Monday, 25 August 2008

Thoughts while reading Fight Club.

Anicca or Impermanence. All conditioned things eventually cease to exist. All things are in flux.

Dukkha or unsatisfactoriness or “dis-ease“. Nothing found in the physical world or even the psychological realm can bring lasting deep satisfaction.

Anatta or impersonality, or non-self. Each individual is subject to constant flux, there is no I, no central core or essence.

The three marks of existence (Buddhist teaching)

“Everything is changing, nothing is static, everything is falling apart”

The "teachings" of Tyler Durden.

I decided to reread Chuck Palahniuk first novel Fight Club. I have a habit of looking up books or films and finding out when they were released or printed. I like to know what year it came out in and what I if anything was doing. Fight Club was first printed in 1996 and the film came out in 1999. For a human being a decade is a long time, plenty happens not only to the self but the world itself. Reflection is a curious quality we humans have. Like all other complex living things we have an awareness of night and day and the changing of the seasons. Our ability though to remember the past, infer from it and attach an emotional quality seems unique to our species. I don’t think we’re likely to hear reports from primatologists that haughty old chimps are rueing the day complaining it wasn’t like this in their time.

Us humans view the past with rose tinted lens as it where. Recently I have been taking another trip down memory lane. I decided to replay the magnificent Metal Gear Solid series. A computer game designed over twenty years spanning three Playstation consoles and ten years in its modern guise. The latest in the series features a nearly at deaths door Snake, (the games hero) who must solider on to complete his mission. I remember feeling slightly annoyed at the fact of playing an older Snake. Not because I have anything against old people.(in the legend of heroes, both Wayne and Eastwood have made great, old coffin dodging men of action) no it was that Snake was not my Snake! I was eleven when I first played Metal Gear Solid (1998 PS1) and I will always as it where remember him from that. Throughout the series Snake is never the exact same person twice. Drama insists on having arcs and catharsis. Michael Corleone is not the same person at the start of the Godfather as he is at the end nor is he the same “person” in the second or third Godfather film.

Us humans are a paradox, we don’t like change, yet become depressed by unending regularity. The perennial ring road on Sundays leading to the shopping centre. Calorie counting. Income tax returns. Car wash also on Sundays. We stay in the same job, Same marriage. Watch the same garbage on the TV. Same food. Same sex. Same and samey life until one day the pilot light in your cooker goes off and secretly you 24th floor apartment fills with Gas. Some point in the middle of the night while your flying at fifty thousand feet in the air, your fridge depressor clicks on, igniting a massive explosive and every crummy little bit of your life sails out past the floor to ceiling windows of your filing cabinet condominium flaming into the nights sky. “and they say these things happen” This is the start of the narrator decent from his boring life into the underworld of Fight Club.

Nothing is static, everything is changing, everything is falling apart. The final Metal Gear is filled with this sense of decay. That at once everything is changing and passing away but also as its creator Kojima points out filled with Nietzsche’s eternal return of the same. At one point Snake returning to a former mission site in permafrost Alaska where he hadn’t seen in nine years, glimpses an old surveillance camera. The game flashbacks to the decade before (with old PS1 graphics) the camera then falls and falls apart upon hitting the ground. Snakes old body takes a pummelling during the game, and visibly decays throughout it. “Even the Mona Lisa’s falling apart” writes Palahnuik.

The real paradox is our modern way of life. For roughly a hundred and ninety four or if you differ ninety four thousand years humans were wanders, nomads, hunter gatherers. Every day was a gruelling trial of existence. Men teamed up alongside their fathers, brothers and uncles and went out into the jungle or the savannah or forest and hunted antelope or elk or deer. When not eking out a meagre existence or overcome by gum disease or other unseen and unknown germs and parasites, men would team up and raid other tribes for brides and concubines. Forget football or Smackdown or Playstation this is living, this is what our prefrontal lobes and adrenal glands are for! Life was one long video game of hide and seek and club and be clubbed. Depending on your sex or disposition you might be calling me either an ape in the pejorative sense or ask me where and how do we recreate this primordial society. Recall though Hobbes accurate observation that men’s lives were “nasty, brutish and short” few males lived past their twenties. Still interested?

It is upon this paradox that strode Palahniuk’s book and Fincher’s film. Tossed like a hand grenade into middle America. A brick through the window of politically correct western society. An “assault” upon consumerism and its emasculating and infantilising influence on America men.

I mentioned that the book first appeared twelve years ago and the film nearly a decade ago. Fight Club was always written about as spearheading a Zeitgeist (a spirit of the times). Conjuring up images and feelings of an alienated, isolated, millennial fearing society, namely men. Technologically overwhelmed and divested of power by corporations and consumerism. This is the feeling one gets from Radiohead’s Ok Computer or watching the films of Michael Mann (Heat and the Insider) David Cronenburg’s Crash would be another contribution. TV’s the Sopranos wondered aloud about the state of the American male along with things like family, identity and individualism. In 2000 came Naomi Klein’s excellent No Logo Taking on the Brand Bullies.

As with everything things change, twelve years is a long time. In retrospection it’s the same as looking back from 1999 to 1987. The cold war was still ongoing, in my own country of Northern Ireland the troubles were still ongoing. South African apartheid was still ongoing. The music scene always touted as representing the times had the burgeoning rave culture. Computer games were still simplistic and 2D. Much the same in way of differences can be said of 1979 to 1968 or the affluence in Britain during the fifties compared with the harshness of the war years. Most people know that Britain was rationed (milk, eggs, meat, sugar were all on set limits) but this rationing continued even after the war finished.

Films and cultural products when viewed outside of their era can be seen as nothing more than a curiosity or a oddity. Jean Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960, France) would elicit bemused facial expressions of the young today. As would Hard Days Night (1964 UK) the film a surreal fantasy of the adventures of the pop band know as The Beatles. When me and my friend watched Easy Rider (1969 US) after the first five minutes we were like “what the hell is this?!)

We would naturally expect Fight Club to be no different. Perhaps I will display naivety when I say that nothing much as changed. Consumerism and its adverse effects are still ever present. The malignance of corporations is still present. Naomi Klein’s last book was on disaster capitalism and outlined the harmful role that private corporate interests had in the aftermath of the Iraq war. I have an ironic eye for spotting what can seem almost paranoid patterns and connections. The principle theme of Metal Gear Solid 4 is PMC (Private Military Companies) who fan the flame of war in order to further their own profits. This is of course not at all an unlikely vision of the future given the use and exponential growth of the PMC in Iraq. The continued undermining of the male in Western culture is still openly debated. What with American parents drugging boys docile with Ritalin. The Fathers for Justice movement in the UK and the speculation of female friendly learning methods in schools (claimed as perhaps responsible for higher female test scores). Legislation and reproductive technology have also undermined men to the point of irrelevance in children’s lives. This is of course a central theme to Fight Club.

There is one major distinction though that marks Fight Club from a different era. Its best encapsulated in one of Tyler many speeches. “We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.”

This is the forty year anniversary of 1968. What many have called a momentous year in world politics. From Prague Spring, to the Paris student riots to Northern Irelands civil rights protests. Though debate rages over the various victories and defeats, few doubt the momentousness of the time the Zeitgeist as it where. Recently I have often asked myself well what is my time about? What is my generation fighting for? What is the great narrative at the start of the 21st century? What is our war?

The answer is doubly twofold, trite and arresting simultaneously. Firstly the environment. Whether we humans are raping and polluting the world to the brink of climatological disaster or that the experts are very much mistaken. The second was announced with much greater fanfare when American Airlines flight 11 on the clear blue September morning smashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre. Elevating the temperature of planetary fear towards the feverish remarked Amis, the “world hum” in Delillo’s phrase is “as audible as tinnitus.”

There are many frames to put on it. Terrorism is abstract and meaningless. Moderates Vs Extremists is no better, its attacking a fringe that has no centre and is thus illusory. Islam and the West is more honest but it does not quite capture the ultimate conclusion of 9/11. The start of the 21st century has seen the eruption of the age old battle between reason and religion, faith and dogmatism on one hand and inquiry and tolerance on the other. Modernity and medievalism, progress and regression. There can surely be no doubt that Islam in its current form and practice poses as much of a problem as did National Socialism or Stalinism. The Catholic church has needed countless wars, a enlightenment, a reformation and democracy to see off its most totalitarian aspects. It still of course wields considerable influence. National Socialism took twelve years to see off at the cost of millions of lives. The ending of socialism in Russia took nearly a century in which millions died in death camps and millions more suffered under a oppressive regime.(we may never know the exact amount that perished in the gulag) Islam despite being over a millennia old is still in its “youth of self righteousness” and is diametrically opposed to the West, whether its Christian, Jewish or not.

Palahniuk’s novel and the filmed version is scarily prescient of 9/11 and its implications. 9/11 was an tripartite attack on the economic, military and political foundations of America. The Twin Towers is what most comes to mind when the attack is recalled. The Twin Towers represented symbolically so much of what is American. Modernity, capitalism, wealth, consumerism, power. 9/11 saw the conclusion of a highly disciplined, dogmatic and alienated young men committing an atrocity against America, it attacked its economic centre. The conclusion of Fight Club sees a massive assault planned and executed by highly regimented and disillusioned young men against economic sky scrapers. Specifically (from the film) the credit card companies. The bases of the building are packed with plastic explosives, the demolition of the buildings would ensure economic chaos and anarchy. In other words a societal melt down.

Both groups targets (Mayhems and Al Qaeda) are both principally modern western civilisation. Though capitalism/consumerism is only one such manifestation of the West it is a prime motivating reason for the groups ire. Islam is of course both irredentist and imperialist seeking to impose the Sharia ( a strict and oppressive set of religious laws). The West does not directly threaten Islam. It is its subtle, subversive seductive qualities that undermine its control. We should treasure the brave Ayaan Hirsi Ali who doubted Islam and her Somali oppressors through the reading of Nancy Drew stories. Where little girls unfettered by stifling clothing and sexual prejudice would have adventures along with little boys. When Muslims say that the West threatens their culture or tradition read its threatens our dominance of women and children.

It sounds ridiculous but we may have to face the hilarity of Muslim men marching in protest at the right to beat or veil their wives. Fight Clubs reactionary males are fighting against something less concrete and visceral. Consumerism or modern western society has presented them with a false image of themselves and a way of life that runs contrary to their own interests. The pernicious effect of advertising and marketing is to make people (women as well) feel inadequate and inferior. They allure with the promise of perfection in the buying of “stuff” while at the same time promoting fear and insecurity. “I say fuck being perfect, I say never be complete” opines Tyler

Fight Club starts out as the same suggest in the basement of a bar where men engage in bare knuckle boxing. The feeling of religious ecstasy is palpable. “you never feel alive like you do in Fight Club” “after Fight Club you feel saved” muses the un-named narrator or Jack. Tyler Durden the eccentric alpha male bad boy (played by Brad Pitt) becomes ever more preacher cum philosopher cum messiah. He sets up Project Mayhem, nothing less than a cult. Each individual is stripped of their identity, dressed in a uniform of pure black with shaved heads. They are given their own symbol of identity like all religions, a kiss shaped lye burn on their hands. Mayhem is organised into several committees such as Assault, Arson, Mischief and Misinformation.

Like most ideas or findings or teaching they so often take on a life of their own. “planet Tyler” Mayhem becomes a living breathing super-organism. In a parody of franchises the idea of Fight Club spreads and “Mayhem” literally spreads from city to city. Looking back, Palahniuk’s book would have been better served if it had of presented itself as a sort of user guide to a revolution. A post-modern melange of a book containing diary entries, newspapers reports, doctrinal teachings, interviews with principals over a new cult or religion or movement. The book would be a kind of document from the near future in which Project Mayhem has spun out of control or rather society has.

Given the clear analogy with religion its surprising to not find another clear marker of it-schism. To be fair this happens with almost anything, both Darwin and Nietzsche and Marx gave rise to abominations and perversions. There is hints of this of course. Jack or the unnamed narrator tries to undermine Tyler and stop the “mayhem” from happening. The ending of the book differs slightly from the film which shows that while Jack rids himself of Tyler, the cult of Mayhem lives on independent of a clear central authority.

The chief reason for Tyler and presumably the groups anarchy is nothing more hilarious than a vision of attention seeking fatherless boys acting out. Tyler repeatedly mentions that if your “male, American and Christian your role model for God is your father. Since your father abandoned you, God does not want you in all probability he hates you, you are infectious human waste” Tyler’s solution is not atheism or nihilism but anarchism. He wants God’s attention and presumably his father’s who abandoned him in early childhood. One prominent theme of the book is thus laid bare. “we are a generation of men raised by women” Jack says to Tyler.

Like the Islamists they believe they have everything to lose and nothing to gain from modernity and modern civilisation. We are adapted to the African savannah not the 9-5 open planned office . The influence of JG Ballard is keenly felt in Palahniuk’s imagined scenario of society breakdown. Ballard spent his early childhood among British expatriates in Japanese prison camps in China during the war. His partial biography Empire of the Sun is a fascinating read and goes some way to help the reader understand the writer whom one critic said “was beyond all “psychiatric help”.

His view of society is nothing more than a fa├žade of social convention. Underneath it lies lust, greed, malice and a penchant for destruction. His novels are blueprints for fascism. Modernity is beating men and women into a mind-numbing torpor. In response a cult around “ elective psychopathology” is formed. Violent actions and other cultic behaviour follow. Jacks speech to his boss about stalking the offices with a AR-15 and “pumping round after round into colleague and co-worker” is pure Ballard. The scene in the book expanded in the film where it features a deliberate car crash experienced as a transcendent epiphany is also Ballardian. Ballard’s latest novel (Kingdom Come) is a full on dissection of consumerism and the new cathedral that is the shopping centre. Ballard has been described by some as a visionary, yet he only communicates what is right if front of our very eyes. Nothing is permanent, our idea of social fabric is perilous and subject to change. Many of Ballard’s early work portray what might happen to humans, to society, to consciousness itself if a sweeping natural disaster or simply disaster would ever befall us. In books like the Drowned World the answer is not bright or optimistic. The world is held in place by Hobbes leviathan, by keeping us from each others throats and thereby allowing a semblance of society it suppress our darker, primitive impulses. Books like Fight Club or Super-Cannes or Hi-Rise are thought experiments of a world gone amok.

Annatta or non self is the teaching that the self which most of us subscribe to is a cognitive illusion. Every religion practices the idea that the self be nullified and obliterated. For Christians it is the church, for Muslims it is the Ummah. Buddhists go further and have the cheeky temerity to say that no self exists in the first place. In project Mayhem no one has a name they are “space monkeys”. Fight Club embodies this idea in the schism between Jack and Tyler. They are of course one person. Jack is an insomniac and sufferer of narcolepsy. When he sleeps he becomes Tyler. He some times imagines him and Tyler to be two separate persons hence the book and the films illusion. Tyler is everything Jack wants to be. “I am smart, capable and free in every way that you are not”. By extension Tyler the Id, the super image of Jack’s mind is the fantasy of every man.

The casting of Brad Pitt one of Hollywood’s biggest actors was subversive brilliance. Pitt is naturally glamorous and sexy, a blond haired and blue eyed Aryan. The creation of Tyler in Jack’s head personified by Pitt is nothing more than an extension of the controlling, influencing nature of advertising and consumerism. They peddle in dreams and illusions. Tyler is a dream and a delusion. The most biting ironic moment in the movie is when Tyler played by Pitt offers up the line while showcasing the perfect six pack (which was earlier scorned) “we’re lead to believe we will grow up to be movie gods and rock stars”. The image that ordinary Joe, Edward Norton (Jack) conjures up is Hollywood A list Brad Pitt.

Fight Club belongs to the genre of literature called the unreliable narrator. On the cover of the book is a blurb by Bret Easton Ellis, the author of among others American Psycho. Psycho features perhaps the most unpleasant lead character in all fiction. It too belongs in the genre of the unreliable narrator. It goes further, the outrages that Patrick Bateman “performs” are observed with the same cold distance than characterises Palahniuk’s prose. American Psycho is in part a reaction to the soulless never ending consumption of the 1980’s and the utter amoral nature of American consumerism. Pat Bateman worked on wall street, in the heart of New York’s financial centre. If such a character ever existed he would no doubt of enjoyed the spectacle of 9/11 before consulting Zagats on where best to eat dinner.

The problem with consumerism is that it can never fulfil. Remember what Lao Tzu said “he who knows that enough is enough will always have enough”. It is our attachments to the world, to desire, to materialism, to our ego that cause our suffering. That is the second noble truth of Buddhism. Mayhems philosophy is Zen in nature, its route to the enlightened state though is by vicious “self” destruction. “It is only when you lose everything that your free to do anything” opinions Jack. For Jack fighting and losing his attachment causes him to feel unattached to the situations that would have troubled him previously. “I’m the Zen master, I am enlightened, after Fight Club the sound in you life has the volume turned down, you can deal with anything”. Zen does not advocate violence or anything destructive. It proceeds by introspection and meditation. By peering inward the person sees the truth of impermanence, the truth of the Dharma. Freedom is obtained when one relinquishes the need to control and the desire for sense pleasure or objects. Freedom is obtained when we realise that much of our lives is not under our control but our metal state is. In other words our reaction to it. Our thoughts are thoughts and nothing more than that. Zen operates not by causing a dramatic revolution in the person but rather a subtle disintegration of all the selfish and destructive things that a person performs.

Cultural evolution happens faster than biological evolution. We cannot turn the clock back nor would everyone outside of having adolescent fantasies want to. This is our time, our lives like it or not. This is the only life that we will ever have and we are enormously lucky to have it. Every man is my brother and every woman is my sister. We are bound to each other not only by our DNA but in the awareness that every person is a self with feelings, hopes and dreams. Every person is capable of pain and pleasure and therefore entitled to our moral consideration. We are lucky to live in a time and place where most of the horrors that characterise our past have been overcome. We should resist the temptation to slide into nihilism and we should resist others who wish to lead us into the bonds of suffering and slavery. This means that we should all grow up, participate in our society, negotiate between our needs and the needs of the community. Peter Singer’s book the Expanding Circle sees our moral sense extend from ourselves to our family, to kin and kith, to the village, town, country to the rest of the human species. Project Civilisation rather than project Mayhem.

Tyler’s Mayhem is revolutionary in the spirit of Bolshevism. At the very end of the book one of the “space monkeys” posing as a orderly says to a sectioned Jack “we’re going to break up civilization so we can make something better out of the world”.

We all know what happens when people get these kind of ideas in their head.

Best and be well

Michael Faulkner

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Arguments For Atheism.

What follows is what I consider the most devastating and conclusive reasons for not believing in a God or following a faith based Religion. To clear up some initial confusion the arguments are addressed to a supernatural, prayer answering, universe creating God of the Bible or the Koran. Needlessly to say if a belief in Zeus or Apollo suddenly became prevalent we would have many similar arguments to hand. Beliefs in the supernatural are as old as our species itself. Belief in the supernatural is evidenced across all cultures at all times. Cargo cults, witchcraft, shamanism, voodoo, and polytheism. In the history of our species, Christianity and Islam are juvenile, relatively speaking (no pun intended). They stand atop the jittering poles of our earlier past and primitive polytheistic beliefs. It is of course an accident of both history and our psychology that the monotheisms have come to dominate our cultural and political climate. If history has taught us anything it is that everything is in a state of flux and uncertainty. The beliefs of today may not be here tomorrow.

1. The Argument from Improbability.

This argument comes courtesy of Professor Richard Dawkins and it features in his much maligned book the God Delusion. It has cross pollination from old arguments such as the one from infinite regress. Its also rests heavily on Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection. In it he re-positions Fred Hoyle’s argument over a metaphorical Boeing 747. That is to say that the universe is so miraculous that for it to have arisen by chance would be equivalent to a whirlwind passing through a scrap yard and assembling a 747. This is the stock creationists argument against evolution. Dawkins is of course a tireless supporter and educator of Darwin’s theory. He believes (correctly I would add) that it gets rid of the need for a God in a designer sense. However he goes further than simply saying that the theory contradicts the biblical (or any) creation myth but rather its very principles--(that nothing complex can arise before passing through various intermediate stages.) demonstrate that the concept of a God which is capable of designing a universe or listening to prayers is highly improbable. Firstly though I will list the four ways in which Darwin’s theory undermine organised faith based Religion and belief in God.

1. It contradicts the Genesis account of creation. No honest interpretation of the bible on this issue can yield a “poetic” “metaphorical” account of creation. The commentators in this country who protest that they can coexist with belief in God and evolution are in a minority. Something like 44% of Americans are Creationists and millions in the Muslim world are such as well. Scientists like Francis Collins or Alistair McGrath have this dualism not because of a enlightened reading of scripture but as a consequence of secularism and science acting in a pincer movement nullifying religious orthodoxy.

The conclusion is sound. The stark choice of the fundamentalist is this. Either our holy books are the inerrant word of God or they are not. If the bible falls at this very first hurdle on a mistake of some magnitude-- then what if?-- What if Jesus is not the son of God? What if there is no God?

2. Natural Selection leaves God with nothing to do. As Laplace remarked “I have no need of that hypothesis”. Once life gets going natural selection is perfectly capable of explaining the complexity and diversity of life. Scientists like McGrath and Collins wish to have their cake and eat it. They support evolution yet think God has guided it. There is plenty of evidence for evolution, but no evidence for God.

3. Natural Selection explains our existence much better than any religious story. It can account for morals (good and bad) our emotions and yes even made enormous strides in helping us understand our art our music.

4. It can also help us understand Organised Religion and belief in the supernatural. This would fall into the Dennett account of Religion as a sort of Darwinian by product of human thinking. Things like the intentional stance, design stance, memes, brains built to follow what their parents tell them etc.

Dawkins ultimate conclusion is simply this. Complexity can only arise through gradual incremental steps. The process is natural selection. So the conjuring into existence of a complex supernatural deity without any explanation, neither design or evolution is the mirror opposite of the creationists straw man when they say that the universe could not have arise by chance. Dawkins coolly reasons that if God is as they claim to always have existed and is not either designed or evolved then it is statistically improbable that such an entity exists. This is so because it is either built by a higher more complex entity (thereby starting an infinite regress) or it evolved into its complexity or it always existed-- in essence its supernatural. Its statistically improbable that a hippopotamus could always have existed without any kind of explanation whether design or evolution. It is even more improbable to the point of being impossible that a God could always of existed. This works well as a argument against deism but its even more harmful against a monotheistic God. Because whatever probability we assign to a deistic God we must assign a higher rating of improbability to a Christian God or Islamic God with its obvious provincialism and idiosyncrasies

Interestingly not a single critic or commentator has ever dealt with Dawkins’s death blow to God. Theists posit that an eye or a brain, or a universe is so complex that it must be designed. So they invoke a designer or God to do the explaining. The problem is of course where did the designer or God come from. We have no direct evidence for God, at best its all inference- inference tainted by the colour of human wish thinking. However natural selection is the only explanation of life that we have. It demonstrates that both chance and creation are failures as explanations of life. God Complex as “he” is, would have to be more complex than the universe he is supposed to have created as such would need to be explained. The theists have two responses to this. It more or less amounts to the same thing, Faith.

1. God has all ways existed. This is the same when creationists say that the world could not have come about by chance. (the faith card) but why cant the universe have just existed? Its a much more plausible, parsimonious explanation. The only thing that’s been observed that creates living complexity is natural selection.

2. God exists outside time and space, is supernatural and hence not subject to rational scientific inquiry. Once again no evidence for this belief of the supernatural. It cant be proved or disproved so its not even a scientific hypothesis. So science is moot to questions of God. This form of reasoning however is subject to the most appallingly ridiculous form of reductio ad absurdum. That is to say that once we grant the supernatural and divorce it from evidence and scientific inquiry, any kind of bullshit metaphysical enterprises can be entertained. We can say for example that belief in fairies or leprechauns is not subject to scientific verification. We can grant that a chocolate bar represents the living body of a dead God and that science cannot say nothing on this belief. Or that a belief in the resurrection of Elvis is perfectly legitimate representation of reality even though any kind of evidence is lacking. We have the perfect antidote to this thinking which has been around for some time- Russell’s teapot, Sagan’s invisible dragon etc.

2. Odds on your Wrong, Religion as Gods Multiple Choice Exam.

Sam Harris hilariously points out (though I think he refashioned it somewhat from Bertrand Russell) that statistically speaking each religious person should consign themselves to the fact that they are most likely going to hell. There are many such religions on offer and each of them make incompatible claims about reality. To start with we have the three monotheisms of which we all know. We also of course have offshoots like Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness. We also have Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism even the newcomer Scientology. Even if we were to discount most of the above and stick with the main three, the religious believer has a one in three chance of being wrong. The odds are not in your favour. The religious may be tempted to say, they may all be wrong but it does not mean that one cant be right. True but consider they are all based on the absence of evidence and have plagiarized (ineptly) each others scriptures. Further what evidence is actually offered is muddled and contradictory it would be best to be somewhat “agnostic.”

This argument also address a rather glaringly obvious point. Religion like which football team you support is largely an accident of birth. (If indeed you support football at all) Although some recent polls out of America suggest there is some fluidity between believers leaving their parents church to another one. The point remains that Christians beget Christians and Jews beget Jews. This is especially apt in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan were Islam is rigidly enforced and to leave it, the individual puts their life at risk.

Although this argument is not QED that religion is not a valid, truthful enterprise. At the very least this should give enormous pause to people when they make the most egregious public pronouncements. Anyone inclined to Religion should be an agnostic of the kind that says “I don’t know if its true but I hope it is” and keeps their inherited Religion to themselves.

3. Hume’s Arguments on Miracles.

This is a extremely useful tool in assessing the claims of people in regards the supernatural or the metaphysical. It teaches us to ask what is more likely the case. That the natural order of the world has been suspended and a miracle has taken place or is it more likely that the person espousing it is under either a delusion or is lying? His superb corollary to this argument is particularly neat. In order to grant the existence of miracles the reasons supporting them would have to be so great that it would be miraculous to not believe that they had occurred. In other words it would be an act of faith to believe that Jesus was not the son of God, or that Muhammad didn’t fly up to heaven on a winged horse.

4. Ethical Viagra. Or the Moral Necessity of Atheism.

There is a number of formulations that this argument takes, two I will focus on which are distinctly different.1. Belief in God and a practicing of what a holy book says is essential to the maintenance of civil society, what Daniel Dennett humorously referred to as a kind of moral Viagra. 2. The moral commands of say Jesus are so good, so original, so ethically true that it could only have come from a supernatural source. This is similar to the C.S Lewis line that only a madman or a devil would say such things as Jesus did, unless he was the son of God. I’m less familiar with Islam but I think they bite the bullet and would state that the commands of the Koran or the Hadith are irrelevant to (secular) morality. In other words it does not matter if it promotes a better more compassionate society or a happier one. I have not seen any arguments advancing Islam as a good set of codes on which to base society on a secular level. They state that Allah commands them to follow the commands and their duty is to surrender their will and action to them. Irregardless of what they might think or feel.

It would seem to me that even the most die hard Christian fundamentalist at least attempts to throw secular reasons (even if they are an after thought) to their moral commands. For example they would argue that Homosexuality is not a healthy expression of sexuality because you have the risk of contracting HIV. Or that the equal rights given to homosexuals undermine the family. This is progress of sorts but it reveals two telling things. Christianity has to “stoop” to the secular level in making its ethical claims. This informs us that no one except the religious right accepts “Because God says so”. Secondly their claims are empirical in nature and our open to scrutiny. Secular ethics are based on happiness and suffering and marry their views to reality and to evidence. Islam on the other hand is in the kind of political and self righteousness ascendancy that characterised Christendom before undergoing the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.

So the idea that “belief in God and a practicing of what a holy book says is essential to the maintenance of civil society” is an empirical question. We should expect to find that Atheists are completely immoral or at least show more correlations with things like murder, rape, theft etc.

We should be able to look at people who are religious and who are not and see if are differences. I’ll mention two studies. Firstly a study by Gregory S Paul in the journal of Religion and society found a forceful correlation in strong theistic beliefs, a creator god with higher rates of homicide, early adult mortality, abortion and STD. The county that has rates of theistic belief concordant with second and third world rates of belief is the USA. Countries that are more secular as in Europe come out much better, interestingly the north west in America-the less religious part approach European numbers. (

Secondly from the 2005 UN reports show that countries that are less theistic or more atheist are healthier and progressive on areas such as life expectancy, higher levels of education, equality and homicide rates. Secular Norway which has topped the UN human development poll numerous times, along with other secular nations coming in the top 10. At the very least this tell us that health and wellbeing is not predicated on a nation being religious.

I would argue that we could place these findings on the shelf along with the vileness of the Koran or the Bible as well as the historical degradations and ongoing malaise that Religion causes. We need only ask ourselves could any biblical command on ethical behaviour could not have come about except by divine revelation? Or that there is no good secular reasons for not killing or stealing say. I and everyone else could offer up numerous reasons why we should not murder, not once would I feel the need to mention God. Many times in many cultures men like Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius or the Buddha have uncovered ethical truths in more depth and with less cant or supernatural nonsense than Jesus. This necessarily entails that we reject the dogma “because God says so” our acceptance of ethical teachings is decided by our own intuitive 21st century morality. Even fundamentalist Christians cherry pick the Bible when it comes to morality. Islam though it seems to me as I have already said operates on a different level.

In other words any reasons for behaving ethically should be open to anyone at any time. They should be discoverable by everyone including Atheists.. This comes close to Christopher Hitchens’s wager “name me an ethical statement or an action that could only have been performed by a religious person” his final remark though sets the scene for his “Moral necessity of Atheism” “give me a immoral statement or action that could only have been performed by a person of faith”

5. The Foundational Texts are Contradictory, Inauthentic and Incoherent.

The Koran as Ibn Warraq points out is a plagiarism of the Bible and Torah. That it was composed long after the death of Muhammad. Written on a host of diverse material such as stone, leather, bone and scattered across parts of Arabia. These diverse and contradictory accounts were brought together and pulped into a single“authoritative” text and the others were considered heretical. The Bible is host to one long howler of historical, scientific and mathematical errors. The apostles cant seem to display a coherent account of the life and death of Jesus. The findings of Gnostic Gospels such as the Gospel of Judas cast further doubt on the historicity of the Jesus narrative.

The final point I would also add is that when evaluating the claims of biblical writers or eyewitness. Hume’s caution applies of course to this. What personal investment or ulterior motive could they have in attempting to propagate miracle stories? How reliable can the eyewitness be? How much personal testimony is there and how much of it collaborates or contradicts itself? The force of testimony diminishes when the testimony becomes second, third, forth, five handed ad nauseam.

The New Testament writers cant even get the details of the Crucifixion right. In Matthew we are lead to imagine the bizarre spectacle of the dead of Jerusalem raising from their graves and going into the holy city and “appeared unto many” like something of the Michael Jackson thriller video. None of the other accounts Mark, Luke or John have this event. You wont of course find this event in any history book.

Best and be Well

Michael Faulkner.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Conclusion to Garden of the Good life.

Storms and Sunshine. Chaos and Peace.

In order for gardens to flourish, to grow, for the flowers to bloom and our trees to bear fruit we need good fortune. We need good weather, no pests, and no bad luck. In life the absence of war, slavery, marauding tribes, the absence of widespread death and diseases are requisites for peace. We should ponder for a second just how peaceful and civil our society is compared with its hundreds of thousands of years of life that was in Hobbes words “nasty, brutish and short”. Only from peace and civility do we have the foundations to seek happiness or well being. Of course even in this lucky part of the world and at this time where many of the historical ills have largely disappeared or subsided we all will encounter death.

At some stage in our lives everyone we know and love will die. We as individuals are of course not exempt from this termination yet puzzlingly or miraculously we act as if it will pass us by. Ian McEwan puts it

“It (Death) emerges in childhood as a baffling fact, re-emerges possibly in adolescence as a tragic reality which all around us appear to be denying, then perhaps fades in busy middle life, to return say, in a sudden premonitory bout of insomnia.”

This is a rather interesting paradox, every human is surrounded by death. Yet It seems in our culture there is a supreme denial of it. I would argue that most of us do not consider death, or emotionally explore it until we are looking it in the face. The death of loved ones is devastating-an event that brings forth, anger, denial, suffering and depression. Men and women who are terminally ill are carted off to hospices to die. We are at a loss to comfort our friends and relatives when their loved ones pass away. It seems to me we are emotionally, psychologically and spiritually unequipped to deal with death. Many would accept this as normative, a cruel sour to be taken with life’s sweetness. We should seriously ask ourselves, must it be so?

The opposite of death or dieing, a Eros keeping at bay Thanatos is sex. The requisite activity for the creation of new life. Sex is another human universal (as well it must) now consider its contrast with death. We are awash in sexual imagery, our TV’s, films, literature, art, is all saturated in it. We obsess, worry and pursue it when and whenever we can. (this would of course apply more to men than to women) In civil societies most children are grounded in some form of sex education. A well oiled industry has sprung up around making sure our physical and emotional needs can be met through it. Some people do get more emotional information and support. But virtually no one goes through life without some kind of understanding or information as to the experience and consequences of sex.

It would be disastrous to society if no one had a clue as to what sex was or what its ramifications where. Ignorance of sex is largely and rightly scorned upon in society, so why is it then that death is treated with ignorance and denial? Granted I can understated why we might want to avert ourselves to dealing with what can seem a horrible, depressive, inescapable occurrence. I see no good though in simply sticking our heads in the sand. Is it not also selfish when we don’t prepare our loved ones and friends for our death?

So is there a way to reduce the suffering of death? To stoically face the end? To comfort the dieing and the grieving? I will not be so arrogant as to suppose I have any answers and would be sceptical of anyone who claims such things. I am left though somewhat bereft over Cicero’s consolation strategies in his Tusculan Disputations, an attempt to console himself at the death of his young daughter.

1. That death is not an evil or not a great evil. That it is an indifferent, out of your control and as such not an evil. 2. Focus not on death but on the good times with the person. 3. That it was to be expected and something you just have to get used to. 4. Get rid of the idea of grieving or mourning. 5. You are not the only one this has happened to.

While these may be helpful routes to take at certain times, these above methods rooted in Greek philosophy never deal with the actual experience of loss.

In researching this piece I came across a wonderful, compassionate, luminous woman. A Zen Roshi from America called Joan Halifax. She has spent a considerable portion of her life as a hospice caregiver, someone who has sat with and consoled many dieing people along with grieving relatives. She runs a project Being with Dieing that seeks to help give caregivers, the terminal and their relatives emotional and spiritual support. She has also attempted to raise consciousness over dying and what she feels is the western inability to cope with it.

From what I understand from her thesis and proposals is that a grounding in contemplative practice (Meditation, mindfulness etc) can reduce our suffering of the death of loved ones. At the heart of her message is the view of impermanence, the inevitability of change. That everything arises and passes away. This Buddhist view which sees life as one where suffering, decay and death is ever present. However this does not lead to a morbid self absorption in death but rather a calm acceptance of change. We have to welcome everything that comes into our lives without grasping or without trying to push away.

As one Buddhist teacher said “life is impermanent but that does not mean that it is not worth living. It is precisely because of its impermanence that we value life so dearly-- we can remain peaceful and content in the face of change, prosperity and decline, success and failure.” As Roshi Halifax concludes death can be the bedrock of an entire spiritual path. The state would be achieved through mediation practice and deeply understanding the Zen Buddhist view of impermanence. Taking time to understand the physiology of death as well as the cultural, psychological and spiritual dimensions is also important. She calls for schools to offer teaching students about dying and its ramifications in school. To offer contemplative practices to medical students who will encounter death and the dying. To form out-reach partnerships with current social groups and communities.

I cannot offer a full analysis of her ideas nor would I be equipped to. I can however say this. This proposition that contemplative practice can ease our suffering over death along with life’s vicissitudes is not something that can be gained through intellectual activity. It is not a set of magic words or ideas simply believed in but a skill that must be practiced. Even when learning this caveat it took some time for me to let it sink in and of course will go on sinking in. As I have already wrote contemplative practice is subject to rational inquiry. In order to fully experience this rather than understand it you must walk along the road of practice rather than simply survey the terrain through the prism of the intellect.

I fear this may sound as something of a cop out. Indeed I have frequently remarked to myself that it seems so. However do we really expect life to be easy? Do we expect that getting over death or disaster is something that requires no effort?

There is no Gardner

We are coming to the end. We have planted our seeds, weeded and watered attentively, protected our garden or reduced the damage done from random, unforeseen, terrible events. The flowers are in bloom, the fruit is ripe, a stability and equanimity has been established. Is there anything more left to do?

There is one more thing to do. The garden rests upon the gardener. Our actions and behaviours seem to rest upon the idea of a self. The removal of the self is perhaps the last barrier to the garden of the good life. The self that wants, that desires, that thinks in terms of I. The little selfish self. The I that separates from others. That there is a thinker of our thoughts a central planner in our brains, a ghost in the machine.

We become an entity that no longer judges “he is so nasty to me” that no longer evaluates “I cant cope with this break-up”. The self that craves “if only I had this my life would be so..” We remove our dualism and simply be. We simply watch emotions and thoughts come and go, simply watch the actions of others. Simply observe and participate in the world. The past is simply the past, our thoughts are simply so. No drama. Nothing special.

The garden looks after itself, it already has everything it needs. Weeds no longer grow for the garden is so rich with beauty so full with fruit. Our sense of self and what we do moment to moment is inseparable. We are precisely the activity that we are doing in the present moment. The garden and the gardener have become one.

Best and be well

Michael Faulkner.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Garden of the Good Life. Part Three

Weeding and Watering.

Weeding is essential to a well kept garden so that our tender and still growing plants and flowers do not become overwhelmed. Weeds are bad mental states or actions that are obstacles to well being. Without water nothing can grow or live. We can respectively think of weeding as both stopping undesired, negative and harmful behaviour. Watering can be thought of in terms of effort. Effort in contemplative practice- mindfulness and meditation and in our effort to lead better lives. Weeding and watering are simply two sides of the same coin.

At the heart of Zen philosophy is the idea that our suffering is conditioned by our thinking. That very often it is our thinking that is the problem. The first weed we should be on guard against is the hardest to eradicate and the well from which the others weeds drink from. Neurotic discursive thinking. Imagine what our consciousness is like when we are not thinking neurotically? Thinking about what others think of us. What actions we did or didn’t do. Or our anxieties about things that haven’t happened yet. At some time I am sure we have all experienced what it felt like to have our minds intrinsically at peace.

Our thinking gets us absorbed so much that we lose our perspective, our spontaneity, our freedom. We fail to fully experience the moment because neurotic thoughts keep careening through our brains. It is like we are reading a book in our homes only to have ornaments being flung and smashed around us. We are constantly kept in a state of upset or distraction. We cannot enjoy or fully experience what we our doing because we are constantly gripped in thought. A writer whom I admire summed well the difference between Western thought and its Eastern counterpart. Christopher Hitchens put it after scorching eastern style “religion” and its seeming need to dissolve the intellect or thinking “The pleasures and rewards of the intellect are inseparable from angst, uncertainty, conflict and even despair.”

I used to subscribe to this way of thinking. The intellect and critical, combative thinking is of course essential to many human endeavours. However we need not think like this all of the time. Or even positing a priori that we have to “think” all the time anyway. States of worry, or fear or neuroticism seldom lead to good actions or a healthy and calm mind. From this turbulence of mind we have much of the source of conflict we see not just within ourselves but in the wider community. From this we have separateness. The sense of me and him, us and them. From this we have fear and from fear we have hatred.

Hatred is perhaps the most divisive emotion that we can experience. By definition hatred implies intolerance, condemnation and disgust. It has been well remarked that hatred and fear are closely linked. The American south in the pre civil rights years are both showcases of hatred and intolerance but fear as well.

Zen goes further than simply labelling the emotion of hate and saying it’s a dangerous, divisive emotion. It makes an empirical claim that the person who is hating and who is intolerant has a mind that is suffering. We know enough about ourselves on an intuitive level to say mental states such as hatred whether it be over ethnicity or politics is a mind in turmoil and as such is not conducive to states of well being. Simply put we are in a much better mental state of mind when we are at ease with people rather than being at odds with them.

Attachment to pleasure.

Our attachment to sense pleasure and material enjoyment is another weed that needs eliminated. There is nothing wrong of course in taking pleasure in many of the things that constituent human experience. Whether it be having a bowl of ice cream or sex with ones lover, or listening to ones favourite music. Today in our consumerist paradise, with nearly every kind of pleasure and novelty on perpetual offer. There is still a wide spiritual gulf we feel within ourselves. Many of us still think the solution is the age old division between hedonism and asceticism.

Hedonism as a philosophy is simply that happiness is got from sensual pleasures even if they are say intellectual such as connoisseurship. Hedonism says that the repeating of favourite source of pleasure until we run out of steam is the best we can do. Asceticism is the renouncing of all worldly pleasure. The problem with this practice is that its life denying and joy sapping. I believe there is much to be had about luminous experiences whether it is found at the top of a mountain, gazing into the paintings of a Da Vinci, hallucinogenic drugs or in the arms of a lover. Asceticism does pose however a spiritual truth that lurks at the heart of every religion. That is our well being or ideas about a good life are not dependent on sense pleasure.

The Buddha himself both practiced hedonism and asceticism before his enlightenment. His philosophy and ethic was that of the middle way. We crave our pleasures however fleeting they are. We chase after it, become upset if we cant satisfy them. Search for new pleasures if our old ones fail us. Our attachments to such things is like a gerbil running perpetually on a wheel. We ultimately get nowhere. We are all on the same continuum with the crack addict who’s mind is totally absorbed in the procuring of the drug. He will steal, lie and cheat and stomp over anyone to get his fix. It momentarily sates him then the cycle begins again. We are of course not as selfish and violent as this: but pause for a second and consider what we have done to ourselves and to others in our pursuit for our pleasures?


In Buddhism one of the hindrances that prevents enlightenment is doubt. Doubt is like all the above weeds, a mental state. It is thinking. How many times do we hear a voice in the back of our head telling us that what we are doing is a mistake? Or that we are not good enough or that we should not have done such and such? To the extreme we have mental conditions such as self harming or anorexia, a doubt or a pathology about how we think we are or how we think we should be.

So how do we weed and water? How do we rid the mind of these unwelcome mental factors. It is not enough to say on a intellectual level that these are unwelcome states that need to be removed. We need to have a method of noticing them and removing them.

The cultivation of mindfulness or awareness builds welcome states and reduces unwelcome ones. We train ourselves to be aware moment to moment of our experience, labelling our thoughts. Becoming aware of our thoughts and thought processes, our attitudes and attachments. Our strategies when dealing with people. The Buddha taught that mindfulness or awareness is a purifying force. The most powerful for cultivating desirable states and lessening undesirable ones. When we recognise thoughts as thoughts and stop our discursive thinking we cut the string upon which much of suffering is wrought. We can cultivate this by meditating, watching detachedly our thoughts as they arise. The mistake we make however is that once our sitting is done we return to our normal thinking styles. Throughout our lives we should practice mindfulness, simple observation without judging or reacting or evaluating. So when someone insults us they have simply insulted us. The problem comes when our thinking goes into haywire and says “oh this is bad” “I must hit back” or that there is something wrong with me that I MUST FIX.

Mindfulness is something we use to both pull out weeds and cultivate our seedlings. We observe tolerance to others. We observe and let our mind be open and free to new ideas or experiences. We observe ourselves letting go of greed and being generous.


Effort is another tool essential to both weeding and growing our desired states of mind. Effort is at the root of all achievement. Life will not settle to how we want it, we must go after it, no one will cure our ills or make us happy we must seek it out.

One of my favourite teachings in Buddhism is that the Buddha will not enlighten us. No one can enlighten another person, no reciting of words or mere study can make us enlightened. Buddha points the way to enlightenment but we must make the effort. A Buddha shows us the way like a person pointing to the moon. Many of us get caught obsessing over the figure or the different fingers pointing at the moon. Our concern should be with attaining our own enlightenment. Consider this passage from Marcus Aurelius-I have quoted it at length.

"Remember how long you have been putting this off, how many times you have been given a period of grace by the gods and not used it…… there is a limit circumscribed to your time- if you do not use it to clear away your clouds, it will be gone, and you will be gone and the opportunity will not return."

So now we have laid our soil, planted our seeds, weeded and watered our garden. We have been attentive to each plant that has grown. Our garden perhaps is stunning looking. Our day to day, moment to moment experience has been transformed. We experience not only a balance of mind but a joy. A joy that goes beyond transient states, pleasure or satisfaction, pain or disappointment. We have achieved a equilibrium and calm state of mind. Nevertheless we still wonder-- can such states last? Is it only temporary?

Say we have lessened our neurosis. Stopped our discursive thinking, severed our attachments and cravings to pleasure. Fear and hate no longer largely take root in us? We have a good job, a loving companion, the fridge is stocked with good food and good wine. It is the height of summer and our friends and family are close at hand. So what happens say when we get that phone call in the middle of night? What happens if one of our children die in a car accident or a partner leaves us. Or we lose our job? Even the most normal and well adjusted life at some point is going to experience hardship, the hardest perhaps being the death of ones we love.

Best and be Well.

Michael Faulkner

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Garden of the Good Life Part 2

Planting The Seeds.

Once we have laid the foundations of our garden, laid the soil, laid the mind to a state of relative serenity. There are no fires to put out, no disasters to deal with. We can now take some time to build for a better life. We can start to plant the seeds necessary for the cultivation of well being. What could these seeds be? I’ll offer some examples that we may wish to grow to better ourselves and our communities in which we reside.

Its useful to consider what ideas we may have of community. Aurelius considers us to be made for each other, like limbs connected to the tree of life. We do not live alone, we need other people like a left foot needs a right one. Most religions place community and ideas of respecting and loving one another as yourself. Any conception of the good life must consider our treatment and view of other people.


The first seed I would plant is the seed of tolerance. John Stuart Mill captured the essence of tolerance in this line “Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest”. The caveat is of course we should not tolerate the intolerant.

Any semblance of civilisation should be based on tolerance, from its institutions to the family to the individual person. Tolerance is living by your own lights and letting others live by theirs. It is of course not an easy state to obtain. Many hurdles may have to be overcome to see the world in such kindly light. Upbringing, education, past experience, suspicion and fear of others. Zen Buddhism talks of something that is similar to tolerance though distinctly different is lovingkindness. Even if we cannot obtain or even if its possible to obtain such a state of universal love, tolerance is something that we can and should obtain.


Generosity is listed as the first perfection of the Buddha. Generosity without thought as to who the person is or what we might get back (if anything) in return. We should give to ease the suffering of other people. Natural, unprompted giving is an expression of mind that is non-attached or one of non-greed, not clinging not clasping. Even sharing with other people, our friends and family. We should also be generous in our praise of other people. To be happy not jealous when they succeed. Being generous however is not a simple commandant to be followed. We should experience a lighter happier state of mind when performing such actions which lessen the mind to attachments and promote bonds with people.


Though it is not a hard and fast rule that educated or knowledgeable people are more ethical or happier. I do think there is a substantial link to suggest that there is. There is a difference of course between intelligence, knowledge and wisdom which I wont discuss here. I’m not really talking about school education but a kind of curiosity, an awe of the world. I feel incredibly lucky to live in this time and place. To be privileged to know so much that thousands of smarter men and women before me did not know. I believe an interest in the arts and sciences is vital. Arts especially which make us identify with people such as literature or certain films especially foreign or radically different ones to our typically parochial perspective. We should travel, talk to as many different people as possible. Immerse ourselves in other cultures. These things can help sow the seeds of tolerance. As Socrates was claimed to say an “unexamined life is not worth living”. As such learning should be one of the driving forces in our life. We should learn that there is a deep well of universal human nature on this planet. That people are motivated by much the same needs and wants. This cuts both way of course, love and compassion and altruism are ever present but so to are ignorance, delusion and racism.

Reason and detachment from delusion.

Can we say that Nazi Germany was a exemplar of reason when it purported to believe that it was a master race descended from Norse Gods? Was burning books, invading other countries and murdering six million Jews really the end product of reason? We don’t need such striking examples to show that reason and delusion are like love and hate in our discussion of the good life. Consider the jealous and suspicious husband who when drinking hits his wife and utters sexual obscenities over her supposed transgressions. His wife is not cheating of course, its all in his head. He is guilty off not using his reason (as well as compassion and restraint) and acting under a drink induced delusion.

Reason is the exercise of intelligence to construe the world in a way that purports to reality. Delusion is living with ideas, opinions and beliefs that do not meet the necessary burden of proof. Following on from delusion is dreaming and wish thinking. Dreaming is of course useful but all to often it carries over into the real world. How we view ourselves, our lives, other people and the world itself.

In life we have to be brave and put our dreams or comforting delusions away. Our attachment to such states is a source of our suffering. The Buddha said of our thoughts can be likened to “water in a cup. If the cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it is useless. Only after the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful.”

Best and Be Well.