Passive Voice

March 2, 2017 Leave a comment

pac-if-y: verb.

: to cause (someone who is angry or upset) to become calm or quiet:  to allay the anger or agitation of: soothe

: to cause (a country, a violent group of people, etc.) to become peaceful: to restore to a tranquil state:  settle

Throughout my life I’ve always considered myself a pacifist. In fact, I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch to say that I abhor violence in just about any form. It always seems to cause far more problems than it solves. And whether it be a viscous physical altercation where someone loses a part of a tooth or a scathing verbal attack intent on wrecking the emotional state of a fellow person, I just can’t seem to wrap my head around such dysfunctionally expressed anger.

Now this is not to say that most other people “enjoy” violence… well… except for our cultural fascination with brutality as portrayed in TV, movies, video games, music, books, media, politics, and of course the thrill of watching people beat the living hell out of each other on live pay-per-view…

But in our normal lives, no… Most of us seem to prefer to live in a society where there is a measure of peace. I mean, so long as we have some tremendously awful, really bad hombre to blame all of our problems on, that is…

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But even when channeled “correctly” (via avenues such as sports), that whole “competitive nature” that many of my more masculine brothers and sisters seem to enjoy appears more of a vicarious form of gratuitous domination – of elevating yourself (safely) through the physical duress of others – of one-upmanship, where my team is better than your team. So eat it…

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In thinking on this concept, I’m strongly reminded of my move to Alabama at the tender age of 9. As I was greeted by my new classmates at my new school, the very first question they had for me was, “So are you an Alabama fan or an Auburn fan?”

I vaguely remember stumbling through a form of “What are you even talking about?” and being pressed further and further until I just blurted out, “Alabama!”

“Well… ROLL TIDE, then.”

And of course this meant I was immediately ostracized from the Auburn fans, who I was apparently now not allowed to sit with at lunch.

Yes, yes… I know… competition causes us to grow stronger and become “better” people. Social Darwinism, and free market capitalism, and  great innovations for the advancement of the human race, and so on (yada, yada). But often it seems people care more about having a gym fit body, or getting a ball through a hoop more times than the next guy, or hoarding as much money as possible so you can die with more toys than the Jones’ next door. And no matter the context, I’ve never really enjoyed this primordial race. I just don’t have it in me. Sure, I have things I want to accomplish. But having aspirations is a shade different than seeking adorations. I think… Or maybe I’m just lazy, I don’t know…

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But however I spin it, this “fighting spirit” is mostly absent from my psychological make up. In fact, not only do I actively try to live a peaceful existence, but I’ve always found myself drawn to being a bit of a peacemaker. Many of my friends over the years have come to me to help settle some dispute or another. Sometimes it was a misunderstanding between another friend, or maybe a spat with their boy/girlfriend at the time, and occasionally I’ve even been asked to step in and smooth over problems within their own family. Sometimes I would succeed, and other times… not so much. But I’ve grown better at diffusing tense situations as time has gone on. And like many people, I’d prefer that we just all get along.

I’m not sure what exactly it is about my temperament that allows me the ability to manage “drama” more effectively than some, but people seem comfortable talking with me about even their most embarrassing and complex situations and emotions – as someone that will truly listen – empathetically, and without harsh judgment. Perhaps it was this propensity that ultimately led me into the field in which I am currently employed. I don’t know WHY I can easily talk to someone about their odd obsession with Corn Nuts or how to properly deal with explosive diarrhea – it just comes naturally. Perhaps due to this, I’m (usually) tolerated by just about any group of people, from just about any background. And I’m often dubbed (and have graciously accepted the title of being) “that one really cool guy,” or sometimes – “the dude.”

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But I was not always viewed as a person worthy of time, trust, or confidence. As a younger kid, my quiet and calm nature was seen more as a weakness – one to be exploited, or at least made fun of. I’ve had “kick me signs” placed on my back, had people throw things at me and mockingly laugh in my face in a classroom, and call me all manner of names. Presumably because I didn’t choose to “fight back” or really “stand up” for myself.

Maybe it had something to do with my indoctrination into the idea of always turning the other cheek (which I took very seriously), but even then, I didn’t see the point of fighting someone over something as ridiculous as their opinion of the promiscuity of my mother. I mean, they’d never even met the lady… So, in the eyes of the “jocks” or “preps” or whatever popular clique that chose to mock me in those days, I was just a “pussy.” Well… at least until I surpassed everyone in height by a good foot. Then it seemed a much, much rarer occurrence that people questioned my sexuality.

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But even with these newfound “powers” of persuasion, I never used my (possible) physical advantage against anyone. I didn’t seek revenge or remain butthurt or try to instill fear in those who once bullied me. I just let it go. Because really, would punching someone else in the nose have done anything to make the situation better? I’ve never found joy in hurting anyone and simply don’t understand those who do. In fact, I struggle to find a scenario (self-defense aside) where my lashing out with physical anger would do any good for anyone. “Well… I fractured my wrist, but at least this new hole in the wall really adds to the feng shui of the living room.”

On some level I still find it odd when some people I first meet appear to be intimidated by me (I mean, have you met ME?). Despite my (now) 6’7” frame, I am probably one of the most easy going, relaxed individuals you will ever meet. Possibly the antithesis of a “strong” personality – a gentle giant, if you will…

And if I’m being honest here (which I’m prone to do), I suppose it’s entirely possible that once someone does get to know me and my personality, some may still consider me as “weak” or “a pansy” or {insert derogatory expletive here}. Because (given the choice) I will step away from just about any situation that seems it would escalate into physical violence, regardless of any hateful rhetoric that might be barked at me. Because someone could get hurt (and I don’t necessarily mean me).

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Sure, I AM afraid of getting hurt myself. But I’m ALSO concerned that I might hurt someone else (I have had a decent amount of self defense training, not to mention a license to carry…) or more to the point, I have have no wish to go to jail for hurting someone else (perhaps beyond repair). And I truly believe that ANYONE who doesn’t factor fear or consequences into an altercation is a few soggy fries short of a happy meal.

But even if it’s just on an emotional front, if I sense a disagreement or debate is becoming a heated argument, I will generally attempt to step down and “agree to disagree,” or if need be, politely concede a degree of credence to their viewpoint (at least insofar as they have a right to their opinion), followed by an attempt to change the subject. This is not to say I roll over on all issues, only that I recognize when a person is simply not willing to hear another viewpoint, and that to continue with the conversation would be futile.

 

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To be clear, I’m not talking about condoning the beliefs or actions of extremist groups or people hell bent on creating “order” (i.e. “chaos”). Nor do I stand idly by when I believe someone’s in physical danger. But given the option of stepping away from a vitriolic asshat or resorting to violence to “prove a point,” I take the more sensible road. Not because I’m incapable of inflicting harm, but because inciting change (real change) is not a matter of gaining respect through fear.

This sort of playground bullying might get you the title of king of the hill, but your “subjects” are only agreeing with you until they can figure out how to properly stage a coup. Harmony is built on mutual understanding and respect, not the fanning of the fires of dissent.

I’ve regurgitated Newton’s point many, many times, but, “Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.” Because, really… how many times have you ever heard someone say, “That guy’s an asshole, but he makes a great point.”? In my experience, most people are INCAPABLE of even trying to understanding what you’re saying when all they can see is that your position is counter to theirs.

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Especially in these politically charged days, it seems particularly difficult to have a productive conversation with almost anyone. Social media is awash with hatred and fear, with many friends and families becoming further ostracized from one another due to the current state of our politics (that’s a blog for another time…). And whether it be a misleading meme chock-full of “alternative facts” or the repeated posting of articles from the “fake news” entities, we are herding ourselves deeper and deeper into a den of smoke and mirrors and cognitive bias. No one knows what to believe. And everyone is a potential enemy.

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But when you come across a fellow traveler and are trying to decide whether they are friend or foe, I think the most important thing to remember is that first and foremost, you’re dealing with a PERSON – someone who feels as deeply as you do, who loves and laughs, who gets scared and sometimes even cries at the end of movies. They are not immediately the “enemy” (even if their views are radically different from your own). And no matter how indoctrinated they might be (as we all are, in our own way), there has to be something you DO agree on, even if it’s as simple as which way the toilet paper roll is supposed to sit.

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(it’s over the top by the way, you unwashed heathens)

This is where you start. This is what you build on. Because it is through our similarities (and not our differences) that humanizes us to each other. And this little, simple thing can be enough to sway someone in the slightest of ways. A tiny splinter in their hand. A lego block in a shag carpet. A fart in the wind. Something that starts small, but can demand attention.

Find out what you CAN relate on. And build on it. More often than not, you can plant a seed that grows into an olive branch. Something endearing, that makes them rethink their black and white view of a group or an idea. That maybe all liberals DON’T have to be “round up and shot” (and yes I’ve heard this directly out of someone’s mouth) – maybe I DON’T really hate (i.e. fear) everyone who disagrees with me on *insert bullshit here* – maybe I really CAN believe it’s not butter…

Again, I’m not advocating that we remain neutral on all the things. Or that we remain silent when we encounter oppression or the deplorable underbelly of humanity. I am not suggesting that victims should remain victims.

But if you can begin to see a given (political, religious, ideological) “group” as composed of individuals who are capable of independent thought and worthy of basic human decency, you will often find that you agree on many tenets of what is acceptable and what is not. But more importantly, they can see you in a similar light. And for lack of a better phrase “sometimes the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Except in this case, the “enemy” is not each other, but an idea that spawns misunderstanding… and hate… and war…

And to fight this, we HAVE to dispel the idea that we… as humans… as conscious beings set adrift on the edge of the universe… are incapable of getting along…

Or some bullshit like that…

Categories: Bullshit

Reductio Ad Absurdum

October 11, 2016 Leave a comment

Over the years, I’ve had my share of pleasant discussions, pithy debates, heated arguments, and even an occasional ALL CAPS QUARREL over the various issues that arise when one happens to be human. MOST conflicts can be easily resolved with a little fact checking or a:

“Hey Siri… what’s the capital of North Dakota?”

“Checking… Abe Vigoda was 6’1”

But there’s just something about the big two (religion and politics) that triggers a part of the brain responsible for cognitive dissonance – where logic takes a bit of a back seat as fear, anger, and the need to be right at any cost insists on driving.

 

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“What do you think, Marvin?”

I’m very aware of my own biases, but even I am subject to these mechanisms at times. I really do try to at least be somewhat conscious of the many, many logical fallacies that can separate reality from the world as I might choose to see it. And a skeptical mindset (driven by a logical, scientific methodology) has served me particularly well when it comes to examining evidence and making an informed decision on a given worldview. But the largest strength by far about this process is that I am open to the idea that I might actually be wrong.

 

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Yet despite this, I’ve noticed that some people will chastise me if I don’t take a strong position on something. As if everything must be black OR white, with no room for shades of gray. And god forbid I say I don’t have enough information to take a stance on something…

“But didn’t you see the Fox News segment on Killary? And *something*something* Benghazi *something*something* EMAILS? How do YOU answer for that? HUH?!!”

 

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Look… I admittedly lean to the political left, but mostly because I find that facts and reality have a bit of a liberal bias. I’m also not fond of hateful rhetoric and fearful hellfire warnings of obvious propaganda designed to play on emotions. And though I’ve said it a time or two, I think it’s worth restating that anyone who can keep you mad or afraid is pulling your strings. This is not to say that there aren’t things that outrage me or can keep me up at night. But after awhile it becomes… well… ridiculous.

 

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Perhaps that’s why I (despite receiving a great deal of flak from others) choose to receive the vast majority of my news of the world from comedians. Not only are these satirical geniuses (e.g. John Oliver, John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, etc.) entertaining, but their way of navigating some of the toughest issues we face is nothing short of brilliant. It strips away the arrogance and reveals the bullshit in a way no other form of communication can.

 

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Reducing an argument down to show its absurdity is quite arguably the most effective way of expressing a point. Not to make fun of a person, but to show the flaws in their views. Not to make light of an important issue, but to emphasize the consequences of action or inaction. And I believe it’s even the perfect litmus test for a persons’s suitability to HAVE a say on something. Because if you can’t understand sarcasm, well… you just don’t get it…

But again, what do I know? Per usual, everything I just said was complete… and utter… bullshit…

Bigly.

Categories: Bullshit

Now what?

May 2, 2016 Leave a comment

Do you ever get the feeling that your whole life is leading up to some great apex of a moment? That every step you’ve taken, every decision you’ve made, every struggle you’ve endured are somehow meant to lead you to a yet unmet place of pure happiness and contentment? And that suddenly… after many miles and years, you’ll be imbued with a zen-like sense of purpose, fully self-actualized, where you can spend the remainder of your life, happy in the knowledge that you finally did it. You’ve arrived…

For some, I think this is the dream – that if you can just do the one thing (whatever it might be), it will change your life forever. And that it will be self sustaining and perpetually serene. For me, my aspirations began when I decided to go to college. While I didn’t know what I really wanted to do (and still don’t), I knew that it was a good path to follow. Or that it might at least offer some direction in an otherwise confusing world.

So community college led to an Associate’s degree.
“Yay! I finally have a degree! I worked so hard to get here, and it’s awesome to finally cross the finish line… Now what?”

Well… you’ll need a Bachelor’s to really enter the workforce. OK. A few more years and…
“YAY, I DID IT! Obstacle overcome. I’m ready for a career. Now what?”

Well… in this field, you really can’t do much without a Master’s degree. FINE. A few more years, internships, and other various red tape and bullshit later, and…
“ALRIGHT. DONE. NOW WHAT?”

Well… you need a job. A bit of a rocky start, but…
“Hey. Here I am. A good job with financial security, a loving wife and family, more stability in my life than I’ve ever known… *shakily* Now… what…?”

I really could make this parallel with almost any aspect of my life. The struggle towards becoming a decent musician, the military experience, every single step of raising a child, even seemingly mundane things like running errands around town or finishing a series on Netflix. No matter how satisfying the feeling of accomplishment, they all end the same. “OK… that’s done. Where do I go from here? What’s on TV tonight? What do you want to do for dinner? What’s going on this weekend?”

Too often life seems to be a series of wash, rinse, repeat. This is not to say that I don’t feel “blessed” to have the things I do or that I am in any way unhappy with my life. I’ve worked very hard (on many, many levels) to reach this point and many of my past decisions have certainly paid off. And I still have aspirations. To record an album, to write a book, to take a painting class. So many things left to do… But as time goes on, there is a certain reticence to wanting to even begin a new project. Perhaps it is partly due to the knowledge that once completed, there’s nothing left to look forward to (at least until I can summon the willpower to begin another thing). Or maybe it’s because I feel like I already have so many damn notches on my belt that it should be enough already. I know… I know… You create new passions, engage in new adventures, eat at the newest restaurant in town… But after awhile, almost any new endeavor can feel a chore.

I had a good talk with my father about retirement not too long ago, who said, “Son, the hardest thing I’ve ever done is nothing.” Now, granted, I’m (hopefully) a good 20-30 years away from having to worry about all that, but it does bring up an interesting point. How do we fill our time when we have more of it than we know what to do with? Many people work long hours and when they do get a break, they gladly engage in “extra-curricular” activities. But what if those long hours were suddenly available? I think this is why it would be very hard to be a multi-millionaire (for me at least). You can go anywhere and do almost anything with money being no object. The sheer number of choices alone is exhausting. Maybe this is why so many fiscally elite individuals become miserly and focus on working to obtain all the money (all of it)? After all the leisure they can take, what else are they going to spend their time on? Philanthropy? To be fair, some do. But to be real, most don’t – else the world would look very, very different…

But no matter our social status. we all seem to be driven to do something… anything… Because without some new goal to achieve, we seem to wither away into self-obscurity. Without something to focus on, we gather the proverbial moss and settle into a routine that we feel cannot be broken, allowing what is perhaps the root of many a depression to seep into our lives. And while it’s been said many different ways, it feels like the real purpose of life is to give life purpose. And the operative word here (give) is unfortunately a verb. And the same could be said for the word “happiness.” I suppose I need to remind myself of this a little more often. Life is not static. It moves, with or without us. How much is what ultimately defines us. And leads to our sense of self, and of purpose.

To that end, I think that I should stop asking myself “Now what?” and start asking myself “What now?”

Or some bullshit like that…

Categories: Bullshit

Revelations of a Freestinker

September 19, 2015 Leave a comment

Have you ever had that spine tingling feeling while driving down the road? You know, the one that feels like it wells up from some hidden part of your soul, radiating heat and joy from from your core and washing over your body like a wave? Sometimes it’s a particularly moving piece of music that’s on the radio, taking you back to a lost memory of unbridled contentment. Sometimes it’s just a feeling of being at peace with the universe, a worry-less microsecond of quiet tranquility, where even the idea of death and dying doesn’t seem so terrible at that particular moment. That all is well… That life simply is…

I used to call these experiences “The Hand of God,” and I truly believed that there was some sort of personal deity that was inserting itself directly into my heart and mind. It’s a wonderful thought, that such benevolence exists and actively concerns itself with you and your sense of purpose. Moreso, that out of all the things going on in the universe, from the smallest atoms to the largest stars, that it would take a moment to offer you a bit of comfort, a random face among billions, on a random spinning rock among billions more.

But what if I were to reframe my musical tingle experience and say, “Cool, my brain just dropped a bit more dopamine”? The feeling then begins to lose a little of its wonder and a lot of its magic. Now this is not to say that I consciously try to interact with the world as some sterile place devoid of beauty, but I do have a tendency of trying to understand things that I cannot easily explain. Sometimes I find answers and sometimes I don’t. Some are satisfactory, others… not so much. But this is what drives me. The question of… all the things.

OK. So this is the point where some of you should stop reading. Because what follows is a slew of pictures and ideas that may offend a more delicate sensibility. I’m going to talk about God… or rather, the possible lack thereof… A hotly debated topic, I know, but I intend on approaching it with as much tact and grace as I’m able.

But inevitably (as with most things), it won’t sit well with some. I offer this fair warning because I have no interest in stepping on any ideological toes to the point of ostracizing myself from friends and family who are dear to me.

Remember, “I disagree” does not mean “I hate you.” Or in more familiar, Protestantized terms: one can “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” In a similar way, I might question the belief, but I still value the believer.

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For my atheist and agnostic friends, much of what I’m about to say is old hat. Scores of writings exist (by many much more versed and persuasive than I) that explain the disconnects and finer points of a skeptical mindset. Just consider this a collection of silly pics and a reminder that the pages of history are filled with opportunistic asshats who commit atrocities in the name of religion.

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For my theist friends (of which I don’t really expect many to read this), I decided to write on this subject to do my best to explain why I question the existence of a higher power and why I think that sometimes such beliefs can lead to not so great places. I’m not making it my life’s mission to convert the world, so don’t expect me on your doorstep any time soon.

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And I can certainly promise you that I’m not carrying around any little tracts in an attempt to get my name higher on the leaderboard and gain more clout with some dark lord. \m/

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Please know that I am in no way trying to attack you or attempting to rob anyone of their beliefs, but rather trying to make the case that there is more than one way to see the world, and that people are quite capable of shading it towards their own self interest. But most importantly, that blindly following anything is a slippery slope into pure awfulness.

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So please keep that in mind if you continue beyond this period. <— That one, right there. <— Maybe that one too. We clear? Good.

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I still remember my first philosophy class. It was over the course of a summer and we covered various ideas and philosophies, but the one assignment I remember most was the term paper. I was given 8 weeks to write on the existence of God. I had to explore the arguments on both sides and come to a conclusion. I was of the mind then that to even question this was nothing short of heresy and would mean an eternity of hellfire. So I wrote pro-God and “tore apart” several arguments (citing C.S. Lewis and the like) and circular reasoned myself back into adherence with my faith. Glancing over it all these years later, I can only chuckle at how much my thoughts (and writing ability) have changed. It’s also worth noting that it was the only paper in memory that I have ever received a C minus on. And I think he was being generous.

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But an interesting thing happened as I moved forward in college. The more classes I took, the sharper my view of the world became. I found that higher education fostered critical thought and introspection on a whole other level. You learn that there are in fact other ways of seeing things and that nothing is really sacred, unless someone makes it so. Combine this with a healthy dose of science, literature, history, and mathematics (which I still somewhat loathe), and you have a recipe for… well… confusion. At least that’s the way it starts.

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“Education is the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty.” – Twain

Some would say that with time and experience, this ultimately resolves itself into wisdom, but I’m not so sure. I have met some very well educated idiots… And don’t think for a second that I’m not aware that some could view me in the same light. All of us staring at each other across the ditch between us and wondering why the hell the other doesn’t see how awesome our side is. But the more common ground you take away, the harder that gap is to bridge.

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As Einstein said, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” Higher education gives you the tools to address many things, but one’s own religious thoughts are often the most difficult thing to face. You learn to analyze and deconstruct any problem you come across, yet these newfound logical powers are also volatile. Some compartmentalize and are able to keep faith and logic separate, employing either when the situation calls for it. But for me, all the walls came crashing down, and reconciling the two was like trying to blend oil and water.

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But this was not an overnight process. I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide, “Welp… there’s no God, guess that means I’m supposed to go to all the blood orgies and alter my diet to include soylent baby.”

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It’s not an easy ideology to subscribe to. For many, it’s the equivalent of “coming out of the closet.” I would argue in some communities, it’s akin (if not worse) to admitting that you’re homosexual.

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There’s an incredibly negative societal view placed on non-believers. It’s heretical. And even children are taught to stay away.

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No, I didn’t lose any of my morality or thoughts on how I would interact with society. It’s a common misconception, in fact. That somehow having no higher power means having no sense of right and wrong. That there’s something wrong with you if you have a hard time believing in what someone else does.

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Or that your life is now without meaning.

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Or that you’re just some cynical asshole who shakes his head with closed eyes.
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No, my descent into heathenism wasn’t an easy trek, and all along the way I fought myself. Even now, a part of me questions my questioning. And to be clear, it’s not that I don’t WANT to believe. Who wouldn’t want that type of “blessed assurance?”

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The thought that somewhere out there, someone is watching over us, carrying us across the sand no matter what we do, leaving footprints on every aspect of our lives.

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But try as I might, I can’t seem to reconcile faith with reason, nor can I lie to myself about what I see compared to what I would prefer.
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But at the same time, I can’t say anything for certain. I don’t think anyone can honestly deal in absolutes. So inevitably, I found myself employing the title “agnostic” on matters of religion.

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I choose this label partly because it is less demonized than the word “atheist” and partly because I like the idea that it literally means “no knowledge,” which I think more accurately reflects my thoughts.

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As for me, I like this analogy:

Skepticism is my nature.
Free Thought is my methodology.
Agnosticism is my conclusion.
Atheism is my opinion.
Humanitarianism is my motivation.
—Jerry DeWitt

Perhaps this is a bit of a cop out, but it often seems that most religions already have an answer before the question is even uttered.

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*There

For me, this simply makes no sense. At all. Yet, everywhere I turn, I see religions promoting this idea.

Don’t ask… Accept.

Don’t question… Obey.

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Apparently so…

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Almost ironic that they’re trying to use reason to devalue reason. But I’ll defer to a founding father… you know, for the whole appeal to authority thing…

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I was essentially raised Baptist, so all along the way, every fiber of my being screamed at me each time I began to question my beliefs.

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“You know you’re going to hell, right?”

The funny thing is, I actually turned to the bible as way of reaffirming my beliefs, but what I found was that I had not really read it… Not really… I’d sit idly by during sermons and interpreted select scripture how I saw fit, but I never looked at it with a critical eye. In doing so and in attempting to ask questions, I subsequently found that even the most devout actually knew very little about the content.

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It’s often so institutionalized that it becomes little more than a path to social acceptance. Prepackaged.

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But to start, there’s the whole problem of this archaic text being deemed “The word of God.” Ask how we know this and you end up in a circle.

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And then you hear that the very fact that it exists is proof enough of its validity. Well, by this logic:

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But barring all this, actually reading it with a critical eye is quite the exercise in rationalization. For one, there are many, many contradictions. More than I thought possible. Yes, really. (See for yourself)

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And there are some things in there that I simply would not be OK with reading to (and attempting to explain to) my children.

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And as I’ve heard it said a thousand times, a thousand different ways: it’s interpretation. Well…

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Interpretation of scripture, or life events, or “Seeing God in everyday things” is entirely subjective. As I’ve heard it said, “If you talk to God, you’re devout, but if God talks to you, you’re psychotic.”

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But even granting that slight bit of strange communication, people still find a way to interpret “God’s will” in their own way. Coincidentally coming into complete line with their own views.

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And over the course of millennia, each interpretive mindset gains its own followers and spawns new doctrines, revising and reimagining different versions of the same idea. Setting aside the many, many other religions and subsets, Christianity in particular (the unsurpassed dominant religion in these United States) has more denominations than I can count. Each believing that they are the only ones who just happened to get it right.

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And often forgetting just how far removed and limited the stories are.

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You see, there are many, many belief systems that have existed all over the world, since the dawn of time. And each adherent could almost certainly fill in these blanks:

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It’s almost as if there was more than one answer. Like different cultures over different times had different thoughts on what was sacred.

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And that they are privy to some hidden mystical knowledge that the one TRUE God has shared with them, and them alone.

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Harold Camping predicts Armageddon… again.

And that we should listen or face the consequences.

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It’s almost like they’re trying to sell you something.

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Or keep you sold on something.

foxKids prefer Fox News to Spongebob in our house too.

But that’s the tricky thing about facts… they need to be verifiable…

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ENTER SCIENCE

science
noun sci·ence \ˈsī-ən(t)s\
: the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

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No, no… not creationist science.

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NO, I said NOT creationist “science,” geeeeze… Sadly, there are some who would undermine modern science by asking that we “teach the controversy.” Well…

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But that… that’s not how science works. Or anything that real world decisions should be based upon.

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Pop quiz:

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“NO? Not ONE? Well, then it was magic.”

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“But I saw it with my own two eyes!”

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“Well, that’s just like… your opinion, man.”

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“Science doesn’t prove anything. It’s just a theory!”

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“Well I disagree.”

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Science, logic, and reason have all played a role in my paradigm shift. Examination of the evidence, a better understanding of the natural world, human motivations and the psychology behind why people believe as they do has carefully placed me where I am today. And the truth is, I’ve not yet reached a conclusion (the point you reach when you tire of thinking), but there are many things I simply cannot accept without further review. Unlike some.

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Sometimes it is incredibly difficult not to draw some parallels to what we would consider in another context an incredibly dysfunctional relationship.

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And I can’t help but see the hypocrisy and real dangers that some of these ideologies pose. Particularly to the indoctrinated children that are only trying to find the acceptance that we all need to survive.

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The truth… a really, really, powerful concept. That’s what I think all of us are trying to find. The problem is, so many people will disregard blatant evidence to the contrary if they choose to see it a certain way. We see things as we want to see them. It’s basic psychology.

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But I like what Sam Harris had to say on the subject.

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So I guess I really only have two questions for any naysayers out there.

1: Is it possible for a person to strongly believe something that’s not true?

2: Are you a person?

Again, I’m not claiming to have all the answers. Like many, I just have a lot of questions.

1

And even if you find yourself at odds with what I’ve said, I’d bet we agree on more things than you might think.

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Robert Frost said, “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self confidence.” So if this silly little blog on a far corner of the internet does generate some discussion I would ask you to be polite, as I have tried to be. And keep in mind that some will not be swayed by what you might have to say.

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But I suppose it could also end up with an outcry of (excuse the pun) Biblical proportion as well. Ostracizing me further from friends and family. In which case:

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But I suspect it’ll be something more like this:

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Because I’m pretty long winded. And it’s all… well, you know…

Categories: Bullshit

Where have all the wise men gone?

June 28, 2015 Leave a comment

When I was a kid, I remember being weighed down by all the problems that arose as I attempted to navigate life. The complex emotions that come with adolescence, the nature of reality, and the seemingly unanswerable questions – all bathed in angst and uncertainty. Of course, I’m not daft enough to think that I was the only one going through such things, but at the time, as I looked around at my peers, it always seemed that they had their shit together… or at least had some idea of what they were doing – a confidence and surety of direction that I seemed to lack.

For the most part, I always deferred to the authority figures in my life (parents, teachers, etc.) to offer “truth.” That is to say, they were the source of all my knowledge. And until my “rebellious” stage, I accepted most everything they would speak as gospel. There was a strange comfortableness in this. Not unlike letting someone else carry the weight of the world for you. Likewise, every rumor or small piece of information that I’d hear from my friends (e.g. “Did you hear that the guy who wrote ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ killed himself?”) was seldom questioned, and I’d incorporate this knowledge into my being, allowing it to drive and sometimes even dictate my actions.

It wasn’t long before I encountered dissenting views. Other people, with different ideas of how things were or how they “should” be. Sometimes, I could write them off as the one being the asshole, but other times, I had to really question whether or not what I “knew” was really true. There was always an inner dialogue as I really considered the question, a weighing out of the situation, its ramifications and impact on myself and the world around me. But all I had to draw from were the words of people I knew and trusted or perhaps a quick perusal of an encyclopedia or other book I had on the given subject.

I still remember an “Aha, got you” moment when arguing with a friend over whether or not rainbows were round (they are). I pointed to the entry in the encyclopedia as proof, but an interesting thing happened. He didn’t accept the answer and continued to maintain that he was in the right. It wouldn’t be until much later that I would understand the concept of cognitive dissonance, but at the time I was flabbergasted. Even to this day, I’m still a little shocked at how people will scoff at factual and scientific evidence.

I think that this is what ultimately drove me to seek a higher education. Not that I wanted to be “right” all the time, but I wanted a clearer picture of the world and my place in it. Yes, admittedly the initial precursor was the desire to get a “good” job, but (as it is with most journeys), I found that the destination soon lost its appeal and that the lessons became much more important. And no, I’m not saying that I truly enjoyed all the cramming for tests and lengthy essays on subjects I could care less about, but in retrospect, I understand why they were important. It’s not supposed to be easy. Or even enjoyable for that matter. Einstein once said, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” In this way, the purpose of all of this was not to be able recall an obscure fact for trivia night at the pub, but to learn how to process the information that is available to us.

And herein comes the rub. The advancements of technology in my own lifetime have been astounding. As a kid, the concept of a cell phone was something straight out of Star Trek. Now I carry one in my pocket. It allows me not only the ability to contact almost anyone on the planet at the touch of a button, but it also grants me access to the entirety of human knowledge, history, and culture. To say this is overwhelming would be an understatement. I don’t even have to type it in, I can just ask Siri damn near any question I want on damn near any subject my mind can fathom. And there it is. No racking your brain for the name of a song. No need to look at a paper map to backtrack and figure out where the hell you made a wrong turn. No wondering what a celebrity looks like naked.

And dare I even mention how it has radically altered the way we interact? Dinners out and social gatherings are spent gazing at a small little screen in your hand, “connecting” with people that aren’t even in the room. More importantly, it has in many ways removed discussion from a conversation.

P1: “I heard Bobby McFerrin killed himself“
P2: “Siri, did Bobby McFerrin really kill himself?”
Siri: “Nope. Also, here’s your reminder for your proctologist appointment tomorrow at 3PM.”
P1: “Well, shit… What do you want to talk about now?”
P2: “I-un-oh” *stares at phone* “Heh, heh… silly cat, you can’t eat that whole cheeseburger…”

Some would argue that this is simply the next step in our evolution, that access to this kind of information superhighway can only lead to better things. And for the most part, I agree. Advancements in medicine, science, art, and *insert important field of study here* have already been made. And it seems to be continuing on that path. But I feel as if the price of all this comes with losing a touch of our humanity. It certainly seems to be making us a tad lazier. There’s no need to think. Many of the things we feel “passionate” about are simply a meme/article/video post on Facebook away. And, oh my Christ… never before have I seen such blatant disrespect from people I’ve never met, sitting behind the safety of their screen a thousand miles away and saying things obviously intended to infuriate (“troll”) someone – perhaps with the hope that somehow hurting someone else will make them feel a little better about themselves. But I have serious doubts that many of these people would speak to others in that way if they were in the same room (especially if they were facing my 6’7” frame).

Most troublesome of all is that everyone has a voice now. Sure, this sounds good in theory – equality and whatnot. But the simple truth is that not everyone is an expert on a subject simply because they have access to Wikipedia. Or because “they read an article about it once.” Rumors and misinformation can still be spread, but now at a “viral” pace, with the popularity of the person spreading it giving it credence. Get enough people on board and you have homeopathic anti-vaxers, conspiracy theorists, or even a whole new religion… which can be even further exacerbated by mainstream media *cough*Fox-News*cough*cough* – What people care about is now reinforced daily, fed by their feed, and our entire global consciousness is slightly bumped every time hate or misinformation is “shared.”

And here we sit. Bombarded by more information than anyone could ever know. Connected to more people than anyone could ever meet. Expected to somehow perform astonishing feats of mental gymnastics as we attempt to juggle more than any generation in history. It’s no wonder we are so hard on ourselves (particularly in an individualistic society like ours). Judging and comparing ourselves to those we deem smarter, prettier, more talented, etc. etc. – Keeping up with the Jones’ on a worldwide scale. I don’t believe any of us are built for that. And I doubt any of us are capable of finding happiness or contentment trying to know “all the things.”

I wish I had a good answer. All I know is that information is not intelligence. And intelligence is not wisdom. And that people cannot be measured by the sum of their tweets. Or some bullshit like that.

Ah well, I suppose I’ll just have to Google it…

Categories: Bullshit

Procrastinate Now

May 3, 2015 Leave a comment

I’ve played a lot of video games in my time. A LOT of video games… Hours upon hours spent trying to complete a particular level or develop a strategy to defeat a tricky boss. Sometimes this was a joint venture, spent socializing and coordinating with others in a massive multiplayer online role playing game, but for the most part, I’ve always preferred those games that require a solo venture. Just my own wits and the complete immersion of my consciousness into another world; an interactive movie staring me. But finishing a game or completing the exploration of every possible corner always snaps me back into reality – a bittersweet feeling of accomplishment, coupled with a paradoxical realization that I just accomplished absolutely nothing… well, that’s not entirely true. I mean, I have the memories of how to complete the game and perhaps a sharper Pavlovian response to pressing a series of buttons in the right order. And there is the occasional cinematic beauty that comes with it. But in the end, it all feels a bit hollow to me.

It’s similar to the feeling of guilt you have after marathoning a TV series on Netflix and realize you’ve wasted the entire day catching up on the antics of fictional characters, portrayed by actors pretending to be someone they are not, whose dialogue was written by people who are paid to make dramatic sounding shit up. I mean, you could’ve cleaned the damned house, mowed the yard, spent time with a neglected loved one, picked up that guitar sitting in the corner, or moved your body in such a way as to stop the slow growing expanse of your midsection – a myriad of things that REALLY need attention, yet somehow get put on the back burner in favor of the path of least resistance.

And nowadays, with the ever growing use of social media, things like Facebook have become such an integral part of our lives that few people I know can go more than a few hours without checking in (myself included). All of us believing that we’re somehow missing out if we don’t see the latest funny cat video, grandpa’s rant about the liberal agenda, or a picture of what a coworker had for lunch. And God forbid if we were tagged in an unflattering photo… Don’t get me wrong, I see the benefit of staying in touch with loved ones far away (I don’t have any extended family for several hundred miles) and staying relatively current on current affairs. I have accepted my fate. But in this digital age, I have to occasionally remind myself that there are other things in this life than sitting in this office chair and staring at a screen for hours on end. This is particularly difficult since a good portion of my job requires that I do just that, writing and documenting ad nauseum. In fact, things like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, *insert website here*, etc. are usually a part of the “break” I take from staring at excel sheets and legalese.

Though to be fair, my job is not near as time intensive as ones I’ve had in the past. In fact, in many ways, I have more time on my hands than I know what to do with. And this is (oddly enough) when my best procrastination is done: when I have all the time in the world to do what I want. I have an amazing list of things I want to accomplish – all with in-depth notes and plans of action. Books to write, music to record, exercises to do… It really is an impressive list. One that I seem to ignore every chance I get. But somehow I don’t think I’m alone in this. There’s something about knowing you CAN do something that makes it less palatable. As if there exists some cosmic law that says, “Thou shalt want-eth what thou thou cannot haveth. Also, thou shalt giveth thyself shit for not doing what thy should be doing, asshole.” – (2nd Chrysanthemums, 16-17)

But the older I get, the longer the list grows – to the point that some of the early goals seem trivial now. Perhaps it’s because I’ve marked so many things off the list already. Or maybe my wants are simply changing as I get older. The goals I set before myself early on seem to require the drive and effort of a wide-eyed youth that was lost somewhere along the way. Yet said goals are somehow both more and less attainable than ever before. As time moves forward, it seems to me that motivation is the hardest won goal of all.

Oh, and the true irony? I’ve been putting stuff off half the day to write this bullshit… But maybe, just maybe… that’s a step in the right direction.

Categories: Bullshit

A Man from Nantucket

March 4, 2015 Leave a comment

Have you ever told a joke to someone and they blurted out the punchline a split second before you did? Sorta takes the fun out of telling the joke don’t it? Or if they do let you finish, but say something like “old…” or “I totally heard that already and the guy telling it did a much better job than you.” Ouch… Now I’m not expecting a standing ovation followed by crowdsurfing over a battalion of nubile, half naked ladies chanting, “YOU A FUNNY SOMBITCH” over and over, but Christ… throw a guy a muffled chuckle at least. It’s just polite. Likewise, if you’re wasting your time (as I often do) on social media and you get a kick out of a saying or a funny picture, a “like” is much preferred to a snub comeback about how Kanye posted it better.

Now to be fair, I rarely get this type of reaction either in person or while tickling the underbelly of the internets, but I do often see others struggle with “haters” and the like. If they’re not being told they’re lame and behind the times for posting something they only just saw for the first time ever, then someone else is getting all butthurt for not being given the proper attribution as the source of who they “stole” it from. And while I’m sure there are some research savvy folks who might be able to come close to the TRUE origin of a given saying or meme, does it really matter? I don’t begin a joke I heard by saying, “I heard this from Jim-Bob, who heard it from his brother Darryl, who heard it from his other brother Darryl, who heard it from a priest he met in a bar in Thailand, who…” (and so on).

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that true artistry shouldn’t be given it’s just accolades, especially in a world where intellectual property is the livelihood of our greatest writers, musicians, and the like. But a funny turn of phrase or silly picture with words on it does not always need to be referenced in APA format, particularly when you don’t stand to make money off of it. There’s a polite purity in simply sharing something with friends in order to offer them a good chuckle. I can’t tell you how many days that I’ve needed that chuckle to pull me out of a depressing funk. And sometimes, it tickles me so much that I can’t breathe and tears stream down my face. And as it is in our nature, I want to then share that feeling with others, connecting in an improbable, yet oddly charming way. So when I come across something I find worthy, I pass it on when and where I can, perhaps adding my own personal touch and twist.

So in case you were wondering, no… I’m not always the brilliant, witty, mastermind I might appear to be. I certainly have my own collections of me-isms (all of which contain words stolen directly out of the dictionary), but I’ve probably collected more pictures, memes, and jokes than I can count, and it’s incredibly easy to lose where they all came from. But in true Robin Hood fashion, I’ve always freely given them to others who may not be privy to the same sources of jest as I. And isn’t that what’s it’s really about? Brightening someone’s day just a bit? Or lifting their spirits just enough to take the edge off of a grimy Monday morning?

And I would say one more thing to those of you who have “seen it” or “heard it” before: Some people haven’t. Every joke ever told, every picture ever posted, and every thought ever shared will be “new” to someone. And it just might make them laugh. Or cry. Or touch them in some way that they needed on that particular day. So don’t try to rob them of that joy by belittling it or placing yourself in some omniscient station of “I am the judge of all things awesome.” Relax. There’s some laughable jokes I guarantee many, many others have gotten that you haven’t. For instance: your mom. Of course, I could be wrong…

So chill out and laugh it up childrens, it’s all bullshit anyway.

But I repeat myself…

Categories: Bullshit
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