The Lego Movie: The Master Builders and Freemasonry

The Lego Movie: The Master Builders and Freemasonry

Every once in a while a movie comes along that is so rich in symbolism and allegory that its message can be applied almost universally. In 2014, Warner Bros. Pictures released the computer animated “The Lego Movie,” which received widespread critical acclaim for its humor, visual style, voice acting, and positive message. Co-written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, “The Lego Movie” tells the story of Emmet, an ordinary Lego construction mini-figure who, aided by a team of Master Builders, fulfils a prophecy to save the universe from the tyrannical Lord Business.

The Master Builder’s Prophecy

Described as a children’s version of “The Matrix,” the “The Lego Movie” is set within the Lego universe where a group of Master Builders are fighting to protect the realm from the nefarious Lord Business. Led by the wizard Vitruvius, the Master Builders wthe_prophecyork to keep the “Kragle,” a secret super weapon, out of the hands of Lord Business who devises to use the weapon to freeze the subjects of the Lego world. When Vitruvius is thwarted in hand to hand combat, he prophesies that one day a person will find the Piece of Resistance and save the universe.

One day, a talented lass or fellow, A special one with face of yellow, will make the Piece of Resistance found from its hidden refuge underground.

And with a noble army at the helm, This Master Builder will thwart the Kragle and save the realm, and be the greatest, most interesting, most important person of all times. All this is true, because it rhymes. – Vitruvius

The Hero Emmet

Moving the narrative forward eight years, Emmet Brickowski enters the scene laboring as a contented construction worker in the heavily commercialized town of Bricksburg. Perfectly obeying his instructions, he cheers for the local sports team, listens to pop music, eats at chain restaurants, and drinks overpriced coffee. Subliminally craving escape from this monotony, Emmet must first learn that his soul is being crushed before he can summon the inner strength to do something about it.

The Lego MovieAt his construction site, Emmet comes across one of the Master Builders: a woman named Wyldstyle. Falling down a hole, Emmet finds and touches the Piece of Resistance, whereby he experiences visions and passes out. Awakening in Police Custody, Emmet is shocked to find the Piece of Resistance attached to him.

The Villain: Lord Business and his Weapon of Choice

During his interrogation from Bad Cop, Emmet learns of Lord Business’ diabolical plans to freeze the world with the “Kragle,” i.e. a tube of Krazy Glue with a partially rubbed off label. Business seeks world domination and operates a successful business that creates music, TV shows, surveillance systems, history books and voting machines, in addition to all dairy products and coffee.

Training to be a Master Builder

Believing Emmet to be “The Special” from the prophecy, Wyldstyle compellingly states, “Come with me if you want to not die” and praises him for pretending to be “a useless nobody.” While rescuing Emmet and taking him to Vitruvius, Wyldstyle informs him that he actually lives in a Multiverse that includes many parallel universes including his own, Bricksburg. He finds out that Vitruvius and Wyldstyle are Master Builders, a team of individuals capable of building anything they need without instruction manuals.

Disappointed to discover Emmet is not a Master Builder, Wyldstyle and Vitruvius are convinced of his potential when he explains his vision and belief of a deity he refers to as “the Man Upstairs.” Similar to Morpheus from the Matrix film, Vitruvius believes in Emmet and counsels him to let go and follow his instincts. Vitruvius instructs Emmet that the key to being a true Master Builder is to believe in yourself and follow your own set of instructions inside your head.

The trio then evade Bad Cop’s forces, meet with a council of Master builders, escape a dying world, and devise a plan to infiltrate Business’ headquarters and disarm the Kragle. Unfortunately during the attack, Emmet and the Master Builders are captured and imprisoned. Although killed by Lord Business, Vitruvius reveals he invented the prophecy but informs Emmet that it his self-belief that makes him the Special. Believing himself to be Special, he flings himself off the edge of the tower while strapped to a self-destructing mechanism.  Thus, Emmet saves the Master Builders and the universe, fulfilling the prophecy. Inspired by Emmet’s sacrifice, Wyldstyle issues a rallying cry to all the people to use their creativity to build and stop Lord Business.

The Real World

After his self-sacrifice, the lego figurine, Emmet, finds himself in the real world: a Lego filled basement of a house. The father, “the Man Upstairs,” reprimands his son for ruining his Lego sets by not following the instructions, deconstructing parts, and interchanging pieces from different set. Thus, the Father represeLegoBasementnts “Order” and the son represents “Chaos,” which ultimately represent a dichotomy that need each other to exist. Angered by the changes to his world, the Father proceeds to use Krazy Glue, i.e. the “Kragle,” to permanently lock his perceived perfect creation. Realizing the danger, Emmet wills himself to move and gains the son’s attention. The son picks up Emmet and returns him to the set, where he now possesses the powers of a Master Builder and confronts Lord Business.

Looking at his son’s creations, the Father realizes that he was his son’s inspiration for the evil Lord Business. Through a speech Emmet gives Business, the son tells his father that he is special and has the power to change everything. Father and son reconciling “above,” plays out “below” as Lord Business having a change of heart, capping the “Kragle” with the cap to the Superglue, i.e. the “Piece of Resistance” and using a solvent to unglue the Lego world.

The Masonic Message: The Role of Truth

While the use of “Master Builders” within the Lego Movie is an obvious nod to Freemasonry, the movie is also full of Masonic symbolism in the themes of teamwork, self-improvement, and service to all of humanity. Like Emmet, we are all special and capable of amazing things if we have the will to try.  Freemasonry rejects dogmatic teaching and helps the individual to learn to think for themselves.Emet-Truth

The film also contains many esoteric references including the hermetic principle of “As above, so below.” Everything that happens in the superior world of the real world basement is reflected in the inferior Lego world. Moreover, the movie contains references to the Kabbalah. According to Jewish tradition, one name of YHVH, the God of the Bible, is Emet, which means truth. Emet is spelled with an Aleph, Mem and Tav: the first, middle and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Ironically, the movie also asks the audience to consider what illusions are keeping them from their goals, including the siren song of materialism. The writers deftly hint at the philosophy of Karl Marx,  “to call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.” In the Allegory of the Cave, the Philosopher Plato also describes our world as a world of illusion. In the movie, the Lego universe represents the world of shadows, or the Cave. In order to perceive the real world, Emmet follows his inner truth through spiritual perception, which ultimately leads him to divine enlightenment, i.e. experiencing the real world of the basement.  

Do We Have an Obligation to Protect the Endangered? Molecular Ecology’s Role in Saving the Greenback Cutthroat Trout

Do We Have an Obligation to Protect the Endangered? Molecular Ecology’s Role in Saving the Greenback Cutthroat Trout

In today’s hectic world,  it is easy to turn a blind eye to concerns outside our direct purview. Our willful blindness becomes even more pervasive when it comes to issues which are unpopular or which lack a perceivable benefit to our lives. Freemasons, however, are called to stand up for what is right, just, and true. Do we have an obligation to protect the endangered?

The Endangered Species Act

As one of the more controversial U.S. laws, the Endangered Species Act has been derided as detrimental to progress and to the economy. When President Richard Nixon declared the need foBackfromtheBrinkr increased species conservation, Congress responded by passing the Endangered Species Act which was signed by Nixon on December 28, 1973.

The Act’s goal is to prevent the extinction of imperiled species, and to recover those populations by decreasing threats to their survival. In the forty-two years since the bill was passed, only 10 species protected under the Act have been declared extinct. Scientists estimate that at least 227 species would have likely gone extinct without the legislation. The Bald Eagle and the Grizzly Bear are two notable species that have been saved from extinction and removed from the list.

Colorado’s State Fish: The Greenback Cutthroat Trout

As of 2014, there were 1,261 endangered species protected by the ESA which includes Colorado’s State Fish: the Greenback Cutthroat Trout. Presumed to be extinct in 1937, a few wild populations of the trout were discovered in the basins of the South Platte and Arkansas Rivers. Following the listing of the fish under the Endangered Species Act, the scientific community launched a conservation campaign. Questions over the genetic characteristics of the elusive fish prevented the establishment of wild populations as empirical eviBearCreekGreenBackdence demonstrates that successful restoration of an endangered species requires knowledge of the species’ diversity and distribution.

The Role of Molecular Ecology

The science of Molecular Ecology provided the missing link to preventing the species’ demise. Molecular ecology applies molecular population genetics, molecular phylogenetics, and genomics to solve traditional ecological questions. Researchers at the University of Colorado analyzed the DNA extracted from wild trout and from preserved specimens collected as far back as 1857. The team first collected multiple samples of tissue and bone from the preserved trout specimens, obtaining fragments of DNA which they pieced together like a high-tech jigsaw puzzle to reveal two telltale genes of the individual specimens.  Utilizing the genetic data from museum samples, scientists were able to pinpoint the location of the last surviving wild population of the greenback cutthroat trout.

Led by Dr. Jessica Metcalf and Dr. Andrew Martin, the team was able to collect trout for repopulation efforts from  Bear Creek, a small tributary of the Arkansas River west of Colorado Springs. Since the trout were outside of their native habitat, the researchers concluded that the fish were placed there as a restocking effort. US Fish and Wildlife Service’s fisheries biologist Chris Kennedy discovered documentation that from 1889 and 1925, more than 50 million cutthroat trout from the Gunnison and White River Basins were stocked across Colorado, including in Bear Creek.  

Dr. Jessica Metcalf

– Dr. Jessica Metcalf, Evolutionary Biologist

Using the Bear Creek Greenbacks, conservationists have been successful in replicating the population. Dr. Metcalf explained her success stating, “This is a real win for conservation genetics. We were able to use historical specimens to find out something quite novel about cutthroat trout biodiversity that has resulted in a management action. We are not just bringing a native species back to its historic range, but the greenback cutthroat trout, our Colorado state fish.” The aquatics team of Colorado Parks and Wildlife oversaw the raising of approximately 3,500 greenback cutthroat trout, offspring of fish taken from Bear Creek, at the Mt. Shavano State Rearing Unit and the Leadville National Fish Hatchery. “We finally have the opportunity to bring these fish home,” Biologist Doug Krieger reported about the introduction of the fish into Zimmerman Lake. On August 8, 2014, in an effort spearheaded by the greenback cutthroat recovery team, Colorado’s state fish was reintroduced to its native range.

Freemasonry: Protecting the Endangered

In our modern culture is “truth” an endangered species? In America, espousing moral relativism, an unwillingness or inability to make judgments about what is right or wrong, has become an accepted norm. When ethical, moral, or social issues are debated in the public sphere, the use of rationality and logic to address such issues is often discouraged in order to foster a climate of inclusiveness. We must, however, be wary of confusing tolerance with moral ambiguity.  Freemasonry teaches individuals to living a life of high moral rectitude and to seek the truth in all situations. Whether the discussion relates to endangered wildlife, censorship, or euthanasia, an objective search for the underlying truth is often ignored to the detriment of all.

The Tarot: Symbolism and Freemasonry

The Tarot: Symbolism and Freemasonry

Is a picture worth a thousand words? In our modern society, most are acquainted with Tarot cards as a form of divination or fortune telling. However, there is a deeper, more esoteric meaning attached to the Tarot. A legend exists related to the Tarot which tells of a group of adepts traveling through an enchanted forest. Along the way, these individuals lost their voices and were only able to communicate with each other by displaying Tarot cards to one another. Through the exercise of relation via symbols, the adepts were able to navigate out of the forest and into the light. What is the Tarot, and what relationship does the Tarot have with Freemasonry?

The Tarot System

On a surface level, the Tarot is a deck of 78 cards, each with its own distinct image and meaning. While many have used the cards as a divination tool, Tarot cards can also represent a mysterious oracle of hidden knowledge. The Tarot cards are divided into two separate groups: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The Minor Arcana consists of 56 cards divided into 4 suits: Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles, and 4 court cards: Page, Knight, King, and Queen.

MinorArcana

The meaning of the Arcana represents “what is necessary to know, to discover, to anticipate, so as to be fruitful and creative in one’s possible endeavors.” Arcana is derived from the Latin words “Arca,” meaning “Chest” and “Arcere” meaning “To shut or to close.” Thus, Arcanum symbolically represents a tightly-closed treasure chest which holds a secret meaning.

Nobel Prize winner Herbert A. Simon provides this illuminating sentiment related to the Tarot:  “a symbol is simply the pattern, made of any substance whatsoever that is used to denote, or point to, some other symbol, or object or relation between objects. The thing it points to is called its meaning.” By reading Tarot cards symbolically, each person is able to divine their own meaning and truth.

Historical Origins of the Tarot

Mystery shrouds the historical origination of the Tarot. The French scholar, Court de Gebélin, wrote that the Tarot was the one book of the ancient Egyptians that escaped the burning of the great Library of Alexandria Library. This booTarotEygptk was said to contain “the purest knowledge of profound matters” possessed by the wise men of Egypt. After the library was destroyed, a group of sages met in Fez, Morocco and decided to preserve the secrets of this ancient text into pictorial form on the cards of the Tarot.

There is general consensus that the pictures on the cards represented the visual retelling of the secrets of ancient mysteries, with different accounts of the wisdom being Egyptian, Zoroastrianism, or Gnostic in tradition. The symbols depicted on the cards provided a manner to keep the secrets safe except for those prepared to receive them. The cards were brought to Europe, purportedly as a result of the Crusades, but were suppressed during the inquisition of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages.  

treeoflifekabbalahTarot and the Kabbalah

Many esoteric scholars have sought to understand the Tarot through the Kabbalah, the mystic teachings of Judaism. Kabbalah has been translated to mean “receiving,” from God, the Eternal One. Referred to as one, the deity is actually twofold in nature including the male aspect, Adonai, and the female aspect, the Holy Shechinah. The Kabbalistic Tree of Life, displayed above, is particularly useful in understanding and interpreting the Tarot. The Tree of Life consists of ten spheres, referred to as Sefirot, which are connected by 22 different paths, expressing different interactions between the Sefirot: Kingdom, Foundation, Victory, Splendor, Victory, Beauty, Mercy, Severity, Wisdom, Understanding, and Crown. Each path corresponds to a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which contains 22 letters. Similarly, the Tarot deck contains ten numbered cards in each Minor Arcana suit and 22 cards in the Major Arcana.

Freemasonry and The Tarot

What is the relationship between The Tarot and Freemasonry? To begin, there is the existence of a Masonic themed Tarot Cards: The Square and Compass Tarot Card Deck, which is displayed above. Deeper connections exist as well, including the symbolic journey of the initiate into Freemasonry. The Tarot has been described as symbolizing the path of initiation or a journey towards reintegration with one’s true self. “Know Thyself” is a motto of the Craft and the twenty-two cards of Tarot’s Major Arcana provide useful tools for reflection for those interested in doing the work. The cards reveal stages of an archetypal journey of man with each card representing a stage to be encountered by each individual on their life path.

Like the Tarot, Freemasonry’s origins are difficult to trace and veiled in mystery, and both systems have evolved through history, HolyGrailyet their essential substance remains unchanged. The Masonic scholar, A.E. Waite, posits that the Tarot and Freemasonry are both connected to the Legend of the Holy Grail. In his book The Hidden Church of the Holy Graal, Waite presents his conclusive belief that the Tarot is the “canonical Hallows of the Graal legend,” liking the character Percival, the Fool in the Tarot deck, to the Mason in search of light.

Alternatively, the Masonic writer, Manly P. Hall argued that the Major Arcana represent the 22 chapters of the Book of Revelations: a spiritual road map to achieve oneness with God.

It has been said that individuals come to Masonry to remember what has been forgotten; that all knowledge already exists with us. Through the signs, symbols and images in Tarot, the seeker is directed to recollect the universal teaching that we are all the same in essence, each traveling the same road despite perceived differences in form.

A System of Morality: Masonry and Psychology’s Stanford Prison Experiment

A System of Morality: Masonry and Psychology’s Stanford Prison Experiment

Freemasonry has been described as a “system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols.” Is morality an important aspect of a properly functioning society? The social science of Psychology has delved into this issue extensively, including the research conducted in the Stanford Prison Experiment. The experiment was intended to study the psychological effects of a simulated prison environment on individuals, which devolved to a point where participants were subjected to cruel and dehumanizing abuse.  The primary conclusion of the experiment was that in such a high stress scenario the resulting behavior of the participants supported a situationist rather than a dispositionalist explanation of conformity. Does an internal moral compass, such as one is taught to develop in Freemasonry, allow individuals to avoid conforming to negative situational pressures placed upon them?

The Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford prison experiment conducted a study of the psychological effects of arbitrarily becoming a prisoner or prison guard. The experiment was conducted in 1971 at Stanford University from August 14th to 20th.The study began with an ad in the classifieds: “Male college students needed for psychological study of prison life. $15 per day for 1-2 weeks beginning Aug. 14.” More than seventy men volunteered to take part in the study which was conducted in a fake prison housed inside 0115prisonJordan Hall on Stanford’s Main Quadrangle. Leading the study was 38-year-old psychology professor Philip Zimbardo who, along with his research team, selected 24 male applicants and randomly assigned 12 to be prisoners and 12 to be guards.

With funding and support from the U.S. Office of Naval Research, Professor Zimbardo created a scenario to investigate the psychological impacts of a simulated prison environment on all participants including those playing prisoners as well as guards. Specifically, he sought to determine whether participants in the study would adapt to situational attribution or dispositional attribution behaviors under certain variables. Having been approved by Stanford’s Human Subjects Research Committee, Zimbardo abruptly ended the study after only six days, stating that “neither they nor we could have imagined” that the guards would treat the prisoners so inhumanely.

Inside the Prison

The prison-like environment was set up in the basement of the University’s Psychology Building: Jordan Hall. The 24 participants were selected based on a lack of criminal background, psychological issues, and medical conditions. The prisoners were arrested at their homes by actual police officers, booked in a police station, and brostanford-prison-experimentught to the simulated prison where they were placed into six by nine-foot prison cells with three prisoners in each cell.

Professor Zimbardo encouraged the guards to think of themselves as actual guards in a real prison. He clearly and repeatedly instructed the guards that the prisoners could not be physically harmed. Instead, Zimbardo told the guards to create an atmosphere in which the prisoners felt “powerless.” Guards and the warden utilized rooms across from the cells. A closet was used for solitary confinement, and another room served as the prison yard. Prisoners had to remain in the mock prison night and day for the duration of the experiment while guards were allowed to leave after each eight hour shift. Researchers used hidden cameras and microphones to observe the behavior of the participants.

The guards became abusive as early as the second day of the experiment, and some prisoners began showing signs of extreme stress and anxiety. The guards began to act in ways that were aggressive and even dehumanizing toward the prisoners while the prisoners became passive and depressed and some were even despondent, began crying, and showed other signs of severe negative emotions. T2015-07-27-1438029404-8000872-2ePrisonExp3_smallerhe researchers, themselves, became so engrossed in the situation that they began to lose sight of the reality of what was happening.

For six days, half the study’s participants, the 12 “prisoners,” endured cruel and dehumanizing abuse at the hands of their peers. At various times, they were verbally taunted, stripped naked, deprived of sleep, and forced to use plastic buckets within the cells for a toilet. The prisoners reacted in a variety of ways: some refused to comply; some rebelled violently; some became hysterical or withdrew into despair.

As the situation descended into chaos, the team of researchers merely stood by and watched. Zimbardo had planned for the experiment to last for 14 days but ended the experiment after just six days on account of a female Ph.D. student raising questions about the morality of what was happening in the mock prison environment.

Ending the Experiment

Professor Zimbardo arranged for all members of the experiment, the prisoners, guards, and staff, to be interviewed by uninvolved faculty members and graduate students. Ph.D. Candidate Christina Maslach observed the guards line up the prisoners at the 10 p.m. appointed bathroom break. When the prisoners came out of their cells, the guards put bags over their heads, chained their feet together, and forced them to move in unison like a chain gang. The guards then began cursing and yelling at the prisoners. Visibly shaken, Christina responded, “I can’t look at this,” and left the basement.Konnikova-The-Stanford-Prison-Experiment-1200

When Zimbardo followed Maslach outside of the building, she questioned the morality of what his experiment was doing to the students. She said, “It’s terrible what you’re doing to these boys. How can you see what I saw and not care about the suffering?” At this point, Professor Zimbardo realized that his view of reality had been altered by the experiment, and he immediately terminated the study.

Freemasonry’s Morality Instruction

Freemasonry teaches the importance of morality and provides instruction to members as to how to treat others as themselves. Masonry upholds the virtues of cha11425174_1131348653548603_3374741560606323912_n (1)rity, temperance, fortitude, and justice: all which were absent from the Stanford Prison Experiment.

A strong moral compass is necessary when an individual faces peer pressure or authoritative demands to act in an inhumane fashion towards his fellow man. By subduing the animalistic tendencies of violence and hatred, individuals can be elevated above responding to situational pressures. Adherence to an internal moral code is necessary to inherently know what is right and what is wrong, regardless of the situation. 

Seeking the Light: The Role of Algae and Optogenetics in treating Neurological Disorders

Seeking the Light: The Role of Algae and Optogenetics in treating Neurological Disorders

The Human brain and nervous system form an intricate matrix of electrical signals that coordinate our thoughts, emotions, memories, senses, speech, and movement. Over a billion people worldwide have a form of brain disorder that incapacitates them in some manner. Each year, millions of Americans are diagnosed with an inherited condition that impacts their nervous system. Known as Neurogenetic diseases, these conditions are primarily caused by an alteration, or mutation, in the individual’s Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). At a cost of over $1 trillion a year, researchers and companies have a tremendous incentive to find cures for these diseases of the brain and nervous system.

Could light-seeking organisms, such as algae, provide the missing link in curing these debilitating diseases?

Neurogenetic Diseases

Billions of neurons make up the brain and form an interconnected network which communicates using chemicals called neurotransmitters. The correct functioning of this complex neural network is necessary for activitiesdna-editing such as thinking, walking, and talking. Neurogenetic disease can lead to the misfiring of neurons and can lead to irreversible degeneration of specific neurons.

Affecting individuals of all ages, neurogenetic diseases are typically chronic and debilitating. In the most extreme disorders, the impacts are degenerative and reduce the individual’s lifespan. Scientists classify neurogenetic diseases into two categories: monogenetic and complex. Disorders caused by a mutation in a single gene are referred to as “monogenetic diseases,” and  include Huntington’s disease, myotonic dystrophy, Rett syndrome and fragile X syndrome. In Monogenic diseases, a single-gene mutation causes certain neurons in the central or the peripheral nervous system to develop abnormally or function poorly. In “complex diseases” such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, disorders can be caused by mutations in multiple genes with additional environmental factors contributing to the development of the disease.

Gene Therapy

Individuals diagnosed with a neurogenetic disease live with a severe, often times progressive, disability. In degenerative neurogenetic disorders, the ability to move or talk can deteriorate thereby decreasing an individual’s independence and quality of life. In some diseases, cognitive functioning also declines which impacts the ability to reason, understand situations, and remhuman-dnaember friends, family, and past events.

Up to the 1980’s, neurogenetic diseases could be diagnosed, but little could be done to prevent the onset or progression of the diseases. Breakthroughs in understanding the human genome, the DNA sequence, has brought new hopes to those dealing with neurogenetic diseases. Gene therapy introduces new genetic material to cells to replace missing or malfunctioning genes. Previously existing only in the realm of science fiction, gene therapy has produced promising results in treating neurological diseases.

Optogenetics and Algae

Light seeking organisms, such as algae, are currently being utilized and studied by researchers in the hopes of providing a breakthrough in genetic therapies in neurological disorders. Algae needs sunlight to complete its cycle of photosynthesis: converting carbon dioxide and water into sugar which feeds the organism. Algae senses and moves towards the light via phototaxis. It is this desire for light which has made chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a single-celled alga, the focus of cutting edge reCross_section_of_a_Chlamydomonas_reinhardtii_algae_cellsearch in treating disorders of the brain and nervous system. Chlamydomonas proteins, called channelrhodopsins, were discovered on an alga’s eyespot by a research team at the Texas Health Science Center.

Optogenetics uses light to control neurons which have been genetically sensitized to light. While brain cells are not sensitive to light, by introducing light-sensitive proteins into specific types of neurons, scientists can selectively control the modified neurons by shining light into the brain. Dr. Edward Boyden, an Associate Professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, along with his team, envisioned a mechanism for modifying neurons.

His team spliced light-sensitive DNA from the alga into a virus, known as a gene therapy vector, which is then introduced into the body of an individual. His colleague, Dr. Feng Zhang, described the process stating, “My first challenge was to figure out a way to put channelrhodopsin-2 into neurons reliably and safely. I modified the HIV virus so that rather than delivering viral content into infected cells, the modified virus would deliver a gene for the light-sensitive protein.” Thus, through the use of algae in Optogenetics, scientists are developing innovative advancements in treating disorders including Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, autism, and depression.

Freemasonry and Seeking the Light

Freemasons seek the light to enable discovery, to gain knowledge, and to dispel ignorance. The absence of light impairs one’s ability to see and keeps tBlue Light Masoniche individual in a state of darkness and ignorance.

The Ancient Mysteries, from which Freemasonry has derived many of its teachings, developed the concept of Light as a symbol of Knowledge and Truth. Whether catalyzed by an individual’s desire for wisdom or algae’s desire to complete its cycle of photosynthesis, the search for light is truly beneficial for all.

The Caucus, Primary, and National Party Conventions: How Has History Shaped the Presidential Nomination Process?

The Caucus, Primary, and National Party Conventions: How Has History Shaped the Presidential Nomination Process?

How do U.S. political parties nominate a candidate for President? To win the nomination in one of the parties, the candidate collects pledges from a majority of the delegates to the parties’ National Conventions, currently held during the summer before November’s general election. There are three methods used presently to allocate delegates to presidential contenders: 1) the Caucus System, 2) the Primary System, or 3) a combination of the two. To determine their candidate, each state hold’s a political contest, referred to as a caucus or primary.  The caucus method is organized by the political parties, whereas, primaries are organized and overseen by the State government. The candidate who secures the highest number of delegates at the political convention wins the nomination and competes in the general election. How has history shaped this nomination process, and how did Freemasonry impact the evolution of that process? 

The Caucus

As the older method of choosing delegates, the caucus system was utilized by all States in the Union until the 1832 election. The term “caucus” is derived from Latin origin, meaning,  “a drinking vessel” and was used to describe informal local pocaucusmeetinglitical clubs prior to the forming of the United States. 

A caucus is defined as “a meeting of a political group to select candidates, plan strategy, or make decisions regarding legislative matters.” In the nominating process, a caucus is a local meeting where registered members of a party gather to select a delegate that may represent them at the National Convention. In most states, the attendees at the precinct caucus vote for their preferred party candidate, which informs and directs a percentage of the State’s delegation at the National Party Convention. In 2016, approximately 123,500 Democratic voters in Colorado attended their local caucus on March 1st and voted to select a party candidate. In contrast, the Republican Party in Colorado decided to forgo voting for a candidate in their precinct caucuses and only selected delegates for their future convention. This means that of the 5.5 million citizens of Colorado, only 2.2 percent of the population voted to select a Presidential candidate for the 2016  general election. 

In 2016, thirteen states (Iowa, Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, Maine, Idaho, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, and Wyoming) utilized the caucus system. In most states, only registered voters can participate in a caucus, and they are limited to the caucus of the party with which they are affiliated. Caucuses are typically used in combination with congressional district assemblies and a state convention to elect delegates to the national nominating convention for presidential elections. 

The Primary

A primary is a state-run process of selecting candidates and delegates, where the results are used to determine the configuration of delegates at the national convention of each party. Unlike caucuses, primaries are conducted at regular polling stations, paid for by the state, and overseen by state election officials. Voters cast a secretPrimaryVoting ballot for their preferred candidate, as compared to caucuses where the voting is done in a group forum usually by a show of hands or breaking into groups based on support.  In 2016, thirty-seven U.S. states (New Hampshire, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Arizona, Wisconsin, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, and South Dakota) and the District of Columbia will conduct a primary election. Voter participation tends to be significantly higher in primaries. In 2016, more than 1.5 million citizens of the state of Missouri voted to nominate candidates for president. With approximately 6 million people living in Missouri, this equates to 25 percent of the population voting for a presidential candidate. 

There are several types of primaries in the U.S. system: closed primary, semi-closed primary, open primary, and semi-open primary. 

  • Closed primary: Participation is open only to a particular political party’s registered members. Independents or other party members cannot participate. Florida holds a closed primary. 
  • Semi-closed primary: Participation is open to registered party members and unaffiliated voters. State election rules determine whether unaffiliated voters may make their choice. New Hampshire holds a semi-closed primary. 
  • Open primary: Any registered voter may participate in any party primary. Illinois holds an open primary. 
  • Semi-open primary: Any registered voter may participate in any party primary but when they identify themselves to election officials, they must request a party’s specific ballot. Ohio holds a semi-open primary. 

Prior to the 1970s, most states utilized the caucus system to choose their delegates, but public outcry over corruption by political bosses led to substantial changes in the process for the 1972 election.  The caucus system favored powerful leadersRepublicanNationalConvention with pull in their delegation like famous party boss Mayor Daley of Chicago. In 1968, CBS reporter, Martin Plissner, stated, “If Daley instructs the Illinois delegates to vote for Ho Chi Minh, all but twenty votes will go to Ho Chi Minh without question.” In an effort to make the nomination process more inclusive and transparent, most states have moved to the primary system. 

Political Party National Conventions 

Every four years, a political party national convention is hosted, usually in the summer, by the major political parties who field nominees in the upcoming U.S. presidential election in November. The purpose of the national convention is to select the party’s nominee for President, adopt a policy platformand adopt the rules for the party’s activities for the next election cycle. During the convention, a roll call of the votes is held, where each state delegation announces its vote totals. If no candidate secures a majority of delegates during the first vote, a “Brokered Convention” in invoked. In a brokered convention, most pledged delegates are released from their agreements to support a specific candidate and delegates are then able to switch their allegiance to a different candidate. The party nomination is then decided through a process of debate and rounds re-voting until a candidate is selected. 

Historical Analysis: Freemason Andrew Jackson and Reforms to the Nomination Process

Before 1820, members of Congress would hold a caucus meeting and nominate candidates from their party. There were no primaries or national conventions, instead congressional party members gathered in a caucus meeting to decide the party’s candidate. The system was altered following the U.S. Presidential election of 1824, referred to as “The Corrupt BargainCorruptBargin1824,” when Andrew Jackson won the popular and electoral college vote, but the U.S. House of Representatives chose John Quincy Adams to be President. Mr. Jackson decried the corruption stating, “I weep for the liberty of my country when I see at this early day of its successful experiment that corruption has been imputed to many members of the House of Representatives, and the rights of the people have been bartered for promises of office.”

Andrew Jackson, a Freemason and Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee (1822-1824), was among the most strident critics of the caucus method of selecting candidates. In his 1828 presidential bid, Jackson ran with the vocalized intent of restoring the voice of the people to the election process. As a man of the people, Andrew Jackson argued that the caucus system was elitist and undemocratic, as only a small percentage of the population was engaged in the process. Jackson pledged that he would open up the system to increase the political power of the electorate, and he proposed to eliminate the Electoral College and institute a direct popular election of the president. Jackson argued, ” Our government is founded upon the intelligence of the people. I for one do not despair of the republic. I have great confidence in the virtue of the great majority of the people, and I cannot fear the result.” The election of 1828 was described as a “triumph of democratic politics,” in which more than 1.1 million men participated compared to only 300,000 in 1824. 

Andrew Jackson was elected U.S. President in 1828 and was re-elected in 1832. In 1832, national conventions were held by the political parties, including the Anti-Masonic Party which held its convention in Baltimore, Maryland on September 26, 1831 to select William Wirt as their Presidential candidate.  President Andrew Jackson, candidate of the Democratic Party, won re-election against Henry Clay the candidate of the National Republican Party, and William Wirt the candidate of the Anti-Masonic Party. Jackson won with 219 of the 286 electoral votes cast in the national election. 

Questioning Religion: The Rock Opera Jesus Christ Superstar

Questioning Religion: The Rock Opera Jesus Christ Superstar

In 1971, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice debuted the rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” on Broadway at the Mark Hellinger Theatre. The musical began as a rock opera concept album which was released in 1970, and a film adaptation of the musical was released in 1973. The narrative is based on the New Testament Gospels’ account of the final week of Jesus’ life: spanning from the preparation of Jesus and his disciples prior to their arrival in Jerusalem to Jesus’ crucifixion. A worldwide phenomenon, “Jesus Christ Superstar” has been professionally produced in forty-two countries and has grossed more than $205 million dollars since 1970.

The Final Seven DaysJudas1

The Rock Opera begins focused on the Apostle, Judas Iscariot as he watches Jesus with a group.  Judas expresses his growing concerns that Jesus and the disciples will be perceived as a threat to the Roman Empire and will receive deadly retribution.  In somber tones, he reflects his premonition “My mind is clearer now. At last all too well, I can see where we all soon will be.” As the pragmatist of the drama, Judas sees Jesus’ current behavior as reckless, foolish, and selfish.

Thinking that Jesus has put his own stardom above the safety of the group and the Jewish people, Judas pleads with Jesus with a series of questions. Has Jesus forgotten how put down the Jewish people are by the Romans? Has Jesus forgotten that the Empire has enormous power and could crush them if they are not careful? Does Jesus not see how close he is to ending all the good they have accomplished in the last three years?

More than anything, Judas wants to be heard and wants Jesus to listen to reason. He raises a series of valid points as to why Jesus should abandon his super-stardom and keep a low profile, so that the group can continue to spread tJudasheir message and help the people. It is important to note that at this point in history there were dozens of men claiming to be the Messiah: the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies. Each one of the “supposed” messiah has his own group of followers and message. To Judas, this Messiah role was never a part of his group’s trajectory, and he is concerned that the public mistakenly believes that their movement is based on his Jesus being the Jewish Messiah. Clearly confused by this turn of events, he demands that Jesus answer if he believes that he is the Messiah. If Jesus is the Messiah, Judas feels entitled to that information considering his dedication and service to their cause. The musical does an uncanny job of allowing Judas to serve as a “placeholder” for all Christians who are questioning their faith in Jesus. Jesus remains an enigma both to Judas and the questioning audience. Just what was he thinking in the week leading up to his crucifixion? 

The High Priest, Caiaphas and his associate Annas, echo Judas’ concern that Jesus’ popularity will bring down the wrath of the Romans. The Priests’ Council determines that Jesucaiaphass and his movement must be crushed, and that Jesus must be killed, sharing the fate of John the Baptist. Undeterred by the danger involved, Jesus and his disciples triumphantly enter into Jerusalem, surrounded by cheering, palm waving crowds singing, “Hosanna.” Finding the Temple overrun by money lenders and unsavory merchants, Jesus lashes out and angrily throws them out of the Temple. At this point, Judas decides that Jesus has lost his mind, and he feels obligated to do something to stop the impending Roman attack on the disciples and the Jewish people. He is driven by fear, trying to protect those he cares about and himself.  What he does to stop the Romans is for the good of all, he believes, and it is not because he seeks “blood money.” He is aware enough to realize that he may be “damned for all time,” but he acts because he feels he has no choice otherwise. Judas goes to the Romans and tells them that Jesus will be at the Garden of Gethsemane the following night and receives thirty silver pieces in return for the information. JesusChristSuperstar Last Supper

The next night at the Garden, the audience witnesses the famous last supper. When Jesus announces that one of his followers will betray him, an angry Judas jumps up and retorts “cut the dramatics you know very well who!…To think I’d admired you,” Judas lashes out. “Well now I despise you!” Jesus responds by calling him “a liar” and tells him to go. The two men, teacher and pupil, share a final embrace, and the audience can see the pain, compassion, and regret exhibited on both sides. “Every time I look at you,” a frustrated Judas sings, “I don’t understand, why you let the things you did get so out of hand.” He then flees to retrieve the Roman soldiers and identifies Jesus with a kiss. Jesus is arrested, sent to a series of inquisitions: first with Caiaphas, the High Priest; second, with the Roman Pontius Pilate; and third, with King Herod.

In the performance, Pontius Pilate serves as another questioning archetype, compassionate and full of reason. Pilate argues Jesus’ innocence before the crowds, only to have Jesus’ supporters retort, “we have no king but Caesar.” The angry mob now threatens to end Pilate’s career if he does not fulfill his duty and crucify Jesus. Pilate knows Jesus’ innocence and entreats Jesus to save his own life, but Jesus declares the future to be fixed. Responding with disgust, Pilate declares Jesus a fool, sentences Jesus to death, and exclaims “die if you want to, you misguided martyr.” With the crowds screaming, “Crucify him,” Jesus is whipped, sentenced, and condemned to death on the cross. 

Judas and Jesus: Pragmatism and Idealism for the same Cause

“We made him a type of Everyman. Judas did not think of himself as a traitor. He did what he did, not because he was basically evil, but because he was intelligent. He could see Christ becoming something he considered harmful to the Jews. Judas felt that they had been persecuted enough. As far as what Christ was saying, general principles of how human beings should live together, Judas approved of this. What Judas was worried about was that as Christ got bigger and bigger and more popular, people began switching their attentions from what Christ was saying to Christ himself… Judas reckoned that if the movement got too big and people began worshiping Christ as a god, the Romans who were occupyingJesusChristCross Israel would come down and clobber them.” – “Jesus Christ Superstar” Lyricist Tim Rice

Jesus, Judas, and the rest of the disciples share a belief in the philosophy of love, peace, and brotherhood. They dedicate their lives to serving humanity, but they maintain very different beliefs in what choices the group should make in the final days of Jesus’ life. The dichotomy between Judas and Jesus is a fascinating one. Judas is the practical one, concerned with image, message, public opinion, money, etc. Jesus is concerned only with the Message. That central relationship shows us a mammoth tug-of-war between pragmatism, represented by Judas, and ideas, represented by Jesus. Judas finds himself constantly frustrated and confused by Jesus’ refusal to look at the practical side of their situation, as verbalized in many songs from the Rock Opera, including “Heaven On Their Minds” and “Superstar.” They fight because they both care passionately about the cause and about each other. There are three main arguments that break out between them, during the songs “Strange Thing Mystifying” and “Everything’s Alright,” as well as, at the Last Supper. Judas acts as a kind of business agent and PR man, concerned over the political message they’re sending out, the perceived inconsistencies in Jesus’ teachings, and the money wasted on Mary’s ointments and oils.superstarcarlanderson

Questioning Religion and Freemasonry’s Role

Freemasonry is not a religion, but it requires its members to believe in God, whatever name they choose to give him. Masonry embraces all world religions, rejects dogmatic teachings, and teaches its members to question their beliefs. Those who have studied comparative religion will find that many facets of Christianity, including the Genesis story, the sacrifice and resurrection hero myth, and the miracles performed by Jesus were present in other world religious texts long before Jesus was born. While these similarities do not discount all of Christianity for many believers, they do raise questions that are voiced in Jesus Christ Superstar.  In the song “Superstar,” Judas questions Jesus about Christianity’s relationship with other world religions and whether all religions are essentially one. He sings, “Tell me what you think about your friends at the top. Who’d you think besides yourself’s the pick of the crop? Buddha, was he where’s it at, is he where you are? Could Mahomet move a mountain or was that just PR?” A Mason is at liberty to practice any religion in the worship of God, but Freemasonry does obligate him to question his beliefs in an effort to better know himself and his God. 

The U.S. Electoral College: Are American Citizens Qualified to Elect the President?

The U.S. Electoral College: Are American Citizens Qualified to Elect the President?

Many Americans uphold the U.S. Constitution as a visionary document: drafted in a spirit of equality and encouraging the maximum democratic participation for all voters. The Preamble’s introductory line, “We the people of the United States, in order to establish a more perfect union,” seems to imply that all citizens of our Nation would be involved in the process of creating and directing the government. In reality, however, the framers of the Constitution only provided a small voting role for the general electorate. The drafters intended that only members of the U.S. House of Representatives would be subject to direct election by the general voting population. In contrast,federalistpapersauthors U.S. Senators and the U.S. President would be indirectly elected for longer terms of office. What reasoning did the Framers cite for withholding direct electoral rights to citizens? 

Tempering Passions with Reason

In The Federalist Papers,  James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, wrote against the concept of direct elections of the President and Senators. In his papers #49 and #63, Madison argued that giving ordinary citizens the right to elect their president would mean that “the passions, therefore, not the reason, of the public would sit in judgement.” Moreover, the indirect election plan would protect the American public against “their own temporary errors and delusions,” “their violent passions,” and “popular fluctuations.” Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Paper #68 advocated for indirect elections as a means to avoid “tumult and disorder” and “violent movements.” Ultimately, the authors’ indirect voting philosophy informed the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, which outlines the method of selecting in the President in Clauses 2, 3, and 4 of Article 2, Section 1. 

The U.S. Constitution’s Requirements for Electing the President

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 2: Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to theUSConstitution whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.

Under the U.S. Constitution, by means of a constitutional grant of authority to the State legislatures, the President and Vice President are chosen by electors. This system allows each State to determine the means by which it will create its State College of Electors. In current practice, State legislatures create their panel of electors by indirect popular vote.

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 3: The electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot… they shall make a list of all the persons voted for, and of the number of votes for each; which list they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates, and the votes shall then be counted. The person having the greatest number of votes shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such majority, and have an equal number of votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately choose by ballot one of them for President… (Note: This clause was changed by the Twelfth Amendment in 1804).

Each individual State chooses its electors in the popular election. Once chosen, the electors meet in their respective states to cast ballots for the President and Vice President. In the case where no Presidential candidate receives a majority of electoral votes, the House chooses from the top three candidates.

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 4: The Congress may determine the time of choosing the electors, and the day on which they shall give their votes; which day shall be the same throughout the United States.

Congress determines the national Election Day, which has been determined to be the Tuesday following the first Monday in November in the year before the President’s term is to expire. Then, the Electors cast their votes on the Monday following the second Wednesday ElectoralCollegeElectorsSwornin December of that year. The votes are then opened and counted by the Vice President, as President of the Senate, in a joint session of Congress.

The Electoral College 

The political philosophy that ordinary citizens were not qualified to choose their leaders was common practice in the early years of popular voting. Instead, nations made use of indirect voting, whereby the voters would elect a group of representatives to select public leaders on their behalf. The Electoral College is the last vestige of this arcane system still operating in the United States. Thus, when Americans go to vote for the President on Election Day they are not voting for the President, they are choosing representatives who will vote on their behalf. In each State, the voters are technically choosing between the groups of electors who have been elected or appointed months prior to the election. The electors are then pledged to support their own party’s presidential candidate. 

The Electoral College operates on a system of 538 total electoral votes for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. To win the general election, 270 votes are needed for a candidate. Each state is entitled to a number of electoral votes equal to the combined number of Senators plus the number of U.S. Representatives for that state. For example, Montana has a single member of Congress and two senators. Thus, Montana receives three electoral votes in the Presidential contest. In contrast, California has 53 members of Congress and 2 Senators, receiving 55 electoral votes.

Following the general election on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November, the winning balloted electors travel to their State Capitol to formally cast their votes on the Monday following the second Wednesday in December. While rare, electors have, in the past, broken their pledges and voted for a different candidate. Although most states have passed statutes binding their electors to their pledges, constitutional authorities have raised doubts as to whether these state laws would be enforceable in the National electionElectoralCollegeMap2016. In a case where no candidate receives a majority of Electoral College votes, the names of the top three candidates are submitted to the House of Representatives for a vote. Then, each state is given one vote to elect the President.

While the popular vote usually correlates with the election of the President, there have been exceptions in American History. In the 1824 election, there was no majority winner in the electoral college. Four candidates split the vote: John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and William H. Crawford. The election was sent to the House of Representatives who chose John Quincy Adams despite Andrew Jackson winning the popular and electoral votes. The choice was the ultimate result of what is historically referred to as “The Corrupt Bargain,” devised and executed by Adams and Clay. In 1876, Samuel Tilden was chosen by the popular vote, but a special commission overruled this vote, electing President Rutherford B. Hayes instead.  In 1888, Grover Cleveland received more popular votes, but the Electoral College elected President Benjamin Harrison. Most recently, Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 with 48.4% of the vote, but President George W. Bush won the Electoral College with 271 votes. 

Meeting on the Level: Equality, Tolerance, and Justice 

Does the American public still lack the responsibility and reasoning necessary to elect the President? Must we still be protected against our  “own temporary errors and delusions” and “violent passions” as James Madison argued? Freemasonry rests under the banner of the universality of all mankind and operates under the principles of tolerance, justice, and equality. When American Citizens are withheld the electoral power to choose our President, are we truly operating as, “we the people?” Can we form a “more perfect union” when we voluntary abdicate our voting choices to others deemed to be more rational and less ruled by passions?  Perhaps, we need to realize the responsibility inherent in acting as mature adults, subdue our unruly passions, and advocate for our equal voting rights in the election of the President. 

Freakonomics and Freemasonry

Freakonomics and Freemasonry

In 2005, a University of Chicago economist and a New York Times journalist revolutionized economic thinking in popular culture with their non-fiction book, “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.”  The authors put forward a fresh perspective as to how the world works through an exploratory lens they refer to as “the hidden side.”  The authors argue that this exploration can be accomplished by “stripping away a layer or two from modern life and seeing what is happening underneath.” The book is formatted by postulating a series of thought-provoking questions. What do school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What kind of impact did Roe v. Wade have on violent crime? Since the original work was pubFreakonomics Authorslished in 2005, the Freakonomics authors have capitalized on their success by creating a Freakonomics brand through additional books, lectures, blogs, and a weekly podcast.

According to Steven Levitt, economics was a science with excellent tools for gaining answers but a serious shortage of interesting questions to direct the application of those tools.  He provided an original set of  thought-provoking questions and then applied the tools of his economic training. The result was statistically significant, rational explanations to explain perplexing phenomenon in the modern world. Often eschewing conventional wisdom, Levitt and Dubner created controversy by demonstrating empirical evidence for events, including their theory that the legalization of abortion in the 1970s reduced violent crime in the United States two decades later. Unconcerned with shocking the mainstream population, the authors argue that morality is how individuals would like the world to work, and economics is the way the world actually operates. The book outlines a number of basic principles related to economics: 1) Incentives are the cornerstone of life; 2) conventional wisdom is often wrong; 3) Dramatic events or effects often have distant, subtle causes; 4) Experts use their informational advantage to serve their own agenda; and 5) knowing what to measure and how to measure makes the world less complicated. 

Incentives

Freakonomics postulates that economics is the study of human behavior, explained through the investigation of incentives. Thus, to understand human behavior, one must understand the incentives which motivate him into action.  Levitt and Dubner write, “Economists love incentives. The typical economist believes the world has not yet invented a problem that he cannot fix if given a free hand to design the proper incentive scheme.” According to the authors, incentives come in three varieties: moral, social, and economic. Moral incentives motivate an individual to act out of conscienceincentiveseconomic or conviction. Social incentives inspire individuals to act in order to avoid shame or achieve glory. Finally, economic incentives direct people to act in their financial interest.  

To explain how these incentives work in the real world, Levitt and Dubner utilized an example of a day care center in Haifa, Israel.  In this example, the center’s management faced a recurring problem: parents were late to pick up their children and staff had to be paid extra wages to watch the children past the agreed upon schedule. Management decided to enact a fee for the late pickup of a child, which they believed would discourage parental tardiness. Instead, they was shocked to discover that parents showed up late more often after the fee was instituted. According to the authors, the fee had the reverse impact on parental arrival times because the parents traded a moral incentive, a sense of guilt for being late, for an economic incentive, a small fee for a late pickup. These parents changed their behavior by assessing the benefits of the extra time in their schedule and decided that the price was worth the added cost. 

Conventional Wisdom

Freakonomics is a persuasive read, in part, because of the authors’ innovative way of employing powerful quantitative tools of economic inquiry to refute conventional wisdom. The problem with conventional wisdom is not that is it always incorrect, rather that such explanations are simply accepted by the general population without questioning or examination.  To many, human social behavior is complex and requires too much effort to understand. In an effort to avoid mental analysis, we accept conventional wisdom delivered  in short phrases which comfort us with their simplicity and familiarity. Taught as children, we hear the same phrase repeatedly until we start parroting it back as an explanation. Such aphorisms include “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” “the early bird gets the worm,” and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Conventional wisdom is often first created by experts in a field, i.e. physicians advised patients to avoid eating eggs to maintain a healthy level of cholesterol. These conclusions get repeated in the media and by other experts who further establish credibility. Repeated often enough, a false attribution of causality becomes accepted by society as conventional wisdom to explain a problem. 

Levitt and Dubner cite several examples of conventional wisdom, which is demonstrably in error including the positive societal connotations of allowing your child to attend a play date where the family owns a swimming pool versus the negative associations of allowing your child to visit a home where guns are kept. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), there is one drowning of a child for every 11,000 residential pools in the United States.  There are approximately 6 million pools in the United States, which equates to  550 children under the age of ten who drown each year. Comparatively, there is 1 child killed by a gun for every 1 million guns. There are an estimated 200 million guns in the United States, which means that roughly 175 children under ten die each year from guns. Thus, the likelihood of death by pool equates to 1 in 11,000 versus death by gun to 1 in 1 million. The authors write, “If you both own a gun and a swimming pool in your backyard, the swimming pool is about 100 times more likely to kill a child than the gun is.”

Dramatic Events 

Freakonomics postulates that economic inquiry, the gathering and interpreting of data, is time intensive and complex. When considering the causes that precipitated a dramatic event, the answer is often outside the realm of attributed factors. The book carefully analyses the dramatic rise in crime reported in the early 1990s and the predictions that the violence would increase dramatically in the decade. President Clinton spoke to the fears abounding from the increase in deaths by gunfire, carjackings, robbery, and rape. He stated, “We know we’ve got about six years to turn this juvenile crime thing around or our country is going to be living with chaos.” In a drastic turn of events, crime began to fall in 1995 and continued in thjacket_freakonomics_lge subsequent years. The teenage murder rate did not rise to the levels predicted, rather it fell more than fifty percent within five years. By 2000, the U.S. murder rate had dropped to the lowest levels in thirty-five years. Experts then theorized a number of logical reasons for the drop in crime: the booming economy. the proliferation of gun control laws, and innovative policing techniques. Levitt and Dubner’s analysis concluded that the real underlying cause was attributable to the legalization of abortion in 1973 and the related decrease of children born into poverty. 

Experts and Informational Advantage 

Freakonomics explores how specific individuals can capitalize on their informational advantage to serve their own goals. The authors examine the informational advantage held by a real estate agent, including the current condition of local housing markets. They can combine this superior knowledge to expedite a home sale which may be at a price less than what the seller could have obtained by a longer listing period. The real estate agent’s commission is structured in such a way that what may be a significant increase in profit for the sellers equates to negligible increase in the fees they receive for the sale of the home. Moreover, the real estate agent’s credibility is often linked to how fast a home is sold, i.e. days on the market. The authors cite evidence of real estate agents using their informational advantage to scare sellers into accepting a lower offer to achieve a deal which is in the agent’s best interest. 

Measuring the World

Freakonomics provides new insights by applying the scientific process to address economic and social issues. The authors formulated testable hypotheses and then gathered the relevant data, often from what was previously considered unconventional sources to test those hypotheses. Freakonomics provides concrete illustrations of how unconventional methods of data gathering and innovate means of interpreWorkingtoolsting said data provides new insights into how our world works. The book argues that knowing what to measure and how to measure it makes a complicated world easier to understand.

The Freakonomics of Freemasonry

Popular culture often relays a mistaken point of view of Freemasonry as being an elite organization, where individual members possess and yield undue power in our society. This is an example of the principle that conventional wisdom is often wrong and should be examined by the individual. Stereotypes about Freemasonry have been exacerbated and enforced by the media, i.e. attention to sensationalized books such as “The Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown.  In reality, Freemasonry is an educational and self-improvement system that requires hard work and dedication. Not unlike a school, members are taught how to behave as upright members of society and instructed on how to improve their lives through greater control of their bodies and minds. Many freemasons are very successful individuals who reap the benefits of education in the seven liberal arts and sciences, including grammar, logic, rhetoric, music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy.  Repetition is a recipe for success as the more time an individual takes to perfect his skills, related to writing, public speaking, debate, and logical reasoning, the greater the probability he will have in being successful in the business world and in society in general. 

 

 

 

The Brotherhood of the Crypt

The Brotherhood of the Crypt

Imagine yourself as a citizen of the Roman empire. It is 52 BC and a warm summer night’s breeze brushes across your cheek, ruffling the tails of the blindfold tied tightly around your head. Perhaps you are a merchant or a sailor, possibly a soldier between campaigns. You are being led swiftly along a jagged rocky path, your hands bound, deep into the woodlands close to your home town. You come to a stop and you hear a series of passwords exchanged between your escort and a second voice. The words you recognize but their emphasis and arrangement is strange to you. Your escort tugs at your arm and you resume your brisk pace but as you step forward a few paces the unmistakably dank, cool air of a subterranean refuge fills your nostrils. After several twists and turns, your escort once more pulls you to a stop and says to you:

“I can bring you no further, neophyte. You must meet him alone.”

With a gentle push between your shoulder blades, he propels you forward into the unknown labyrinth. Your heart hammers against your rib cage as you take you first step into formless dark. Your foot meets nothing but air and you are plunged headlong into a pool of impossibly cold water. After negotiating several more trials of a similar nature, you feel an unnatural warmth on your skin and you begin to hear the crackling of a fire and the echoes of chanting ahead of you. As you step forward into this room, you are seized at either arm and rushed forward and pushed down on your knees. You are beginning to regret your foolish decision when suddenly your hoodwink is removed. You are blinded by the light of burning braziers and as your vision readjusts to the new light you see a man standing before you garbed in a black robe and wearing a fearsome mask. Behind him is a towering stone stele depicting a man astride a writhing bull, plunging his dagger into its breast. Plants appear to be growing from the wound and various animals are depicted as sharing in the feast. The entire scene is bordered by the zodiacal sigils and cornered by effigies of the Four Winds. The man in black begins to speak:

“When the peace of our world was threatened by the great demon Ahriman, humanity had no hope of prevailing against such a potent force of violence and despair. Ahriman sought to destroy this world by inducing drought, thirst and starvation. Not a drop of moisture remained in the kingdoms of the plants and animals and the whole world cried out in desperation. In our darkest hour, the great hero Mithras, sprang forth from the stone of the world and took up the orb of the Cosmos in his protective embrace. From his bow he let fly an arrow that struck the earth and from this wound came a renewing spring, which rejuvenated the Earth, if only temporarily. Still the threat of destruction persisted and with the assistance of the moon-mother, Selene, the vital fluid essence of life itself was secreted away in a giant bull on Earth. A raven, acting as the messenger of the Sun, came to Mithras and told him of the forest in which the bull was hiding. Mithras burned away the withered and desiccated trees and forced the great bull out in the open. He captured the bull and dragged it underground into the bowels of the Earth where he wrestled it into submission and plunged his dagger into its breast. Trees sprang from the wound, bees were born from the droplets of blood and all of the earth was rejuvenated by this great sacrifice.”

The man in black steps forward and cuts you free of your bonds and takes your right hand in his and, clasping it firmly, declares, “Behold the grip of Mithras. It shall ever identify you as being in allegiance with your brethren as Mithras and Helios were united in like manner. Rise, Raven, and take your rightful place amongst your Brethren!”

The Dawn of Mithras

Although embellished with artistic license, the above account is close to the experience that the novice initiate into the Roman cult of Mithras would have had. Mithraism has its roots in the dawn of civilization, a deity named Mitras making an appearance in the Vedas as the bringer of the light of dawn nearly 2,000 thousand years before his bull-slaying counterpart would appear in Iran. From Persia, Mithras made his way to Greece through Mithradates Eupator VI, a grizzled naval commando of the ancient Mediterranean Sea and king of the Cilician Empire who helped the Greeks repel the attempted conquest of

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Mithradates Eupator VI

Rome. Mithradates was the first to establish Mithras at the head of a mystery religion. This fraternity, created and led by Mithradates himself, functioned as a sort of ancient special forces to be used in piratical incursions across the Mediterranean. The Cilician navy rose to infamy and came to dominate the Mediterranean slave trade after the dissolution of the Carthaginian, Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires. These “pirates of Mithras” also carried out an enterprise of kidnapping Roman magistrates and their families, most likely under the direction of Mithradates himself for political motives as well as profit.

These early Mithraists, who were in nearly constant opposition to the forces of Roman imperialism, conceived of themselves as a sort of hidden militia of Mithras, the cryphii or ‘hidden ones’. They recognized Mithras as a god of righteous warfare, of resistance to oppressive force. Eventually the iron hand of the Roman general Pompey shattered the rule Mithradtes VI and his fraternal mercenaries were scattered to the winds. A few of these Mithraic pirates were captured and paraded through the streets of Rome as part of Pompey’s tribute, the general then installing them as beekeepers in province of Apulia. From here, Mithraism was rekindled and slowly spread northwards to the teeming and lively marketplaces of Rome and found welcome among the Roman collegia, associations of tradesmen and merchants. Mithraism further ingratiated itself into the fabric of Roman society as the cult spread like wildfire among the legions, similar to the expansion of Freemasonry in the 19th century throughout the military of the British Empire. At the height of the Roman imperial period, followers of Mithras ranged as far afield as the scorching fringes of the Sahara to the windswept moors of Hadrian’s Wall.

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Mithras slaying the bull

The Cult of the Invincible Sun

Mithras was a solar deity and bore the title of Sol Invictus, “Invincible Sun”, in reference to his pact with the Sun to restore the Earth. Very few Mithraic liturgical texts have made their way into contemporary hands, as befits a secret society, but a few scraps do remain. Some scholars, such as Robert Turcan in ‘Cults of the Roman Empire’ (1996) speculate that in performing the duties that the Sun was normally responsible for (duties that Helios was somehow prevented from fulfilling), Mithras assumed his throne by his act of heroism. Within the mithraeum, Mithras’ position was always in the south, representing the Sun at full strength at the meridian. On the entrance of the Mithraic crypt and within the mythology of the fraternity, Mithras is flanked by two attendants, Cautes and Cautophates, who represented the Sun at dawn and sunset respectively. Cautes holds a torch pointing upwards while Cautophates directs his towards the ground. They have also been taken as representing the vernal (ascending) and autumnal (descending) equinoxes, which along with the winter and summer solstices, were of the utmost importance to the Mithraic cult.

Mithraism was a religion of the crypt and unlike other Roman mystery religions, had no exoteric function. They held no public ceremonies and the mithraeum were strictly off-limits to outsiders. Because they took no public tithing, Mithraism had to adapt to the circumstances of the individual chapters. The mysteries of Mithras were held in tent’s on the battlefield, discreet taverns and, when possible, in custom built subterranean temples financed by wealthy patrons of the brotherhood. These lavish temples, such as the mithraeum of Ostia, would have been ringed in statuary depicting the seven classical planets and had ceilings painted a deep sky blue, daubed with white stars. The regular meetings of the Mithraic brotherhood were known as “magic banquets” and were held weekly if not daily. They consisted of the brothers entering the temple in procession determined by rank of initiation and taking up places around the edges of the mithraeum. The master of the temple fulfilled the symbolic role of Saturn and sat in a throne wreathed in solar symbols. On occasions that required no extraordinary ceremonies, the proceedings began with a lecture upon spiritual and moral philosophy, no doubt illustrated by the symbolism and astrological allegories of the myth of Mithras. Following this period of study the brethren would participate in a symbolic meal of bread and wine, similar to the Catholic Eucharist, as a symbol of the feast shared by Mithras and Helios, followed by a communal meal.

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A drawing of Aion found at the mithraeum of Ostia

Under the Canopy of Heaven

The study of time and astronomy were of central importance to the mysteries of Mithras. One of the dominant artistic figures of many mithraeum, the lion-headed deity Aion watched over the proceedings of the mystery cult. At Ostia, he was depicted as holding the twin keys of wisdom, the scepter of royal power and the thunderbolt with the tools of a smith, a rooster and a pine cone at his feet. He also has a serpent wrapped around him, the snake’s ability to shed its skin representing infinity. Aion represented unbounded time, in contrast to the limited and linear form of time personified by the Saturnian deity Kronos and was often encircled by the zodiac. Mithraism came into being in the same era as the discovery by Grecian astronomer Hipparchus of the phenomenon now known as the precession of the equinoxes. The precession of the equinoxes is caused by the subtle wobble of the orientation of the Earth’s axis and takes 25,920 years to complete. It has astrological significance in that every 2,160 years the Sun rises on the summer solstice in alignment with a different zodiacal constellation. The Mithraic mysteries were conceived in the midst of a change in ages. Mithras, as the newborn ‘Sol Invictus’, represents the victory of the fire-sign Aries over the previous age of Taurus the Bull. The twin aspects of Cautes and Cautophates symbolizing the addition of Gemini to the retinue of the Sun, the astrological age of Gemini having preceeded that of Taurus. In the tauroctony scene that could be found in every mithraeum, several animals are shown feasting on the bull, including a dog, a lion and a scorpion. These animals surely represented constellations though their exact symbolism and interplay within the Mithraic myth has been lost to history.

The Degrees of the Crypt

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An artist’s interpretation of the initiation ritual of the degree of Soldier

 

The mysteries of Mithras were divided into seven degrees, each connected to one of the seven classical planets. The initiation of the first degree gained the initiate the title of Raven. This oracular bird who could speak like a man occupied a position between the worlds and was thus the first point of contact between the neophyte and the ineffable. Candidates of the grade of Nymphus wore the flammeum, the bridal veil worn by Roman women on their wedding day. At the crescendo of the ritual, the veil was removed to reveal some particular arrangement of ritually significant objects. The words, “Look Nymphus! Hail, Nymphus! Hail young light!” were spoken, these phrases suggesting that the candidate held a lantern. The title of “Nymphus” implies that this degree represented a intermediate stage between the novice state of the Raven and the mastery implicit in the rank of Soldier. The Soldier bore a mark, either tattooed or branded, as a sign of his commitment to the militia of Mithras. During his initiation, the Soldier would have been presented with a crown on the point of a sword. He was then required to divert the crown to his shoulder, declaring that Mithras was his only true crown. The consecration of the degree of Lion was a ritual bathed in fire. The emblems of this degree are the fire-shovel, the sistrum of Isis and the heavenly fire of the thunderbolt. Fire being the enemy of water, the candidate’s hands were washed with honey to ensure his purity. The ritual itself consisted of physical trials by fire, presumably similar to the fire-walking stunts of the Hindu fakirs.  The candidate for the rank of Persian also had his hands washed in honey but for a different symbolism. The Persian was granted the privilege of harvesting the fruits grown by the grace of Mithras’ sacrifice. His emblems were thus the sickle and the Phyrgian cap of liberty. We know nothing of the ritual of the Heliodromos, the Sun-runner, other than that the symbols of his grade were the torch, a radiant crown and the flail. The Father, adorned in a headdress likening him to Mithras, led the proceedings of the temple and it has been speculated that he and a Heliodromos fulfilled the roles of Mithras and the Sun in the ritual re-enactment of the celestial feast.

There is one gift that the mysterious brothers of Mithras gave to the world that has survived to modern times. Every time we clasp hands with a friend, a colleague or a stranger in a handshake, we recognize them as brothers initiated into the mysteries of the cave-dwelling god of sacrifice. The modern handshake was birthed from the cult of Mithras and has endured millennia in its original form. It is obvious, from what scraps of their rituals remain, that some core concepts of Mithraism have survived in modern Freemasonry. It would be irresponsible to attribute the origin of Freemasonry to this cult or that society but it is beyond doubt that certain aspects of many ancient fraternities have been folded within the embrace of Speculative Freemasonry. The Mithraic obsession with utter secrecy concerning the whereabouts and operations of their temples is certainly echoed in Freemasonry, as is the practice of greeting brothers by certain handshakes. As Freemasons, an examination of Mithraism and similar ancient mysteries will surely bring us closer to timeless and unwavering truths glimpsed by so many throughout the vast expanse of time.

“When you kill a beast, say to him in your heart: ‘By the same powers that you are slain, I too am slain; and I too shall be consumed. For the law that delivered you into my hands shall deliver me into a mightier hand. Your blood and my blood is naught but the sap that feeds the Tree of Heaven.'”

-Khalil Gibran, Lebanese poet and Freemason