The Truths: people don’t actually matter that much.

The importance of a proper education:

I grew up with this burning feeling of entitlement that followed me everywhere, like a friend you don’t really want most of the time, but who is always there no matter what. It was an unhealthy relationship; Entitlement made me king, and I did whatever he asked. As a child I was constantly fishing for compliments, and was quick to anger if I wasn’t in the spotlight during every conversation. I couldn’t take critique, nor could I stand rejection. I was endlessly ignorant and hopelessly insecure. This pattern of behavior resulted in my friends and family pushing me away, and ensured that I certainly would not be the center of anyone’s attention. This realization made me feel even more angry and entitled. It was a really crummy cycle that lasted almost twenty one years.

I never worked hard at anything. I have a natural gift for music, and fell in love with the guitar at an early age. I never really practiced on my own (although I loved to tell people I practiced ‘two hours a day’), but I was naturally good enough that most people never caught on. I even managed to secure a position teaching part-time at this musical academy when I was sixteen years old. I played in a few bands and wrote half a dozen songs or so. I never played for the sake of playing. I played solely for the title and the recognition.

I often project myself onto others. As a child, I always gauged how others felt based upon how I would react in that very same situation. My family seems to have quite a knack for that – a huge part in why we all hate each other (as ironic as that is). I think at the heart of that projection is a selfish mass of cells, quickly infecting everything and everyone it meets.

I was always the ‘class clown’; a born vaudevillian. I would do anything for a laugh; anything. As a result of my efforts, I lost a lot of friends, and quickly gained a pretty shitty reputation. By high-school none of my friend’s parents wanted their kids to hang out with me. All of my teachers in high-school hated me, and I spent more time trying to convince other’s of my worth, than I did working to prove it. When someone had a bad opinion of me, I hated them for it; I knew exactly why they were wrong, and just how stupid they were for it.

I hate when people say ‘we live in a time where’… I haven’t done a meta analysis of the macro-level ebb and flow of society, so I am in no way authorized to make any such claims. All I can say is that right now I live in a time where I can interact with hundreds of people on the other side of the earth in the time it takes to pour a cup of juice. If I want, I can sit back and watch hours upon hours of video footage uploaded to an online community by members of almost every race, religion, society and country. I don’t know what anyone else is thinking, or what motivates them internally to choose the paths they chose, or what external factors have forced them down the road less traveled. I don’t even really know my own life, or who I am.

The way we feel things is not a good way to define what those things are.

I do not accept the premise that we are born with an essence, and that life is just this bland journey to figure out precisely who we are. That’s like a really bad Disney movie (probably involving a golden retriever with a predilection for playing ‘sport’). I think that I am constantly changing, and constantly refining myself. A great deal of who I am is both largely unknown to me, and lost in the memories I will never remember. If I had the answers to all those questions (like who I ‘really’ am, and ‘how I became that way’), I don’t think my life would be any easier.

There are only a few things that I know for certain are true. I know that I’m not important – at all. I know that when I die, I will most likely be forgotten. I know that I am infinitely stupid, and I know that I am constrained by my own biology just as much as I am by my culture and my society. I think there is nothing profound which separates myself from the animals, although I understand that people are ‘programmed’ to think in terms almost exclusively of themselves. I think that our need to see ourselves taken after, and wanted, and loved, comes from a place of ego and delusion. I don’t deserve love, or money, or shelter, or any of the things I get. I don’t deserve to be beaten down like an animal, either… but I do not deserve this excess that I have. Even though I have hardships in my life few will ever experience, I know how fortunate and how lucky I am.

I live next-door to a family of self-centered, ignorant character, deluded by the prospect that if their completely bull-shit, arbitrary requirements for ‘living’ were met, they’d strike gold again, and again, and again. What I’m  doing is not the sine qua non of meaning. The moment in which we shed this illusion is the precise moment that our lives actually begin.

Imagine a world without (for the most part) an entitled generation of lazy narcissists who think every step they take is this great terrestrial moon-landing. Imagine making a great cup of coffee only meant that you were left with a great cup of coffee to drink. Imagine a world where reporting what shop a celebrity left was considered creepy, rather than entertainment. Imagine all the shit we could get done if it didn’t take twenty years to realize how insignificant we are? Imagine a world where we have finally accepted that every feeling actually doesn’t need to be shared, and every impulse entertained. We are betrayed by our motivations and emotions all the time.

In conclusion, through much pain and suffering I have learned to question what it means to be happy and content. I have learned that the often black and white ideals I hold as standards for behavior are as much the product of understanding as the big-bang theory is  the result of comedic genius. (Which is a very pretentious way of saying ‘I haven’t got a fucking clue’.) I don’t know every answer, and I only really know a tiny fraction of the questions. But I know that I’m not all that important, and that no one will remember me for ‘who I really am’. That small fact was powerful enough to change my entire view of my life, and of life itself. If you live life with that thought constantly consuming your mind, you will treat people more nicely, have much more realistic expectations, and be much more open to change and hard work. Once you accept that no one is inherently important, you will begin to understand the true meaning of equality.

p.s.: if the world exploded tomorrow and every person was destroyed – along with all the evidence of people altogether – do you really think the people who believe they are so important and powerful will somehow emerge unscathed? As if existence alone etches their very essence into the fabric of our universe? No, the answer is no. They die and are forgotten, just like everyone else. You’re not born more important than anyone else, so grow the fuck up and do something with your life.   

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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.

Philosophy of Virtue: prudence and fear (part 1)

The key to fear isn’t any one thing. It isn’t some misdirected sense of courage and honor, abstaining completely from any thought or any pretense of thought pertaining to fear.Luca_Giordano_014 Neither is it giving yourself completely to fear, hoping to learn some invaluable truth by totally offering yourself up to its unforgiving arms.

The key to fear is balance, it’s harmony.

For the longest time I have been vacillating between those two poles. At the one end stands this stolid creature, unwavering and immovable; ready to take on any and all fearful things. And at the other a man who for all intents and purposes appears completely absorbed by his fear, absolutely and completely entrenched.

Both of these ways of addressing fear and living with fear are imprudent and incomplete, but few of us ever understand why. Our society offers up these binary oppositions to us all the time. This time it’s what a man facing his fears should look like, and what a man facing his fears should not. It’s a lie, though; I can tell you from first hand experience that neither work – that is, they are not inherently useful.

So lets take a brief moment to look at our options (options as dictated by society and the media):

  • Option A, distance yourself from feeling fear.
    • entails reckless abandon (only not the romantic type).
    • It involves abandoning your feelings and never thinking about the harsh realities of life
    • It is by definition passive, non-action. It does not entail an active attempt to control fear. 
  • Option B, give in to fear
    • entails, for the most part, a pathological need, an insatiable desire, to obsess and ruminate over all the negative possibilities.
    • It is defined by catastrophising

Society favors option a. It’s clean, it’s easy to mimic,  and it inspires a generic sense of hope. The only problem is, it’s nearly impossible to meet the standards required for execution; or at the very least, it is entirely draining, leaving little room to ride on horseback across the desert shooting Indians or lead the vanguard on Stalingrad.  Some can play this game, but they have won a certain type of genetic lottery. The point is, it talks of reachable conditions nearly impossible to replicate in the average joe’s life.

In response to the impossible nature of option A, most people romanticize their own journey with fear (which usually parallels option b). They talk about addressing your own fears and emotions and sharing those fears and emotions. They say this is ‘healthy’ and ‘it’s what real men, with real  courage do’ (I realize the irony in using the masculine form… but I can only include so many layers of analogy). They talk about their struggles with obsessing and catastorphizing as if they were desirable. They are playing the same game they lost at; pretending they’re something they’re not because facing that fact is too hard.

The real key to fear isn’t option a or option b, nor is it c, d, e, or f. The key to fear is just a balance. It requires wisdom and knowledge to keep yourself afloat.

For the longest time I have been trying to find a way to rid myself of fear altogether. I have been trying to find some nice clean-cut category to fit everything into. I wanted to say ‘fear is totally bad, and we are all better off without it, completely’, or I wanted to say ‘fear is totally good, it was the driving force behind evolution’. But it’s a balance. It’s more nuanced and subtle than any one cliché allows.

In order to get the upper hand on fear, we have to be constantly on guard and diligent with what goes on in our lives. We have to know when to let go, and when to hang on.

There is no such thing as good stress, or good fear. Eustress is a lie, and fear and stress are always bad. So long as we live in this ‘broken’ (I use that word very lightly, and so not in the same way a Christian would) world, we will always have to deal with that fact. One day I hope that we live in a world where no one has to suffer or fear. But until that day comes, all we can do is distance ourselves from fear when appropriate, and try to control ourselves when we need to face it.

I know how obvious this sounds, but look inward into your own life. How many of you are able to successively balance fear? Or have even recognized addressing fear as a scale rather than a categorical imperative? It’s easy to read through this and go ‘oh yeah, that’s just obvious’. Many of the structures in our lives are characterized by an equilibrium, not these black and white categories (shades of grey).

Most of us think in black and white terms, but be diligent for fear is a mix of good and bad. We cannot rid our lives of fear totally, but sometimes fear can save our lives (when we find Allegory of Prudenceourselves in an area plagued by some viral disease, fear makes us diligent and helps us avoid situations which might land us in our death-bed). I’m sure most of us have encountered this evolutionary argument for fear, and anyone who has graduated high-school has learned about the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, of fight-or-flight. Fear in non-conscious beings is a great blessing; it turns on when there is a threat, informing the animal of immanent danger. In a way, fear bridged the gap between non-consciousness and consciousness; its the first form of artificial intelligence. But it’s not such a great thing in us conscious beings. We can think and that has proven oftentimes much more vice than virtue.

We cannot evaluate every aspect of every situation, and so fear kicks in and instinctively promotes an adequate response. The problem, is that for the most part people don’t live in conditions requiring around the clock diligence anymore, and so fear has mixed with consciousness, forming this ionic bond – weighted heavily in favor of conscious fear. Our conscious thoughts create this dense mine-field around the central kernel, the real threat. We spend most of our time navigating that minefield trying to reach that kernel, and identify that real threat. The problem is, we rarely get there, but we’re almost always stuck somewhere outside the gates.

We can talk about two different formats of fear: unconscious fear and conscious fear. Unconscious fear  is the form of fear produced by natural selection in order to keep us alive; it is reflexive and instinctive, rarely consciously initiated. Then we have conscious fear; cognitively based, produced by thoughts we create (often takes the form of obsessive rumination and catastrophising) carrying varying degrees of epistemic value. If you’re anything like me, you find yourself afraid of the most trivial things; losing a pen or paper, wasting time, spilling a drink. We understand the function of fear (to keep us alive), but our biology wreaks havoc on the rest of our lives. The ratio of unconscious to conscious fear is sharply titled in bias towards cognition. The problem isn’t any one format, the problems arise when both are at play.

For the time being, all we can do is control our conscious fear. We cannot control our unconscious fear, and nor should we. There aren’t many problems associated with unconscious fear. The problems, again, arise when we start thinking of all the negative possibilities. We have to learn to respond to unconscious fear with instinct and intuition, not with conscious fear, worrying and obsessing. We can learn to allocate a certain degree of distress depending on how threatening a particular situation is.

Exercise prudence:

  • compare the risks of failure 
  • the rewards of success
  • the odds of success.

In respect to fear, the risk of failure could mean death, humiliation, losing social status or financial wealth. The rewards are various and generally universal. This all hinges on the odds of success. That might seem odd, talking about fear, but if we take a different perspective it makes more sense.

The odds of success can mean one thing or another, depending on the perspective you take. You could look at it in respect to the odds the outcome you picture through fear will come to fruition. Or the odds you will be able to control fear.

Allocating attention to distressing emotions depends on these three key things, but most importantly, the odds of success. Ask yourself “what are the odds this fear will be successful” . If you’re afraid of public speaking, and more specifically afraid that you will mess up and lose respect of your friends and colleagues, calculate how likely this is to happen. You can quickly form and test beliefs for each specific situation (fear of speaking generally, or of losing respect to friends or the public more specifically). With more general, conscious fears, the outcome need not be known (there is more epistemic wiggle room). But when it comes to something as precious as your life, you should take a little extra time with your addition and subtraction. A good rule of thumb is not to use belief as a truth-bearer.

When it comes to fear, generally ‘mums the word’. However, upon closer inspection, we find the walls of these traditional archetypes quickly fall away, revealing a vast array of different approaches to fear, and different definitions of what fear is. Some look at fear as a process or a unique entity. I take a secular humanist approach to my analytics, so I opt for the definition which says fear are, not is – that is, that fears exist, and that fear is just the collective abstraction, not a distinct entity. The key here is nuance and prudence. Nuance in understanding ourselves, and prudence in how we respond. Fear is not an entity, but a product of our biology, and the thoughts we create. Fear seems very real and is often very crippling, but it is not fear that brings us down, it is our fears… and we can control those.

There is hope, both that one day we will live in a world without fear, and that we have the tools at hand to respond with control and resolution to fear.

The old man smiled. ‘I shall not die of a cold, my son.  I shall die of having lived.” 

-Willa Cather, Death Comes For The Archbishop.

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!

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).

Emotional Cognition: Self-Defeating Beliefs (SDB)

A List of Some Common Self-Defeating Beliefs (SDB).

I find myself frequently falling victim to these beliefs. What I’ve found tremendously helpful is to read through this list when I’m going through any sort of significant emotional turbulence; anger, sadness, depression, fear etc…

C.S. Lewis said “It is not reason that takes away my faith. On the contrary, my faith is based on reason. It is my imagination and my emotions. The battle is between faith and reason on one side, and imagination and emotion on the other”.

Faith doesn’t have to mean a religious conviction (it isn’t so for me). You can have faith that your doctor is telling the truth when he tells you you’re going to be okay. Or you can have faith that when your significant other tells you that they love you, they’re not lying. You can have faith about virtually anything. The problems come about when we forget that the content of our faith is true, and we let our imagination and emotions control our beliefs and our reasoning.

  • Brushfire Fallacy
    • People are clones who all think alike. If one person looks down on me, the word will spread like brushfire and soon everyone will.
  • Spotlight Fallacy
    • Talking to people is like having to perform under a bright spotlight. If I don’t impress them by being sophisticated, witty, or interesting, they won’t like me.
  • Magical Thinking
    • If I worry enough, everything will turn out okay.
  • Entitlement:
    • you should always treat me the way I expect.
  • Fear of Rejection:
    • If you reject me it proves there’s something wrong with me. If I’m alone, I’m bound to feel miserable and worthless.
  • Approval Addiction:
    • I need everyone’s approval to feel worthwhile.
  • Over-generalization:
    • You view a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. You may tell yourself, “this always happens” or “I’ll never get it right”.
  • Mental Filter:
    • You dwell on the negative details, such as an error you made, and ignore all the other things you did right.
  • Discounting the positive:
    • You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities don’t count.
  • Jumping to Conclusions:
    • You jump to conclusions that aren’t warranted by the facts. There are two types:
  • 1. Mind reading: Assuming people are being terribly judgmental and looking down on you.
  • 2. Fortune telling:You tell yourself something terrible is about to happen. For example: tonight I’m going to die of Sleep Apnea.
  • Magnification and Minimization:
    • You either blow things way out of proportion, or shrink their importance. You see your negative qualities as huge as mount Everest, but then looking through the binoculars backwards, you see your positive attributes as tiny and far away.
  • Emotional Reasoning:
    • You reason from how you feel. Such as, I feel afraid of death, therefore I’m going to die.
  • Should Statements:
    • You criticize yourself or other people with “shoulds,” “shouldn’ts,” “oughts,” “musts,” and “have-to’s.” For example, “I shouldn’t feel so shy and nervous. What’s wrong with me?”
  • Labeling:
    • You generalize from a single flaw or shortcoming to your entire identity. Instead of saying “I made a mistake,” you label yourself as “a loser.” This is an extreme form of over-generalization.