Atheism

The Parable of The Angry Fundamentalist New-Agey Cafeteria Christian

Posted on February 25, 2014. Filed under: Apologetics, Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Humour, Original Sin, Personal, Politics, Religion, Science, Social Justice |

Or Why I Don’t Think Your “Angry Fudamentalist Atheist” Exists, Any More Than I Think A Cogent Argument Exists In Your Article

“I believe that science offers solid evidence for God,” she said- eyes peering over her hot cup of coffee.
Was she engaging me because she knows I’m an atheist blogger, I wondered?

"Coffee Talk"-Image by John LeMasney via lemasney.com

“Coffee Talk”-Image by John LeMasney via lemasney.com

Wendy was the wife of a close friend, who had done me a solid the week before. To express my gratitude, I was treating her to coffee at one of those swanky $10 latte joints. Was she trying to be argumentative? I didn’t want an argument. I flashed a coy smile. “Well, I’m not here to judge your personally held beliefs,” I said, “but for the record, the God you believe in is probably so vague that it is immaterial for us to argue the point,” I was trying to diffuse any hostility and maybe open a dialogue about her confused cafeteria Christianity, since she brought it up. She was having none of it.

“No,” she said leaning forward, “I still believe in the biblical God” her words loud enough to push me back in my chair. I tried to pacify her. “I’m not interested in shadowboxing a vaguely effective but specifically affected triune God. You can self-identify how you please ” I said, trying to avoid the inevitable.

“I believe in all of it!” She was becoming increasingly hostile. I was unsure how to respond. Her husband also identified as Christian, but we’d had a great discussion about skepticism as well as relationships, friends and past experiences on a road trip all the way from Toronto to New York City. As I was parsing a reply she cut me off before I could drop a syllable, “I think science and philosophy prove the Christian God.”

Should I tell her I that science can not and will not vindicate personal faith? That the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which infers a more dynamic universe than we previously imagined, doesn’t mean what Deepak Chopra thinks it means? That even the loosest allegorical reading of the Bible is entirely inconsistent with what we understand from evolutionary biology and geology, that there is no place for anything more than the most uninterested of Gods as the artistic author of creation- like the man who first created the first rectangular wooden frame taking credit for the Mona Lisa? It seemed she was more interested in contorting her faith into an abstract forgery of science that might look science-y if you tilted your head and squinted really hard from 100 yards. I wondered if she had ever read a peer-reviewed article in her life. I tried my best to explain.

“You know,” I sighed, “There have been so many discoveries in biology and physics in the past hundred and fifty years, it’s a shame that they haven’t been understood by the informed general public. They talk as though we’re still talking about large gaps in knowledge that could as easily be filled by God as by curiosity. Anything more specific than a ‘Prime Mover’ requires increasingly intricate apologetics that render the biblical Word impotent at best and demonstrably false at worst, leaving someone arguing for the bible as The Word Of God–a God who is like a puppeteer pulling strings, controlling the progression of life, saying, ‘I shall redeem you of Original Sin through faith in Me’- without anything more than naked faith in Bronze Age mythology. That’s nutty. That’s not an open mind, that’s creating religious fan fiction”

She broke in. “But God is an awesome God who used scientific laws to bring forth His Creation!”

“Let’s roll with that idea for now,” I interjected, hoping that my concession might stop her from bottling up, “but you must have some immutable traits of the God you believe in. Everyone does, and many Christians have the same concept of what makes their God uniquely Christian. That He felt His creation was perfect. That He created man in His likeness. That we are cursed by His anger. That He is perfectly moral and just- that salvation can come only through belief in Him.  That He performed and continues to perform miracles big and small. Those facts are definitional to your God. If you claim to be a Christian you must choose to ‘believe’ your God possesses these attributes. Yet all of these premises are logically incompatible with each other- and are equally incompatible with what science has shown us.  Imagine what it would be like if you simultaneously agreed that you were a virgin and the mother of your children, and yet that’s exactly the inconsistency of your epistemology!” I chuckled, knowing that she would immediately get the inside joke. I thought the analogy was apt, that it might make her ask more questions. It didn’t.

“The Bible is as much allegorical as literal” she quipped. “I believe that no inconsistencies exist between facts and the Word of God . I told you: I believe that science proves Christianity!” She rhymed off an incoherent word salad of Deepak Chopra buzzwords. She was becoming increasingly agitated. She started to talk about the very personal experiences she had that made her certain of God. I listened. She raised the holocaust as an example of atheism inspired nihilism, along with some horrors that she thought proved Free Will.

I obliged. “I agree there are horrible people in the world.”

“It’s not just people, it’s the wages of sin. But with such a world, how could you deny we need salvation?” she asked. It was an honestly asked but dishonestly pondered question.

I still proceeded as though I was talking to a liberal thinker, open to discussion. I knew her to be quite liberal on other issues, such as politics and sex. So I took a swig of my Venti fair trade Peruvian dark roast and plunged in, “You know, I think I have something insightful to say about this,” I offered. “If a religion is going to take root and spread- it has to have some explanatory value to the people who adopt it.  If a religion said ‘people are always benevolent’ then you could imagine how worthless that religion might be to people seeking an explanation for observed phenomena.  Religions start the same way science does- with an interesting and perplexing question.  The difference is the process used to provide an answer.  Science tests a hypothesis, religion dictates an answer.  We ‘appear’ to be sinful not because we fell from perfection but because we are risen from instinct.”

“I already told you, I think God is necessary for science to work- Who created the laws of nature and physics?” she interrupted. In her head Laws were created for man, man was not a creation of the laws . I stopped. I wanted to ask what she thought science really said about spirituality, the appropriation and perversion of physics, the hijacking of great thinkers like Einstein and Bohm, who would never have imagined their complicated work being obfuscated to lend credibility to the dubious claims of touchy-feely New Age Mystics. I wanted to, but I didn’t because I realized she didn’t want to engage with the questions; she already knew all the answers. She wasn’t interested in an informed and honest discussion. That’s when I realized….

I was talking to a fundamentalist. What I was saying threatened her very identity and construct of life. My coffee shop companion knew that God existed, and by God the knowns are going to fit the narrative whether they require reshaping or not. Most people adjust their beliefs to new evidence, she just makes the evidence sound something like her belief. Where I would adjust my narrative, she would adjust the knowns. I remembered being told that her mother died a few years ago. Clearly she had wrapped that faith around her like a security blanket.

This was not my first time trying to discuss science with a fundamentalist, but every other time they were Young Earth Creationists or Climate Deniers. The whole conversation seemed eerily similar. I was talking to someone who claimed to know exactly how ‘it’ is, who believed in a flexible, infinite, and compassionate universe that was designed to nurture them (despite every available fact in biology, astronomy and physics) and believed it with a kind of pseudoscientific cognitive dissonance as dogmatic as Biblical literalism.

A fundamentalist is not willing to consider the unsettling possibility that the universe is governed by immutable, explainable, and observable rules that require no intervention in order to function.  A fundamentalist will systematically disabuse themselves any part of a fact that might contradict his/her epistemology or faith, be it carbon dating or theoretical physics. A fundamentalist does not want to examine specifics and presuppositions, or really study and understand concepts, scientific or philosophical, that otherwise could be twisted into ignorant half-truths–similar to the bumper sticker slogan of Biblical literalists, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.”  The new fundamentalists say “God said it, I wan’t so badly to believe it- that I’ll make the facts agree with it.”

When did Liberal Christians become the new fundamentalists? I have known many Liberal Christians beginning with the Pastor of my past church, who passionately defended the difference between knowledge and faith. But this new breed is different: pompous, unmoved, and belligerent, insistent that science owes them absolution from the sin of blind faith.   These people feel that fundamentalism is the opposite of what they profess, because they have staked out the middle ground. There is no virtue in the middle ground when you are discussing facts- any more than I might call you open minded because I want gays to have equal rights, someone else thinks they should have no rights- and you want to compromise that science recently suggested that “gay” might not even exist. My mind is not blown.  I’m nonplussed. And do you need to be so angry?

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The Venus Project: Everything Wrong With Utopian Fantasy In 108 Simple Questions.

Posted on February 24, 2014. Filed under: Astrology and Related Bunk, Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Humour, Politics, Science, Social Justice |

Climate change denial.

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Creationism.
Birthers.

We spend an inordinate amount of time as liberals making fun of the teabagging wingnut nutjobs and their seriously delusional conspiracies.  It makes us feel superior.  It makes us feel smart.  It makes us feel gratified, justified, and warm inside.
But it also helps us ignore the fact that there are some liberals with some very ignorant and intellectually lazy ideas.

Anti- GMO.
Anti-Vax.
Alternative medicine.

We don’t have a monopoly on rational thought.  In fact, if “Rational Thought” was a game of Monopoly, some of us would still be trying to unfold the board with the thimble up our nose.  People believe lots of silly stuff because it is epistemologically expedient.  Liberals trend toward anti-corporatism, so Big Agra and Big Pharma must be nefarious.  Natural is always better.

So it doesn’t surprise me that so many of my liberal friends fall head over heels in love with The Venus Project.  It is as though someone sat down to write liberal porn inspired by a crack bender they once had with Karl Marx while watching a Star Trek marathon. It’s an intoxicating, confusing, and entertaining  pile of escapism.

If you don’t want to read through my enlightening FAQ and just want the tl;dr- there are three main facts that I think cannot be disputed when discussing the Venus Project:

  1. The Venus Project is a cult.  Every person who knows anything about the Venus Project knows that the ideas,
    Image from wikipedia

    Image from wikipedia

    mission, and credit belong to one person.  You can’t navigate a page on their website or magazine without seeing the name Jacque Fresco.  Even when he is spectacularly wrong, his acolytes can’t muster more than tepid deference. The only argument you can make against this is that a cult traditionally has a charismatic leader, and Jacques Fresco has all the personality of Joe Leiberman on Unisom.

  2. The Venus Project is naive scientism.  Science is not going to solve all the worlds problems, it’s just not.  It’s not going to make human dynamics less complicated and it’s not a panacea to every imaginable problem.  Sometimes problems require more than just an invention or technology.  Even if Jacque Fresco could invent a machine to bring Nikola Tesla back to life- it still wouldn’t solve all our problems.  Well, most of them.  But not all.
  3. Jacque Fresco knows how to design a building.  Jacque Fresco does not know how to design a society or an economy.  He certainly doesn’t know anything about sociology, psychology or economics.  He is a futurist- but unless technology can make humans behave like algorithms- he is just blowing smoke.

The rest of this post will be my attempt to answer the FAQ on The Venus Project website.  Are my answers flippant?  Sure.  I would argue they are no more flippant (and far more honest) than what you will find on their site.  Each question is linked to the FAQ page of The Venus Project website, and I invite readers to click through and see the answers provided there- which in many cases are more evasive and more comical than my own.

Frequently Asked Questions (With Answers)

1.What is The Venus Project?

The Venus Project is the reason Jacque Fresco is awesome.  In fact, Jacque Fresco is so awesome, he is the Jacque Fresco of Jacque Frescos.  The Venus Project is an organization created by Jacque Fresco to reshape our human existence by plagiarizing 1950′s Sci-Fi drawings and selling them back to you as an ideal future.   The Venus project is the Jacque Fresco of Utopian Sci-Fi organizations.
From the 19th century until the 1950′s, science fiction authors and artists imagined the planet Venus as a warm, habitable world filled with lush vegetation, new discoveries and boundless wonder- until science came along and spoiled all their fun by proving Venus to be a brutally unlivable hell-hole where it rains sulfuric acid.  From a distance, the planet appears to be great but on closer inspection it is unfit for human habitation.  In this way, the Venus Project is apparently quite aptly named.

2.What is a Resource-Based Economy?

A resource-based economy is one where we continue to use resources but stop using money to represent the ownership of those resources.  It’s so awesome, some people say it’s the Jacque Fresco of economic systems.
I know what you’re thinking- it’s going to be hard to fit three T-bone steaks and a pound of lentils in the pocket of your jeans when you want to buy the new Zeitgeist documentary on Blu-Ray.  That’s okay, because you won’t have to! You just go and pick it up at the store- because resources are all shared.  And by shared I mean rationed, because you can’t just get whatever you want. We call it “sharing” because we won’t have to ration because you are only ever going to ask for what you need because we are all totally unselfish. Get it? It’s kind of like communism but this is not communism because it’s called a resource-based economy. It’s totally different because it has a different name.
If you want to learn more about a resource-based economy, just send a cheque or money order (sorry, we do not accept resources) to The Venus Project for their fantastic book on the subject- The Best That Money Can’t Buy.

3.Why do you feel that an approach as revolutionary as The Venus Project is necessary?

Our current system is not capable of providing a high standard of living for everyone, nor can it ensure the protection of the environment because the major motive is profit.  Therefor, we have to tear the whole thing down and start all over from scratch- because Jacque Fresco is the world’s most awesomist inventor but he can’t figure out how to work within a monetary paradigm.  He’s the Jacque Fresco of visionaries.

4.Isn’t it just decent people that we need in government?

We don’t need government.  We need benevolent plutocrats making all the important decisions.  Nothing could possibly go wrong with expecting a privileged few people to always choose the best possible policy for the use and distribution of resources.  It will be like a fiefdom, except that all the things you hate about fiefdoms will be different.

5.Elaborate a bit, if you will, on your views regarding money.

Are you going to buy one of my books or DVDs?  Are you going to tour our headquarters?
I guess what I’m asking is “Is this a trick question?”

6.What are some of the detrimental effects of The Monetary System?

It forces me to ask you for money, so there’s that.

7.You mentioned economic collapse in your book. Do you believe this is the only way our society can escape a monetary economy?

Yes.  Incidentally, waiting for an economic collapse allows me to continue to collect donations without having to, you know, do anything.
It’s a win-win.

8.Wouldn’t there be Resistance of the Rich and Powerful?

No.  People in the future will love giving up all their wealth. Because in the future, science is magic!

9.In the idea of future, do you think that the regional differences will still have the greatest influence as they do today? Or will these differences disappear?

In the idea of the future, I think that regional differences no will longer have the as great influences.  Like spambots will talk similar to others. This question makes super quality, and to help others to understand the qualities better.

10.What types of pressures would be alleviated in The Venus Project’s designs?

Why?  Do you feel pressured?  Come and lie down in this building shapes like some boobs.

11.What is the single most important aspect of the project?

Collecting donations for The Venus Project.

12.What is the Plan?

The plan has four phases:

  1. Build a place in Florida for Jacque Fresco to live.  Ask people to pay lots of money to see it. This step is done.
  2. Make a movie.  Ask people to pay lots of money to buy it on DVD.
  3. Build an experimental city.  Ask people to pay lots of money to have it built.
  4. Build a theme park.  Ask people to pay lots of money for admission.  Interactive displays will explain why if you give us more money, some day you won’t have to use money to get into theme parks.

13.How do you see the collapse of the present system occurring?

With your eyes.
See what I did there?

14.How do we get from here to there?

By adding a “t”.
See what I did there?

15.What are the first steps taken toward a global resource based economy?

Step 1: Wait for the economy to collapse.
In the meantime, you are welcome to make all donations payable to The Venus Project.

16.What can be “the turning point” of the future? Do you have any idea about it?

I have lots of ideas.

17.How would you describe the recent economic crisis? Can it be a lesson in today’s society?

I would describe it as a crisis.  A crisis of the economic sort.
The lesson is “I told you so.”

18.By the way, what do you think about the “New World Civilization”?

Is that like the “New World Order”?  Because I understand people don’t like that.
So it’s nothing like that.

19.You couldn’t just plop the first city down and expect people to respect it…. you would need to slowly develop the cities as it becomes harmonized with the evolving social consciousness. What are some of the steps to accomplish this?

  1. Send us money.
  2. We will use the money to inform people why it is a good idea.
  3. Send us more money.
  4. We will use the money to make a DVD that costs $30
  5. Send us more money
  6. We will build a city once the economy collapses.
    Any questions?

20.What is, and what do you think about it, the relationship between habitat and place of living? Which variables do you consider in conceiving architecture, or even a city?

Are you the same guy who wrote question #9?  Also, that’s a great porn site linked to your comment, too bad it’s in Cyrillic.

21.I noticed a certain nearness between your thinking and the French architect Le Doux about the concept of ideal city: do you believe that the eighteenth century idea of ideal city could apply also to a future city?

Le Doux is the Jacque Fresco of Eighteenth Century architecture.
In other words, he’s awesome.

22.What would you consider to be the most difficult technological hurdle to overcome before building the Circular City?

I don’t understand.  Building a Circular City is as easy as Pi.

23.Many of your designs seem to reflect retro-mod trends. What was your thinking behind the shapes and the black/white façades of the structures?

I’m old.
My conception of the future was cemented in 1952.

24.What would be done with the old cities?

Rebel bases for people who think having no choices is dystopian.

25.What main concepts do you keep in mind whenever you design structures or transportation?

WWJVD?  What Would Jules Verne Do?

26.Can you briefly describe the process you used in designing the Circular City? What factors were most important?

I started by making a circle.  Then I placed buildings in the circle.  It was important to make it circular since I wanted to call it the Circular City.
In the first draft it was shaped like a rhombus.  This made it hard to call it the Circular City.

27.What kind of change do you expect in architecture?

In the future, architecture changes you.

28.How would one choose a home?

In the future, home chooses you.

29.Is everything going to be easier than today regarding the materials we use at home, for example, white goods, furniture, etc.? Then, how is it going to be changed?

Science will make everything easy.  They will be changed to be more science-y.
Also, you need to, you know, possibly try to, just, maybe, lay off the use of so many commas.

30.In your project new social mentality is introduced. What novelties in architectural forms and constructions does the Venus project offer?

Civilization is going to collapse.  We are going to enter a period of unprecedented social disorder.  Our economy is going to tank and billions of humans are going to be systematically displaced by the unrest.
So by all means, let’s talk about how cool it will be to live in a geodesic dome.

31.What kind of change do you expect in health equipment?

Health equipment will be better because science.

32.What kind of change do you expect in communication?

Communication will be better because, well, science.

33.What kind of change do you expect in transport?

Transportation will be worse.
Just kidding!
Science!

34.Is it possible to see flight cars in the near future?

Will giving you a flying car distract you from the fact that none of this is plausible?
It will?
Then yessss…..

35.What kind of change do you expect in urban development?

See questions 31 through 33.

36.From a technological point of view – is the Venus project real?

No.

37.Are there necessary materials, technologies of constructing and maintenance of eco-cities nowadays?

Nowadays we are pretty close. Tomorrowadays, anything is possible.

38.What present-day materials, technologies can be used in constructing the Venus project?

Imagination.

39.What scientific developments (materials, technologies) should be done to realize your project?

We need to create a machine that takes hopeless pipe dreams and converts them into reality.  I expect such an invention in the next few years.

40.How do you imagine the building processes of the projects – standard, using prefabricated units or some other technologies?

I imagine. That’s a good way of putting it.

41.Is there a preliminary cost of this kind of the complex? Is it cheaper or not?

It should be cheaper because nobody gets paid to build things in the future.

42.In your opinion, when will such towns be constructed?

There are already towns like this.  Since they weren’t built by Jacque Fresco we don’t talk about them.

43.Is there any one field of discipline you find most promising right now, as far as technological advancement? Architecture? Material science, perhaps?

Whichever discipline Jacque Fresco is using at the given moment.

44.Could individuals live outside the cities?

They won’t want to because the cities were created by Jacque Fresco.

45.But, what if someone wanted to go out into a remote area, far from the cities?

Why would you want to be far away from the genius of Jacque Fresco?  This question makes no sense.

46.I was trying to think of an intermediate/bridging solution to the problem of automobile collisions. I’m curious as to his thoughts about such a common problem. 6,289,000 occur every year.

We need to wait for the economy to collapse so I can give you flying cars.  Problem solved.

47.Why is this concept superior to other intentional community projects?

Jacque Fresco.

48.How are Resources Distributed Equitably?

Rationing.  Except I will call it something else because that sounds bad.

49.What is the role of the family?

To distract you from the fact that you have limited choices, exactly like today.

50.What is the approach to professionals running this new society?

We will be getting rid of many professions.  Like lawyers because there will be no crime or disagreements.  And bankers because there will be no money.

51.Will there be a government?

Eventually computers will replace governments because they make better decisions than you can.  You can’t be involved in decisions.

52.What is the role of Cybernation as Decision Makers?

Your robot overlords will always look out for your best interests.  You have nothing to worry about.

53.How do you evaluate the robot conception in the future? As in the science fiction movies, everything is going to be done by robots. Is everything going to be different or will humans be the most effective factor?

Are you that guy from question #9 and #20 again?
I evaluate that conceived robots in future will be awesome. Human effective factors will be different so everything conceived robots factor to be more of an affect.  Science fiction makes robot affects to human factors conceived for evaluation.

I hope this answers your query.

54.Is this what Karl Marx advocated?

No.  Karl Marx didn’t have robots or science.

55.How does The Venus Project Compare with Communism?

It has a cooler name and it is more like Star Trek.

56.How does this system differ from Marxism, besides the technological use?

Because this system was created by Jacque Fresco, and Marxism was created by not Jacque Fresco.

57.How does this differ from Communism?

It has robots, flying cars, and retro-mod architecture.  Will nothing make you happy?

58.Could you respond to the 1949 essay I sent you from Albert Einstein regarding his views on socialism?

He’s a fucking idiot.

59.How can the use of Laws be eliminated?

In the future people won’t do anything wrong.  This makes total sense if you stop thinking about it.

60.In all your books, but most of all in The Best That Money Can’t Buy, you deal among other subjects (as the need to rethink the set of priorities of society, to suppress crime and war, to take care of our planet’s health…) also with the need to understand the close bond that man entertains with nature: which are the properties of the world (planet-society) that have to change to re-establish this bond?

Has this question rally been asked “frequently”? Really?  Worded like this? Why do people keep sending me such poorly worded questions?  This question is barely in English.

61.Wouldn’t change come about through a reasonable and logical progression?

No, change is inherently unreasonable and illogical.  In fact, the change will likely come before the process taken to effect it.  Because logic.

62.What Guarantees People The Right Of Participation?

As long as by “participation” you don’t mean “political participation” or “democratic participation”, then no worries.

63.What do you consider a “high standard of living”, which everyone in the world is entitled to? And who is the one to decide this?

A resource based economy means that the economy has a finite value based on available resources.  Every single person will have the same standard of living regardless of where they live.  This means that the total available resources divided by the number of people on earth will equal the value of your fixed standard of living.
You will have an equal share, but it might be wise to keep any large boxes handy- just in case we have a resource shortfall and you need, you know, a place to sleep or something.

64.Who makes the decisions in a resource based economy?

Your robot overlords. We already discussed this.

65.Will people all be alike?

No. Some people will be happy being housepets to their robot overlords, others might think that there must be a better way.  The latter people will, of course, be wrong- because the robots say so.

66.Will people who do more work, such as doctors, demand more resources than someone like an artist?

Who says doctors do more work?  Who says artists do little work?
Just fucking with you.  They might demand more resources, but the robot overlords will fix them.

67.Inventors and designers are constantly improving methods and technology, yet can like-minded people work towards goals similar to the ones you presented in your book, while still operating within a monetary system? How do you suggest we keep ideas and technology from contributing to the cycle (away from military hands, etc.)?

My goals cannot be reached in a monetary system.  You got that?  Sheesh.  Things will never change in a monetary system.  We have had a monetary system for thousands of years and not a single new political idea, scientific advancement, or cultural shift was ever achieved in this period.
Look it up.  (but seriously, don’t look that up)

68.What are the safeguards against abuse of power in the society you envision?

Robots don’t crave power.  Have you not read Issac Asimov?  (again- seriously, don’t)

69.Do we have enough energy to eliminate scarcity?

As soon as someone figures out how to convert pure energy into arable farmland and water, yes.

70.In a system where everything is available without a price tag, would this eliminate incentive?

No.  It will put the company that makes price tags out of business though.

71.Would people lose their incentive?

If they don’t need to work, why would they need an incentive?

72.Why the emphasis on the cybernated approach to the social operation?

Because if people operated the economy then they would have power over those that didn’t make the decisions.  And since I’m guessing you are a communist and don’t like class-based economic systems, I thought I could solve it with robots.

73.The world you describe requires the planetary resources of legions of engineers, artists and craftspeople to design, fabricate, assemble and calibrate. What happens three or ten generations later when the back-up systems are breaking down and the population has only poets and theoretical physicists?

We will write epic poems about our love of string theory.  Duh.

74.History shows that advanced technologies and skills have been lost within generations and a fully automated cybernetically managed economy/ecology/society would be vulnerable to system decay, malfunction and collapse in a way that would render humanity helpless and then destitute with neither the technical skills nor the emotional maturity to resolve the resulting crises.

Hey smartypants, that’s not a question- is it?

75.So why not plan on simple modular self-sufficient economies, or inter-dependant low tech economies that advance sustainable technologies and skills within each community?

Because if I did that I would have to do something useful with your donations instead of hoarding donations till the economy collapses.  Why would anyone do such a thing?

76.Could you describe the distribution of food and/or other objects of desire, like telephones, computers, or books?

If you are hungry, you will go to a distribution center to get food.  If they are out of food, you could try eating other objects of desire, like telephones, computers, or books.

77.What will people do?

Stuff.

78.You place great emphasis on human behavior as opposed to human nature. Would you define both?

Human behaviour is defined as how humans behave.  Human nature is defined as how humans nate.
Got it?

79.Isn’t this against Human Nature?

No. Deflecting serious questions and being evasive is totally natural for humans.

80.How do “Restless Teenagers” fit into the system? Or rather, what is available for them to do?

Perhaps they could watch “The Young and The Restless”?

81.Would The Venus Project be for deviants?

There will be no deviants, because science!

82.What would be done with that percentage of society that would be agitators or malcontent such as Timothy McVeigh who were brought up with a normal upbringing?

There will be no agitators or malcontents, because science!

83.What about crimes of jealousy?

People won’t be jealous.  Just because.

84.For reasons best known to geneticists, some people inherit different colored eyes from those of other people around them. In a grand overall vision of social and economic reform such as The Venus Project, what about those few who will always exhibit aberrant behavior under any system?

Programming.  But we won’t call it that- we will call it “better education”.

85.Do you advocate killing people with aberrant behavior?

No, but I said I don’t think people in the future will exhibit aberrant behaviour- because “better education”.  Checkmate, rationalists.

86.Isn’t technology very often detrimental to people and the cause of many of our problems?

Tell that to your new robot overlords…….

87.In this new culture, do you propose to utilize a technical elite that would decide the direction for society?

No.  the technical elite will program the robots that will decide the direction for society.  Huge difference.

88.How does one solve the problem of excess (say a person or people wanting more than is available)?

“Better Education”.  Which is totally not like “programming”.

89.How will people get along in the Middle East? How will the question of religion be resolved?

Ignore them, leave them tot heir own devices, let God sort them out.
Unless they want to stop- then your question is irrelevant.

90.What about religion?

Many people in the future will worship Jacque Fresco.  If some people want to continue to give all the credit to Jesus or Allah- then I can’t really stop them.

91.Many people claim that when spirituality fails in bringing up social changes, the use of violence is rationalized. Do you agree with this opinion?

Do I agree that there is a dichotomy between spiritualism and violence?  I don’t think they are mutually exclusive.

92.What can you tell us about The Venus Project’s approach to education?

We plan on educating people.

93.What would the education be like?

It would be like education now, but better.

94.How are Learning, Cooperation, and Gaining Health, Built into the System?

Again- I have to ask- exactly how does a question like this get asked “frequently”?
Really?

95.What about food? Would people eat meat?

Bacon for everybody!  (Unless your not into that kind of thing…)

96.What about drug addicts and alcoholics?

No more drugs.  Because science!

97.Is The Venus Project interested/capable of co-ordinating with other groups, intentional communities, individuals, to organize a resource based society distributed throughout the current society? Put another way, is TVP organizing the transition itself? Or just providing an example of what is possible with the intention of society as a whole enacting the switch over?

The Venus Project is just waiting for the economy to collapse, then for the military dictatorships to take over. This is when we think it will be easiest to broker change.  This totally makes sense if you don’t think about it.

98.How do you think people react to your proposals, that I would label “virtual proposals”, about the future of the world, and what is your relationship with them? How important is fulfilment in terms of credibility and concrete experience?

People react poorly to many of my ideas.  This is because I’m right and they are wrong.
Look it up. (Seriously though, don’t look it up.)

99.Is The Venus Project a Utopian society?

Yes, but I’ll never cop to it.

100.Future plans? What are you going to do now? What are you going to do next?

Next I’ll need you to buy my complete lectures on DVD.  Then I’ll need you to donate money.  After that, we just need to wait for the economy to collapse.

101.More than a few people would say they are fed up with living in a money-driven society, and wish to live a more self-fulfilling life. What advice would you give these people?

Turn your dreams into a reality by giving me your money.

102.Do we have enough time to see all of these changes?

No.  But I’m not going to tell you that.

103.If you had to choose one idea that would describe the essence of this new society, what would it be? Unity? Discovery?

Jacque Fresco.

104.What about the use of drugs in the future?

Once people have taken enough drugs to think my ideas make sense, there will be no need for drugs.

105.What is your take regarding Sexuality?

I’m all for it.

106.What is your take regarding the separation from the Zeitgeist Movement as the activist arm of The Venus Project?

There are two main problems that led to the decision to dissociate The Venus Project from the Zeitgeist Movement:

  1. Those guys are friggin’ nuts
  2. Too much 9/11 denial, not enough Jacque Fresco worship.

107.What is your take regarding overpopulation?

There are finite resources and an infinite potential for population growth.  Given these two facts, I have decided that overpopulation is a myth.

108.What is TVP’s stance on personal possessions?

You currently possess money.  We would like to free you of that burden as soon as possible.

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No, The Debate Was Not A Mistake- Stop Saying That

Posted on February 6, 2014. Filed under: Atheism, Children, Politics, Religion, Science |

    I watched the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham surrounded by new friends.  I actually stumbled across these people in no small part because this debate happened.  A friend of my wife’s on Facebook commented that she might attend- which led to my wife suggesting that this might be an event our 9 year old son might enjoy- which resulted in me confirming my attendance on a Facebook events page that is run by a local atheist group.  Bill Nye helped me discover that my hometown has a fully developed and thriving atheist community that I was somehow completely oblivious to until a few days ago.
This, I suppose, is a lesson in unintended consequences.

   So when I started my morning by recapping what other people thought of the debate with the intention of helping to clarify my own thoughts, I was nye2sympathetic to the opinion of Michael Schulson in The Daily Beast that the debate was a losing proposition from the moment it was brokered.  Facts are not something to be debated.  We shouldn’t be lending credibility to creation myths by juxtaposing them with science. Bill Nye is the wrong person to be representing the scientific argument because he is not an expert on evolution.  This was a common argument before the debate even aired.

On all accounts I think these arguments are wrong.

Academics Don’t Create Policy, But Somehow They Are The Only People Qualified To Talk About Science

    Several people have pointed out that the Creation/Evolution debate is a political issue and not a scientific issue.  I agree with that assessment.  The question I’d like to ask is this:  If people who are passionate about science aren’t going to wade into the political debate over what we teach the next generation- who is going to stand between opportunistic legislators and our children?  Can we just assume that rationality is always going to rule the public stage in opposition to the court of public opinion?

    Bill Nye is right that we need children that understand the scientific method and how proper science is done.  We also need the public to be savvy enough to tell the difference between education and indoctrination. The idea that this debate emboldened creationists by giving them a stage is, I think, demonstrably wrong.  First, you need to assume that all creationists are Young Earth Creationists (YECs).  Then you need to assume that YECs aren’t already aware of Answers In Genesis, the Creation Museum, or Ken Ham.  This is akin to going up to your nerdiest friend and telling them about this great new Star Trek series called “The Next Generation”.  This debate didn’t bring new attention to Young Earth Creationism to the target audience for Young Earth Creationism.  It brought new attention to YEC to exactly the people we need to see it- the large swath of Christian and other religious parents who think of Intelligent Design or Guided Evolution or some other pseudo-scientific concept when they imagine “teaching the controversy“.  These people are embarrassed by people like Ken Ham.  They know the earth isn’t 6000 years old, and they understand just how impossible it is to square that belief with observable phenomena.  These are the people who are going to be moved by this debate.  To assume that all people sympathetic to anti-evolutionary ideas are sympathetic to a literal reading of Genesis is a mistake.  Many of those people will be moved by just how absurd it is to teach YEC as science.  Some of these people might change their view about science education when faced with the prospect of science class becoming a strict literal interpretation of the first book of the Old Testament.  

    In this regard, I think that Ken Ham is exactly the kind of person those of us who care about science should debate. He is an extremist, a fundamentalist, an outlier even in Christian circles.  Too many of us feel that Bill should have avoided giving Ken Ham a platform- when in fact that platform has already started to lay bare the deep divide among creationists.  Pat Robertson has already called on Ham to “not make a joke of ourselves.”  Inside the bubble of Young Earth Creationism, the idea of a 6000 year old creation and a big boat that held 10,000 animals while the entire world was flooded for a year seems perfectly reasonable.  They think that people just need to see the evidence the way they do and everyone will be forced to concede the truth of their beliefs.  It is the people outside this bubble that Bill needed to speak to, and I think he did that marvelously.

Bill Nye Is Exactly What We Need

nye1    To the degree that I think Ken Ham is exactly the kind of creationist that science educators need to draw attention to, I think people like Bill Nye are exactly the kind of person we need doing it.  We need people who are teachers and communicators.  We need people who aren’t going to go on tangents about overly dry and technical aspects of evolutionary theory when simple and focused arguments suffice.  We need people who aren’t going to waste their whole half hour talking about the philosophy of science when someone tries to make the ridiculous distinction between observational science and historical science.  We need the kind of people who say “there are trees older than you think the universe is.”  We need people who can make radio waves and the big bang something I can explain to my 9 year old son.  We need someone who can Gish Gallop with easily digestible facts that are memorable and funny.  

     Many otherwise smart people have claimed that this debate was worthless and they avoided it because neither speaker had the authority to talk about evolution.  Public opinion isn’t decided by experts.  Policy isn’t made by experts.  Hell, High School Biology class isn’t taught by experts.    This wasn’t an academic debate and if it was it would have swayed virtually nobody involved in the future of science education.  To be blunt, one of the problems in the divide over public science education is that it seems to be difficult for people to grasp the basics of evolutionary theory.  Policy will be shaped by ignorance and incredulity if we fail to take interest in education.  If the Bible denied that there are integers above 20,000, we wouldn’t insist that only those with a degree in theoretical mathematics argue with theologians.  We would send in Warren Buffet and the Manager at TGI Friday’s to compare their purchasing power.  When we want people to understand how simply wrong a proposition is, we need people who can speak in terms laypersons can not just grasp but easily internalize.  Bill Nye is a brilliant science educator, and he was the perfect person to take on a science obfuscator.  
The public is not going to get energized nor swayed by academic debates on the minutiae of evolution.  They are going to be easily confused until some charlatan shows up to reassure them.

    I think it is insulting to assume that all Christians are going to be moved by a literal six-day creation argument, and I think it’s ignorant to assume that there were no viewers who had positions that could be influenced by a clear and concise argument that science is the best way do science.  Many people approached the prospect of this debate with a hyper-simplistic view of those who don’t accept biological evolution whole cloth.  It is precisely this kind of superiority complex and lack of understanding that is going to stoke the fires of people who wish to sneak religion into science.  

    We are so busy thinking about the possibility that Christians are naive and easily duped that we fail to see that, more likely than not, the unintended consequence of this debate is a popular rebuke of literal six-day creation among the larger Christian community- the people who vote, who sit on Parent/Teacher Associations, who choose curriculum guidelines.  
I found a community as an unintended consequence of a well marketed, elegantly argued, and entertaining debate about evolution- and I think that it will have the opposite consequence for Young Earth Creationists.  Showing reasonable people what God in science class might really mean will make the fringe increasingly isolated. 

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“I Turned Out Just Fine” Part I- Spanking IS Assault.

Posted on January 3, 2014. Filed under: Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Children, Parenting, Personal, Politics, Religion, Social Justice |

Spanking children is assault.
It’s not “technically not assault” or “similar to assault“- it is assault.

Image credit: HA! Designs/Creative Commons

Image credit: HA! Designs/Creative Commons

If you physically discipline your child in a way that would be legally assault if you did it to me or any other adult- then you have assaulted your child.

This is not “poisoning the well” for a discussion of spanking.  This is a plain definition of what it is.  In many jurisdictions spanking doesn’t meet the legal definition of assault- but it fulfills every characteristic of “assault” that we would apply to the agreed use of the word.  The only thing that changes “reasonable discipline” to “assault” is the relationship of the victim to his/her attacker and not being old enough to have a reasonable right to personal security.
I’ll say that again: Our society has a magical age at which you have a reasonable right to personal security.

Before you reach this magical age, you still have- in most every jurisdiction in the Western world- this right unless your attacker happens to be your parent.  If it is a teacher?  Assault.  If it is a coach?  Assault.  The parent of a friend? Assault.

If I say to you “My child spoke back to me so I bent them over my knee and smacked their ass with an open hand”- that statement is totally fine, legally permissible and called “spanking”
If I change “My child” to “My wife”, or “My employee”- it is assault.
If I change “My child” to “My prisoner” (if I were a jail guard), or “My student” (if I were a teacher), or “My perpetrator” (if I were a police officer)- it is assault.

For crying out loud….if I change “My” to “Your”- it is bloody well assault.

What is it about being a parent that allows you to be justified in doing something that is assault if you do it to anybody else?  What is it about the legal definition of “parent” that absolves you of wrongdoing if you spank YOUR child, as opposed to SOMEBODY ELSE’S child?

Most of my posts are long, well researched and thoroughly argued cases for a view I hold.  This time, I would like to give people the opportunity to argue why I am wrong and our culture is right on this issue before I write my follow up post.  I will follow this up with a post on why I think spanking is counterproductive, potentially harmful, unreasonable and should be outlawed.  For the time being, I want to defend solely my position that whether it is a useful tool, whether it is helpful, whether “good” parents are “strict” parents- spanking is assault for anybody but parents spanking underage children, and consequently that there is nothing magical about “parents” that absolves them from this definition.

Links to follow up posts will be added to this article as necessary, and I have a possible “guest post” from a blogger who disagrees.
Feel free to post arguments for or against here or on my Facebook.

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On “Not Harassment Per Se” Part 2- Is There Common Ground On What Constitutes Harassment?

Posted on May 3, 2013. Filed under: Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Personal, Social Justice |

So I have been having a somewhat civil conversation with John C. Welch and Pitchguest about my last post “On ‘Not Harassment Per Se’” and the subject came up that part of my problem is that we diverge on what constitutes harassment at Women in Secularism 2 should Justin Vacula attend.

I suggested that perhaps it might be helpful if I made a list of ten or more things that I would consider “harassment”, and ten or more things that I would not consider “harassment”.  So this post will hopefully assist in at least drawing my line in the sand regarding what I would consider appropriate and inappropriate contact with someone who has made it clear that they don’t wish to engage with a certain  attendee.

I’ll start with what I deem “normal, casual contact”

  1. Being in the same room as another guest if it is a common area
  2. Being incidentally within a few feet of another guest for a short period of time
  3. Being in a room where another guest is giving a presentation, assuming no efforts are made to be disruptive or undermine their wishes.
  4. Happening to be in a bar or restaurant that another guest happens to be at, assuming that it is coincidental
  5. Speaking to guests who have not made it known that they desire “no contact”, assuming they are not presently conversing with guests who desire no contact.
  6. Passing another guest in the common area-assuming that you don’t attempt to communicate with them.
  7. Staying at the same hotel as other guests of the convention.
  8. Attending the same presentation as another guest
  9. Asking conference staff to deal with legitimate harassment by other guests
  10. Infrequent and unintended non-verbal communication

If Justin was accused of doing any of the things noted above without sufficient grounds to question ulterior motives, I’m willing to concede that this constitutes incidental casual contact.

Now a list of what I believe constitutes harassment, even under the guise of “following the rules”

  1. A sustained effort to be in proximity to a guest who wishes no contact
  2. Intentionally joining into conversations that other guests are having with someone who desires “no contact”
  3. Attending presentations by another guest with  the express intention of being visible and/or asking questions of someone who desires no contact.
  4. Purposely trying to be visible to a guest who desires no contact, or following them if they chose to remove themselves
  5. Purposely trying to goad someone into speaking with you or putting them in a position where they need to reiterate an established desire for no contact.
  6. Purposely putting yourself in the path of a guest who does not desire contact or frequently putting yourself in proximity
  7. Switching rooms to be close to another guest or taking routes that guarantee contact
  8. Sitting beside, behind, in front of or otherwise near a “no contact” guest if it is unnecessary
  9. Purposely checking other guests behaviour in an effort to find something to complain to conference staff about
  10. Frequently trying to communicate non-verbally by making unwelcome gestures, whether seemingly polite or not.

So we are clear, yes, I absolutely hold every guest to this standard.  I would consider it blameworthy if conference guests went searching for ways that Justin is breaking policy, as opposed to waiting for him to do so.  I also do not think this is an exhaustive list of the ways in which a guest might try to abuse the spirit of a non-harassment policy by following the letter of it.

I understand that Justin is going to go to the conference.  I don’t think he should be disallowed from going.  I also know that other than some “if I happen to” and “if I’m close to” comments on his own blog, Justin has not outright said he intends to try and be a problem for the people who don’t want contact from him.  He also hasn’t said that he intends to go out of his way to respect those wishes.

To reiterate- I have not convicted Justin of a crime before the day he is accused of committing it.  I have done to this point what any person should do given the facts at hand.  Justin has written about his feeling regarding how enforceable a “no contact” request is.  When he had the opportunity to comment on it, he has used lawyering to explain why he thinks he cannot be stopped from at least some communication.  Those are not the words of someone who is committed to taking the ethical high ground.  I will also note that John C. Welch came onto my blog guns-a-blazing about all the reasons Justin will be totally justified when he gets “harassy” with these people and then simultaneously said I was accusatory for thinking Justin might act that way.  You know, that very way JCW thinks is totally justified given Justin’s predicament.

Since Justin doesn’t believe harassment policies are useful (though he would really, really love some groups to enforce them), perhaps he intends to go to the conference and show how absolutely workable self-policing is in reducing harassment.  Perhaps that is his angle.  Perhaps he wants to show everyone how superfluous harassment policies are by going to WiS2, staying a good distance from Ophelia and PZ and whoever else asks him to keep his distance, being on his “better than best” behaviour, and just reporting on how he fundamentally disagrees with just about everything said at the conference.  Then he could come home from the conference and report about how harassment policies are unnecessary because people with fundamental differences can go to the same conference and genuinely coexist without the specter of Orwellian harassment policies dangling over them the whole time.  He would be wrong in arguing that (and he and I have had that argument before), but at least his actions would bolster his case.

My concerns, though, have nothing to do with harassment policies.  Harassment policies are next to useless in mediating existing grudges and feuds.  A policy is great for outlining how it expects people to behave when they are interacting with other attendees and how it plans to mediate issues where someone has crossed an obvious line.  Policies do not do well when people have existing history, and what might seem an “undue burden” to place on all guests regarding communication becomes a serious issue between two feuding guests.  I want to reiterate to Justin- since he and I have had this discussion in relation to the post I linked to above- that this is not a reason to discount the usefulness of harassment policies.  In point of fact- I think that it underlines the need for them.  The only reason to believe that a Code of Conduct or harassment policy is useless or superfluous is if you assume that guests at conferences are good at self-policing their own behaviour.  The inability to respect other people’s wishes regarding “no contact” requests is a clear cut case of an inability to police your own behavior-  and underlines the need to make expectations and consequences as clear as possible to attendees.  The fact that a harassment policy is of little use in this particular case- and that common courtesy and common sense is expected from both sides- does not take away from a need for policies.

Essentially what I expect from Justin- as well as from Ophelia and PZ and Stephanie and Rebecca- is that people will try to be cognizant of the wishes of others.  That if someone has asked you to keep your distance, you do your level best to respect that.  That if someone moves away from you at a conference, that you don’t find other ways to make them unduly uncomfortable.  In return, I expect that Ophelia and PZ et al. will not talk about Justin directly without giving him a chance to respond.  I expect that people won’t try to purposefully exclude and isolate him in ways that are meant to bully him.  This conference will be less fun for everyone as a result of things that have been done to this point- and I hope that everyone makes the best of a bad situation.

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On “Not Harassment Per Se”

Posted on April 29, 2013. Filed under: Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Internet Etiquette, Personal, Social Justice |

EDIT:  If you are here to talk specifically about Justin Vacula and WiS2, I have created a follow up post that addresses many of the issues hashed out between myself, John C. Welch, Pitchguest, and others.  See my new post “On ‘Not Harassment Per Se’ Part 2” to join the discussion there.

This is going to be one of those harder posts for me to write.  I’m going to be talking about things I’m not that proud of; I’m going to be recounting a time when I wasn’t at my best.

I had a pretty steady girlfriend in High School.  We started dating when I was in Grade 11 and she was in Grade 9.  We were together for 5 1/2 years over the span of about eight years.  We had, as you can imagine, many of the same friends- being together as long as we were means nurturing many common friendships.  As with most relationships, there are several sub-groupings of our common friends- there are those much closer to her, those much closer to me, and a large swath in the middle that hold no immediate allegiance to one of us more than the other.

My girlfriend and I once broke up around the end of May in my Grade 13 year.  The whole thing was rather anti-climactic as far as break-ups between us usually went; there was no yelling or fighting or schisms within our group of friends.  It was really just her telling me that things were done, and me not really liking it but trying my best to be mature about the whole thing.

There was an end of school party planned by several of our friends- we were all going to camp out in tents and toast the end of another school year.  My ex didn’t want me to go to the party.  She made that pretty clear to must of our common friends, perhaps hoping that I would get the hint.  At the time I thought it was pretty childish of her to try and prevent me from going to this party, after all these were our mutual friends and I knew and had good relationships with many of them.  Why should I have to stay home while she has a good time?   In her defence, this party was going to be overwhelmingly occupied by people who were closer to her than to me- and I knew this.  In my mind though, these were my friends too, and I was not about to sacrifice my social life for the increased comfort of my ex girlfriend.

Just to make sure my bases were covered, I took special care to let as many people as possible know that I was going to be coming to the party.  Most were very supportive of my coming, though some indicated some trepidation at the prospect of having to be put in the middle of things.  Those who were closest to me were of course excited that I would be coming and considered my ex’s protestations to be petty and unfair.  The friends who were closer to her tended to suggest that maybe my going was not necessarily wrong per se, but that it might significantly impact the enjoyment of everyone there and that I might want to avoid her as much as possible if I did decide to go.

Once it became apparent that I was most definitely going and that I wasn’t about to change my mind on this- my ex made a very public decree that if I were to show up that I was not to speak to her at all.  She told everyone that if I was in the same circle of conversation- that she would leave, if I attempted to speak to her- she would not respond, and that several people she knew who were very close to her would be avoiding me as well.  Lines were drawn- and the ball was in my court.

So the day of the party I did what any reasonable person would do….  I showed up and made it my mission to make her look bad. 

I didn’t go up to her and speak to her directly because I knew that she explicitly had said that would be wrong.  No, instead I told everyone that I thought it was just so childish that the two of us couldn’t exchange cold pleasantries- that I understood how hurt she was, I understood her decision, but that perhaps- just maybe- it was a little immature and petty and cheap.  I took special care to join into conversations in which she was one of many participants- surely she could not tell me when and with whom I could have conversations, right?  I made a concerted effort to involve myself as much as possible with her close friends, thus forcing them to choose between being being dicks to me or anger her.  If she was in a certain area- I was happily found within earshot, but never speaking to her or hanging out with her specifically.  I made a conspicuous show of just how much fun I was having with everyone, laughing a little louder and drinking a little more and hamming it up in general.

What I never did was talk to her.  What I never did was break the rules that she had set for that party.  I never tried to turn people against her, or take friends away from her or confront her in any way.  Not at all.

What I did instead was just have a good time with my friends.  Sure, maybe I really needed to speak with that person who she was presently engaged with.  Maybe I spent an inordinate amount of time within 10 yards of her present location.  Maybe I was having an absolutely wonderful conversation with her two best friends that night.  Perhaps I was really genuinely enjoying a wonderful party.

So how do you think she reacted?

She got mad. 

She cried. 

She had to be consoled by several other guests, she made a scene, and then she left.

“It’s not my fault” I said, “I never spoke to her or confronted her at all!”

Some of the people on Team George said it too….

She was being unreasonable.  She couldn’t expect me to not go to the party- even if most of the people there were more closely aligned with her.  We were still all friends, right?  George didn’t confront her.  He didn’t speak to her against her wishes.  He didn’t do anything that was harassing her in any real way.  She was the one with the problem.

See?  I was not harassing her.

Well, not per se.

Did I purposely do things in an attempt to force her hand?  Yes.  Did I do things with the intention of making her look silly?  Yep.  Was I enacting a calculated and methodical plan to ruin her experience and try to get her to do something irrational and blameworthy?  You bet I was.  Not just that, but I was manipulating friendships and social conventions to make other people complicit in my passive-aggressive vendetta.

Yet I really didn’t do anything that I couldn’t explain away as normal party behaviour.  I was just having fun at a party, right?  I knew those people I engaged with when she was talking to them.  I wasn’t ever in her personal space.  I was never threatening.  I was just conspicuously there.

Could a case be made that my ex was being unreasonable and petty by asking me to be uninvited?  Certainly.  Someone could make the case that people need to be aware that when you have a relationship long enough you are going to have many of the same friends and likely find yourself at many of the same gatherings.  Perhaps it is immature to ask someone to not speak to you at all at a group function or to foster the kind of tribal loyalties that are a reality in and group of feuding people.  Some people might see what I did as a reasonable punishment for being unreasonable.

I just look back and feel like an ass.

What I accomplished felt very satisfying at the time.  I was cheered on by a bunch of my friends who felt she deserved to be shown as a fool.  My ex was hurt by the whole thing- as were some of her closer friends who had to deal with the fallout.  In the meantime- though they wouldn’t necessarily say it- I managed to alienate several of the “fence-sitters”, those friends who really didn’t want to take sides.  Most of them were smart enough to see through the “just a guy having fun at a party” act.  They knew I was punishing her- and whether they called it harassment or not- they knew that it was genuinely wrong and just as petty as anything she had done to that moment.

I’m not proud of any of this.  I just read something today that reminded me of what a complete jerk I was and the sharp pangs of guilt and remorse came bubbling up to the surface.  What felt like requital now feels like hollow contempt. Some people might not call that harassment.

I guess it isn’t harassment per se, but I don’t particularly want my actions to be thought of as “not harassment per se“.

This is one of those moments that I wish I could have back.  What if I had have passed on a party that I was destined to sour?  What if I had have gone and just made an effort to live and let live- to consciously avoid putting either of us in an unnecessarily compromising position?  What if I had have been the bigger person and tried to build solid bridges and fences instead of charging around with a battering ram?

What I’m saying is that victory never tasted so sour or left me so wanting.

With all that said enjoy Women In Secularism 2.  I’m sure nobody is planning to follow around certain speakers in a totally non threatening manner.  I’m sure no one is planning to ask questions of speakers who have asked that person not to speak to them, or conspicuously “just need” to speak to that person who is currently engaged with certain speakers, or find themselves always in the next conversation over in the room, or otherwise try to “do absolutely nothing wrong” in an effort to make others misbehave.  I’m sure it will be an absolute blast…..

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On Marriage, Part 2: Whereby I Explain Why Marriage Matters

Posted on April 13, 2013. Filed under: Atheism, Forward Thinking, Personal, Religion |

This is Part 2 of my two part contribution to the Forward Thinking project  on this months topic “What Does Marriage Mean To You?”  The Forward Thinking Project is an amazing online community project started by Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism and Daniel Finke of Camels With Hammers.  For more information or how you can contribute click on the links above.

Part 1 is a satirical imagined conversation between a father and son regarding the meaning of marriage. This post is my personal views on what marriage- and specifically my marriage- means to me.

Forward-Thinking-3-1024x253

I’m married to the most complex, wonderful and beautiful woman I know.  My wife is my saviour and my nemesis.  If  Paul was right when he spoke in Corinth- that love is patient, love is kind, it is not proud;  love protects, trusts, perseveres- then it is true that my wife is the embodiment of love in my life.

To be honest with you, neither my wife nor I really wanted get married.  We lived together for 6 years before we were married.  We already had two children (and a third on the way).  We owned a house together.  In every way that someone quantifies marriage as a lifestyle, we had been married for years before we ever made it “official”.

So why get married?

We- my wife and I- asked ourselves this question.  Are we somehow bowing to social pressure?  Are we quantifying our relationship by a social convention?  Is there any real value to choosing to be married as opposed to living as a married couple?  For us marriage was still something that was meaningful- and I’ll tell you why:

Marriage is more than just a social convention.  It is more than a legal recognition of your bond to one another.  It is not a mere contract, a religious act, or a promise to some imagined covenant with God.  It is what it has always been; marriage is the sharing of your love with your family, community, and friends.  Some choose to share that with their community in religious imagery and language, some choose to make that expression in a way that is unique and personal.  What all marriages have in common is that they are a recognizable symbol of something that transcends the institution itself.

To be unmarried is not to take away from the reality of being in love, or committed, or together- to be unmarried is merely to deprive us of our cultural language-

  It is to ask us to succinctly describe a sunset…..

to a blind man……

in sign language.

So when I tell you I am married it doesn’t change the way I feel about the person I chose to marry.  It doesn’t make my love any more or less real.   It doesn’t make my love and commitment any better- objectively- than a couple who chose not to be married.  What it does it make my relationship relateable.  It makes my relationship something that has a meaning easily shared with others.   When I tell you I’m married I am giving you a dissertation in a single word.

I started this post by telling you how I feel about my wife; all of it is true, and more.  I could have written a million metaphors and I still wouldn’t have given my wife her due.  Though my words remind me of all the things that make me love her, they certainly constitute a too-long explanation to you of how we relate to one another.  All you need to know is what we all know to be the ideals of a marriage:

I love her enough to make her my wife- our love is that meaningful that we choose to share it.

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On Marriage, Part 1: Whereby a Father Explains Marriage To His Son In A Conservative Dystopia

Posted on April 13, 2013. Filed under: Atheism, Forward Thinking, Humour, Parenting, Personal, Religion |

This is Part 1 of my two part contribution to the Forward Thinking project  on this months topic “What Does Marriage Mean To You?”  The Forward Thinking Project is an amazing online community project started by Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism and Daniel Finke of Camels With Hammers.  For more information or how you can contribute click on the links above.

Part 1 is a satirical imagined conversation between a father and son regarding the meaning of marriage.  For my personal feelings on what marriage means to me, please check out Part 2.

Forward-Thinking-3-1024x253

Son:  Dad, What is Marriage?

Father: Oh boy.  Is it really that time already?  I’ve been dreading “the talk” since the day you were born…..

Son: Really Dad?  You are aware that I am seventeen, right?  I mean, I thought that “the talk” was about sex and stuff- we never had that talk either……

Father:  And we never will, son; we never will.  Sex is a conversation you need to have after an awkward and humiliating honeymoon with your equally clueless wife.  It’s the way God intended.

Son: I did hear a bit about it from friends at school.  Well, the ones who got permission from their parents to attend the “Commitment Classes” that the Priest came in for.  Why didn’t I get permission to go to that again?

Father: He was Catholic and I didn’t want you to start questioning the degree of your depravity, I thought we went over this.  Can we get back to marriage?

Son: Sure.

Father: You see, son, as we all know- the government owns a woman’s vagina.  One day, when you are older and ready to breed, you are going to meet a woman who makes you want to pray a little harder to Jesus for the strength to overcome sexual sin- and this is the time you are going to contemplate marriage.  When you are ready, you will complete a three way transaction between the woman’s father (her owner), the government (the owner of her vagina), and yourself (the prospective owner and lessee).  Essentially you are seeking a licence from the government to transfer ownership from her father to yourself as well as secure a lease of the woman’s vagina from the government.  My wedding was beautiful…..

Son:  That doesn’t sound all that beautiful, dad.

Father: But it is, son, it is!  There is nothing better than a wedding- it’s one of those “milestone moments” in your life- like showing off your first muscle car to your buddies.  You wax her all up, get’er real shiny, then burn rubber around the neighbourhood to let everyone know who’s got a new set of wheels….

Son: Are you talking about Mom?

Father: Sorry, got carried away.  Did I ever tell you I had a ’74 Charger with a 318? God I loved that car…….

Son:  Don’t people get married for love?

Father:  No! Who told you that?  Love has nothing to do with marriage.  Just think about it- if you could just marry ANYTHING you loved, then men would just go around marrying their favourite dog, or their mom, or even another man!  Heck, I’d be married to a ’74 Charger.    Love is just a pleasant bonus in a marriage, like finding a $10 bill in a pair of jeans you bought at the Goodwill.

Son: So you didn’t love mom when you married her?

Father:  Is she in the room right now? ….Yes, of course I did.  Love can be something to consider when you get married- I’m just saying it isn’t definitional to a marriage.  People who don’t love each other get married all the time.

Son: Then why do they read 1Corinthians at weddings?

Father:First, Paul wasn’t writing that about marriage.  Second, you remember when you were a kid and you had a dental appointment that you didn’t want to go to, so I told you there was candy in the car so that you would go with me- and then I bought you a Blizzard afterwards because I felt guilty for lying to you?   It’s kind of like that.  And by “kind of like that” I mean it’s exactly like that.

Son:  This is all quite confusing and depressing, Dad.  I don’t think I want to get married…

Father: I know son.  I blame the liberals.  Do you want to see pictures of me with my ’74 Charger?

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Taking the Camels With Hammers Civility Pledge

Posted on February 13, 2013. Filed under: Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Internet Etiquette, Personal, Politics, Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, Religion, Social Justice |

I would like it if all of my readers read this pledge- and if those that were in agreement that civility is the key to productive discourse would sign it.  I worked with Dan Finke and several other bloggers to help craft this pledge (though admittedly I didn’t contribute a fraction of the time or energy that Dan and others did).   I think that the rules laid out here are important; I believe that if we wish to have constructive dialogue that focuses on ideas and doesn’t devolve into nasty epithets and hard feelings- then we ought to all support this effort. 

I normally would link to the original post and let my readers read the full text there, but since I was

Artwork by Steve Greenberg- Click for link

Artwork by Steve Greenberg- Click for link

part of the group that worked on the pledge and Dan has generously offered to allow it reprinted verbatim- I have decided to print it in its entirety here (including all links that reference Dan’s fantastic posts on these subjects at CWH).  I would like to have it handy so that I can link to it when people commenting here step out of line and also so that I have a standard to be personally accountable to.  

I hope you read the pledge, sign it here or at CWH, and share it if you agree.

-George-

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“THE CAMELS WITH HAMMERS CIVILITY PLEDGE”

by Daniel Fincke

 

Reasons for the Pledge:

I want to be able to engage in vigorous, rigorous, constructive, and truth-conducive public discussions about both the most philosophically fundamental and the most vitally urgent questions related to beliefs and values.

For truth’s sake and for freedom’s sake, I want no controversial topics to be made taboo in all discussion forums and I want no disputable propositions whatsoever to be shielded from all sincere and thorough rational interrogation. I accept that either my beliefs and values, including those I that myself cherish the most, can prove themselves against vigorous, sincere, rational skepticism and challenge, or that they need to be modified or abandoned.

I want to argue for what I think is true and good without hesitating over concerns that my views are too unpopular or unpleasant, and I want others to feel free to do the same.

I want periodically to publicly reexamine my own beliefs and values for any possible errors they may contain, and to critically examine others’ ideas until I am adequately satisfied with them before feeling like I have to endorse or adopt them.

I even may want the latitude of intellectual honesty to test ugly ideas that neither I nor most others even want to believe. I may want to do this so that we can thoroughly understand exactly why, or whether, such ideas are indeed as false as we would hope, or are as pernicious as we presume. It is important that rational people of good will have well-developed reasons, rather than just dogmatic moral condemnation, with which to answer the false and pernicious ideas of irrational, ill-willed, and bigoted people. This means rational people of good will should at least sometimes open-mindedly explore hypotheses that they or others may find morally or intellectually upsetting, and that they have the room to do this without being demonized.

I realize that a huge obstacle to honest, thoroughgoing, and challenging public inquiries into the rightness of beliefs and values of the most fundamental importance and urgency is our shared natural tendencies to take abstract criticisms personally. I realize another huge obstacle is that most people naturally are tempted to become more dogmatically committed to their existing positions precisely when presented with potentially unsettling counter-arguments. I realize that in most cases these and related problematic tendencies are only exacerbated, rather than alleviated, when we explicitly or implicitly turn abstract intellectual inquiries into interpersonally hostile confrontations.

I also realize that attempts to bully people into agreement with me by taking recourse to interpersonally aggressive treatment are antithetical to a principled commitment to respecting other people’s rationality and freedoms of intellectual conscience. Even where such appeals are successful, they come at a moral cost that should be seen as unacceptable to people committed to reason. I should want to persuade others into genuinely justified agreement with the best arguments and the most fair and relevant emotional appeals, rather than socially, emotionally, politically, or physically coerce them into acquiescence. Outside of the most extreme life and death circumstances, I should not consider the cause of winning people to my side philosophically or politically to be so important that I am willing to treat others abusively.

It is, in the vast majority of cases, unethical to verbally abuse or otherwise attempt to emotionally bully others, no matter how right I might feel myself to be or how cathartic I might find the experience. Self-righteousness is a dangerous, blinding temptation. It leads to hypocritical double-standards, remorseless cruelty, smugness, authoritarianism, and false beliefs held with self-satisfaction. Worst of all, self-righteousness tempts us to become like the hateful people we start out opposing. So I should foreswear and guard against self-righteousness as conscientiously and with as much regular self-examination as possible. I should never consider myself to be so much better or righter than others that I see them as worthy of maltreatment and myself as morally pure enough to mete out their punishments of my own initiative.

found at demotivationalposters.net

found at demotivationalposters.net

I understand also that I am not perfect. I may not have always lived up to the highest standards of civility, compassion, or rationality in the past. I may struggle as much as anyone else to do so in the future. Nonetheless, I resolve to the best of my ability to make the commitments in the pledge below in order to ensure that I am as constructive and ethical a participant in public discussions as possible, and to live as consistently according to my professed belief in the intellectual and moral worth of reason, freedom, and compassion as possible.

 

The Pledge:

1. I commit that I will engage in all public arguments with a sincere aim of mutual understanding, rather than only persuasion.

I will make being honest, rationally scrupulous, and compassionate my highest priorities. I will conscientiously remain open to new ideas. I will consider the well being and growth of my interlocutors more important than whether they simply agree with me at the end of our exchanges. I am under no obligation to respect false or harmful beliefs or to hold back from expressing my own views or reservations forthrightly. I may even express them with passion and conviction where such are justifiable. Compatible with this, I will always respect my interlocutors as people and their rights to express their own views without personal abuse, even when I find myself riled up by them. I will cut off communications that are counter-productive to others’ well being or my own. I will respect others’ attempts to bow out of debates on particular topics or with me in particular. If I feel that I am in a position where my anger and frustration at the behavior of others, even entirely legitimate anger and frustration, is making the conversation less capable of constructive progress, I will remove myself and come back only at such time as I can be constructive again.

 

2. I commit that I will tolerate the existence of people with dissenting ethical, religious, or political views.

I will focus on understanding and appreciating what actual goods my philosophical or political enemies may be mistakenly trying to achieve and what genuinely occurring features of their experience they are inadequately trying to do justice to in their false beliefs. I will try to discern and appreciate what genuinely valuable moral and intellectual principles they intend to stand up for, no matter how wrong I think their ultimate ethical or factual conclusions might be. Wherever possible, I will try to find and affirm their good will, reasonableness, and any other potential sources of common ground, and work from there in order to persuade them of what I take to be their errors. If this proves impossible, I will simply stop engaging them directly and attack their ideas in the abstract, rather than make things acrimoniously personal.

 

3. I commit that I will always focus first on the merits of other people’s arguments and not disparage them personally for asking unpleasant questions, taking unpleasant positions, or simply disagreeing with me.

I will not assume the worst of all possible motives when people advance theses that I find false, morally repugnant, and/or potentially harmful. I will refute their arguments on their merits. I will discuss with them any harmful real world implications that I think would come from the promulgation or implementation of their ideas. I will not accuse them of wanting to perpetuate evils unless there is specific evidence that their ends are actually so malicious. I will try not to personalize intellectual disputes any more than is absolutely necessary. I will keep any personal fights that erupt limited to as few people as possible rather than incorporate more and more people into them.

When I am having a personality conflict that is making progress in understanding seem impossible, I will drop communications with that person–with or without explanation as seems most potentially constructive. I will not escalate unproductive arguments that are becoming interpersonally acrimonious. I will not participate in ongoing interpersonal feuds between other people but only participate in discussions that stay focused on what is true, what the best principles are, and how such principles may be most fairly and efficiently implemented in the world. I will correct injustices, bad principles, and bad ideas in ways that are maximally productive for changing minds and real world policies while also minimally likely to create or escalate distracting counter-productive interpersonal feuds.

 

4. When I feel it necessary to call out what I perceive to be the immoral behaviors or harmful attitudes of my interlocutors, I commit that I will do so only using specific charges, capable of substantiation, which they can contest with evidence and argumentation, at least in principle. I will not resort to merely abusive epithets and insult words (like “asshole” or “douchebag”) that hatefully convey fundamental disrespect, rather than criticize with moral precision.

I will refrain from hurling hateful generalized abusive epithets and insults at people. I will refrain from leveling vague, unsubstantiated charges of terribleness at people. I will give them fair opportunities to explain themselves. I will challenge the wrongness of their specific actions or apparent attitudes rather than hastily cast aspersions on their entire character. Before ever making moral accusations, I will civilly warn them that something they do or say strikes me as morally wrong and offensive, and explain to them why.  I will give them a chance to retract, restate, and/or apologize before taking moral offense. I will analyze with self-directed skepticism whether my offense is rooted in a morally justifiable anger at provably unjust treatment, or whether it is just my discomfort with being disagreed with.

I will always seek to maintain positive rapport with those who disagree with me as much as they enable. I will focus my criticisms on people’s ideas first and only if necessary criticize their attitudes, behaviors, or apparent character. I will not demean them fundamentally as a person. I will not uncharitably and hastily leap from specific bad thoughts, attitudes, or actions to wholesale disparagements of their entire character until there is overwhelming evidence that I am dealing with a fundamentally immoral person. And if I am dealing with such a person, I will use any of a wide array of highly specific available words

to make moral charges soberly, constructively, descriptively accurately, and succinctly as possible before cutting off communications with them. And I will not take unnecessary recourse to abusive terms when plenty of civil and accurate words carrying heavy moral force are available to me.

 

5. I commit that I will go out of my way, if necessary, to remember that members of traditionally marginalized groups and victims of abuse have experiences that I may not have and which I may have to strain to properly weigh and appreciate.

People who have been personally abused or systemically discriminated against in ways that I have not may also be acutely aware of a social power differential with respect to me of which I may be unaware. This may make them feel frustrated and intimidated from speaking frankly, as well as more sensitized to potentially silencing and Othering implications of my language and ideas. I will be as sensitive to this reality as possible and as careful as possible with my language to reduce rather than exacerbate their feelings of social disempowerment. I also will take into account and accommodate the reality that people with high personal stakes in the outcomes of certain debates about values are, quite understandably, more prone to emotional intensity in their arguments and especially likely to bring unique insights that are indispensible to understanding the issue adequately.

Of course none of this means I should feel compelled to surrender my own rational right and need to independently and rigorously assess what anyone says for its truth or goodness. I should not feel compelled to always and unconditionally agree with someone who has an experience or life situation different from my own. And I should not pretend to already fully accept beliefs or values of which I have not yet been satisfyingly convinced. I should also not tolerate normalization of emotional appeals of the kind that cross the line into bullying. But nonetheless, I will be extra cautious to learn from traditionally marginalized people about what disparately affects them in negative ways and about how to make discourses and other environments more inclusive to them. I will pay close attention to how hostile environments are implicitly created that exclude, silence, or otherwise adversely affect traditionally marginalized people, especially under the aegis of a perniciously false neutrality.

On the other side, I will also be sensitive to preempt counter-productively defensive feelings and reactions of people in traditionally advantaged groups by carefully avoiding even the appearance of prejudicially disparaging them all as malicious oppressors. I will distinguish carefully between those motivated by animus and those who are in the main only passive beneficiaries and unwitting perpetuators of injustices, or biased in unintentional and unexamined ways. When rightly calling out such injustices and prejudices I will frame my criticisms and calibrate my level of antagonism with respect to how generally good or ill willed my interlocutor actually is. I will scrupulously distinguish criticisms of harmful systems from criticisms of individuals. I will criticize harmful behaviors without hastily assuming people have malicious intentions or morally repugnant character. I will always respect others’ rights to disagree with me, regardless of their race, color, creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, abilities, disabilities, sex, and unearned privileges (or lack thereof). I will avoid all disparagement of people based on such core identity-forming traits, whether it be disparagement aimed at members of groups with lesser or greater social power. I will neither flippantly nor seriously disparage people based on such kinds of traits or try to invalidate their experiences, even should I think that they are misinterpreting the significance of their experiences, or even should I believe they are more advantaged than most people and should be able to take harsher treatment on that account.

 

6. I commit that I will not use any language that I know is offensive to either a subset of a marginalized group or to members of that group at large, for whatever reason.

I will not use racial or ethnic slurs (like “nigger” or “kike”), gendered insults (like “bitch”, “dick”, “cunt”, “slut”), homophobic slurs (like “fag”), or transphobic slurs (like “tranny”). Regardless of my private standards or understandings I have with my friends or customs within my local culture, in public forums I will respect that such terms make at least a noticeable number of members of marginalized groups feel hated and unwelcome. This risks silencing them in unjust ways. I will err on the side of caution and maximum inclusion by removing such words from my public discourse as superfluous, potentially harmful, exclusionary, and counter-productive to my goals of rational persuasion. The English language is huge; I can find countless better words to use.

 

7. I commit that I will not use any ableist language that disparages people over physical or mental limitations or illnesses.

I will not falsely imply that people are in the main uneducable or incapable of rationality simply because they either disagree with me, have major intellectual blindspots, make huge intellectual errors, or prove generally unlearned in some specific area. This means that I will not call my interlocutors “retarded”, “stupid”, “idiotic”, “deranged”, or similar terms that convey with contemptuous hostility that I believe them beneath reasoning with and beneath treating as an equal, simply on account of what I take to be some major errors or areas of ignorance. All people can learn. All people can teach. Specific intellectual limitations, errors, and/or ignorance of a particular area of knowledge do not amount to “stupidity”.

Calling people stupid is not only usually false and woefully imprecise, but it threatens to hatefully discourage people from learning and to destroy the hope for dialogue with them. It also disrespects the undereducated (many of whom are financially disadvantaged or otherwise socially disadvantaged and disempowered) and makes them justifiably resentful. For some it continues a pattern of abuse suffered from parents, peers, partners, and others in their lives who damaged them during childhood and have harmfully misled them to underestimate their actual intellectual potential. It also irrationally ignores the reality that all of us are regularly victims of cognitive biases and institutionally inculcated deceptionsthat to a large extent account for their errors. They deserve education, not derision.

My interlocutors and I will both learn more if I try to understand the rationally explicable reasons for their errors and figure out how to most effectively correct them. I will also learn more if I conscientiously try to think up and refute the best arguments for my opponents’ views rather than seize on their arguments’ weaknesses and dismiss them categorically as “stupid”. I can point out the nature of mistakes more precisely, and with better hope of correcting them, if I engage in thinking together with people rather than disparaging and bullying them.

 

8. I commit that I will always argue in good faith and never “troll” other people. I will respect both safe spaces and debate spaces and the distinctly valuable functions each can potentially serve. I will not disrupt the functioning of either kind of forum.

I will respect that some venues are designed to be safe places for members of marginalized groups or abused people to seek refuge from abuse and certain forms of disagreement that they are, for good reason, not emotionally able to deal with. I will respect that these, and other venues designed for people with a shared ideological or philosophical disposition, are valuable. It is constructive to have some spaces where likeminded people can work out their views amongst themselves without always having to be distracted by calls for them to defend themselves on fundamental points.

I will not deliberately troll or otherwise attempt to disrupt forums that exclude me on such grounds. If they refuse debates with people of my philosophical views, then I will not try to participate in their venue. On the flipside, if I desire to make a certain conversation or forum, even a public one, into a safe space where some types of arguments are not permitted, I will make that clear as early as possible. And if I am engaged in a debate in a public forum not designated as a safe space, I will accept that not everyone present is going to share my basic beliefs, knowledge base, values, or concerns, and I will not treat them with hostility on account of their disagreement with me about fundamental matters.

Regardless of forum, if I decide to play devil’s advocate in hopes that it will help make a position’s merits clearer to me, I will be upfront about what I am doing so that I do not come off as obstinate or excessively antagonistic or in any other way a disingenuous “troll”. I will desist if others do not want me to play devil’s advocate to them whether because they find it badgering or trivializing of something important to them or for any other reason.

 

9. I commit that I will apologize when I hurt others’ feelings, even when I do so unintentionally and even when I do not think their hurt feelings are justified.

If I want to defend my actions or contest the moral justifiability of an outraged person’s feelings of offense, I will do so respectfully and always with an aim of mutual understanding. I commit to not treating those who accidentally upset or offend me as though they intentionally did so. I will accept sincere apologies that take adequate responsibility without requiring groveling and total surrender on all points of contention (especially if some matters at stake are distinctly separable from the offense and are rationally disputable). I will foster environments in which people feel comfortable expressing when their feelings are hurt because everyone regularly offers, and receptively takes, constructive criticisms. This happens where criticism is regularly free of hatred, demonization, and implicit or explicit purity tests and threats of ostracism. So I will oppose all such things.

 

10. I commit that I will hold my allies and myself to the highest standards of civil, good-willed, compassionate, and reason-based argumentation and ethical conduct, regardless of whether our enemies do the same, and regardless of the rectitude of our cause.

I will not defensively interpret sincere criticism from my allies as personal betrayal. I will be as above reproach as possible with respect to all charges of bullying, feuding, escalation, bad faith argumentation, ad hominem tactics, well-poisoning, trolling, marginalization, strawmanning, sock puppetry, tribalism, purity testing, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, classism, ableism, goading, micro-aggressiveness, passive aggressiveness, and personalization of disputes. While not compromising my intellectual conscience for the sake of politeness, I will manage to model a conciliatory and reasonable spirit. While I may advocate forthrightly for ethical debate and treatment of others generally, I will spend as much or more of my energies scrutinizing my own public contributions for ways I can make them more rational, civil, compassionate, and persuasive than I will policing the behaviors of others I encounter.

 

11. I commit that I will not make accusations of guilt by association.

I will neither assume that one’s association with another person implies agreement with any specific belief, action, or behavior of that person, and nor will I assume that someone’s agreement with another person on a specific point implies agreements on any other specific points. I will hold people accountable only for their own expressed views and not for the views of everyone with whom they associate. I also will not assume total agreement and endorsement of all the ideas in books, thinkers, or links that someone recommends as interesting.

 

12. I commit that I will not use mockery and sarcasm in ways that try to belittle other people.

I recognize funny and perceptive satire’s indispensible and unique abilities to illumine truths and rationally persuade people. And I feel free to humorously point out apparent absurdities in others’ arguments or beliefs during discussions. But I will draw the line at using humor to personally attack, harass, or silence individuals with whom I am engaged. I will be cautious that my ridicule during discussions is aimed squarely at beliefs and does not have the likely effect of making my interlocutors feel like I am flippantly contemptuous of their reasoning abilities en toto or of their worth as people. In short, I will use humor to challenge and persuade others, rather than to abuse and alienate them.

 

13. I commit that I will empathetically, impartially, and with reasonable mercy enforce the standards of civility and compassion laid out in this pledge in any venues (including but not limited to: blogs, Facebook pages, subreddits, and discussion forums) where I have moderation powers with sufficient latitude to set and enforce standards.

Even in safe spaces where debates on certain kinds of topics are understandably restricted for people’s well being, I will still adhere to all the rest of the principles of compassion, charity, and civility in arguments here laid out.

 

Signed,

Daniel Fincke

George Waye

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Meaning In A Time Of Mourning: Secular Celebration of a Life Well Lived

Posted on January 30, 2013. Filed under: Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Forward Thinking, Parenting, Personal, Religion |

This post is my contribution to the Forward Thinking project, an amazing online community project started by Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism and Daniel Finke of Camels With Hammers.  For more information or how you can contribute click on the links above.  The topic of interest this time is “Mourning Death Collectively”.

Forward-Thinking-3-1024x253

When my Grandfather passed away two years ago, I sat in the chapel of the funeral home where his service was held and listened to a Minister deliver a eulogy to a man he had never met.  My Grandfather was not a religious man- at least not in my lifetime.  He was clever, kind, jovial, and gentle; he was the kind of man that made a room light up with his presence.  He never talked about God, and he never went to church.

The Minister did an admirable job of ducking and weaving; he recounted the life of a man who left so much love in the hearts of those he touched, a man whose life had purpose and meaning, a man whose life seemed bursting with grace and bereft of God.

The Minister had clearly done his homework; he had spent several hours during the days leading up to the service talking to several of the friends and relatives who would be in attendance.  He had cornered me on the day of the funeral- asking me to share the memories I had and the things I might miss most now that my Grandfather was gone.  He listened attentively to the stories of going to visit my Grandpa on the farm he had worked at when I was little; how I was thrown ten feet by a sheep that took exception to my petting her lamb.  Stories of him taking me up to the top story of the barn to look through all the arched doors, stained glass and cast iron fixtures collected over a lifetime of renovating century homes and landmarks with his construction company, of giving me my sense of wonder and a love of architecture and history.  What I would miss most about my Grandpa, I said, was how he would always have a magic trick or two to show us when we sat around drinking coffee; he would confound everyone with his sleight of hand, showing us the same trick over and over as we tried desperately to figure out how he did it.

During the eulogy, the Minister recalled this story of my Grandfather and the magic tricks.  Being the rhetorical magician that most Ministers are, he took the moment to try and teach us a faith lesson about how a man can be so close to the beauty of religion without ever actually expressing it in words.  The Minister seized upon this moment, telling us all that here was a man who loved the mystery- who embraced the illusion; here was a man who saw that there was something more to things than what lies at the surface.  Isn’t that what faith is about?  Isn’t it about trusting that there are reasons that lie beneath everything that we see, even when it is not visible to the eye?

There was a part to the story of my Grandpa and his magic tricks that the Minister had left noticeably absent from his retelling.  The reason I liked those tricks was that after frustrating over so many of the solutions, and admittedly solving very few of them on my own, my Grandpa would show me how it was done.  He would slow it down, take special care to make me aware of his hands and what they were doing- and expose the illusion as just that: an illusion.  My Grandfather loved the mystery, yes.  What I want to think he valued more was watching me solve the puzzle; he wanted me to look past the surface and see that there was no magic there other than what he had wanted me to see.  I like to think that my Grandfather did much to train my mind to break an illusion down into simple, explainable steps and not get caught up in what seemed to be the implausible.

Maybe this Minister thought that in a moment of grief that none of us would give much thought to what can only be described as the worst analogy ever.  Maybe he thought it was just a cute segue from a personal story to the conciliatory platitudes of his faith.  I wanted to laugh.  I thought to myself that my Grandfather had played one last sleight of hand that day- he had let a rhetorical magician build an illusion; he watched as I carefully examined the sleight of hand and exposed the trick.  My Grandfather respected illusions, but he always wanted you to be in on the sleight of hand.

As we gather together to celebrate the lives of those who are close to us, it will increasingly be the case that we will have these confused mash-ups of religious tradition and secular culture.  Funerals are, of course, for the living and not for the dead.  At this moment in time we have families and communities that are not, as we were perhaps a half century ago, religious monoliths.  It was the case with my Grandfather that his funeral was religious more because the people who planned it were religious and not because he would have wanted it that way.  I was in the minority in that room, and I’m in some sense glad that the Minister was able to balance those religious platitudes with an honest acknowledgement that my Grandfather was not one to suffer religious hand-wringing.  Increasingly though, there will be more and more people like me who are grieving more and more people like my Grandpa.  As our society shifts farther toward the irreligious, those traditional ceremonies will be increasingly less relevant to both the mourners and the memory of those being mourned.  The religious people delivering eulogies, too, will feel the pressures of the tightrope walk between not disparaging the dead and the honest acknowledgement of what their faith says lies ahead for those who “turn their back on God”.

It was amusing for me to watch a religious man wax poetic about how downright godly my atheist Grandfather was.  I wonder, too, if these moments take hold in the imaginations of the religious mourners who must be torn between reality and faith.  How can a man who has done so much good be destined for eternal torment?  Why should my belief in Jesus be the difference between everlasting bliss or punishment?  Is there no value to being a positive light if that light doesn’t give all credit to God?   In death the assumptions of religion come to loggerheads with the reality of a life well lived- for every person who tastes their own mortality perhaps another will see how simple it is to live on. Mourning is a cathartic moment and each of us has unique and meaningful experiences.

With the death of those closest to us comes the cold realization of mortality and the inevitable questions about the meaning of life, consciousness, and what lies beyond.  These questions are the bread and butter of religion- many a person has taken comfort and refuge in the idea that corporeal existence is merely a springboard to the eternal.  I don’t believe that we are all taking part in some “cosmic audition” for a role in eternity.  I don’t believe that my life can be boiled down to a job interview for my spiritual career.  I don’t find those ideas compelling or even desirable- but so many of us do. I would rather a compelling explanation over a desirable one- but for me religion offers neither.   This doesn’t mean that I don’t think that atheism has a compelling or even a desirable narrative to offer those of us struggling with mortality, grief and the meaning of life.  I think we have both.  Life is transitory, death is not; it is not a path to something that transcends it.  This is all we have, and all we ever will have.  We need to make the most of our time under the sun.  I was not aware before I came into this world and I will have no awareness once I leave it.  Compelling? Yes.  Desirable? Perhaps not.

This is just one part of the narrative of life, though; we do afford ourselves some measure of immortality.  The lives that we touch and the differences we make will outlive us and outlive their contemporaries.  We do get to be a part of the eternal.  My Grandfather was a product of those who touched him and the culture of his time- and he in turn touched my life and the lives of so many others.  The buildings he built still stand; and they will be here long after I am gone.  His life was bursting with meaning- and he was just a construction worker and farmhand.  He was infinitely special and nothing special at all.  So am I; so are you.  We leave an eternal footprint deep and tangible, regardless of whether we are giants or mere men.  We are the only known species to have a robust understanding of history and culture, and these things will make us immortal for better or for worse.  So be better, not worse.

That, to me, is a desirable way to live- and to live on.

Funerals can and should be an opportunity to reflect on the ways that the mourned have changed us- and in so doing have changed the world.  We ought to be sharing the value of a life that will transcend its corporeal limits.  I’d like for my funeral to be a time where my friends and family share the ways that my life gave them something that cannot die.  I’d like it if we all took the time to think about a life well lived and share that message with others.

If there is one thing that I believe important to take away from the grief of losing someone who was close to us- if there is something that we ought to take away from our mourning and build upon- it is that our lives are not strings that are measured and cut by the Fates. Our lives are braids that are woven with every other person we come into contact with.  Even after our string has come to its end, that braid goes on in perpetuity through those we have allowed ourselves to be tied to.  If we take the time to change the course of others around us, we don’t die- we just take a well earned rest.  My Grandfather taught me to see wonder- he taught me to appreciate architecture and history- he made me open my eyes and question what I saw.  I will take those lessons and teach my children, and they in turn will give those lessons to others.

My Grandpa isn’t really dead, because his life has shaped my own.

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