Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Robin Williams' death hit me hard last night; partially due to the fact that Robin Williams has been a household name for me and so many others my entire life; partially because he was such a powerful personality that losing him is like watching one of the brightest stars in the night sky burn out; but mostly because of how much his passing has spurred so much talk of depression and suicide on the Internet. I've wrestled with both. I still struggle with depression. I had a personal revelation this year: my hobbies are my escape from my pain. I play Magic: the Gathering because I can get lost in such an enormous game with such an expansive story. I blog to deal with my thoughts and feelings while paradoxically escaping the thoughts and feelings that hurt most. It makes sense, though: I can focus so much attention on X that I can ignore Y. These days, my internal struggles are usually only bad at night, before bed, when I have nothing left on which to focus, and I'm too tired to keep up my defenses. I suffer from frequent nightmares. I always have. It's not unusual for me to wake up in the middle of the night screaming. But I know there are those who deal with far worse. My guess is that Robin Williams was one of those people. Sometimes the demons are too strong.
My hope is that Robin's death helps eliminate the stigma of mental illness, and people will be moved by compassion and empathy to support and love those around them. Life is so very short. Light a match and hold it in your hand, and the flame either gets extinguished too soon or it burns too long and the pain of the fire forces you to let it go. Either way, the match only burns for a moment, and then the light goes out. But a single match can start a fire that can burn down a forest. So burn as bright as you can. Leave the world with something worth remembering. Be someone worth remembering.
The pain is real. The demons are out there. No one should have to face the nightmares alone.
Monday, July 7, 2014
I'm taking time off blogging for a while. I have a list of items that need my attention, life-things that need taken care of, and goals that need to be met, so I'm going to be off the grid for some time. I just need to go do this life thing that I'm so fortunate to have.
I'll be back, and when I return, I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about.
Saturday, June 21, 2014
Many religious people think that holding a correct belief is being morally correct, and believing something that's wrong is not just factually incorrect, but morally wrong. This "righteous belief" attitude is why we see the dichotomy between the "righteous" and the "wicked," with the primary distinction between the two being that the "righteous" have the correct faith or belief, whereas the "wicked" do not. This simplistic black-and-white distinction leads to elitism, the casting of judgment upon those who think differently, and battle lines drawn.
I've written about this a few times. I bring it up now because I've seen examples of this same attitude repeatedly on the Internet, although not exclusively within the realm of religion. The first time I really noticed it from people outside of a religious context was when the short-lived "Atheism Plus" movement started. A lot of people used the "A+" label as a litmus test for one's character, such that, if you're not an "A+" person, you're no good. Many of them even said so explicitly. I have no desire to criticize Atheism Plus. That ship's already sailed for the most part. It caught fire, caused controversy, and now resides in a small, quiet corner of cyberland. Honestly, I have no problem with A+. I just had a problem with the elitism fueled ironically by a movement supposedly dedicated to being more welcoming of people. I don't blame Atheism Plus per se. The movement focuses on the right things. I just think a lot of well-meaning people associated with it developed the "righteous belief" attitude, which led to battle lines drawn unnecessarily. Likewise, several folks on the other side of the A+ fence did the same thing.
Related to A+, I've seen the "righteous belief" attitude run rampant in online feminism. Of course, sometimes lines need to be drawn. Fox News talking heads and repeat offenders need to be called out. I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about people who are on the same team, who either 1) make a mistake, or 2) have a difference of opinion, and are vilified and demonized because of it. That happened to me a while back with "Mr. Manboobz," a blogger about whom I knew nothing. I'd never heard of the guy until he posted a link to one of my blog posts and called me a "non-feminist." I took issue with that, naturally, considering how important an issue it is for me. He drew his battle line, and his followers parroted his actions and attitude. I became the enemy, because I held a difference of opinion on a particular topic (and to drag up another point of contention in the atheist community's recent past): "Elevatorgate." Attempts to communicate with the Manboobz group led to name-calling and belittling. I was the enemy. The "righteous" had to cast out the "wicked."
The Internet is a breeding ground for herd mentality and groupthink. And since we're all just virtual representations on the Internet, we can forget that we're all real people, with complexities and histories, and it's easy to turn other people online into two-dimensional characters in our minds. And we live in an age in which one wrong word or a misunderstanding can lead to outrage poured out across all social media. Sometimes - many times - the outrage is justified. Sometimes, it's just outrage for the sake of being outraged at something. Before we speak out against something we see online, or reblog or share an image or link, we should investigate, do our homework, find out the truth. You know, actually be a skeptic. Maybe my one encounter with Mr. Manboobz would've gone differently had he bothered to do a little work. Maybe I could have learned something from him. Maybe he had nothing to teach me. I don't know. What I know is that, because I have imperfect human emotions, my single encounter with him soured me, and I've never gone back to his blog. What I also know is two people on the same side of a very important issue ended up as enemies, and that's a shame.
I'm a white, heterosexual, cisgendered man. I used to be a Christian, and I grew up in a traditional nuclear family with parents who loved their children and took good care of them. I was well-meaning, but mostly ignorant about the plight of those who aren't white, heterosexual, male, cisgendered, in the majority religion, able-bodied, or socially well-off. It took me a long time to realize what "privilege" even meant, and even longer to understand that I had it, and how it affected my outlook on life. Even when I started this blog, I was just starting to learn. I'm still learning. All I ask of people is to give me the opportunity to continue to learn. I might make a mistake, and my privilege might show. Talk to me about it. Don't make me the enemy.
I bring up these old topics because I realize that these events (among other related issues happening at the time) were what deterred me from engaging more with the "skeptic community" online. I saw neither skepticism nor community. I saw the same damn thing that I left behind when I walked away from religion: elitism, judgmentalism, and that same old "righteous belief" attitude. Now I see it elsewhere, and I'm struck with the truth that it must be a natural human reaction that, when left unchecked, spreads like a virus. The only cure is skepticism: not just using the "skeptic" label, but living out what it means to be a skeptic.
Looking back on older articles I've written, I realize that, were I to write some of them today, they would be different, either in tone or emphasis, if not in ideology altogether. Isn't that how it should be? If what I wrote four years ago were exactly the same as what I write today, have I grown at all? That's not to say nothing should stay the same. There are key virtues to which I adhere today just as strongly as I did five, ten, fifteen years ago. But, hopefully, my thinking is more nuanced and refined now. At the very least, my thinking should be less ignorant. If I can't be wise, I can at least strive to be not foolish.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
By now the online world has seen Joshua Feuerstein's three-minute attempt to completely dismantle biology by disproving evolution. My plan here isn't to talk about everything Josh got wrong about evolution and science. Plenty of other people already did that. My input certainly isn't needed. Josh certainly got a lot of things wrong, from basic facts about science to introductory terminology. Just plain wrong. What's frustrating about Josh's video is that most of what he got wrong is so easily corrected, if only he would have done even a little research. The information is out there, and we live in a glorious time in human history in which we have easy access to it. Of course, this access comes with the danger of running into misinformation, as Josh's video exemplifies. Regardless, the information is out there, so Josh and those like him have no excuse for being so completely and mind-bogglingly wrong. His ignorance is not only willful, but eagerly joyful.
So, I have to ask: why? Why do we have people like Joshua Feuerstein? Why are there people with such blind spots in their thinking? I'm not asking why people have disagreements. Naturally, in a world full of imperfect humans with limited information, there will be disagreements, and that's okay. This isn't about differences of opinion: this is about people who possess such a vincible yet zealous distortion of the facts. Josh might as well have argued that the Earth is flat, or that Abraham Lincoln was the first hip-hop artist.
Friday, June 13, 2014
Today is Friday the 13th. And it's a full moon. That won't happen again until 2049. So you might want to be on the lookout for werewolves, and possibly this guy...
Actually, if anything weird happens today, it's more likely because of people convincing themselves that evil forces are at work, or believing that they have been affected by some sinister power, rather than the work of some actual mystical dark presence.
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
I watched the "debate" between Matt Dillahunty and Sye Ten Bruggencate that took place on May 31 (which can be found here). I put the word "debate" in quotations because it wasn't much of a debate at all. Bruggencate asserted his belief without providing any reason to accept it while repeatedly accusing Matt Dillahunty of not really knowing anything. Matt did a fine job of explaining his position, but it wasn't like he had much of a challenge. All Sye did was ask "How do you know?" so many times that I thought Matt was going to throw his chair at him at one point. I don't have much to say about the debate itself. Sye is a presuppositionalist, which is part of the reason why it wasn't really a debate. I'm more interested in Bruggencate's initial argument. The debate was supposed to address this question: "is it reasonable to believe that God exists?" While much of the debate veered from that specific question, Sye starts the debate with this syllogism:
P1: It's reasonable to believe that which is true.
P2: It's true that God exists.
∴ It's reasonable to believe that God exists.
Sye expressed his confidence in the truth of premise one. In fact, he doubted that Matt would disagree with it, and Sye referred to premise one as "the very definition of reason." But it's that very premise that I find problematic. I don't think it's necessarily true. Consider this argument:
P1: Ducks speak with the Dark Lord Sauron.
P2: One may communicate with the Dark Lord only through the secret language of Mordor, which is comprised chiefly of quacking sounds.
∴ Ducks make quacking sounds.
The statement "Ducks make quacking sounds" is true. But if you believe that because of the above argument, then you're far from reasonable, even though what you believe is true. If I put on a blindfold and started running in a race, and I happen to keep running in the right direction by luck or chance, that doesn't make wearing the blindfold a reasonable decision. The point here is that what one believes, while important, is secondary to why one believes it. That marks the difference between the fundamentalist and the scientist: the believer wants to tell you what to think. The skeptic wants to show you how to think.
The history of science is filled with rational people who accepted certain ideas as truth that we know now to be false. As our ability to observe has improved, the evidence has increased, and with it our understanding of the world has evolved. That doesn't mean the scientists of old were not reasonable. The scientific achievements of today were possible because of their ideas and their work, and their adherence to the core values of science. So let me offer a better proposition to replace the premise used by Sye Ten Bruggencate:
It's reasonable to believe that which has evidence and logic to support it, provided that we also possess the willingness to change our minds when new and better evidence and reason are found that lead us to a different conclusion, so we may come as close as we can to believing that which is true.
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
See you around the Cosmos...
Monday, June 9, 2014
The season finale of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey left us considering a few different perspectives. We pondered our knowledge; or, rather, what we currently lack in knowledge:
We were given insight into the nature of science:
And, with help from Carl Sagan, we were reminded of our place in the universe: