A Principle Bigger Than Us All

I’ve spent the past two years writing on this blog (often not well) hoping to find some answers and hoping that maybe others would find some truth in my truth. I’ve had some pretty crazy experiences lately that have made me realize just how contracted my life has been. In these twenty four years I’ve been given the privilege of seeing and living many different kinds of lives. I’ve been the athlete. I’ve been the jock. I’ve been the ladies man. I’ve been the rock-star. I’ve been the ‘genius’. I’ve been the inspiration. I’ve been the loser. I’ve been friendless. I’ve been despised. I’ve been stupid. I’ve been the cripple and the burden. I’ve lived with hundreds of friends, and an in-tact family, and I’ve lived with zero friends and no family.

There’s this Becket quote that I like: there’s man all over for you, blaming on his shoes the fault of his feet. We always try to look for some meaning in the madness; some purpose. It’s an inherently human thing to do. We all at one point think that there is some great purpose for us;  that we’re some integral part of this grand design. We all hop we’re that special, and that’s one of those hopes that’s truly difficult to break away from, and incredibly hard to lose.

When I think about my purpose, and how ‘important’ I must be, I think about the disabled children abandoned because their parents didn’t want them; something that’s less frequent now, but incredibly common in the past. What about the kids and adults right now starving to death. What about the people slain for no reason but to satiate some sick sadistic warlord or sociopaths desires? When I think about these people I find it very difficult to see the great meaning in their lives. And I find it even more difficult to justify my desire to find one in my own.

I don’t know exactly what the future holds for me, but like everyone else I have a fairly general idea of the direction I’m headed in. I know that I’m going to have surgery on my spine to treat my Syrinx. I know that I’m going to remain disabled. I know that things are going to remain hard. When I think of my future I am stressed, but it’s not the surgery or the disability that make me feel stressed, it’s the lack of support and connection with others. And it’s the knowledge that the family I do have left aren’t going to make the world a much better place.

Recently my brother moved out, leaving me and my dog alone in this apartment. It’s made me really feel worthless, and really question the belief I used to have that I could find purpose and meaning. It was the hope that my brother would see my world and it would make him a better person that gave me purpose (I know that if I were magically cured right now I would go on to do wonderful things; the stuff that used to stress me out and prevent me from fulfilling my potential (the insecurity, the money-stress) pales in comparison to the stress of not being able to walk, or work, or really live. And so I thought perhaps it was logical to conclude that since he’s healthy, he could take that truth and completely transform his life; he could do the good things he is capable of doing). But now I  don’t know. It’s the actions that people make and the things that people believe and do that determine if the world is just and good. People make the meaning and purpose, not fate, not the ‘gods’, and certainly not ourselves. A person may be able to will themselves to greatness, but how you define greatness and the metrics you use to measure it might reveal that the greatest thing is to be good, not rich, or envied, or feared. Take the Kennedy family. Many revere them, and are inspired by them. But many people don’t know about Rose Kennedy. They had her lobotomized, and then institutionalized for life. She was very rarely visited. She was alone, to suffer and live out her existence; a causality for the greatness of others. And for what? Did the Kennedy’s change the world forever? Or was their greatness just as fleeting as the law student who passes his Bar, or my brother who gets the raise he’s been working towards.

The things we desire so much in this world are fleeting. I wanted nothing more than a nice car and fame when I was a kid. I pictured myself loved and wealthy. I am so far removed from that future I once longed for. If you had told my 14 year old self that in ten years I’d be disabled, in chronic pain, completely abandoned and alone, with too many scars to count, you would have crippled me. But I’m glad in some weird way that this has happened to me. It’s given me the privilege of seeing what it means to truly have a meaningful life. I am able to bear being sick and disabled and having such an uncertain future. I can find the good in those things and they are experiences and lives that I can use to paint a broader narrative with. It’s the lack of social connection. The lack of love and that opportunity to make someone better than yourself that comes with being in a family that makes me feel like nothing matters and I can’t possibly move on.

If my life has some purpose perhaps it’s to share that one small truth: being good (moral and virtuous – loyal, empathetic, temperant, prudent, just) and investing your future in others is the thing we need most in this life, and the thing we cannot live without. We can survive, and often thrive, without painlessness, without mobility, and without health. We cannot survive for very long (and we cannot really, truly thrive) without the meaning and the purpose relationships and connection to and with good people provides. It sucks going through hard things alone. But it sucks infinitely more going through them needlessly. Like Rose Kennedy, I don’t have to go through this stuff. It’s not actually going through it that stings the most (like I said before, humans are incredibly resilient), it’s the reason why I have to go through it that does. And that reason is the reason why people feel like the world is a harsh place filled with meaningless suffering. For me, that reason is that my brothers don’t understand that being good and moral means being there for others. It means just supporting them and loving them; calling them when they’re ill, trying to help them, and trying to learn from them. So that they can feel better, so that I can feel better, yes, but also so that anyone could feel better. It’s the principle that matters, not my particular happiness. It’s that my brothers don’t grasp that principle that makes me feel like my life is pointless and thus that life is pointless (their lives included, especially). I want to be happy, but I want them to want me to be happy more. Not just for me, but because it’s the right thing. I want them to get that one point. That being strong means going through hard things but remaining good. That the glory we can achieve in this life and the purpose we can find in some grand picture of some complex design cannot matter if there are people who are left in our wake starving, dying, and being killed. We can’t prescribe universal rights unless everyone has access to them. The world is harsh and life is often very difficult and unforgiving, but if people are good, and get that one main principle (being moral, and virtuous and supporting and learning from others) than even the most apparently meaningless fate can be transformed into the most meaningful one.

Religious pomposity and scientific falsifiability: a brief overview

As an introduction to a series of blogs I am currently writing, I hope to achieve two things here: (1) spell out the problem as I see it, and highlight concepts which will be the topic of a future blog in this blog series – in which the subject will be explained in far greater detail. Most importantly, though, (2) to show how all of these concepts come together in the greater problem which we have all encountered in each of our lives, today. That is, the problem of science vs nonscience, or pseudoscience. The problems associated with religions, and the problems, generally, people seem programmed to have. So all I ask of you is to you bear with me; although I may appear to be fumbling around with some messy, disparately connected stuff, it will only get better! 

Religious pomposity is an arrogance like no other. The long arc of religious influence still controls some of the most important decisions facing our world today – or at least demonstrates tremendous influence. Religion has been around since time immemorial, and as a result, it is ingrained into our lives, and our very way of thinking. You can receive degrees in religion, careers in religious studies or pastorship. Mere affiliation with a particular religion in many areas of the world determines whether you live or you die. Although the religious (specifically Christians) try very hard to demonstrate ways in which religion and science converge towards a shared goal, or are at least not at intellectual war, religion is best contrasted with science. Science in its most basic form is a way of gaining knowledge and information about causality. Religion in its most basic form is an answer to many of the biggest causal questions we humans seek to answer.

As humans, we have an innate predilection to anthropomorphize, and to hierarchically abstract things. As a result of that reflex, science is spoken of as if it were a living, breathing organism; an entity (what will science teach us; science does not have all the answers). Well, it isn’t. It is a method. A method employed by inquisitive and intelligent people who require a way of understanding the world that they live in, and life itself. A thousand years ago this was called ‘philosophy’. In ancient Greece, philosophers saw unlimited intellectual jurisdiction. The impulse which established philosophy, through philosophy,  established religion. At the time, positing a god, or gods, made logical sense. Philosophers sought the truth, and proposed some theories which then caught on. But the tools they used to do this had not yet been refined by time.

Religion is an addictive substance, powerfully coercive and endlessly harmful. For the sake of brevity, let’s just say it stuck. Philosophy, however, continued to expand and grow. Eventually birthing science, and a much more sophisticated tool-set – which itself has continued to grow (and as long as there are rational, intelligent minds at work, will continue to do so). The most important quality of any rational inquiry is conviction and falsifiability; if a new theory grows out of, and overtakes an older one, follow the new theory. Don’t reject it simply because you’ve grown very attached to the older one.

And that’s precisely where we find the conflict between religion and science. Philosophy as a vector for truth, had a major part in the creation of religion. Religion posits an explanation; a qualitative explanation for the major existential and metaphysical questions facing us today. Science has proven many religious claims completely and undeniably false (claims such as the world is only six thousand years old, or that dinosaurs never existed, or that God created two men and women six thousand years ago, or that a man seeking refuge from a world-wide flood  built an ark in the Mediterranean loaded with every animal on earth which wiped out the entire human race, which he repopulated). The truths religions did hold onto were roughly carved, using ancient hardware; science is strip mining. Religion once occupied a continent, now it finds itself adrift, clinging to a life-raft built of denial and tautology.

Remember, science is a discipline defined by the urge to discover and uncover truth. When you discover a theory of everything (TOE), a theory which explains every problem and answers every question, you don’t really need to keep looking (at least for the average person). Religions propose a TOE, and so feel like they have somehow weaned themselves off the vein of truth. As a result, any new fact or novel information which disproves some religious principle is not taken seriously.

There are many subsystems within the genus ‘science’; mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, physiology, psychology etc… So too are there many specialized practical professions which derive meaning from information gained through science; business, economics, education, politics etc… If we want to run with this ‘living entity’ metaphor, than truth is the air science breathes, objectivity the lungs, and experimentation and falsifiability are science’s leukocytes; its immune system.

Much like an athletes talent grows with practice, the scientific method is constantly evolving. We do not define truth as this abstract entity; truth ad infinitum. For scientists, true means that which, as of yet, cannot be proven false. Truth is relentlessly and rigorously put to the test.

Science only exists because we have not yet found every missing piece to every puzzle. If there’s one truth which has stood the test of time, though, it’s this: do not fit facts to suit theories, fit theories to suit facts. Changing facts and picking and choosing truths to suit the respective theory is by definition an unscientific process. On the academic and professional landscape, this is precisely where religion stands alone. Science makes the claim that truth is not totally relative, it is quantitative; that there is some answer out there. And the only way to study that is through a process of falsifiability, experimentation and observation. In science, personal preference and ignorance do not count as valid vectors of intellectual inquiry.

overview_scientific_method2

In the scientific community, an uneducated teenager cannot lecture a biologists on signal transduction with authority. In science, personal preference loses total power in the face of cold-hard fact. That’s because science has something called ‘the scientific method’; a system in which subjectivity loses out to factual objectivity, always. Religion has no such system to speak of. Sure there are catechisms and doctrine; theologians working tirelessly through the hand of god. But the amount of free, unclaimed territory on the religions plane is a vast, ever-expanding veld of personal preference and blissful ignorance. If a scientist wants a theory to be taken seriously, he has to prove its falsifiability.

Merely showing that you can logically falsify your theory is not enough to make waves in the scientific community. Sometimes in order to prove your theory, you must overturn hundreds of years of landmark work done by some of the most brilliant minds in history. You have to completely give yourself to your studies. You become as much a part of your theory as your theory becomes a part of your discipline. And this is ultimately the big problem I have with religion. Every Christian (I’m going to pick on Christians in particular because I was raised and educated in the christian school system) has a set of beliefs which they each hold to be ultimately true – humility is not a strong suit. And each and every christian has a rightful claim to do just that. The other day I was talking with a friend. We came upon the topic of illness. He suffers from bi-polar disorder (type 1), and I have a genetic disease. We were talking about  friendship, and my place in our group of friends. For a while now I have noticed that we have all drifted; or at least that I have drifted from them. They don’t really make an effort to spend time with me, or talk with me. And I’ve noticed how cold and distant they have become; like they don’t really like me that much anymore. I told my friend I think a lot of it has to do with being ill. He says that everyone thinks I’m just too negative, and they just cannot understand why I don’t come out with them as much anymore. I told him about my disease, and he reassured me that I have no reason to be insecure,  that I should have just tell them all. My friends are members of the dutch reformed christian community. A particular virulent strain of Christianity which prides itself in its bigotry, racism, misogyny  homophobia and emphasis on the importance of manual labor. I have two gay brothers, my father is disabled – as am I, to a degree – and I am unable to work at all for the time being. I posed this question to him: I said, imagine if your bi-polar disorder weren’t so well managed, and you were having attacks of mania and depression on a very regular basis. So much so that It affected your ability to work. to have a family and to maintain regular relationships like you used to. Now, do you think that everyone would jump to spend time with you? Or do you think they would slip away and slowly drift? Now imagine watching that happen and then trying to talk to everyone about how sorry your life is, and about how hard your troubles are? It may be important to share these things with your friends, but it may be nearly impossible to do so if your friends drift away before you get the chance’. Now here’s his reply: he told me that the only reason his illness was managed so well was because of God. That he prayed to god and asked forgiveness for his sins and in return god rewarded him with a manageable illness…

I replied with some trite banal stuff about ‘if god were true, don’t you think it would make more sense if some people suffered on earth to gain insight and wisdom for the afterlife’. He responded with some of the most childish, religious bull-shit I have ever heard. Only, to him, that stuff about Jesus dying, that veggie tales level epistemology was the holy grail. I offered my opinion, and he told me flat out ‘No, that’s ur beliefs. I hope one day you can come to believe mine’…

Frustrated doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. I forgot about this aspect of Christianity. I have been sheltered from this crazy shit for a little over a year. And honestly, if you read back in my blogs, I began questioning the purpose and ethics of militant atheism. I thought ‘why not just let Christians believe what they want; they aren’t hurting anyone’… definitely see the flaw in that thinking now.

My point is this: there seem to be no rules Christians have to follow when it comes to making factual claims. Everything’s up for grabs because they know if they’re questioned, they have the ultimate inductive proposition to back them up: ‘God’s mysterious and he spoke to me’… or something along the lines of that (I was inspired by the holy spirit; we can’t know God’s plan now, but we will one day’).

In the coming blogs I’d like to show precisely what’s wrong with this approach to truth, and this line of thinking. I will explain some of the key concepts in the philosophy of science and how that applies to the thinking, specifically, of my religious friend, and of religion generally. Hopefully by the end of it I will have armed myself, and those of you who choose to read, with both and understanding and a defense against the crazy lunacy that is a radical Christian apologetic and religion in general.

Atheism: The Holy Grail of the 21’st Century

Charles Darwin. 1 negative : glass ; 5 x 7 in....

While I have touted Atheism now and again, I’ve tended to stick to the sidelines and identify myself as an agnostic. I make that choice for two reasons (in ascending order of importance).

  1. Because I cannot say with absolute epistemological certainty that a god doesn’t exist.
  2. Because Atheism has been branded militant.

Not being able to absolutely refute the possible existence of a god does influence my choice to distance myself from an ‘ism’ that theorizes no God exists, and bases everything else off that one fact. But it’s not the deciding factor. In one of his books (I cannot remember which one right now), Dawkins gives us this rubric for identifying how much of an atheist you are. I think it’s a seven point scale; 1 being not an atheist and 7 completely and absolutely stating no God exists. Dawkins himself says he’s ‘technically’ an agnostic for those reasons, but associates himself as an Atheist instead.

It seems to me that Atheism has become this cultural Holy Grail…and the internet the Knights Templar. At the same time, people seem to have no idea what it is exactly, and yet revere it for its mystical powers. Where association by name grants the user an immediate ‘level-up’.

I was looking through my inbox folder on YouTube when I saw someone had replied to a comment I made on a Ricky Gervais video earlier that day. I had replied to a user who I thought was just a perfect personification of this problem that everyone seems to miss and skip over. In the same breath he accosted religions for forcing their beliefs on the masses, and then said that anyone who disagrees with Atheism is severely intellectually challenged.

The problem I find with Atheism directly is that it has aligned itself with this image of the strong bully that won’t take no for an answer. And this has been picked up on. It’s become so popular now that people ‘choose’ to believe it because it’s cool to do so, because it’s in style; they rarely accept it for its intellectual and scientific merit. How many people understand, or even care to understand, the intricacies of genetics and evolutionary theory, or metaphysics and ontology? I would engender to guess only a few.

The real problem (and the real reason I don’t align myself with Atheism) is that by serving up Atheism right now, were just covering up a bruise. It’s like buying a blue ray player for a piece of crap 25 year old T.V. Sure Blue Ray is new. And yeah it is great technology. And sure it’s better than DVD, and certainly better than VHS. But at the end of the day, you’re still stuck with the same piece of crap 25 year old T.V. You’ll be able to play all the latest movies, have all the right, new information and technology, but you’re still going to get a shitty picture out of it. The problem isn’t the way you play the media, it’s what you choose to plug the player into; what you choose to play it through.

Without changing the way people think, their code of ethics and understanding of the true value to morality, eventually were just going to run into the same problems.

Say you teach a child that the earth is only 2 days old, the universe was created by a Giant space lobster and to ingratiate ourselves we must wear only hot-pink, one-piece snow-suits. Word gets around and this picks up. You’ve got some wind in your sails now because your next door neighbor Klavin, a new convert, decides to raise his child in the ‘way of the Crustacean’.

Klavin is kind of an alcoholic dick, so he doesn’t do too great of a job raising his son, Johny Walker. Johny was never hugged, never cradled, and he never felt a mother’s love (Klavin was a single-father). He was never taught any moral lessons or principles, and when he got sick he was all alone to fend for himself; his father was apathetic, showing him virtually no love. Johnny-boy had to walk on egg-shells around his dad. The best he could hope for was that he wouldn’t be yelled at – he never dreamt of actual happiness. The lessons he did learn, he learned watching his father. His father was an angry Drunk; quick to anger, slow to forgive (slow is an under-statement, Klavin was famous for never saying the five-lettered-word). He was constantly the butt of his dad’s jokes. Johnny grew up and went out into the world.

At the same time the founder of the ‘way-of-the-crustacean’, Steven, was raising his own son. Only Dr. Pinker had come from a long-line of good-parents. It was in their pedigree to be nice, genuine and loving people; they raised young William right. He was loved. Every turn Klavin took, William took the opposite. He had everything Klavin wanted, and nothing of what he had. Ol’ Bill was taught moral lessons every day. Inspite of being billionaires, his parents volunteered at the soup kitchen where they taught him never to judge a book by its cover, and the importance of getting to know people… think before you speak. He was constantly on the receiving end of love and affection. William grew up and went out into the world.

They were both raised believing the same wacky things (which they held onto just as strongly today as they did when they had their great boiling baptism at the age of 10). Johnny went out and caused mayhem; anyone who didn’t agree with him, he beat. His father, although an asshole, was a strong man. Somewhere that must have rubbed off on Johnny because he led the great Lobster-claw revival of 2044. He fertilized the church, and it grew. He made life hell for everyone. It was his life’s mission to ensure that everyone abide by the doctrine he set out, based upon his beliefs.

Will led a quiet life, slowly widdling down that trillion dollar family fortune. He took a wife and had kids of his own. He still volunteers at the same soup kitchen; he is a man of works.

Condescending stupid story aside, the point I’m trying to make is clear. The problems facing our world today are far more varied and far more insidious than we pretend. We can’t label one people or one religion as the prime cause of suffering; or even the impetus. America is having a similar discussion about gun laws right now. The point here is that it’s the character of the person that determines the outcome, not what that person believes. Only a few of us will know the two extremes pictured in the story above. But most of us will fall in-between; a mixture of good and bad experiences.

We all know in the history of religion you’ll find an abundance of death and war. But I’d wager Atheists are responsible for just as many crimes against humanity.  Atheists can’t possibly solve bigotry by simply replacing a system of beliefs. If it’s the system of beliefs that cause the man to act the way he does and to do the things he does, than we should all run and hide from Atheism too. But well, we all know it’s not. It’s the actions of the man that cause this suffering.

How needing of compassion are those who engage in actions conducive to suffering”

We have to teach our children virtue and ethic. All of the great people of this world, almost without exception, have come from great families. They’ve had strong parents or guardians who taught them love, empathy, compassion, honesty and humility. It’s the angry, apathetic, cowardly, dishonest and egoistical that cause suffering, not the ‘Christian’, or the ‘Muslim’; it’s the man. The subject, not the object. A gun doesn’t shoot a person and all that.

The self-proclaimed Atheist that replied to my comment on YouTube told me that “the negative impact on… the others sense of well being” has zero impact on the matter at hand. He was telling me that being right was not only more important than being decent, but the only thing that really is important.

Daniel Dennet said that anyone who disagrees with evolution is a little slow, or at least emotionally disturbed. An introductory Philosophy student is able to point out, on average, at least three logical fallacies every-time Dawkins addresses the topic of ‘religion’ (I know, we tested it in an intro class). The great figureheads of Atheism tell us that thinking things through isn’t really all that important, as long as we think we’re right. And that we should put our energy towards science and atheism, not morality, ethics and compassion. That it’s the archaic traditions of religion that cause suffering in this world, not the small every day actions (and in-actions) of men.

What happens if we reach the singularity, creating the worlds first self-sustaining A.I.; a gun really can shoot a person. There are a few videos online where the guys working on these projects openly talk about the potential dangers involved in this type of discovery. They say we’re competing in a world-wide arms-race; every major developed country is racing towards the same goal. One possibility is that a matrix like scenario could unfold; the machines we create see that our race does more harm than good and wipe us clean off the face the earth. So long as things go as planned, there’s no guarantee this type of thing won’t happen. All we can really do is hope that by instilling human morals (Asimov’s ‘Three Laws of Robotics’ ) we can filter those genocidal impulses.

The Lorenz attractor is an example of a non-li...

It happens to be that it’s not the large actions committed at longer intervals and on larger scales that are the real threat. And it’s not the threat far off in the distant future that we should be worried about. It’s the small, seemingly insignificant, things; the causes behind the causes. The little suffering that happen thousands of times every day; a rude look, a cold shoulder, a rejection . Why we do the things we do. Christians literally have a code of ethics spelled out for them, and still for the most part are no better than their counterparts; they have only their vices left. I mean, the ten commandments are pretty basic, pretty easy to remember and genuinely easy to follow. If millions of otherwise normal people find it too taxing to follow ten rules, we know that the problem is bigger and far more complicated than we think.

This is why I am so attracted to Buddhism. While I remain a skeptic/naturalist at heart, the teachings of the Buddha have had a tremendous impact on my life. Cause and effect don’t match up in a clean-cut 1:1 kind of way. The universe is messy; nothingness and chaos. The objects of suffering, the negative actions done by the Christian, or the Muslim, have more than one cause. And we know that a negative cause always has more than one effect. Physical Abuse doesn’t just cause a bruise. Why should we think any different about the rest of the phenomena in the rest of our world?

We need to address the underlying pathology which has infected our societies; we can’t keep bandaging our wounds then complaining of an infection. If there’s one over-arching generalization I feel tempted to define the west with (specifically my generation, and my generation as seen in Canada and the U.S.), it’s laziness.

Fight or Flight

It seems to me that we suffer under the illusion that panic and anxiety enhance our problem solving in times of crisis and duress. Like that gripping, tight feeling of panic when your confronted by a potvaliant bare-knuckle brawler you accidentally eyed at the bar, who now wants to knock the living shit out of you, or when you’ve fallen ill. Or the moment you realize accidentally did send that text to that person you didn’t want to send that text to. We are deluded in believing that giving in to that feeling of fear helps us; but it’s easy. And fuck me if in that moment our bodies sure don’t make a good case for it. But it’s not.

Lets take a pragmatic approach: fear is important. Fight or flight is important. Not giving in to the psychological manifestations of panic, the prolonged shadow of fear, is something everyone has to learn how to do; that is, everyone who wants a happy life. If you die tomorrow, and you spent the last year worried straight, especially when you didn’t have cause to always worry, you’ll feel like you never had the chance to live. Listen to fear. Flee when necessary and fight when possible. But never give in to panic. Don’t spend all of your days worrying and afraid. listen to what your body is telling you, respond, but don’t for a second believe that your body knows exactly what its doing. Life is nothing if not imperfect.

All worldviews agree: fear is a manifestation of weakness and a vestige of our past. I’m not religious. I believe in the order of science; I believe in cartesian doubt. I believe in classical theory and romantic theory. I believe what I think is believable.

Evolution paints a grim picture of existence, depending how you look on it; in this instance, it sheds light exactly where we can’t see.

We also live under the delusion that right now, this point of history, is super important. I’d wager everyone ever believed the exact same thing. Conscious beings place themselves, their time, at the center of the universe. Why? Because we are the center of our universe. Sure we can consider a priori knowledge, but its a posteriori that has the greatest influence over how we act an behave, what we choose to believe, and what we choose not to.

We think that we are the culmination of billions of years of natural selection and evolution. And in a way we are. But fuck me if it ends here. Were just one small dot on a giant non-linear graph. We will evolve further. Millions of years from now, who knows what we’ll be. Or even if we will be.

You may be wondering how that at all helps us with fear; I just told you that your not that important, and that most of what you believe is horse-shit – encouraging stuff… really. This information carries with it the weight of a promise. A promise that so long as things do stay alive, they will tend towards positive progression; they will get better.

Our response to fear is a conditioned response and a programmed response. We have been given the gift of consciousness. That’s the meaning of life, the beauty of it all. That’s why we think that our lives, right now, as your reading this, are of some grand plot – things are going to end with me…. We an change our lot in life. We can be the force of natural selection. Sure there are limitations to what we can do, but so long as we are conscious and capable of rational inquiry, we can surely change our selves – who we are.

the only thing lately that imbues me with a deep sense of confidence is this very fact: that our ‘calling’ is to self-evolve. To take humanity from the weak fucking subordinate position it currently resides in, and elevate that to the tip of the fucking world. That’s what Nietzsche was all about too. Everyone thought he was a weak crazy man, and Christian crackpots love saying he was a deluded schizoid, but he knew exactly who he was, and what he had to do.

Our natural response to fear is to panic. To curl up. Why? Because we associate whatever is causing the fear with its potential negative consequence; the harm it will cause us. Fear is like a phone call or a fax; fear is only a mediator. It is not real. Fear tells us that harm is coming. It’s aversive because it must warn us not to engage. Panic is the opposite; it is non-engagement. So when we panic, we think that we have separated ourselves from the conflict. Panic is also just a mediator. It’s also potent because it has to get our attention. Fight or flight. And this is the psychology of it; the romantic interpretation. Lets look at the classical interpretation.

Take a grazing zebra, for example. Say the Zebra catches a stalking predator in its periphery; the stress response is activated. In order to escape from the predator, the zebras body has to expend intense muscular effort and energy. The sympathetic nervous system activates to provide for these needs (panic). In response to a novel stimuli perceived to be dangerous, the locus coeruleus releases  catocholamine hormones (epinephrine norepinephrine) to fuel the immediate physical reactions, the often violent muscular action.

Fear is complicated and dense; our understanding of all its underpinnings and extensions and interactions will come only with time. In the meantime we have to deal with the problem at hand. If we want to have an enjoyable life, we have to be courageous. It will be hard, and it will take extreme effort; it will be the very hardest thing you ever have to do. But with a little wisdom, a little time and a lot of balls, we can look death in the face and say fuck you; we can turn stress, into eustress. And take any negative situation and turn it into a challenge.

It’s trite and slightly banal, but why wouldn’t you want to try? Why would anyone want to live their lives curled up in a ball, fearful of whatever comes their way? No one does. They just think there’s no way out; their lot is cast and that’s it – there’s nothing left to do. Wrong, as long as you’re still conscious, you can still fight. And I’d rather die fighting to live, than die in a confused panicky stupor… which is where we are all headed if we don’t man-up. This is the key. Listen to the panic; let it say its peace, and tell you what’s the matter, but don’t let it set up camp. Kick it out. Take all that stress and transform it into eustress. Your body is still telling you something is wrong, you’re not going around delusionally believing everythings perfectly fine and kicking all bad thoughts out, you’re just subtracting panic; you’re taking away the aversive feelings. Those are great for the savannah – but were not living on the savannah. Lets replace panic and the subjective feeling we call ‘fear’ with eustress. Lets face fear and stress with a smile and a shit-ton of determination. Everyone is going to die. Lets do it fucking epically!

Disability Claims: the mental toll of proving your own failures.

For the past two years I have been unable to hold down full-time – or even part-time – employment due to a progressing, chronic medical condition.

I am disabled. 

Last year I officially switched my major to ‘pre-med’. I was determined that despite my progressing disability, I could still find a productive way to give back to society; nail down a vocation that would both utilize my goals and by stimulating my intellect, help me to constantly form new ones. I was looking for a short-cut around my own physical limitations. I was looking for a way to avoid a particular type of conversation.

Half an hour into the first Chemistry lab of the year I knew something had to change. That night after I returned home from a grueling 15 hour day at school I found myself in an all too familiar situation.

Everything has to change. 

My performance that semester ebbed with every single twist and turn; my body was totally unreliable and equally unpredictable. Biology labs were particularly hard on my neck, which had over the summer become increasingly painful and unstable. Even though I was suffering extreme chronic pain, fatigue, depression and frustration, I ended the semester with a B and two A’s – I had to drop two courses and missed about twenty hours of Lab time.

However, the real tribulation wasn’t the physical pain I felt, and the personal frustration that comes with failing to meet the standards you set for yourself (standards which you use to define your self worth). The problems started piling up when unanswered questions were given answers; my hand was forced.

In a vain attempt to sever the emotional ties, the decathat, I began to shrink away form social interaction, adumbrate of what would become a long period of loneliness, fear, and derision.

It was bad enough that my friends and family didn’t believe me, and bad enough that society and my school didn’t believe me, but it was being tasked with revisiting my own failures and limitations that made life seem briefly unbearable; I was forced to show people examples of my own short-comings and failures. I had to show them why I was unable to perform at one hundred percent. That process is at the same time the most familiar, and the greatest threat to a disabled persons sense of well-being.

I remember one night in the summer, after getting in a fight with my mom I rode my bike down to a park a few blocks from my house; I needed some fresh air. Along the way I made a de-tour, stopping at a grocery store; I hadn’t any idea what I wanted to buy, I just knew that I had to get something. It was as if I was subconsciously stocking up supplies in preparation for a big storm.

I ended up back at the park a little while later. While I was sitting there, an open knife in my hand, completely determined to end my own life, a man slowly walked by me. This particular park isn’t much of a park, but more like a small open field; there is a play structure and tennis court, but they are tucked away at one end, leaving a vast open veld which makes up most of the ‘park’ itself. I watched as this guy somberly trudged through the grass. I imagined what he was thinking, burdened by his stupor and loll. I pictured where he was going, who he was and where he was from. I wondered if he was a potvaliant character, ready to strike at any moments notice. He looked a little haggard and worn-out; he was dressed a little alternatively, bearing the unmistakable signs of someone who really enjoys ‘metal’ music. I imagined he was poor and unsuccessful. I thought his family probably deserted him because he never amounted to much, and so after a night of binge drinking and regret, he was making his way back to his mold-infested, one-bedroom basement apartment. That the greatest thing he had accomplished in his long, drawn-out life, was probably something most people would be eager to hide; or at least they wouldn’t lead a job interview saying ‘well, I own the entire ‘Between the Buried and Me’ discography, and I’ve been to every Atreyu concert.

Anyways,  to make a long story short, my mom pulled up in our van. I cried and told her about the guy I saw and how afraid I was of becoming someone like him; an unsuccessful loaf who can’t hold a job and lives in poverty.

At that moment in my life I was so enamored by this ‘ideal of success’. An incongruous standard of life, impossibly hard to define. I didn’t know much, but I did know that I didn’t want to be like that man I saw walking through the park. I knew that at all costs, I had to be successful.

As a disabled young adult, I can tell you that the picture the media paints about fairness and equality is an illusion. T.V. shows like Glee and Degrassi portray a utopian world where even though there are obstacles in life, in the end everyone gets what they want. The leading roles are played by stunningly beautiful actors and actresses. These are shows were even the ugly and downtrodden house some ineffable quality of character, or else some hidden yet profound talent or skill.

Our world is nothing if not complicated.

I think most people want to believe that life is governed by some principle of fairness; in the end good triumphs over evil, and the shy guy gets the girl. The only way our world can be fair is if we make it fair; no one is going to do it for us.

We are forgotten. 

This fall I finally made the choice to apply for Disability. Although I knew I would probably only receive  eight hundred and fifty dollars a month, I would have all of my prescription medications paid for (except for a minimal two dollar co-pay, a co-pay most pharmacies wave). This was a big incentive for me since over the summer I had to add three new (and very expensive) medications to my pharmaceutical arsenal. I treated it as ‘supplementary income’; I distanced myself from it.

Again I was faced with the embarrassing and demeaning task of proving that I am an incapable, inferior human; remembering all the while that at the end of the tunnel isn’t actually a bright, white light, but a tribunal that 50% of the time denies new applicants first applications… and their subsequent initial appeal. Not only do I have to prove I am disabled in more ways than one, the more ways which I can prove, the more likely the provincial government will be to approve my claim. In a sense, I am asked to reduce myself to my absolute worst qualities; the worst case scenario becomes the only scenario… depressing?

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really think too much about it at first. I had the end-goal in sight: an income and health coverage – approval. The small stuff that happened to occur in the interim didn’t concern me too greatly. I tend to be phlegmatic.

It seemed that only during the immediate affronts to my worth as a human being was I extremely uncomfortable in my own skin. I tend to quickly forget things that are bothersome or cause great emotional distress; who has the time and the faculties to absorb and evaluate every attack on one’s sense of self-worth?

Only now, after having ‘completed’ my first semester back at school (where I only registered for one course) am I thinking back on the way I was treated with a more analytical eye.

Over the course of the last year I have suffered bouts of extreme elation, and extreme depression. I have fought and lost, and fought and won battles against my own body; my own disease – the former of which being the greater of the two. I have had to mentally digest the reality that I can no longer take my dog for a walk that lasts longer than five minutes, or stand on my feet for longer than ten.

I have had to re-learn how to live. 

Having to define myself by all the negative aspects of being disabled completely unravels all the hard work that has gone into proving to myself that I am not a useless failure; that the meaning and value to life is not found in what a person can do, but who a person is… by what being ‘human’ means, collectively. The only thing worse than having to prove to others that you are disabled, is having to do so for a group of people who don’t know you from Adam. The inculculation eventually wins over.

Picture asking a paralyzed man to fill out this questionaire:

Check Yes or No  for any of the following: 

  1. Can you climb a mountain?
  2. Can you run a marathon?
  3. Can you climb a flight of stairs?
  4. Can you do fifty jumping jacks?
  5. Can you do thirty squats?
  6. Can you win a potato sack race?

Funny yet sadistic.

Our society requires that its disabled continually prove that they are disabled. Our society forces its disabled to literally define themselves in terms of their disability; a definition, mind you, based  completely on stereotypes and stigma, and butressed by  A definition which is in no way exemplary of the many types of disability. But if any able bodied person hears a disabled person leading a conversation by stating what they cant do, they accuse them of ruminating and giving up.

Our western culture has a profound stigma and distrust towards the disabled. This impulse extends to all minority groups: homeless, racial minorities, economic minorities. Some believe it stems from our imperialist and colonialist western culture. Others say that fear drives our judgemental attitude towards the disabled, or the homeless, or the poor; we are so afraid of becoming likewise that we need to distance ourselves. Even if doing so requires profound moral deprivation.

We need to be far-sighted. 

Nietzsche said that our society will crumble around us unless we abandon our traditional approach to morality; a fear based morality will only serve to hold us back. To the able bodied, the rich and the white Protestants, such notions are not only provocative but downright socialist. I’m by no means a communist, a political theorist, an anarchist or a conspiracy theorist. I am a disabled young adult capable of maintaining a cohesive string of thoughts, imbued with a deep sense of responsibility to pursue a solution to the biggest problem facing my sense of self-worth.

That problem is long and complicated and adumbrative; the solution must therefore be even more so. I’m not interested in the social and political implications, or the economic and religious ones either. I don’t care about the reasons or causes of others behavior towards me; no matter how valid. The only thing I care about can be found right here, right now; I’ll let the more qualified, sedulous, and more skilled put all the pieces together.

In essence, I’m a reporter; coming live to you from the front-lines. And although I’ve lost the ‘joie de vivre’, and the aplomb that were once staples of my personal character, what I have to say is no less important: when we demand from our disabled constant reification, we undermine the very core of their sense of self-worth. What we are telling them is that we don’t believe them, that they are a drain, and most importantly, that we are better than them. By using a black-and-white white which pits disabled and abled against one another, our government constantly reinforces an entirely incomplete definition of disability;  presented as the ana of all things ‘medically decrepid’.  It reinforces the idea which lingers in the back of every disabled persons mind; that voice in the back of your head that tells you ‘you’re not good enough’. The irony is that the very system which is supposed to determine whether someone is ‘disabled’ reinforces the very problem that they are supposed to fix. The narrative they paint is at the same time one of extreme inequality and one of extreme immiscibility.

Now, although I admit that I don’t know the solution; I have a few ideas and, more importantly, a few hopes. But they don’t know that there’s a problem. And the most insiduous threat to knowledge is the illusion of knowledge.

Morality:

My interest in human morality peaked in grade 12 when I stumbled across ‘Beyond Good and Evil’. Although I

DOGMA AND MORALITY

DOGMA AND MORALITY (Photo credit: andreco)

immediately felt a connection with Nietzsche and his writing, I didn’t grasp it all straight away; it has taken years of hard concentration and studying philosophy at a higher level to reach a point where I can regularly flip through Beyond Good and Evil and extract principles and truths with relative ease. Even though it has taken years to reach this place, it still had a profound impact on me. This radical philosophy became the impetus to dissect my diverging view of morality and ethics, and make sense of that in a larger framework.

As with anyone capable of self-reflection, adaptation and an understanding of cause-and-effect, my experiences themselves have yielded massive changes in my understanding and appreciation of morality. I was raised Christian and educated in the Christian school system. My peers saw a revival in their faith as a result of direct faith-based education. I did not.

I came from a home of humble means. My father, who is disabled, stayed at home and took care of us kids while my mom became the sole breadwinner for the family. My father was an ultra-religious man (he has since calmed down). It was a hard life. The Christian school system favored a hard ethic of work over any other virtue; you could be an abusive father and husband, but if you worked hard manual labor and made a name for yourself in business, you would still be held in high-esteem.

As you might have deduced, we were bullied a lot in school; by both the teachers, parents and students. It wasn’t until high-school that I branched away from the community and began to explore my own personal identity. I rebelled, but in a soft-ball sort of fashion; i was in a band, hung-out with ‘non-christians’, and drank and smoked the occasional joint. One of the odd consequences of bullying is that it often produces in the victim a heightened appreciation for altruism, empathy, and in general moral virtue. Basically, even though I looked like a tough kid who didn’t care, I did care.

I’m now attending a private Christian University studying Psychology and Philosophy. I’m still agnostic, and will most likely remain that way. Save for the ex-nhillio appearance of a heavenly apparition revealing the secrets of life, I doubt my beliefs will change.

The only reason I considered Christianity a viable worldview-option is because I found the argument from morality so utterly convincing, and the consequences of such a morality so worthwhile and prosperous. Our professors, especially of philosophy and religion, drill into us the idea that no such morality exists without Christianity, or religion. I always found this odd. My one philosophy professor in particular believes that aside from natural law, morality is simply a cultural creation; that it’s totally arbitrary and relative. When I try to argue for a different brand of morality, or a different cause, he won’t have it – he’s very much a fundamentalist in this way. He’ll site some metaphysical principle that apparently is an antecedent prerequisite for morality in general. But he’s just grasping at straws.

It wasn’t until I downloaded and started reading Sam Harris’ ‘The Moral Landscape’ but a week ago that I realized my intuitions about human morality weren’t totally biased and could actually be explained rationally.

Sam posits that morality is so much more profoundly concrete than previous philosophers have made it out to be. He disagrees with nietzsche’s belief that morality is a social construction, and that we all wish to actualize our own der Wille zur Macht. That morality is a product of our evolutionary ancestry, or that morality can only be explained in religious terms by virtue of natural law. He claims that morality is based upon well-being. That morality can be studied and addressed by science, and that morality is a necessary force for good in this world (and I don’t mean necessary’ in the metaphysical sense). His position is I guess a neo-utilitarianism. Only different. He claims that there will always be objections to a morality based upon well-being, but also their will always be a consensus which holds to the position that general well-being and morality are intimately and causally related.

To ‘reduce’ (I’m using the word reduce adjectivally) the sum of his position to one sentence, it would be this: morality did not arise by virtue of evolution, solely as some mutation that provided increased survival and/or reproductive fitness, but as a byproduct of emerging human consciousness; because it’s an amalgamation of self-reflection, which causes us to be aware of our own well-being, intuition, which provides empathy, and the capacity for problem solving, which allows us the unique purview that what’s good for us, is good for others, and as a result is also good for us, which could only arise as a result of consciousness. (A full comprehensive definition can only be acquired by reading through the whole book, firsthand.)

This is a big discovery for me. Although reading the book I have come across certain assertions that make me grind my teeth with frustration, there have also been certain parts that upon reading have resulted in sort of quasi-epiphanies. Theists will argue against this view of morality vehemently because for the first time someone offers a realistic and rational alternative of morality that is intellectually appealing to the academic and objectively appealing to the layman. I’m not finished the book yet, so I could be jumping the gun, and he could totally contradict himself in the end, but for the most part I’m very grateful and very happy that he wrote this, and that I’ve begun reading it; it is the single biggest influence on my understanding of morality since I read Beyond Good and Evil for the first time when I was eighteen years old.

Christians and Theists often claim authority in matters of morality because they have an ultimate authority upon which to draw answers from. But I’ve always been of the position that a lack of understanding isn’t evidence of an absence of truth, but simply sheds light on the fact that in any given particular situation in which there is a gap between evidence and knowledge there will eventually be a convergence on any number of the particular truths in question – whatever truth that may be. In this instance it’s truth concerning morality and its corollaries. And I’d be more than happy to spearhead a campaign to unearth that truth (not exhume, as the theist would).

Fundamentalism

a fundamental problem

Fundamentalism: Christians who know much less than they think they know.

Today I met with the pastor of the Baptist Church that I attended growing up. I hadn’t seen or heard from him or anyone in that church for the better part of six or seven years. I stopped going to Church in High-school and haven’t been to a Sunday sermon ever since. Our meeting was predicated on a question I posed to him about Baptism; that is, can you be baptized in private (not in-front of an entire congregation as a sort of spectacle).

I didn’t do much research on Baptists, or baptism. The little I do know I gleaned from stories in the bible and my experience growing up in Baptists churches. Apparently Baptists hold the belief that baptism is reserved only for professing believers. I say this because after he dropped me off at home, he told me ‘I don’t think you’re ready for baptism yet’. Although I agreed, in my head I knew I would only ever be ‘ready’ if I conformed to his standard of unequivocal belief in the ‘word of God’; without doubt, and without faith. That is something I cannot, and will not, do.

He picked me up at school and took me out to lunch. The conversation was nice, friendly and cordial at first. I noticed he had a sort of sympathy to him, and I appreciated that. I also noticed a sort of arrogance, or confidence, in him too, though; that was off-putting. Eventually the conversation steered towards more important questions. He asked me (very condescendingly) about Jesus, the point of the cross, what I believe are the most important Christian doctrines and what constitutes a Christian. Eventually we got on the topic of Homosexuality; as you do… My brother is gay. He knew that, but he pressed me for answers. As I began my reply, he immediately cut me off; he laughed and said ‘that’s not a very good argument, but keep going’. I was using the cultural argument (that only now have our cultures diverged from ‘Homosexuality is gross’ to a sort of enlightened egalitarianism (we have choice; you’re born gay (determinism).

I often forget why I was an atheist. Becoming more agnostic in my beliefs these past few months, I’ve become quite embarrassed about my previous behavior. I  really thought religious ideology was an abhorrent infection. I have now adopted a more liberal view; ‘just accept that people have different opinions and leave them to it’. So long as their opinions don’t limit the freedoms and liberties of others, I could care less if I don’t agree with them. The principle of charity governs how I communicate with others; I think that Pride is a mortal ‘sin’, and humility the chief virtue.

I go to a ‘Christian’ University. I switched from a pre-med major (due to illness) to a Clinical Psychology and Philosophy major (with a minor in biology). I get good grades and quite enjoy and value studying – truth is very important to me. I get more excited about a brand new book than a video game, or a new movie. The reason I’m telling you this is because the way I was spoken to took into question my general knowledge, and the corresponding passion I have for the acquisition of knowledge. I have studied the most complicated and the most simple philosophical arguments; those related to Christianity, and those not. I still have a lot to learn, but to be sure, I am not an ‘uneducated amateur’ – as his attitude suggested. Ultimately, the whole conversation between myself and this pastor was pointless. But I didn’t write this long, drawn-out essay to tell you about the ‘nature of boredom’. I want to talk about fundamentalism.

In once sentence, a fundamentalist is someone who thinks they have battled truth, and won… only they don’t know why they’ve won, and they didn’t actually do any fighting. Christian Fundamentalists believe in a strict, literal interpretation of the scriptures. Pastor Bill told me he thinks the earth is only six thousand years old… how am I supposed to put forth an argument for homosexuality to a christian who denies all fact and pigeonholes his reason for the sake of tradition and a book. There’s just no way. He reads Corinthians, where it says homosexuality is sexual immorality, and forms weak inductive arguments (but believes they’re deductive) which he applies with perceived precision to all.

The reason I chose to be an atheist, and not just remain an indifferent agnostic (indifferent in the sense that I wasn’t going to tread on the liberties of others because I believe a particular worldview dangerous), was because of Christian Fundamentalists like this man. There is no reasoning; no arguing with them. If you believe the entire bible is literally true, down to every word and every proposition, there’s no way any evidence to the contrary is going to change your mind. And that, my friends, that is dangerous. And the abolition of which is worth fighting for.

In a few of my posts I’ve talked about the need to let people explore truth for themselves. I’d like to think I still hold that view, but I’d like to add a little modifier to it. I think everyone should have the right to explore truth, but only if their exploration doesn’t impede the liberties and freedoms of another human being, in their quest for truth.

And to all the fundamentalists out there: you ruin it for the rest of us!

Below is a link to an article about liberty and conscience. Rather than attempting to sum them up myself, I have linked the relevant site below. If you choose, enjoy! 

[http://www.reformedonline.com/view/reformedonline/Christian%20Liberty.htm]