Author Archives: Melanie Anne Phillips

ChurchKey

Another of my compositions

Here I wanted to write something that was reminiscent of a cathedral more more ethereal, kind of stoned, more like a suggestion of religion without spirituality, laid on the foundation of ceremony and built out of traditions whose original purposes are long forgotten and no longer relevant.

Violence in Charlottesville

Since violence seems to be the hot topic on everyone’s mind, can’t we just all agree that violence is bad, but sometimes necessary in self defense? In the heat of passion all it takes is one person on any side to strike the first blow and the whole group he belongs to is blamed for all that follows. Consider the “shot heard round the world” in which one shot, perhaps even an accidental discharge from a British soldier’s musket triggered the Revolutionary war. Or the ramifications of Lincoln bing cagey and resupplying Ft. Sumter with a publicized cargo not including munitions, thereby forcing the South to take the first shot if they were to claim sovereignty. And then there is the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand that triggered WWi.

While it is easy to blame a whole group for the actions of a few, what is more important is to understand the agendas of the forces that are coming to blows. In this case, it is those who would create a society in which only white people have full rights, vs. those who feel all races should be treated with equal rights. Simple as that.

Now, there is one complication. There are many Southern folk who value to wonderful traditions of Southern hospitality, and the essence of true gentlemen such as Robert E. Lee. Lee was a man of honor – he was offered command of the Union forces and declined out of honor to accept command of the Confederate forces instead.

It is that kind of honor, and the true courage of going into battle against superior numbers and protecting one’s family and heritage that leads many in the south to stand against the removal of statues that they see has monuments to those noble attributes of their culture.

The problem is, that slavery was all tied up in it. Arguments can be made that it was really an issue of states’ rights, or that the South was unfairly economically oppressed by the North to its own advantage. And even that it was the North’s oppressive economic policy brought about by the higher population centers giving the North more political power in a democracy that forced the South to maintain slavery or to become an economic wasteland. But there is also solid evidence of the horrors or slavery and the dehumanizing of our fellow human beings and of those who fought to preserve slavery because they actually believed it was right and it was how God intended it to be.

So when the non-slavery non-racists heritage folks show up to protest the removal of a statue, and the white nationalists are there chanting against minorities, with a stated agenda of hate, then what are the heritage people to do?

If they leave, their monuments are gone. But if they stay, their Confederate flag waves along side the Swastika – two banners held over the same mingled group in a rally.

What message does this send? What taint does it put on the non-racist heritage folk?

Personally, I do believe those who were joining the protest rally who we not racist probably left, rather than stand under the Nazi banner. And those that remained may have wanted to preserve their heritage, but were also racists.

And so, we all have a choice to either let those voices of intolerance and hate have their say, unopposed, just as it was in Germany so many years ago. Or, perhaps this time, we stand against what we have seen before. We stop them in their tracks.

And by what right do we do this in a nation that proclaims freedom for all? Because those under that banner proclaim there should not be freedom for all, but only for their kind. And this is not just free speech, it is a call for revolution against the Constitution of the United States, and that give us the right to stand against them. They can say what they want. But when they incite actions against the Constitution, that moves along the slippery slope of Treason.

The protestors speak in terms of hate, race war, exclusion and supremacy. The counter-protestors speak in terms of love, social peace, inclusion, and equality.

But we are all human, and when impassioned, we can become violent. And that is unfortunate for it clutters the true battle between those who would do harm to others not like themselves and those who would help everyone who loves peace.

The Secret Bigot

We need to be concerned about all the closet bigots who would deny equal opportunity to anyone secretly based on color, creed, gender, sexual preference or religion. Equal protection under the law and the equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the essence of the combined philosophy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

And beyond that, the American Ideal is to equally treat everyone with respect and to find strength in our diversity, and the human ideal must go beyond tolerance to a celebration of our diversity, for it opens our minds to new ways of thinking and living and brings color to the fabric of life.

But there is one form of diversity which we should not tolerate and that is the forces of hate and violence who would deny equality, for, by definition, they are traitors to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Violence is wrong no matter who practices it UNLESS it is used to stop those who would violently assert their supremacy over any other group, rather than upholding the Constitution. If we do not defend the Constitution, then it is just a piece of paper.

If we would let a foreign nation walk in and take over the country, the Constitution means nothing. And if we let supremacists secretly work to subvert the Constitution, then that document means nothing, for we are saying that equality is no longer the code by which we live and we, ourselves, have trampled the Constitution by defaulting our responsibility of constant vigilance.

For there are those in our nation, citizens like ourselves, who are so filled with hate against those they deem as different, that they wish to create a new land in which only their own kind is entitled to protection under the law.

When a group seeks to subvert the very fabric of a free nation, and when its rally’s are a call to action to cause this to happen, it is an enemy of freedom and democracy and has forfeited its right to free speech, because it is enacting treason.

Now, it is correct that the anti-fascists were also violent at Charlottesville, though not to the same degree as they did not kill anyone. But, the point of this is that the fascists work in secret to be unfair intentionally to other races, religions, genders, and so on. Whereas, does anyone really believe that anti-fascists work secretly to deny equality to other races, religions, genders, etc? Anti-fascists only work to subvert one group – the fascists, who would subvert the rest of us.

Still, the main point is that we all have a right to hate others, but we do NOT have the right beat-up or kill them because we don’t like them. And yet, that is what fascism is. And so, anti-fascists, by definition, are against that, which again, makes every American who believes in the Constitution and Bill of Rights an anti-fascist.

If anti-fascists use clubs or bombs or cars to attack fascists holding a peaceful, though hate-filled rally, the anti-fascists must be held accountable. Yet regardless of the issue of violence – let’s just put that aside for a moment – consider what people with the beliefs of these white supremacists might be doing every day in their jobs to hurt all other races, religions, and people of other sexual preferences – in secret, holding back dreams, denying services, refusing loans, not promoting, not giving raises, not giving the best medical care.

Fascists see it as their duty to wage war against “sub-humans” which means anyone not like them. And that they can practice this in untraceable ways, unseen, and unchecked, quite frankly scares the hell out of me.

The Impact of Stories

Stories, especially those told in the media of film or television, can have a tremendous impact on an audience. Experiencing a story is similar in many ways to experiencing events in “real life”. Stories can make us laugh or cry, leave us feeling euphoric or depressed, lead us through a logistic consideration, or leave us in an emotional state.

In this age of social networks, streaming media, and high-tech motion picture production, the average citizen in our society may be exposed to almost as many narrative experiences as life experiences. As a result, understanding the nature and mechanism by which stories affect audiences can lead to insights in media impact on an individual’s outlooks and attitudes.

From one perspective, we might identify four areas in which this impact manifests itself:

One, the emotional mood an audience is left with at the conclusion of a story.

Two, the emotional journey experienced by an audience during the unfolding of a story.

Three, understandings arrived at by the audience by the conclusion of a story.

Four, logistic considerations made by the audience during the unfolding of the story.

Because these are so basic and important, let me take a moment to expand slightly on each of these concepts.

One: The Mood at the End

Emotionally, a story can change the mood of an audience from what it was at the beginning of a story to a completely different emotional state by the time it is over. This might pertain to the way the audience feels about a particular topic, or simply might change the underlying mood of the audience overall.

For example, in a story such as “Remains of the Day”, an audience might be brought to a saddened and frustrated emotional state that might linger well after the story is over. This mood could even recur when some symbol or set of circumstances in everyday life triggers a conscious re-consideration of the story or a subconscious response based on patterns experienced in the story.

In addition, an audience’s emotional response toward a particular topic, symbol, circumstance, or pattern may be altered through the story experience, leading to anything from changes in likes and dislikes to changes in attitudes, loyalties, or motivations in regard to a specific topic.

Two: The Emotional Journey

In the process of experiencing a story, audience members may be carried from one emotion to another in an order that might conform to or differ from their experiences in “real life”. This can either reinforce or alter habitual patterns of emotional response, albeit in a small and perhaps temporary way. For example, if an audience member were to identify with a character, such as Agent Mulder in “The X-Files”, he or she might (over time) become more likely to play hunches or, conversely, less likely to accept things at their face value.

Three:  The Understanding at the End

By the end of a story, the audience may be brought to an understanding it did not possess prior to participating in the story process. For example, in “The Usual Suspects”, the big picture is not grasped by the audience until the final pieces are dropped into place near the end. This creates an insight, as opposed to a logistic argument, and can be used to change audience opinion in regard to a particular issue, either through manipulation or propaganda.

Four: The Logical Journey

As a story unfolds, a logistic argument may be constructed that leads linearly from one point of consideration to a conclusion. In “JFK”, for example, a continuous chain of logic is built link by link over the course of the film in an attempt to prove the filmmaker’s contentions about the Kennedy assassination. This method can exercise audience members in logistic methods that may be repeated unconsciously in their everyday lives.

From this brief look at the power of the visual media, we can get a sense that many people might be better understood by becoming aware of the kinds of stories to which they are exposed, and many people might also benefit in a number of ways from carefully tailored story experiences.

This article was excerpted from:


Introduction to Communication

The process of communication requires at least two parties: the originator and the recipient. In addition, for communication to take place, the originator must be aware of the information or feelings he wishes to transmit, and the recipient must be able to determine that meaning.

Similarly, storytelling requires an author and an audience. And, to tell a story, one must have a story to tell. Only when an author is aware of the message he wishes to impart can he determine how to couch that message so it will be accurately received.

It should be noted that an audience is more than a passive participant in the storytelling process. When we write the phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night,” we have communicated a message, albeit a nebulous one.

In addition to the words, another force is at work creating meaning in the reader’s mind. The readers themselves may have conjured up memories of the fragrance of fresh rain on dry straw, the trembling fear of blinding explosions of lightning, or a feeling of contentment that recalls a soft fur rug in front of a raging fire. But all we wrote was, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

We mentioned nothing in that phrase of straw or lightning or fireside memories. In fact, once the mood is set, the less said, the more the audience can imagine. Did the audience imagine what we, the authors, had in mind? Not likely. Did we communicate? Some. We communicated the idea of a dark and stormy night. The audience, however, did a lot of creating on its own.

While some authors write specifically to communicate to an audience, many others write because they wish to follow their personal Muses. Sometimes writing is a catharsis, or an exploration of self. Sometimes authoring is a sharing of experiences, fragmented images, or just of a point of view. Sometimes authoring is marking a path for an audience to follow, or perhaps just presenting emotional resources the audience can construct into its own vision.

Interactive communications question the validity of a linear story itself, and justifiably so. There are many ways to communicate, and each has just as much value as the next depending upon how one wishes to affect one’s audience.

It has been argued that perhaps the symbols we use are what create concepts, and therefore no common understanding between cultures, races, or times is possible.

On the contrary, there are common concepts: morality, for example. Morality, a common concept? Yes. While not everyone shares the same definition of morality, every culture and individual understands some concept that means “morality” to them.

In other words, the concept of “morality” may have many different meanings — depending on culture or experience — but they all qualify as different meanings of “morality.”

Thus there can be universally shared essential concepts even though they drift apart through various interpretations. It is through this framework of essential concepts that communication is possible.

To communicate a concept, an author must symbolize it, either in words, actions, juxtapositions, interactions — in some form or another. As soon as the concept is symbolized, however, it becomes culturally specific and therefore inaccessible to much of the rest of the world.

Even within a specific culture, the different experiences of each member of an audience will lead to a slightly different interpretation of the complex patterns represented by intricate symbols.

On the other hand, it is the acceptance of common symbols of communication that defines a culture. For example, when we see a child fall and cry, we do not need to know what language he speaks or what culture he comes from in order to understand logistically what has happened.

If we observe the same event in a narrative, however, it may be that in the author’s culture a child who succumbs to tears is held in low esteem. In that case, then the emotions of sadness we may feel in our culture are not at all those intended by the author.

The accuracy with which an author is able to successfully convey both concept and context defines the success of any communication. And so, communication requires both a sound narrative and an effective translation of that narrative into symbolic language.

These requirements create an immensely rich and complex form which (though often practiced intuitively) can be deconstructed, understood, and manipulated with purpose and skill.

To begin such a deconstruction, let us next examine the origins of communication and the narrative form.

This article was excerpted from:


Faith vs. Science

Faith treats science with disregard and science treats faith with disrespect. By definition, faith is belief and therefore cannot be based on reason. By definition, science is reason and cannot be based on belief.

Our humanity comes from our faith: our beliefs as to how we should treat one another and how we should behave. Our progress comes from our science: our reasoning about how we can better our world and understand ourselves.

When parents let their child die because of their faith, scientists condemn the parents and proclaim them devoid of humanity, yet I’ve never read of a scientist trying to empathize with the parents in order to understand their motivations.

Imagine an intelligent, educated parent of faith who truly believes that medical care would condemn their child to eternal suffering. Consider the pain and anguish they suffer by believing there are only two choices: save their child now and doom them to unending torment after death, or to lose their child when they know they could save them to make the sacrifice of carrying that loss of a child that could be avoided, and worse, to know they are the instrument of their child’s death, but to be willing to suffer this for their child – to hold the emptiness and excruciating agony forever in their the hearts to save their child’s eternal soul.

For truly caring people of faith, their choices are seldom easy and never cavalier. I know this for though I have always held science over faith, I grew up in a household of faith. I have personal experience watching my father and mother grapple with decisions such as not allowing me to wear a costume to school on Halloween to be in the parade. I was disappointed, but I never felt they meant me ill will. In fact, I know it was quite the opposite, and while unhappy with the missed experience, I have never held them in any negative regard, but rather recognized how much they loved me to protect me, even if it caused me unhappiness and them emotional pain.

People of faith, for their part, hold science in disrespect because science often seeks to invalidate their beliefs such as with those parents and the sick child – science will go right for the throat and condemn them because there is no hereafter, so they are just hurting their child.

But what if there is a hereafter? Science certainly cannot disprove it. As scientists, many of us are “sure” there is not because it seems in contradiction with the way we understand the mechanism of existence. But we do not, as of yet, have any idea what self-awareness really is or how it comes into being, or what happens to it after our corporeal support mechanism fails. We see strokes, brain injuries and birth defects of the brain and determine that by some unknown mechanism, our identity is dependent upon the physical host in which it resides. But what proof do we have of this? Without proof, how can we disrespect those who have come to another conclusion? In this case, it comes down not to science against faith, but faith against faith – two different belief systems in conflict.

Those who hold faith above science are not devoid of reason. In fact, once faith is established, then reason is employed to determine how best to move forward with that given. I have not data to support this, but I would venture that the average IQ of people of faith is not much different than the average IQ of scientists. The primary difference between the two groups is which came first, the reason or the belief.

Without belief there is no code to say it is wrong to hurt others or to do for ourselves at the expense of others. And without science, there is no mechanism to apply that code.

To be human in the fullest sense of the word, we need both qualities. Faith is our motivation in exploring the universe – it is our belief there is still more to learn, still more understanding to be gained, still more wonders to discover. Without faith, there is no point to science. Without science, there is no purpose to faith.

If we are to ever come together, we must employ both faith AND science to find our way. And we can begin simply with respect for the faithful and regard for the scientists.