Monday, October 29, 2012

I wonder what these guys are thinking.

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

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 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' 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


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."