Monday, December 16, 2013

My Answers to Atheist Revolution's Big Questions, Part 3

My last two posts dealt with the first three of six Big Questions that divide atheists as identified at Atheist Revolution.  

Before moving on, I need to clarify my answer to Big Question #3 a bit. 
I was looking at big, broad political issues that I think are sufficiently covered by secularist activism, and I managed to forget something.  I forgot that there are a whole lot of people in the world, some in my own country, that can't openly be an atheist or even publicly question the religion of their family or community without risking some pretty shitty consequences.  Consequences that I have never really had to face.  Secularism may not currently adequately address all the issues that atheists face, or at least not fast enough to help people now, instead of in a generation or two.  And, given the necessary interfaith nature of secular activism, it may always be tempting for secular orgs to downplay vocal atheists, to pretend that such atheists are just the cranky, immature secularists...young rebels and such.  As far as promoting awareness that there are atheists in every society all over the world, promoting social acceptance of atheists, and making atheism something other than a dirty word to religious believers, then yes, there is an Atheist Movement distinct from the Secular Movement.  If you are an atheist who openly admits your lack of belief, if you debate believers, if you give money to put up pro-atheist billboards, if you write a blog from an openly atheistic perspective, then you are, by default, an Atheist Activist in an Atheist Movement, as small and narrow a role as it may be.     

But that's about as far as it goes for a big, publicly noticeable "Atheist Movement" or "Atheist activism", as far as I can tell.  There is a difference between who people are, what they believe, and what they might fight for. There can still be "AN atheist movement" for whatever other cause, but it won't really represent anything about atheism or atheists.  "Atheists for Feminism", "Atheists for Lower Taxes", whatever.  They might revolve around or be united by their identity as atheists while doing whatever "good thing" they do, but it will not be "THE" atheist movement outlined above.  These will be subsets of a subset, like "Jews for Jesus" or "Vegan Atheists", or "Jimmy Carter Fans Who Like Billy Beer and Are Not Ashamed", or whatever else.  And some of them may accomplish great things in the world...who knows?  But they will still be "other" movements, simply composed of atheists, not a movement to promote atheism or protect rights specifically for atheists, and having no kind of "ownership" of atheism as a whole.  


Moving on once again....questions #4 and #5.....

4.  How tolerant should atheists be of diverse ideas within our own community and those who hold them? Some atheists are interested in purging the community of ideas they find unacceptable (e.g., conservative political views); others believe that there is strength in diversity and that our community is big enough for those holding what may be unpopular views to be included (i.e., "big tent" atheism). I'm inclined to include much of the Atheism+ (and Freethought Blogs/Skepchick) debate here because much of it seems to boil down to whether we must chose a single ideology (i.e., liberal politics married to third wave feminism) and banish those who do not agree with it from our community or accept others who might have some different opinions.

What is the role of skepticism in atheism? Is it sufficiently important that we should seek to be skeptical of our own ideas, or is it enough just to be skeptical of others' ideas? Some atheists believe that certain ideas (e.g., components of their preferred ideology) are beyond questioning; other atheists perceive this as hypocritical and argue that we ought to question all ideas to evaluate their merit.

Looking at these two questions, I think it is necessary to answer #5 before #4.  If I haven't decided what the role of skepticism in atheism is, then on what grounds will I base a decision about what ideas, ideologies or philosophies the Atheist Movement or community should welcome or discourage(if any)?  Maybe #5 should have been the first question of all of them....oh well, too late for that now.

Skepticism is a questioning and incredulous habit of thinking that one can use to winnow down the infinite number of ideas and possibilities we come across in daily life and in our intellectual musings and debates, and see what the available evidence has to say about their basis in fact.  I see skepticism as a kind of approximation, a quick layman's version, of the scientific method(though mostly without the experimental aspect of science).  It is sieve that we use to separate facts from fiction, useful imagination and creativity from wishful thinking.  A habit of critical thought to cut through unjustified claims, superstitions and unnecessary assumptions, and hopefully make visible something approximating reality.  (If this explanation seems inadequate, read The Demon-Haunted World, or just about anything else, by Carl Sagan.  He was a much better writer than I am.)

I have identified as an atheist for a couple of decades now, at least personally if not always publicly.  But I was a skeptical person long before that.  If I was not a skeptic, if I had never used skepticism in evaluating claims, I would most likely not be an atheist in the first place.  My beliefs would probably more closely reflect the society in which I was raised than they currently do.  There were several influences that led me to a skeptical state of mind fairly early in life.  I had a big interest in both science and science fiction, and I think the tension and conflict between the two generate an appreciation of both imagination and skepticism.  My parents and family, while not cynical, quietly promoted the idea that thinking for one's self was a virtue- not a vice, as some more insular societies seem to hold.  My earliest skeptical influences, in all seriousness, were probably Scooby-Doo, Encyclopedia Brown, and The Three Investigators mystery novels.  So I was introduced to the virtues and benefits of skepticism early, and found that it was a habit of thinking that could be beneficial in every aspect of life.  Due to social pressures and politeness, I rarely saw skepticism applied to faith, religion, or god as a child.  But the habit was such a part of me that I think it was inevitable that I would tackle those issues myself sooner or later.    

My adherence to critical thinking goes way beyond just the God question or bizarre religious claims.  If the evidence showed me a god, I would no longer be an atheist.  Skepticism is how I became an atheist in the first place.  It is foundational to my beliefs and my way of thinking about the world.  While I think there is cultural validity in "movement" atheism, and I am glad to be a small part of such a community, the promotion of clear and skeptical thinking is much more important to me.  While a person's religious beliefs may tell us something about that person, overall rationality is much more important than the answer to any single question.  Skepticism is part of the foundation of any intellectual enterprise.  I would not willingly be part of any group, community, movement, or political party that was knowingly hostile to skepticism.  

Atheists often hear people say things like "atheism is just like a religion", or "those militant atheists are just as narrow-minded as fundamentalists", or similar comparisons.  Those statements imply that not believing in god is just as irrational, or just as arbitrary, as the most fervent belief in the unknowable.  For many of us non-believers, who grew up at least influenced by superstition, who had to learn our way out of the bullshit, these statements sound irrational or even bigoted, and applied in such a way, they are.  

But consider a society where atheism is a given, and everyone is raised an atheist, and few have ever bothered to think it out for themselves, those statements could be quite accurate.  There have been officially non-religious, atheistic societies that swallowed other state-approved myths that rival the fantasies of religious mythology.  Being right about one issue, even one so culturally laden as the existence of god, is no guarantee against all kinds of other rank bullshittery being accepted at the same time.  

For those who arrive at the conclusion of atheism on completely non-rational grounds, without having used skepticism, atheism still isn't a religion....

....but it might as well be.

Back to Big Question #4 in the next post!            


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My Answers to Atheist Revolution's Big Questions, Part 2

My previous post dealt with the first two of six Big Questions that divide the atheist community, as put forth by vjack at Atheist Revolution.  Moving on....

3.  Is there an atheist movement that exists independently of the secular movement, and if not, should there be one? Some atheists insist that there can be no such thing as an atheist movement because atheism is not the sort of thing that can bring people together; others believe that it is meaningful to think of an atheist movement that is distinct from the secular movement even though the two have much overlap.

I think this question goes back to the first question.....what are the goals and concerns of atheists?  If you want to eradicate all religion, I think you will find yourself in a somewhat different camp than most people who make up the secular movement.  The secular movement is broad and diverse in makeup, and is concerned with keeping religious beliefs from overpowering public debate and reason and becoming laws of the land that affect people who are not part of the religion themselves.  From the wikipedia entry on secularism, discussing the views of the one who coined the term:

Holyoake invented the term "secularism" to describe his views of promoting a social order separate from religion, without actively dismissing or criticizing religious belief. An agnostic himself, Holyoake argued that "Secularism is not an argument against Christianity, it is one independent of it. It does not question the pretensions of Christianity; it advances others. Secularism does not say there is no light or guidance elsewhere, but maintains that there is light and guidance in secular truth, whose conditions and sanctions exist independently, and act forever. Secular knowledge is manifestly that kind of knowledge which is founded in this life, which relates to the conduct of this life, conduces to the welfare of this life, and is capable of being tested by the experience of this life." 

The basic thrust of the secular movement can be summed up by the common American expression "separation of church and state".   It's not a new idea, really.  One could even interpret the words of Jesus as having invented an early form of secularism:  "Render unto Caesar the thing's that are Caesar's, and unto God the things which are God's."  

I think that most of the important political goals of any realistic "Atheist Movement" are dealt with pretty well in the Secular movement.  I think that most of the pressing issues facing atheists (at least in America and most of the West) can be dealt with through promoting secularism.  Laws on the books saying atheists can't be elected, atheists being forced to pray before public events, open discrimination against non-believers in government or the military or in schools...I think "secularism" covers these quite nicely.  Only the more zealous anti-theist atheists will want to go too much further as an organized political movement.  And while I admitted in my answer to question #1 that I personally would like to go further, I don't see any reason why others will necessarily agree with me. I think religion is oppressive and promotes a lot of bad ideas....but many people, including some atheists, seem to think that many people need the comfort that such beliefs and social structures offer, and that as long as we can achieve secularism as a broad public policy, the rest can be safely left alone with the individual.  For the most part, I think that view is correct, if a little...unambitious, and maybe too willing to take the bad with the good.  But society will never be aligned completely without force, and there can even be strength in a diversity of the very least, with a diversity of views, dissent will always be tolerated to some degree, even if it's not popular.  Secularism could still exist without atheists.  But where would atheists be without secularism?  In hiding, most likely.   

However, there is still a further distinction to be made.  While I think that the secular movement is a worthy home for the atheism-related political goals of most atheists, it is NOT quite enough for every atheist and every purpose atheists might have. Atheists may be tolerated or even valued by the secular movement at large. It may adequately protect us from the ills and biases of a religious society.  It may be enough of a movement for most of our political needs, but it is not a community.  

I think a vibrant and diverse atheist community is far more important, useful, and valid than any kind of directed atheist movement.  Because of the narrowness of the goals and the diversity of beliefs of those who comprise it, the secular movement will never be for atheists what other causes sometimes are for other groups...a place, an interaction, a zeitgeist, where atheists can truly let our hair down and say what they really think as atheists.  

While most of my political needs are met by secularism, I still very much value the company, the talking, the sharing of ideas and perspectives that comes from other atheists who also speak out...who comprise the community. Other than a very few friends, I get most of this interaction from the online atheist community, such as it is. Debates, discussions, new ideas and perspectives, or sharing jokes about religion, or just complaining about all the dumbass shit I deal with at times from believers- you should see my fucking facebook feed sometimes, God Galore- without having to worry about offending the believers or making waves or experiencing too much in the way of social consequences.  All of those human interactions that don't fit comfortably within the "secular movement"....that's what the more loose-knit Atheist Community is for.  It may act as a "movement' here and there, for one activist or charitable reason or another from time to time, but I think atheists are simply too intellectually diverse to pick a full political platform of any kind outside secularism.  

Where to find this community?  Start with the blogrolls of atheist blogs you read, or search for facebook pages, or do some searching in your own local community...we're everywhere these days, in all shapes, sizes, races, and political views, and there's always room for more!                         

Friday, December 6, 2013

My Answers to Atheist Revolution's Big Questions, Part 1

Recently, vJack at Atheist Revolution wrote a post on what he sees as the Big Questions dividing the atheist community.  I thought he pretty much nailed the main issues, so I have no reason to not give my answers. Here goes.

1. Should atheists work toward the total eradication of religious belief, or is it sufficient to stop those who would impose their religiously-based morality on the rest of us? Some anti-theistic atheists argue that we should stop at nothing short of ending religion and that it is a mistake to seek religious allies who may share our goal of secularism; other atheists believe that secularism should be our primary goal and are perfectly content to work alongside religious secularists when it may be beneficial to do so.

Already, there is a division in my answer.  I argue against ideas that I think are factually wrong, particularly if I think they are harmful to people.  Everyone does this, from their own point of view of what is true or false, beneficial or harmful, some more vocally than others.  In my world, that means I often find myself arguing against some form of religious belief, or specific claim within a set of religious beliefs.  If such beliefs did not affect me at all, I would have little motivation to argue.  But in America, there are plenty of instances when another person's belief, or widespread beliefs in society, conflict with my freedom.  My own personal opinion is that society would be better off with fewer widespread false and damaging beliefs, and that religion is a big source of them,or at least heavily involved in spreading them.  But I see no evidence that all false beliefs, particularly where deep emotions and connections to one's identity are involved, can be eradicated by a political movement, at least not on the timescale of a human generation or two.  History has shown that using direct force or even the ballot box to enforce belief can end up a bloody mess.  I have no desire to force anyone to believe anything, we can only argue with equals and hope to convince them.  So even though I do sometimes wish, when I focus on all the bullshit and damage done by religious belief, that I could take a hammer to every fucking crucifix, church, temple and mosque in the world, I can not and will not.  As an individual, I have my axes to grind, but as any kind of movement, we should focus on secularism, on removing the unwanted political force of other peoples' religious beliefs from ourselves and others who do not agree with the religious beliefs being put into political power.  I am perfectly happy to work alongside Christians, Muslims, Satanists, Buddhists, or anyone else for the cause of secularism, though some of them may not like to work with me.      

2. Do ridicule and mockery have any place in how atheists respond to religious belief? Some atheists say we should avoid such tactics (e.g., "don't be a dick") because they are counterproductive or make us look bad; others say they have their place in our repertoire.

Do ridicule and mockery have a place in how atheists respond to religious belief?

Hells fucking yeah they do.  I'm not saying it's for everybody.  I've nearly lost friends over it....shit, maybe I have lost friends and just didn't notice.  You don't even have to be an atheist to do it and enjoy it.  I cannot, as a normal human being, be expected to hear obvious bullshit put forth as deep wisdom(or political policy) and have to just pretend to respect it.  
In the workplace?  At a friend's social gathering?  At family functions?   Maybe, if the situation warrants the "manners", but not always even then.  But to fully abstain from mocking religious bullshit?  On my time?  On the internet?  In public discourse?   When confronted face to face with willful insanity?

Not a fucking chance.  If reincarnation turns out to be true, maybe I'll give that a shot next time.

Now, as far as "organized atheism" acts of "the movement" done by public organizations instead of individuals....perhaps they should exercise a bit more restraint, but I think ridicule is still a very effective tool for legitimate activism.  To wholly abandon it, even for serious public orgs, is to collectively lose both our sense of humor and a vital connection with humanity.  As far as Phil Plait(or Wil Wheaton, or any of the random bloggers who've run with it) telling me and all other skeptics or atheists or nerds "don't be a dick", that's good general advice for daily life and cosplay conventions....but incredibly shitty advice for effecting change, busting open the public consciousness, expressing frustration, getting attention to your cause, or claiming one's independence from groupthink and irrational belief- as well as stuffy, prissy, petty moralist high-minded bullshit.  Phil may look like a new-age white Buddhist monk, but he ain't the fucking Pope of Skepticism.  Frankly, telling other adults how to behave and respond to a society full of bullshit is about the most dickish thing I've ever heard from a skeptic.          

More answers in the next post!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Miss America and the Media: RACISM EVERYWHERE!!!!!!!

So today I checked for fresh news on the internet, to see what today's bullshit outrage might be.  Of course, I was not disappointed.

What the hell is this white person doing crowning a non-white person????   Cue racist trolling and then lots of fake outrage!!!!

On my facebook page, I saw an article from Buzzfeed about all the racist tweets and responses concerning the newly-crowned Miss America Nina Davuluri, an American whose parents are immigrants from India.  If you're looking for the daily bullshit outrage, you can never go wrong with Buzzfeed, so I checked it out.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Tale of Two Neighbors: A Buddhist monk and a Christian preacher

I live in the end unit of a small, modest, and slightly run-down apartment complex on the main drag of
a small beach town.  A few feet west of my bedroom window is a separate building that has a car rental business out front, two small office spaces, and one or two living units on top and in the back, with a small back yard.  The car rental place can be counted on to disturb my early morning sleep at least a couple times a week, but after a few years, you really don't notice car alarms and slamming doors so much.  For the most part over the years, the living units there have been rented to youngish couples or small families.  They live, come and go, and sometimes have some friends over and/or barbecue.  If once in a while the barbecue smoke gets all in my window, or the music is a little loud, or the kids start loudly playing outside at 8:00 in the morning, I ignore it or shut the window, although shutting the window is not a very nice option in August, or for most of the year here in fact.  Truth is, I just can't bring myself to complain about good, happy people having a good time doing fun, happy things, even if it slightly inconveniences me at times.  I don't want to live in a world where a few beers and a tri-tip grill-up or kids playing tag needs neighborhood approval, even in a fairly tightly-packed neighborhood.    

For a few months back in 2009, I had a comparatively interesting neighbor living there.  I say he was interesting, yet I never even met him.  He was a white Canadian man and a buddhist monk(the orange flowing robes, the grace...bald,...striking), and for a short while he made the upstairs room his meditation space.  I saw him several times on the street from a distance, but we never spoke as far as I can recall.  I vaguely remember a friendly nod or two at best.  What I do remember most is that it took me weeks to realize he lived 20 feet away from me.  You could almost say it was a time blessed by silence, although I'm sure part of that was due to the fact that few if any people knew that he was there at all.  While he was living there, I eventually found out more or less who he is, as he does have a slight online presence even though he avoids social attachments.  Apparently, while he lived here, he was pretty badly harassed by the park rangers at the beach, which definitely bums me out, although it seems the judge in the matter saw through the state park cops' bullshit.  See for yourself:              

I'm not a buddhist, but he was a decent neighbor.  From reading his blog, he does sometimes come across to me as both entirely useless and a bit of a smug cunt, for one so enlightened, (like many Canadian liberals and progressives online, I've noticed) but....whatever.  I can't really be bothered to care, and apparently, neither can he.  And that's just fine with me and mine.  That's just California.

But now, after another small family has come and gone, I have a new neighbor.  A fire and brimstone Christian preacher.  Six days a week this is no problem.  He is quieter than I am, six days out of seven.  As with the buddhist monk, I'm not even sure if he actually lives there or not, or is there by someone else's permission.  I'm not sure, but I think he may be affiliated with the church that used to be a block up and across the street, that also used to do the free lunch for the needy and homeless.  Although I really don't like that church or most of what they teach, I did not mind at all living right down the street from the daily bum-fest.  They had a big lot with the space needed to pull it off, many yards away from the nearest local residents.  Even though I'm not a believer, seeing Christians actually live up to their bullshit and help people with some reasonably decent food is nice sometimes.

 But here's the thing......for the last few Sundays, my next door preacher has been holding church service and handing out free BBQ  in the tiny back yard.  The back yard that is within spitting distance of my living room window.  On my ONE fucking day I get to really sleep in, relax, and not work, his dozen or so congregants start showing up by 9:30am or so and wait by the yard gate, which is maybe 12' from my bedroom window.  His only congregants, as far as I can see and hear, are the loudest, drunkest, and most assholish bunch of the free lunch crowd, all young to middle-aged people who for the most part are perfectly capable of getting a job, finding food, signing up for government assistance, or at the very fucking least, staying the fuck out of my carport and stairwell.   They are not there for spiritual enlightenment.  They don't even seem to much enjoy the community interaction that is provided.  They all have access to food, though not quite as tasty as free chicken or tri-tip BBQ.  They just drink and yell and sit on my stairs and in my carport right underneath my bedroom window and try to bum smokes off any rent-paying tenants that walk by, until it's time for "church" and then free BBQ. The preacher himself is damn near as annoying.  I have yet to hear a full sermon.  He screams too loud and too frothily to really make out what he is saying, though the neighborhood dogs seem to enjoy responding in kind.  A far as I can tell, he's just teaching potentially useful, potentially self-actualized homeless people how to act like entitled, self-righteous assholes, much like himself.

I think that the buddhist monk staying there was a quiet, smug, self-righteous, freeloading ass with good intentions, trying to help people find peace.  I think that the christian preacher there now is a loud, self-righteous, ignorant blowhard ass with good intentions, trying to help people find peace.  I don't actually know anything about their inner characters other than what they have given me to go on.  I will least the buddhist respected MY peace, and to be honest, the couples and families that have lived there were better than either, all things considered.

Personally, I am a big fan of free speech and I do not morally judge any of the people I've written about, despite my personal feelings about their actions.  I'm sure the preacher and the monk are both decent people.  They clearly think they are helping people, and I'm sure in some ways they are.  But if you're going to "help" people by promoting your worldview and growing a flock, you need to own it.  You need to take some responsibility for it and not expect endless patience and respect and deference from the dozen tenants who are sick of the loud mess, just because you "believe something", or even because of the help you are giving.

If tomorrow's sermon is much like the last few, it may be time for calm, friendly words and helpful suggestions for my neighbor, like: "Hey, do you think you could arrange your church so that you shout toward the empty street, rather than right into my window?" and "Maybe you could put something in your sermon about not arguing, pissing, or puking in a stranger's stairwell?"

Ah, California problems...all kinds of silly fun....

We will see what we see, and hear what we hear.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A poll on gun restrictions

I've put a simple poll about gun ownership and restrictions in America at the top of the sidebar, giving six rough categories as possible answers.  Let me know how you feel, or more importantly, what you think about the issue!  Any suggestions or criticisms regarding the poll, or specific points that aren't addressed in the rough categories offered are welcome in the comments of this post.      

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Zimmerman Jury Did the Right Thing

  I didn't really want to write about this, but I was inspired by Greta Christina's righteous whinefest, and a conversation I had with another blogger in`the comments at The Uncredible Hallq.  

Over the last few days, I have seen no shortage of outraged news articles, opinion pieces, and blog posts about the Zimmerman acquittal.  The standard narrative in much of the more liberal media and blogs has been that George Zimmerman unquestionably "racially profiled", "stalked", and "murdered" an innocent person, and some even agree with the random protester that made it on the news, that the Florida legislature and courts have decided that it's now "open season on black people".

A far as "open season on black people"....

Friday, July 12, 2013

Thoughts on Meat and Morality: Contradictory Feelings, No Easy Resolution

I've been in a bit of a dry spell lately, blog-wise.  There are plenty of subjects I want to write about, yet so many of them, especially issues relating to religion and politics, have already been covered to death by other bloggers, and I often feel I have little to add.  So I've decided to spend a little time writing about various aspects of food, both as it's own subject, and the areas where food intersects with my morality or intellectual life.  I have thought a lot about these issues, but have never reached any strong conclusions the way I have with other subjects.   I can tell you my political position on abortion, gay marriage, drugs, or any of a hundred contentious issues, and explain my reasoning pretty fully.  Yet many various issues related to food, especially the ethics of meat, remain unsettled questions in my mind.  Maybe exploring them openly will help clarify my thinking.

I am very tender-hearted when it comes to pets.  I have to be careful about owning them, as I can become quite attached.  I have shed tears over the death of a dog that wasn't even mine.  Laddie was an awesome fucking dog.  I still think about him sometimes, long since his death at a ripe old age.  While I try not to anthropomorphise too much, I have no skeptical problem with believing that many animals have a fairly robust emotional life and maybe slightly higher intelligence than many people seem to think, and that emotional bonds between humans and at least some other mammals are real, mutual, and common.  I've always been a bit of an "animal person" at heart, even beyond the cute and cuddly.   I have a full respect for all species, even the ones that don't much like me.  The natural world fascinates and inspires me.  I love watching nature documentaries and observing animals in the wild- even the hawks that silently ride the winds above the outskirts of town capture my attention with the simple grace of their movement.  As a child I could spend an hour or more watching bees hover and buzz as they collected pollen from the plants in the yard.  When I observe life, I can feel a kinship, a love, for even the worms crawling through the soil, without any special effort on my part.

 All that sounds very nice and peaceful and earth-conscious, but I have a confession to make.  Despite these deep and real emotional and intellectual bonds, I am the carnivoriest Carnivore that ever gnawed the meat from a bone or licked the delicious dripping fat from his own lips.  (Keep the jokes to yourselves, pervs!)  As graceful and beautiful as a bird can be, I have no problem eating the ones that taste good.  If it was to turn out that there is a Heaven, it would have to include fried chicken, or be no Heaven at all.  I can empathize with an insect, even admire the lowly worm, yet more than a few worms have been gruesomely impaled on a hook by me, just so that I could catch and kill another, more delicious, and more sentient, life form.  Some of the more ardent animal rights advocates might say that I have tortured and enslaved a helpless and harmless animal, and made it an accomplice in the murder of another helpless, harmless animal, just to gorge myself on the once-living flesh.  If someone actually said that to me, the only response I would feel justified giving would be: "Well, that's just terrible.  Could you pass me the pepper, and that lemon there, please?"  Since I'm a get-along kind of guy, I would try not to smirk while I said it.

Simple fact is, I have killed for food, and not out of strict necessity.  Like so many other life-forms on this planet, I'm a killer. And I'll do it again, with a deep respect for the source of my food, but without a moral qualm or a trace of regret.  By PETA standards, I might be considered a dangerous psychopath who can turn off deep emotions like a light switch.  But to In & Out Burger, I am a polite and pleasant customer who knows the difference between fresh and frozen hamburger, and appreciates the fact that they do, too.  Who's right?                          

There seem to be deep contradictions within me.  Or, do I simply have different, yet justifiable standards for separate situations?  Looking around at nature, eating meat seems perfectly natural.  But are there reasons, perhaps important moral reasons, or more practical economic or environmental reasons, to suppress what seems so natural to me and so many others?  I have thought about these issues, off and on, for over twenty years, but have yet to find any solid answers.  While I have plenty of good reasons for eating meat, I still have no rational arguments built around those reasons.  I know I could do without it if I had to, and I have heard all manner of arguments against it...moral concerns, religious concerns, environmental concerns, health concerns, economic concerns...some of them even seemed to make sense.  Yet none so far has overcome my natural desire and my willingness to satisfy it.

There are no other issues in my life quite like this one, in which my emotions, intellect, usual character, and actions are so seemingly disconnected and compartmentalized...and I'm curious as to why that is.

I have no overarching goal in discussing this, except to explore issues.  I have no plan of posts leading to a definite conclusion, no agenda to push.  It will likely be a hodgepodge of posts from a variety of perspectives on issues of food and meat consumption, on living and killing to live.  I've had at least a slight interest in food-related subjects since I was a kid....from farming to the restaurant biz to home cooking to food history and world cuisine, and the practices and ethics of all of these, it's a huge and fascinating set of subjects that I have read about and thought about for years, without ever developing any kind of coherent philosophy beyond a somewhat contradictory set of personal opinions.  If I write it all out instead of just think about it, maybe I'll even learn something.   Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.  



Monday, June 3, 2013

Looking for "Middle Ground" in the Atheist community?

The last two years has seen a whole lot of debate in the online atheist, skeptic, and secular activist communities.  No surprise there, right?  But instead of atheists debating theists, skeptics debating the claims of the credulous, or secularists working against excess influence of religion in politics, much of the recent debates have centered on the current popular forms of social progressivism and particularly feminism.  There is not a thing at all wrong with this- it is, in my opinion, at least a part of what should be happening.  If you identify as a skeptic, a person who uses reason to decide their beliefs and actions, with recourse to evidence and a scientific perspective to inform you rather than commandments from wherever,  then you should already know that for this mode of thought and action to really work, NO subject can be off limits.  Subgroups in the community can have their "safe spaces", of course, where concepts can be refined, but those "safe spaces" cannot then easily function as a platform for the inevitable, needed discussions involving the whole community.

Sadly, much of the debate has been highly polarized, irrational, and ugly.  I believe one of the main reasons for this is that the fundamental reality of the debate and discussion has been largely ignored and misunderstood.  It is often portrayed as an Us vs Them: a pro-social justice and feminism side, and a side which is often conveniently and dishonestly labelled as "anti-social justice", or "anti-equality", or "woman-hating rape apologists" or "old sexist racist white d00ds defending their privilege", or other slurs, shaming labels, and bullshit.

In the context of the greater atheist/skeptic/secular communities, I don't see an Us vs Them.  I see something very much like political Entryism , combined with elements of a "putsch" where one group that is similar to or already a part of a larger group, tries to pull the larger group along to a more specific or radical alignment, as is not afraid to also try to replace existing leadership on whatever pretext available.  The current popular propaganda is that if you do not openly support a given social justice or feminist cause or perspective, and agree with their theories, then you are actively against the group professing it, and must therefore also be against equality, women, minorities, etc, even if you don't know it.  Even if you're just "blinded by your privilege."  Thus, the majority, well meaning and ready to discuss and debate, is painted as a sick and misanthropic group of cretins.  It's both funny and sad to see fairly well-educated middle-class liberals and their younger energetic followers act as if they are the first people to read and understand feminist literature or a sociology text.  These are groups with a very low number of conservatives and traditionalists, compared to the wider population. These are astoundingly liberal groups, and even the conservative and libertarian members tend toward a big-tent policy as far as concerns the larger communities.  The "other side" in this discussion, the "woman-hating rape apologists" side, does not exist.  What that "side" is, is the majority, a generally liberal and open-minded majority, who are simply not all  currently aligned with the furthest-left end of the progressive sub-group.    

So, if you are looking for that "middle ground"...
  1.  It's all around you already!

The atheist, skeptical, and secularist communities are quite diverse, even though there is overlap and shared goals, and many tend toward generally liberal to progressive in politics.  There is no shortage of perspectives.  I encourage everyone to read as many blogs as they can, to see where they fit in, to get comfortable, and still try to understand others.  Not only that, but maybe even further investigate the ideas presented outside the politics of the community. One positive result I have seen from the ongoing debates is that many new bloggers, who had only read and commented before, are throwing their hats into the ring, willing to stand up and take responsibility for their ideas.  Even though the market is bigger than in the past and more watered-down, some bloggers who have written for smaller audiences are finding their readership growing.

2.  If you want even more middle ground, you need to MAKE MORE!
Write. Blog.  At least comment in good faith at blogs or forums you like.  Express your ideas, and be willing to take responsibility for them.  Be willing to listen, be willing to think, be willing to interact, and be willing to talk back when you have something to say.  After almost ten years of reading and exploring the issues, these recent debates played a role in getting me to be more active.  You want to talk to the community?  DO IT!  The worst anyone can do is ignore you.  Or call you a hateful scumbag misogynist.  Or make unflattering photoshop parodies of you, although you generally have to be a pretentious ass to get much of that.

I don't see any deep community rift here...I see a potential second flowering of a wonderful and valuable internet and real-life community.  Call me an optimist.

So...what do you see?


Thursday, May 30, 2013

My email to CFI in support of Ron Lindsay

  To put it bluntly: A small number of extremely vocal bloggers and speakers have decided that the core mission of all skeptical, secularist, and atheist organizations and communities must be to support a number of "progressive" liberal political ideals, and that any individuals who do not comply immediately, without discussion or debate, must be silenced, ousted, shamed and shunned. They have zero interest in skepticism, and their only interest in secularism extends no further than how it can help their political agenda. Included in this group are bloggers and speakers PZ Myers, Ophela Benson, Stephanie Svan, and Jason Thibault of Freethought Blogs, Rebecca Watson of Skepchick, and Amanda Marcotte.

  I only name a few of the most vocal, and the only reason I name them is so that you can take the time to see what these people actually say and do. PZ Myers recently posted a blog offering the opinion that anyone who identifies as a "Men's Right's Activist" is simply a mass-murderer of women without the guts to pull the trigger. Amanda Marcotte recently penned a hit piece on atheist/secular activist Justin Vacula, claiming that he believes "women exist to serve men", simply because Justin does not agree with her that atheism logically leads directly to feminism. Some of these people have been directly involved in "outing" or "doxxing" people who disagree with them, so that their followers can call employers, harass, and intimidate. Some of them have been seeking to get people fired from their jobs, ousted from organizations, and attempting to establish blacklists of people not welcome to speak at or even attend events, all for the crime of disagreeing with their politics or their morally bankrupt tactics. Obviously false threat narratives, claiming harassment and fear of violence, have been built up around many individuals who dare to disagree with these ideologues.

  You now have a case of this treatment in your own organization. For simply noting what is obvious to any casual reader of these individual's blogs, that limited sociological terms are often used to silence dissent and vilify people who disagree with their views, Ron Lindsay has been called a sexist, a misogynist, a "thug in a cheap suit" (PZ Myers), and the hounds are now baying for blood.  These individuals and their supporters have little or nothing to do with secularism or ending religious discrimination, and are almost the polar opposite of "skeptics". They respect no science that does not validate their worldview, and they cannot tolerate even a hint of debate or open discussion. They openly mock the principle of free speech as being only a cover for hatred and bigotry and oppression. In their minds, anyone being allowed to talk back, instead of permanently "shutting up and listening", is oppression. How people so privileged became such experts on oppression is anyone's guess, but they certainly have no intention of "checking their own privilege" or "shutting up and listening" to anyone.

  I hope that you will take the time to see the full picture here. I hope that you will support Ron Lindsay, and keep a careful watch on those who seem to think their voices are the only ones that matter. Irrational ideologues like this are poisonous to any movement, but especially to one based on skepticism, freethought, and open discussion. I and many others will be watching the outcome of this particular "putsch", and I for one will not support any organization that gives these individuals any more influence than they already have. Again, please support Ron Lindsay in this matter. He has done nothing wrong and simply said out loud what so many reasonable people in our community, men and women, liberal and conservative alike, have been thinking lately. He couldn't have been nicer about it, yet witness what such consideration gets one in return...ridiculous accusations and outright dishonesty and hatred. Do not pander to these poisonous ideologues, it will benefit nobody.

I thank you for your time.
Neil Terry

In the interests of full disclosure, I made some small changes to my original email, which was written hastily.  I removed a three-word redundancy, I added Ron Lindsay's name earlier in the text, since some now might read this and not know to whom I was referring, and I corrected a misspelling.

If you are familiar with the internal political on-goings in the relatively small atheist/skeptical/secular communities, you might have a clue as to what this is all about.

If not, hello and welcome!  At this point, all I can say for online Atheism is...we're not all liars and ideologues, so sorry if you got a bad impression.    

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Word to the Wise; or, How Many Privilege Checks Does It Take To Chafe My Bunghole?


This is my favorite piece of sketch comedy ever.

Sadly, the reason I am posting it is because I couldn't find a shorter clip.  The part I want is at 50 seconds in.

To PZ Myers, Rebecca Watson, Melody Hensley, and more than a few other bloggers and assorted professional victims:  

Shut your festering gob, you tit!

Really though...don't.  Keep speaking your mind.  Just quit pretending that you are oppressed, or speak for oppressed people in any meaningful way.  
It's getting a bit pathetic.

Your type really does make me puke, though.  That's just a fact. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My Favorite Conservatives #1

I assure you I am quite serious with my first pick for My Favorite Conservatives.  I am not one for hero worship or personality cults, but I have long respected the outspoken, freethinking, and skeptical views of self-identified conservative, entrepreneur, and fellow freethinker and religious skeptic, Frank Zappa.

Yes, he was primarily a musician and family man, and not a politician, statesman, philosopher, or scientist.  Yet I find his views, as much as he made public, are as well thought out and principled as those of any politician in office today or in recent memory, or any slacktivist blogger for that matter.  He preferred minimal government, low taxes, and was as much an absolutist as myself on issues of free speech and expression.  But he was also....a thinker, plain and simple.  

Lead up post: My Favorite Conservatives

This is an opening post to kick off a series based on my favorite conservatives and their may be a short series, depending on how may corpses I can dig up that fit the bill.  I will be taking a look at some of my favorite conservatives, some of their representative quotes, and most importantly, as this is not about hero worship or idols, their ideas and ideals that may have some relevance today.  First though, some explanation and definitions.     
In my lifetime, there has been a noticeable dearth of people who self-identify as conservatives, or whose political leanings seem conservative, who are worth listening to at all.  While many normal working folks are conservatives, not very many of them are any good at defending their beliefs or even explaining them in any coherent way.  Most of the self-identified conservatives I know do little more than fill up my facebook feed with idiotic "liberal conspiracy" theories, pure, seething, rabid hatred of Obama(but they are NOT RACIST...not at, really, not at all, I know because they keep telling me so), and the conviction that any social, governmental, or community solution to a problem, no matter how necessary or beneficial, is the feared specter of oppressive communism rearing it's head.  Very few of them are capable of talking about any kind of systemic problem realistically, or ever admitting when a social solution is the best solution to a problem.  But...they're not really evil.  To me it seems that most conservatives, like most people everywhere, are good-natured, hard-working, morally upright, well-meaning idiots.  And, as with every group of people, at least a few are small-minded, ignorant, and bigoted idiots as well.  But there are in fact more than a few conservative people with good ideas, and there are more than a few good ideas that happen to be considered "conservative" these days.  It seems to me that many people aren't even aware that many of the ideas and ideals now considered politically "conservative" in America, are actually ideals first seriously championed during the European Enlightenment, are the philosophical and political foundations of both the United States and of most of the modern West, and are known generally as "Liberalism" in the history of Western politics.  Funny how words change, innit?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dream Journal #1- I Shit Thee Not: This Is What My Dreams Are Like.

When I first considered writing a blog, one of the ideas I thought might be interesting was to keep a dream journal.  I tend to be a very deep sleeper, and rarely remember a dream upon waking, maybe 3-6 times per year at most.  But the ones I do remember...
...oh my.   
There have been a dozen or so over the years that I can still remember vividly today....real brain-fucks.  They tend to be long, richly detailed, plotted along some ridiculous and often ambiguous narrative, and deeply weird.  Not usually violent or gory, but weird to the point of being more than a bit disturbing.  Today's early morning dream was no exception, and yes, this is honestly what I dreamed.  I only put down what I could remember immediately afterward.

I am sitting in the front passenger seat of a moving car, looking out at passing fog and dim shapes, lost in a reverie.  The murky outside scene passing by reminds me of morning rides to school in the wintertime. I'm aware that my mom is driving the car, and saying something I can't quite make out in my daze.   I try to hear  what she's saying, and start to gather my senses...

We're both adults, our current ages, but we're in our old family car- a grey 1985 Chevy Cavalier which is now long gone.  I've missed what she said, and ask "I'm sorry, what was that?"

She replies, somewhat aware that I wasn't paying attention, "Oh, nothing, I just said 'thank you for coming with me for this', you didn't have to, but I appreciate your help."

"Of course, no problem!  Good to get out and about anyway!", I reply.

 I have no idea where we're going....I almost ask, but then I remember.....that's right....we're going to the Valley Plaza Mall in Bakersfield, to buy a harmonica for....someone, and she wanted to make sure she got a good one.  It occurs to me that nobody sells harmonicas at the mall....and why drive to Bakersfield to get one anyway?