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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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“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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The CPP and You: Why Facebook is A Bloody Horrible Place to Get Your Facts

Posted on August 8, 2013. Filed under: Canadian Politics, Personal, Politics, Social Justice |

BREAKING NEWS:  The sky is not falling.

Vaccines don’t cause autism, your brain is not being fried by radio waves from nearby power lines, and contrary to the message you might have received in your Facebook feed recently- your Canada Pension Plan (CPP) is not a Ponzi scheme that is stealing money from you to fund government waste and possibly leave you broke and penniless (the government left us penniless already) by the time you retire.

This message showed up in my Facebook feed today, shared by a friend who I love dearly and respect immensely.  I think it was posted with the best of intentions, but the effect was to spread a pernicious fiction about the collection, use and solvency of the CPP.

Who died before they collected Canadian Pension Plan? (CPP) old

KEEP PASSING THIS AROUND UNTIL EVERY ONE HAS HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO READ IT… THIS IS SURE SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT!!!!

THE ONLY THING WRONG WITH THE GOVERNMENT’S CALCULATION OF AVAILABLE CPP IS THAT THEY FORGOT TO FIGURE IN THE PEOPLE WHO DIED BEFORE THEY EVER COLLECTED A CPP CHEQUE!!!

WHERE DID THAT MONEY GO?

Remember, not only did you and I contribute to CPP but your employer did, too. It totalled 15% of your income before taxes. If you averaged only $30K over your working life, that’s close to $220,500. Read that again. Did you see where the Government paid in one single penny? 

We are talking about the money you and your employer put in a Government bank to insure you and I that we would have a retirement cheque from the money we put in, not the Government. Now they are calling the money we put in an entitlement when we reach the age to take it back. If you calculate the future invested value of $4,500 per year (yours & your employer’s contribution) at a simple 5% interest (less than what the govt. pays on the money that it borrows), after 49 years of working you’d have $892,919.98.

If you took out only 3% per year, you’d receive $26,787.60 per year and it would last better than 30 years (until you’re 95 if you retire at age 65) and that’s with no interest paid on that final amount on deposit! If you bought an annuity and it paid 4% per year, you’d have a lifetime income of $2,976.40 per month.

Another thing with me…. I have two deceased husbands who died in their 50′s, (one was 51 and the other one was 59 before one percent of their CPP could be drawn). I worked all my life and am drawing 100% from my own CPP so I am receiving the maximum allowable payment per month. My two deceased husband’s CPP money will never have one cent drawn from what they paid into the CPP plan all their lives.

THE FOLKS IN OTTAWA HAVE PULLED OFF A BIGGER PONZI SCHEME THAN BERNIE MADOFF EVER DID.

Entitlement my foot, I paid cash for my CPP! Just because they borrowed the money for other government spending, doesn’t make my benefits some kind of charity or handout!!

Remember Senator’s benefits? — free healthcare, outrageous retirement packages, 67 paid holidays, three weeks paid vacation, unlimited paid sick days. Now that’s welfare, and they have the nerve to call my CPP retirement payments entitlements?

We’re “broke” and the government can’t help our own Seniors, Veterans, Orphans, or Homeless. Yet in the past few years we have provided aid to Haiti , Chile, Turkey, Pakistan, etc., etc., etc. Literally, BILLIONS of DOLLARS!!! And they can’t help our own citizens ! 

Our retired seniors living on a ‘fixed income’ (CPP and OAS) receive no additional federal aid nor do they get any financial breaks, while our government and religious organizations pour hundreds of billions of $$$ and tons of food to foreign countries!

They call CPP an entitlement even though most of us have been paying for it all our working lives, and now, when it’s time for us to collect, the government is running out of money. Why did the government borrow from it in the first place? It was supposed to be in a locked box, not part of the general fund.

Sad isn’t it? 99% of people won’t have the guts to forward this. 

I’m in the 1% and I just did.

Holy Penniless Pensioners Batman!

We’re going to run out of money because the government is using our hard earned CPP to pay for foreign aid!  We should be making thousands of dollars per month in pension income and instead seniors are starving on a pittance! The government has been stealing money from all those people who died before collecting CPP!  The government is perpetuating the greatest financial fraud in the history of forever and ever!!!

The problem is, of course, that none of that is true.  Very little in that sad excuse for information is even remotely accurate. ( In the author’s defense- we do give foreign aid to other countries and there is a program known as CPP that many Canadians depend on upon retirement- the rest is pretty much bunk, as I’m about to demonstrate)

Let’s look at each premise in this fiction in the order that they occur…..

Unlike That Kid From The Sixth Sense,The Government Doesn’t See Dead People

THE ONLY THING WRONG WITH THE GOVERNMENT’S CALCULATION OF AVAILABLE CPP IS THAT THEY FORGOT TO FIGURE IN THE PEOPLE WHO DIED BEFORE THEY EVER COLLECTED A CPP CHEQUE!!!

First, stop yelling at me.  Please.

Second, CPP is not just a retirement pension for living people.  It has what are called “Survivor Benefits”.  As the name implies- they exist for people who “survive”.     “Survive what?”, you might ask.  Great Question!  It is for people who survive longer than their CPP contributing partner.  So dead people still get benefits, they just go to the qualifying spouse of the deceased.  Looks almost like the government thought of everything!

WHERE DID THAT MONEY GO?

Turns out it went to the surviving spouse.  Also, stop yelling.

Why I Want This Author To Measure My Penis Size

Remember, not only did you and I contribute to CPP but your employer did, too. It totalled 15% of your income before taxes. 

Where on earth did you get a figure like 15%?  The amount that comes off of an employee’s paycheque for 2013 is 4.95% to a maximum of $2356.20 per year.  This is in addition to the employer portion which is equal to the employee portion- which means that the effective maximum percentage that a working Canadian can pay is 9.9%  That, if you are keeping track of the math, is 5.1% lower than what you are claiming it is.  This of course assumes that the employee doesn’t make more than the maximum contributory earnings of $47,600. Let’s break it down so it is easier to understand:

Example 1- Joe works for Walmart. He makes $1500 gross biweekly because he is a high level manager. He will contribute $67.59 from every paycheque for a total of $1757.25 per year. This amounts to 4.95% of his gross pay.  His employer contributes an equal portion, totaling $1757.25.  This is not 15% of his earnings.  Not even close.  That amount (15%) would be $5850, which appears to be less than $3514.50 (9.9% of 39,000 less the basic exemption of $3500).  Maybe I’m wrong.

Example 2- Cindy works for the Toronto Dominion Bank.  She makes $2350 gross biweekly.  Since she makes $61,000 per year, and the maximum contributory amount is $2356.20, she will contribute $90.62 per paycheque, or just 3.9% of her gross earnings.  Her employer contributes the same, meaning she contributes $4712.41 per year- just 7.7% of her gross earnings.  This is less than 15% as well.  It is actually even less than the previous example.

There is no scenario where anybody in Canada pays 15% of their income into CPP.  None.  Doesn’t exist.

What makes things worse is that I (nor you) haven’t even paid 4.95% every year we have been working.  We have only done this since 2003.  Prior to that we paid less and the maximum contributory earnings were less.  So we paid waaaay less than 9.9% in the past- which gets you further away from that claimed 15% from the author.

Heck, before 1987 you and I only paid 1.8%, which when doubled by your employer is 3.6%  Don’t believe me?  Here is a chart from a reputable source.  That reputable source is called “The Government of Canada”, and they kind of know what they are talking about.

If you averaged only $30K over your working life, that’s close to $220,500. Read that again. Did you see where the old3Government paid in one single penny? 

Let’s frame this claim a little bit.  

First, when did you start working?  If you started working at 18 and retired at 65- and you paid the claimed 15% you would have stashed away $211,500.  That, as the author says, is close to $220,500!   That is a lot of money! 

Here is the thing though- you couldn’t have possibly made $30,000 when you started working.  Especially if you retired today.  Why, you ask?  Well, if you made $30,000 per year when you started working in 1966 then you were pretty friggin’ rich.  That is the equivalent of $216,200 in 2013 dollars- and you have been getting a pretty horrible pay cut every year since then.  Nobody averages $30,000 per year- because of this thing called “inflation”.

So let’s talk about a hypothetical guy- let’s call him “George”.  George makes $30,000 in a magical parallel universe where inflation does not exist, and he makes the exact same amount every year for his 47 year working life.  Even if he paid the maximum contributory amount for 2013 (because there is no inflation and no Consumer Price Index, remember?) he would pay a total of $221,482.80 in the 47 years he was employed.  That number looks even closer to $220,500!  But he wouldn’t do that.  Why? Because he only made $30,000 per year, and he didn’t cap out his contribution.  He actually paid $139,590 (9.9% of $1,410,000).

BTW- the government didn’t pay a penny.  You are right about that.

Entitlement is a Word.  With a Definition.  Look it Up.

We are talking about the money you and your employer put in a Government bank to insure you and I that we would have a retirement cheque from the money we put in, not the Government. Now they are calling the money we put in an entitlement when we reach the age to take it back.

Do you know the definition of an “entitlement”?  It is something you are entitled to.  Like money you contributed to your CPP!  They call it an “entitlement” because you are entitled to it- because that is what the word means.  Look it up. I’m totally not lying to you.

If “Ifs” and “buts” Were Candy and Nuts…

 If you calculate the future invested value of $4,500 per year (yours & your employer’s contribution) at a simple 5% interest (less than what the govt. pays on the money that it borrows), after 49 years of working you’d have $892,919.98.  If you took out only 3% per year, you’d receive $26,787.60 per year and it would last better than 30 years (until you’re 95 if you retire at age 65) and that’s with no interest paid on that final amount on deposit! If you bought an annuity and it paid 4% per year, you’d have a lifetime income of $2,976.40 per month.

IF you paid $4500 per year (hint: you don’t)

IF you got 5% interest on your money (hint: you won’t)

you will have lots of money.  Got that?  “Ifs” are awesome!!!!

What you end up with instead is this:

You started working in 1966 at the age of 18.  Let’s say you contributed the maximum amount to CPP every year you were working……

you should end up contributing (with your employer’s contribution) around $89,800 by your retirement in 2013.  $89,800!

But you only paid half that!  Remember that you were matched dollar for dollar by your employer.  So you paid $44,900!

Surprised?

Now let’s say you live to be 85….

If you take your $89,800 and divide it by 20 that is $4490 per year, so you are getting a pension cheque of $375 per month just to equal the total contribution amount. What if you only live to the age of 78?  Then you need to get paid $575 to equal all the money you and your employer contributed together.

Remember though, this includes the employer co-pay that you must insist is your money for this to work.

So the question is this: What is the maximum CPP benefit cheque available to a retiree 65 years old in 2013, since this amount was calculated on a maximum contribution to CPP every year since 1966?

Do you want to guess?

C’mon, guess……

$1012.50

So you need to live for 7 and a half years to just break even assuming your employers contribution was your money!

The average CPP pensioner gets a cheque for $596.66, and in a world where everyone paid in the maximum contribution and drew the average amount of CPP- it would take 12 years to break even.

So let’s think about that for a second.  In this world where we get ripped of by CPP, everyone pays the maximum amount and nobody survives past the age of 77.

That would be a truly shitty place to live.  Good thing nobody lives in that world.

So what would happen if you took just your contribution ($44,900) and invested it for 47 years at a compound interest rate of 5%?  Well, I’m not going to make a long table with differing yearly contributions, so let’s just take the average yearly personal contribution ($955.31-but remember that in 1966 your actual yearly contribution was $180!) and invest $79.60(the average monthly contribution) per month for 47 years and see what we get.

It turns out that you get $190,204.89.

Again, if you paid in the maximum contribution and drew just the average CPP cheque, it will take you 26 and a half years to be better off with CPP.  You will be 91 years old.  Which is pretty old, but remember that nobody pays the maximum and draws the average. Nobody.  Not you, not me.

I Should Be Making $3000 A Month Because I Am Attracted To Sickly People

Another thing with me…. I have two deceased husbands who died in their 50′s, (one was 51 and the other one was old259 before one percent of their CPP could be drawn). I worked all my life and am drawing 100% from my own CPP so I am receiving the maximum allowable payment per month. My two deceased husband’s CPP money will never have one cent drawn from what they paid into the CPP plan all their lives.

What is that you say?  You are drawing the maximum amount of CPP by yourself?  So you are getting $1012.50 per month.  Is it possible that you might live for four years after you start cashing in CPP?  Good.  Then you will be getting 100% of the money you personally paid into CPP.  Every month after that is gravy.

Calculate it with me.  I’m going to assume that you paid the maximum amount into CPP from 1966 till now, and that you retired this year at the age of 65.  This would give you the maximum amount of your own money invested into CPP.  You paid about $44,900 of your own money and if you draw $1012.50 per month it will take you 45 months to recoup your investment, or just shy of 4 years.  If you live for 7 years you got back every penny of you and your employer’s contribution.  If you live 12 years you got all the money you and your two husbands put into CPP and more!

So maybe you are just thinking about this the wrong way.

Everybody Else Is Getting Rich And I Get Nothing (Except $1000/Month)

THE FOLKS IN OTTAWA HAVE PULLED OFF A BIGGER PONZI SCHEME THAN BERNIE MADOFF EVER DID.

No. No they didn’t.  I don’t think that word means what you think it means. Also, stop yelling at me.

Entitlement my foot, I paid cash for my CPP! Just because they borrowed the money for other government spending, doesn’t make my benefits some kind of charity or handout!!

If you don’t think you are entitled to it, that is your issue- not mine.  Your money goes into a trust that the government can draw from, yes, but they have to pay you a retirement dividend with it.  They don’t get to keep the money.  For example, I donated $1200 last year to various charities and as far as I know none of them are cutting me a moonthly stipend when I retire.  If you think CPP is a charity- I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

Remember Senator’s benefits? — free healthcare, outrageous retirement packages, 67 paid holidays, three weeks paid vacation, unlimited paid sick days. Now that’s welfare, and they have the nerve to call my CPP retirement payments entitlements?

First, you get free healthcare, a retirement package, and two weeks paid vacation while you are working.  You are entitled to those things by virtue of being a Canadian citizen.  Also, they call your CPP an entitlement because, again, you are “entitled” to it.  

We’re “broke” and the government can’t help our own Seniors, Veterans, Orphans, or Homeless. Yet in the past few years we have provided aid to Haiti , Chile, Turkey, Pakistan, etc., etc., etc. Literally, BILLIONS of DOLLARS!!! And they can’t help our own citizens ! 

ZOMG!  We’re broke?  Oh noes! 

The government doesn’t help seniors?  Really?  Were you not just whining about how the government is giving money to….wait for it…seniors? Veterans?  We don’t help veterans?  Really? One of my best friends was disabled as a paratrooper, and he might beg to differ on your definition of “help”.  Orphans and the homeless are helped by specific programs, too.  We give foreign aid, and we give domestic aid.  Take your xenophobic bullshit elsewhere.

The rest of the post is stuff we have already been over, so I won’t bother rehashing it over again.

Turns out on further investigation that this post is an adaptation of a Letter to The Editor which is an adaptation of a rant about U.S. Social Security.  There is a more parsimonious knockdown of the original at Snopes.com which makes many of the same points I made here.

References and further reading:

Average and maximum CPP payments

Compound Interest Calculator 

History of CPP- Wikipedia

Inflation Calculator

CPP contributions, maximums and exemptions

Contribution rates 1985-2006

Contribution rates 1966-1984

Will Canada Pension Plan Be There When You Retire?

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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-

————————————————————————————————————————————————-

 

“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”.

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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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Civic Responsibility Rebooted: Why I think we are a community and we ought to start acting like it.

Posted on January 17, 2013. Filed under: Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Forward Thinking, Personal, Politics, Social Justice |

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.

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When we hear the term “Civic Responsibility”, several things come immediately to mind.  Perhaps most of us will say that voting is a civic responsibility; maybe some of us would say that engagement in local and regional issues is a civic responsibility.

Though I think those are both good examples of ways in which we can show civic responsibility, I think that they merely brush the surface of what civic responsibility means.

In the last couple decades- maybe even in the last few years- technology has made new communities.  Though the definition of “civic” seems rooted in our towns and cities, I feel it needs to be expanded to include these new communities- communities that were not even possible 40 years ago, communities that were the realm of specialized hobbyists a mere 20 years ago, communities that today are an almost assumed and necessary part of life for the “connected generation”.  We are living in a world of virtual civics- where our identity, community, and real life successes are increasingly shaped by our connections to people who live hundreds or thousands of kilometres from our doorstep.  If the reason we call local engagement “civic” is because these are the people we are most likely to interact or have the greatest sense of closeness and community, then I would argue that “civic” is a word that must be increasingly inclusive of those communities where we have “virtual citizenship“.  It used to be the case that community was beholden to the practical limitations of geography; yet yesterday, for example, I had as much (and much more robust) interaction with friends in Florida as I had with the people who live on my street.

It seems to me that if the word “civic” can’t transcend your mailing address- the word is of little use to us at all.

What, then, does it mean to be responsible to your community?  When we are talking about traditional civic responsibility the answer seems much more obvious- you are tied to others in your community by the shared experiences of geography and locality. Roughly speaking- you experience the same events, you interact with the same people, you use the same basic services.  You want to give back to your community because the state of your community directly affects your own success and your own enjoyment; your community is responsible for your success and fulfilment and an investment is both paid back and in some sense owed.  I would argue that these same transactions occur in virtual communities- and that in some sense we ought to be more cognizant of our responsibilities to these new communities because we are the pioneers and founding fathers of a community in its infancy.  Just as those who took the initiative to plot the street and sewer layouts, build town squares and community services charted the course that made the future easy or difficult for future citizens- so too are we now making the choices that will make access to enjoyment of  our virtual communities easy or difficult for ourselves and others.

In this sense it is not enough for us to be merely engaged in our communities, but we must be looking at the ways in which our own investments are going to make things better or worse for the enjoyment of everyone.  Just like the man who runs for town council because he wants to avoid higher taxes or reduced services if the town deficit is not addressed- as a community I think we owe it to each other to invest in good habits today to avoid bigger hurdles in the future.

I feel a great amount of affinity for my online community.  Some of my online relationships rival those I have cultivated for years in person.  There are people I talk to almost daily, some that I interact with several times a week, others who I speak to from time to time when something of mutual interest comes up.  There are those who I know through friends and those who I choose to avoid.  There are issues in my community for which I am passionate and issues that are of only passing interest.

In every sense of the word I am part of a community, and that community impacts me for better or worse. 

My responsibility to that community is both an investment in my future enjoyment and a way to give back to a community that gives me much.  I think I owe more to this community than simply being engaged.  I owe it to them to make my contribution as meaningful and beneficial as I am capable; I ought to offer my expertise and resources in ways that forward the best possible goals for the larger group.

Responsibility to your community is not just grand gestures; it is true that for many of us grand gestures and huge commitments are impractical or impossible.  Not every person in a town will run for office, or give large donations to local charities; those are noble contributions, but they are practically impossible for many of us.  There are those of us in the online community whose voices are bigger- who have the platform or the means to make the grand gestures. Some people in the town donate blood or volunteer a few hours a week to charities; some of us online give to a struggling blogger or join together for small scale projects.  Some in the town vote or picket or speak up when they witness injustice; some of us online post or petition or comment.  Whatever we can give, however big or small our contribution, we must remember that our actions (and inaction) are contributing to a community.

Each of us is making the community that we live in by our choices, big and small.  We are building and contributing to the community- a community that is going to give back to us and be part of our future fulfillment. I think that we have a responsibility to that community both as an investment in our future and to pay forward the good that it does for us.

Our communities are there for us, and we ought to be there for them.

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