but when it is transposed into a method for maintaining a certain form of behavior through reward and punishment, it ends in failure.

Why? Because the fear of death is an insufficient cause for moral action. It only replicates our fear in ever-evolving, complex forms. Love, compassion, caring, respect, and all the other truths that we discern beneath the surface of virtue, originate and derive their meaning from some other source besides the fear of death. Heaven and hell are dead ends.

(This is the second in a series of articles about beliefs concerning survival after death.)

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Right to Know the Truth

The 9/11 Truth Movement is a controversial subject. I’ve even had some heated arguments with friends and family about it. The greatest barrier to discussion is the stigma of “conspiracy theorist,” which threatens anyone who takes the subject seriously to be labeled crazy or gullible or worse.

In one discussion, someone commented that the belief in a conspiracy fulfills a need for us to make order and sense out of senseless, chaotic events. This is a common notion, but I actually think the opposite is true. It’s much more comforting to believe that there are no conspiracies, at least of this magnitude. To think that an event this important, an atrocity that has become a central rationale for a whole new direction in our country’s foreign and domestic policies, was the result of a government conspiracy of some sort, is very frightening indeed.

But I think it’s wrong to speculate on the needs such a controversy fulfills, on either side, because it obscures the real issues involved. The key point should be—does the official version of the event make sense? If it doesn’t make sense, then we as citizens have not only the right but the duty to demand the truth.

This key point often gets lost because of our tendency to speculate about what the truth might be. Some of the speculations may seem more plausible than others, but they all shift the attention away from the questions of fact to the questions “Who did this and how?” It is much easier to ridicule such speculations than it is to refute a fact-based analysis of the event itself. Yet the tendency to speculate is inevitable, and so we must expect such things to crop up around any question of political conspiracy. With the JFK assassination, for instance, popular attention has tended to focus on speculative and sensational aspects—the “grassy knoll” and so forth—while the fact that the official version is flimsy from top to bottom, even if one only relies on the Warren Commission’s own evidence, is rarely recognized.

In addition, there will always be lunatics that are attracted to conspiracies. This fact is consistently exploited by those who attack conspiracy theories. They use the argument ad hominem and by association: find the least coherent conspiracy theorists you can, and then label all of them with the same brush. Everyone gets lumped together with believers in Roswell and Elvis sightings. But although there are wackos who are attracted to conspiracies, it does not follow that all conspiracy theories, or theorists, are necessarily wacko. Only a sober examination of facts, and not personal attacks on the sanity or general character of critics, is a valid form of argument.

There are quite a few on the left who are dismayed by the 9/11 Truth Movement because they see it as a distraction from the important work of grassroots organizing and resistance. I certainly agree that political action is of more importance in the larger scheme of things. And yet, if the official version of the attacks is wrong, I can’t imagine how anyone could justify denying the need for truth. Interpreting history is one way that the political class attempts to control people. Surely part of resistance is to be skeptical about the official version of history. And this particular piece of history is evidently being exploited in order to steer this country towards a more authoritarian, less democratic state, as well as putting us on a perpetual war footing. We can’t really claim, then, that the issue is irrelevant.

For the record, I am very troubled by glaring inconsistencies in the 9/11 story. Among the many aspects, the most bizarre, it seems to me, is the collapse of the WTC buildings. Even if one were to accept the idea that the airplanes could cause such a collapse (which I don’t), the collapse of WTC Building 7, which was not hit by a plane, is inexplicable. I am open to hearing rational explanations of these events, but so far I have noticed a peculiar defensiveness and hostility on the part of those who seek to refute criticisms. They all end up making ad hominem attacks on the critics, while using flimsy and scattershot arguments to rebut their questions of fact. I haven’t seen a sober, systematic refutation yet. And the attitude of the government, which has been to stonewall and bluff its way past attempts at investigation, is suspicious, to put it mildly. To be fair, the Bush administration lies so routinely about everything that it’s difficult to attribute rational motives a lot of the time. Still, it begs the question—if the truth about 9/11 was clear, and favorable to the government, wouldn’t it be more forthcoming, if only in self-interest?

The fact is that no one has ever been disciplined for negligence over this terrible event. Not a single person has had to pay the piper for allowing this to happen. There has never been an actual criminal investigation. All we got was a commission with a very unsatisfactory report. WTC 7 went conveniently unmentioned in this report, among other things. It’s absurd for the defenders of the official version to get testy about criticism when those who have presented this version have done such a lousy job.

Earlier this year we witnessed the sorry spectacle of a mentally ill extremist named Ann Coulter, who actually has a voice in the media during these strange times, attacking the 9/11 widows as publicity seekers. I don’t think the real problem was that these widows supposedly supported John Kerry, although that’s the way it was framed. The problem is that they’re not satisfied with the official version of the event that caused the deaths of their husbands. This speaks particularly to my point, because I don’t think these widows are conspiracy theorists. At least, that’s not my impression. I haven’t heard any speculations from them. What I do hear is that the version of 9/11 that we’ve been given does not seem like the whole truth to them. And I know if my spouse had died in this attack, I wouldn’t care what anyone, Ann Coulter or otherwise, said about it—my sole focus would be finding out the truth. If the entire world told me to shut up, I wouldn’t stop talking as long as I thought there was some part of the truth that was still hidden.

What is a legitimate issue for the widows is a legitimate issue for the rest of us as well, because this event has been a catalyst for so much more tragedy. For myself, I can say with complete sincerity that I have no stake in what particular form the truth might take. If it were proved that Osama Bin Laden did it, I would be relieved. I would prefer not to have to face the possibility of government complicity. But as long as the events are not reasonably explained, strictly on the basis of reason and science and not on name-calling or innuendo, I can’t dismiss the issue from my mind. And I don’t think the American people will be able to forget either.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Time Lapse Politics

You couldn’t ask for a more pointed example of elitism combined with brain-dead media than the Iraq Study Group.

If you were to believe what you see on TV and the McNewspapers, we just got confirmation that the Iraq War is a disaster. Never mind that the majority of the people have known this for at least a year, probably longer. Never mind that there has been no lack of intelligent political observers saying the same thing for years. And forget about the millions who protested this war from the beginning, and have been consistently demonized as terrorist-friendly “moonbats,” along with right-wing Democrat Jack Murtha, for chrissake, who was saying all this a year ago.

But now that a hand-picked group of fossils, headed by Mr. Grinning Death-Head James Baker, says that the Iraq policy is failing, well—that’s news, my friends. It’s as if the people who own the country are in a time warp, only receiving factual reports two years later than everyone else. And it’s assumed that the American people are ignorant dullards, when the Boosh poll numbers have been consistently in the toilet for so long that you can almost hear the sound of flushing every time a new poll comes out.

The moral of the story is that the people in government, as a rule, do not feel responsible to those they serve, or even to the facts on the ground. The truth that we perceive is in a different realm from the artificial world of the media-projected national drama. And just as we are passive spectators of the junk parade on TV, so our citizenship is one of passivity. What has been abundantly clear for a long time now becomes official “truth” after a blue-ribbon panel of elite insiders declares it, all in the service of preventing an empty suit President from having to admit a mistake.

In such circumstances, thank the gods I can turn to His Rudeness for relief from mendacity.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Afterdeath (Part 1)

If the fear of death, as it’s been said, is the beginning of wisdom, it has also been, by extension, the cause of much folly.

Since our subjectivity is the one constant of life—the context, as it were, of all experience—it is impossible to imagine its loss. In our imagination, extinction becomes a semblance of night, like being locked in a dark room forever. But of course, being locked in a dark room is still an experience, while extinction is not. The fear of death, then, is different in kind from the fear of pain or any other fear, because of its unimaginable nature.

The ineffable nature of subjectivity, its wondrousness, if you will, lies at least partly in the fact that is not reducible to any experience or object, but is the precondition for every experience of every object. This gave rise to the idea of a spirit, soul, or self—some sort of being-essence that inhabits the body. Human beings could clearly perceive that the body was mortal, but could not accept that the spirit was mortal as well. Indeed, the presupposition of a spirit separate from the body already assumes that the spirit is permanent and the body impermanent, since it is the intuition of unconditioned reality that gave rise to the idea of a spirit in the first place. From this separation, it follows that the spirit survives the body, in other words, the notion of “life after death.”

The argument describes a process founded on human desire and fear. Like all animals, we seek to survive, and we avoid death. With greater awareness, however, comes a more acute form of avoidance: the fear of death as a lasting mental influence rather than just a feeling-reaction in the moment. When human beings became aware of their mortality—not just in times of threat but in all times, as a form of knowledge, and retainable in the memory—they first manifested the signs of culture that we identify as human. And among the earliest such signs, if not the earliest, were burials of the dead and funerary rites.

The ineffable and ungraspable nature of subjectivity, when intuited by a higher (human) level of awareness, leads to the notion of spirit or soul, which simultaneously transforms the instinctual avoidance of death into an emotional and intellectual fear of death. (It is significant that this higher awareness is commonly known as “self-consciousness,” for it involves reflection.) From this fear of death, in turn, is born the notion of life after death.

Although the idea of spirit separate from body does not withstand the scrutiny of scientific reasoning, humans still cling to it because of their fear of death. The idea can’t be disproved empirically, of course (since death is inherently non-empirical), but even the overwhelming power of logical argument will not change anything as long as the fear of death remains a dominant force in culture. The paradox is that many forms of religion have sought to free us from the fear of death, and by various means, even while retaining the assumptions regarding a spirit or soul that end up perpetuating that fear. Those forms of religion and spirituality that honestly seek the truth, therefore, are faced with the necessity of grappling with the idea of spirit, and resolving the contradictions that leave the mass of humanity in bondage to fear.

(This is the first in a series of articles about beliefs concerning survival after death.)