Monday, April 9, 2012

Outgrowing Religion

Read this article this morning.  It's an Op-Ed piece entitled "Learning to Respect Religion" by New York Times journalist, Nicholas Kristof.  I subscribe to his public updates on Facebook, as I find a lot of the topics he writes on interest me.  I was surprised to read this particular article, though, as I could not disagree with him more on the subject matter.  

The main point of the commentary is to illustrate a perceived movement of late among the Atheist community to have "...grudging admiration for religion as an ethical and cohesive force."  Obviously, I can't speak for any other atheist, and certainly not for an entire community, but the idea strikes me as laugh out loud absurd.  Stating facts as they are is not a "grudging admiration"; any more than stating that the sky is blue means that blue is your favorite color.  Reality is that inside an incredibly large pile of fear, evil and hate, religion does have a few sociological nuggets of positive service to humanity.  Plain and simple.  Kristof goes on to point these out: "...the ways in which religions deliver sermons, promote morality, engender a spirit of community, make use of art and architecture, inspire travels, train minds and encourage gratitude at the beauty of spring." (From "Religion For Atheists", by Alain de Botton)  And to explain that "scientists often misunderstand religion because they home in on individuals rather than on the way faith can bind a community." 

Essentially saying that to completely dismiss religion as an organization, is to also dismiss a large amount of good that lends to a strong society.  And that because of this, religious organization deserves, at the very minimum, universal respect.  The last line kills me because I all I can imagine is him following it up with, "Don't hate the playa'; Hate the game."

Geoff Berg’s response at Partisan Gridlock yesterday:

Atheism is the rejection of theism. It isn’t an organizing principle, it isn’t a political philosophy and it certainly isn't a religion. It is the rejection of a proposition. That’s it.  Nobody disputes that religion, which is an organizing principle and a political philosophy, can unify people, and occasionally to the greater good.  Every major religion can point to a charitable arm that passes out food, builds hospitals, and clothes the poor.

Religion also unifies the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the belief that burying adulterers to their necks and stoning them to death will spare the rest of society god’s wrath. It unifies members of al-Qaeda in the belief that flying planes into buildings is the execution of god’s will. It unifies leaders of the "Lord's Resistance Army" in the belief that forcing children to mutilate and murder members of their own families is a divinely ordained mission. Religious belief unifies Jewish fundamentalists in the belief that evicting families from their homes in the West Bank and taking their land is justified because the territory was deeded to them in perpetuity by the almighty.

Hezbollah, the Iranian-sponsored Lebanese terrorist group, is unified by violent, fundamentalist Shia Islam. It is responsible for killing thousands — including 241 US marines, soldiers and sailors. It is also one ofLebanon’s largest providers of health care.

Kristof is inexplicably impressed with Haidt’s research showing that fear of god makes for a more orderly society. Is it really a scientific revelation that fear forces people to act in accordance with what they believe to be the wishes of an omnipotent, jealous, and vengeful being who condemns the non-compliant to everlasting torment if they refuse (as described by his helpful earthly proxies, of course)?

Sounds a lot like a dictatorship, which as Kim Jong Un and his late father and grandfather can attest, is a great way to keep people in line."

BRAV-O.  Could not have been put any better than that myself.  That which brings small amounts of good... or if you want to be generous, even a good for every evil... deserves no respect in the face of it's degree of human devastation.  John Wayne Gacy murdered at least 33 men in the course his life time.  We don't condone or forget this because he also brought so much joy to the children when he would dress like a clown and entertain them.  That would be insanity.  Why, then, is organized religion any different or given any more of a free pass?

Every problem facing the world at large right now has it's root in a religious conflict.  The elimination of religion would do more to heal the world than all other solutions that circumvent the root combined.  This is because no matter what a religious organization does to "help" ease what ails the world... the problems wouldn't be there in the first place if religion didn't exist.  Knowing this means that, NO... no I don't have to pay credit to any belief system based wholly on intangibles, lies and deceit if they should feed the poor that years of religious struggles have kept poor in the first place. And NO... no I don't have to give any credit to a bastardized, disorganized, poorly kept historical record system, still prevalent for the purpose of controlling people under the guise of "hope".  Not when it has been a tool of war and the excuse to brutalize, torture and murder billions for centuries.

Nor do I have to give any of them credit for reinforcing "morals" that have NATURALLY evolved with modern civilization.  It is not because of our belief in a deity that we've come to the realization that we ought to treat everyone as equals.  We've done that IN THE FACE OF and IN SPITE OF religion, if we're to be honest.  Everything in our history that involves the systematic and genocidal killing of human beings has been directly because of religious beliefs, and it was upon our own horror at our reflection that we choose to evolve.  The more scientific knowledge we gain, the more intelligent we become, the less we fear and the more unified we become.    

If only we could let go of the need for an "afterlife" and something beyond simple mortality.  We will die and it's ok.  Unless we have achieved something of greatness, our memory will fade and that's ok, too.  "Life", "Mankind", "Humanity"...  we don't need an infinite number of people we have to remember... nor do future generations need to infinitely remember us.  What lives on, and what should be a stride as one for all of humanity, is to teach the future that education, open minds, information, and healthy skepticism paired with a desire to never stop on the quest for truth IN ALL THINGS is the only way to purge ourselves of weakness and corruption.  No religion teaches this!  

We need to start recognizing we have outgrown, as a specie, the need for our "fate" to be in the hands of anyone else, including a "God".  We've outgrown the need to congregate to keep us unified in our beliefs... and to keep us from "straying" TO reality.  Worship does not need to be the reason that we come together for human interaction.  Science has proven to us that there are consequences for our poor lifestyle choices and we need only educate ourselves.  Democratic government in a free society is there to enforce human rights and prevent infringement;  Morality does not need to be legislated beyond that.  Enough proof exists that we can free this world from the bondage of "pre-ordainment" and prejudice against biological differences.  Credit only where credit is due, Mr. Kristof, is just the first step.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Emotional Propaganda: You're Not A Hero If You Save People By Lying

I spent Saturday morning listening to this piece on NPR's "This American Life".  The topic was the retraction of a story done in January by monologist Mike Daisey who on air, told a fabricated experience of his visit to one of the factories in China that makes Apple products. As NPR reports, "The piece essentially made Daisey Apple's chief critic and it also inspired a petition that collected more than 250,000 signatures demanding that Apple better the working conditions at the factories."  Daisey also wrote a one man performance called "The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs", in which he includes the same fictional account of his trip.

It would seem that aside from actually going to China, actually meeting with a interpreter who calls herself Kathy Lee, and actually visiting a real manufacturing plant called Foxconn... the entire rest of the piece is completely fabricated.  The tale he tells about his visit state everything from grossly under aged workers as young as 12, to disfigured employees who became so due to untreated on the job accidents, to poisoned factory workers who received permanent motor damage from electronic cleaning solvent, to Foxconn its self being guarded by workers with guns to keep people working and thieves from stealing products.  It's basically everything you've ever feared and imagined about the way communist China allows businesses to treat their workers, realized... but untrue and created to use you in this case.

To me, this is the absolute WORST thing anyone could have done in an effort to expose the problems within China's labor force.  As Jeff Yang of The Wall Street Journal puts it: "The story he’s telling is an important one. There’s a huge human cost to the creation of cool devices. But by blurring fact and fiction, not on stage, but on camera, in print and on air, Daisey has seriously compromised his ability to act as a credible voice on this issue — and significantly hurt the cause of labor organizers and advocates in China, who now face the possibility that all of their claims will be treated with skepticism or dismissed, both by authorities in China and potential supporters in the U.S."   Yes. 1000%  THAT.

We saw this happen recently with the Kony 2012 project, as well. The not for profit group The Invisible Children used highly emotional media that was not 100% factual and overly simplified in an effort to bring about awareness... and in the end has probably hurt the cause more than it has helped it. Not to mention it has stripped away the credibility of an organization who has arguably done a lot of good up until now. 

Emotional manipulation seems to be the go to tactic for any cause who wishes to convey what they do not have the evidence to sway you with;  To "liven up" and make entertaining for us what we might have otherwise glossed over.  We have a responsibility TO KNOW AND UNDERSTAND THIS.  We have a responsibility to ourselves... but more importantly to our communities and to our country... to wade through things that affect us emotionally and look at the issues with open eyes and open minds.  Regardless of what your gut instincts, faith and principles are… if you are being lied to, to reinforce these core beliefs…you have a responsibility to figure this out!  And then another to question and seek to reinforce your positions with the truth if they then remain your positions.

Mike Daisey did just the opposite.  When he discovered that the truth is Foxconn has been positively affected by Apple’s demands that they adhere to humane treatment of their employees, he lied.  He lied because there are so many other manufacturing plants that do not. He lied in the name of awareness.  This cannot be permitted or condoned no matter what the benefit as, there is no line that can be drawn to keep the “wrong” from doing it too.

What we take away from this in the wake of being lied to is the importance of knowing that no matter which side you fall on in an issue, if you find yourself becoming emotional there should be a bell going off in your head that warns you to gather all the information before you proceed.  Against your instincts, even.  We should be actively seeking the truth at all times and in all things.  What you know as "truth" today... deserves to be questioned again tomorrow if it deserves to be shared at all.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Fearless Friday: If You Make Your Point Like This... Then You Have Told The World You Are Stupid.

One of the top stories in my feed this morning was this.  I saw the above photo shared a few times yesterday and apparently it's now been purported to have gone "viral".  (I take issue with the way that term is used so loosely now, BTW… but sufficed to say it went big enough to have caught the eye of the Huffington Post.) The article is about the sticker pictured in the photo and a few other racist bumper stickers beginning to circulate pre-election.
Here is the thing I am glad people don’t (apparently) realize about making this type of statement out loud:  Though you will undoubtedly be offending your intended audience...  you lose the battle and instead help to further your opposition’s cause.  Nice going! 

Before applying a racist bumper sticker to your car in hopes it will cause people not to vote for Obama, here are some questions to ask yourself: Why are you against wanting to re-elect President Obama?  Is it because you feel he has been ineffective?  Are you upset about having a democratic president?  Do you think he's unqualified to run the country?  Are you vehemently opposed to his policies?  Do you feel the state of the union is in peril because of the decisions he made while in office?  Good. Great.  Fantastic.  These are all quality reasons to take issue with a POTUS.  There are a great many people that would love for you to share your thoughts and will listen to the evidence you have that supports your opinion.  If you are concise and present enough facts, you may even sway enough people into joining your cause and successfully get someone else elected at the end of this year.  Long live democracy!

Unfortunately, though, if you hate President Obama predominantly because the man has a higher concentration of melanin in his skin cells than you do... then I am very sorry (for the rest of us) to report that you are stupid.  President Obama... as well as you and I... have a great deal of control over many things in life... but the chemistry and make up of our bodies is not one of them.  Frankly, if we had the science needed to change things like this, then I am sure preventing "stupid", or the lack of desire to seek knowledge and educate one's self, would be a lot higher on the list than being able to change cellular pigment levels.

Inferring that some one has any more or any less potential for achievement solely based on this uncontrollable physical trait not only discredits your argument, but it shows the world you possess a brain that is inferior.  Perhaps due to the same uncontrollable genetics... but more than likely because you choose to be stupid.  When intelligent people determine your intelligence is inferior, than any case you make, no matter how compelling, is discredited in their minds because you have demonstrated the absence of the fundamental ability to determine what is a reasonable, rational argument… and what is hateful, ignorant bullshit.  THUS... you will succeed in only FURTHERING that which you seek to change in the opposite direction of your intention because your position is now associated with "stupidity".

To put it plainer:  Racist bumper stickers ensure that your team LOSES.  You, and your fellow racists, are essentially traitors to your own cause.

There is an art to debate and to getting people to consider your point.  The most important part is purpose.  The second most important part is method.  What do you hope to achieve when you argue your position?  Are you hoping to change someone's mind?  Are you hoping to further awareness?  Are you hoping to convince people to agree with you in what you feel is right?  Do you seek to expand your position by collecting points from the opposition?  Are you curious as to how someone could feel differently than you do?  Or do you just enjoy the attention and validation of being listened to?  There must be a purpose.  Otherwise, what is the point of even discussing anything?

Then depending on what your purpose is, your goal will not be accomplished on a significant level unless the method you use to convey your positions is credible.  Trying to discredit President Obama by pointing out he is (obviously) black may gain you some chuckles and back slaps from those close to you who share your views, but on a much broader level, the backlash against people like you grows larger and stronger.  Congratulations, Stupid!  All of the sudden people who weren't interested yesterday in getting involved have become offended.  When someone is offended, they tend to react.  In fact, if you piss someone off enough, you are much more likely to get them to react… than you would be at getting the people who adamantly agreed with you to do so.

Case in point:  The Susan G. Komen/Planned Parenthood controversy. In trying to further their anti-choice agenda by pulling funding from Planned Parenthood for (very obviously) fabricated reasons, Nancy Brinker and Karen Handle only succeeded in FURTHERING their opposition by awakening  a large group of people who were otherwise not particularly against them.  Only a small percentage of people will now fund or support the charity, even given their reversal in policy.  The Susan G. Komen Foundation has LOST CREDIBILITY.  They will never again reach an audience on the same levels they previously had, thus anything they choose to promote or oppose will be disregarded and dismissed as unimportant.  They have lost the war for their team by wielding the weapon of ignorance.

So really… carry on, stupid people!  Carry on. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

SFP3: Character Developement

Here is an example of irony:  When I was younger I use to sit around and make up lists of baby names that I loved.  Like to the point that it was probably very unsettling to anyone who happened to come across one of my one million and five notebooks.  I could not wait to grow up and have a baby so that I could name him or her.  Now that I am a grown up older and I have two babies... I didn't end up getting to choose either one of their names as they are both named after their grandfathers.  BTW, getting to name a baby?  NOT that awesome.  I’m glad I didn’t have babies just to name them as I had down in the original plan for “adult life”.

So really... all I have left in life at this point is to become a writer because how else am I ever going to get to pick a cool name to give to a human being unless it's in one of my stories?  If we were to get a pet at some point I am 1000% positive anything I suggest will be out voted.  If my boys end up procreating, I have a strong suspicion their wife or partner will not be down with their MIL naming their kid.  This is pretty much the only avenue I have left.

That being said, here I am at my MOMENT.

I’ve thought about it a lot.  I like the name Beau for a female lead.  Not too many girls are named Beau and it certainly hasn't been used enough for anyone to have an image pre-conjured in their head.  I imagine her to be a fairly generic pretty woman.  Not beautiful... just pleasant looking.  Not skinny, not fat, not perfectly proportionate... just normal.  I think she should be a brunette with blond highlights and blue eyes.  To give her depth maybe I'll give her crappy skin, some stretch marks and slightly crooked teeth.  Personality wise, I think she should be witty, sarcastic and very pragmatic.  I think she should like making excel spreadsheets and organizing things.  I’ll most likely haver her work from home making things for an etsy shop and being a "virtual assistant" for some local businesses.

Where will she live:  The South?  The East?  The Midwest?  The Pacific Coast?  I would love to set her in the south because I think it would provide ample opportunity to deal with the religious aspect of the main ideas.  The problem is what I know about the south, I've only read in "The Help" or seen in "Forest Gump", right?  I don't remember too much about living in Texas except that I was an obvious outcast and did not fit in at all... and that Texas’s idea of "Mexican food" sucked.  So maybe the Mid west then?  Still ample opportunity to deal with the religious theme.  I have enough friends and family members that have lived there all their lives that I could probably either ascertain enough of the information or ask questions.  OR... should I write about what I know and set her in CA?  Maybe on the central coast?  Hmmmm....

Beau's Husband:  I don't know his name yet (something normal though like Tom or Tim or Peter) but I am 99.99999% sure he is going to be an astrophysicist who considers himself an "Ancient Alien Theorist".  And let's just be upfront right now... I am going to 100% model him after Bill.  How could I not?  Bill is the perfect balance of everything… unless I am currently pissed at him.  But that would be the point in modeling the husband after him.  He'll interact with Beau and his kids the way Bill interacts with us.  Physically he'll be a moderately attractive dork.

Beau's kids:  How many?  2 or 3.  Sexes?  I don't have girls, I only have boys... but I think there should be at least 1 daughter.  I'm thinking 2 boys and a girl with the girl being the oldest.  Ages?  Names?  ........ Maybe 8, 6 & 4?  Tabitha or Sadie or Alex (Lexy?) or (?)for the daughter.  For the boys maybe I'll make it easy and just name one after his father (He'll be TJ or PJ)... and the other one can be Jake.

Here is a pretty important thought:  Where do astrophysicists even live?  Where (besides NASA) do they even work?  What do they even do all day for their job besides be awesome and introduce themselves like, “Yes.  Nice to meet you.  I am Peter and I rule at life because I am Astrophysicist.”   I don’t even know.  Perhaps I begin here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

SFP2: The Method

A day to mull over the main idea(s)... and another thing that strikes me as difficult is the method in which to deliver the story.  In my mind, really good stories work in two ways:  Either they are fantastical enough in the details that an entire alternate world is directly (or indirectly) created... and therefore free license is given to make anything true (Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Star Wars, Ect.)...  OR the story is so realistic and the facts woven in are so accurate, that that the liberties taken in the fiction portion just SEEM realistic (The Da Vinci Code, The Color Purple, Forest Gump, ect.).

I tend to favor the second method.  I love when I read something that is "enlightening".  I love when you get to walk away from something you knew a variable level of information on and you have something new to add.  Even if the information is purely anecdotal, it gives you more perspective.

One idea that I toss around a lot that encompasses BOTH is the story of a normal, every day woman who suddenly realizes she has the power to end the problems of the world, if for no other reason than she just gets sick of all of the tragedy on the she hears about in news.  In my mind she would just hit some sort of breaking point in her mind and suddenly a flip would switch in her head and she'd rise up like some sort of "God"... and poof!... the wicked would be incinerated.  Which would allow me to make a personal comment on social issues and what I think matters.  I imagine the story then seguing into the after math of her rising up and cleansing the world of all "the bad people".  What would the US be like?  Africa?  Asia?  Remote areas of the world?  What could happen if the entire world was a free democracy and we all competed on the same level?  What kind of universal society would we be and what kind of social responsibilities would be on a WORLD WIDE level at that point?

It's exciting and terrifying to me to sit down and write this.  Why?  Because though I have a very general idea of the way other countries are run (communist, democratic, monarch, ect.) and a very, very, VERY mild understanding of the conditions and economic level... I know nothing beyond what I occasionally read.  The whole Kony frenzy really hit home as a primary example of how truly ignorant I am.  I watched the video and was moved enough to post it and encourage others to watch it.  I know NOTHING about Uganda, and I know I know nothing about Uganda.  YET...Child slavery = emotion.  Emotion = knee jerk reaction.  Knee jerk reaction = unqualified judgement.  Unqualified judgement = no research or attempt to seek truth.  No research or truth sought =  THE DARK SIDE.  It paralyses me.

So what do I do?  Begin writing and when I want to make specific comments look up as much info as I can in hopes I will be depicting something intelligent?  I'm overwhelmed.  I wish I could take the pills that, that dude in the movie "Limitless" did if just for a weekend so that I could read about and 100% absorb the history and current state of the entire world.  Then I'd have the story AND the way to save the world, right?  LOL.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Story Formulation Part 1: The Point

There are plenty of novels that have been written with little to no point.  I want to have a point, though, and I feel this has complicated things a great deal.  I admire authors that can weave a profound point into the tales they tell.  For instance, the point of Star Wars is that you have to have balance between good and evil... but that in the end, good will prevail.  The Lord of the Rings, I believe, symbolizes the Christian belief of the journey to Heaven and the perils and temptations along the way.  To Kill a Mockingbird teaches us about the dangers of prejudice.  Many lesser novels I love deal with discovering inner strength, finding truth and being human.

I want to write a story that clearly demonstrates the dangers of not critically thinking about everything, as well as the negative effects of stating your beliefs in things you do not really believe in because it's easy and comfortable. I want my the stories I tell to be so entertaining and clever that it isn't till the end that you realize I've had you agreeing with things you didn't even know you agreed with before.  If I could write something that got even a handful of people thinking differently, I would consider it one of my greatest achievements.

So... the point.  The point is many things right now.  Some possible ideas include:

  • Watching news that is designed to sway you a particular way exclusively.
  • Talking to and engaging only with people who share your views.
  • Living your life unaware of where the food you eat comes from and how it is processed.
  • Living life unaware of where 99.99% of everything you buy comes from and how it is manufactured and delivered to the shelf of your favorite big box store.
  • Living your life unaware of the absolutely horrific tragedies that befall millions of people every single day because they don't live in a country that has standards and democracy.
  • Saying you believe in God because of how many people you would disappointed in you if you asked questions.
  • Not caring to ask any questions about anything beyond what's for dinner.
  • Not recognizing the comfort of routine and what it say about you (not necessarily in a negative way.)
  • The perversion, nonacceptance and exploitation of sex and how it is woven into everything we do naturally no matter how hard we fight it.
  • How the fear of death and the biological need to survive have kept myth alive in the face of evidence for thousands... if not millions... of years.

    That's only 10 ideas.  There are more.  So many, many more.  How do you make this interesting and exciting?  Especially to the mass who is so exactly the embodiment of these problems and thinking points?  What from the above list is THE MOST IMPORTANT of the main ideas?  What change would have the most impact?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

If only I could just get it started...

One of my New Years resolutions is to finally sit down and write a story to entertain myself and possibly a select few people who would actually read a story I wrote. I want it to be a sort of female-y, Sci-Fi tale with some political commentary woven in. I want it to also have a relateable heroin, a fair amount of adventure, a fair amount of humor and some kissing parts. I have some of it worked out in my head but here is what happens to me every time I am like, "Ok. Time to sit down and outline and then WRITE! Let's do this!":

Step 1: Begin thinking about the awesome parts of the story you want to work in.
Step 2: Begin thinking about how unsure you are of some of the details and how to work up to those parts.
Step 3: Begin thinking about how you want to be extremely credible and accurate in your story telling.
Step 4: Begin to doubt what you know is enough to achieve this.
Step 5: Decide that the year is still young and get lost on Facebook instead.

It's now March. The year is starting to age...

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