Paying Up

A number of years ago, I did 2 1/2 years for what the state deemed a "non-dangerous, non-repetitive" crime. Upon my release, I was somewhat apprehensive as to how I might be accepted back into society, if at all. While in, I had heard horror stories. Many of the guards considered recidivism to be a foregone conclusion.

So I did a sort of experiment. Trying to get as varied a segment of the population as I could, I posted the details of my crime and punishment on a number of different internet forums (anonymously, of course), and asked people what they thought. The responses I got back where overwhelmingly negative. I expected that. I had, after all, broken the law.

What I didn't expect, was the venom associated with many of the responses. Up to, and including some disturbingly creative death threats. Those unwilling to take time out of their busy days to kill me themselves, asked that I take matters into my own hands, suggesting methods that I'm relatively certain are physically impossible.

At first, I was horrified. These were people who owned homes? Drove cars? Had jobs? Raised children? Yet these same people openly fantasized about killing me.

After the initial shock wore off, I was depressed for months afterward. If this was the response to my relatively mild trespass against society, what chance did anyone else have?

Back in the days of sailing ships, if a member of the crew broke the rules, the punishment was usually swift and severe. But it rarely resulted in death. An able-bodied seaman was a valuable commodity. Once his forty lashes were done with, he was once again a member of the crew, with the same rights and responsibilities, and the incident was not mentioned again. His debt was paid.

Not so now. We live in a society that increasingly considers even it's best and brightest as inherently expendable. We don't forget, we don't forgive, and no matter what your skills, or how well you live your life from then on, the debt is never paid.

Because of this, there are certain things that are now forever beyond my reach. I'll never have a job that will allow me to buy a home, get decent medical care, or save for retirement. If I'm lucky, and strong enough, I'll be allowed to work until I die. There are many who think this is just. But what if I'm not strong enough, and my health doesn't hold out? Some future taxpayer will have to foot the bill for things that I could be doing now.

Of course by then, some senator may come up with some politically correct final solution that the masses will find palatable. If so, I will go to my end gladly. As I would not want to live in such a world.

Not Intelligent Design

Tim Minchin said it best,

"Isn't this enough? Just...this? How does the natural universe so fail to hold our imaginations, that we have to diminish it with man-made myths and monsters?"

Let's assume for a moment that there is an intelligence that created this universe (and all the others). It would have to come from outside the universe. So alien as to be incomprehensible (you can't think 11 dimensional thoughts with a three dimensional brain, after all). No more capable of having a personal relationship with us, than we are of having a personal relationship with any one of the millions of nutrinos that are passing through our collective thumbnails at this very moment.

I think the only thing we could possibly have in common, is our imperfection. Nothing is perfect, nor should it be. Since, by definition, it's impossible for a perfect being to create anything imperfect, our hypothetical creator must be subject to error. Indeed, a perfect universe could not exist because the universe exists by virtue of imperfection.

An event. A broken symmetry. A point of reference.

While perfection, and, to some extent, infinity, can be imagined, they cannot exist because the physical laws of this universe prevent it. Were it otherwise, perfection would be a static, sterile thing. Probably the closest thing to absolute nothingness I can imagine. You see the paradox.

Much more likely, I think, is that this universe, and everything in it, is a very tiny part, perhaps even an unintended side effect, of some grander creation.

All of that being said, the end result ends up being the same for us. No heaven, no hell, no grey-bearded old man judging whether we have sinned by wearing two different types of fabric, or planting two different types of crops, or marrying the wrong person, or eating the wrong food, or working on the wrong day, or any of the myriad of silly rules imposed by a primitive belief system that does nothing to explain us or our place in the universe.

The question ends up being meaningless because the result of his existence is the same is that of his non-existence.

Who Deserves Rape?

A few days ago, a student 'preacher' at the U of A stood in front of the administration building, holding a sign that read 'you deserve rape'. The university's newspaper got some grief for reporting on the incident. There were those who felt that simply reporting on it lent legitimacy to his views. It did not.
Reprehensible though it was, his right to free speech is constitutionally protected.
When you think about it, it's actually a good thing. He's now out in the open, and those who have to interact with him are now forewarned, and forarmed. 
Much more dangerous, and more common, I think, are those who believe these things, but never state those beliefs. They look just like decent people. Sometimes they attain power and responsibility. Sometimes they even end up making policy and law.
A lot of bad, immoral, and unjust decisions could be avoided, had we known where they were coming from beforehand.
Still, the students did the
right thing in responding with the same free speech the misogynist availed himself of.

Doubling Down

I have often been frustrated by the willful ignorance and obstructionism of conservatives. I can understand defending one's point of view. I can even understand becoming emotionally invested in it. But I can't understand people, especially politicians, who are elected to serve this nation and it's people, who will lie as a method of simply winning.

Why don't these people reconsider their positions when presented with clear evidence that they are wrong?

Some of it has to do with the Dunning-Kruger effect. The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. We've all met them. People who are convinced that they are surrounded by a world full of idiots, or the lazy, or the immoral. But that doesn't answer everything. People have a comfort zone, and change of any kind annoys some, and terrifies others. But that's still not the whole answer.

I'm going to posit a very loose theory attached to an example. People who believe in, say, proclamations of doomsday prophecy, instead of rejecting those notions when the day never comes, often dive deeper into those beliefs. Why is that?

Certainly, the Dunning-Kruger effect is one answer, but another lies in power relationships. When people are presented with evidence that suggests they have lost the game, what options do they have? They can reconsider, repent, and change to the winning side, effectively negating their previous existence--a total loss of power. Or, they can begin creating conditions in which the game is not over, the rules have changed, and/or the game might be subverted. I use the term "create" because that's what it is, a fiction crafted of the mind to protect one's power.

When it looks like there are no moves left on the chessboard, what is the only move left? You kick over the table. Or, you create a third dimension of movement  for pieces. Or, you challenge the legitimacy of your opponent's moves (facts).

Because of the postmodern age's focus on "relativistic truth', this seems like a fair and very effective maneuver to some. The losing party can remain alive forever in a constant stream of subversion, which, unfortunately, guarantees the halt of any possible progress.

They lie. They know they're lying. They know that we know they're lying. They don't care. I find this morally reprehensible.

Found Among the Ruins, and My Own Errant Thoughts

From Hank Fox:

The existence of the (GMO)  technology doesn’t bother me in any extreme way. But that technology in the hands of nice corporations like Monsanto, in an oversight environment that includes a very friendly, very compliant pro-business government … that spooks me more than a little.

 The downside of being emphatically yourself is that you can never slip easily into a group. You will always feel just a little bit ill-at-ease, a little bit off-balance, no matter where you are or who you’re with. For me, that price has almost always been acceptable. Still, I think I can understand the great numbers of us who make the other choice.

 This is why I find the religious rights' passionate defense of marriage so amusing.  A few excerpts from an article called: Marriage by Barbara G. Walker

The word marriage came from the Latin maritare, union under the
auspices of the Goddess Aphrodite-Mari.  Because the Goddess’s
patronage was constantly invoked in every aspect of marriage, Christian fathers were opposed to the institution.  Origen declared, “Matrimony is impure and unholy, a means of sexual passion.” St. Jerome said the primary purpose of a man of God was “to cut down with an ax of Virginity the wood of Marriage”.(1)  St. Ambrose said marriage was a crime against god, because it changed the state of virginity that God gave every man and woman at birth.(2)

St. Augustine flatly stated that marriage is a sin and St. Paul damned Marriage with faint praise, remarking that to marry was only better than to burn ( 1 cor. 7:9).

Saturninus said God made only two kinds of people, good men and evil women.  Marriage perpetuated the deviltry of women, who dominated men through the magic of sex(8).  Centuries later, St. Bernard still proclaimed that it was easier of a man to bring back the dead to life than to live with a woman without endangering ones soul.(9)

Priests abandoned the churches’ rule of celibacy and began to take wives during the 5th and 6th centuries.  This continued to the 11th century, when papal decretals commanded married clergymen to turn their wives out  of their homes and sell their children as slaves. (5) The church displayed remarkable reluctance to deal with the matter of marriage at all.  During the Middle Ages there was no ecclesiastical definition of a valid marriage nor of any contract to validate one.
Churchmen seemed to have no ideas at all on the subject(6) The earliest form of Christian marriage was a simple blessing of the newly wedded, “in facie ecclesiae” –outside the churches closed doors– to keep the pollution of lust out of God’s house.  This blessing was a technical violation of canon law, but it became popular and gradually won status.(7).

There was no sacrament of marriage until the 16th century (3). Catholic scholars say the wedding ceremony was “imposed on” a reluctant church, and “nothing is more remarkable that the tardiness with which liturgical forms for the marriage ceremony were evolved.”  It is perhaps not remarkable to find that these liturgical forms were not evolved by the church at all, but borrowed from pagan common law (4).
1-William Fielding, Customs of Courtship and Marriage, 82, 114
2-Robert Briffault, The Mothers, Vol 3, 373
3-William Fielding, Customs of Courtship and Marriage, 233
4-Robert Briffault, The Mothers, Vol 3, 248-249
5-Jacobus de. Voragine, The Golden Legend, 90-91
6-Ronald Pearsall, The Worm in the Bud , 162-63
7-Encyclopedia Britannica, “Marriage”
8-Vern Bullough,The Subordinate Sex, 103, 112
9-Joseph Cambell, Myths to Live By, 95

Thomas Paine, in 1793, explains skepticism:
"Every national church or religion has established itself by pretending some special mission from God, communicated to certain individuals. The Jews have their Moses; the Christians their Jesus Christ, their apostles and saints; and the Turks their Mahomet; as if the way to God was not open to every man alike.

    Each of those churches shows certain books, which they call revelation, or the Word of God. The Jews say that their Word of God was given by God to Moses face to face; the Christians say, that their Word of God came by divine inspiration; and the Turks say, that their Word of God (the Koran) was brought by an angel from heaven. Each of those churches accuses the other of unbelief; and, for my own part, I disbelieve them all.

    As it is necessary to affix right ideas to words, I will, before I proceed further into the subject, offer some observations on the word ‘revelation.’ Revelation when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man.

    No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and, consequently, they are not obliged to believe it.

    It is a contradiction in terms and ideas to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication. After this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner, for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.

    When Moses told the children of Israel that he received the two tables of the commandments from the hand of God, they were not obliged to believe him, because they had no other authority for it than his telling them so; and I have no other authority for it than some historian telling me so, the commandments carrying no internal evidence of divinity with them. They contain some good moral precepts such as any man qualified to be a lawgiver or a legislator could produce himself, without having recourse to supernatural intervention. [NOTE: It is, however, necessary to except the declamation which says that God 'visits the sins of the fathers upon the children'. This is contrary to every principle of moral justice.—Author.]

    When I am told that the Koran was written in Heaven, and brought to Mahomet by an angel, the account comes to near the same kind of hearsay evidence and second hand authority as the former. I did not see the angel myself, and therefore I have a right not to believe it.

    When also I am told that a woman, called the Virgin Mary, said, or gave out, that she was with child without any cohabitation with a man, and that her betrothed husband, Joseph, said that an angel told him so, I have a right to believe them or not: such a circumstance required a much stronger evidence than their bare word for it: but we have not even this; for neither Joseph nor Mary wrote any such matter themselves. It is only reported by others that they said so. It is hearsay upon hearsay, and I do not chose to rest my belief upon such evidence."

"The biggest failing of Libertarianism is the inability to distinguish liberty (the rights guaranteed by the state) from freedom (the practical ability to exercise those rights). Libertarianism ensures maximum liberty, but actual freedom is reserved only for the very rich."
    -nigelTheBold, Abbot of the Hoppist Monks

The deception began, at least in the modern age, with Milton Friedman, who said "The free market system distributes the fruits of economic progress among all people...He moves fastest who moves alone."
This unflagging adherence to free-enterprise individualism is consistent with  Social Darwinism , the belief that survival of the fittest (richest) will somehow benefit society, and that the millions of people suffering from financial malfeasance are simply lacking the motivation to help themselves. Social Darwinism is a feel-good delusion for those at the top. Or, as described by John Kenneth Galbraith, a continuing "search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

A tenet of progressivism is that a strong society will create opportunities for a greater number of people, thereby leading to more instances of individual success. This is the common sense attitude suppressed by conservatives for over 30 years.

There is a very good reason evolution invented death. The cycle of life and death ensures that a species adapts much better to changing circumstances. Imagine a society where everybody is immortal. It quite inevitably culminates in an ultra-conservative nightmare, where “everything is like it was forever”. Imagine a society where the industry tycoons of the 19th century still own the majority of money and influence.
A static society must break down sooner or later, one of the best examples for this is the late Soviet Union, where nothing new happened and which was completely dominated by old men who still evaluated everything in terms of an economy based on heavy industry. And when society breaks down (what it does regularly in human history, this is inevitable), most people will then lose the access to this life-prolonging technology.

I am glad that death exists, and when my time arrives, I will go, to make place for the young generation. They deserve their chance.

An explanation of sorts.

I feel I should explain a bit about my last blog post. Most of it was my way of dealing with grief. Then I tried to imagine what John's life had been like since I last saw him. When I thought of my own experiences during that time, I thought maybe I understood.

In prison, I was witness to the ease with which people hate, and how casually they do harm to one another. One cannot help but be affected by that. More than anything, it confused me. Finally, one day something clicked. See, occasionally the guards would come in and do something mean or hateful, for no reason. Like, say, ripping up correspondence from a loved one. It basically amounted to poking us with a stick. Maybe it was a method of control - a way of keeping us off-balance. Maybe they were just bored. But you could always tell who the new inmates were, because they would always ask the guards "why". The answer was so consistent, that I came to believe that it was actually a part of their training. Their response was always, "Because we can."

When you get down to it, that's really the only reason. Circumstance, or in some cases, authority, gives someone the opportunity, and some take it. There are always rationalizations and justifications later, of course. But while it's happening, it's a base, mindless thing. It's then that the differences between the good guys and the bad guys tend to evaporate.

It wasn't just a prison thing.  When I got out, I was apprehensive about how I might be welcomed back into society, so I decided to do a little experiment. On a number of different websites, I posted (anonymously, of course) the details of my crime and punishment, trying to get as big a cross-section of people as possible. The responses I got back were overwhelmingly negative. I expected that. I had, after all, broken the law. What I didn't expect was the venom contained in a significant percentage of those responses. Death threats, some quite creative, were most common. There were others who were too lazy to kill me themselves, so they requested that I do things to myself that were not only fatal, but physically impossible.

For months afterward, I was depressed. These were people who had jobs, drove cars, raised children? Why should I want to join those whose only claim to good citizenship was the ability to follow a few simple rules? I thought about finding a hole someplace to spend the rest of my days in.

Luckily, there are good people out there. I'm lucky enough to count some of them as friends, and all of them as family.. I still believe that most people are hard-working decent folks, just trying to do the best they can.  Am I ever wrong? Sometimes with a frequency that is downright spectacular. But if my only choices were to become part of the darkness, or be a victim of it, I'd choose the latter.

Of course, nominally, one should avoid both.

It's my hope that John was lucky enough to surround himself with enough people who cared.

I Hate This.

My kid brother, John, died yesterday morning. He was 47. I am...bereft. Two brothers gone in less than a year.  I'm reminded of a line from the most recent Indiana Jones movie. "We've reached the point where life stops giving us things, and starts taking them away."

The last time I saw John, it wasn't the best of circumstances.  I was in handcuffs, on my way to prison.  As they put me in the squad car, I caught a glimpse of him, waving at me from a nearby rooftop. He always had the luck of the Irish.

The problem with the luck of the Irish, is that when it runs out, it runs out with a vengeance.  He ended up working on a ranch just outside of Kingman, AZ.  He'd retreated from a world that he felt had no love for him, and held no place for him. It's easy to empathize. We've all felt it. At some point, or to some degree. It was harder for him, because he was the kind of person that needed to be around people.

Like most people on this planet, my brother lived a life that was hard, brutal, and short. That is unacceptable. For him, and for everyone else.

But it seems we're slowly, inexorably being conditioned not to care. Even to hold with contempt and suspicion anything different. The problem is, that we're all different. Each one of us something that never was, nor will be again. A hunk of metal as unique as each one of us would be considered priceless. Yet we consistently treat each other like shit. It will lead to a society where even the best of us are considered inherently expendable.

When I was released from prison, my first impulse was to follow my brother into obscurity. It would have been easy. Especially when it seemed that every signal I got from those around me said that I didn't matter. That I was unworthy and had nothing to offer.

There were those who were merely disinterested. I sat across the desks of bureaucrats who just wanted me to go away so they could go on to the next person they didn't care about. Then there were others who viewed me with open contempt (including a couple disturbingly creative death threats via email). My brother, a decidedly more sensitive soul than I, would not have fared well.

In the beginning, I couldn't retreat because I had nowhere to go. But in the end, it was those very people that made me determined to stay. I learned tolerance from those who, for whatever reason, hated me, and kindness from those who were unkind because, oddly, they felt morally justified in being so. (They will have to forgive me if they find that I am ungrateful for those lessons.)

I hold no illusions about my place in this world, or my ability to change it. But...

We all matter.

For the next few months, I will dream of my brother as he was in life, only to wake to feel the sting of his absence. I'm told that this is common in the face of loss. Still, it's liable to make me a tad cranky. 

I take some small solace in the fact that, as unique as we are, in the end we are all equal. The rich and poor, good and evil, all of us destined to be crushed under the same great wheel.