Skip navigation

Tag Archives: Rant

I recently had the pleasure of reading this impassioned piece from the Washington Post. By “recently” I mean “today.” I’ve since reread it several times, because the commodification of American colleges and the narrowing of academic fields is an issue very dear to my heart.

As I reread this piece (which, now that I’ve begun this blog post, I confess I find rather uninspiring), I must ask: who is its audience? The author’s entire argument can be summarized by skipping the entire article and reading the last sentence: “Genuine education is not a commodity, it is the awakening of a human being.”

Great. Super. Fantastic. I’m on board. I agree.

Who are you talking to? Are you talking to me? I just finished college. I’m probably going back for more school. My response to a similar article was a little salty, to say the least–but still. Is this directed at future employers? At students? At current college professors?

I think it’s the third one. C. Door Number Three. The soaring rhetoric and its entrenched location within the Washington Post seem to corroborate this first impression. Use of the word “naive” (a word often used to encompass the analytical category of “people who don’t understand academia”) deepens my suspicion.

So what is this article saying, then, if it is directed at other professors? What is the ultimate message being conveyed? I don’t know–I’m not a professor (my only degree is a B.A., which I promise you was hard-earned).

My first and immediate point to make in response to this article is:

A): re: “Genuine education is not a commodity.” True. “Education” in a liberal arts context is learning how to engage with and integrate multiple disciplinary, cultural, and/or epistemological perspectives. In other words, it’s about learning multiple different ways of doing things, in order to be able to apply the appropriate one(s) to all relevant situations. It’s something you can achieve on your own, or with the help of your parents, or with the help of unpaid teachers, or at a state school, or at an Ivy-league university. Education is, as this good professor says, “the discovery that you can use your mind to make your own arguments and even your own contributions to knowledge,” (I’ve made this analogy before); mastering multiple different theoretical perspectives, much like Bruce Lee learned multiple martial arts–to be able to better accomplish your own goals with the most effective method.

HOWEVER

What happens throughout this article is a persistent (and, if I can borrow the word briefly, pernicious) conflation of the process of learning, the undergraduate experience, and the university-as-business. 

EDUCATION, as we’ve previously pointed out, can happen anywhere. An argument can be made that it’s easier to achieve “education” in a college environment. That argument is not occurring here (or, rather, it’s occurring off the page, a dirty trick that I would have expected from a philosopher, not a classics scholar (though the difference is sometimes hard to spot. The easy test? Do they ever mention German names?). The education is what “good” students are after. This is why they are good students–because whether by temperament or economic good fortune, they are highly interested in the self-improvement aspect of a college education, not just its value as a commodity. I was one of those students, because I was extremely lucky financially, and because I am a huge nerd.

The undergraduate experience is a whole other canteen of nematodes, which I’m not going to get into right now, but basically shorthand version: going to a college, participating in classes, learning from professors, etc., all are part and parcel of what makes college so transformative. College can force you out of your comfort zone (if you aren’t EXTREMELY, NEUROTICALLY devoted to remaining within it), and it’s when we’re out of our comfort zone that we grow. However, it’s not the issue at hand.

Number three (again number three! Second one in the article! I wonder if it has any cosmological significance…?): The university-as-business. This is the part that our author seems to be worked up about, which I find troubling for reasons I’ll expand below. But basically, my response: College has become a commodity in the U.S. (and in the wider world, I’m sure, but I am not concerned with that at the moment). As our author acknowledges, college is “replacing high school as the required ticket for a career.” This means that having a college education makes you stand out (even at my workplace, my co-workers make jokes about my “fancy college degree”). Your odds of being employed (and employed well) skyrocket. Success in college pretty heavily indicates success later in life.

Now, unlike the last article I blasted on my blog, I don’t entirely reject the author’s point here. The commodification of education is a problem (not just because of the way in which it bars the doors to the lower and middle classes). Some students do treat their college purely as a business, feeling entitled to a degree with no effort or challenge on their part. The government sees colleges as businesses, and so does not offer them any great degree (ha) of support.

Ultimately, colleges have adapted. The college I attended occupied an uncertain middle ground between being a business and a place of education. There was a tension between the institution’s bottom line and their values. On the student side, there was similar tension–we sought to balance our role as students with our newfound power as customers. It gives students an unprecedented degree of power, to acknowledge that they are customers. We have to figure out what that power MEANS, all of us, students and professors.

Hence, my concern. Rather than acknowledging the changing face of education (and trying to offer some direction going forward), this article seems to deny it. Education is not about money, the author says. It’s about the students’ engagement with the material. Well…that’s not true. Not any more.

Education is about money. It is inextricably, inalienably, unavoidably about money. Even when you’re talking about student engagement–who are the students who can afford to be engaged? The ones who don’t work an extra 30 hours each week to pay for school? The ones who don’t have to take care of children? The ones who could afford to go to school in the first place? The ones who could buy the textbooks–the list goes on. The point is: “student engagement” is not the boogieman to pin the problems on. Like it or not, the problems are more complex than that. We can’t escape the complexities of the present-day university by just demanding that students pay more attention.

That is where my problem with this piece comes in. I don’t think it’s wrong…I just think it’s not asking the right question. The question we need to ask ourselves is: What does it mean that students are now customers? What new pressures does that place on faculty? On students? On administration? What power does this give all of those involved in higher education? When a bad grade or a faculty grudge can make or break a students’ future, how do we negotiate these structures? And when a bad review or an angry parent can ruin a professor’s future, how do we negotiate these structures? What about higher education needs to change? And what needs to stay the same?

And for the love of GOD, can we not commit the fallacy of equivocation so damn much? Jeez, people. More of you need to take philosophy classes.

Have you ever read gender theory?

sweet mother of

 

oh god make it stop

Now, this is not exactly “gender theory”; this is feminism in a raw, elementally academic form.  This is not just any feminist theory: this is Judith Butler.

Judith Butler, whose Wikipedia picture stares out at you with the piercing gaze of Galadriel, has written extensively about gender theory–and identity at large–including Bodies That Matter: On The Discursive Limits of Sex.  She has produced many brilliant pieces, which are just as easy to read as other writing we have previously discussed, like the Outline of a Theory of Practice:

oh please not again

oh please not again

Why is that? It’s not just Butler (who, I stress again, is brilliant).  Gender theory at large is permeated, saturated with big words.   I’ve discussed this before.   If you haven’t read Bodies that Matter, you should. Butler’s writing is fantastic, and mind-blowing, and meshes well not only with gender theory but with contemporary phenomenology.

Unfortunately, Butler is also somewhat impenetrable.  No worse than Bourdieu or Foucault or Husserl or any number of other academic writers, but then the purpose of feminism is not “merely” academic, is it? It should not seem too much of a stretch to suggest that feminism is concerned with theory only as it relates to the achievement of certain stated goals; I.E. the advancement of a political perspective which co-opts the affectations of academic discourse to further its own propagation.  Thus, authors like Butler infiltrate the larger ongoing discussion of identity by using the regular linguistic patterns of “academia”; a subversive approach to feminist writing.

Partly that’s because it’s JUST SO EASY to slip into jargon.  We (and by “we” I am broadly generalizing about anyone who has been taught to talk about gender) have learned certain words, and we have trouble thinking about the topic in other words, let alone speaking about it.

But “the academic discourse” is not the only conversation.  And for every person who finds Butler’s work illuminating, there are lots more who find it inhospitable.  The language which feminism has learned can integrate it into academic discourse quite effectively, and more’s the pity; many promising fields and causes have failed as a result of being entirely integrated with academic discourse.

For feminism to succeed, it needs a voice that can be understood by everyone, not just by academics. For a broad cultural change to take place, feminism must permeate to every level of this big Marxian layer cake called “society.”

When I say “feminism must do x to succeed,” of course, I am drawing on actual stated feminist goals, which tend to exist either in the short term (I intend to use this paper to show the production of gender in interaction, I intend to challenge the perception of the body as a single entity, etc.) and also in the longer term (reshaping society, dismantling the patriarchy, creating cultural change).  To both of these types of goals, the academic voice is, of course, crucial.  We learn from the academic voice.

But we also need feminists who speak plain English.  Who can explain that gender is not quite as solid as it seems.  It isn’t an impossible task, but it is a challenging one.

For example, we can explain that (although we use it to define ourselves, identify ourselves, give ourselves shape and solidity), gender is like a handshake.  A handshake takes place between two people.  The handshake exists only in the interaction between the two people, and everyone involved in the handshake thinks about the others based on what they observe in the gesture.  Let’s slow that down and repeat: The handshake exists in the interaction between two people.  The handshake does not have an independent existence above and beyond two people.  It is not a “thing” you can point to.  It is the product of interaction, and it is created each time two people grab each other’s fingers and squeeze.

Now, no one identifies themselves by their handshake (except perhaps used car salesmen from the 1950s), but you could. You could define yourselves as a soft shaker or a hard shaker (shut up).  And you judge other people based on what you learn from that quick interaction: Do they have a strong handshake? Do they have a good grip? How are they holding their fingers?

Gender is the same way—we make decisions about ourselves and other people based on what we see, and what we do.

Are they wearing a dress? Makeup? What’s their body language like? And we can define ourselves as a dress-wearer, or a feminine-body-language-have-er—or, to use shorthand, a woman.  True, there are more moving parts in gender than there are in a handshake.  Handshaking involves how you hold yourself, your shoulder, and your hand.  Gender involves how you hold yourself, how you use your body, how you talk, how you think, what you wear, what you say, when you say it, whether or not you are comfortable saying it–and more.

Have you ever found yourself being more of a “dude” when surrounded by dudes? More “womanly” when surrounded by women?  Have you ever “dialed back” your gender (or heck, any other identity) in order to fit in?Have you squeezed harder on someone’s hand because their handshake was firm? Did you begin to make nerd culture references because you were talking to nerds? Have you changed what you do, to change what people think of you? Yes you have. What we do changes when we talk to different people. We’re human.  We calibrate.

shut up, Garrus

“Hey! That’s my job!”

In turn, when we have figured out who we are, when we make that apparent in our gender “handshake,” other people take that and interpret it in their own way.  You do that too.  It’s how we understand people.  Is someone wearing an Attack On Titan hoodie? Are they whistling a song by Fleetwood Mac? What other people are doing changes who and what we think they are.

Slowing it down; what does this mean? Gender is like a handshake.  A handshake consists of things we do (sometimes unconsciously–have you ever given a handshake without really thinking about it?) in interaction with other people.  It doesn’t exist outside of human context.  A huffy anthropologist once said “Human thought is consummately social.”

What does that mean? Gender exists only in human interaction and in human minds, not as a thing unto itself.  Does that mean gender isn’t important?

Not in the slightest.  Some other time, I’ll address the idea that just because something exists only in the human mind, it isn’t real, but for now we’ll bracket that issue and set it aside with the comment that it’s dumb.

Gender exists only in the interaction and performance of people.  Gender isn’t important?

Then why do we still shake hands?*

*You can replace “handshake” with any other reflexive, person-to-person cultural gesture, like bowing, high-fiving, greetings, language, the NHL…)

 

Gender is fundamentally important to us all.  The history of the world agrees.  But what is it? I am beginning to discover that it is much more than it seems.  And it is only by understanding that, that we can begin to talk about gender in any productive way.  Only by realizing that gender perpetuates itself in what we do, consciously and unconsciously, every second of every day.  Gender is something we do, and something we have done since childhood.  It is habit many times over.

That is what feminism is up against.  “Patriarchy” merely refers to billions upon billions of habits across billions of people, all placed below the level of consciousness, which have the final, practical, real-world result of destroying, oppressing, and handicapping human development. 

That’s a big job.  It’s not one you’ll finish just by controlling academia.  It needs to be the groundwater.  Feminism needs to be ubiquitous.  So if you’re still reading, and you’re a feminist, I would say this:

Take feminism everywhere. Not even in your overt actions, but in your thoughts.  Feminist theory can be at its most potent and most subversive when it is behind the scenes, when it is upsetting the foundations of the world and pretending to be business as usual.  When it seems to be the most natural thing in the world, feminism has the upper hand.

We have a big task.

Time to get cracking.

Ave, lector.

You may wish to skip down to the picture of Morpheus.  Read the following at your own risk.

During the previous session of my seminar on consequentialism (a class which I greatly enjoy participating in at this particular undergraduate institution), wherein we were discussing the finer points of Kagan’s Limits of Morality—specifically, his section regarding the vividification of beliefs on a global scale, and its implications for individual action.  As we were in the midst of this discussion, we were briefly interrupted by the parents of a student, who wished to sit in on the class and were cordially invited to join us.  While they sat in the corner with expressions of some interest, we returned to our dialectic, and as we spoke I became conscious of a point that had troubled me for some time.  I, being a student of anthropology, would characterize this as a linguistic point.

Within the academical world, if in possession of a modicum of learning, one can be uniquely situated to unpack the subtle intricacies of an intellectual nomenclature, expanding the meanings of a relatively unassuming sentence to their fullest implications.  However, despite this positionality which I possess, situated as I am within the folds of anthropological science, I am unequivocally repulsed by a specific tendency within the current scientific (and indeed, academic) institution.

Within the following paragraphs, I shall strive to set aside the cumbersome locutions which so spark my ire, and generate a more perspicuous representation of my own qualms regarding this flawed discourse—a discourse which is present not merely in my own studies, but in any scholastic setting, contributing perhaps to the alienation of the intellectual within our broader culture.

Image

Simple version.

I was in class the other day.  We were talking about philosophy stuff.  One guy’s parents came in (they were visiting) and they decided to sit in (they wanted to see the class, and embarrass their son).  We said hi—and then we went right back to talking.  And as we were talking, I was thinking about what we sounded like.  We must have sounded crazy.  We used sentences much like the ones above, and it got me thinking: Why? Why do we make this stuff so complicated?

Once you drop into that ocean of big words, it’s easy to be hypnotized by it.  Easy to forget that not everyone can understand what it means if you say, for example –

“The practical privilege in which all scientific activity arises never more subtly governs that activity (insofar as science presupposes not only an epistemological break but also a social separation) than when, unrecognized as privilege, it leads to an implicit theory of practice which is the corollary of neglect of the social conditions in which science is possible. The anthropologist’s particular relation to the object of his study contains the makings of a theoretical distortion inasmuch as his situation as an observer, excluded from the real play of social activates by the fact that he has no place (except by choice or way of a game) in the system observed and has no need to make a place for himself there, inclines him to a hermeneutic representation of practices, leading him to reduce all social relations to communicative relations and, more precisely, to decoding operations.”  

That was Bourdieu again.  Some of you may recognize him. And what he’s saying is that it’s very common for people to get wrapped up in science, to forget that all those things that they know aren’t known by everyone else.  Which can lead a lot of the time to conversations that go like this:  A well-meaning academic says “Excuse me, I think that this one thing has potential implications hidden beneath its simple indexical meaning that make me uncomfortable with the ways in which it reinforces a patriarchal system of power.”  And the person they’re talking to has no idea what they’re saying.

I’ve always thought that the best way to learn a subject is to explain it to an eleven-year old.  It doesn’t even have to be a kid.  But whether you’re explaining Plato’s Myth of Gygas, Bourdieu’s critique of the concept of social rules, the interactions of subatomic particles, or the inner workings of a vintage Daimler-Benz twelve-cylinder engine—if you can explain any one of those things, or anything else you know a lot about, in the smallest words possible? Then you don’t just know how to say the idea—you know what it means.

Try it!  Think about what you’re good at.  Try to explain it to someone—a younger sibling, a parent, a close friend.  Use small words.  Personally, I hate all this fancy-ass academic language.  I mercilessly make fun of it.

The whole purpose of writing and speaking is to have someone understand you.  Some of my own blog posts have gotten technical in the past, and I apologize for that.  But thinking about this reminds me of another point—remember where you’re speaking from.  I think the word ‘positionality’ is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.  But luckily there’s a word with a very similar meaning: POSITION.

Remember who you are.  If you know words like “heteronormativity,” chances are that you are situated in a position of privilege not enjoyed by every individual in our culture.  And if you understood that sentence without rereading it, the same is still true.  Not everyone has had a chance to learn big words—or to learn the ideas behind them, like “heteronormativity.” And even if it seems intuitive to you, getting angry at someone for not understanding this is like someone yelling at you because you don’t know how to secure the hydraulic clutch in a restored Daimler-Benz DB601.

So check your damn privilege.  And use tiny words.  I’m sure you have something important to say—everyone does.  But wouldn’t it be better to say it so that everyone can understand?

Stay spiffy, my friends.

I’ve dealt with bullshit in my life.  Mine and other peoples’.  People’s? Whatever.  Brief and overarching examples of such bullshit include trauma, abuse, terror, panic, lies, anger, cruelty, judgment, scorn, intolerance, narcissism, pettiness, and poorly-cooked pizza.

When your bullshit intake is pretty steady on a daily level (read; when you are an adult and/or college student), you become introspective. You tend to walk around a lot listening to ‘Dust In The Wind’ and staring off into space.  You experiment with dangerous things to deal with the bullshit—dangerous things like anger, hate, and condemnation.  Possibly also alcohol and chocolate.  If you’re an artist, you art even more than usual—perhaps you start a novel, or compose music, or both.  You apply yourself vigorously to your work, because work usually doesn’t contain any bullshit.

You feel old.  Older. Ancient, old as the hills, as if you’ve walked the same streets forever.

And, if you’re me, this introspection takes a reflective turn.  You turn to books, to film, to famous figures, for inspiration, comfort, and guidance.  You talk to parents and professors and listen to words from men and women long dead.  You read Aristotle’s friendly books of advice for young men entering adulthood.  You listen to Jung’s discussion of mortality and the human life, watch the keen intelligence in the eyes of Bertrand Russell as he discusses forgiveness and mankind’s future on Earth.  You learn the unpredictability of life not only from your own travails but from the calming voice of Alan Watts, who assures you that all is not as bad as it seems—that the universe has a harmony of its own.

You drop-forge your own spirituality in fire and cold water, in anger and sorrow and hour after hour of worry.

And slowly, it works.

You stop staring at the ceiling for hours every night.  Your dreams cease to be saddening and become bittersweet.

Your music stops being angry.  Stops being sad.  It sounds more right than before, deeper, with anger and sorrow in their rightful places—not dominating, and not absent.  Your characters take on a depth and power that you haven’t known before, and (after hours of exposure to the drama that unfolds in human lives) story developments come easily.  You get better at managing your temper, at making measured judgments, at managing stress, at not falling apart under the weight of your own rumination.

Suddenly, though you haven’t gotten any busier, you have plenty of time.  You start humming happier songs.  You have more patience for everything from schoolwork to nonfunctioning computers to people.

And then, on a quiet afternoon in a nearly-empty study space, you run a search on Martin Luther King Jr., and you read his words.  You get a glimpse of the man behind the rhetoric, and you see the power in them.  It falls into place all at once; Taoism, Nietzsche, psychology black swans, action with intention, cultural relativism, even the Wizard’s oath…and the result is a profound calm, and a renewed vehemence.

I refuse to believe in the worst parts of humanity.   People can be better, though there might not be any one person or thing that changes them.  It might not be me that causes a person’s life to turn around—but I cannot turn my back on the possibility that it might be.  Two quotes by MLK inspired me today.  One of them was this:

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

People will be petty, and afraid, and angry—and that includes me, because I can be petty, and nervous, and angry too, just as well as anyone else.  But you can’t meet human failing with more human failing.  You can’t beat intolerance with intolerance.  You can meet cruelty with anger, in the moment.  You can fight abuse fist-to-fist if you have to.  But when it’s done, when the moment ends, then you have to rebuild, and you can’t rebuild with anger.

“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies. ”

Powerful words.

As a society, and as individuals, we can’t be lost in the moment of anger.  Yes, people do awful things.  There should and will be consequences for that.  But we have to step back, and think.  Yes, the murderer is a monster.  But we have to step back, and think, and wonder who made her that way.  Yes, rape is evil, and disgusting, and should never be tolerated among our number.  But we have to step back, and think, and realize that we have a chance to help a victim before he is a victim.  That we have a chance to save the innocent, before they become the guilty.  And that while we can fight day by day, in the end, it will be not the many battles but the one, the only, that changes the course of humanity—and that is the battle of our culture, of our time, of our universe, and our lives.  And in the end, it is the fight of inclusion over intolerance.  It is the fight of self-knowledge over self-denial.  It is the fight of integration over repression. It is the yes of life against the no of time and entropy.  And in the end, it is the fight of love over hate.

So I refuse to believe that people cannot change.  People can be better than this.  The world can be better than this.  Life can be better than this.  And I will fight every day, through spoken and written words, through actions and thoughts, to make it so.  Because that is the only fight worth fighting.

Because in the end, that’s the only fight.  There is no good and evil beyond what we make, beyond what we choose, beyond what we do.

We are Nietzsche’s supermen.  The world is what we make of it, and I, for one, want to make it something better than this.  Because we can be better than this.

The world is full of bad things. But we can make it a little better.  We can always be a little better. Because deontology is not starry-eyed idealism.  A perfect end is not impractical.  Am I an angel? No, not by any means, what I am is something darker. Does that mean I can’t hold myself to that standard? Not in the slightest.  Will we ever achieve a perfect world? A world without murder, fear, rape, hatred? Maybe not.  Does that mean I can’t fight for it?

Hell no.

And besides, I’ve a fondness for impossible causes.

So if I seem unexpectedly nice…I’m just doing my job.  If I call you on hateful rhetoric, I’m just doing my job. And trying to help you do yours.

Because, after all, the basic idea of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics can be condensed into this:

Be the best human being you can be.

That’s my response to your bullshit, life.

Your move, motherf*****.

So today we started talking about the idea of the elusive “liberal arts education,” and exactly what that meant.  And people started talking about things like “building skills” and “learning a work ethic,” and I got slightly agitated, because—well, let me back up.

This was in class—actually the last day of class—in a philosophy course.   Over the course of one semester we had read Plato and Socrates (or…you know, Plato), brushed over some secondary literature, and spent a good deal of time reading Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Politics.  Now, with these in mind (especially his Ethics), we were thinking about how this class (or, more specifically, how Aristotle) affects our lives after the course is over.  Which is now.

The customary apologetic defense of philosophy was offered: that philosophy doesn’t actually help your life directly, but that reading philosophy builds skills and shit, and makes you a better logical thinker, and all of that rubbish.  Which is all completely true, but that’s pretty much like saying “I go to lifeguard training so that I can learn how to swim.”

YOU CAN LEARN TO SWIM VERY EASILY. IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE.

SIMILARLY, ANALYTICAL THINKING IS NOT VERY DIFFICULT.  It’s a skill, and you can train a skill by doing other things beside philosophy.

So what does this mean, then? Does it mean that philosophy is not useful?  WHAT THE HELL IS MY POINT?

Well, what exactly is “useful?” We are discussing no small matter, but how we ought to live.  The great philosophers—especially the ancients, the ones who hover outside of the analytical tradition—don’t just talk about one sphere of life.  They talk about all of life.  When they talk about one thing, they do it by talking about everything, because they have a concise view of everything that can be easily used to explain just one thing.  I believe Chesterton wrote some words on this subject, but since he already said them, there’s not much point in me waxing eloquent here.

THE POINT I’M TRYING TO MAKE IS: you can apply Aristotle directly to your life, straight away.  You must apply Aristotle directly, consciously or unconsciously, if you live a productive life, because Aristotle’s theory encompasses what happens when you live a productive life, and thus if you live a productive life you can explain that in terms of Aristotle’s theory.

Apply directly to the forehead!

LET ME BACK UP HERE AND EXPLAIN.  Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is possibly one of the more famous and influential works ever written by anyone ever.  It can be quite literally said to be the foundation of Western conceptions of morality and a pillar of philosophy in general.

What is the Ethics about? It is about ethics.  About making the choices of your life.  It is a book written for the education of young adults, with the intention of teaching them not to be so goddamn stupid all the damn time and showing them how to not fail at life.  And if you read it that way—if you listen to what Aristotle says and think about how you can apply that to your own life—then you get a whole hell of a lot more out of the book than just learning to “think critically,” FFS.

There is this banausic trend in the west to ask “what good is this?” as if every bit of knowledge learned had to be a new cog in a mechanical man.   A paragon of this trend is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes, who you may remember was retroactively inspired by the BBC miniseries of the same name.

We might not remember, and by ‘we’ I mean ‘you’ because I read the book, thanks very much, but Sherlock Holmes was the penultimate scientist and a terrifyingly mechanical thinker.

“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic,” Sherlock says, in A Study In Scarlet (our introduction to Sherlock Holmes) “And you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it.”

“Now pass me a credit card, Watson, it’s time for me to do my morning line.”

In contrast to the average man, Sherlock proudly says that his attic is in the very best of order, that he takes into his mind only those facts and theories which can help him in his daily life.  When we first are introduced to him, he has not even been bothered to learn that the earth revolves around the sun (oh, for the days when you could avoid learning that!), and when he is told this fact he promises to forget it as promptly as possible.

Sherlock Holmes is problematic.

This man operates only on what he can know for certainty, and knows nothing outside of his field.  He is mechanical, scientific in the extreme, highly specialized.  He can provide a citation and a justification for everything.

So why am I talking about Aristotle and Sherlock Holmes in the same post?  Because there is an upsetting push toward the ideal of Sherlock Holmes—toward the ideal of the consummate scientist, in every field.  Everything is being reduced to a science, to a formula, to a specialization.  For psychology it is already looking grim—for anthropology some hope remains.  Anthropology gets it—because anthropology can never be an objective science again.  The question has already been asked “what is objectivity?” and with that we plunge off the precipice, never to look back, because NOTHING IS OBJECTIVE.  Anthropology gets it in a way that few other sciences really do.  Try bringing up “nothing is objective” with a biochem major.

Even philosophy has become scientific.

Analytical philosophy has risen in the west like a Barad-Dur of tinker toys—intimidating, needlessly complex, and unassailable.  It is the process of jumping through hoops with logic for the purpose of reaching a conclusion on a specific subject—for example, the ethics of war, or of abortion, or of assisted suicide.  These conclusions are supported by citations, links to things which have already been proven, and they are mostly applicable—although a number of these conclusions in turn have points at which they break down.

Why do we seek these conclusions?  Why answer such specific questions? So that when we have a solution we can declare a question answered and move on? Are we then building a comprehensive theory of the world even in philosophy?  Why do these conclusions break down?

Like Chesterton, I stress the importance of a worldview.  But a worldview cannot be specific, because every specific theory breaks down at a certain level of detail. The world is not our theory, and our theory is not the world.  Sometimes we forget that fact—that modern science and the entire intellectual basis of Western knowledge is a massive construct built to model reality.  Theory is not reality itself, and thus, as Hume also points out, we can’t actually ever be sure that our experiment will go as predicted, because they universe doesn’t run on zeros and ones.

Aristotle gives us detail, and a lot of his details are wrong, yes, but we can forgive him that, because through and around that detail run sweeping generalizations as broad as rivers.  His warning in the beginning of the Ethics should be written in stone.

“Our discussion will be adequate if it achieves clarity within the limits of the subject matter.  For precision cannot be expected in the treatment of all subjects alike, any more than it can be expected in all manufactured articles.  Problems of what is noble and just, which politics examines, present so much variety and irregularity that some people believe that they exist only by convention and not by nature.  The problem of the good, too, presents a similar kind of irregularity, because in many cases good things bring harmful results.  There are instances of men ruined by wealth, and others by courage.  Therefore, in a discussion of such subjects, which has to start from a basis of this kind, we must be satisfied to indicate the truth with a rough and general sketch: when the subject and the basis of a discussion consist of matters that hold good only as a general rule, but not always, the conclusions reached must be of the same order.  The various points that are made must be received in the same spirit.  For a well-schooled man is one who searches for that degree of precision in each kind of study which the nature of the subject at hand admits: it is obviously just as foolish to accept arguments of probability from a mathematician as to demand strict demonstrations from an orator.”

“Now calm yourselves the hell down and let me finish my goddamn lecture.”

My philosophy teacher used to complain because people would ask her stupid questions when they learned she was getting a Ph.D.  Apparently at least one person asked her “What’s your philosophy?”

Which is hilarious because let’s be honest, that’s a REALLY DUMB QUESTION.

But in a way…it’s also not, because in my not-so-humble opinion philosophy is not just about logic.  It’s not just about thinking analytically and understanding when someone is making a stupid-ass argument based on logical fallacies.

Reading philosophy is about having a philosophy.  It’s about reading Sartre and hating him and then UNDERSTANDING WHY.  It’s about reading Aristotle and loving his ethics and hating his weird treatment of slaves and understanding WHY.  It’s about taking that understanding of WHY things agree with you and internalizing it, of developing the practical ability to recognize what fits into your worldview and what doesn’t, cultivating that phronēsis to the point where you have a coherent, functional view of the world.

So what do I take away from a philosophy class? Yeah, I take away analytical skills and all that bullshit, but that’s sure as hell not why I took the class.  I take philosophy to understand my way of being-in-the-world.  And what I take away from Aristotle’s Ethics isn’t “an understanding of the framework of modern ethics in the western world,” it’s a knowledge of the fact that I agree with Aristotle in many points—including his definition of virtue:

Action.

With.

Intention.

And THAT is something I can (and will) use, every day of my life.

“Word.”

INTERNET

STOP IT.

I’m talking of course to you, OBNOXIOUS ATHEISTS. Stop hating.  STOPPIT.

NOW LET’S QUALIFY THE SHIT OUT OF THIS STATEMENT.

I have no problem at all with DECENT NORMAL PEOPLE who ARE NOT OBNOXIOUS.  Let’s be perfectly honest—so long as you stay out of my face, I don’t care if you worship God, Jesus, Vishnu, Ramen, Horus, Thor, Hiddleston, Nyancat, or NOTHING AT ALL.

I REALLY DON’T GIVE A HOOT.

Who am I talking to, then, in this BROADSIDE?

I’m talking to OBNOXIOUS PEOPLE.

Specifically, the people who HATE ON RELIGION.

Now if you’re going to say that organized religion has a tendency to be CORRUPT, then I’d be fine.  ANYTHING wrought by man TENDS TO BE CORRUPTED SOONER OR LATER, except, of course, as everyone knows, IN-N-OUT BURGER.   That shit is DELICIOUS.

If you’re going to say that organized religion has a history of VIOLENT TORTURE AND DEATH, then I’m fine with that too, after all, IT HAPPENS TO BE TRUE.

HOWEVER.

DO NOT SAY in MY PRESENCE that ORGANIZED RELIGION is the CAUSATIVE AGENT for (a) ALL WAR AND DEATH, (b) MOST WAR AND DEATH, or (c) THE MAJORITY OF WAR AND DEATH.   You do NOT bring that shit in MY HOUSE.

Do you know what causes war and death?

STUPID GREEDY PEOPLE.

Do you know what causes stupid greedy people?

NOT RELIGION.

PEOPLE WHO ARE STUPID AND/OR GREEDY AND POWERFUL.

NOW THAT WE’VE ESTABLISHED THAT, LET’S MOVE ON.

You know WHAT ELSE you can’t do?

YES THAT’S RIGHT I SAID CAN’T, as in THE CONTRACTION OF CAN NOT. I’m laying down a LAW here, ****er.

WHAT YOU CANNOT DO is MOCK people for believing in RELIGION.

You can MOCK THEIR RELIGION ALL YOU WANT, go ahead, fine, they’ll just think you’re an ass.  BUT DO NOT MOCK BELIEF.

HUMAN TRUST IS AMONG THE MOST POTENT OF EMOTIONS.  If you want to mock something, mock people who trust BLINDLY and CLOSE THEIR EYES TO ALL ELSE. But those people are easy to find—they’re in the NEWS, because they get EBOLA and then they DON’T GET MEDICAL CARE and then surprisingly DIE.  And approximately NO ONE is surprised.

So when you talk about religion, when you talk about SPIRITUALITY, when you talk about A PILLAR OF HUMAN EXISTENCE, do us all a favor and don’t giggle about people’s “Imaginary Friends.”  It’s not an IMAGINARY FRIEND, it’s the ANIMATE INCARNATION OF THE NUMINOUS, and until you can use words like ANIMATE INCARNATION OF THE NUMINOUS to defend your IRRITATING JOKE you can just QUIETLY GO AWAY.

THERE ARE LOTS OF FUNDAMENTALLY DECENT HUMAN BEINGS who are atheists.  THEN THERE ARE ASSHOLES who give them ALL a bad name by doing things like say “Oh remember the famous historical atheists who killed thousands of people? Oh wait, that never happens.”

*COUGH COUGH* MAOSTALIN *COUGH COUGH*  OH SORRY I INHALED SOME BULLSHIT AND HAD AN ALLERGIC REACTION.

CLOCKING IN AT A HIGH SECOND ON THE “THINGS THAT PISS ME OFF” O-METER IS THIS GEM FROM wonderful human being and fabulous comedian Ricky Gervais, who I love dearly.  A very entertaining man and I’m sure a generally decent person.  HOWEVER he happens to have also created a tweet that ANNOYS ME, and so in the TRADITION OF THE INTERNET I am going to SHOUT ABOUT IT ON MY BLOG.

What is problematic about this statement? LET’S BE CLEAR THAT  WE’RE TALKING ABOUT THE STATEMENT and not the PERSON, because I only do ad hominem against political figures I dislike (such as when I talk about my theory that Romney is a sophisticated marionette operated by a foreign child-man who doesn’t speak fluent English…but that’s a subject I’ll save for later).

Now, we can make all sorts of noise about whether or not we have the right to judge a tweet.  After all, you pretty much have to literally ask to hear this (by following a twitter account).   But, luckily, someone took a picture of it and started spreading it around the internet, and so of course it’s now free game according to some rules that I just made up.  And using it I will explore this topic in a more calm and reasoned fashion.

HAH.  JUST KIDDING.

So what strikes me as problematic about this statement is the false dichotomy being created between religion and science.   When we talk about religion as the thing implicated in wars and intolerance, we are talking about religion as a system of belief, an ultimately rational, intellectual content propagated via cultural interaction.  This is religion as a social entity.  Which is of course the OPPOSITE of the standard definition of science (a collection of knowledge).

A belief system is a powerful thing. Belief systems drive people and families, societies and communities.  But not all belief systems are religions, and a religion is more than a belief system.

For an example provided to me by another AWESOME BLOGGER over at http://lesbicrafty.blogspot.com/, because we communicate from time to time, we’ll turn our attention to THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION in China.  This is a belief system at work.  The sweeping scope, the ideological supremacist overtones, the call for individual action–it has everything we’d want.  To say it caused millions of deaths is absolutely possible.

It was also entirely divorced from religion and spirituality.  It was grounded in the material and political, and steamrolled an entire country.

Oh, and by the way, don’t tell me, DON’T EVEN START by saying “yeah, but religious revolutions have killed way more people throughout history!”  At that point we’ve already established that religious fervor and ideological fervor are essentially identical, and your only argument then becomes “religion has had more time to murder us.”   So that’s not a path that you want to go down.  Especially not right now, because I AM TALKING.

NOT TO MENTION that “religion” is an INCREDIBLY COMPLEX IDEA.  It can be narrowly defined (by Wikipedia) as a collection of belief systemscultural systems, and worldviews that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values.”  However, if you narrowly defined religion this way, I would think you were WRONG, because you need to be more specific about how religion relates to spirituality and the individual.

There is a tendency, thanks to ANTHROPOLOGY (thanks a lot, anthropology. Asshole.) to think of the ‘religious’ as a wholly social object, ignoring the individual experience, and I think this is BATSHIT, because without the individual spiritual experience and impulsion toward moral agency, WHAT THE HELL IS THE PURPOSE OF RELIGION?  To translate: if you’re not talking about something that resonates in your soul and drives you to a higher standard of behavior, then you’re pretty much talking about a simple social construct, belief system.  But when you add in that numinous aspect, that idea of the holy, if you will, then we are talking about religion.  ACCORDING TO ME, ANYWAY.  And that’s the important point, isn’t it, since it’s my blog?

LOOKING AT RELIGION as a cultural system of belief reinforced by the division of the holy, the individual spirituality, and the drive for individual moral agency, then, we have something that is really not merely a cultural belief.  We have a definition that seems to account for the strange place religion occupies.  We can also then use this to talk about how people become fanatical as regards a non-religious concept: They apply a personal, spiritual significance to a system of beliefs that defines what is holy and what is mundane, a system that impels them toward a particular course of action.   This passion, this fervor, then reinforces and expands their beliefs, provides them with moments of transcendence and a sense of purpose.

Last but not least, what if we did this? What if we redefined science as the belief in the permanence and reliability of the human sensory capacity, the belief that anything can be learned if it can be studied, the belief that all knowledge in the world is wonderful and deserving of exploration for its own sake alone? The idea that we can create a functional model of reality simply with our own observation and cognition?  The driving passion to explore?  The glorious moment of seeing something in a whole new way, looking out at the stars and feeling the immensity and grandeur of the universe stir you to your soul? ISN’T THAT THE SHIT?

Well, then, lo and behold, by this definition we’ve managed to capture “scientific atheism” as a religious belief system as well.

AND LEST YOU THINK that I am waxing banausic, LEST YOU THINK that I am reducing all the world to cogs and definitions and NEAT, PRETTY LITTLE CATEGORIES, PLEASE ALLOW ME TO POINT OUT that we have NO IDEA what it is that DRIVES this passion.  We haven’t the FAINTEST concept of WHY something calls to a person in this way, WHAT IT IS that inspires FAITH, PASSION, and BELIEF.  No idea what drives the NUMINOUS, the SPIRITUAL, those moments of REVELATION.   Go away and think about that.  I don’t care what conclusion you come up with, so long as you take a moment and CONTEMPLATE how INCREDIBLY STRANGE our universe is.

And now I’ve TALKED A LOT, SO HERE’S A PICTURE OF A SURPRISED KITTEN.

oh hai
dont b an asshole
also i am a cat

SO THE POINT OF THIS BROADSIDE IF YOU ARE AN ATHEIST IS SIMPLE, and I’LL WRITE IT OUT FOR YOU

  • Don’t be an asshole.
  • Respect the spiritual, emotional, and moral lives of other people and DON’T JUDGE THEIR FRICKIN’ BELIEFS.
  • Don’t be SNIDE about HUMAN DEATH in order to make a point about how much BETTER your way of life is.  You can also refer to the first point for this.
  • Don’t try to CONVERT other people, and don’t SEIZE ANY OPPORTUNITY TO DISS PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE IN GOD. This also falls under DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE.  
  • If you think of a thing to do, ask yourself “would an asshole do this?” and if the answer is yes DO NOT DO THAT THING.

AND FINALLY.

I’m not on a ‘side’ here.   I am not an atheist, nor am I a follower of any religion but my own.  I don’t really CARE what you do so long as you don’t go around murdering people.  I flipped a coin and it came up heads, so today I’m screaming about logical fallacies in atheism.  Why? Because they’re hurtful to my religious friends, and YOU DON’T PISS WITH MY FRIENDS, and also because if you claim that you have a ‘purely logical’ view of the world, I view it as my personal duty to point out that NO, YOU DON’T, because you are (like a solid 47% of my readers) A HUMAN BEING, no matter who, where, or when you are speaking.

Coming up IN THE FUTURE, similarly without warning, is a similarly massive post blasting the “evils of religion,” etc.  Which are, of course, the evils of man.

Because those hurt people too, my friends among them, and as has been previously mentioned, I WILL END YOU. 

I don’t really think anyone will have any “OH SHIT I’d better turn MY life around” moments from reading this, but AT THE VERY LEAST, AT THE MOST, it would be NICE if you could, just for a moment, question your beliefs.  Consider your stance, in light of the opinion of some random person on the internet.

As Aristotle says, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Sup internet.

So here’s something that confuses me: People who get upset about artists.

As in, people who get upset when they find out that Roald Dahl was anti-Semitic.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s terrible, he should be severely remonstrated with (being dead is no excuse for intolerance).  But (a) he’s dead, and (b) it doesn’t matter.  He’s hailed as one of the world’s greatest children’s writers.  His books are fantastic, and I think most of my peer group grew up with them, as has been the case with children for decades.

He’s a great writer.  His books are awesome. Full stop.  Maybe he was an asshole in person.  Maybe he ate kittens.  I don’t know.  But I don’t care because he’s dead, and because his books don’t eat kittens.

Forsaking Dahl because he was anti-Semitic is slightly akin to avoiding Beethoven because he was deaf.  Neither fact has any bearing on the quality of their art, which has become a pillar of culture.

We seem to expect that our artists should meet some higher standard.  We tie their music, their books, their paintings to them, to their value as a person, and what they do as a person affects the value of their art.  Well, guess what.  If I vomit on the floor, that mess is pretty much unaffected when I go and run over poodles with my ATV.  If I spray-paint a rock in an aesthetically pleasing way, the paint isn’t going to magically peel off or become ugly when I take a baseball bat to a Galapagos tortoise.

The actual artistic value of a piece of artwork remains unchanged regardless of what the artist does.  Adolf Hitler’s paintings are still unimpressive and only moderately talented despite the man’s murderous tendencies (though if he had had training and encouragement perhaps he would have become one of the greats rather than becoming a manic dictator).

Now, there are many artists I would like to meet in person, for whatever reason.  Because I want to know how they did what they did.  Because they seem like they’d be interesting people.  For whatever reason.  And there is a certain intuitive sense to the idea that you can get to know a person through their art.   And I believe it’s true in a way.

But not completely true.

Certainly there is a deep, wild, magnificent wonder in the writing of H.P. Lovecraft.   It’s possible that we could even conduct a long conversation on the subject of the numinous and the uncanny (though I’ll freely admit that my Otto is not up to snuff, a little goes a long way).    But Lovecraft was by all accounts creepy, introverted, curmudgeonly, racist, and depressive, so the difficulty of such a conversation would be getting him to talk to me in the first place.   But that doesn’t really matter, because when I read his writing, regardless of how he is (was?) as a person, we’re on the same page.  And that page isn’t “dark-skinned people are creepy and diabolical,” or “I hate my life.”  That page is “LOOK AT HOW AWESOME THIS SCARY SH*T IS.”

And that’s the important connection.   Because I’m not going to have a conversation with the guy, I’m going to read his book.  I’m not going to give him money because I support his deviant tendencies, I’m going to give him money because I like his book.   

SUBJECT CHANGE.

NOW THERE ARE SOME PEOPLE, though perhaps fewer today than in past decades, who say that art cannot be morally judged.  It’s art, man, and its purpose is to lift up the human spirit and blah blah blah djedouhferouwarghrl WHATEVER.

I believe those people are wrong.  Just like many things in life, art is judged on multiple axes.

NO NOT THOSE KIND OF AXES GOD DAMMIT INTERNET I’M TRYING TO BE SERIOUS

A piece of art can inspire immensely strong emotional reactions.  However, it’s entirely possible that those reactions are OH MY GOD WHAT THE HELL IS THIS.

I suppose it comes down to the role of the artist.  What does the artist do? The artist communicates with his/her/its/Uds public, and grants to them an inspiration relevant to the presence of the numinous in their lives.  Or so I’ve heard.  IN PSYCHOLOGICAL ENGLISH, the artist makes things that elicit an emotional response from their audience.

Now, an emotional response is different from a moral response.  When someone gets punched, it elicits an emotional response and a moral response.  Disconnects between these two are where we get the “I know I shouldn’t laugh but it’s hilarious” reaction.  Among other things.

Which means of course that you can judge everything morally.  Which is of course an entirely different discussion from whether or not you should, but still. 

Now there ARE people who DO judge everything morally.  We refer to these people as ‘uptight.’

Similarly, there are people who judge nothing morally.  We call these people ‘sociopaths.’

And THAT’S a brief rant on the subject of ART.

Coming up NEXT WEEK, a brief rant on the subject of THE POWER OF LANGUAGE.

But for now I leave you with a last piece of artwork to contemplate.

Farewell for now, INTERNETS.

What is politics?

Well that depends on who you ask.   A quick skim of Aristotle provides the definition of “the most sovereign and most comprehensive master science,” which is highly unhelpful as a working definition for a blog post.

So bear with me while we go through this.   Let’s say that a politician is an individual whose aim in life is to help their people.  What are they helping their people to do? Well, we could say that they are helping their people to live good lives. By good of course I don’t just mean economically prosperous; I mean really happy lives.  The politician seeks to realize their constituency at their greatest potential, to give their people the greatest possible chance to soar at their highest height.

So what is politics?

Well, in that case, politics is I suppose the art and science of raising one’s people up.  After all, the practice of a politician, I just said, was to help their people realize their full potential.

Now there we will sit our definition for the remainder of this blog post.

So what should a politician do?

A politician should represent their people.  They should have always the best interests of their constituency in mind.

Do you know what a politician should not do?

Lie.

There is this widespread delusion among the people of the world that a politician is someone deceptive, someone who will trick and deceive and yes, lie to advance their own personal motives.

No.

Just no.

A people’s motives and needs are never ambiguous.  The better course for a nation is rarely hard to discern, if you look for it—people spend their entire career learning how to figure out things like economics, international policies, and immigration procedures, and among all these experts there is a more or less general consensus about what would be good.

And just as the zeitgeist is never ambiguous, so too should the politician be honest and open.  Perhaps, perhaps, maybe, with an enemy, with a foreign power against whom the country is fighting, but not to allies and never to the citizens.

A politician must be honest about their aims, must have a clear vision of how they will best support their people.  If they lie, if they conceal, if they have any need at all of subterfuge, then it’s quite simple: they don’t deserve to represent the polis.

Americans, as a whole, do not expect their political system to aid them.

We take a semi-liberal viewpoint.  We hope that the government stays out of our way, because we want to go about our business and the government pretty much poisons whatever it touches.

But that’s not good.

Our world has become increasingly cynical.

We expect our government wants to control us.

We expect our politicians to lie and cheat and blackmail and take money from anyone.

We know and expect that elections can be bought by anyone with enough cash.

Most of us are fully aware that we’re killing the planet and that no one is likely to do something unless we all do. And we’re not really doing much about it.

People die in the millions thanks to car crashes.

Slavery is still a thing.

There is poison in our lunch meat.

We’re all aware of these things. We take them for granted.

And…that’s not cool.

THERE SHOULDN’T BE POISON IN YOUR FOOD.

YOU PUT THAT SHIT IN YOUR FACE.

LIST OF PLACES THERE SHOULDN’T BE POISON: NUMBER ONE:  

IN.

YOUR.

FACE.

 

Politicians shouldn’t LIE TO YOU ABOUT ANYTHING THEY LIKE.  If they lie to you, GUESS WHAT, it’s TIME TO GET A NEW POLITICIAN.   

There’s a psychological phenomenon known as the Bystander Effect.  When something bad happens in a crowd, the members of the crowd assume en masse that someone else will take care of it.

This is the reason people get knifed in broad daylight.  Why people get kidnapped in the middle of a crowd.  Because it’s someone else’s problem, and anyway it’s just part of modern society.

Except…it’s really not.

Imagine, just for a moment, that you have no context at all in which to evaluate the following country.

A country where leaders lie, corporations kill for money, and people do nothing.  A country where the likeliest destination for a troubled youth is in a for-profit penitentiary.  A country that is slowly squeezing the planet for resources and belching pollution into the sky.

That sounds awful, doesn’t it?

Would you want to live there? I know I don’t.

And that’s why I write blog posts and get angry about politics.  Because I do live here, in a nation that is all of the things I have listed, a nation that could be so much more, and I am struck every day by the overwhelming conviction that things are not as they should be.

I don’t care what you do.  No one has any right to regulate your actions, so long as you’re not going out and murdering people for sport.

But can’t you agree that there’s something wrong when all of the below citations are true?

And couldn’t you concede that there’s something you might be able to do?

These are huge problems, but they don’t have huge solutions. The answer is in the little things. Buckling a seatbelt and turning off the phone.  Buying fair trade and organic.  Demanding more responsibility from your politicians.

And stopping once in a while to lend a stranger a hand.

Because these are problems that affect us all, and it’s nice to have a reminder, once in a while, that we’re not alone.

And if these things piss you off as much as they do me, well…you’re not alone either.  There are profoundly decent people in the world, just as outraged as we are…some of whom are in a position to do something about it.

CITATIONS:

Distrust of government:

[2011 article documenting a point at which Congressional approval reached 9%.  As in, 9% of Americans think Congress is capable of legislating.]

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/26/us/politics/poll-finds-anxiety-on-the-economy-fuels-volatility-in-the-2012-race.html

Environmental Apathy:

[the more you know…the less you’re likely to do.]

http://128.138.136.233/students/envs_4800/kellstedt_etal_2008.pdf

Automotive Deaths:

[Just statistics. So many statistics. Average in 2009 was 93 people per day]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year

Slavery:

[this website is big because so is its problem.]

http://www.anti-slaverysociety.addr.com/toc.htm

Dangerous compounds in food:

[some of these have been banned in many countries…but usually not the United States. Woo! Free market!]

http://www.purezing.com/living/toxins/living_toxins_dangerousingredients.html

Statistics on domestic violence:

[now this just pisses me off]

http://domesticviolencestatistics.org/domestic-violence-statistics/

Growing partisanship:

[oh, right, it’s not just your cookies. Everything isgetting more partisan.]

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jun/04/news/la-pn-pew-partisan-divide-poll-20120604

HEY INTERNETS.

Sup.  I should warn you today’s article will not be quite as facetious as others have been in the past.  You may wish to skip down to a more palatable subject and maintain your peaceable torpor.  No, but seriously: this article could be a buzzkill. Have Spice Girls on standby.

So I read an article today.

Now, you don’t have to read the whole thing. I’ll condense it very simply for you.  It’s a gay man talking about his childhood and his darkest secrets: both being bullied in high school, and the fact that he was very certainly, certifiably suicidal for an extensive period of his teenage life.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/noah-michelson/sharing-three-of-my-secrets_b_1796457.html?utm_hp_ref=gay-voices

Remember how I said you didn’t have to read the whole thing? Well, if you’re above the age of 15, you should.  You should see and know this.  You should be aware that people who are bullied become suicidal often.  You should be aware that because of this harsh cultural backlash, people of the “alternative sexualities” (alternative to what? ‘normalcy?’ ‘Real’ sexuality? As Morpheus says, what is real?)  are more prone to depression and, yes,suicide, because of this.

You should be aware that people who are not “normal” are more likely to be murdered.  Dead.  You should be aware that every hate crime is the culmination of a process lasting decades, an endless chain of justification and deprecation reaching its dark apotheosis in a single instant of blind action.   You should be aware that every suicide is the final point in a plunge that lasts a lifetime, a string of misfortunes, poor reactions, and insensitive responses.

Because here’s something not everyone understands.

Everything is funny, yes.  Life is wonderful, and you should live it to the utmost.

But it’s ALL life and death.

            When you look on the television and see someone rambling about a health-care bill somewhere in Vermont? Something on the other side of the country?  Yeah, people are going to live or die based on that bill.  Babble about Voter ID laws in Pennsylvania? Those laws set a precedent: How long they survive will tell their creators whether or not they can get away with openly tweaking elections to ensure that they continue to hold power.  Those laws set a precedent that will conclude with open voter suppression.

When someone is complaining about new crackdowns on phone usage while driving?  Well, you know what? You are massively more likely to kill someone if you use a phone while you drive. Yes, even if you don’t do it that often.   It takes sixty seconds (on average) for the modern brain to fully switch tasks.  That means that if you look at your phone just for a second, to read a text message or use GPS or update your Facebook status, you will no longer be paying full attention to the road for that time and for the next minute.  That will slow your reactions and make it far more probable that you will be unable to respond to an impending collision.

But surely EVERYTHING can’t be life and death, right? Some things remain pure, right? Like butterflies and chocolate?

Well, the biodiversity of butterfly species is plunging due to our destruction of various habitats, and butterflies (along with bees) perform the essential function of pollination, which is complicated but basically IS WHAT MAKES PLANTS KEEP BEING.

Oh, and if plants die basically so do we.  As a species.  And a planet.  Though I’m sure cockroaches will be fine.

But no biggie.

At least we have chocolate, right?  Even if it’s not a six-stamp organic all-natural free trade chocolate (which costs about three times as much!).

Well, about that.

Did you know something?  After the cotton industry, chocolate production (specifically, the care and harvesting of its raw materials) is the largest industry in the world that currently utilizes slave labor.

Yes, you read that right. Here, let me put it in bold in case you missed it.

SLAVE LABOR.

There were some laws that people considered making a while ago that would regulate that.  Laws that regulate chocolate? Psh.  No biggie.  That story pretty much withered on the vine (ha, ha).

Let me outline what kind of slave labor we’re talking about here.  Just to be clear.  Specifically, I’m talking about a location known as Cote d’Ivorie, or The Ivory Coast, a region of West Africa that supplies about THIRTY PERCENT of the world’s chocolate.  Let me make perfectly clear the fact that this is not the only location in the world where this occurs, although West Africa has an especial problem.

In third-world countries, children are all over the place.  We’re talking 10-15-year-olds, mostly, but they can be as young as 7.  Abandoned kids, orphans, runaways…whatever.  They lurk in the street, play around bus stops, and hop mass transit like everyone else. When they head to a bus stop, they might get picked up by a stranger, who might be kind or might be coercive.  Alternatively, they might have desperate, starving parents, who at last are reduced to such dire straits that they sell their child to a stranger.

Either way, if they go with this stranger (and they usually do, because who’s going to help them run away?), they find themselves on a bus ride, or in a car, or on a boat.  This ride takes them, eventually, to a plantation, where they are sold into debt and set to work in the cacao field.

Their clothes are not part of the budget.  They sleep in structures we would deem unsuitable to use as garden sheds.  They are given every menial task, but the job described that I particularly liked was the one that required two children per team.  One goes down the rows of trees with a basket and a machete (a three-foot long, full-sized machete).  They swing at the cacao pods (which are large) and try to cut them loose without hacking off fingers in the process.  Frequently they fail.  While they work, another child follows behind them with a supply of pesticides.

Side note.  DDT, as you may know, was a pesticide used in the 60s.  In the early 70s, it was deemed too toxic to use in the United States and was banned.  That’s right, we banned a chemical for being too toxic.  THE UNITED STATES.  The people who invented MCDONALDS.  Luckily, we’ve since invented pesticides that are FAR MORE toxic, and THEY haven’t been banned yet! Isn’t that lucky?  One example is ROUNDUP, which sticks around in the soil long after any weeds are dead.

ANYWAY, I DIGRESS.

So the second child of the group has a supply of pesticides.  Roundup is a favorite—it’s cheap, mass-produced, and readily available.  They have a mister, and they use it to spray the trees to kill any insects, fungus, or birds.  Oh, and they also spray their partner, because their partner is nearby and they’re APPROXIMATELY TWELVE YEARS OLD.

And these kids don’t run away, because if they try, they’re beaten.  Which is also what happens when they fall over.  Or complain.  Or generally do anything their overseer doesn’t approve of.  There are more scars than clothes on these kids.

They usually die young.

They die a lot.

Most of them never see their home again.

Oh, and also, most of them never taste chocolate.  If that doesn’t convince you that this practice is heinous and wrong, I DON’T KNOW WHAT WILL.

The upshot of all this information, by the way (before I move on), is this: Those six-stamp organic chocolates? The ones that say “free trade,” and other things, and have stamps of approval from various organizations and government bureaus plastered across the label?  Those are the chocolate companies that don’t murder people.  If it doesn’t have that stamp, you might want to just take a second and think about how much you need it.

Obviously, one person not buying these non-free-trade chocolates is not going to accomplish much.  All that will do is make sure that you don’t have any chocolate.  And there is hope:  Nestlé and Ferrero are among a number of chocolate companies that have made pledges and taken action to remove child labor from their products.  So although the larger issue of child slavery remains a problem, at the very least we can perhaps have chocolate chip cookies guilt-free.  And free-trade organic chocolate is better for you anyway–it tastes better (oh my god yes), it has less unhealthy fat, and it is a significantly better source of certain important chemicals that generally promote longevity and well-being.  Including chemicals that fight cancer and help (very mildly) relieve asthma symptoms.

So let’s get this clear, okay?

When you stand up for what you believe and who you are, when you support the institutions you believe in, when you speak out or offer comfort or strike out, people live and die based on that action.

So I’m not saying agree with me.  I’m not saying agree with anyone.

But know what you’re saying.  Find the facts—it’s hard in the age of free information.  Cross-check your sources.  Make your decisions rationally (not ‘logically’—any attempt to be purely ‘logical’ while remaining a human being is banausic and deluded, but being rational—that is to say, aware of your shortcomings and emotional biases, being truthful with yourself about the reasons behind your judgement—is something that’s within everyone’s reach).   When you choose a position, don’t do it because someone says it’s right.  Demand their sources, ask questions, look it up, and only then make a decision.

But most of all, believe something.  CHESTERTON QUOTE:

“Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer. Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas.”

Take a stand for something.  Fight for something.  Believe something, and believe in your ability to make a difference, because make no mistake, planet, there is a fight to be fought, and it’s life and death.

It’s life and death every day.

And so begins my second year of college, not with a whimper but with a bang, I hope.  I’ll be trying to keep this blog up along with everything else, because this is my little strike out into the dark.  So to you, everyone, I say this: don’t be apathetic.  Don’t be passive.  Stand up for yourself, your friends, your family, if you fight for nothing else.  Join me in the ranks–if the front lines aren’t your place, there’s always room for healers and musicians and thinkers.

Me, I don’t like front lines.  If I had my way, I’d just go about my business of plinking on the piano and writing in my own little fantasy world, reading things, etc., but unfortunately the world is full of sh*tty people, and politicians keep doing irritating stuff that will hurt my family and friends.  And we can’t have that, can we?

LET’S PLAY.  http://jungwildeandfree.tumblr.com/post/29925289347/i-enjoin-on-you-to-act

But don’t take my word for it.

SOURCES.

http://www.johnrobbins.info/blog/is-there-slavery-in-your-chocolate/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children_in_cocoa_production

http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/29/nestle-advances-child-labor-battle-plan/

http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/20/ferrero-sets-date-to-end-cocoa-slavery/

Hi Internet.

Not to be confrontational, but —

(1)        Liberals, you’re doing it wrong.

People keep arguing against religious homophobia on a religious basis.  This is descending to the level of the religious zealot—fighting them on their home field.  This is pointless.

Rational, intelligent, moral people present arguments similar to the following:  “the relevant passages of Leviticus also prohibit eating shellfish” and “you can’t cherry-pick which passages of the Bible you choose to follow.”

There’s a flaw with that:

Obviously, you can.  It’s a system of values, and each person chooses their own. This is why people run red lights.  We all abide generally by traffic laws, but each person chooses their own personal standard by which to hold themselves.  We all have our own ways of looking at the world.  This is also why there are different religions, and why churches vary on an individual basis.

It’s obvious to anyone who cares to look that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality any more than it condemns certain forms of human-mollusk intercourse.  And if someone doesn’t want to embrace that fact, then guess what, it’s usually not because they don’t understand how the Bible works.

Usually, it’s due to a reason best described through scientific psychological terminology: because they’re being an asshole.

ON ANOTHER NOTE, first rule of debate, don’t engage your opponent on his/her/Uds. terms.  Disagree with one of the aforementioned religious zealots? Well, it’s unlikely, but there is a small chance that they (a) actually know their primary religious document pretty well and (b) follow all the rules of Leviticus.  Then you’ve just completely lost the argument, and you have to start again from scratch.  Don’t allow that risk.  Engage them on a higher tier.

Let’s talk about the MEDIA for a moment.  That’s always fun.  They have a practice similar to this.

Freedom of Speech is an intimidating idea.  It can make you antsy about calling someone out for anything—after all, they have a right to speak, don’t they?

Well, they might have a right to speak, but riddle me this, Batman—do we need to see it in the newspaper if it’s stupid? If the argument in favor of a healthcare plan is the thousands of lives it will save and the millions of lives it will improve, and the argument against it is fallacious, full of holes, and based in part upon outdated political principles and an education in economics acquired by reading the first chapter of a textbook on the ride over, then guess what, we shouldn’t have to suffer through the stupid parts.

The proper journalistic action is to investigate the sources and arguments and then write two articles, one about how the healthcare plan will save thousands of lives and improve the lives of millions, and the other about how there are lots of people making stupid arguments based on nothing at all.

Giving everyone equal say doesn’t equate to ‘giving stupid people equal grounds as Ph.D.s in economics.’  I don’t care how many University of Phoenix classes you attended on your Ipad, it’s still extremely unlikely that you have anything constructive to add to a debate with the foremost experts on global warming.

BECAUSE THEY’RE THE FOREMOST EXPERTS ON GLOBAL WARMING.

If you knew as much as they did, YOU’D UNDERSTAND THAT GLOBAL WARMING EXISTS.

BECAUSE SCIENCE, THAT’S WHY.

 

Mark Twain’s quote comes to mind.

“Don’t argue with stupid people: they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

BEHOLD A SUMMARY OF POLITICS FOR THE LAST TWELVE YEARS.

 

Now for the second point.

 (2)       Liberals, we go too far.

BACK OFF ON THE ATHEISM.  My god.  Science is the light of the world and everyone should embrace it because it will usher mankind into a NEW AGE yes that’s wonderful I totally see how that’s different from Jesus bringing humanity together in heaven STOP IT.

 

RELIGION IS NOT EVIL.

THERE.  I SAID IT.

YOU MAY GASP NOW.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.

Rather than rant, I should clarify.  I have nothing against either atheism or religion on general grounds.  Whether you place your faith in God, Jesus, My Little Pony, or an abstract model of the universe, it’s all the same to me.

I do have problems with the following, mostly because they’re wrong.

FIRST is religious people telling me what to believe, demanding that all the world adopt their specific brand of organized spirituality.  NO.  Go away.  This musty political document that most people don’t pay much attention to says I CAN BELIEVE WHATEVER I WANT.  If I choose to worship Stephen Colbert and sacrifice stuffed Kirby dolls to his altar, THAT’S MY PEROGATIVE.  The semi-Millsian nature of our political system means I can waste my free time in just about any way that doesn’t kill people.

SECOND is atheists telling me not to believe anything, demanding that all the world adopt their specific man-made model of rationality.  NO.  GO AWAY.  The aforementioned document says I’M FREE TO BELIEVE ANYTHING.  If I choose to sing 80s power ballads to Jeff the God of Elm Trees every Tuesday, well, guess what, THAT’S MY CHOICE.

BOTH OF YOU are giving your respective organizations a bad name.  How easy it is to paint atheists and religious folks alike as rabid zealots when you both launch rabidly zealous attacks on one another at the earliest opportunity!  ONE OF YOU should grow up. I don’t care which.  Hitchens did a great thing—he also messed some things up, but he did a very great thing for the atheistic argument which many people missed: he took the MORAL HIGH GROUND.

And the rest of the movement promptly lost it again.  Well done. Hitchens’ argument was (and rightly): “We don’t need religious ethics to be rational and intelligent and caring and moral human beings.  Atheists are morally better people.

Which leads me to my next point: If you’re better people, then hush. Let people make their own choices.  If you really are a collection of the world’s best and brightest, GREAT. When solar flares begin to rip our planet apart or Nibiru crashes into us or the zombies begin to walk among us, we’ll look to you for our salvation.

Because the mark of security in one’s self is not continually dictating the actions of other people.  I’ll give you that much of a hint.  And whichever community stops this ridiculousness and just lives their own life first wins the prize for ‘Most Mature.’  I know a number of people on both sides who have this outlook, and it’s amazing how much easier it is to have a conversation with them about anything.  I know a fantastic blogger (http://lesbicrafty.blogspot.com/) who matches this description.

So to sum up: STOP BEING SO IMMATURE.  The world is turning into a religion/atheism grudge match.  WHY?  Science and spirituality are so completely unrelated that there’s not even a Venn diagram here to consider.  They don’t even touch.  THERE’S NOT EVEN VENN DIAGRAM CLEAVAGE.

(the third greatest kind, closely behind mineral)

(3)        PART THREE.

EVERYTHING IS TOO PARTISAN.  Oh my god.  Oreo supports gay marriage? GREAT. Chik-fil-a doesn’t? FINE.

Let’s make this clear.  Unless your companies are actually donating to the political process (Citizens United! Hurrah!), unless you’re actually pushing this agenda, NO ONE CARES.  Without such an action, these announcements from corporations are akin to walking into the middle of a train station and yelling “I LIKE BANNANA MUFFINS.”  A complete non sequitur, an unnecessary piece of information.

Besides, we’re not even hearing what the company thinks.  WHICH, SURPRISINGLY, is NOTHING, because GUESS WHAT, THEY’RE NOT PEOPLE.

ER

MAH

GERD

SRSLY?

I know it’s a shock, but I feel like this point needs to be hammered home: A CORPORATION IS NOT A PERSON.  It is an unfeeling, unthinking conglomerate of human minds that, in most cases, acts on basic predatory instinct.  A good example might be the Portugese Man-O-War—a stinging, predatory sea creature made up of thousands of individual creatures.  Imagine that, except you can have a beer with any one of its components.

Sup. Wanna grab a brewski?

When we hear these announcements that “so-and-so supports X,” guess what, that’s not the corporation talking.  Because CORPORATIONS CAN’T TALK.  What you hear is the result of a CEO shooting their mouth off, or a board of directors reaching a consensus and having the PR guy say something, or a group of employees taking a stand.  For every person who agrees with that stance, that company has an employee who vehemently disagrees.  Do you think Oreo has an anti-homophobia test in their hiring process? No, because THAT WOULD BE STUPID.  It doesn’t matter how a person feels about homosexuality, so long as they can squeeze soft cream between two black cookies for eight hours a day.

NOW, if a corporation is actually contributing something VALUABLE to a political discussion beyond standing up and screaming “OOH I LIKE THAT” like a four-year-old who sees a picture of a dinosaur, if they’re giving money or something, THEN GOOD.  Well, not GOOD, because CORPORATIONS ARE NOT PEOPLE AND SHOULDN’T BE ABLE TO SPEND MONEY IN POLITICS, but at least it’s SLIGHTLY LESS INANE.  Maybe with all those human resources people working away night and day we’ll actually get a coherent mission statement for one party or another beyond “I LIKE THIS” or “I HATE THIS.”

Which has essentially become our political dialogue, by the way.  One political party is being meek and calm and considerate and timid, trying to make friends, and the other one is standing in the corner with its fingers in its ears yelling “LALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU GO AWAY I HATE YOU.”  I leave you to decide which one it is, but here’s a hint: one party supporter just replied to an attack ad with the truth and was promptly attacked by her own side.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/08/andrea-saul-romney-health-care_n_1757550.html?utm_hp_ref=elections-2012

So there’s MY contribution to political discourse FOR THE MONTH.  Hopefully what it lacks in calm and rationality IT MAKES UP FOR WITH YELLING, because as Bill O’Reilly teaches us, YELLING MAKES YOU RIGHT.

STAY AWESOME INTERNET

I KNOW YOU WILL

BECAUSE I JUST YELLED IT.

And let’s have Colbert sing us out.