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Frank Warren’s many secrets

April 10, 2012 | By | Reply More
Frank Warren’s many secrets

This is an especially enjoyable TED talk, filled with short heart-felt stories, including the story of Mattie, who started a website that attempts to reunite people with their lost cameras.

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The constant quest for transcendence by half-bee humans

April 9, 2012 | By | 7 Replies More
The constant quest for transcendence by half-bee humans

Contrary to what so many of us want to believe, humans are not wired to act only as individuals; we are also wired to be intensely social. In his March 14, 2012 TED presentation, Jonathan Haidt characterized humans as half-bee. We aren’t completely socially integrated like bees–our social side clashes with our individualistic side. These two aspects of what it means to be human—our proud individualism and our craving to meld our selves with each other in large social groupings–often conflict with each other. As a result, human “hives” (the many types of human social groupings) don’t run as smoothly as the hives of true bees. Haidt argues that the scientific study of this inner-conflict offers us powerful insights into such things as religion, existential angst and warmongering.

Haidt began his 18-minute talk by asking for a show of hands. How many people in the audience consider themselves to be “religious?” Only a few raised their hands, yet a strong majority of the audience members declared themselves to be “spiritual.” Why is it that that so many people who don’t consider themselves to be religious do consider themselves to be spiritual?

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Coming GOP Meltdown

March 1, 2012 | By | 8 Replies More
Coming GOP Meltdown

I considered writing something about the recent primaries in Michigan and Arizona, in advance of Super Tuesday, but things have become so mind-numbingly bizarre I’m not sure I’d have anything relevant to say, at least not about this particular election cycle.  As a personal observation, I’d like to say that any of the Republican candidates […]

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Festivities, Faith, but not Stupidity

February 24, 2012 | By | Reply More

At the end of a social event on the weekend before Mardi Gras, a casual friend asked a surprising question. I was bedecked with beads, primarily in purple and gold. This Catholic friend comes up and says something like, “Why are you all dressed up for the Christian holiday? Don’t you believe that anyone who believes in God is stupid?”

Dumbfounded. It took me a moment to parse this and compose a reply. As we were all heading out the door, I didn’t have time to fully answer all the implied misconceptions. So I said something on the order of, “I don’t think that; I know many smart people who are faithful.”

Let me first detail a minor misconception. Sociologically, rituals are important. Mardi Gras (literally Fat Tuesday, also Shrove Tuesday) was adopted by Christians from the earlier Carnival, and Saturnalia before that. It is a long standing late winter festival ending the season of harvest plenty in the days when food preservation was limited, and entering the lean period of rationing until the spring produce appeared (greens, lambs, milk, etc). And festivities are fun, whatever the nominal purpose. The Holy Roman church had so successfully rebranded all the pagan festivals that most Christians are unaware of the deeper not-Jesus purpose behind them, even as they embrace all the pre-Christian trappings.

But the big issue is the perception that I, an an atheist, think that Christians (the majority faith at present time and place) are stupid. Many converted Atheists do vehemently decry their former faith and deride its practitioners, as do Dawkins and Hitchens. My parents converted from religious to irreligious, and so I was raised without a particular god and with their lower expectations of people of faith. But that didn’t stick.

I grew up as a closeted atheist. On Sunday mornings I was dragged to a secular Sunday School where I had to wear jacket and tie from the age of 5. It didn’t fool my church going peers. I opted for the less hated liberal-Jew label that try to explain that all invisible friends seemed equally improbable to me. I endured various epithets in public schools hurled at non-Christians by the God fearing. But as I grew older and my peers become more reasonable, I started talking to them about such things.

I was actually less surprised to find people of deep faith at my fairly-high-standards college than I was to find sports fans. One of my closest college friends was a Young Earth, Born Again sort. I admit that I would sometimes light his fuse in a room full of geology or astronomy types, just to see to what heights his rationalizations could wax. (Anyone else visualizing Ceiling wax?)

I have also been reading arguments from both sides of the God conjecture since puberty. The problem is not whether one side is smarter, but which is the set of assumptions on which their sense of reality rests. Either cause and effect are real and the universe is knowable through a continuing and contentious process of observation, documentation, and modeling (science), or else the continually meddling god of Christianity is possible, as was declared by ancient authority. The majority of the American founders were Deists who believed that if there was a creator God, he did not meddle in the day-to-day affairs of men. I can accept that God, but still don’t believe in it. Cosmologists and astronomers are pushing his creative acts farther and farther to the margins.

So although I acknowledge the high correlation between less-learned people and deep faith, I do not assume that having faith implies that people are stupid.

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End the use of long-term solitary confinement in Illinois!

February 22, 2012 | By | 3 Replies More
End the use of long-term solitary confinement in Illinois!

Hey all. I haven’t been posting since last summer, mostly because I’ve been drowning in graduate school duties. One of these duties has been interning at Chicago’s Cook County Jail. There, I sit in on group therapy sessions for inmates with drug-related offenses. I’ve been consistently touched by the philosophical and psychological depth of these men, their gentleness and the span of their regrets. These are men who will sit down and opine for hours on topics you wouldn’t expect low-SES drug dealers and addicts to have much knowledge of: gender identity is a big topic, for example (these guys live firsthand the consequences of masculinity). And when it comes to living with shame or regret, these guys are almost the best resource you can find.

The only place where you can find more affecting people, I think, is at prisons. I’ve been volunteering for a Chicago-based group called Tamms Year Ten, which advocates for prisoners housed in long-term solitary confinement. I write and read inmates’ letters, respond to their requests for photos and magazines, and read their countless reports of abuse– from medical staff, from Corrections Officers, from mail room staff, and from the state itself.

Let’s be clear on what “long-term” solitary confinement means. These men at Tamms are housed alone for 23-hours a day, with zero human contact, for decades. Some have been locked up alone for 23-28 years.

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Conservative Fantasy Role Playing

January 16, 2012 | By | 5 Replies More
Conservative Fantasy Role Playing

I wonder sometimes how a modern conservative maintains.

Romney has won the New Hampshire primary.  All the buzz now is how he’s going to have a much tougher fight in South Carolina, primarily because of the religious and social conservatives who will see him as “not conservative enough.”  There is a consortium of social conservatives meeting this week in Texas to discuss ways to stop him, to elevate someone more to their liking to the nomination.  And right there I have to wonder at what it means anymore to be a conservative.

I grew up, probably as many people my age did, thinking of conservatism as essentially penurious and a bit militaristic.  Stodgy, stuffy, proper.  But mainly pennypinching.  A tendency to not do something rather than go forward with something that might not be a sure thing.

I suppose some of the social aspect was there, too, but in politics that didn’t seem important.  I came of age with an idea of fiscal conservatism as the primary trait.

That doesn’t square with the recent past.  The current GOP—say since Ronny Reagan came to power—has been anything but fiscally conservative, although what they have spent money on has lent them an aura of responsible, hardnosed governance.   Mainly the military, but also subsidies for businesses.  But something has distorted them since 1981 and has turned them into bigger government spenders than the Democrats ever were.  (This is not open to dispute, at least not when broken down by administrations.  Republican presidents have overseen massive increases in the deficit as opposed to Democratic administrations that have as often overseen sizable decreases in the deficit, even to the point of balancing the federal budget.  You may interpret or spin this any way you like, but voting trends seem to support that the choices Republican presidents have made in this regard have been supported by Republican congressmen even after said presidents have left office.)

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Santorum In Defense of the Family

December 12, 2011 | By | 5 Replies More
Santorum In Defense of the Family

This is an unscientific response to a ridiculous claim.  Rick Santorum, who wishes to be the next Bishop In Charge of America (or whatever prelate his church might recognize) recently made the claim that Gay couples are going to destabilize the family in America in order to accommodate their lifestyle.

We’ve all been hearing this claim now for, oh, since gays stopped sitting by and letting cops beat them up on Saturday nights without fighting back.  Ever since Gay Pride.  Even on my own FaceBook page I had someone telling me I was blinded by the “Gay Agenda” and that the country was doomed—that because of the Gay Agenda little children were being taught how to use condoms in school and this—this—would bring us all to ruin.

So….okay.  How?

If we collectively allow homosexuals to marry each other, how does that do anything to American families that’s not already being done by a hundred other factors?

I’ll tell you what destablilizes families.  And I’m not genius here with a brilliant insight, this is just what anyone can see if they look around and think a little bit.

Families are destabilized over money. 

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The case for less-is-more democracy

November 27, 2011 | By | 5 Replies More
The case for less-is-more democracy

I have long been fascinated by the herd instinct of human animals. What could be more obvious than the fact that we mimic each other for all kinds of reasons, even for reasons that seem absurd to outsiders. Further, we follow each others’ lead even while we chant that we are “individuals.”

In reality, many of us panic at the idea that differences among the citizens. How dare some citizens question even some of America’s war efforts! That is “unpatriotic.” How dare some Americans encourage multi-culturalism! Gay marriage? Forget it. And don’t ever forget that the United States is the world’s greatest country—let us all say that in unison! For many of us, everybody has a categorical moral duty to fall in line on all matters relating to God and country.

Perhaps I find the topic of the human herding so compelling because of my own personal instinct to aversion to joining groups. For reasons I don’t understand, I instinctively rebel against many efforts to convince me to go along with “everybody else.” I’ve been this way ever since I can remember. Going along with the crowd is not something that gives me joy and comfort. Rather, it makes me feel wary and out of control. If people at my workplace were to announce that next Wednesday will be “Blue Shirt Day,” I’ll go out of my way to not wear blue. I perplex those who root for the home town sports teams and I don’t join political parties. I commonly hesitate to join in most displays of patriotism, including America’s warmongering. This is not to say I’m immune to such impulses, but it is fair to say that where many other Americans revel in community bonding, I tend to fight inner battles while questioning the need. Instead of joining in, I tend to question.

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A new Declaration for America: to wake up from its delusions

November 20, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More

With the help of a DI reader who wishes to remain anonymous, I have created the following Declaration for modern Americans to wake up from their delusions. I’d recommend that all adults and school children put their hands over their hearts in the morning and say the following instead of pledging allegiance to the powers-that-be (but see here for an alternate form of the Pledge).

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