By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Monday, October 31, 2011

What If? Thinking of Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs while presenting the iPad in San Fr...Image via WikipediaThe facts as I have read and heard them about Steve Jobs in various media outlets:

1. Born in 1955 to an unwed graduate student;

2. Put up for adoption and adopted by parents he adored;

3. The rest is history.

Now, what if this "unwanted" 1950's pregnancy had happened 20 or 30 years later? 

Would the unborn child that was to become Steve Jobs have made it alive out of the womb?

How many lives that could have done as much or more as Steve Jobs have been snuffed out before they had a chance?

You would think that even our calculating, money-obsessed "Ben Franklin" mentality would take notice of the cost.

 Has anyone else taken notice of what these facts imply?


The other titan of the new media age (but still living) is Jeff Bezos, CEO of Guess what? He was born in 1946 to a teenage mother who decided to keep him. After a brief marriage to his biological father, she remarried--to a Cuban immigrant by the surname of Bezos; and, from all indications, a stable, happy family life ensued. What if this teenage mother had become pregnant, not in 1964, but in 1984? Would Amazon's chief be around today?
Image representing Jeff Bezos as depicted in C...Image via CrunchBase

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Here We Go Again: Iranian Muslim Persecution of Bahai Believers

Haifa - World Bahai Center.Image via Wikipedia
Bahai Center in Israel
Here is the link to an article from today's Wall Street Journal.
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Is It OK That I Disagree With That?

Friendship is a
Via Wikimedia Commons
I have asked that pointed but polite question, in so many words, to a few persons in the recent past. One was to a Sufi Muslim gentleman who with great assurance spoke about his beliefs. I politely made clear that I took exception to some of them, and then asked the magic question which separates dialogue from monologue: "Is it OK that I disagree?" I don't recall any responsive answer to the question.

Another case involved a vociferous advocate of the Occupy Wall St. movement and other left-leaning ideological shibboleths. Again, I don't recall more than a surprised pause to the "Is it OK to disagree?" query.

Still another case involved someone making strong and broad generalizations about the American political system. The question was met with the same reaction of surprise.

I have also had the same experience with some of my fellow Catholics (try it with liturgical matters if you wish to be daring!). There seems to be, among a wide range of people of strong political and/or religious views, a momentary reaction of surprise at the presentation of the pointed proposition that it may actually be OK for us to disagree.

Why is that? I think there may be several causes. One, not a few people with very strong views hold those views to fill the insecurity of weak personalities which lack the maturity to handle the complexities and ambiguities of life. Second, in some cases, the causes may actually include some kind of emotional or psychological problem that may even rise to the level of a personality disorder. Third, it may just be a simple matter of not putting oneself in the shoes of the other because we are so preoccupied with ourselves.

Dialogue is the goal, and any genuine friendship--which must be based on dialogue, not monologue--is possible only when all are free to disagree. Yes, it is indeed OK to disagree. If anyone is surprised or shocked by that pointed proposal, then they have yet to learn the meaning of conversation among friends and are missing out on the great gift of genuine friendship.

Many go through life with great ideological self-assurance on religious, political, and other matters. The best medicine for such ideological self-assurance is to listen to others, a listening that is worthwhile only if it is OK for others to disagree.

"[L]et every person(AH) be quick to hear,(AI) slow to speak,(AJ) slow to anger."

 James 1:19b (ESV).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Prestige Race Can Be Rejected

Ivy League logoImage via WikipediaYou know that rejecting the cult of elitism is indeed an option. I speak to people and have known people who are mesmerized by the notion that they or their kids must be in the most prestigious college possible. I wonder why I do not share the same mesmerism, even though for me academic and intellectual matters are of such high importance.

I think that my indifference arises because I intuitively know from my own life and as a matter of common sense that a young person who attends even a "good enough" college, where they are happy, where they can be part of an honors program, where they work hard, where they take advantage of the best academic offerings and enrichment experiences available, will ultimately be professionally successful in any area he or she chooses and indeed live a happy and fulfilled life.

Yes, if you want to and can get into a particular prestigious college, "go for it" if you will find fulfillment in your choice. But it remains silly to automatically and reflexively practice the idolatry of social prestige that hypnotizes so many. This idol, like all the other idols, is not what will make you happy and successful. What will make you happy and successful is within you. You do not have to be a slave to the prestige mania of society. You can follow a different path that can be just as, if not more, satisfying. Many, including me, have taken exactly this route and are flourishing.

Take a look at this link for a saner, more sober view of reality. (The link is apparently quoting from Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers.)
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Thursday, October 20, 2011

What is Missing: Virtuous Exuberance

FDR and Fala side by sideImage via WikipediaWe find it lacking at all levels of leadership. In daily life, exuberance--especially in industrialized, affluent nations--is actually viewed with suspicion. You can see the difference in exuberance levels within the United States between different ethnic cultures and regions of the country.

In a recent book, psychiatrist Kay Jamison writes about exuberance on the level of national leadership as seen in the cases of FDR and Winston Churchill:

To meet Roosevelt, said Churchill, "with all his buoyant sparkle, his iridescence," was like "opening a bottle of champagne." Churchill, who knew both Champagne and human nature, recognized ebullient leadership when he saw it. Roosevelt had utter faith in himself and in the course of his country. "At a time of weakness and mounting despair in the democratic world," said [philosopher] Isaiah Berlin, Roosevelt stood out "by his astonishing appetite for life and by his apparently complete freedom from fear of the future; as a man who welcomed the future eagerly as such, and conveyed the feeling that whatever the times might bring, all would be grist to his mill, nothing would be too formidable or crushing to be subdued."

Kay Redfield Jamison, Exuberance: The Passion for Life (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), p. 151.

I have met people who dislike FDR--none of the ones I met were either exuberant   or ebullient in any shape or form. It may be that differing temperaments make for political dislike. Although it has been many years since I have been a member of the party of FDR, I still consider him the greatest of any twentieth-century president.

What the psychiatrist-author calls "exuberance" is something that I prefer to call
by the old-fashioned term "magnanimity" (Latin: "magnanimitas") as pointing
to a virtuous exuberance. Aquinas speaks of magnanimity as follows:

Article IV.

§ 1. Magnanimity fixes not on any manner of honour, but on 
great honour. But great honour is due to a great work of 
virtue. Hence the magnanimous man aims at great works in 
every line of virtue, making it his aim to do things worthy of 
great honour.

Source link: Summa Theologica, Secunda Secundae, Question 129 on Magnanimity.

Literally, being magnanimous is being "great-souled." To be great-souled and not a petty pursuer of vanity and egotism and greed is the mark of genuine exuberance--the exuberance we need. Don Quixote had it. We need it.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Frustration on an Epic Scale

Julius Caesar, accepting the surrender of Verc...Image via WikipediaIn reading about the massive complexity of Roman society, one gets the impression of a freneticism that afflicted the Republic as it slowly decomposed to become the Empire. Egotism as the meaning of life was fully exploited to the ultimate degree--marry and divorce to form political alliances, Cleopatra, like many others, using her sexual allure to grasp power in an ever-changing environment, the constant rivalry for political success via the spending of vast sums of money, the embrace of obscene luxury as a way to fill one's existential meaninglessness, the slaughter of thousands, if not millions, to make a name for oneself. In the vast panoply of the affluent, complicated world of the Romans, every trick was tried, every avenue exploited, every vice embraced, every form of power pursued in the vain effort to find happiness. Julius Caesar himself is a tragic figure--so much talent, charm, and ability, ending in failure and rejection. Julius Caesar was in many ways surely a great figure, but I do not think of him as happy.

This arena of frustration is why Stoicism emerged as a powerful Roman philosophy in which restraint, modesty, self-control, and a certain fatalism became the means of achieving peace and stability of mind. You can see why Christianity ultimately held such an appeal for the Romans. Yet, today we are again the late Roman Republic, we are again the Roman Empire. Or, as the New Testament, echoing the Old Testament would say, we are Babylon.
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Sunday, October 16, 2011


RomeImage by ryarwood via Flickr
Reading a book on the Roman historians Livy, Tacitus, and Sallust reminds me of the theme that will not go away: moral confusion, usually spawned by affluence, leads to national decline. The concern, when this theme arises, is usually with the national decline--which is, of course, understandable because a national decline will obviously affect each of us, sooner or later. Yet, what should also be of immediate concern is the high, often unstated and ignored personal cost of the moral decline.

When there is no moral framework, then people just get lost. The people getting lost are young, they are middle-aged, and they are even the elderly. The middle-aged and elderly of today are, by and large, not the products of the Waltons.  The baby boomers are in their sixties. 

What I mean by people getting "lost" is that they waste the gift and gifts of life. Some may even appear to have gained the world but have lost their souls in the process or lost their souls even before the process began in earnest. You can't catalogue the high personal cost of being lost based on external appearances: the successful businessman or lawyer or doctor or politician or professor may be lost, while the socially ne're do well may very well have found the way to live a rich and authentic life now. Yes, the last will be first; and the first will be last--and you can see this biblical reversal of fortune even now, you don't have to wait for a future judgment to see this phenomenon of moral reversal where the conventionally successful are the real losers in life.

The meaning of life cannot lie in our petty, ego-driven ambitions, however socially approved by our clique or subculture. The meaning of life lies in agape, in loving and in doing so by putting the ego in the backseat, not in the driver's seat. When the ego is in the driver's seat, even if the person driving is socially and economically successful or even if the person is religiously pious and devout by all external indicators, the car is still lost. And being lost is literally being out of touch with reality because you do not have an accurate map or lack any map at all. And I wager that some or even many of those lost already sense it inside, but often can't really identify the cause.
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Friday, October 14, 2011

An Ironic Dictionary of Contemporary English

dictionary-1 copy.jpgImage by TexasT's via Flickr
These definitions are ironic and satirical. They do not express my own views but rather those views I find to be troubling or nonsensical.

America: the place I disdain but in which I am eager to live.
Baby: the one you decided not to abort.
Chastity: archaic term rarely used today; if used today in secular circles, it often signifies having only one sexual partner at any particular moment, with no maximum lifetime limit.
Degree: a credential I get despite the absence of any philosophical curiosity.
Enemy: the one who tells me the truth about myself.
Fool: the one who does not do as I wish.
Good: what makes me popular.
Hate: someone's refusal to accept my lies.
Intellectual: someone with a cynical and jaded manner.
Joy: despair pretending to be happy.
Kill: an action still discouraged unless the target is in the womb.
Lie: what you need to do to get married.
Money: that whose loss or diminution is one of the few just causes for personal outrage.
Never: a meaningless adverb.
Outrage: see "Money."
Power: the basis of all human relations.
Quiet: an intolerable environmental hazard.
Risk: present when there is possible harm to me alone; absent when the harm falls on others.
Safe: an adjective applied to a natural activity that has been made dangerous, as in "safe sex" or "safe drinking water."
Truth: an irrelevant factor in praising those persons or institutions with social prestige.
Unsafe: what may cause me any inconvenience or require a sacrifice.
Vow: a temporary promise with no stated expiration date; also a promise whose violation is not discoverable by others.
Winning: what makes even the most repugnant person or group attractive.
X: formerly a rating for movies with the same content as contemporary prime-time television and radio; now replaced in the movie industry with the "PG" rating.
Yes: a word with infinitely variable meanings, relative to your circumstances.
Zoo: a general description of contemporary manners and relationships.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Columbus Day: A Seismic Geopolitical Event

the tomb of Christopher Columbus in the cathed...Image via Wikipedia
 Tomb of Columbus, Cathedral of Seville, Spain

Today, October 12th is the 519th anniversary of the landfall of Christopher Columbus on one of the Bahamas Islands in 1492. In the Hispanic world, the day is known by a name that sounds odd to English-speakers: "The Day of the Race" or "Día de la Raza." In Hispanic culture, "the race" or "raza" refers to the European Spanish entry into the Western Hemisphere, which literally spawned a new "race" and, more importantly, a new culture through extensive and profound contact and intermixture with the native and other peoples involved in this new adventure. (I prefer to view the term "raza" as primarily a cultural term signifying the rise of a Hispanic culture well beyond Europe.) The day was celebrated today in Spain with a military parade reviewed by the king who forms part of the same monarchy that funded Columbus so many centuries ago (see link).

Some interesting historical tidbits are appropriate today. According to the 1993 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, Columbus was born "probably [to] a Spanish-Jewish couple living in the Italian port city of Genoa" (Micropaedia). Interestingly, the same encyclopedia states that Columbus never wrote in any form of Italian but always wrote in Spanish (Macropaedia; yet, a later version of the same entry seems to say that there are some annotations by Columbus in Italian in some of his books). Having become a subject of the Spanish crown, Columbus was made Admiral of the Ocean Sea and Viceroy of the Indies. His 20th direct descendant, Cristóbal Colón, still bears the titles of nobility granted to the original Christopher Columbus by the Spanish crown (see link) and is himself a Spanish naval officer. Of some biblical interest is the fact that Columbus claimed to have "discovered America by prophecy rather than by astronomy" (Britannica Macropaedia, 15th ed., noting Columbus' reliance on Isaiah 11:10-12).

Yet, what is of continuing high historical significance is that the discovery of the Western Hemisphere and its subsequent Christian evangelization--both Catholic and Protestant--amounted to a seismic geopolitical outflanking of Islam's expansion and reach. With the recapture of the last Muslim kingdom in Spain in 1492, the Catholic Monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand in the very same year launched a risky adventure that would literally create an overwhelmingly Christian hemisphere whose influence has continued to transform history since that time, leaving the Islamic world to languish within the limits of the old world-- a breathtaking confluence of events. All of which makes me take Columbus' reliance on Isaiah perhaps a bit more seriously.

Update: You can see information at the link on the papal bull issued in 1493 by Pope Alexander VI (a Spanish Borja or Borgia) dividing the New World just discovered by Columbus between Spain and Portugal. Ironically, under this papal bull, the only illegal immigrants in North America are those not arriving here under the auspices of Spain! The link is the link to the website of the Vatican "Secret" Archives. To find this particular bull, click one of the highlighted document images found at the above link. If you look carefully, you can see the name "Colon" in the document image--"Colon" is the Spanish form of the Latin "Columbus." That is the document image to click to get further background on this papal bull.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

That's It!

Torah Scholar Avivah Zornberg

She is originally from Scotland and gives a very interesting example of the midrashic interpretation of the Bible by orthodox Jews. ("Midrash" is derived from the Hebrew verb "to inquire.")

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Doing the Right Thing With No Guarantees

Steve Jobs - PlacardImage by The Seg via FlickrA friend of mine recently posted a quote from the late Steve Jobs to the effect that in life one can see how the dots connect only in hindsight, not beforehand. That is a very biblical message. Abraham, the paragon of faith, is said to have gone out from his native world without knowing exactly where he was headed. Yet, he must have sensed that the departure (in Greek: exodus) was for the better. The people of Israel enslaved in Egypt followed Moses, hoping for the best. The Bible is full of instances where steps are taken with the best of hopes but with no tangible foreknowledge of what exactly will come next--something our risk-averse, micromanaged, ego-obsessed bourgeois world detests in its mania for planning and controlling.

In many ways, the lesson is to live in the present, not to neglect the present, but rather to enter the present and act for the best within the present, even if we do not see a clear "pay-off." If you pierce the present, given to you now, with that which is the best possible, then the dots will take care of themselves. Yes, that is an act of faith. But, as Habakkuk said, the just shall live by faith. And, if justice can be said to involve giving reality its due, then those, who give the reality of life and its potentialities what is properly due to them, will indeed live by faith.
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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Digital Dead Sea Scrolls: Fascinating

Dead Sea Scroll - part of Isaiah Scroll (Isa 5...Image via WikipediaYes, you will find this website fascinating and highly informative in its presentation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, likely the most significant biblical discovery ever, which gave us biblical manuscripts 1,000 years older than the manuscripts previously available. Here is the link.

The site is sponsored by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. So, if you can't make it to Jerusalem this weekend, then go online.
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Monday, October 3, 2011

Caesar and Ortega: Freedom under Constraints

 The German historian of the Late Roman Republic Christian Meier writes as
 follows about the task of capturing historical reality:

We must therefore consider not just the personalities, their general and particular interests and opinions, but the positions they occupy within the configuration, which is of course determined 
by their action and interaction, but also determines them.  The overall situation dictates not only the areas of activity, but perspective and distance. In any situation men are bound to certain positions, and these are defined within the surrounding framework. One must therefore consider not just the participants, but the total situation, which is greater than the sum of its parts. True, such an approach makes it difficult to form one-dimensional judgements with scholarly detachment, but it brings us closer to the reality.

Meier, Caesar: A Biography (BasicBooks, 1982), p. 6 (emphasis added).

Modern bronze statue of Julius Caesar, Rimini,...                Image via Wikipedia
The above description reminds me of the philosopher Ortega y Gasset's own description of the radical reality in which we live our lives. That radical reality can be summed up in the leitmotif of Ortega's metaphysics: "I am I and my circumstance"--in the original Spanish, "Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia."

Notice that the historical actor determines the situation but is, in turn, also determined by it. Free will is exercised within constraints. Ortega makes the felicitous comparison with the great creative freedom of the skilled classical poet within the technical constraints of meter and rhythm. Vergil could create a classic masterpiece within very tight metrical constraints. We can do the same with our lives, regardless of the circumstances.

By the way, I recommend Meier's biography of Caesar. Also, note that more resources on Ortega the philosopher are available under  the"Philosophy Resources"  page of this website (Pages link above).
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