1000 ways to die, reading the signs of life, heaven and hell for dummies

Watch a show like 1000 Ways to die and you will quickly notice that most of the horrible hellish deaths on the show are the result, frequently, of sheer stupidity.  The correct thing to do with a show like this is to learn from it. Do not do as these people have done, lest you die a horrible painful and pitifully stupid death.. as Bismark once said, it’s better to learn from someone else’s mistakes than from your own.

This is the beauty of reading, it is usually a sort of vicarious living. But this can be made into not only a life enhancing tool, but a life saving tool.

Reading is not a substitute for reality, but a good reader, a clever reader, can use books as an aid, along with observations of other people, and live vicariously. Experiencing the mistakes strengths and weaknesses of characters, and deriving lessons from them.

Not “taking something home” from a book is kind of stupid. The most successful people I’ve met, either materially, or intellectually, or spiritually, all had this ability. Literacy is highly under-rated.  Being literate has saved lives, it could save yours someday. If you use it correctly.

So there I was, hanging out with Khalid Bey, physicist and man about town, (and to those who don’t understand him, seemingly a curmudgeon), when he ran an interesting theological hypothesis by me yesterday.

The guy is in the habit of rhetorically and logically “socking it to me”, in provocative ways. Of challenging me and my perceptions with arguments that seem insane at first, but then forcing me into seeing the very real logical thread behind it. This particular hypothesis of his has merit to it, once you understand (*see footnote).

Khalid Bey “Kemal, I just realized. Only stupid people go to hell, and only smart people get go to paradise. Moreover I have proof for this hypothesis!”

Kemal: “Oh come on man? ” “That’s pretty offensive and an irresponsible thing to say. It’s not like it’s anyone’s fault for being stupid. How can someone be held morally responsible for lacking intellect?”

So we continued and meandered down a winding road of theological speculation, and logic, before he pulled the scripture red-card out.

He backed this statement up based on the exegeses of a few Quranic ayats (verses) in which the denizens of the fire are complaining that had they but yaqilun, e.g. used their intellect, or reason, they would not be in their predicament. The predicament in question being the rather unpleasant infernal state of being roasted alive in perpetuity.

The actual verses themselves are important, but for the sake of time I’ll post them in a later post.

The strong hypothesis and a weak hypothesis are based on this, not to go into all of the details, but let’s wrap our fingers around it for a moment. The basic hypothesis is independent of your literally believing in hell or heaven after death. It’s independent of any belief in the post-mortem continuity of your consciousness, after death.

For one, Islam states that such states do exist after your death, and it would be quite foolish to disregard this, but let’s .. for the sake of argument pretend that your consciousness is simply a set of biological and chemical processes, that rapidly start to dissolve and finally are extinguished with your physical death and decay, the fact remains that Heaven and Hell are pretty good analogs for earthly conditions in everyday life.

For some people, there certainly is an idea of hell on earth (or in Sartre’s case, hell in other people). In any case, the tendency to wind up in Hellishly bad predicaments in life may often be a result of poor planning and lack of foresight, in other words stupidity. The tendency to wind up in more pleasant predicaments, in life, may be a result of better planning and considerable foresight. Which frankly, is pretty smart.

Not always of course, there is the storm and the calm afterwards. Sometimes times of great transition in life appear hellish at first independent of all of our efforts to advert them. Sometimes life seems to just sock us in the face and “Stuff Happens.. or rather brown fecal material happens”

But often times, landing in hells on earth are prefaced by tells, signs, patterns that if we are smart enough to read we can avoid. In other words, by intelligently reading life itself, we can avoid states that would seem hellish to us. We can avoid becoming victims to horrible crimes and assaults by intelligently reading situations and places. Not always, sometimes it seems “Bad things happen to good people” but you can ameliorate the possibility of really crappy things happening to you by protecting yourself against certain risks.

Examples for this are so numerous that it would insult your intelligence if I listed them out.

Secondly, we state contend it as truth, that your individual consciousness truly does survive death, in some way, and finds an ultimate home either in a heaven like state or a hell like state, then lacking literal belief in any of this is irrelevant, because the existential state is independent of belief in it.

Unless you subscribe to one of those odd… New Age philosophies that we create reality mentally (showing a misunderstanding of what exactly reality truly is), and so after death if you find yourself in hell this is a mental prison and limitation that can be transcended by your realizing the reality of your situation and manifesting a different state, well there are logical inconsistencies with this belief system and, in any case, if you make or manifest your own reality and you manifest yourself in hell, well that’s pretty stupid now. Ain’t it?

So Hell is still for stupid people.

If – for the sake of argument – you want to dredge up the diea of transmigration of the soul, or reincarnation (which are slightly actually different things) as actual phenomenon, then “hell” and “heaven” are still analogs for states of being, wretchedness (al-shaqawa) and felicity (al-sa’adat) – so being reborn endlessly as a rural outhouse worm in a latrine, out in some rural area, in the hinterlands around Peshawar, is probably a Hellish state. And being reborn as a dot com billionaire with a harem of Ukrainian A list models at his disposal is somewhat analogues to a heavenly like state…  For some people, anyway.

I mentioned Hell on earth, and how they can be avoided.

Sometimes a collectivity can take the individual down, if you are the only clever person in the midst of a large collection of really dimwitted people, their stupid antics can easily embroil you in life endangering constant peril. So the truly clever thing is to move, if you can, or isolate yourself as much as possible from those whose stupid antics endanger you. If your neighbor likes to pour gasoline on his grass and set it on fire on warm summer days because, well, he likes it. It’s fun, then the smart thing for you to do is – lacking any way of restraining him and his behavior, if the police and municipality will not interfere, move.

Sell your house if you can and move, or take a loss rent it out to someone equally stupid and move.

Sometimes we have to choose between bad stupid choices, and ugly smart choices.

An example from history.

Our guy is sitting in Samarqand sitting sipping his sherbet and reciting a couple of Ghazzals to himself, when he notices on the horizon distantly what looks like a subtle wisp and plume of smoke. He walks outside the city walls and notices it, in the teahouse he heard rumors of Turkic hordes led by a fearsome Khan who slaughtered his way through several cities. You know from news and the like that the Emperor of Khwarezmia, Aladin Muhammad, received an embassy of Tartars representing their Khan, and to amuse himself executed them.

You heard horrible news of the Mongol reprisal on a few border towns and a few weeks earlier, Bukhara was burned and the whole population was mostly executed or sent into slavery.

You feel an omen, a bad portent, so you go, throw some rations and your inkpot and a few other things into your turban cloth, tie it round your back, tell your wives and kids to pack, quickly, you throw what you can on a donkey or two, and you all leave the city midday. The city watchman asks where you are going, and you reply you don’t know, but the opposite direction of that plume on the horizon. He says, it’s just a wisp of a cloud, you say maybe so but, this feels like a baneful day.

A few days later, in March of 1220  Genghis Khan shows up at the gates of Samarqand almost by surprise, reduces the city by siege, evacuates the entire population of the whole city, assembles them all in a plain outside the city, had all 100,000 or so of them lie down face down and the Mongols spent a night literally killing each and every single one of them, and making pyramids of severed heads as a symbol of victory.

Imagine 100,000 (give or take) human skulls in pyramids around a city utterly depopulated. Rather hellish, dontcha think?

All as a result of human stupidity.

Incidentally the story of how the family of the Sufi poet, al-Rumi, survived the Mongols is very similar to this example. His father, Baha Walad,  took his family and fled the city of Balkh, fearing Mongol invasions, in 1219, a year before the Mongols destroyed utterly Balkh, in 1220, ironically the very same year they destroyed Bukhara and Samarqand. Rumi’s family stopped in Nishapur – where the teenage Rumi met a greater Sufi, Poet, perfumer, and pharmacist,  Fariduddin al-Attar), and then his father decided to head to Rum (Byzantine Anatolia) where they finally settled.

This took immense foresight. The initial Mongol conquests were nowhere near as bloody as what transpired in 1220. Baha Walad only made a pit stop in Nishapur (where Attar himself, famously, was murdered by the Mongols soon thereafter.

This story, too, is interesting.

Supposedly Attar, an old man at the time, was taken prisoner by a Mongol during the siege of Nishapur, however someone came and offered to ransom Attar for a thousand pieces of silver. Attar advised the Mongol holding him not to sell him for such a small price. The Mongol, greedy for a larger sum of money, decided to refuse the silver offered for Attar’s ransom.

Later, the story goes, another person came by offering just a sack of straw to free Attar, who then told the Mongol to sell him for the sack. After all, Attar argued, that was all he was truly worth. The Mongol was enraged at being made a fool of, and promptly cut off Attar’s head.

Attar was often known for his wit. An old man at the end of his rope can afford to have some fun at his captor’s expense, after all. You’re going to die anyway, and leaving a clever story for posterity is a good thing.

Similar examples dot history and your personal life is full of them. How many people made a killing in the market only to have lost a good deal last year, and how many people with more foresight took slight losses on positions, sold, put their money in other hard assets and weathered last year’s financial fall. How many people shorted the dollar, and converted their revenue into Euros or Yuans, and then converted some of this into harder assets still.

When the writing is on the wall, getting control of your emotions and acting on small signs is a sign of intelligence that tends to avoid hells on earth..

Anyway, I had huge problems with Khalid Bey’s hypothesis, but the more I think about it there is merit.

For one, I see no moral crime in lacking intelligence, since I’m typically inclined to see natural intelligence as something innate and biological.

Some of us are born with more of it, some of us are born with less of it. But either way, all of us are morally responsible for using the intelligence we have.

He however is inclined to see intelligence as composed of multiple overlapping qualities most of which are influenced by both education and private effort. He typically views stupidity as sheer laziness.

When I look at it, he does have a point here. Now I can look at obvious cases, like mental retardation, where there are biologically hard set cognitive limits – but even here, however, he was convinced that my taking this view is somewhat upside down. We can set aside obvious pathology and structural brain damage, and look at the “normal” spectrum of human intelligence. From dull to normal to bright to genius to various types of savants.

Khalid Bey is convinced that what I think of as intelligence, and what we all typically think of as intelligence in Western societies, is simply a subset of something much larger. And far more important.

I think that people have an intuitive understanding of this, that there’s “common sense” “book smarts” “street smarts” “emotionally intelligence” and so on. Well he’d go further – that not only are there multiple modes of cognition but that the modes we primarily test for, and esteem, are just the modes most adapted to living in a highly artificial and somewhat pathological society.

There are other types of intelligence that we either do not measure and test for, or if we do only as an afterthought, that may be far more important to our long term happiness and health.  There are other ways of being smart beyond just those which many people are in the habit of thinking. Failing to cultivate one type of intelligence, and overly cultivating another type of intelligence, can result in a one dimensional character. A sort of blindness, which can endanger your life on occasions requiring more flexible usages of intelligence.

His belief is that people often ignore the real nuances to intelligence. In ignoring more subtle modes of intellect beyond conventional smartness. The reasons for this stem from their pet political and social ideologies, usually based on emotion and sentiments, and not actual reason.  Or if based on reason (and not simply back-rationalized) looked at superficially, and furthermore that many of our societies structural problems are direct results of mistaking superficial cleverness and tool-manipulation adeptness, for real intelligence in depth.

Being adept at manipulating tools, processing and manipulating superficial ideas, is seen as a sort of creative intelligence. There is some truth to this, but it is a partial picture. The social problems that both liberals and conservatives bewail, the problems that both the Right and the Left demonstrably lack real solutions for, are problems stemming from stupidity.

An intelligence that does not include a social and emotional side is a partial intelligence.

Now to you, whether anyone ignores the nuanced way in which intelligence manifests is irrelevant. What is relevant is that you take the time to find, cultivate, and hone the multiple nuances intelligences you may have. Cultivate your intellect and use it, that is relevant.

For these reasons most my objections regarding the origin and locus of intelligence and genius bore *little weight with him.  While biologically based variations in the brain’s ability to process information exist, the whole of intelligence itself, he sees as being incredibly complex, reducing it isn’t necessarily a useful thing. There are levels, of stupidity and intelligence, ranges, and weakness in one area of intelligence may be compensated for in another area…

Anyway, I’m still on the fence about his “Hell for dummies, Heaven for smarties” meme (remembering that what he may mean by stupidity and intelligence is much different, deeper, and more nuanced than what most people typically mean) – however it’s provocative enough to pull out at parties and throw at people, if for no other reason than seeing them get ticked off.


*(Of course I was a bit out-ranked here – because I was arguing about intelligence with someone who was more intelligent than myself. The guy has a genius level IQ – while still holding to the dictum that typically high IQ individuals are simply well trained monkeys, idiot-savants – himself included he’s sarcastically say. He is rather bright, when I first met him 15 years ago he was working on a PhD in both Physics and Electrical Engineering, was fluent in 7 languages, and had  more of a mastery of Quran, Hadith and fiqh than trained theologians and Ulema I’d previously met (he can easily run circles around Dar Ulum graduates) and simply out-ranks me as far as Brain prowess is concerned. he knows more about the Halacha than most Rabbis, certainly more about Christian theology than most academically trained theologians and seminary graduates, and was better read up on cognitive neuroscience and Psychometrics than many of the professors down in the psych department.

Mercifully, in arguments, he rarely pulls the “I’m smarter than you neyh neyh” card. At first he usually plays it down and acts dumb.

Then again, eventually most people – myself included – figure this out, to some annoyance, rather quickly – which puts an odd cast on our debates…)

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