Saturday, December 29, 2012

Giving God His Propers

We don't really know each other. We have perceptions of each other based on our own experiences, proclivities, hopes, fears, and prejudices. We have 'best guesses' of each other, with varying degrees of accuracy. Like Thomas Aquinas pointed out, our perceptions of each other are like the panels in the eye of a fly: representative--possibly--of one aspect of the being that we perceive, but hardly representative of the whole.

If you misjudge me, I can set you right. But I don't really even totally know myself, so how right can I set you? Our perceptions of ourselves are also 'best guesses'. Perhaps they are more educated guesses; but they're still guesses. Our perceptions of ourselves are based on our own experiences, proclivities, hopes, fears, and prejudices. Our perceptions of ourselves are also like the panels in the eye of a fly, but instead of windows, they are mirrors.

So if you misjudge me, I can try to set you right, but maybe I'm wrong. You have all kinds of reasons to reject my self-interpretation in favor of your own interpretation, because you know deep inside that I possess as many blind spots as you do to interpreting the nature of a being. We are also pattern seeking animals, and it is your method of pattern seeking that has kept you alive all this time.

I am able to rebut your perception of me, because I am right in front of you. Actually, I am not. You're reading something I've written. You could e-mail me, or call me, or visit me, and we could discuss what I've written, and I could tell you what I think is wrong about your reading, and you could tell me what you think is wrong about my writing. Perhaps we'd come up with a synthesis. But I'm alive, I'm in this world, and it is possible to get closer to my original intent than it would be if I were dead, or if it were probable that someone else had written this little piece under my name. Who could even begin to guess the motive of someone who would do something so unprofitable?

God, who is alleged to be much 'bigger' than us, with ways much 'higher', would be much more difficult to perceive. We would do so with our own experiences, proclivities, hopes, fears, and prejudices. Because God is not present to set us right, ultimately our perceptions of God would be manifestations of our own private values, aspirations, wishes and fears. You may refer to a particular holy text or guru as someone or something that might set me right on this, but the same problem that is encountered when examining this text is also present, but compounded. It's compounded by the absence of the author, by the dubiousness of the authorship, by the unlikelihood of the supernatural claims, and by the Outsider's Test For Faith, which, if taken honestly, points directly at the ultimately subjective nature of faith-value.

God is not here to rebut your perception, and it is highly unlikely that God even exists. How much projection can I cast upon a being that is unlikely to exist? A lot more than I can cast upon a being that I know exists, and that's a hell of a lot.

I don't believe in God. I am an atheist. I have also come to realize that non-belief is perhaps the most respectful and appropriate response to any possible gods. If we can't make wholly accurate statements about the motives and actions of others--and even ourselves--then how can we even begin to approach statements about a thing that is alleged to be much 'bigger' and 'higher' than ourselves? Surely, any belief that we state in such a being would ultimately be only a deification of some aspect of ourselves, and isn't that the worst kind of blasphemy?

I don't believe in God, which makes sense for an atheist. But my recommendation to the theist as well--if they truly love their god--is to abandon belief in it. It's the only way to appropriately respect the bigness, highness, and mystery of that potential being. It's the only way, ultimately, to remain open to it.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Enjoy your day. Find somebody you love, and give them a big hug. Be grateful that you're here, because this is it, baby.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Advice for the Mail


Yesterday my son and I walked out to the mailbox to check the mail. He is 11. I am 31. I opened the box, put my hand inside, and drew out a stack of envelopes. A political advertisement. An envelope full of coupons. An envelope that contained a big yellow bag I could use to donate things to a veteran's organization. A plain white envelope which looked like a bill.

I put all the items back.

"You're not going to bring them in?" my son asked.

"No." I said. "They're not interesting enough. I only bring interesting mail into our house. Let's leave them in the box until they become more interesting".

"Jeez." he said. "I'm glad I'm not a piece of mail".

"Spencer" I said--my son's name is Spencer too--"I would always bring you in the house if you were a piece of mail. You are one of the most interesting people I know".

He smiled. It was a tender moment.

But that made me think. Maybe I'm being unfair to the mail. Maybe it would be better if the mail knew my standards. I am writing this piece for the mail, so that it may increase its chances of making it into my house.

1) Don't be a bill.

2) Don't be an envelope containing a big yellow bag I could use to donate things to a veteran's organization. It's not that I dislike veterans, it is just that I am very selfish, and rarely engage in such activities.

3) Don't be an envelope full of coupons. It's not that I don't like saving, it is just that I am lazy, and feel restricted by coupon shopping. I think of grocery shopping as an art. If I have decided to buy JIF peanut butter over Peter Pan peanut butter one day, I want it to be in a fit of inspiration, not because JIF is 25 cents off that day.

4) Do not be a bill.

5) Do not look like you might be a bill.

6) Do not be a political advertisement.

7) Do not be from an organization requesting that I join you. I know the organizations I want to belong to, and I am a member of those organizations.

8) Be a magazine. But not just any magazine--be a magazine I am interested in. I subscribe to many magazines, but not all of them get read. You see, I am a very pretentious man. If you want to get into the house, don't be the Economist or the International Socialist Review. Be MAD magazine, or maybe Playboy. If you are a catalog, be Victoria's Secret, or maybe IKEA. I think they have some really neat stuff.

9) Don't contain Anthrax. Neither the deadly poison nor the band will make it into my house.

10) Be a package from Amazon. Even if it is not addressed to me, I will open it. I love getting packages in the mail.

11) Be a movie from Netflix, but not a hoity-toity movie that I ordered because I thought it would give me culture. Be something funny, or maybe a disc from a BBC series. BBC has some really funny shows.

12) Be a piece of my neighbor's mail. I think they're up to something, but I'm not sure what. I will take all the intelligence I can get.

13) Be a long lost letter from my friend Ryan. We were exchanging letters before he died, and I never got the response to the last letter I sent him. I loved him, and I miss him. I think reading his last letter would be very comforting to me.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

3 Essential Woody Allen Quotes

I often declare--to the scoffs and rolled eyes of friends, family, and random passers-by--that Woody Allen is the modern world's answer to William Shakespeare. He's not a shoddy answer either; who else traffics in comedy and tragedy, big and ambiguous morality, ghosts, lust, crime, and punishment in as entertaining, consistent, and concise a way as Woody? Only the bard, and he was nowhere near as prolific. He also didn't know anything about jazz.

Woody--like Shakespeare--is also endlessly quotable. Here are the three Woody Allen quotes that I find lend themselves best to a good, robust life.

The first quote is about attendance:

1) "80 percent of success is showing up."

The second quote is about how to conduct yourself once you get there:

2) "Talent is luck. The important thing in life is courage".



The third quote is about perspective:

3) "To you I'm an atheist. To God, I'm the loyal Opposition" - from Stardust Memories


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dexter, Religion, and Mental Illness

I am just now catching up with season six of Dexter. On the episode we watched last night, Dexter was astounded to find out this season's killer was motivated by religion. "A killer with faith?!" was his exclamation. I wish T.V. writers would actually research their subjects a little before depicting them; walk into any psych ward and ask some of those folk about their relationship with some kind of God. Religion is a great (and popular) conduit for mental illness.

This complaint is lodged more as a person who works in the human services than it is lodged as an atheist.  I have stated previously that religious people can be perfectly healthy; often more healthy than non-religious people. This complaint is lodged even more as a fan of good T.V. than it is as an atheist or a human service worker. See? It's a trinity complaint. I am the trinity complainer.
Anyway, Dexter is still a great show, and Mos Def did a great job on season 6. Maybe I'll discover the message becomes more balanced towards the end.



Religion doesn't only interact with mental illness in a negative way. In fact, it can often act as a salve. The underlying trope that season 6 of Dexter seems to have bought into is that to engage in socially destructive and deviant behavior has some root in a lack of spiritual mooring. I agree that a person must have more than just a lack of belief in god/gods to guide them in this life, but atheism is far from a corroding influence. In fact for many non-believers--myself included--it is the first step towards a healthy worldview. Atheism can be a great corrective, and there is plenty of evidence out there that atheists care about their communities and families.




Sunday, November 25, 2012

Writing, and Discovering Josephine

I have been writing lately, but nothing for the blog. I've written a couple of stories--one of them pretty long--and sent them off to different literary magazines. If none of them get picked up (which is probable) I will post them here. I'm also writing a manual for my job; so the writing is flowing, just nothing for the blog.

On another note, I've been looking into Josephine Baker lately, and am very impressed. What a sexy, talented, driven woman! I admire her tenacity, and the easy-going and fun aspect she managed to preserve throughout her life. She was way bigger than the time period that contained her, and she seemed to know it.

There have been so many interesting people on this planet.

Josephine dancing:



Josephine singing:



Josephine living:





Monday, November 19, 2012

An Aspect Of the 1950's That Conservatives Do Not Pine For

"Along the way, however, we’ve forgotten something important — namely, that economic justice and economic growth aren’t incompatible. America in the 1950s made the rich pay their fair share; it gave workers the power to bargain for decent wages and benefits; yet contrary to right-wing propaganda then and now, it prospered. And we can do that again." - From The Twinkie Manifesto, by Paul Krugman

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Suffering

The times when you are suffering can be those when you are most open, and where you are extremely vulnerable can be where you greatest strength really lies. Say to yourself: ‘I am not going to run away from this suffering. I want to use it in the best and richest way I can, so that I can become more compassionate and more helpful to others.’ Suffering, after all, can teach us about compassion. If you suffer you will know how it is when others suffer. And if you are in a position to help others, it is through your suffering that you will find the understanding and compassion to do so.
Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Great Tragedy of the 2012 Election

I ate lunch yesterday with my grandfather and grandmother. During the course of our lunch at a local Mexican restaurant, My grandfather mentioned that he thought Mitt Romney was a lot like Richard Nixon. He meant this as a positive, because he thought both Romney and Nixon were 'People's Presidents'.

I told him I thought his comparison was funny, because I had also been making it pre-election, except as a negative. Mitt Romney reminded me of a teetotalling version of Nixon as portrayed in 'Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72', by Hunter S. Thompson. Always preening, always rolling out new versions of himself. Cynical to the core.

Then last night I had a dream about Hunter S. Thompson. He was a major league pitcher who was famous for pitching as many wild balls as he was striking people out. Baseball in my dream was different in that instead of a catcher, the pitcher threw balls at a drumhead, and each drumhead was decorated with an emblem that represented the pitcher. I suppose the gonzo symbol would have been appropriate for Hunter, but dreams have their own logic, and Hunter's drumhead had the silhouette of a woman's leg with a stylistic moon hovering over the top of the thigh.

I'm not a religious man, but I still have a lot of good old fashioned West Virginia superstition running through my blood--my mother's side of the family hails from Maetwan--so I thought maybe I needed to honor the demon and write about this man who keeps popping into my mind and conversation lately.

Hunter Thompson would have been great during this past election cycle. A young Hunter would have been great, I should say. One that was relatively near the beginning of his cycle of chemical self destruction. Reading his dispatches from the trail would have been wonderful, as would reading his caricatures of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Would he have found something hopeful about the community organizer from Illinois? I certainly would hope so. Would he have found something to Loathe in Mitt Romney? No doubt.

I did my feeble best to pay tribute to Thompson earlier on in the cycle (google Paul Ryan + Ibogaine to see what I mean), but no tribute is suitable.

I think Hunter would have benefited from this election as much as his writing would have benefited us.

Unfortunately though, suicides are never on time.

"Football season is over".


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Atheists Should Meet Theists Where They're At

We have a saying in social work: 'Meet them where they're at'. This means, essentially, that we know where this person needs to end up in order to be healthy, but they are currently participants in a lifestyle or worldview that only allows for gradual progress. Embrace the whole person, and pick your 'learning opportunities' wisely.

I endorse a version of this approach when it comes to interacting with the religious as well.

The difference between the version of this approach employed by atheists interacting with religious folks and social workers interacting with their clientele is first and foremost that a religious person is not necessarily unhealthy. In many cases, the religious person may be far healthier than the atheist. They may be far closer to self actualization, and performing far closer to their peak capacity. They may be more intelligent, happier, funnier, and kinder. Their worldviews are just couched in a falsehood.

The atheist has to ask themselves first and foremost, what can I learn from this other human being that I am interacting with? Their religious views do not discredit the entirety of their worldview, or reduce them to the content of their religious views. The first thing the atheist must do is to find what is human about the religious person they are interacting with. The faithful are often advised to 'look for god in the person', and this is essentially my advice, substituting the word 'god' for the phrase 'what is human'. Religion is a very human thing. It is an understandable human phenomenon. What leads a person to religious belief? Often it is a personal desire to have their life make sense in a holistic kind of way. Often it is the reaction to stress and uncertainty. Often it is simply a framework that is learned in childhood that evolves along with the person as they grow into adults. It is human, and it is something we as atheists should be able to identify with.

Why? Because we are meaning-seeking creatures too. Atheism, as I have discussed in the past on this blog, is not enough. We need more. In our own attempts to determine what that 'more' is going to be, we should be able to sympathize with folks who have discovered a 'more' that works for them, even if it is one that we view to be wrongheaded.

It is from the framework of the 'more' that we need to view our religious brothers and sisters. So they believe in a god and follow a religion. What does this god and religion compel them to do? Does it compel them to contribute to their community? Does it compel them to be kind to their families, their neighbors, and animals? If so, then their motivation should become secondary to their actions in our consideration.

If on the other hand, their religion can be seen to feed into negative and harmful traits, it will need to be confronted at its root. Religious views that lead people to view benign and natural human orientations like homosexuality as 'sinful', or views that advocate for the genital mutilation of children, or refusal to receive blood transfusions, or patriarchal and racist views, will need to be challenged.

First and foremost, we have to encounter each other as human beings, not as infidels in need of conversion or conquer. That M.O. is better suited to the religious fundamentalist than it is the atheist humanist.

I am writing this as much for myself as I am anyone else. I am a white male American. I live in the suburbs and am married to a woman. Atheism is one of the only traits that puts me in the minority. If there is anything that has become obvious lately, white male Americans living in the suburbs are uncomfortable being minorities. So perhaps in the past I have been overly aggressive (read: defensive) in my interactions with religious folks, and perhaps I've discounted many because of their beliefs. After I gave up religion, many of my friends went from being 'My friend ______' to 'My Christian friend ___________'.  That was wrong.

I don't believe in God. I am glad that people find cause to do good in their religion, but I think there are plenty of non-religious reasons to do good. I tend to believe that people do good because they are good, and that my religious friends--in spite of their insistance otherwise--would be good without god. Perhaps even better.

I also don't want to sound like I'm discouraging discussion. Discussion and debate are very important. I'm writing this--as much for myself as for anyone else--as a call not to lose sight of the human heart when approaching a person with a different outlook than your own. I can't tell you how many times I have heard my views cynically rationalized away by christians who would not allow for the fact that I have honestly arrived at the conclusions I have. I've been told I had made a choice not to accept God into my life. The idea that I had just discovered that there had never actually been such a divine invitation was just not something they could consider. I've been told I didn't properly understand christianity, and that is why I am an atheist. I've been told that I am 'taking the easy road'. All of these cynical responses to my belief system irk me, but really, how much more generous am I when considering the beliefs of the religious? Often, not much.

So yes, it would be great if all of this god nonsense was behind us. Evidence indicates that it's on its way to being so. In the meantime, however, do I really need to go around trying to beat it out of people? Leaving religion is a big deal, and it leaves a huge vacuum in a person's life. I can tell you this from personal experience. Is it responsible to try to take this core out of people and not stick around to help them rebuild something sturdier?

Better to seek common ground, I'm coming to believe. There are plenty of atheists out there whose sole concern is removing 'in god we trust' from our money, and making sure that there are no nativity displays on public grounds. I have much more in common with christians, jews, and muslims who are motivated to help the poor and homeless than I do these privileged misanthropes. Better to work with them--and my fellow atheist humanists also similarly focused--and actually make a meaningful contribution to the welfare of my fellow primates.

I'd rather role up my sleeves and build something with people looking in a common direction, and leave the theological discussions for pleasant post-project coffee talk.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

6 Completely Reasonable Conservative Principles

Conservative news outlets all agree: We are a 'divided country'. Funny, I wonder if that's the headline they would have gone with if Romney had won? Whatever the case, I want to work towards healing that divide. It's something we will need to do if we're going to move forward together. In that spirit, I've compiled a list of 6 conservative principles that I believe should be absolutely uncontroversial.

1. Don't Spend More Than You Take In

What could be more basic? I won't go into the data that shows Democrats have been better stewards of our national finances than have Republicans--this is, after all, an effort at ecumenicism--but whenever I ask a Republican, especially the tea party variety, what the most important role of Government is, this is one of their first responses. Really, it's not a point that can be argued: Debt equals enslavement to outside interests, and restricts personal and national freedom. The more self reliant our country is, the better.

2. Reward According To Merit

Another important, fundamental principle. Trophies for participation really grate on the conservative soul. It's a tough world out there, and it takes grit. Where does a person get grit? Well, by competing. By losing. By 'Failing forward'. 'Always make new mistakes', and all of those other corporate cliches.

But there is one caveat: in order to reward according to merit, the competitors have to be competing on a level playing field. Our society has been designed to promote the white, the male, the christian, the abled, the established, and the heterosexual. All of our institutions are geared towards the success of the aforementioned categories, and the more of those categories you can tick off, the more likely you are to succeed. Yes, there are plenty of 'rags to riches' stories out there, but the fact is, you are pretty much guaranteed to end up in the class you are born in. We also have to ask ourselves of those who went from little to a lot, was it worth it for them? The amount of work and game-playing a person has to engage in to succeed in this country are enormous. We do not treat human beings as 'ends unto themselves' in this country: we treat them as appendages of production, and capital and status accumulating machines. If a person fails at any of these things--or takes little interest in them--they are considered failures. We also have to ask of those who went from little to a lot, was the system fair? Did you have to work far harder than those who inherited their lot? The answer will always be 'yes', and if that is the case, then we really aren't rewarding according to merit.

3. Hold Others--And Yourself--Accountable

We should hold everyone accountable for their actions. The criminal must pay for the crime. Justice must be done.

So why are there more minority drug users in prison than there are white Americans, when more white Americans use drugs? Why are individuals experiencing tough times expected to 'pull themselves up by their boot straps', when corporate America gets a bailout after it commits gross malfeasance?

The inconsistencies go on and on, but the conservatives are right: We need to hold ourselves and others accountable. We also need to hold our system accountable, too.

4. Build A Strong Military

From the time I was sixteen to maybe twenty, I identified as a pacifist. I attributed my pacifism to my christianity, which has also since lapsed. I didn't understand how we are going to stop violence with violence: to live by the sword is to die by the sword.

But violence is a reality, and there are armed villains in the world that need to be kept at bay. Governments opress their people, and sometimes other governments need to step in in the name of justice. We have to have a strong military.

But do we have to spend as much money on the military as we do?

Let's go back to the first principle on our list. "Don't spend more than you take in". Is such a huge and expansive military really in keeping with this principle, especially when so many within our country are going without? Couldn't we have a strong military and still scale it back quite a bit?

5. Support Israel

Conservatives love Israel. I don't have a problem with Israel. They are an undeniable ally. We should support our allies.

But what we are involved with in Israel is more than a matter of a relationship with an ally: bronze age mythology absolutely colors the entire conflict between Israel and its neighbors, and especially its relationship with Palestine. We have to de-mythologize the conflict, or at least our involvement in it. We have to promote pragmatic peace, which will inevitably include a Palestinian state, and the permanent cessation of settlements.

6. Protect the Family

Maybe this one will seem a little tricky on my part, but it's not intended to be so. The family is the bedrock of our society, and it must be protected. It must be preserved and promoted. One of the best ways to do this, is to ensure that consenting, loving adults, regardless of gender, sex, color, or creed, should be able to marry other loving adults, regardless of gender, sex, color, or creed. The family promotes cohesion. Families fuel our economy. The more families we have the better, whatever those families are constructed of.

Another way to protect the family is to understand that capitalism destroys families. Capitalism does not respect the integrity of individuals. To capitalism, we are all just individual units of labor. It is becoming increasingly expensive to survive in this capitalist system that we have, especially for lower income families. Everyone must work. There are no stay-at-home moms and dads anymore in my end of the economic pool, at least very few.  We are all just exploited labor power, and it takes all of us working in order to make ends meet. That leaves more children to be raised by the system itself; a system that ultimately transforms them into yet more units of labor power, stripping them of their human integrity.

Yes, we must support the family. The only way to do that, however, is to outgrow the existing system.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

You Make Me Horny, Ohio

Last week, I wrote a blog post saying that I was very nervous about how my home state of Ohio was going to turn out for the President. The conservatives around me seemed very confident, and my fellow liberals and leftists...not so much.

The good people at Daily Kos who commented on this post gently scoffed at me, and I thought, 'These people have drank the Kool Aid."

I was 'tense and nervous', to quote David Byrne the night before and the day of the election. I posted the following on Facebook:
"So excited about voting: don't know if I'll be able to sleep. However nervous the American people make me, it is hard to be cynical about democracy. What an awesome tool. I Hope to see you all on the battlefield tomorrow."
I had gotten myself into a positive headspace by 4am:
"Enough sleep! Time to get showered, dressed, wake up the kids, get them ready, and get to the polls. We plan to be first in line...We've got a long day of protecting America from Mitt Romney ahead of us!"
Election day is like Christmas around my house. Presidential elections are like...Super Christmas. We took the day off to celebrate together. Here are my democracy warriors:

And then here we are, first at the polls:


Standing in line, I tweeted the following dispatch:
"I feel like Alvy Singer waiting in line for the movies with this tea party yahoo behind me giving the sparks notes version of the Glenn Beck show to everyone who will listen. I Hope Obama takes his guns away."
It was gratifying to know that an uber-leftist was the first in line in my conservative district, but the conversation in line behind me had me feeling like the dogs were at my heels.

We voted, and then went to breakfast. After that, we swung by Half Price Books, and then went to the grocery store to get preparations for our election night party. In between that moment and 7:30, I must have taken the dog for a walk about 10 times.

Troxell polling results headquarters:

Not long before our polls closed, I sent out the following message:
"I must have visited drudge, the daily kos, the daily dish, real clear politics, huffpo, think progress, the blaze, and NPR twenty times each today. You've got me sweating, America."
After Obama won Pennsylvania:
"It's all on us, Ohio..."
Then, finally, after the announcement that my aformentioned nervousness was for naught:
"THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! Thank you Ohio!"
My boys had dozed off during the night, so I woke them up. They smiled wanly, and promptly went back to sleep.

We got Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, Barack Obama, Tim Kaine, Alan Grayson, civil rights for homosexuals, and legalized marijuana. I liked all of my liberal friends celebratory remarks on Facebook, and then liked Mitt Romney's page. I left him the following comment after his concession speech:
"You gave my candidate a good run, Governor. Thanks for a classy and open-hearted concession speech. I wish you and your family the best of luck."
And then I went to sleep a happy man.

Sorry I ever doubted you, Ohio. You're looking pretty good to me this morning. So much was on the line, and you came through. You done good, kid. Real good.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Sermon Under the Mount

 [I have been asked to deliver a sermon to the Unitarian Universalist Church my family attends at some point in the near future. I think this message--or some variation of it--is what I'm going to use].

I still don't know what to make of mankind, or 'manunkind' as e.e. cummings called us. George Carlin correctly identified the twin poles in our nature when he called his second book 'Napalm and Silly Putty'. On the one hand, we are capable of great levity, leisure, and gentle innocence. On the other, we have made chemicals that can burn the skin off of young children, and sear the lungs of anyone who breathes it.

Let's dispense with gods right from the start: we are alone here. Thankfully. We are condemned to freedom, as Sartre proclaimed, and there could be no fairer business. So this world is really what we make it, and oh, what we have made it.

We have in the U.S. a social system that turns human beings into appendages of the means of production, strips from them their ability to see in themselves and their fellow mean that we are all 'ends unto ourself', and prevents us from self actualizing. Capitalism is a great and vicious machine that must always be moving, and it is fueled by the churning out of alienated human bodies.

On the other hand, look at the human response to this calamitous system: we have social workers, faith groups, and individuals compelled by pity to treat their fellow man--their fellow sufferers as Schopenhauer would put it--with great kindness.  It is moving to see the activity of human hands motivated by human hearts that have managed to pry themselves from the sheer requirements of surviving in this law of the jungle society we inhabit.  I am constantly touched by a decency that seems to reside somewhere beneath the loads of paperwork, dirty laundry, and self flagellation that piles itself up on top of the typical American spirit. I see it daily in the work I do at the shelter I work at. The little old lady who makes sure our tables always have fresh flowers on them. The volunteers who come into our shelter during the winter to take care of the feet of our residents and give them new shoes. The children who come in to help their parents serve meals, who put smiles on many life-hardened faces. I am an unwavering atheist, but I have been touched by the various faith groups who have come into our shelter in various capacities to lift the spirits and the standard of living for our residents.

Let me go back to Schopenhauer for a minute. I feel like I'm in danger of over-quoting this excerpt, but it really has moved me and stayed with me. It has moved me so much in fact, that I named my Chihuahua after the great pessimistic philosopher, which--if you know what Schopenhauer's relationship with dogs was--is not the backhanded compliment it may seem to be.
He said,
"The conviction that the world, and therefore man too, is something which really ought not to exist is in fact calculated to instil in us indulgence towards one another: for what can be expected of beings placed in such a situation as we are? From this point of view one might indeed consider that the appropriate form of address between man and man ought to be, not monsieur sir, but fellow sufferer, compagnon de misereres. However strange this may sound, it corresponds to the nature of the case, makes us see other men in a true light and reminds us of what are the most necessary of all things: tolerance, patience, forebearance, and charity, which each of us needs and which each of us therefore owes."
Amen and amen. We are all born into this world screaming and frightened, naked and dependant. We die as alone as we do together, and as Hamlet observes in the graveyard, the worms feed upon the corpses of kings and popes as easily as they do those of peasants. In between, we make choices, choices which have been limited for us by our genetics, or circumstances, and the degree to which we accept and internalize our social conventions and taboos. We are a superstitious species, and we cling to certainty and treat inquiry as something of an extreme sport.

We kill one another. We leave 'the least among us' to die, to remain unsupported, to roll the stone of their lives forever up and down the mountainside. We leave our potential untapped, we fail to truly see each other, to love each other, to embrace each other. We take our angers and frustration out on the people we love the most.

But we also make love. We dance, we help, we create art. We listen. We share. We do things 'for the hell of it', which is the best reason of all to do anything.  We are patient. We are kind. We practice "tolerance, forebearance, and charity, which each of us needs and which each of us therefore owes".

We're not far out of the trees, and death is an inconvenient book end. If anything, that obelisk that stands at the end of each of our individual book shelves (I like to imagine that some of our shelves are composed of cook books, some photography, some literature, some pulp, some technical and instructional manuals, and some vast collections of pornography), should spur us on to do something, even if that something is only to read faster.

I don't know what to do with these different manifestations of the animal called man. I can see both seeds--the napalm and the silly putty--in my own character. I can feel them both very fully at different times, and at different times can take solace in both.

I wish I could end this piece on a more declarative note, but above all in my writing, I aim for honesty. So let's stop here.

Friday, November 2, 2012

You Make Me Nervous, Ohio

If I had to describe the collective mood of Ohio Republicans, I would say it is quietly confident. If I had to describe the mood of Ohio Democrats, I would say we are a little nervous.

The polls are close. There's a lot of talk about Romney leading among independents, but I'm not sure that's such a big problem for President Obama. Tea Partiers have taken to calling themselves independents lately, and I am convinced that this is why we are seeing so many 'independents' favoring Romney. They are repackaged republicans.

But it is still close. My chihuahua, Schopenhauer--or Schopey as we call him--is unmoved by the whole thing. To be as philosophical about human politics as a dog would be a great gift. My kids are invested, though. We're planning on making a day of voting; head to the polls as soon as they open, go out for breakfast, and then maybe take a trip to the zoo. We talked about heading up to Chicago if weather permits, so we could be there for either the triumphal celebration or the mass suicide.

This morning on his talk radio show, Glenn Beck gently chided and forewarned Ohio that this was all up to us, and that we could end up as hated by the right as Florida has been in previous elections if we gave Ohio to Brown & Obama. I'm pretty sure Glenn thinks his team has this one in the bag--via divine providence, and a great white suburban housewife awakening, I believe--but there's that twinge of doubt in the back of his mind.

 I would like nothing more than to incur the condemnation of Glenn and Sean and Rush and all of the tea party faithful who tell us we're throwing our country in the garbage disposal if we re-elect Sherrod Brown and Barack Obama. It would be joyous to turn on the radio the day after the election and hear the brute choir tell us all to go to hell.  Ohio is a difficult nut to crack. Either we are some of the most reasonable people in the country, or we are some of the most shallow and fickle. My hope is that our vote for President Obama and Sherrod Brown 4 years ago was actually a collective act of principle, and that we've been paying enough attention since that vote to realize that not only has the President done a substantive, good-faith job, but also that Mitt Romney is the most hollowed out and cynical presidential candidate since Nixon. The Republican party and talk radio has worked very hard to scare us. They've painted the road to a truly just, truly egalitarian society, with a robust and functioning safety net as the road to hell.

Let's do it: let's walk down the dark and twisted path of easier access to education, health care, expanded civil liberties, and responsible and competent exercising of global power that the right describes. I know all of these things sound scary, but really, your eyes adjust to the darkness once you've entered the cold and soulless cave of liberalism.  It is terrifying to imagine consenting adults in loving relationships being allowed to marry one another. The idea of women making the same amount of money as their male counterparts is totally Lovecraftian. The image of an American President not blustering around on the world stage like Donald Trump in...well, any environment you might find Donald Trump in...may have the same impact on the average voter as that video from the movie 'The Ring' had on the people who watched it.

Seriously though, I can't think of a worse transition. Handing the country over to Mitt Romney seems akin to someone returning to an abusive relationship. Handing Ohio over to Josh Mandel seems akin to letting your infant child change its own diaper.

Do the right thing on Tuesday, Ohio. Re-elect President Obama and Senator Brown.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bow Ties Are Cool

Tonight is Drop Inn Center's Angels to the Homeless Gala, and I've decided to use the occasion as an excuse to finally try on a bow tie.

The problem is, before last night, I had never tied a bow tie in my life. After purchasing the strangely shaped piece of cloth from a local department store, I took it out of the bag and looked at it, dumbfounded. I figured there would be something intuitive about putting it on, but as I looked at the strange hour-glass shapes at each end of the tie, I realized I would need some help.

I went to You Tube to look up 'how to' videos, and what did I find? Bill Nye the Science Guy, giving a bow tie tutorial:



Pretty awesome.

So, I practiced and practiced. I'll let you be the judge of how successful I was:

Watch out, Gala.

If you're unable to make it to our Gala tonight, no need to worry. We will still gladly accept your money. Winter is coming, and every little bit helps. Donate here.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Atheism Will Never Build You A Church

Jerry Coyne brings up the complaint that many have against atheism that it does not fulfill the same needs that  religion fulfills for people.

I partially agree with this complaint, in that I believe atheism does not fulfill the same needs religion fulfills for people. However, I also believe it is not the responsibility of atheism to fulfill those needs. Atheism is not enough in regards to building a healthy, positive worldview, but it doesn't have to be: atheism is the elimination of a false-positive worldview. Atheism clears the field so that a person can build a positive worldview grounded in reality. This is not a problem specific to 'New' Atheism, this is a problem of atheism in general. Well, it's not actually a problem of atheism: it's a problem of people seeking meaning in this life; probably more so a problem of people seeking positive meaning in life after they have left religion. It's a conceptual problem. Atheism has removed an illusion from our eyes: we can't ask it to construct a new one.

Atheism is a leveler: we have to build our own hope.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

More About Sin

Richard Dawkins has a new series that I think is going to be a good one. I like his approach to the topics very much. Check it out:



I thought it would be interesting to compare this to my much maligned piece on why atheists should retain the word sin in their vocabulary:
"Sin is with us. It is a concept that is easily recognized by the human consciousness. It is common and easy to think of 'crime' and 'sin' as interchangable, but often the two things couldn't be more different. Crimes are infractions of laws based on societal morays, which oftern also happen to be good. Sometimes, however--often, I would even say--laws are sinful, and it would be sinful not to break them. 
Whatever the philosophical basis of our moral code, there are acts that we can commit that we know inherently were not right. These acts produce a feeling of guilt. I feel no guilt when I commit the crime of going 10 miles over the speed limit on the highway, nor do I feel any guilt when I drive through a four way stop when there is no other car in sight for miles and miles. Likewise, committing a crime that I feel would benefit an opressed class or disenfranchised individuals within the context of a system created to disadvantage them would also cause me no loss of sleep. When I am unjust or uncharitable towads people I have authority over, however--like my children, or my employees--I feel guilt, and the need to make amends, even though I have committed no crime. It doesn't take a judge or a police officer to point my errors out to me or to punish me when I sin; crime requires punishment, but sin comes with its own built-in penalty. "
I'm certainly not talking about sin in the same way the religious folks in this video are, but I just don't believe there is a word in our collective moral vocabulary that has the same kind of gravitas as sin. 'Evil' is a good word, but it doesn't give us an appropriate sense of relationship between the person and the evil act. Sociopaths are evil only insofar as sharks are evil. We have a way of protecting people from sharks, and we have a way of protecting people from sociopaths. In the first instance, we use shark nets, and Roy Scheider. In the second instance, we use the electric chair, or--more often--we just offer them the top slot on the republican presidential ticket. To call a sociopath evil is to misunderstand evil. Evil is a perversion of our inherent sense of right and wrong, or an act committed against it. To commit evil, one has to come from a perspective that understands--and is capable of committing and feeling--good. A shark that eats a surfer is an act of nature. A sociopath that eats a surfer is an act of nature. A person with relatively ordinary brain chemistry who eats a surfer would need some kind of outside power our self interested goal that lead them to commit such an act. "Eat this surfer, or the girl gets it". says the mad philosopher in one scenario. "Eat the surfer, and you will be permitted to become my Vice Presidential candidate", says Mitt Romney to Paul Ryan. In the first scenario, the mad philosopher could be said to be evil. But he's mad, so could he really be said to be evil? I don't think I have to convince anyone that Paul Ryan is evil. In both scenarios, a regularly adjusted person eats a poor surfer. An act of evil has been committed. To any well adjusted person, such action would easily constitute an evil. The commission of an evil act--an act that contradicts your personal and ingrained values--can be called a sin.

I understand how triggering that word can be. Growing up in an environment that calls benign natural impulses like masturbation sinful can cause a lot of pain to be associated with such a word. But I would guess the word sin would need to have some kind of triggering effect to be effective. If we can disconnect it from its religious groundings, yet maintain its scary, bugaboo quality, I think it would be a good tool to keep.

But I could be wrong. Most people whom I have presented this idea to seem to think I am, anyway.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Competing Perspectives

There are people standing in the street yelling at each other outside of my office window. I don't think they realize what a fucking great day this is. The weather is cool, but not too cool. The leaves are all shiny from last night's rain. The buildings are all glowy because they're wet and the sun is bright. But that's just me. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I should find someone to yell at.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Capitalism Perverts the Human Spirit

I'm giving a presentation to a high school sociology class this Thursday, and then again to a college class on Friday on social stratification. I think I'm going to lead with this quote from Terry Eagleton's Why Marx Was Right:
"Human beings are not at their best in conditions of scarcity, whether natural or artificial. Such scarcity breeds violence, fear, greed, anxiety, possessiveness, domination and deadly antagonism. One would expect, then, that if men and women were able to live in conditions of material abundance, released from these crippling pressures, they would tend to fare better as moral beings than they do now. We cannot be sure of this because we have never known such conditions. This is what Marx had in mind when he declares in the Communist Manifesto that the whole of human history has been the history of class struggle. And even in conditions of abundance, there would be plenty of other things for us to feel anxious, aggressive, and possessive about. We would not be alchemized into angels. But some of the root causes of our moral deficiencies would have to be removed. To that extent, it is indeed reasonable to claim that a communist society would tend by and large to produce finer human beings than we can muster at the moment. But they would still be fallible, prone to conflict, and sometimes brutal and Malevolent."
I like this quote because it emphasizes the mercurial nature of mankind, and puts at rest right up front the notion that any social and economic structure would lead to some kind of utopia.

I have had to abandon calling myself a capitalist, because, for one thing, I am not. My error has been in believing that because capitalism best accommodates our real animal nature, it must be the right system. I have realized, mostly from working with the poor and homeless, and from trying to make ends meet for my own family, that the cost of capitalism in the long run is too steep; it is a machine that must always be moving, and to propel itself it must juice and churn out human bodies. For another thing, capitalism does accommodate the whole of our animal nature, but it accommodates best our more ruthless and ugly impulses. Rather than looking for what accommodates our natures best, maybe I should be looking to a system that uplifts our natures, or compliments them in a constructive way.

I am not to the point of calling myself a Marxist, but studying Marxism has been enlightening. I am learning that Marxism doesn't hold as its final goal the creation of a utopia, but rather the elimination of an unfair and unjust system; it aims to create a level starting point for everyone, and aims to allow individuals to pursue their own bliss, and to contribute to society in their own way. It would be nice to see more of these elements reflected in our own society. Clearly, both Capitalism and Communism have their weak points. Each system has its leeches. But if I am expected to account for my welfare families and folks on food stamps, then I will also expect capitalists to account for Paris Hilton.

I plan to hash all of this out a little more with the classes I'll be speaking to this week. I get great pleasure from talking to groups, especially groups of young people.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Drop Inn Center Mental Health Forum: Debriefing

The forum was a success. Thanks to everyone who came, and everyone who helped promote it. We packed 88 people into a 55 person capacity room and hashed out the issue at hand: How do we better care for our fellow citizens who cycle through the system again and again and still protect their civil liberties?

For background reading on the issue, look here and here.

We had a good discussion. The panel talked through case studies, talked about the history of the mental health system, and examined shortcomings in the system. Professionals, consumers, advocates, and concerned citizens in the audience asked questions, offered opinions, and interacted with one another in a robust fashion.

We all agreed that the system needs tending. The idea of creating a perfectly working system for the mentally ill can seem far off when you consider where we are at now, but the future does not just fall out of the heavens: it is built with human hands, using and modifying tools that already exist.

Some suggestions that came out of the forum:

  • The establishment of housing-first community style housing with no insistence on compliance. This housing would require funding, of course, as well as around the clock professional staffing.
  • The adoption of a more rigorous version of Kendra's Law in Ohio, and many other states.
  • Increased inter-agency communication and coordination to better provide services to the mentally ill.
  • The creation of peer support groups throughout our communities, to encourage those with mental illness to stay plugged in to their communities, and to contribute positively.
  • Support for campaigns that attempt to decrease the amount of stigma associated with mental illness: people who feel shamed by their mental illness are less likely to seek appropriate treatment, and way less likely to advocate for themselves.
  • More forums to gauge progress on this issue, so we're not still complaining about this exact same issue at this time next year.


At the end of the forum, someone asked, 'Is this it? Are there going to be other meetings? What's next?'

The answer to that is that it is ultimately up to the community. We need buy-in from all of the agencies that participated in the forum, and the support of the wider community as well. We need people who believe in the 'network of mutuality' that Martin Luther King spoke about working together to help ensure that our fellow citizens with whom our fates are intertwined have an opportunity to pursue the life, life, liberty, and happiness promised to us by our founding documents. We need people who simply understand that it is more cost effective to reform this system than to continue with it as is; to house someone and keep them housed and properly supported is far less expensive than constantly paying for visits to jails, courts, prisons, hospitals, over and over again, on and on. We also need agencies who deal with the mentally ill to understand that their bottom line is also affected: if you're agency receives funding based on recidivism, breaking this cycle is incredibly important; not just for the clients, but in order to help you keep your agency's doors open. Mental illness is a major contributor to system recidivism.

The forum on the 12th was a good first step. Keep the ideas flowing, and keep connecting with one another in order to flesh out these ideas. Feel free to contact me if you would like to collaborate with our group on any of the bullet points above, or if you have ideas or connections we may not have considered.

There is enough money in our system to solve this problem. As one of our panelists pointed out, we don't seem to have any problems affording prisons, wars, and sports stadiums. It's just a matter of priorities.

Where are your priorities? If they are in the same place as mine, feel free to contact me at stroxell@dropinn.org.




Thursday, October 11, 2012

BREAKING: Paul Ryan, Ibogaine Addict?


Cincinnati, OH--Republican contender for president Mittens Romney couldn't ask for worse news on the afternoon before the vice presidential debate between his running mate Paul Ryan, and current vice president Joe Biden.

It seems word has begun to leak into the blogosphere that Paul Ryan--Romney's running mate--may be a horrible degenerate behind closed doors, completely addicted to a vicious street drug that seems to be making a comeback in the American streets, and in American politics. Ryan, whom insiders inside the Romney campaign have been worrying about among themselves for months now, are beginning to seek help from outside sources. "He's just not himself". said one campaign worker under promises of anonymity. "He's zombie eyed all the time. He keeps making references to an Invisible Hand, and laughs to himself whenever he hears the phrase 'social security'. He's constantly sweating...by the end of any given meeting, he has changed his shirt at least five or six times. He's always doing push ups, and listening to Huey Lewis, over and over again."

For those of us unfamiliar with the Ibogaine effect, which made its first appearance in American politics during the '72 Democratic campaign, which completely undid Edward Muskie.
Let's go to a noted doctor for a deeper understanding of Ibogaine:
"The most common known source of Ibogaine is from the roots of Tabernanthe Iboga, a shrub indigenous to West Africa. As early as 1869, roots of T.I. were reported effective in combating sleep or fatigue and in maintaining alertness when ingested by African natives. Extracts of T.I. are used by natives while stalking game; it enables them to remain motionless for as long as two days while retaining mental alertness. It has been used for centuries by natives of Africa, Asia andSouth America in conjunction with fetishistic and mythical ceremonies. In 1905 the gross effects of chewing large quantities of T.I. roots were described..."Soon his nerves get tense in an extraordinary way; an epileptic-like madness comes over him, during which he becomes unconscious and pronounces words which are interpreted by the older members of the group as having a prophetic meaning and to prove that the fetish has entered him."
Back to the anonymous campaign worker: "We're worried that he's gotten Mitt hooked on it...the intensity he brought to that debate last week was not characteristic, and we had never heard him say half the things he said on that stage before...Just this morning...I don't know if I should say this...I walked into the conference room, and saw both of them...Jesus, it must have been 90 degrees in that room...crouching, totally naked, chanting these strange phrases back and forth to each other...'It's morning in America'...and...'Shake the Invisible Hand'...it was crazy. I thought they had been reading too much Lovecraft or something, but it was worse...there were copies of 'Atlas Shrugged' opened at different points all over the room. They were sitting in a circle and holding hands, and reciting passages back and forth to each other...I'm thinking of going to work for Jill Stein..."

So there you have it. Maybe we'll only know how deeply Mr. Ryan has sunk into utter spiritual degredation tonight at the debate. May whatever gods exist be with Joe Biden. My sources say he will come to the stage equipped with a wooden stake, a silver bullet, and a necklace of garlic, just in case Mr. Ryan decides to make a move.

Truly, these are troubling times.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Everybody Wants to Rule the World, But Nobody Ever Will


"Christianity carries in its innermost heart the truth that suffering (the Cross) is the true aim of life: that is why it repudiates suicide, which is opposed to this aim, while antiquity from a lower viewpoint approved of and indeed honored it. This argument against suicide is however an ascetic one, and is therefore valid from a far higher ethical standpoint than any which  European moral philosophers have ever assumed. If we descend from this very high standpoint there no longer remains any tenable moral reason for damning suicide." Arthur Schopenhauer, from his essay 'On Suicide'


Later in the same essay quoted above, Schopenhauer says, "It will generally be found that where the terrors of life come to outweigh the terrors of death, a man will put an end to his life."

So the will to live increases the suffering of man, which will lead him on a path either to suicide, or to redemption. You have a choice, I suppose, in the face of suffering: double down again and again until the only solution is to destroy yourself, or move more and more into non-volition. It is strange that the only way it seems possible to preserve life is to reject it.

But I always have to remind myself, that  life is ultimately about struggle. Schopenhauer only missed the boat by an inch, because suffering is is the spiritual and physiological response to struggle. By putting the emphasis on suffering, he made the response to struggle the end unto itself. To struggle is to move towards something and away from something else. To suffer is to experience a pulling away from something one has become accustomed to, or to move deeper into something that is unhealthy. You suffer until the surface area that suffering rains upon becomes porous enough to allow the pain to pass through, or resilient enough to allow it to roll right off. Eventually, you move away from that which makes you suffer, and towards that which redeems you. Suffering will always be a part of life, because struggle is the key to life; struggle towards, and struggle away.

Life is exhausting. It is not obvious. Today I talked to someone who believes in reincarnation. I have great respect for this person, but I could never tolerate the thought of going through life again. The intensity of this bout of life is enough; and I say this as a White Male American, born and raised in the suburbs. I shiver to consider the existential pangs of the sea slug, with its violent method of reproduction and constant sexual identity issues.

To live in this world again would be horrid. To live on in another world after this one would grow tiresome. Let me die! let me stay dead. I will be chewed up by this life as I move from point A to not quite point B. May it make me sinewy. Let me learn how to walk through fire. Let me learn how to leave myself in the fire, and walk away from it. May it make me crisp.

The ego is a beast. Someone once told me that there are two wolves inside of each of us: one is good, and one is evil. They're always doing battle. The one that wins is the one you feed.

So maybe the best course of action is to starve both beasts.  Maybe once they're dead we'll be able to finally think clearly, and finally be able to say, 'this is what is the case, and that is enough for me'.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

'Tis Always the Season

The chimes were ringing the three quarters past eleven at that moment.
“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw!”
“It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here.”
From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.
“Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost.
They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.
Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.
“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.
“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!”
“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.
“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”
The bell struck twelve.
Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Jacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.


-Charles Dickens

Saturday, October 6, 2012

New Article in the Cincinnati Enquirer

Check it out.

Opening Paragraph:

 I’m angry. You should be angry, too. In a country where politicians can’t get elected to national office if they don’t thump on their Bibles domestically as much as they thump on their chests internationally, we pay precious little attention to the Bible, specifically the parts that pertain to the way in which we are expected to treat “the least among us.”

Thursday, October 4, 2012

1st Debate: The Aftermath

I have talked so much shit about Mitt Romney, only to have my candidate drastically under perform during the first debate.

As much as it hurts, Dennis Miller gets the tweet of the night award:

"Obama better hope a Kicked Ass is covered under Obamacare."

 and Van Jones wins for best synopsis of what went wrong:

“I think he took Romney too lightly. I think he did not expect Romney to throw that kind of heat” 

Romney looked Obama in the eye and politely and assertively tore him to pieces. Obama looked pissed, looked to the moderator for mercy, and looked to the audience. When Romney made a questionable accusation, Obama just shook his head and smiled, and then didn't answer the charge when his time to rebut came. He reminded me of George W. Bush in his first debate with John Kerry back in 2004. He looked like someone who couldn't take a punch, and wasn't used to people talking to him 'in just any way'.

Obama clearly has contempt for Romney, and didn't expect that he would need to lower himself to engaging too directly with him. He also--I believe--is not used to defending the top spot: he's used to being the underdog, and is used to attacking the guy in the top spot. Like George Bush did in 2004, he also seems a little arrogant. His mannerism under attack was, 'I don't have to take this shit from you...'

But Mr. President, you do have to take that shit from him. And you have to fight back. You have to assert yourself. You're not going to lose any of your loyalists at this point. I'm not going anywhere. But you do have to sway those folks who don't normally follow this stuff, and you'll do that with your affect. Here's to the next two debates, and goddammit Joe Biden, you better curb stomp Paul Ryan.

Listening to Glenn Beck crow over Romney's p.r. victory this morning was the hair shirt I donned for assuming this was going to be a cake walk. I hope we're all adequately humbled, and are ready to go into the next couple of debates a little hungrier.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Priorities

The boys are playing with Lego men at the kitchen table. Jack's character approached Spencer's and said, "I'm sorry, but I slept with your wife." To which Spencer's character responded, "What?! This is going to make things pretty awkward between us." 

"I know." Said Jack's character. "But for now, we really need to focus on these zombies."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Atheism Is Not Enough

I look forward to the day when I no longer feel as if I'm in a confederacy with people who don't believe in gods. Not believing in gods, you see is a negative trait. I feel a lessening connection to people who believe in evolution because the retreat of creationism/intelligent design is pretty much in full force now, and its destiny is clearly consigned to the realm of rejection of germ theory, belief in a flat earth, and people who think Ron Paul would make a good president. Most Christians have moved towards some synthesis of a belief in faith and religion, however problematic that may be*. It will be good when the day comes that a person's atheism is just assumed.

After I first left religion, it felt natural to look for the same kind of nourishment in the rejection of religion that I found in religion. Looking for community, spiritual sustenance, and a functioning worldview. But atheism does not provide those things in itself. Atheism is merely the absence of a belief in God, and only provides the starting point for these other nourishing things. I've seen a lot of people debating the merits and shortfalls of 'atheism plus' on the internet, but really, any worldview structure that is constructed on atheistic assumptions is 'atheism plus'. All of your politics, all of your humanism, all of your ideas about 'how it ought to be' is 'atheism plus'. Once a person becomes comfortable with their atheism, their job is to decide what their 'plus' is. I like to support atheist groups and sites, and to encourage atheists to be strong and to support each other--because we still are the most misunderstood and mistrusted minority group in the United States--but I am increasingly interested in building up my plusses.

To me, what I don't believe in is not nearly as important as what I do believe in. And what I do believe in is increasingly becoming less important to me than what I do. I am aware of areas in which I fail to behave charitably to my fellow man in my personal life. I'm aware of my tendency to hold grudges, discount the opinions of people who think differently than me (see the above statement about Ron Paul supporters) and to be selfish in the way I allocate my spare time. One of the quotations that I find myself building most of my plusses on is this quotation by Arthur Schopenhauer:
"The conviction that the world, and therefore man too, is something which really ought not exist is in fact calculated to instil in us indulgence towards one another: for what can be expected of beings placed in such a situation as we are? From this point of view one might indeed consider that the appropriate form of address between man and man ought to be, not 'monsieur, sir' but 'fellow sufferer
, compagnon de misereres'. However strange this may sound it corresponds to the nature of the case, makes us see other men in a true light and reminds us of what are the most necessary of all things: tolerance, patience, forbearance and charity, which each of us needs and which each of us therefore owes."
I want to be a good person. Accepting that there is no god was a step in the right direction for me, but atheism is not enough; I also have to believe in something.


*Why did god use a method of creation that looks exactly as it would be expected to look if there was no creator at all? And if he did use the violent, cruel, brainless method of evolution to arrive at mankind, what does it say about his character? He ends up looking more like the mad scientist than the loving god.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Status Updates August-September


9/12: I wonder if it bothers Mitt Romney sometimes to have to publicly pretend he's a homophobe.
.
9/12: The man in line in front of me at Speedway just bought 40 ounces of malt liquor and 20 lottery tickets. It.'s 6:30 am, I'm in Clermont County.

9/8: "The conviction that the world, and therefore man too, is something which really ought not exist is in fact calculated to instil in us indulgence towards one another: for what can be expected of beings placed in such a situation as we are? From this point of view one might indeed consider that the appropriate form of address between man and man ought to be, not 'monsieur, sir' but 'fellow sufferer, compagnon de misereres'. However strange this may sound it corresponds to the nature of the case, makes us see other men in a true light and reminds us of what are the most necessary of all things: tolerance, patience, forbearance and charity, which each of us needs and which each of us therefore owes." - Arthur Schopenhauer

9/5: In America, those of us not born with everything must fight for anything.

9/4: Phew! Great speeches tonight from Deval Patrick, Lily Ledbetter, and Julian Castro. And now Michelle Obama has me crying. I am sufficiently fired up.

9/4: Reading Schopenhauer to prepare my soul for re-entry into the adult world. Vacation is over.

8/28: Vacation, I am on you.

8/27: "They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself." - Philip Larkin

I'm going to ask my boys to read this poem out loud once they reach their thirties. If they are amused by it, I'll know I did okay. If I hand the book to them and they say, 'I don't need that, I've already got it memorized...' I'll apologize and offer to pay for their therapy sessions.

8/26: Happy anniversary, Abby! Asking you to marry me was probably one of the best impulsive decisions I've ever made. Thanks for loving me, and thanks for the babies. I like them too.

8/23: “The young teller
at the credit union
asked why so many
small checks
from universities?
Because I write
poems I said. Why
haven’t I heard
of you? Because
I write poems
I said.”
— Bob Hicok, Making it in poetry

8/23: Life! Someone send me an e-mail when they make sense out of this shit.

8/22: I love reading H.P. Lovecraft's letters to his friends. After describing how he was going to turn a dream of his into a story: "I wonder, though, if I have a right to claim authorship of things I dream? I hate to take credit, when I did not really think out the picture with my own conscious wits. Yet if I do not take credit, who’n Heaven will I give credit tuh? Coleridge claimed “Kubla Khan”, so I guess I’ll claim the thing an’ let it go at that. But believe muh, that was some dream!!" I was going to dedicate the rest of the year to reading Hellboy comic books, but I might intersperse those with Lovecraft letters.

8/17: "I would die for her...but she also wants me to do the dishes." - Hellboy, perfectly encapsulating the biggest challenge to sustaining romance.

8/15: Satan is my spirit animal.

8/15: 'Like a Prayer' by Madonna may be my favorite song ever. It has the perfect mix of hopefulness, blasphemy, sex, romance, and armchair philosophy.

8/14: Killing it is my business, and business is good.

8/13: Bracing myself for the regular Monday night bullhorn church service across the street. Be strong, my soul.

8/9: Langston can now identify Trotsky, Lenin, and Elmo by sight.

8/8: my dog is so excited to see me when I get home that he literally runs around in frantic circles of mindless ecstasy for around fifteen minutes after I first open the door. If only all relationships were so easy...I wonder if that's what christians will do when Jesus comes back.

8/6: Langston just put a bookmark in a board book he was casually flipping through and laid it right next to mine on the night stand.

8/5: Once, about a year or so ago, someone bought a few boxes of Smiley-face Busken bakery cookies and put them in the employee lounge for everyone to enjoy. Ever since that day, I walk into our lounge every day hoping to see an open box of Smiley-face Busken bakery cookies waiting for me. I know it's an unrealistic thing to expect every day, but those are really good cookies.

8/4: It always comes back to Dickens: my greatest sins are born of ignorance and need. More often than not, my sins are born from ignorance of what I really need.

8/4: "A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials." Seneca. I don't think I'd be able to make it through life without Epictetus, Epicurus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Montaigne, and Schopenhauer. I need to build a bible for myself of their maxims, essays, and aphorisms.

8/2: I need to stay in touch with people just frequently enough to avoid having to ask the question, 'so, how are you guys?' every time we talk.