Back when I was first arguing the concepts behind Atheism is Not a Belief System my main antagonist cited the Big Bang as proof of god’s existence on more than one occasion. It was one of his cherished arguments, one that he was convinced there was no answer to. According to him god willed the creation of existence from nothingness, in his eyes an absolute proof of his Catholic god. The rebuttal to this particular line of argument involves understanding physics and extrapolating data to its ultimate conclusion. Essentially there was existence before there was what we know as spacetime today, and what we see as matter today existed then, perhaps in some other form. We don’t know what that form is or how before was measured before there was time, but you can’t get something from nothing without god, ergo there was something before.
Unless you want to posit god the continuance of existence is a fact, due to the law of conservation of energy. In order for the bang to occur the matter had to be there to explode in the first place. You can’t have an explosion of nothing. An explosion of nothing is a miracle of godlike proportions, and positing god just adds the complexity of the creator of god and then his creator’s creator, in an infinite loop of creator beings that mirrors the common expression turtles all the way down. Either existence always was and always will be, or there is something else we don’t yet understand at play here, as far as the cosmos is concerned.
As a baseline, our understanding of what is occurring really is in question. What we casually refer to as dark matter and dark energy makes up most of what we refer to equally as casually as the universe. Dark matter is no more certain to be one simple thing than dark energy is. These are merely placeholders like unobtainium, a number to plug into the missing holes in our understanding of the universe. We don’t know what most of the universe is made up of, and we don’t know what kind of energy is pushing it to expand at the rates that we can measure from astronomical observations. We simply can’t see everything we need to see to understand the universe at a fundamental level.
In much the same fashion, black holes exist both in this spacetime and outside of it. The Schwarzschild boundary marks the point at which normal space ceases to exist. Inside that radius we can’t know what is occurring because spacetime breaks down beyond that point. We can, and do, theorize as to what occurs and maybe, someday, we will be able to test some of these theories. But until we can go and directly measure a black hole what we are left with is mathematical proofs that we must accept as true because the math is valid to the extent that we understand it. In the meantime we have found black holes in our observation of the universe, so their existence is an established fact, much like the matter that we can calculate is present in them even though we can’t see them directly. That is the part of them that is outside of our spacetime, the matter we can’t see because it passed the Schwarzschild radius and is invisible beyond the lensing effect of that radius.
The above is simply the prequel of this entry to the blog. The bare minimum explanation that I feel I need to include before even linking the podcast that spawned this little jaunt down hypothetical lane.
Inquiring Minds is a show that I listen to pretty regularly. There have been two or three episodes that I passed up over the run of the series, but as a rule I try to give them a listen because I find their reliance on science to be pretty solid. This episode though, this episode pushed the limits for me. I liked the conversation, but I disagree with the conclusions that Sean Carroll comes to in the episode. Conclusions that he states with far more certainty than we can possibly justify, even with my limited knowledge of the math involved. We simply don’t know how the universe will end, or even that it will end. We don’t know that it ever began, either. He said as much in the podcast, but then he went on to repeat the heat death story that most physicists fall back on these days.
If any part of string theory is real then there are other dimensions to spacetime than the four dimensions that we currently can measure. In any one of the many other possible dimensions, gravity may have effects that we can’t predict and that gravity might very well exert forces that would explain some of the measurements that we currently mask with the labels dark matter and dark energy. To phrase it the way I prefer to think about it, the universe is currently accelerating into the big bang. The universe is a nearly indescribably complex toroidal shape, in my estimation, but even that is a gross oversimplification. Hawking radiation hasn’t been demonstrated to exist, so black holes don’t necessarily evaporate away. Nor do we know that space without mass and time is really a thing that exists at all. What we can say is that the universe appears to have sprang from what we think is on the other side of a black hole.
Who is to say it isn’t the same one at both ends? I’m certainly not well-versed enough in the math required to argue this conjecture knowledgeably. What I’m attracted to is the poetry, the symmetry of the circular rhythm created by the universe expanding and contracting over eternity, spawning and collapsing the multiverse or many worlds hypothesis that seems to be the most promising explanation for observed quantum effects that we’ve come up with. Maybe, just maybe, they are occurring simultaneously on different dimensions.
“Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.” – Bertrand Russell, Is There a God?
Once upon a time there was a forum at Dan Carlin’s podcast website. The forum has since been deleted, and the posts only sporadically appear in the Wayback Machine now. It’s hit or miss to find any of the almost six thousand posts I logged there over the decade or more I haunted the forums. For a very long time I considered those forums the best place, the only place, to go to argue politics and philosophy. I was probably always wrong on that score, as I was wrong on so many other scores back then, but it felt almost like home for a period of a few years. Before it turned sour. Before it was dominated by the hateful few who had successfully driven off the thinkers there.
I discovered Dan Carlin’s podcasts, Common Sense and Hardcore History through an advertisement on Freetalk Live, back in the days when I was a hardcore Libertarian idealist. Back when I would show up to argue things I didn’t understand with people I didn’t understand and couldn’t figure out. I was lucky if I could extract a rebuttal from the cryptic lines of text they would type in reply to my (in my mind) clearly worded arguments. It took many years and lots of fumbling to realize that what I thought was clearly worded was generally the same mish-mash of disconnected and unconnectable personal anecdotes turned into text strings that I was presented with by other members of that and other forums. Groups of the blissfully unsuspecting that I would descend on like a vengeful wraith of anarchist freedom gone mad, sputtering coded gibberish that I’m sure most people couldn’t even wrap their heads around. At least, that is how it seems in hindsight.
Dan Carlin was one of the pioneers of what is now a burgeoning industry of informational and news podcasts, and I was an early listener of his starting with about the thirtieth podcast of Common Sense. I signed up for his community forum in January of 2007. I made enemies almost immediately and was driven off by old-timers there a few times. I was driven off only to return the next time Dan posted a Common Sense show that I wanted to argue about. I say driven off because that is what was happening. Dan Carlin had and still has some quaint ideas about the value of input from those uninterested in conversation, what most of the world today labels as trolls. I wasn’t above trolling in my own way, but I never understood why clear attempts to end conversation were never stopped by the many moderators present on the forum. It was years later that I realized that they were never going to do anything about these trolls. Dan Carlin’s expressed opinion on the subject of freedom of speech was that everyone had a right to speak even when that speech was specifically intended to disrupt. As my willingness to be verbally assaulted waxed and waned, and as the membership in the group altered and new people appeared to take the place of old adversaries, I would come and go infrequently.
I would come and go infrequently that is until episode 172, an episode I retitled Texas SBOE Destroys Education; an essay that I posted to this blog at the time and also posted to the forum. In that podcast Dan appears to suggest that creationism could be successfully taught alongside modern scientific theories about the history and future of the universe, a point which he quickly denied on the forums and yet remains exactly as I stated in the podcast. When I protested that the last thing that should be done was to compromise the scientific method in such a fashion, I was immediately laid upon by a large section of the forum’s membership, an overwhelming number of which were christians (like the majority of American society itself) christians who wanted their views taught in school as if their beliefs were the unassailable truth. Truth with a capital T, better than the results of scientific inquiry.
After being badgered for days about how science is itself ultimately unprovable in a post-modernist sense, after being badgered for my atheism and how atheism also makes claims about reality which cannot be proven, I created a secondary thread with the title Atheism is Not a Belief System. I honestly thought I’d at least get the rest of the atheists on the forums on board with this subject line. I mean, not having a belief in a thing isn’t itself a belief, right?
It’s funny in hindsight, this naive belief that two people could agree about anything on the internet. What happened over the years, from June 2, 2010 to the day the boards went down late in 2016 can only be described as a cluster fuck. There really isn’t any other words that will cover the mess that resulted from the creation of that thread.
Part of the problem was mine. It took years for me to distinguish between those offering friendly criticism and those who were militantly convinced that all atheists were of the devil. The last group was pretty clearly demarcated because most of them were incoherent even though they offered walls of text as explanations. It was during the attempted shepherding of this rolling orgy in a cesspool that a lot of my current attitudes towards substandard attempts to troll, incoherent if firmly believed arguments, and just plain bad attempts to be funny were formed. Since the people trolling the thread to silence conversation were never going to be punished by the administrators of the forum, I was forced to simply block the trolls who could not be reasoned with. I blocked the dangerously deranged and mildly threatening alike, attempting to force the thread onto the course that the title implied, all to no avail. The militant christians of the forum made it a religion thread, until I finally gave them what they wanted. I changed the title to That Religion Thread. This was the first of several subject lines I gave to the thread. Every one of the new names I gave to the thread following that one were blatant attempts to murder it. I changed the title and the OP’s contents to reflect what the forum’s participants were saying at the other end of the (then 400 page) thread several times, over the course of years and it was largely ineffective, although I did get it to roll briefly off the front page of the forum once. Once.
As I became more and more disillusioned with the concept of online arguments per se, I spent less and less time on the one board that I had ever managed to get a foothold in. In the end my cutting wit would get me banned from forum after forum. If I was not banned outright, I would simply submit to the pressure to leave. I’ve never been one to overstay my welcome. This eventually became true at Dan Carlin’s forum as well. The only time I came back was when someone would resurrect the zombie atheism thread specifically to get us old-timers (now I was one of them) to come back and argue about something. The orifice-plugging spectacle reached a staggering 608 pages in length before Dan pulled the plug on the forum itself, finally admitting what I had attempted to illustrate to him several times; that some form of authority is required for a productive conversation to occur. He has now moved his community to Facebook, where any user can remove anybody for any reason they please from a conversation. This also impedes productive conversations, but at least those threatening your life can be kept from seeing your activity online there.
That is the story so far, the history of the title of this piece without the meat of the argument for it. Congratulations if you’ve made it this far. I will now attempt to codify six hundred and eight pages of sporadic on-topic posts into one sound argument that I think will cover the ground intended. I’d like to hope that it turns out better than the time I told my mom I don’t want to talk about god anymore, I’d rather talk about something important, but please do not asphyxiate yourselves waiting to see if it will work.
Part of the problem of outlining this argument is that, for me, the argument has always been transparently easy to understand. Ever since first discovering that belief in god wasn’t universal, way, way back when, back in the days of Sunday school religious indoctrination, grade school prayers and mandatory church attendance for the children while the parents stayed home and slept in. It was bound to happen eventually. As a voracious reader I was going to run across the fact that some people didn’t believe in god in some book somewhere.
Reading Bertrand Russell and Winston Churchill as a teenager was my introduction to disbelief. Black Velvet is what Winston Churchill called how he saw the afterlife. Rather than instantly converting me to atheism, the idea that there was an actual ending to existence scared the crap out of me. I doubled down and became a born-again christian, crawling to the front of the church in my desperation to believe the way everyone around me seemed to believe. The way my grandparents believed and were so happy with. I wanted to be like them.
But it was useless. I was never going to believe the way they did because I wasn’t them. I also wasn’t my parents who cheerfully packed us up and sent us to church with the grandparents while they went back to sleep. I had questions and I wanted answers to those questions, even if the answers to those questions scared the crap out of me. It wasn’t until I found a kindred spirit in the form of the Wife that I knew that it would be OK to simply admit that I didn’t believe the fairy tales written in the holy books that everyone took so seriously. Our children have never set foot in a church unless we went with them; which means they’ve been to several weddings and several funerals at churches and not much else. So I proved I was not like my parents or my grandparents to my children and to myself.
But what does it mean, Atheism? Is it different than Agnosticism? What about Freethought? The answer to that question is that every single person who takes on one of those labels has some different conceptualization of what the label means to them, exactly like any other descriptive term applied to any individual whether that term applies to sex, gender, race, religion, job function or area of study and thousands of other quantifying parameters that I can’t be bothered to mention. So if I tell you atheism means x I’ll get a majority of atheists who will probably disagree with me the moment I state it that concretely.
What my years of shepherding that thread proved to me is that the devil is in the details of the phrase Atheism is not a Belief System. Depending on how you define atheism, you will or won’t agree with it being a belief system, which itself has a definition that most people will argue with you about.
Christianity is a belief system. The system parameters involve accepting some basic tenets of the faith. Jesus Christ is the savior. He was born of a virgin. He is part of a triumvirate made up of the father, son and holy ghost. These rules were worked out in deep lines of blood over the course of centuries, and still there are those who want to be called christian and yet not believe in these three basic things.
Islam is a belief system. I don’t know it as well but it’s basic tenets are that Muhammad is the last prophet of god and that the Qu’ran is the word of god set down by him. What is in the book and the associated writings of historical mullahs makes up the system that constrains Islamic faith.
Every single religion has a book or philosophy associated with it that constrains it. Very few people before the enlightenment era in Europe (1800’s) knew what was written in the books that Catholics and Protestants venerated, and even today reading the Qu’ran in any language aside from Arabic is considered problematic by many islamic sects. So if you don’t speak and read Arabic, you won’t know what is in that book even now. That’s not to say that the books are not available, even to disbelievers, but that very few people actually read the books that contain the rules defining the religion they ascribe to. This leads to its own set of problems, but in the end even the hucksters who misuse tradition are constrained by the rules they invent to describe their variation of the religion they promote.
This is not true of atheism. Even if I venture to define the word atheism there is no set of rules that an atheist can be punished with that constrains what an atheist believes or doesn’t believe about the universe. Other atheists will tell you that’s not atheism but they have no ability whatsoever to make you stop claiming you are an atheist. There is no rules committee that will kick you out, no authority that will seek to force you to conform, no structure of any kind aside from simply being willing to refer to yourself as an atheist and suffer the consequences. Consequences inflicted by believers everywhere. Here ends the discussion of belief systems.
Atheism, in a broad sense, is the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. Strong atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists. – Atheism entry on Wikipedia
That is a workable definition of atheism, theism being the root word and a- being added to denote the lack of. A lack of belief in gods. Even that broadest of definitions will get some atheists’ panties in a wad, and they will definitely squall at my insistence that a lack of belief is not itself a system of belief. There are many, many atheists out there which share nothing in common with me aside from the fact that neither of us believe in gods. There are even some who believe in things which aren’t gods and also aren’t demonstrable by science, but that is another discussion and an entirely different article.
Atheism is loosely congruent with skepticism. Skeptics and atheists both question things that the vast majority of humanity agrees to, but that is about as far as their agreement goes. There is far more agreement between humanists and atheists in general than there is between atheism and skepticism, the latter being quite capable of disbelieving things which are actually demonstrable. They simply dispute the findings of science. Groups like The Skeptics Guide to the Universe combat that kind of silliness, but it’s a never ending game of whack-a-mole trying to keep the disbelievers from using skepticism as a cover.
Humanism arose in the enlightenment era, along with the re-emergence of atheism from the hiding that a millennium of persecution by Catholic Europe had forced it into. Humanism quickly split into two factions; Religious Humanism and Rationalist Humanism. Religious Humanism became loosely affiliated with Deism, both of which have almost vanished into history. Rationalist Humanism rebranded itself as Secular Humanism, and if you were going to point to an atheist belief system, Secular Humanism is its standard bearer. But not all atheists are comfortable with the Humanist moniker, making humanism its own belief system, functionally different than the looser term atheist.
people who describe atheism as philosophy, ideology, or something analogous are trying to depict atheism as being much more complicated than it is. – ThoughtCo, Is Atheism An Ism?
When pressed by believers to explain what atheists believe, I am frequently forced to reference other sources as a bulwark for the concepts I’m trying to relate. Believers rely on the sureness of the majority to justify the things they believe. The empirical nature of human experience justifies doing this right up to the point where we start talking about things we believe but cannot prove directly. A freethinker cannot rely on the comfort of the majority because a freethinker has none to fall back on. A freethinker must be able to tie what they think to concretes that are demonstrable so that the believer will be unable to disbelieve the thing being demonstrated. An agnostic will simply claim no knowledge on subjects they cannot demonstrate. Agnosticism is useful when conducting experiments, I’ve used it several times myself when running experiments that I really want to understand the outcomes of. But I am not agnostic about the subject of the existence of god. I have found no proof for the existence of god.
Test it yourself. The next time you are asked to pray, don’t close your eyes and bow your head. Notice anything? No sense of otherness? No sense of being in the presence of some greater power? Look around. Do you see those other unbowed heads? They too question the existence of god, but not enough to stop going to church. To synagogue. To the mosque. Why do we do this? Jesus said that we should do our praying in private. Why do we insist we must pray in public? Force others to pray in public? Enforced compliance? Discipline that forces the next generation to tread the exact same path we were forced to tread? Break that mold and see what is outside of it. You might like it.
When you observe the beauty of nature, realize that the beauty is anchored in naturally evolved healthy forms. That is why fungus and disease repulse us. Not because they are supernaturally evil, but because they are evolved systems just like the human form; co-evolutionary systems that our evolved brains recognizes on some subliminal level as harmful.
BBC, A Brief History of Disbelief presented by Jonathan Ross. The observation by Jonathan Ross in the video above (within the first ten minutes) that he was “reluctant to refer to himself as an atheist because he didn’t see the need to define himself by what he didn’t believe in or scarcely thought about” is offered as the same reason that I prefer to be tagged with the label freethinker these days. Freethinker describes my process for coming to accept facts that I encounter. Atheist merely relates my lack of belief in gods. We as humans do not all agree on the importance of faith, of having faith or of belief of any kind, and it becomes imperative that those of us who question the rampant religiosity of today’s political climate to stand up and object to it. To do that we have to not alienate the people we hope to persuade. Not adopting monikers that come pre-loaded with hatred is one of the basic things we can do to achieve this goal. Freethinker is more subtle. Freethinker is so subtle that I have encountered christians in Facebook Freethinking groups who are unaware that freethinkers in general are atheists. Are atheists because there is little rational reason to profess a belief in gods beyond a nod to the concerns raised by deists.
What is the purpose in life? Why are we alive? Here? Now? None of these questions are the kinds of things that atheism can offer answers for. Belief in a universal god, a natural god, does lend some quietude to those kinds of epistemological questions. Deism or Spinozism can be bedrock to anchor the unquiet mind upon, but most believers remain unsatisfied with a deity that they cannot ask favors of. A maker who doesn’t hate the same things the believer hates, love the same thing the believer loves. Spinoza was himself ejected from Jewish society for atheism. There wasn’t enough of god left for the believers to believe in, apparently.
This country, my country, the United States, was founded by people escaping religious persecution. Religious people who turned right around and persecuted their own people for not adhering to the doctrines that had been imported with them. The few who have stopped to question traditional beliefs, people like Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Paine, have been ridiculed down through history for their disbelief (in the case of Paine) or qualified belief (in the case of Jefferson) at the same time they are celebrated for the things that lead to the creation of the United States. A godless country founded on a godless constitution. Godless for good reason; because persecution of the people through authority not founded on demonstrable principles of justice is what lead them to leave the places they came from. The rich heritage of disbelief that is this country’s birthright is being forgotten, buried under mountains of false piety, demagoguery and self-righteousness.
The judicious application of Occam’s Razor to the mountains of bullshit we are confronted with on an hourly basis in this information age is a life-saving necessity. If we don’t learn how to find air in this ocean of data, we will drown for lack of sense. These observations bring me to the core of the argument. The argument that Atheism is not a Belief System.
There is a specific piece of baggage that believers want to saddle all non-believers with. That is the baggage of revealed knowledge. Atheists are equally in the dark because they cannot know the things they claim to know. There is an intellectually rigorous approach to knowledge which questions the basis of that knowledge. This is commonly referred to in professional circles as performing your due diligence; researching your precepts to make certain they are valid. Insofar as atheism resembles agnosticism (no knowledge of) on the subject of the existence or nonexistence of a generic god, a Deist or Spinozan god, one can say with a respectable level of certainty I know this. Consequently non-believers are not in the same boat as believers. Even the average religious believing person can escape that boat, the boat of claiming certainty for things they don’t actually know, if they simply adopt this intellectual rigor for themselves. As a recent news article summarized, be willing to adopt and use the phrase I don’t know.
This argument about atheism is at its root a legal argument. Can you prove the things you believe? Can you demonstrate the existence of god beyond a shadow of a doubt? Believe whatever crazy thing you want to believe, just don’t tell me I have to believe like you, or believe anything at all without providing some kind of proof to back up the claims that are made. Why would I take a different stand? I pick my battles carefully. I created that thread on Dan Carlin’s BBS forum all those years ago with this specific argument in mind. Never mind that the SNAFU (Situation Normal: All Fucked Up) continued around me beyond my ability to control for year after year. It was the attempt to place the onus of revealed knowledge as a shared burden on the shoulders of all humanity that I initially rebelled against. You, dear reader, may disagree with me, but I think I can finally say I’m happy with the argument I’ve laid out here. The defense rests, your honor.
It is a testament to how many times I’ve rehearsed this argument in my head that this post comes pre-equipped with an addendum. Many of the arguments thrown at me in the past have been incorporated in the longer post that appears today on my blog. Much longer and much better thought out than my stumbling attempts to communicate what I thought were simple ideas all those years ago.
Still, I know what kinds of arguments I didn’t incorporate, and what kinds of objections I’ve seen in the past and already have rebuttals for. I’m going to take a few extra paragraphs to deflate a few counter-arguments in advance. Saves time this way.
I’m going to start at the beginning. There is a segment of the human population who are simply afraid of atheists. Atheophobia is a thing. I’ve met quite a few of them over the years. When I run into new ones these days I can almost be bored while hitting the block button. Almost. Fear of atheists is very real and predominates a lot of political rhetoric in the world today. There is no group more targeted than the disbeliever; other than the sects of the majorities own religion that are considered threatening to those in power. Once those troublemakers are out of the way, the atheists are the main targets of hostility. We dare to say the emperor wears no clothes, and believers cannot produce the emperor’s garments or even the emperor himself in order to disprove the assertion. Fear of atheists is the basis for most of the arguments that follow.
The more determined philosophy majors decided early on to make a career out of repeating specific arguments, relying on the casual reader’s ignorance of a specific subject, philosophy and its arcane word usage and definitions, to allow their falsities to go unchallenged. If you really want to know something about fallacies and what constitutes one, here’s a list. Specifically, the Argument from Ignorance was oft-cited, so I feel that it warrants specific mention.
Argument from ignorance, also known as argumentum ad ignorantiam or “appeal to ignorance” (where “ignorance” stands for: “lack of evidence to the contrary”), is a fallacy in informal logic. It asserts that a proposition is true because it has not yet been proven false, it is “generally accepted” (or vice versa). This represents a type of false dichotomy in that it excludes a third option, which is that there is insufficient investigation and therefore insufficient information to prove the proposition satisfactorily to be either true or false.
Argument from Ignorance is an informal fallacy; which means, the argument could also be true and still be fallacious. Life is a series of imperfect decisions based on partial knowledge; and that’s when things are most certain. The least certain involves a coin flip and deciding whether you want to believe the coin’s conclusion or doubt it. One can possess good reasons for thinking that something does not exist, an idea captured by Bertrand Russell’s teapot, the analogy I started this article with. However, the existence of a creator god, much more a specific religious conception of the creator god, would fall more duly under the arena of pragmatism (Occam’s Razor, the law of parsimony) wherein a position must be demonstrated or proven in order to be upheld, and therefore the burden of proof is on the argument’s proponent. That is, the person who wants you to believe in a thing. In this case, a god.
Believers will frequently fall back to Pascal’s wager next. “Ah,” they’ll say, “but if you believe in god you get to go to heaven. So it’s safer to believe in god and not go to hell.” In a side note about my personal journey to freethought, Hell was one of the first concepts that I discarded, and I did this for my own sanity. Which version of god is the god I need to believe in? This is important because if you postulate that avoidance of hell is the goal, you need to be sure to observe the right rules and not the wrong ones. Since religious texts are generally self-contradictory given enough time and permutation of belief, you really can’t know from them which laws to follow and which ones not to. How can you possibly know how not to end up in hell?
As for that, I deemed that if god was love then hell had to be of our own creation; literally, if you are living in hell you had a hand in making it, in its continuance. I can understand why suffering people don’t just kill themselves. I’ve been disabled and stricken with vertigo and migraines on a regular basis for ten years and more. But if you experience hell, you are the one that can change that experience. No one else will be as capable as you are of correcting your personal dilemma. You don’t go to hell when you die. That would not be the actions of a loving god. You would find perfection hellish if what you value is not the values of the inhabitants of the afterlife.
It was a close place. I took . . . up [the letter I’d written to Miss Watson], and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. – Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn
After discarding the human-made construct of hell, I could breath a lot easier and it made the rest of the argument that much easier to deal with. A believer might well object “you can’t just get rid of hell,” but the truth is that you can. In the christian religion everyone has a personal god. You take god into your heart and if you listen to him he tells you the truth. Listen to your heart. You’ll hear it say “there is no hell” unless you need to punish others so much that you cannot let the concept go. If you can’t then I really do feel sorry for you.
The next target in the argument for god varies radically based on the personal experience of the believer. A favorite argument of my past tormentors was the concept that evidence proves something. They would call evidentialism into question, as if the requiring of evidence before ascribing to a certain belief is somehow suspect or disqualifying. Contrary to the hand waving excuses I’ve heard repeatedly, requiring evidence before believing something is a generally accepted practice for anything not involving high-browed philosophy and religion.
While no sensible epistemologists generally urge people to disregard their evidence when forming beliefs… – Wikipedia entry on Evidentialism
An oft-retyped summation of my willingness to accept evidence as proof runs as follows; while gravity may only be a theory, I wouldn’t suggest jumping off a tall building and expecting to float. Evidence dictates you will fall to the earth at a pretty predictable rate and cease to exist in a living state pretty shortly after contact with a hard surface. Please note that not only are all the concepts in this summation open to question if you start questioning evidentialism, but I could just as easily be describing how to bake a cake as I am trying to communicate a crucial fundamental understanding of the universe. Gravity exists whether you believe in it or not.
“Correlation is not causation but it sure is a hint.” Edward Tufte
I think this came up in relation to an argument about the Big Bang origin of the universe and whether or not all the stuff in the bang existed before the bang. Physics will tell you it had to exist before time/space existed or else there wouldn’t be a universe to exist now. So there was a before before space/time. What that might be is a matter of the highest speculation, but then we are talking about the suggested existence or non-existence of a creator god here. Hard to beat the infinite regress of creator gods to explain the previous creator god, much more likely is the infinite string of universes coalescing and dispersing in their own little space/time bubbles. Turtles all the way down as the saying goes.
Finally, the last argument worth mentioning is “Granted you can’t prove god exists; but then how do you prove love exists?” I always assumed the believer was wanting me to capitulate in a sobbing mess and swear my everlasting love for god almighty in light of this observation. I mean, you have to grant that love exists without proof, right? Except that you really don’t. This is one of the oldest problems in human existence, the foundation of what is responsible for more killing than every war in history. Does she love me? Does he love me? Luckily, science has an answer for that,
The researchers said that their study, entitled Love-related changes in the brain: a resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging study, had successfully obtained the “first empirical evidence of love-related alterations in brain functional architecture”.
There you have it, proof that love really exists. Yes, I know. I’ve just destroyed all of romanticism.
As an atheist or freethinker or agnostic or skeptic or whatever disbelieving label I choose to adopt later, I don’t have to prove the infinite nature of the universe, or the non-existence of an intelligent hand in it’s creation. I don’t have to prove these things any more than any believer is capable of proving that the opposite is true. That is the nature of a belief, as opposed to a fact or knowledge. I can freely believe in the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) I can even refer to you that group’s website, venganza.org. I don’t have to provide one shred of evidence for the FSM’s existence to have a belief in him; or for that matter, to have him represented at any event in which participation by varying beliefs is encouraged. That was the purpose for which the FSM was created. A religion based on eating pasta, drinking beer and love for everyone. In the FSM, disbelievers finally came up with a god worth believing in.
The FSM is just the latest in a series of fanciful creations presented in an attempt to prove to believers that they were pretending that they could know things that can’t be known. A host of previous creatures that include the original satanism church, pink unicorns and the floating teapot mentioned previously all leading up to the FSM and Pastafarianism. May the blessings of his noodly appendages be upon you. All of these creations purposefully misunderstood by the believers who encounter them and refuse to understand. Believers who protest “you’re just being silly.” Yes. We aren’t the only ones that observation can be applied to.
Edit history:General wordsmithing throughout and the addition of the atheophobia section 03/24/2018
This popped up on Facebook as part of that sometimes annoying sometimes revealing On This Day function they’ve incorporated.
I had forgotten about this song having run across it so long ago. Not to argue with the joke involved in the song and title, but atheists have lots of songs if you mean an atheist wrote them. In actuality it is religion that has no songs; or at least no music,
I want to quote one humorous example that puts this idea to rest. I have had the good fortune of knowing a magnificent musician named Michael May, who was a virtuoso pianist, harpsichordist and organist. He did I don’t know how many “Messiahs” with me in Carnegie Hall with The Masterwork Chorus and Orchestra. To make a living he became a church organist. At one point during the communion, there were a lot of parishioners and he needed a lot of music. He ran out of music, so what he did was to take the score of “Carmina Burana”—how many of you are familiar with that? It’s a piece of music whose text has to do with lovemaking, debauchery, gambling and drinking. He played it slowly and softly, without the chorus, and nobody knew the difference. So without the words, you cannot tell whether or not a piece of music is intended to be religious. – David Randolph,No Such Thing as Religious Music
There are thousands of atheists writing music and singing songs, even songs about atheists and atheism. I’ve talked about Tim Minchin in the past. Nearly every episode of Freethought Radio that I posted about back when I discovered podcasting features songs by atheists about atheists or at least music written by atheist composers.
If there ever is an atheist hymnal, it won’t be complete without a few songs from Shelley Segal. Dan Barker introduced me to her music on yet another episode of Freethought Radio, one that occurred after I had given up trying to illustrate the kinds of good information that was available in the podcast arena.
I wonder when you will start questioning all the bullshit everyone around you buys.
Words to live by. Turn to page 265 in the hymnals you can find on the backs of the pews in front of you and please sing along with me…
the principle that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before a purchase is made. – Google search result
A few days ago it was announced that Hillary Clinton will attend the inauguration of Donald J. Trump to the presidency of the United States. Of the groups I belong to where this was posted, almost no one took the tack that I would think made sense in the kind of weather we are about to be facing. Most people lauded her for being big enough to go to the swearing in for the victor in the election she most wanted to win. I believe the complete opposite. I don’t think she should go. I don’t think anyone should go. Trump should have to pay attendees to show up. He should have to pay for the judge to swear him in. That is how we should hold him to account for all the bills he’s never paid, and for all the bills he’s going to make us pay.
We have reached that point in US politics. That precise political instant where it will profit us to understand what the words Caveat Emptor or Buyer Beware really mean. Donald J. Trump is a successful businessman as so many of his supporters insist. He is his own biggest booster. He talks about himself incessantly, Tweets pictures of himself constantly, congratulates himself publicly for things that he thinks he’s done whether he has actually done them or not.
But he is a businessman, that much is true.
There are many different kinds of businesses. One might easily argue that there are as many different kinds of business as there are people doing business; however the real estate developer is a special kind of business animal. They ain’t quite like any other form of business on the planet, these real estate developers. Their business is selling their delusions. Delusion is an essential part of the psyche of the real estate developer, and it helps if he is a charismatic delusional because he has to infect the people he talks to with his delusion. He has to infect them with his delusion, or they won’t give him their money, their property, their effort.
Let’s say you want to re-purpose a downtown Washington D.C. post office, just to pull a random location out of thin air. We’ll pretend we’re going to take this random location and turn it into a hotel. Not just any hotel, but the most fabulous hotel you’ve ever seen. I mean beautiful, you know? The first thing you need to do to start this project is actually not what you might think. No, the first thing you do, before anything else, is get money for the project. If you have money, then you can influence people to see things your way. You can say “you see my investors over here? They believe in me. They’ve promised me money, so this is going to happen one way or the other and I know you want to be part of this.”
The problem is getting the money for the stake, for the start of the process. People don’t give you money for nothing, not even if you are trustworthy and you ask real nice. No, you only get money if you have collateral, something you can promise to the lender in exchange for their capital investment. Now, depending on who has the money and where the money came from, what your collateral can be is very flexible.
It is a dirty little secret in the real estate business, especially development and construction, that a large portion of real estate development is done for the purposes of laundering money. It isn’t merely happenstance that some of Donald J. Trump’s business partners are a little on the shady side. That is the kind of money that a big developer needs access to. Liquid capital, and lots of it. The people with dirty money know they are going to lose at least half of their money just making it clean anyway, so they really aren’t interested in tight accounting practices. They just want their share when the clean money starts coming back in.
In New York City back in Trump’s starting days, you didn’t do business in real estate without being friends with several of these types of people, and Trump knows and dealt with them for as long as he was active in real estate there. What do I know precisely? Nothing. I don’t know anything about his business and the sad part that fact is this; all of us should have demanded we know before electing him to the highest office in the land.
I can tell you that the reason we never saw his tax returns is he doesn’t want anyone to know how much money came in, how much money went out, and who the money went to. How much money he currently has, and how much debt is stacked against it. Those are the things no one can know aside from his bookkeeper, and I guarantee you that person isn’t talking to anyone. The one thing bookkeepers are paid for is discretion and they know it.
When Savings & Loans were a thing, I worked for a few different real estate developers. I was the guy who had to make the developer’s delusions look real. I was the draftsman/graphic artist and eventually a staff architect in several different firms of architects. But back in the S&L days I was just a flunkie newb draftsman and what I did was what the developer told me to do. If he wanted letterhead for a new company, I made new letterhead. If he wanted art for a cover, I drew or found better artists to draw convincing art to sell his delusions, his dreams. My drawings were my stock in trade and my drawings were masterpieces of illusion, because very few of them were ever built. But damn they did look good when I was finished with them.
I have actually lost count of the number of different proposals I worked on back then. It was one every few months at least for several years. The number of sales pitches I’ve heard really aren’t important for this story. But the charisma? Oh, yeah. They all had it in spades. You’d believe any damn thing they told you while they were talking to you. It was only later that you would kick yourself for agreeing to do whatever stupid thing they asked you to do. But invariably the dream of getting paid would be too much and you’d do the thing on the off-chance that the crazy guy could sell it, and damned if they didn’t generally get something for their effort.
When I say they got something for their effort, I mean the real estate developer got something to show for our efforts. They usually made off like bandits. As a paid flunkie draftsman I punched a clock and I got paid, even paid time and a half for time over forty hours a week. You don’t work less than forty hours a week if you are drafting for someone who wants drawings ASAP. So the pay wasn’t bad compared to the minimum wage I had been making previous to studying drafting. But what I made was chickenfeed next to what they banked, and you’ve never heard someone whine so hard about writing you a check until you’ve had a developer by the balls, him needing his next drawings, and you won’t give them up till the check is in your hand.
That is rule number one when dealing with a developer. You don’t do jack shit until at least half the money is in your hand. If you do work on contingency for a developer, you are working for free. You are working for free because he never has to tell you whether he made money or not, which generally means not. Not for you, anyway.
So let’s say you’ve been around the block a few times. You’re pretty savvy. You know your contracts and your in’s and out’s. You know to get money up front and to get signed contracts before doing any work and all that business school stuff they teach you or you learn from hard knocks along the way. None of that means a thing to a developer like Donald J. Trump.
Nope. That’s what shell corporations are for. The best (and when I say best, I mean wealthiest) architects in the business also use shell corporations. You create this legal fiction and you make it responsible for all the contracts you sign as a businessman. This is all completely legal and above board even though it is a fiction you are engaged in. You pay all your employees and rent and utilities on your place of business through that corporation; but don’t forget the important part of this equation. You also pay yourself a salary.
In fact, you can be paid a salary from all the corporations you own at the same time. All you have to do is justify the expense to the board, and if it is a shell corporation the board is probably you or someone you appoint to say yes to the things you want. So spend a half-hour a month, make a half-million dollars. No one will complain because no one will know except you and your bookkeepers.
I left the best part for last. When you pay yourself too well (and Donald J. Trump does this in spades) you just get to walk away from your contracts. The business you created and hopefully sold beforehand (that is the important part) will go bankrupt, sure. But that really isn’t your problem. You paid yourself a salary and that debt comes before paying contracts. Designers and craftsmen, engineers and architects; everyone who signed contracts and aren’t working for a wage, they get the scraps. You and the investors walk away smelling like roses with freshly laundered money in your pockets.
It is a neat financial trick, one that Donald J. Trump has repeated 6 times now. He has been sued more than 4,000 times. You don’t rack up that many bankruptcies or get sued that many times unless you are doing something bordering on illegal. Bordering on illegal is still legal though, and that is what counts.
Ruthlessness and business acumen only get you so far. You still fall prey to the same failures to predict the future that everyone else does. The crash of the gaming industry nearly did him in. Even he didn’t understand just how big the financial bubble we were all sitting on was, and got caught flat-footed just like everyone else as the Wall Street money dried up and Atlantic city’s gaming industry cratered. But hey, that is when the charisma that someone like the Donald has really comes in handy.
If you’re good at it (and Trump is very good at it. Just ask him, he’ll tell you) you can turn yourself into a TV star if you work hard enough at it. He hawked himself onto every media outlet that would have him, spending so much time on radio that he became the butt of several jokes in the New York area radio business. But it paid off in the end, just like he knew it would deep in his delusional heart. The only reason he has any money today is because The Apprentice and its spin-offs have made money, and he made money just like everyone else who works in TV does, successful or not. If you are working you are making money in television. And if your show has ratings you make lots of money. Producers can make more money than anybody and they do less work if they know what they are doing. The Donald talked his way into a producer’s percentage, and he still gets paid to this day for producing the show that he no longer works on.
But down deep in his rotten heart, Donald J. Trump is still that delusional little kid that thought a million bucks gifted from his father was a pittance. The same guy who took dirty money from shady characters in NYC to finance his early projects. The same guy who believes every single lie he’s ever told just to make the next buck in a nearly endless line of billions of bucks. Believes those lies and every single conspiracy fantasy he’s asked to put stock in by people like Alex Jones and Breitbart news. He believes them but knows they are false. It doesn’t matter, because the charisma makes him the next buck, and the next buck is what really matters.
That is why we as citizens of the United States need to understand caveat emptor, and we need to understand it now. It would have been better if we had understood it before November 8th, but that deadline passed and we were #MAGA in a big enough percentage in the wrong places. He’s going to be sworn in as the leader of our country on January 20th, with a congress willing and able to do his bidding, if actions and trends are to be believed.
He will have the keys to the White House soon, and we need to understand that this life-long con artist is about to pull off the biggest con of his life.
…and that he has no idea how to do the job we’ve given him.
The wealthy believe that they shouldn’t be governed by the same laws as the rest of us. The lives they lead are almost unbelievable to those of us who have never had more money than we could spend on a single purchase. Trump is one of these people. He has always lived that lifestyle.
His contempt for our system goes far beyond simple greed, his need for more money and more fame. He’s hired relatives to run parts of the administration in violation of nepotism laws. He’s named appointees for cabinet seats that have clear conflicts of interest. He’s named appointees who have declared their intention to destroy the department they will be in charge of, pretty much across the board. He’s been bought and paid for by billionaires across the country who are counting on him to deliver on the promises he’s made to roll back clean energy and approve expanded drilling and pipeline proposals.
Robert Reich asked Facebook What do you think? in the wake of Trump’s pick of former Gov. Rick Perry to head the Department of Energy. What do I think? I find it impossible to take anything about this election seriously; which is weird, because I was one of the people who took Trump seriously from the beginning and discounted his chances with the voting public because he was demonstrably unqualified for the office he was seeking.
Every. Single. Thing. Every Single Thing. Everything that he has done since the election has demonstrated, again and again, just how unqualified he is financially, mentally, temperamentally.
He can’t be president.
…and still the media people act like he can be president and “aren’t you outraged about this?” I’m well beyond outraged now. The surreality of the approaching cataclysm, surrounded by the same old news organizations parroting the same old garbage news as if there would be a United States for us to live in if this dangerously deranged person were to be allowed to take and hold the office of the president for the next 4 years has me all but convinced I’m the only real person in a video game gone horribly wrong.
He can’t be president. If they make him president anyway the US won’t be here for long if we don’t remove him and may not survive his removal if we do. You may well say “that can’t happen” but I guarantee you the average inhabitant of the USSR never thought that they would be reliant upon the truncated government of Russia and the other severed states of the former Soviet Union, either. But they did all the same; and if you think that isn’t Vladimir Putin’s favored dream, the end of the USA, then you really don’t understand the mind of a former KGB agent turned dictator like Putin.
Donald J. Trump is going to step up to take that oath in less than 24 hours now, and you as an American citizen need to understand that you are about to buy into something with no warranty and no guarantees, and you had best inspect each and every proposal put forward by these delusional people as if your very life depended on it because it very well might.
He will come into office with a House of Representatives packed with delusional people who think they can spend money and cut taxes at the same time (it worked for Bush. Temporarily) and there is only so much more of our debt that the Chinese will be willing to buy. Willing to buy from His Electoral Highness Donald J. Trump, that is. He has insulted the Chinese more times than I can count now. Apparently no one has told him that the Chinese have been the biggest buyer of American debt for several years now.
That debt load the country has been carrying? That is about to come due. Guess who will have to foot the bill for paying it? We will, the citizens of the United States. That bill and all the money Trump spends or puts in his pocket during his brief term in the White House. We have to pay that. Us, our children, or grand children and their grandchildren. But not Donald J. Trump and his family. No, they don’t pay taxes, because they are smart. So they won’t be paying the bills, at least not directly and not in a way they would notice. The currency will inflate and those of us with the least will go hungrier than we are now. We’ll lose property to foreign investors spending dollars we’ve convinced them to buy as debt. Federal lands will be privatized and sold. Federal programs will be privatized in the name of cost-cutting.
Don’t believe me? Remember that wall the #MAGA wanted Trump to build, the wall he said he’d make Mexico pay for? We’re going to pay for it. But trust Donald J. Trump when he says he’ll bill Mexico for the cost of the wall. The wall that there will already be tunnels under when it is built.
Illusions are important when you are trying to sell someone on your dream of pocketing that next dollar.
In reality, Trump’s administration is a rebuke to the very notion that the public interest diverges in any way from private ones. The Labor Department will be run by a man whose interest in the field is dominated by a mania for cheap labor; the Environmental Protection Agency will be run by a virtual pass-through for fossil-fuel interests. Trump’s government will make policy by and for the rich and well-connected. As Politico reports, “the extent to which donors are stocking Trump’s administration is unparalleled in modern presidential history.” As Kudlow makes clear, Trumpism regards the fear that government might favor capital over labor or some other public interest as inherently nonsensical.
Since Obama’s election in 2008 it has become fashionable amongst the conservative elite to pretend that they never were in favor of anything government might do. Anything a government headed by a black Democratic president might do which equates to not in favor of government, embracing anarchism from behind. Too bashful to look anarchy in the face, but heading down the road to anarchism all the same.
Now they find themselves with the reigns of power, all of the reigns of power, unexpectedly in their hands. These people have clearly voted for what they believe is a strong leader. People who want that leader to ignore the constitutional limitations on the office of president. People who want desperately to pretend that their opponents are the bad guys. The brownshirts. The people who want to destroy America. The truly surprising thing about the current crop of conservative Republicans isn’t that they are ignorant; as in, they don’t know that fascism was a right-wing ideology. That strong central leadership is one of the defining attributes of dictatorship. No, the surprising thing is that they know what the truth is, but simply deny it because they want the opposite to be true.
I’ve seen this type of willful ignorance applied to atheism, to evolution, to climate change. But I never thought I’d see the day when they denied their own political ideology, their worship of the strong leader as being anything other than what it truthfully is. This is newspeak/newthink on a really frightening scale. They have to know that they are being false, but they simply lock that knowledge away and blithely pretend that white is black and black is white. I don’t know of any way to deal with this level of insincerity (I first noted in conservative pundits like William Kristol and Pat Buchanan) no way to deal with this level of denial of reality short of eradication. Open warfare. I’d love to hear a way to get through to people who have voluntarily shut their brains off. Please let me know if I’m missing something here.
I mean, they can’t be reasoned with. They simply redefine everything to mean the opposite of what it is for their own convenience. They not only lie to everyone around them, they lie to themselves and believe the lies. This is why Donald Trump is their current leader. He is the king of liars, leading a host of liars.
After eight tedious years of one wild-assed glassy-eye conspiracy theory after another, after nearly a decade of endless birthers and a parade of truthers and more goddamned lame-ass Benghazi reboots than the Batman franchise, after robot alien reptiles in rubber human suits, after Obama is a Muslim, Obama is gay, Obama went to Mars (no really, there are people who believe the CIA teleported Obama to Mars as a teenager, twice, and those silly sons of bitches write me letters), Obama killed Antonin Scalia, Obama has 39 different Social Security numbers, Obama secretly worships Satan, Obama is going to invade Texas, Obama was adopted, Obama’s wife is a man, Obama’s kids were stolen from Africa (because Obama’s wife is a man), Obama is a commie, Obama is a Nazi, Obama refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance, Obama is a time traveling super-villain here to gayify white Christian babies with his Magic Negro Ray of Chocolate Mojo, and etcetera, and etcetera, and etcetera up to the part where conservatives are actually floating the idea Obama is conspiring with Hillary Clinton to kidnap kids for some world-spanning Soros-funded pedophile wholesaler operating out of a pizza joint in Washington D.C (which they’ve figured out from “clues” they “deciphered” by reading John Podesta’s emails which were stolen by Russians and fenced via an international criminal organization run by a guy who actually is wanted on sexual assault charges), after 8 years of that, let’s not resort to the same defective Creation-Science based reasoning here. Please.
The problem with #MAGA, this indefinable need to take America back to a previous era; is that America was never the place they believe it was. The problem is also deeper than that. America has a near-terminal case of amnesia when it comes to its own history.
After WWII we became aware of our power. More importantly, our leaders became aware of it and used it to throw our weight around the globe, influencing other nations to enter our circle of friends, the people who would get rich off of our prosperity with us. Today we consume most of the production that the world generates, while paying little to nothing for it aside from letters of credit. Demanding what we want at the point of a gun, as we have done since the 80’s, is getting old now. The rest of the world is beginning not to care what we whiney Americans want, and they aren’t going to keep buying our debt.
The system which worked following WWII has come to it’s functional end. It is time for a new system to be born, and I don’t think the world is ready to take on that herculean task. I don’t think we can afford to wait, either. This change since WWII, this focus on the Military Industrial Complex and it’s servants in Washington D.C. are why Philip K. Dick’s stories have played so well in the last few decades. There is a madness there in his stories, a madness that the man himself suffered from profoundly. That madness is echoed in the world around us, the disconnection between what is real and what we want to be real. It is almost as if we didn’t win WWII. It is almost as if we… lost?
“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.” — Hannah Arendt, “The Origins of Totalitarianism” (1951)
Don’t be shy. Step right up. And tell me in detail, point by point and line by line, why I have set an impossibly high standard. Tell me why liberals can’t compromise their sacred principles when it comes to abortion or gay rights or the goddamned endangered snail darter or some pipeline in North Dakota, but you just can’t bear the thought of not being able to call Melania Trump an orange cum-guzzling whore on my Facebook page.
If the Democrats had not let the Clintons control the party the way they did, if Hillary had allowed real competition at the top of the party and ticket, not forced an outsider to challenge her, if the people who want justice and equality from their system get up and join their local precinct meetings now, if the Democratic party itself embraces new technology to ramp up inclusion; then we’ll get candidates with a broad base of grassroots support rather than the crop of power brokers we currently have to pick through.
But that just deals with the open question of who to vote for in 2018 and 2020. That doesn’t get us through the next two years. Doesn’t get us through the harrowing times that await us on the other side of January 20th.
With The Art of War firmly in mind; Rather than meeting your enemy on their battlefield, pitch your tents where you want to fight. Make them fight on your battlefield, out in the open where greater numbers (and we have greater numbers than they do) will turn the tide of battle and we will be able to win handily. That observation relies on the vast majority of Americans to take an interest in their own government. I’m not holding my breath on this occurring since Americans getting off their couches and doing anything proactive in the realm of politics would be an unprecedented act in the history of human governance.
Which is why I repeat the title of this post again, one last time.
I have practiced this principle almost by rote for most of my adult life, having pretty much always been poor since leaving my hometown in Kansas. I can’t afford to be taken to the cleaners by shady dealers. I prefer to think of caveat emptor more as due diligence; ensuring that what is being promised is reality, making sure that what you are buying is actually what the seller claims it is. When money is tight and purchases are made on promises and shoe strings, you have to know that what you are buying is actually going to do the thing you want it to do.
I say all this, every single word of it that I’ve written on the subject of Donald J. Trump or his 3am rage tweeting alter-ego The Orange Hate-Monkey over this past year with the personal knowledge I have gained through experience. That we have elected a con-artist to the presidency. That when you are forced to deal with a con-artist you keep your hands on your wallet and don’t agree to anything without seeing it first in writing; and even then, don’t let go of those purse-strings. Keep your legal representation on retainer and make a point of running every single thing the con-artist says to you past your counselor before responding in any fashion to him.
Above all, understand that you’ve already bought whatever it is he does while he has the office of the president in his control. If that knowledge keeps you up at night, then you are just beginning to glimpse the nightmares I’ve been having since November 8th.
“There is a Santa Claus but it’s an idea, it’s not a person. Santa Claus is doing good things for people, just because; and so long as you keep doing that throughout the rest of your life, there will always be a Santa Claus”
I find that atheists and skeptics generally step on the sense of wonder in their haste to squash pseudo-science, religiosity, false-piety and fear-mongering. I understand their goals and for the most part agree with their principles if not their ham-handed practices.
One of the subjects that gets trodden most savagely in the dust of shattered illusions is the story of Santa Claus. I’ve lost count of the number of people (Penn Jillette in particular) who have specifically targeted Santa Claus in their personal lives, trumpeting raising children without fostering a belief in imaginary beings. I couldn’t disagree more.
I celebrate the secularized solstice holiday referred to in the US as Christmas, which involves a jolly fat guy who delivers presents dressed in a red suit. We spend the holiday with family and friends, giving gifts and trying to brighten the dull central Texas winter days. I also spend time reflecting on what the passing of this year means to me, and preparing to celebrate the New Year.
The Wife and I discussed whether or not to share the myth of Santa Claus with our children before they were born. I was all for bursting that bubble; better yet, just not even going there. My memories of Santa Claus are anything but pleasant.
My mother and father did Christmas to the hilt. Large tree, Santa decorations, pictures with Santa, the works. Once, when we were staying at our grandfather’s house in Sacramento, my sister and I heard a noise in the living room. We nearly made it to the door before our fear of being discovered, and not getting any presents, sent us scurrying back under our covers where we finally fell back to sleep. When we awoke the next morning, there were snow footprints on the fireplace hearth. That was the best year. The next to worst was the year when we were particularly nasty to mom and dad, and got switches (sticks to get spankings with, for the uninitiated) in our stockings instead of candy.
Why is that the next to worst? Because the worst year was when we found out that there was no Santa, and suddenly the magic was gone from the holiday. Santa never came to our house again. Not too long after that, there was divorce and hardship of an all too real nature as the family was torn apart, and there was no more talk of silly little things like Santa Claus. So you can imagine the mindset that I carried with me to the discussion.
For her part, The Wife never experienced an end to the myth. Even after she knew there was no physical person named Santa Claus that visited her house on Christmas eve, the presents from Santa still showed up. The stockings still were filled, even for mom and dad. It wasn’t until I met and married her that there was any magic during the holidays for me, and then only because of her.
She presented an argument that I couldn’t defeat. That there was something good in nurturing a sense of wonder in the children. That perhaps Santa isn’t a person, but is instead the charitable spirit that lives inside all of us. That the giving (and receiving) doesn’t have to end at all.
So, I tell my children that Santa comes to our house, and there is no lie involved in that statement. Santa Claus is the Spirit of Giving, the anonymous benefactor who gives out of the kindness of their heart and doesn’t seek to be recognized for charity. He leaves presents that are from no one, and fills stockings for the people sleeping under our roof, no matter the age. His is a kindly old soul that doesn’t get recognized enough these days.
The Daughter figured out that spirit meant just that, a feeling that comes from within, a few years ago. I know that she has figured it out, because gifts appear under the tree, or in the stockings, that The Wife and I have never seen before. Santa Claus lives on in my house.
You can point to the Wiki entry on Santa Claus and tell me how he’s actually St. Nicholas, how his gifts were given personally. That he was a real person and he is really, very dead now. Or you can say that he’s the mythological figure, Father Christmas, and that as a mythological figure he never existed at all. It’s all fine by me, I love a good story. The Red Ranger came calling is an excellent story about Santa Claus, and it’s just about as true as any of the rest of them.
You just go right on believing whatever suits you. I know Santa will visit this house on Christmas Eve, no matter what anybody else believes.
It is a game, the same game it has always been. A game shared by adults and children down through the years whether they knew it or not. It can be a fun game or a hurtful one, but it is a game; as an inveterate gamer myself, it’s one I’ve come to enjoy now that I understand it. It can be a valuable teaching tool when used correctly, and a crushing burden when used incorrectly. So play it wisely, always with the knowledge that a game should be fun. If it isn’t fun and you have a choice, why play?
I know this because my self-diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder is kicking in. I want to stay in bed all day. I can’t be bothered to go out to do routine shopping.
Well, the latter isn’t just the SAD. No, that comes from my cumulative experience with this time of year, which is why a self-diagnosis for SAD may just be my hypochondria (also self-diagnosed. Well, self-diagnosed if the wife calling you a hypochondriac for 30 years constitutes self-diagnosis) kicking in, reinforcing my disgust with the crass commercialism which denotes this slowly expanding season.
There was a time in my youth when we waited until after Thanksgiving to start hyping all things Christmas. I remember going out in the yard after Thanksgiving to admire the life-size nativity scene that my grandfather always put up (complete with genuine hay bales borrowed from farming relatives) in the front yard across the street from the Methodist church in Leoti where he sang in the choir regularly. Setting up the tree and decorating it was generally a part of the Thanksgiving celebration.
These days if you are into labor-saving you put up “Halloween lights” which can be color-changed to “Christmas lights” or just put up the Christmas decorations early. In this household you will find Christmas decorations that stay up all year, the ultimate in labor-saving.
Holiday shopping madness hits just about the time that November rolls around; consequently I refuse to go out amidst the press of people who are willing to knife total strangers in order to get the last dublafluwhitchy that is the thing to have this year. I won’t go shopping between Thanksgiving and New Years unless I run completely out of an essential food item (eggs, oatmeal, tea) and even then I won’t go gladly. I won’t go gladly because I hate Christmas music and it is played non-stop in most retail businesses between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Basically I turn into the Grinch promptly following Halloween, and stay that way until Christmas Eve, when I put on my best face in order to not spoil the holiday for the family. Christmas and the solstice holiday it supplanted are celebrated when they are because of the effect that shortened days have on the human psyche; and it would be pointless to attend a celebration as the Grinch when it is thrown specifically to drive the Grinch away.
But the real reason I know the solstice is approaching is that even in my current boycott of the news cycle the War on Christmas, the incessant whining of the christian majority of the US that they are in fact an oppressed minority, has made its way into my information stream despite my best efforts.
The Winter solstice is a pagan holiday. This year it will occur on December 21st for the Northern hemisphere of planet Earth. The pagan holiday (which went by several names) spanned across the current date of Christmas, traditionally for about two weeks, until a few days after the current New Year’s day.
This task that I set myself periodically, this attempt to push back against the wilful ignorance of the average American, this attempt to enlighten the masses as to the true breadth and depth of the history that is expressed in the secular holiday we call Christmas seems hopeless. Even the simple idea that facts when presented without bias can change minds seems hopeless in light of current psychological studies into things like Motivated Numeracy or the Dunning-Kruger Effect especially when polls conducted by the Pew Research Center show,
…that most Americans believe that the biblical Christmas story reflects historical events that actually occurred. About three-quarters of Americans believe that Jesus Christ was born to a virgin, that an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, and that wise men, guided by a star, brought Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. And eight-in-ten U.S. adults believe the newborn baby Jesus was laid in a manger.
In total, 65% of U.S. adults believe that all of these aspects of the Christmas story – the virgin birth, the journey of the magi, the angel’s announcement to the shepherds and the manger story – reflect events that actually happened. Among U.S. Christians, fully eight-in-ten (81%) believe in all four elements of the Christmas story. Even among people who are not affiliated with any religion, 21% believe all these events took place, and 37% believe at least one (but not all) of them occurred.
But still I soldier on, year after year, attempting to point out the silliness that surrounds us.
The word christmas is a bastardization of Christ’s Mass, which is specifically a Catholic celebration. The Catholics, being the earliest example of admen on the planet, realized that they could more easily sell their religion if they simply adopted the holidays in the areas that they wished to convert. When they moved into Northern Europe, they took on the holiday known as Yule and incorporated it into their religion as the day of Christ’s birth (even though it’s considered most likely that the date would have been in spring) and it is even more likely that the celebrations of Saturnalia spread around the Roman Empire, influencing the the celebrations held informally long after Rome had ceased to be a power in the region. Whereby Roman celebrations influenced Yule which in turn influenced celebrations in the later christian eras.
Christ’s Mass (Mass being what a protestant refers to as a ‘sermon’) was thereby invented, placing a holiday that directly coincided with celebrations already being held on the shortest day of the year, accurate calculations of which could be made (and were and still are essential for agriculture) with the crude technologies of the time.
This sort of silliness knows no bounds. The Son attended a charter school that was hosted at a Catholic Church for a few years while he was in grade school and they used the phrase Holiday Party to describe their Christmas Party. If there is one group that should be using the word Christmas it’s the Catholics. They certainly didn’t hesitate to tell him all about god in that school, which was the main reason his attendance there was brief. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t just say Christmas.
Christmas being Yule modernized isn’t nearly the earth shattering revelation that FOX and their devotees might think. A good number of the names for things that we use daily, even the names of the days themselves, are derived from Germanic/Northern European traditions, whose gods were not the gods the Romans worshipped (Remember to think of Odin on Wednesday next time it rolls around) nor the later god of the christians that Rome would officially adopt. Our traditions in the US are a literal smorgasbord of celebrations cobbled together from every major culture on the face of the planet.
If you hear me wish you a Merry Christmas, it is because May your feast of the Winter Solstice be Enjoyable is too cumbersome to say repeatedly. It certainly isn’t because I revere Jesus, or self-identify as a christian.
“Jesus is the reason for the season!”
Axis tilt (22.5 degrees) is the reason for the season. Lack of sunlight causing depression is the reason for the celebration. Christmas has as much to do with Odin as it does with Jesus, and has even more in common with Coca-Cola ads from the early 20th century than it does with any god; Coca-Cola having created the figure of Santa Claus that most of us recognize today.
Jesus was not a capitalist. Jesus does not want you to buy gifts to give away on the winter solstice; not only because he wasn’t born then, but because you should give gifts every day of your life. If you really want to know WWJD? Then I’ll tell you, that is what Jesus would do as well as washing the feet of the poor and feeding hosts with loaves and fishes. Give gifts every day to the people around you who need them. Be thankful you have them near you every day that you can, because those days are finite like the number of days remaining in our lives.
If you remain unfazed by these facts; if you are still determined to insist that Christmas is a christian holiday, I’ll go a few steps further to illustrate my point. The Puritans that the average US citizen credits as founding the American colonies specifically targeted Christmas as being a pagan influence introduced by the Catholic church. They exorcised it’s celebration from their religious practices, even punishing celebrants caught loafing during the early years of the colony.
The US is not a christian nation. The authors of the Constitution had little evident love of religion. Having just escaped religious persecution in Britain and the rest of Europe, and being besieged by the mandatory religious practices written into several state charters, they consciously kept all mention of religion out of the document aside from the proscription against religious tests. If you go beyond their ranks you are faced with the fact that there were French colonies as well as Spanish colonies, and if you want a contrast with the straight-laced Puritans it’s hard to find one more glaring than the types of celebrations held in New Orleans down through the years.
The United States exists as a celebration of reason not religion. Reason is the basis for Humanism and the Enlightenment, this country’s real foundations.
I apologize for ruining Christmas for you, I’m sorry.
The world isn’t as simple as any of us want it to be, wish it would be. It won’t change just because you or I think it should; and like those toys you bought for the children, it won’t go back in the !@#$%^&*! box so you can return it. Next time buy the pre-assembled one that has all the pieces in the right place. The child will be happy for the gift anyway, they probably won’t notice the missing parts, and the world will continue to spin on its (tilted) axis whether we will it or not.
Just relax, sit back, and have some more eggnog (or whatever your beverage of choice is) it’s just a few more weeks and then we’ll have a whole new year of problems to deal with. Now isn’t that a refreshing outlook?
…Oh, and Merry Christmas! (abridged and enhanced from this post)
I got into an argument just last week with someone who wanted me to read a clickbait article over at Cracked.com; an article that promoted absolute majority rule, direct democracy, as the solution to our problems here in the US. I refused to read the article, which pissed several commenters off.
I refused to read the article because, as the illustration shows, the argument is presented without being required to read anything aside from the click-bait left at the opening to the rabbit hole. As I said on that thread,
Allowing for direct democracy is a can of worms none of us want to open. Just think about it long enough and you’ll understand. Still don’t get it? Think about a country made of a million RAnthony’s and one you. Get the picture now?
What surprised me was the number of people who still refused to accept that argument as proof that direct democracy was a bad, bad idea. There is hope for my political future after all, I guess. I am not nearly as unpopular as I think I am.
Today was much like that day a week ago, except the image was not a self-contained argument that I could rebut simply by sticking to what was in the meme image.
I loathe (loathe!) Facebook and meme images. Why? Because it makes it far too easy to communicate falsehoods without them being questioned. Almost on a daily basis I find myself having to push back against some fool or other who thinks their images are the best thing and if I don’t agree 100% with the message in their image then I really am one of the sheeple. And Facebook is loaded with people who are not good enough at memes to be able to make it on icanhas.cheezburger.com where the modern notion of meme image (which keeps Richard Dawkins up at night) was invented.
Specifically it was this image and article that got me started today.
See, rural jobs used to be based around one big local business — a factory, a coal mine, etc. When it dies, the town dies. Where I grew up, it was an oil refinery closing that did us in. I was raised in the hollowed-out shell of what the town had once been. The roof of our high school leaked when it rained. Cities can make up for the loss of manufacturing jobs with service jobs — small towns cannot. That model doesn’t work below a certain population density.
I’m telling you, the hopelessness eats you alive.
And if you dare complain, some liberal elite will pull out their iPad and type up a rant about your racist white privilege. Already, someone has replied to this with a comment saying, “You should try living in a ghetto as a minority!” Exactly. To them, it seems like the plight of poor minorities is only used as a club to bat away white cries for help. Meanwhile, the rate of rural white suicides and overdoses skyrockets. Shit, at least politicians act like they care about the inner cities.
Someone found the meme generator later in the day and produced this image, but the first image was what I woke up to. The article is a good entertaining read but the author left out several key parts of this equation, the illustration that he’s trying to paint with words.
He left out the part where the people who support the Orange Hate-Monkey are once again left where they are, in the dust, because the actual Nazis who will take power with the Birther-in-Chief will no more care for the plight of rural America than any of the insincere candidates that conservatives have elected in the past 40 years have. This is a crucial point. Ronald Reagan knew that country folk were bumpkins who would buy anything you sold them if you just phrased it the right way. It comes across in every speech he gave, that folksy down-to-earth awe shucks posing that he did so well on the big screen and in office. The Republican party has continued this insincere pandering to rural white America with varying degrees of success.
Has continued pandering right up to today. Right up to this point when the ultimate poser, a demagogue with a fully transparent agenda, arrived on the scene to make the kinds of promises that conservatives before him were too smart, too well versed in the real nature of politics, to actually make. Let me finish this illustration that the Cracked author failed to put the finishing strokes on.
What will happen if the Real Estate Developer wins will be the terrorizing of cities by lynch mobs looking for those others that they know are there. Because that is what a Trump vote will ultimately be; A vote for fear. A vote for us versus them. A vote for social purity. A vote for continuing the failed economic practices established by Reaganites and maintained to this day.
There is a ton more I can say on this subject, but I’m going to try and crank out a second piece today or tomorrow that covers the amount of bad that a President Trump could inflict.
I want to devote more effort into painting an alternative that I haven’t touched on yet but have thought a lot about, and that the Cracked author never even addressed at all, even tangentially.
A canny politician from the blue areas could easily fix the rural problems around his/her city by simply caring for the areas that feed their cities. A federal government that already prints money could print money in a different way, spread it across the nation and eliminate rural sympathy for conservatives in one fell swoop.
Don’t believe me? Let me illustrate.
Imagine what would happen if the federal government started paying every American $99 a month. All you have to do to get it is open an account and you could qualify for this benefit. Call it an automation offset call it a dublafluwhichy, I don’t actually care what you call it, just follow along. Leave a counter-argument in the comments if you feel the need.
If you don’t have a bank in your rural area, that’s fine. You can open an account at the Post Office which every incorporated municipality in the US has already. Putting money in your account would be like buying a money order which you already can get there anyway. Spending the money would be just like using any other credit card in the US.
Any money left in the accounts for longer than a month would be subject to a modest negative interest rate (say 1%) giving any organization that offered the accounts an incentive to offer them. It would also allow the government a way to reclaim excess currency since the accumulation of unspent wealth is a burden on the rest of the system which relies on the free flow of goods and services paid for with currency.
I hear you saying $99 isn’t enough. I know that, the number isn’t the important part. The actual automation offset would be subject to raising or lowering based on how much extra currency was laying around unspent in the average citizen’s account. The important part is to get money in the hands of the average rural citizen without them having to work for it. That is the key.
It makes the notion that you have to work for what you get a lie on it’s face. Everyone will have something they never worked for. Out the window goes most of the forced labor still present in the US, the justification for it’s existence gone with most of the crushing poverty.
How is that you ask? When a child is born the account is funded. By the time they reach adulthood, if they haven’t tapped into that account there will be a sizeable sum still waiting for them to spend. If they have had to utilize those funds (with parental oversight) then their childhood will have been made that much easier because of the ability to pay for things the family needs.
Let’s go one further and say that the government creates that account at birth and pays interest as well as drop the automation offset into the account until the age of maturity. Every child would have an education fund ready to be tapped. A medical fund available to pay for health expenses. All without the parents having to do anything aside from have a child.
Like the Cracked author, I grew up in the reddest of red states and now live in one of the bluest of blue cities. Like the Cracked author, I believe that hard work and healthy families make for a better, more fulfilling life. Unlike the Cracked author, I know what a foolish devotion to consistency can do to create the negatives we are all opposed to.
In rural America $99 is tidy sum of money, whereas in the cities $99 dollars is a drop in the bucket. That is the real crime present here, that a dollar isn’t the same dollar across the various parts of the US. It is time to equalize the value of the dollar, by putting some of them in the pockets of the average American who has been taken advantage of for the better part of 40 years.
It just takes knowledge of the real problem that needs to be fixed for a solution to be offered. Here’s hoping someone with the authority to make change happen stumbles across an idea like this in the near future.
I was doing my dead-level best to be non-confrontational when I replied to the poster of the image at right earlier today. Attempting to not be the atheist that I am, but instead an unbiased observer answering the question presented.
You can see it, right? The problem in the sign? In the question? Allow me to spell it out.
Let’s assume that there is nothing wrong with putting god first. It’s a big assumption, but play along with me for a few minutes. Whose god shall we put first? There are thousands of gods created by man down through history. Thor? Isis? Jupiter? Allah?
I know, I’m just teasing you. Obviously it is the christian god that the sign wants us to put first. This is America, home of the Bible thumpers. Obviously they mean the christian god. So would that be the magic underpants Mormon god, or perhaps the Calvinist predestination god? The Catholic god or the Protestant god? Which one of the thousands of flavors of christian god gets to be the God that goes first before all things?
The problem is (this is the comment that got me blocked by the friend who posted the image) that Americans, specifically European Americas, largely immigrated to the Americas to escape religious persecution. I could produce any number of references backing up this historical truth. The one I picked today was this one.
The religious persecution that drove settlers from Europe to the British North American colonies sprang from the conviction, held by Protestants and Catholics alike, that uniformity of religion must exist in any given society. This conviction rested on the belief that there was one true religion and that it was the duty of the civil authorities to impose it, forcibly if necessary, in the interest of saving the souls of all citizens. Nonconformists could expect no mercy and might be executed as heretics. The dominance of the concept, denounced by Roger Williams as “inforced uniformity of religion,” meant majority religious groups who controlled political power punished dissenters in their midst. In some areas Catholics persecuted Protestants, in others Protestants persecuted Catholics, and in still others Catholics and Protestants persecuted wayward coreligionists. Although England renounced religious persecution in 1689, it persisted on the European continent. Religious persecution, as observers in every century have commented, is often bloody and implacable and is remembered and resented for generations.
It was this experience that lead the framers of the constitution to explicitly leave all references to religion out of the founding documents for the United States of America. It is why the first amendment to the constitution, the first right in the bill of rights is freedom of religion. The freedom to have any religion or no religion at all. That is what freedom of conscience means; the right to choose your own path based on your own private council.
The mistake is believing that your god must be affirmed in order for America to return to greatness. American greatness resides in the right of the people to follow their own path to greatness. That the individual freedom to keep your own council, to act according to one’s own conscience, makes America as a whole greater than the sum of its separate parts.
What has to come first, before god, before religion, is something that was created with the United States itself; the notion of the supremacy of secular civil society. While individually our consciences must be acknowledged as our guides, what must guide our government is consensus, not any one person’s god or conception of god.
America is already great; and the saddest fact of all is that a wide swath of Americans don’t know this. They have fallen victim to a charlatan’s flim-flam act. A snake-oil salesman who hopes to cash-in on the lies told to the people of the United States for decades now. He claims he can Make America Great Again, as if American greatness is something that can be given to us by an authority figure.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
American greatness is found when Americans realize we don’t need authority figures to tell us what to do. American greatness is based in all of us acting on the council of our own consciences. Providing food and shelter to the homeless. Comfort for the bereft. A ear for those who just want to be listened to. The answer is not to ask a leader “what should I do?” but to ask yourself that question in the light of your most fervently held beliefs, and then act on that advice in the best, most humane way possible. In the end, we will come to a better answer than any authority with a lifetime of knowledge can get to on his own. This is known as The Wisdom of the Crowd, and it is true whether you believe it or not.
Stephen Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature puts the lie to the notion that we are in a moral decline without god; and there are countless other resources which document through scientific inquiry the improving quality of life in the modern age. If you want to know why you are dissatisfied with your lot in life, you need look no farther than the contents of your own mind. Be the change you want to see in the world, and the world will look better to you because of it. Not because of god, or of any other authority you might appeal to.
Or as I would say to the person who posted the image if I was still speaking to her, don’t ask questions you don’t want to hear answers to. It will save all of us a lot of time.
So the news is engaged in a full court press today, bound and determined to prove that their horserace really is a race and they really aren’t blowing smoke up our collective asses. I’m doing my best to avoid this mess today, not listening to the news in a complete reversal of my normal patterns for daily life.
I wanted to highlight the bigotry by omission of candidates for government office; candidates who go around touting their religion prominently. This importance placed on their beliefs in the supernatural leaves me wondering openly if they understand how those who believe differently feel when they stress how important their religion is to them. How important they think their religion is to good governance in the US.
The problem for me is, neither Justin Scott nor FFRF seem to be interested in producing content to be consumed directly on the internet and only on the internet. FFRF’s near cluelessness when it comes to web programming is what lead me to attempt to catalog all their episodes several years ago, a project that I finally had to give up when I realized that I wasn’t willing to volunteer my effort on the project indefinitely.
First off, the videos of his interviews are not where he said they were; they are on his personal youtube channel which I finally located here. This is a playlist of all the interviews to date;
FFRF’s link resolves on Facebook to look like this;
The youtube link conveys about the same level of information. Therefore it falls to me to write something that I can share even though, as the title of the piece says, I really could not care less about Iowa. Or New Hampshire, for that matter.
Why? Because they aren’t representative of America. They just agreed that they would go first, and they are determined as small Midwestern states to make themselves out to be more important than they are by being first to caucus and first to primary in the US, because they are utterly forgettable by almost any other measure unless you like snow.
So the presidential candidates run around in these little isolated areas of the US for months at a time, far longer than the voting block that they represent merits if you were looking at national influence, percentage of voting Americans. The idea that these two races mean anything would be laughable if only the media could be convinced to laugh. Instead they insist on portraying the primaries as horseraces and build up the competition as if what we are witnessing was a sporting event and not the future leaders of our country vying for attention.
Which is why the subject of Justin Scott’s videos interests me, even though his location in Iowa galls me ever so slightly. Iowa is one of those regions where religion figures prominently; and when I say religion, I mean evangelical christians, the omnipotent WASP‘s who have run the country since its beginning. The people who are most threatened by the presidency of Barack Obama and the likely potential that he will be succeeded by Hillary Clinton, if we are lucky. If we aren’t lucky we’ll have any one of the current GOP candidates currently doing their best to out-conservative each other.
Being brave enough to go out in public and film, to identify oneself as an atheist and ask how the candidates plan on protecting your right to not believe. That takes real courage. I wanted to let Justin know that I appreciated his work, even though I have to spend several quality minutes (hours actually) writing a post highlighting the important work that he is doing. I wish that more members of the media had the balls to ask the really hard questions.
I started to write this post after Jim posted Unknown unknowns over at Stonekettle Station, which was a post in response to the tempest in a teapot that represented the 24 hour news cycle reporting on the clinic standoff and shooting incident in Colorado Springs. I shelved it for various reasons at first, none of them really earth-shattering. Of course, a week later and we have the inexplicable mass shooting in San Bernardino, which instantly eclipsed the previous story.
I could easily spin this into an screed against the gun lobby and their paid cronies in Washington DC who won’t let the CDC even study gun violence in an effort to figure out how to address it, considering that we have had more than one mass shooting every day of this year (2015) which has to be some kind of record that no society on the face of this earth is really interested in breaking…
…but that isn’t the article I want to write. This isn’t going to be the article I started out writing, either. The issue is much bigger than the specific subject of what we know or don’t know about a specific person set on doing wrong, or having been caught doing wrong. It is even bigger than the problem that Jim was trying to address, the 24 hour news cycle, which I agree probably represents the greatest threat to human civilization in the modern age. The need to fill time, to produce facts and counterfactuals when no hard facts are known about the specifics of the incident in question, can lead to greater and greater flights of fancy.
I turn the TV off when that feeding frenzy starts. It is hard enough to separate the wheat from the chaff on good days. On bad days like the two events above bring, listening to the news just feeds confirmation bias until you end up looking and sounding like an idiot.
I will include the specific arguments for the Colorado Springs incident in this post, but the point that I’m seeing come into focus now that the shooter has appeared in court and indicted himself is the argument about what we know vs. what we believe. How we can know what we think we know, and how is that different than belief?
That is the reason why the 24 hour news cycle is such a threat. Being not much more than the talking heads that sold soap in the early days of television, the current crop of news faces appear to have even less familiarity with what facts are and why fact-checking is important. They are after all just selling soap. Keeping the most number of eyes on the screen is how they sell soap, and so the factual content of what they say isn’t the important part of the equation. That they tell you things that reinforce your beliefs on a subject so that you will keep watching is.
Most of the white-looking people in the US trust the police intrinsically, for example. Most of us older types were raised on police dramas portraying the cops as the good guys who enforce the laws and keep the peace. It is very uncomfortable for most of us to be confronted with stories if entire police departments covering up the details of killings done at their hands. And yet, time after time over the last few years, we have been shown just how human police departments are everywhere in the US. Be it Chicago, Baltimore or Saint Louis, just about anywhere USA, there are examples of police who brazenly violate laws and procedures who are then protected by their brothers in uniform.
This really isn’t news. If you’ve been paying attention you would have run across stories by people like Radley Balko who have been documenting police excess for several decades now. The police are after all only human. If you were in their place you would act no differently than they would, because that is what humans do. But that doesn’t excuse the excess, it is a point of data that needs to be accounted for when deciding what you know or don’t know about any given subject.
For the black or brown people who are almost always the bad guys in police dramas, the revelation that cops are only human really isn’t news either. They’ve lived with the reality of constant police scrutiny for generations. So much so that stories abound of fathers and mothers cautioning their children not to become police statistics. So it is no wonder that the chant black lives matter resounds with them. The counter offered by clueless whites that all lives matter is heard by these same people as just another call for them to sit down and be quiet. How is this possible? How can realities and beliefs about these realities be so widely separated?
When it comes right down to it, what you know with certainty is a very small number of things. Whether it is night or day. Whether it is cold or hot. You know these things because you can test them directly with your senses. Solipsists will argue that you can’t even know those things because we are all just brains in jars at best, but I’d like us all to pretend that the shadows on the cave walls actually represent something real, and try to make sense of that. If that much can’t be granted, then there is little point in continuing to read this. Even less in my continuing to write.
Beyond what you can test yourself (fire burns) there are grades of factual knowledge which you can probably safely rely on. At each point where the facts exchange hands, the ownership of that data has to be documented to be trusted. This is why, when doing research, it is important to seek out source material and not just rely on wikipedia. The more obscure the subject matter the less reliable secondary sources are.
When watching the news on television or reading news stories on any other site than AP, Reuters or UPI you are already dealing with information that has been through at least three hands if not dozens. When you’ve gone beyond the point where the witness is being interviewed in person, you are dealing with evidence that wouldn’t be accepted in court. That doesn’t mean it is without value, it just means the news you are being offered could be just this side of fantasy.
It might even be pure fantasy. Case in point, the FOX/conservative/anti-abortion counter-narrative about the Colorado Springs shooter. When I logged on Blogger that night, the first thing I saw wasn’t the Stonekettle Station article. The first article that caught my eye was a piece over at Friendly Atheist in which Ted Cruz voices the notion that the shooter was some kind of leftist. No, I could not make something that stupid up myself. Let me quote a bit;
Cruz is basing that characterization on a supposed voter registration form in which Dear was listed as a woman. Whether it’s a mistake, or Dear was just messing around, or simply not the right form, we don’t know, but no other evidence indicates that he was transgender.
There’s even less evidence that he was a “leftist.”
The problem that I had with Jim’s Unknown unknowns piece now surfaces. Jim mentions this story in opposition to the reports (which he attributes to Planned Parenthood) that the shooter was heard to say “no more baby parts” as he was being arrested. But the contrast between the veracity of these two stories is as marked as they are in opposition to each other.
The statement no more baby parts was repeated by an officer to a reporter directly on scene, who dutifully passed it on to their viewing audience. While that is hearsay and not evidence admissible in court; the officer if he were to appear in court could repeat the statement and it would be admissible. It would also be accepted by an overwhelming number of juries who trust police officers to be truthful (see above) even in the face of so much evidence that police will lie to protect their own.
Since this case isn’t about one of their own, and since the police showed remarkable restraint in bringing a cop killer in alive, I was inclined to believe the statement of the arresting officer. That the shooter (not alleged, he plead guilty) repeated a version of the same statement at his hearing just confirms the motivation that lead him to commit the crimes he is guilty of.
On the other hand, the preferred story of conservatives/anti-abortionists is based on what? Essentially no evidence whatsoever, more wishful thinking than anything else. And yet it is repeated by a Republican Presidential candidate as if it was the unquestionable truth.
That is the nature of belief. It doesn’t require facts. Facts are counterproductive because they can be questioned. If facts are presented that counter a belief, it only takes the briefest scrutiny to discover or manufacture an anomaly which the believer will use to discard the entirety of the factual information presented. Ted Cruz wants to believe that the shooter couldn’t be one of his fellow anti-abortionists. Ted Cruz believes that leftists are dangerous people, and that LGBT people are a threat to his way of life. The story he repeats is ready-made to fit into his preconceived view of the world, and it matters not one bit that the story makes no sense on its face. That the average liberal and LGBT person would be in support of Planned Parenthood and consequently wouldn’t see a need to attack one of their clinics never enters into the mind of a conservative repeating this laughable story.
Given the history of attacks on Planned Parenthood, and the current cloud of controversy artificially created by anti-abortion activists faking videos that purport to show Planned Parenthood selling body parts, the story of a shooter in a clinic almost serves itself up ready-made as a vehicle to attack the religious right and conservatives in general. Of course they would want to craft a counter-narrative (however flimsy) to give themselves an out, a way to disavow accountability for their actions over the last twenty years and more.
A conservative could easily counter all of the above (most probably will) with the adult equivalent of I know you are but what am I? Since about the time that Reagan was elected, conservatives started to complain about the liberal media. Even I, for a time, fell for this notion that the media was somehow biased in general against conservatives. As the years have progressed, and conservatives have created their own outlets like FOX news, conservapedia, and uncounted news sites including the whacko fringe like prisonplanet and infowars, it has become clear that conservatives aren’t satisfied with simply presenting news from their point of view. No, what they want is their own set of facts which are unassailable. Unassailable because they aren’t based on anything real.
Another example is the softer, nicer language of pro-life and pro-choice adopted by the two sides of the endless argument over abortion. Having softened the language, pollsters can get majorities of citizens in the US to say they are pro-life. Who would be against life?I’m pro-life, I’m also pro-choice; militantly pro-choice. The fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans still believe that abortion should be legal gets lost in the conservative rush to declare the opposite, that the majority of Americans oppose abortion. This conservative view on the matter simply isn’t true as polling shows.
What has occurred since the creation of FOX news is the division of the US into two camps; one of those camps thinks they are right, and the rest of us are liberal. In their attempt to prove that the rest of the media is based on a liberal conspiracy, conservatives have consciously created a conspiracy of their own. A conspiracy where they tell lies which they know are lies, because the ends justify the means.
When you evade the truth, when you spin tales to hide your true goals, what you get are people who believe your lies so firmly that they will act on them as if they were truths. You get what transpired in Colorado Springs yesterday, to the embarrassment of every single person who identifies as pro-life. Remember that the next time you hear the phrase liberal media.