"Despite the evidence that organisms do not simply use resources present in the environment but, through their life activities, produce such resources and manufacture their environments, the distinction between organisms and their environment remains deeply embedded in our consciousness." It's Even Less in Your Genes, Richard Lewontin.
Yet another reason not to shit the bed? Did I need another? Well apparently some do...how else to explain the rise of the intellectual reprobates vying to run the government store. These stooges aren't just products of a twisted, sick environment...they intend to shape, create and muck up that environment with their load of misanthropic rubbish. And a lot of people want them to do it. The mental gymnastics required to believe in...what?...what does this army of simple folk believe in? Let the uninsured die in the streets, arm every man woman and child to protect us against marauding packs of vicious coyotes and their frightening mutant cousins the coydogs, the homosexuals must be stopped from taking over and establishing a gayocracy, everyone who speaks with an accent needs to show some documentation...NOW, only poor people should pay taxes because they are the only ones living off the guvmint teat, no more teats for poor people, Michelle Bachmann is god's miracle cure to what ails us, and the clincher...magic underwear, yes my friends the future President of all of us could be the one in a pair of miraculous, super soft, crotch hugging magic underwear designed to protect him against evil, temptation and chafing. I could go on but I might spontaneously combust. Talk about soiling your sheets...christ on a bike! This is why I swore I would not do politics in this blog. I broke that vow and am getting what I deserve...a new ulcer, a throbbing vein in my neck and the sickening fear that armageddon is at hand.
The opening quote also brings to mind another bowel twisting subject...global warming. We are manufacturing an environment alright, one that will snuff us out. At least then the rest of the planet can get on with its business. And it will be business as usual for the natural forces 'cause that's the way they operate. Do we really want to be just another dead branch on Darwin's tree? Mass extinctions, deserts, droughts and relentless rain...it won't be pretty and we will be gone. And by the way, the venal candidates and their screeching pitchfork wielding mob think it's all a put up job by cunning socialist politicians and their evil scientist lackeys. Take my advice, stock up on the magic underwear.
But really, I'm an optimistic sort at heart and that is why I like the quote from our biologist guru, Richard Lewontin. He is urging a rethink of the question: nature or nurture? We know it's not an either - or equation. Nor is it x% nature plus x% nurture = organism. The dynamic is an interaction, a symbiotic relationship that erases the space between nature and nurture. So why the optimism? Because this idea led to a thought about the nature of relationship, about erasing the space in between. Sometimes it seems that humans are so polarized that up, down, left, right lose their meaning. We are like 7 billion tiny magnets spinning in space pulling and pushing each other in every direction at once. But if you see it as magnetic attraction, it becomes a beautiful thing. Every person, every particle in the universe interacting, creating, filling space...tiny magnets in a whirling, churning ballet of orbits.
That's all I have for now.
Not writing the usual nonsense today. This post is about the death by suicide of a child. In case you don't the know the circumstances here is a link .
Why did Jamey Rodemeyer kill himself? Because he was tormented and abused, apparently beyond endurance. Why was this child tormented and abused? Because he was gay, and that made him a target. Why didn't someone step in, put a stop to the abuse? Maybe the adults around him tried, did the best they could...but a child committed suicide...a lot of people are going to have to live with that.
Will end this by wishing this didn't happen, wish people would accept each other, wish Jamey had found a reason to believe that it would get better. Here's hoping his life and death get our attention...hoping we can make a world where this just doesn't happen.
Narcissistic...we all are, at least a little bit. There is a sliver of a gap between a healthy dose of self esteem and full blown "I AM IT!" narcissism. At one time your narcissist friends were known as jerks. Then they got diagnosed...it was listed as a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder in the DSM-IV-TR. It is being eliminated from the updated version, so rather than suffering from a mental disorder narcissists are once again just assholes. If it is a state of mind or a character trait at what point along the continuum does one go from extrovert to asshole? I suppose the true narcissist doesn't really care. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201106/how-spot-narcissist
And just how do we decide when to care? Some neuroscientists are questioning whether we freely decide anything at all. http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110831/full/477023a.html It seems our brains are doing something i.e., neurons are firing, seconds before we are conscious of thinking we have made a decision. The example in the experiment is the decision to push one button or the other based on a stimulus. Is it the final nail in the coffin for free will? After all what's free about simply carrying out unconscious orders from the grey matter? It's an interesting and disturbing question. Thankfully a whole gaggle of philosophers have jumped into the fray...they point out the neuroscientists are misinformed and misinterpreting data, results, and subject matter...basically the scientists don't know what they are talking about (according to the philosophers). But if we are not making conscious rational choices then we had better hope there's a god, because brothers and sisters this world is a very different place than the one in which we think we're living. Are we puppets, automatons, computer simulations or maybe zombies...and who the hell is in charge?!
Which brings me to tofu. Why would an honest carnivore choose a pseudo burger over the real deal? Well you know, if you add bacon and cheese the tofu is suddenly quite palatable. I like to think of it as a yin yang burger...all the benefits of a soy based product combined with the deliciousness of bacon and cheese. (Bacon makes everything better. It's true.)
So how do we go on from here? Are we even able to choose the next step? I think we have some clear choices...you can choose to hit the delete button or I can just stop typing this nonsense. Or harkening back to our narcissistic beginning we can choose to remind ourselves we are not the culmination of natural selection, we are just one of it's iterations. We can choose to care and avoid the hubris of narcissism. As for who's in charge, it seems we are for now. Is there really any doubt about that for Humanists? Besides, the crux of that biscuit is who takes responsibility. That is what free will is all about for me.
And as far as that yin yang burger goes...whether I freely choose it or not at least I get the bacon.
That's all I have for now.
If you haven't read this post by Professor Gary Gutting here is the link Beyond 'New Atheism'. You should read it...it is really good. Professor Gutting makes cogent and interesting points.
I have a few comments to make...
First, regarding this quote from Professor Gutting's post "Most believers, however, do not come to religion through philosophical arguments. Rather, their belief arises from their personal experiences of a spiritual world of meaning and values, with God as its center." That believers don't use philosophical arguments is at the root of their problem. The foundation for what they believe and the morals that guide their lives are based on ancient storybooks, personal revelation and a bet on "a religion of hope". For an in depth examination of why believers believe take a look at this study by Michael Shermer.
On the notion that the "cultural relativism" argument applies equally to religious beliefs and atheism...the "culture" of atheists and secularists is grounded in science and reasoning. Religious culture is grounded in something else as illustrated by the 5 most common answers from Shermer's study to the question 'why do you believe?':
1. The good design/beauty/complexity of the world or universe (28.6%)
2. Experience of God in everyday life (20.6%)
3. Belief in God is comforting and gives meaning to life (10.3%)
4. The Bible says so (9.8%)
5. Just Because/faith/need to believe in something (8.2%)
Can atheists find a source for meaning, purpose and ethics? All one has to do is read The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer or Good Without God by Greg M. Epstein and you will find all the evidence you need that atheists and secularists, (and humanists) are quite capable of finding meaningful and ethical ways to live.
As for the question of whether "the divine can or should be eliminated from our moral lives" I think the millions of atheists, secularists and nonreligious skeptics living moral lives and finding meaning and purpose in this world demonstrate that we are just fine without the divine.
I highly recommend reading the post by Professor Gutting and the study by Michael Shermer.
That's all I have for now.
Some idle thoughts on culture, fabric, and pink-headed ducks
"...It hasn't been sighted in years. Extremely rare...the most elusive bird in the world....What follows is the story of my search for the pink-headed duck as I recall it. I took notes throughout the journey, but I soon learned that imagination was the key to finding the prize."
The Search For The Pink-Headed Duck
Is the prize a gander at a duck? What drives someone to give up everything, Nugent had to sell everything he owned to finance the trip, and go looking for...what? For something so elusive it might never be seen or, for a thing that doesn't even exist. Well Rory Nugent found much more than just the pink-headed duck. He did so because he is a "true gonzo traveler" (don't remember where I read that). I relish people like Nugent. His life is infused with the gonzo spirit. Now, that can conjure up images of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters on an acid trip across America. Or maybe Hunter Thompson's drug addled, booze fueled brilliance. But there is more than that to the gonzo way. I think it requires a certain kind of open mind...one that is not only accepting but also adaptive...chameleon-like. It must be strong enough to maintain its integrity and nimble enough to really get the perspective of the other. You may be strange in a strange land but you don't remain a stranger for long. Nugent's adventure is ultimately a story about the people he meets...people whose shared sense of wonder at the world, especially large bald foreigners looking for ducks, offers us a glimpse into cultures very different from our own. More importantly we are given a chance to see how very little difference there is between us and them.
"The other people of the world are not failed attempts at being us. They are unique answers to a fundamental question...What does it mean to be human?...It is culture that allows us to be human and the world is finally waking up to the extraordinary gift of the human imagination as brought into being by culture."
Wade Davis, Explorer in Residence, National Geographic Society
Wade Davis does not see people as objects to be studied and classified into certain cultural niches. Instead he tries to get us to imagine the cultural landscape as a tapestry...each culture a thread, playing its part in making up the fabric of the landscape. In this tapestry there is no such thing as a dominant thread, or one that is right and another that is wrong. There are just different threads we weave together to create the tapestry that is our world.
Davis urges us to see each other as equal, if different, attempts to answer the fundamental question of meaning. Each of us brings something to the project of creating a collective answer, i.e., a pattern for our tapestry. Nugent's story shows us what the work is like at ground level, between individuals imagining and engaging with each other's perspective.
For both Nugent and Davis imagination is the key to finding the prize. The prize we are after is an understanding of ourselves and the other...and like our pink-headed web-footed friend it can be elusive...let's hope neither is ever extinct.
That's all I have for now.
Apologies up front...this will be a rumblin' bumblin' mess of a post with too many ellipses and non sequitur tangents...the beer and pizza are just way too distracting for my limited capacity.
The country is quite covered by darkness, so that people outside it cannot see anything in it; and no one dares go in for fear of the darkness. Nevertheless men who live in the country round about say that they can sometimes hear the voices of men, and horses neighing, and cocks crowing, and thereby that some kind of folks live there, but they do not know what kind of folk they are.
-The Travels of Sir John Mandeville,
c. 1360, Chapter 28
It seems someone is always willing to go in no matter how dark the space. In fact the darkness may be the incentive. Driven by an insatiable curiosity and desire for adventure...a need even, to risk, to test your mettle against fear, or maybe to meet those folks who live there. I'm guessing that back in 1360 Sir John got it wrong...there has always been someone ready and willing to go into the dark...it's in our genes.
Without going outside, you may know the whole world.
Without looking through the window, you may see the ways of heaven.
The farther you go, the less you know.
Thus the sage knows without traveling;
He sees without looking;
He works without doing.
Tao Te Ching #47
Hmmm, Zen is just so...zenlike. Yeah well I get the point but I don't think it is very helpful. Go without going, do without doing, wait without waiting...really? Where would we be if our ancestors had thought, "I'm going to get out of this tree by staying in the tree." How 'bout if mom and dad had fucked without fucking? I'm just taking the mickey out you...I'm a believer in zen and live my life as best I can by its principles. I am zen without being zen. But I digress from the point I set out to share, namely that the web and social media are amazing. I heard some techie experts talking about the end of facebook, supposedly it's days are numbered. I don't get why exactly, something to do with too much personal sharing and access...seems it can be used against you when looking for a job, or loan or even a partner...who would have guessed? But look at what it can do for you to be plugged into the world wide social network...you really can know the world without going outside. In the past couple of days I have connected with people in Nigeria, Uganda, Britain, the Philippines, and all over the U.S.. I even have dozens of Russian visitors to my blog every day, I don't get it but they keep coming back so I must be doing something right...Здравствулте! мои друзья и благодарят вас для посещения моего блога. So do googling, gmailing and facebooking count as getting to know the world? Yes. Certainly not the same kind of connection you get with face time but if you use a webcam it's pretty damn close. There is a point to be made in here somewhere and I think it has to do with community. It's about finding a place where you can be in common with other humans. Now for someone like me who is pathologically introverted...I have palpitations just hitting the send button on an email...this virtual community stuff is great. It doesn't come with the benefits of face to face interaction but it does fill a huge void.
The most likely community is the neighborhood. I did a little poking around and found some interesting anecdotal information about neighborly relations in America. The first site I found is run by a gang of mormons. They seem bent upon world domination (or is that dominion?) one neighbor at a time. Really, they explicitly target neighbors who are not mormon. The next site is called ezinearticles.com and the logo is a clear giveaway as to their priority...handcuffs. Yeah that's the first thing I thought of too...hey swinging with the neighbors is just another way of bonding. But no these cats are interested in getting police reports on each other...what an ice breaker, "So Ted I see you have a number of tickets for jaywalking...we don't like your kind in these parts. I think it's best if you just keep on walking." I don't know which one of those sites disturbs me more. But I finally found a pocket of sanity in Boston of all places. A clever little site called apartmenttherapy.com saving the world one room at a time. Of 102 comments the majority are positive. They either know their neighbors, are getting to know or want to know their neighbors...very few misanthropes in this bunch. So do you think the traditional concept of neighborliness belongs to a bygone era? Can virtual relationships expand our notions of what it is to be a neighbor?
Alright just two more quick points before the beer and pizza are gone. Have you read The Places In Between by Rory Stewart? He is a Scot who walked across Afghanistan in 2002...did the "Howdy I'm a stranger in these parts" thing in a war zone, in several languages, in a place where white westerners were public enemy #1. He was treated more hospitably, with more neighborly kindness than one might expect in such chaotic circumstances and times.
Finally I want to mention someone I met online who is in the Philippines...volunteering to help poor kids get something better out of life. Stranger in name only, going into a dark place because some kind of folks live in there...sounds kinda neighborly to me.
So if you are a Humanist do what you can to be a good neighbor... if it's by cell phone, email, text, facebook, or going to where folks live...make connections, or in the spirit of zen put yourself out there and let the connections happen...don't be afraid of the dark.
That's all I have for now.