DX8 Topic 15 - The Human Spirit - Inspiration, Perspiration or Lucky Gamble?

Monday 25 January 2021, 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

Venue:  - Cafe Brunelli, 187 Rundle St · Adelaide [please buy a drink at least! We are 'renting' the seats for two hours.]

About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding

Note: "The human spirit" in its colloquial meaning is shorthand for human aspiration, above and beyond the ordinary, and often against heavy odds. It can also refer to generosity, or even great exuberance. It is the sense of aspiration to which this DX8 topic is mainly directed. (Many literary or philosophical references have a more religious interpretation. That is in general not what we are about here).

Focus Questions

1. What were some of the best examples of 'the human spirit' which emerged in 2020? => 2020 was an extraordinary year, mostly not in a good way. It tested individuals and institutions worldwide. Some reacted poorly or unwisely. Others showed extraordinary resilience. Opportunities were seized. Innovation proliferated.

2. Are inspirational speakers and inspirational movements just racketeers? What is their record of changing real outcomes? How many aim for 'our better angels' and how many aim for the dark side?

3. Have you known anyone (including yourself) who was inspired in a big way to take a quite different path in life? If so, what actually drove this change?

4. What are some of the ideas and inner drives that have caused individuals, or whole cultures, to pick themselves up from devastation and keep struggling for something better. Think of real examples - human history and human pre-history (i.e. before written records) is littered with 'human extinction events'. Some of these events have come from nature, and some have resulted from man's inhumanity to man, up to and including genocide.

5. What is meant by 'creative destruction'? Some religions revolve around the tension between creation and destruction - e.g. the Hindu gods, Shakti and Shiva, or arguably Christianity's notion of god and devil. Why is destruction so much more 'attractive' to most people than creation (take a look at news content and entertainment media)?

6. Have you ever had a teacher who inspired you? In what way did their quality or approach move you to develop your own potential?

7. How do you manage luck? What part does luck play in sustaining the human spirit? When all seems lost, some people indeed give up, but others put their faith in hoping for a lucky break, or setting out to create that 'luck'. Some will turn to some system of ready made magical thinking, from astrology to temple offerings, to prayers tied to a religion.

8. How can our spirit, our will to persist and triumph, be most tested? Does surviving this kind of test most depend upon 'perspiration' or stubbornness, or preparation, or adaptability, or luck, or what? We try to insure against being personally crushed by investing in family, friends, cultural support, formal education, systems of government etc. For some individuals, some or all of these fail. Others become smug that these guarantees have 'saved' them until they are smashed by a 'black swan event' like a pandemic or war.

9. What is your appetite for challenge and moving out of your comfort zone? Some seek safety and a quiet life above all else. This quest for safety can take many forms - a safe job, safe friends, a safe marriage, avoiding risky places, situations or controversy etc, finding a safe or non-challenging country or city (Adelaide?) ... etc. Others feel that this kind safety quest is death to their 'human spirit' and will result in stagnation, a life not really lived.

10. What drives people to suicide? What is the remedy? Suicide is the very opposite of a triumph of the human spirit. It is a personal expression of despair and utter loss of hope. Yet behind that personal act there are often overwhelming external forces from family, culture, or the condition of a whole country.

Extra Reading

Thor May (2014) "Is learning “grit” the best way succeed ?" Academia repository @ https://www.academia.edu/6668497/Is_learning_grit_the_best_way_succeed  [Quote: "Grit, persistence in the face of hardship, is an admirable trait up to a point. It is however a complex trait, and may be extremely sensitive to the nature of particular challenges. The dropout in one scenario might be the dogged hero in another movie. Also, above and beyond particular situations, grit is partly sourced in inherent qualities of personality, partly influenced by maturational environment, and deeply affected by the core values and practices of different cultures and subcultures. There are even intriguing hints that grit can be driven by brain physiology."]

Wikipedia (2021) "Survival of the fittest". @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survival_of_the_fittest 

Wikipedia (2021) "The Human Spirit" @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_spirit 

Michael Le Page (16 April 2008) "Evolution myths: 'Survival of the fittest' justifies 'everyone for themselves' - The phrase “survival of the fittest“, which was coined not by Darwin but by the philosopher Herbert Spencer, is widely misunderstood". New Scientist @ https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13671-evolution-myths-survival-of-the-fittest-justifies-everyone-for-themselves/#ixzz6j8AG15Gn
Rutger Bregman (9 May 2020) "The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months - When a group of schoolboys were marooned on an island in 1965, it turned out very differently from William Golding’s bestseller - ‘Our secret superpower is our ability to cooperate’". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/may/09/the-real-lord-of-the-flies-what-happened-when-six-boys-were-shipwrecked-for-15-months#Echobox=1589017302

Andrew Newberg (May 31, 2011) "Religious Experiences Shrink Part of the Brain - A study links life - changing religious experiences, like being “born again,” with atrophy in the hippocampus." Scientific American @ https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/religious-experiences-shrink-part-of-brain/ 

Bobby Azarian (October 10, 2019) "How Religious Fundamentalism Hijacks the Brain - Fundamentalist ideologies act like mental parasites". Psychology Today @ https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mind-in-the-machine/201810/how-religious-fundamentalism-hijacks-the-brain 

Tshepo Ishmael Phetoane (December 1, 2020) "Triumph against all odds". FS News Online (South Africa) @ https://fsnewsonline.co.za/triumph-against-all-odds/  [Quote: "1. Learn to accept responsibility for your actions. / 2. Admit your mistakes. / 3. Develop mental toughness. / 4. One goal at a time. / 5. Develop your inner self. / 6. Focus on what you can control. / 7. Never stop learning. "]

Conor Duffy (14 Dec 2019) "Triumph against the odds for NSW school - A school for disadvantaged kids in country New South Wales is achieving remarkable success taking kids expelled or failing at schools and getting them into work or study". [video, 4 minutes] ABC @ https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/am/triumph-against-the-odds-for-nsw-school/11796942 

Kourosh Zaibari (January 6, 2021) "Why so many Iranians are taking their own lives
Suicide rates are soaring in Iran as a failing economy, poor governance and Covid-19 take a rising fatal toll". Asia Times @ https://asiatimes.com/2021/01/why-so-many-iranians-are-taking-their-own-lives/ 

The Bulletin, Rockhampton (5th May 2019) "The Catalpa Rescue: a triumph against all odds". The Morning Bulletin @ https://www.themorningbulletin.com.au/news/a-triumph-against-all-odds/3711771/  [Quote: "IT WAS one of the most extraordinary and inspirational prison breaks in Australian history, The Catalpa Rescue. .. Australian author Peter FitzSimons tells the engaging true story of the members of the Clan-na-Gael... It's New York in 1874. ...The agitators for Irish freedom from the English yoke hatch a daring plan to free six Irish political prisoners from the most remote prison in the British Empire, Fremantle Prison in Western Australia..."]

Sirin Kale (10 January 2021) "‘I see human resilience every single day’: people in tough jobs on how to stay hopeful - A hospice nurse, bereavement counsellor, firefighter, climate change lecturer and social worker share their secrets". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2021/jan/10/i-see-human-resilience-every-single-day-people-in-tough-jobs-on-how-to-stay-hopeful 

John Birmingham (9 July 2018) "The Thai cave rescue has dredged up our faith in humanity. Why? What magic finally ignites the fire of our sympathies for them, when we have little to none for so many others who are just as deserving?". Brisbane Times @ https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/asia/the-thai-cave-rescue-has-dredged-up-our-faith-in-humanity-20180709-p4zqg5.html 

Thor May (2016) "Count your lucky stars". Passionate Skeptic website @ http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/Luck.htm  [Quote: "What part does luck play in the success of individuals, enterprises and countries? Think of examples. From politics to careers to finding the love of your life, there has never been more advice available, yet at the end of the game, some people seem to have been lucky and others not. Why is this so? Can you really do much about it?"]

Amanda Gorman (20 January 2020) "The Hill We Climb: the Amanda Gorman poem that stole the inauguration show". Youtube @ https://youtu.be/CdKdyemxbew

Lady Gaga, (20 January 2021) performs the US national anthem at the inauguration ceremony - Youtube @ https://youtu.be/HezPdHTwdGA 

Richard Feynman (2 Apr 2012) "Why". Youtube @ https://youtu.be/36GT2zI8lVA  [7 minutes] [Thor, context: "Feynman was universally regarded as one of the fastest thinking and most creative theorists in his generation. Yet it has been reported-including by Feynman himself-that he only obtained a score of 125 on a school IQ test" (Discovery magazine)]. [Comment from a viewer: "Feynman gets stopped by a cop. / Cop : why were you speeding ? Feynman : what do you mean why ? Half hour later / Cop : please just leave me alone" ]

Andrew Forrest (22 January 2021) "Andrew Forrest on how green steel and hydrogen offer a chance to fix our climate and our economy". [Boyer Lecture] ABC Radio National @ https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-01-22/boyer-lecture-andrew-twiggy-forrest-green-hydrogen-climate/13077070  [ Thor, comment - Forrest is one of Australia's few billionaires. Most of them are selfish bastards, but in this case Forrest's proposal and actions embody the kind of spirit and enterprise that is not often seen in Australia from either citizens or governments. His arguments for what we can do with hydrogen are compelling, both technically and socially.]

Gulbahar Haitiwaji with Rozenn Morgat (12 January 2021) "'Our souls are dead': how I survived a Chinese 're-education'... After 10 years living in France, I returned to China to sign some papers and I was locked up. For the next two years, I was systematically dehumanised, humiliated and brainwashed." https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/12/uighur-xinjiang-re-education-camp-china-gulbahar-haitiwaji  [Thor, comment - This is a first person account of surviving a concentration camp in Xinjiang, China. The Chinese government denies that any such dehumanization occurs, and ordinary Chinese citizens outside of Xinjiang are never told. Xinjiang is a huge far western province bordering on central Asia, originally populated by Turkic speaking people like Uigers who are being suppressed and flooded with Han Chinese immigrants. Uiger women believe they are being sterilized].


The Human Spirit - Inspiration, Perspiration or Lucky Gamble? (c) Thor May 2020 

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