Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Issue of School Sanctioned Prayers

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, also known as the FFRF, is an organization that stands up for the rights of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers, whenever they are encroached by religion. One of their pending lawsuits involves a South Carolina high school that violated a rule against sanctioning prayers. Let me take a look at this case within the view of the larger issue of religion in public schools.

I went to public school my whole life (except in pre-K) and I cannot ever once remember being forced to observe a religious prayer or activity during those 12 years. Inner city New York City public schools are a pretty secular environment. I did have a few teachers mention god when talking about their personal life, not in any proselytizing way, and when a junior high school science teacher died, I remember we did observe a moment of silence, which there is nothing inherently religious about. But all in all, it was very secular. It appears that public schools in the south and other rural areas of the U.S. apparently have a different story. I am aware of many incidences of teachers and school administrators leading prayers, and this is the issue taken up by the FFRF.

The problem I have, is that public school teachers and personnel are government employees, and they are figures of authority over the students. This I feel should make them ineligible to lead prayers while on school campuses, and while on the job.

Let's look at this issue in context with the first amendment. What people who oppose this lawsuit are saying, is that when a teacher leads students in prayer, no one is forced. Any student who wishes not to participate in the prayer does not have to. This they claim, is the first amendment's freedom from religion in action. Now while students may opt out of the school-sanctioned prayer, the problem is when it is a government employee, in a position of authority, leading a prayer that is going to outcast the students who don't want to participate, and in some cases, pressure them to observe the prayer or ceremony. This "officializes" the prayer as if it had government's stamp of approval.

It is not the role of government employees to be leading prayers while they are on the job. Just as I wouldn't want the clerks behind the counter at the DMV to suddenly drop to their knees and begin worshiping allah, or to encourage me to observe religious fasting, I wouldn't want similar acts taking place by public school teachers. When I need to use a government service, which is often when I have no choice, I do not want to be asked or encouraged to experience any religious activity. The bottom line is: government employees on the job should not be encouraging religious activity.

Now I have no problem with people observing their religious traditions in their private lives. The first amendment protects this right and religious freedom is one of our greatest achievements in the U.S. If students want to pray in a public high school, that is their right to do so too. Just because they are in a public building does not mean they should have to check their religion at the door. The issue is when public administration leads or sanctions prayers because then it is government respecting the establishment of a religion. I'm sure that most Christian parents of children in public schools would not be comfortable if their children's teacher was a very vocal, devout Muslim, who quite often spoke positively about Islam and lead daily prayers in the classroom in the Islamic tradition. That would be proselytizing in the classroom by a government employee onto young impressionable minds who by law are required to be there.

This very scenario is exactly why some religious people want creationism taught in the classroom and to allow school sanctioned prayers. They want god back in the classroom so that future generations of kids will be brainwashed into becoming religious. That is a parent's role, not government's role. In most parts of the U.S. the non-religious are the minority. The rights of those who wish not to observe must be protected, and the government in our public school system is the last place we need this right being violated.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Romney or Obama?

This election year the choice for me is pretty clear. I'm voting for Obama as I did in 2008. Mitt Romney represents almost everything I hate in a single person. It's hard to pin him down on particular issues because he's flip-flopped so much over his career in politics. But just to name a few, he says he's against abortion and would pass bills limiting access to it; when it comes to the economy he plans on continuing down the destructive path of trickle down economics, which hasn't worked in the past. To me, he represents the greedy business man, who will smile in your face as he fires you and sends your job to China.

Someone like him, who seems to be so one dimensional on the surface, whose life revolves around getting rich through some not so moral business practices, has a character that I would not trust in the White House. I personally think that his true desire to become president is really only to make it easier for rich people like him to get even more rich through the passage of favorable legislation, and that he doesn't care if this ultimately will send the U.S. on a downward spiral, as long as he and his cronies profit off of this madness.

Mitt Romney was born rich. As the son of a CEO, growing up privileged allowed him to never really experience any economic hardship. He never had to struggle to make ends meat. And because of this, he is hopelessly out of line with the average person anywhere. He should not be running a country when he doesn't have a clue what it is like being an average person living in it.

So I hope that Obama wins reelection. President Obama isn't perfect, but he sure is a lot better than Mitt Romney on social issues, foreign policy, and even economics.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Teenage Identity Crisis: A Painful Reminiscence

Now for a momentary digression away from religion, to a painful reminiscence of my adolescence.

I was just watching a show recently about the evolution of grunge and its affect on heavy metal and it brought back some rather painful memories. I came of age in what is known as the "post-grunge" era of the late 90s and early 2000s. Back when I was a teenager at this time, I had sort of an identity crisis. I didn't quite know who I was, and I didn't quite fit in anywhere. At that time there were mainstream super bands like Creed and alternative rock/punk acts like Blink 182, and I hated those bands so much. You still had heavy metal, thrash metal and death metal that were popular, and I hung out with a lot of kids who were metal heads, but I didn't quite fit in with them. I liked some heavy metal, but I never really got into the music as hard core as some of my friends did and I never was a total head banging metal head. There was industrial metal like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson that I kind of gravitated more towards but I never fully embraced these genres by dressing goth or putting make up on. About as far as I could go was to dress all in black. Then of course there was rap music that was evolving out of that classic, golden era sound that I liked years before and so my interest in rap was waning.

So I was struggling to fit in. I was in a total identity crisis. I wasn't a metal head, I hated the mainstream alternative acts; I wasn't a thug into hip hop anymore, and my interest in industrial metal was never strong enough to make me part of the industrial scene. To be honest with you, I hated the culture of the late 90s. I hated the hairstyles, with their stupid gelled spikes and the lame ass scruffy goatees. I hated the big baggy clothing, the baggy rave pants, and wearing all black because you had to be dark because colors were too gay. I am so glad that era is over and I never want it to come back.

I honestly like the times we are living in now much more. I like the fashion much more and the music. What happened during the late 90s for me is that I started to get into the old school bands. I got into The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and then The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Iggy & The Stooges. I got into the roots bands that all the genres of the day had evolved from. I felt like I should have been born 30 years earlier. Then when the garage rock revival happened, around when The Strokes came out, in 2001, suddenly retro was in. A whole generation, fed up with the music they were being force-fed by the music industry rediscovered the bands of yesteryear and suddenly the culture around me became fused with the bands that I was already listening to. The indie/hipster culture emerged, and I suddenly found my calling. I found out that there were many other people out there like me, fascinated by music that predated our births. And although this new sub-culture was comparatively small compared to the mainstream alternative scene, my identity crisis began to subside. By the time this happened however, I was already out of high school, and perhaps it was a little to late, but it is always better late than never.

As you get older "fitting in" becomes less and less of a concern. I now pride myself on being unique in my own way and don't feel like I fit into any particular subculture. But as an awkward, zit-faced teenager, I didn't have the social skills and confidence to pull of such attitude effectively. If I could describe myself now, it would be a world travelling, cosmopolitan, intellectual, with style. I dress a little retro like some of my rock star heroes, I also spiffy it up with some class. But I'm basically a t-shirt and jeans kind of guy, with the occasional flannel button down. I don't go crazy with the super skinny jeans, but I like my jeans kind of tight.  I'm growing my hair out a bit longer now because I feel that I might as well get the most out of it before I go bald. I pretty much always have a beard or some kind of facial hair, as long as it is not in the stupid 90s style of mustache-less goatees.

There are certain kinds of people who never change their style. The way they were during their formative adolescent years leaves such an impression of them, that they are forever cast in that mold, and unable to change. I have a metal head friend like that. He dresses in the same old metal head t-shirts that he wore back in 1997, and he's got the same old long-haired heavy metal do that he more or less had back then too. Some people never change. Me personally, I evolve constantly. My hair, my style, my interests, are always changing. I'm never the same person for more than a few years and I like that. Now that I'm more confident and more sure of who I am, the identity crisis is over. Long live the '10s!!!

Monday, October 15, 2012

How To Talk To A Muslim: Debating Homosexuality

In debating conservative Muslim Gareth Bryant, I get to see how the mind of the devoutly religious behaves. When he wrote a blog post concerning the origin of sodomy and homosexuality, I once again had to call him out on his bullshit. Not only does he think homosexuality is wrong, he thinks it's a choice and that it originated from the fabled towns of Sodom and Gomorrah!

In this short exchange, I try to talk some sense into him by arguing that homosexuality is perfectly natural using a common sense argument that he never refutes. All he can do is use a trick of wordplay by insisting that the term "sexual preference" itself shows that it is a choice.

Some Brief Islamic-History (the origin of Sodomy & Homosexuality):


Homosexuality is natural, it always was, and it is no more a choice than being left-handed is a choice. Now I used to think like you about homosexuality when I was a teenager, which is to say – ignorant, but then I grew up and got educated on the matter. Homosexuality predates all the people in biblical lands in towns whose existence is even disputed by modern archaeology, because it existed in the animal kingdom long before humans evolved.
At any given time, at any given location, you are going to have a certain percentage of people that are gay – that’s just the way it is OK. To deny gay people their equal civil rights today, is tantamount to the denial of black people their equal civil rights generations ago. Why can’t we live in a society, where consenting adults can do what they want, sexually? If you don’t like sodomy, or gay sex, DON’T DO IT! Don’t watch porn, or the trash perpetrated by the movie industry. I’m an atheist and I don’t watch that crap. But don’t deny other people the right to do so.
If you don’t eat pork, fine. I respect your right not to eat it. Respect the civil rights of people in a free secular society like ours or go move to an oppressive Muslim majority country like Sudan.
Homosexuality is a choice: Allowing a man to insert his penis, or any other foreign, non-medically required item, into one’s rectum, voluntarily, is a choice; likewise, allowing one’s self to insert one’s own penis, or any other foreign, non-medically required item, into another man’s rectum, voluntarily, is a choice. Why do you think that Homosexuality is still classified as a “sexual-preference”? The word “preference” in and of itself, directly denotes the manifestation of the power of choice.
A homosexual act might be a choice, just as a left handed person can physically write with their right hand. But homosexual desire is innate as is being left handed. You and I are both men, right? You know and I know that we cannot force an erection at will, it has to just happen. How could a heterosexual man who gets aroused by women, suddenly make his penis only get aroused when he is with other men? Gay men cannot get sexually aroused to have sex with women so how can they pretend to be straight. You cannot just change your sexual “preference” like you can change your politics. And why would heterosexual men choose to be gay anyway if they are straight? So they can get their asses kicked more? It makes no sense. Why do animals like Bonobos engage in homosexuality, when they are not conscious of god or any silly divine commandments?
One thing I hate about religion is that is misrepresents human sexuality through the scope of man kind when we knew nothing of real science. That is why all religions are full of nonsense on matters of science, history, and human sexuality. And to those like me who aren’t brainwashed, it is painfully obvious.
The term “sexual preference” does not accurately describe sexual orientation and I don’t like the term myself. As does the term “sexual persuasion”. These terms was made by people ignorant of the truth. I didn't invent these terms so don’t hold me accountable to their ignorance.

I also make the comment here on the "sexually-deviant" nature of homosexuality comparing it to other Islamic morality:

What is normal in Islam? Marrying pre-pubescent girls? Slavery? Let’s make homosexuality illegal and bring back slavery the way it was in the 7th century to restore “morality” the way it should be. See why the West and the Islamic world will never get along?


Conservative Muslims today do not want to concede an inch on homosexuality, but they're willing to renounce slavery and forcing underage girls into arranged marriages with older men (at least some in the West are). These are both things condoned in the Qur'an but many Muslims are against them today. It is obvious that Muslims, just like Christians, pick and choose their morality from their "holy" books. 

Finally, we have science on our side concerning sexuality, and they don't. And that is why we will win this debate in the long run. So it is comforting to know that uneducated, conservative minded religious fanatics like Gareth are becoming more and more rare everyday. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

How To Talk To A Muslim: Debating The Existence Of Allah, The Validity Of The Qur'an, & Evolution

Further seizing upon the opportunity to debate with a conservative Muslim, who stands for just about everything I am against, I challenge him on some of the Qur'an's known contradictions using a section from The "Infidel's" Guide to Islam. It all started when Gareth linked his post titled "There is a god, and His name is Allah (My personal gift to Atheists & Anti-Theists)" on the Non Believer Nation Facebook page. I read it and took it upon myself to inject some more intellectual critique, rather than just the usual hyperbole. In his post the argument is made that in the Qur'an, Mohammad gives information about things that were not scientifically known at that time, and could only have been known if this information had been revealed to him by Allah. The "revelation" in question here is a vague line in the Qur'an mentioning that iron was given from above and descended to Earth.

“We have descended Iron, within it contains great durability, as well as benefits for Humans.” Surah 57:25

This is offered as the "proof" that Allah is the one true god and that Islam is the one true faith. As you can easily imagine, I call out this naivety for what it is: bullshit. There were many other comments on the post, some congratulating, some critical, and so I decided to weigh my two cents in so that the anti-theist perspective could be heard. What ensued was a very heated exchange between me and Gareth where I pointed out the contradictions in the Qur'an to make the argument that it is far from revealed wisdom. His only rebuttal when cornered with these apparent facts, is to say that all of my English translations are incorrect, even through I have several of the most popular English-translated Qur'ans.

I ask him for the correct translation directly from Arabic and to include references, but he doesn't reply. About halfway through we get into debating the validity of evolution, which he denies, insisting that the Qur'anic retelling of the Adam and Eve creation myth is how it all happened because "Allah says that it happened, period." So I introduce him to some of the evidence in favor of evolution and he seems to concede, although not admitting it, and retracts back into his talking points, insisting that Allah is all powerful and that I only disbelieve in him because I want to worship my "ego & desires". I close by trying to make amends, in a way, to see how best people like him and me can coexist in the long term. Our debate and the link to his blog are below. His words are in bold.

"There is a god, and His name is Allah (My personal gift to Atheists & Anti-Theists):

Look man, as an atheist and anti-theist, I do respect your right to have your own opinion and to be vocal about it. After all, I hope that you, as I do, respect freedom of speech going both ways. I just can’t wait until the Muslim majority countries practice this.
Over the years I’ve had a few Muslims try to point to some vague references in the Qur’an that when twisted, accurately describe science. But you must be aware, that for skeptics like us, such vague references will never be enough, because all religious books have some truth to them, and they can’t all be correct in their entirety.
On top of that, all religious books are full of scientific and historic inaccuracies, which would of course defeat your objective since your holy book must be perfect. There is no religious text, that accurately describes the universe as science does, because of course no one writing them knew anything about science. You must be aware that the Qur’an contradicts itself many times. How do you reconcile this when the Qur’an is supposed to be absolutely perfect in every way?

How To Talk To A Muslim: The Nature of Allah

It is very rare that I come across an actual believing Muslim that I can debate with in my life, but recently I came across a blog made by an African American Muslim who writes about many hot button issues from the point of view of his Islamic faith. He had advertised his blog on the Non Believer Nation Facebook page, and that's what caught my interest. So I checked out a few of his blog posts, and naturally, as an atheist I had to take issue with many of them. So on several of his blogs, in the comment section, me and him went back and forth debating various topics, including his description of the nature of Allah, the atheistic position, and homosexuality as seen from his 7th century narrow-minded view. 

His name is Gareth Bryant, and he is an unapologetic conservative Muslim. He wrote a blog explaining his enduring love and respect for Allah and the anti-theist in me had to call out some of his brainwashed bullshit. Below is the transcript of our debate going back and forth. His blog post is linked below so you might want to read what he wrote before reading our debate. I start out apologizing to him for bugging him because this comment came after several heated back and forth comments we had on other posts. His words are in bold.

Reality of the Nature of Allah:


Sorry man I gotta bug you again. But you did say you want honest feedback from your readers…

So I have some issues with how you describe Allah. I have a problem with how the god of monotheism is portrayed in general, but in no particular order:

You mentioned that Allah is not created but is eternal. Doesn’t that mean Allah has an eternal past? Many monotheists believe God is timeless, but I don’t see how that is possible. Even the Qur’an says Allah’s day is a certain measurable length of time, whatever that may be. If Allah has an eternal past, wouldn’t it have taken him an eternity to get to the present?
Does Allah have free will since he knows everything he is going to think and do, forever? Isn’t that kind of like being an actor and having to go along with a script forever knowing that you could never deviate from it?

You mentioned that “Allah never plays practical-jokes upon people”. Really? Ever heard of the story of Abraham? Talk about practical joke. Whatever the lessen to be learned there, commanding someone to kill their son, and then saying it was all a test, is one hell of a joke. Can you imagine Abraham’s face when he found out it was all a test? Not to mention the look on his son’s face. This whole story is Allah’s intentional deception.

You said “It is impossible for Allah to be a tyrant”. Excuse me. Allah is the tyrant of tyrants. It’s his way or the highway. He demands to be loved, worshiped and feared. That sounds to be a lot like Stalin and Kim Jung-Il. Nearly every line in the Qur’an mentions this. All the verse you pointed out says is “And thy Lord wrongs not anyone.” But the Qur’an justifies slavery, sexual slavery, and Allah even uses the role of the slave to show their masters how much higher Allah is to them. I don’t think a “perfect” being would justify human slavery, don’t you?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

God Given Rights?

I want to journey back towards the topic of god for a moment, since I've strayed from it in recent posts. I read an article recently in the Washington Post that was linked on the Nonbeliever Nation Facebook page, about secular and atheist organization's attempt to lobby Washington on behalf of atheists. The author, trying to be humorous, poked fun at the irony he saw where the atheists were using their "God-given rights" to petition their government for a redress of grievances to exclude mentions of god on our money, in our pledge, and while taking an oath. Now I have to take issue (naturally) as an atheist, with the whole idea that our rights are god given by pointing out some obvious issues.

If our rights, as described in the Bill of Rights, are god given, then why aren't those same rights simply written in the bible? Why would it have taken thousands of years after god originally revealed himself to us for our rights to be inscribed into law? It would've done the world some great justice over the last few thousand years if we were to have outlined in the bible the universal freedoms that we Americans enjoy. Furthermore, why do the rights outlined in our founding texts differ from the rights outlined in the bible? Did the practice of slavery, that is completely condoned in the bible, only become wrong when the 13th amendment was passed outlawing it? If the bible is the word of god, and it contains what our rights and freedoms are, then the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, would be blasphemy.

It is well known that the texts in which the U.S. is founded on, were inspired at least in part, by many of the enlightenment philosophers before and during that time, such as Thomas Paine and John Locke, and that many of our founding fathers were weary of religion and its influences, and that's precisely why they created a secular government free of institutional religion at the federal level. So this idea that our rights were "given" by god is at best, an attempt to insert the hand of god where it is certainly not needed.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Ego Driven Life

I feel the tremendous urge to show off on occasion. It's something that I don't acknowledge easily, but I cannot deny its existence. But why do I feel the need to show off and what do I think I am getting accomplished by doing so? By showing off you make others jealous of you, and you make them envy you, and this feeds the ego. And through this a great sense of satisfaction is obtained. Who hasn't had the desire to be envied or imitated by other people? It's one of the most basic aspects of selfishness probably that exists. But how does one reconcile the natural selfishness in human nature with the conscious understanding of its destructive capabilities?

According to Freud, sex was the primary motivation driving humans. It seems that in the modern capitalist world, sex has been equaled by money, along with power. So money, power and sex drive the ego, and generally, the more we have of them, the happier we are. But is this an illusion of happiness? The rich aren't really any happier than the average American is and according to numerous studies having more money can only buy temporary happiness, like the way a drug can. Happiness comes from a multitude of conditions. In the documentary Happy by director Roko Belic, it analyzes several metrics to gauge the happiness of people. First there are extrinsic goals. These would include things like, money, image and social status. These are contrasted with intrinsic goals. These would include things like personal growth, relationships, and the desire to help. Intrinsic goals are said to be in and of themselves rewarding because they relate to intrinsic psychological needs we all have and can thus more easily produce a state of happiness.

With these two types of goals pursued by many people, it's not hard to see how putting too much emphasis on extrinsic goals toward happiness can lead to problems because extrinsic goals are ego driven. For me it hasn't really been money so much, but I've spent quite a lot time obsessing over my image and social status. Getting just the right look, with just the right clothes, and making sure that my social status is high enough up in the hierarchy have all been very important concerns I've had, and I have had many periods of depression when it just doesn't seem to be working out. My last job for example drove me crazy because, I couldn't fit in with the people I worked with and sort of became the social outcast. I hated this social status and it resulted in massive depression, for which massive amounts of alcohol was prescribed.

The kind of happiness that derives from intrinsic goals, is clearly where the emphasis should be put. They can not only produce happiness, they have positive gains for society when put to practice. The pleasure obtained from helping others and bettering one's life and relationships is incredibly rewarding for good reason.

But this leads us back to square one, which is the problem of the ego driven life. How do I reconcile my unhealthy extrinsic goals towards happiness with the more beneficial intrinsic goals when the extrinsic goals are so powerful in their lure? Well for one thing I could squash my ego and pretend it doesn't exist. In Zen the ego is an illusion, it doesn't properly exist. But Zen also teaches of the "middle path". And since there is no dogmatic approach to Buddhism, I am free to interpret Buddhism how I please and where ever I see fit.

So using the middle path analogy that the Buddha is said to have made, whereby he described to some of his early followers who were adapt at extreme austerity measures of self mortification, of how when the string of a guitar is too loose, it becomes flaccid and cannot produce music, and when it is too tight, it snaps. But when it is just right, it makes beautiful music, pleasant to the ear. This middle path, avoiding the extremes at both ends is what we call moderation.

Using the middle way, perhaps a careful check of my ego driven pursuits with in the extrinsic goals is preferred rather than taking such extreme measures as abolishing it altogether. I know that keeping one's ego in check is not an easy task. It requires a constant reminder, and humility. I'm not the kind of person who worships money and materialism so I might have a head start over others wishing a more moderate path towards happiness and fulfillment. I'm not about to give away all my possessions and go meditate in a cave for the rest of my life. I want to live in the modern world, with its amenities and conveniences, and yes I want to look good and have a decent social status. But what I cannot do, is let myself obsess over these things to such a degree that they drive my life. And I must balance them out equally, if not more, with healthy pursuits of trying to be who I really am, building closer relationships with my friends and loved ones, and wanting and committing myself towards the help of others.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bill Maher's Blog

I've been a long time fan of Bill Maher going back to his days hosting Politically Incorrect. Recently, I've checked out his blog. It's full of funny comments and takes, mostly on politics and he usually gets straight to the point.

Check it out:

Understanding Zen and its Practical Applications Part 3

I would be perfectly fine with never having to work another day in an office, performing work that I cared nothing for. To me, the idea of spending 40 years sitting in an office, is like hell. Sure there are office jobs that I could see myself working in, where the job wasn't that stressful and overbearing, and the people I worked with were decent and we got along. But ultimately, I think that my personality type, is simply not meant to exist for long periods of time within the confines of a florescent-lite cubical.

That being said, where do I belong? I'm actually not quite sure. I know where I feel comfortable. I know that there are three basic conditions to be met that make me content. They are: doing what I like, with people I like, at a place that I like. This is of course assuming that the physiological needs for me to be content are already met, such as having good health, a place to live and food. When it comes to work, I prefer to have a job working for an organization that does good to the world in accordance with my personal morals. Any job where I have to aide giant corporations in their destruction of the Earth for money, is not something that I can take lightly. I have done that in the past and I am not proud of myself for it.

Discovering Zen Buddhism through the teachings of Alan Watts has helped me to see the world from a new perspective. Zen has this mystery to it. Many of the experiences associated with it cannot be put into words adequately, which for me is a part of its appeal. I think that though Zen I have journeyed a bit closer to where I am supposed to be. I don't consider myself a Buddhist but what I aim to take from Buddhism is its practical philosophical aspects, and incorporate them into my existing belief system, that is grounded in atheism and Western philosophy. I would like to keep a foot in both worlds so to speak.

This all being said, I still honestly feel lost as to where I am in this world or where I belong in terms of my profession. I feel almost as if I simply just exist, without a greater purpose being actively implemented by me. I know where I stand in terms of my philosophy and morals, but translating this to an action plan that can support me financially has been an utter failure. Now I am of the mindset, that we each make our own purpose. We each have within us, inherent talents and desires, and from them we can each find the path that  feels right for us. A few years ago, when I started to get very serious about my passion for atheism and humanism I felt as if a light had just gone on. Unfortunately, this light seems to have gone off a bit too late - I was already in college paying thousands of dollars towards a degree in the IT industry just as my interest in it was waning.  This set of events has left me angry, but I don't blame anyone or anything for it, it just happened. I am glad to have found something I am passionate about at all. I do still wish that I could turn the clock back 5 years or so and have gotten my degree in political theory, philosophy, or one of the sciences.

In Zen you don't dwell in the past, because it doesn't exist. The past doesn't determine the present because the present is all that exists. My past miscalculations should not affect my desire and strive for doing something I am really passionate about. But all to often I become controlled by my past, as many of us do, whereby we allow events that have happened to limit our abilities in the present. This is not only harmful to one's potential, it is harmful to one's being. For to dwell too strongly into the past prevents the self from expressing who it truly is, and I struggle greatly with this.

What Zen philosophy means that my past experiences do not determine my potential in the present. Haven't we all succeeded in an assignment when we had no past experience to gauge whether we would be successful? It is shocking sometimes when you realize what you can achieve in certain situations, even when there has been failure in the past. All I can say is that my potential now to achieve what I am passionate for has is not bound with the chains created by past events.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Different Kind of Cool

I remember being a teenager and spending hours looking at myself in the mirror, obsessing over how I looked, obsessing over my hair and skin and nose and how I looked from the side and behind, constantly comparing myself to others. It's all part of being a self-conscious adolescent in a culture obsessed with image. As I've grown older, my interest in how I look has waned a bit, but recently, there has seen a slight resurgence, I think, primarily due to the fact that I am getting older and I fear that I will lose touch with what is cool and trendy.

When I say "cool and trendy" I don't mean the stupid shit that teenagers care about today - I couldn't care less about most of that shit. I mean having a sense of coolness in the aesthetic and intellectual sense. I mean "cool" like my literary hero Christopher Hitchens, who'd sip a cocktail at all hours of the day with a cigarette in the other hand, quoting writers and philosophers from memory and telling anecdotes about humorous encounters with various public figures. The "trendy" aspect means taking care of my appearance in the sense that it will be apparent from someone looking at me that I've taken some consideration into how I look. It's not that I have to be the most stylish trend-setter in the room, but I don't want to be seen as some loser douche-bag who looks like he stepped right out of the 90s.

There's a different kind of cool that I like. It's the kind of cool that requires intellectual discourse with like minded people, over drinks at a dinner party or lounge. It's the kind of cool Sinatra had. What I want to help grow is a public understanding of the important issues in politics, and to let people know that it is cool to be well informed and have an opinion about things. There aren't enough "cool" youngish people in the media deeply concerned with politics, although it seems to be increasing. Since Barack Obama, there has been an uptick in interest in politics, but the American people are largely ignorant of the issues at stake today and are even more ignorant of the history behind them.

As I get older I care less and less about the pop culture world and what goes on in it and I care more and more about the realm of politics and science. These two areas have long been associated by those in the pop culture world as being lame, boring or generally uncool. And sure you have popular comedians like Bill Maher, John Stewart, and Steven Colbert making politics and the issues fun, but their fans fill a small niche that is not exactly by mainstream standards, "cool". There are high profile scientists that have become in a way, niche celebrities in a sense, but their message rarely penetrates the bubble they live in.

Maybe I'm getting in over my head here. Perhaps the number of people into politics and science will always be limited, just like the number of people into Death Metal or Swing Dancing will be. Perhaps that's just the way it is, or perhaps it should be that way. Because if stupid, ill-informed, pop culture drones start "engaging" in civil debate about politics, we might be awash with Sarah Palins and Herman Cain types.

..And that wouldn't be too good.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Threat from Corporate Greed

My blog is almost entirely devoted towards my atheism and dissent of religion, but it recently occurred to me that although threats from religious zealots do pose a real problem for a free, open and democratic society, perhaps the larger threat is the one posed by the seemingly unstoppable greed of corporations. It is my contention, that corporations for decades have had far too much power and influence in governments, and that they've used this influence to better themselves too often at the expense of people, animals and the environment. It is from corporate greed that we get millions in the third world exploited daily for their cheap labor. It is from corporate greed that we get various toxic elements polluting our environment. It is from corporate greed that we do not have labels on our food indicating their country of origin in the U.S. Corporations will always care more about their bottom line than they will anything else, and this lack of the most basic ethical considerations leads to so much unnecessary harm.

In other words, from an ethical standpoint, corporate entities put profit over people, profit over the environment, profit over everything. Many modern day corporations will stop at absolutely nothing to increase their bottom line, regardless of the long term impacts that they may be causing. It seems to me that the greed driven, no holds-barred approach to capitalism, is like a mild form of insanity. Are we really willing as a society to let our future become jeopardized from the unquenchable greed of the corporatists? Are we willing to let corporate interests dictate government policy from the inside? Are we willing to let energy corporations continue to pollute our Earth so that the polar ice caps melt from global warming? Are we willing to let wage and labor standards diminish in the face of the downward pressure imposed by corporate greed? Are we willing to really sit back and let this happen while a small group of people gets rich off of it? I wonder, how we can call our great nation a democracy anymore when corporations have most if not all of our politicians in their back pocket.

"From an ethical standpoint, corporate entities put profit over people, profit over the environment, profit over everything."

From the point of view of ethics, it seems to me that a small group of very rich people who run corporations, who care only for their own selfish interests, and who continually want more and more and are never satisfied, are deplorable in character. This brings up the whole collectivism versus individualism debate I wrote about. The corporatist is certainly not a utilitarian, nor is he a deontologist. He instead is subscribing to Ayn Rand's objectivism of rational self interest. It is individualism gone crazy. The irony here with my objections to corporate greed, is that many religious leaders in the Catholic church and within Islam, are on the same page as I am. Although my blog is a non-stop rant against religion, that doesn't mean that I disagree entirely with what all religions say. I agree with Islam's prohibition on usury, and Catholic doctrines against excessive self interest, from which greed is a result. I would certainly be willing to work with religious leaders to help put an end to the corporate domination of our entire world.

The current existence of the world's economy is completely unsustainable. We are using up the Earth's finite resources at an alarming rate and producing as a result, ever increasing levels of waste. The sanctity of humanity and the environment is literally at stake here and billions of people either don't care or don't know of the severity of this situation. This is primarily because most people are either working too hard in order to survive, so they can extend their wretched existence a little longer, or they are wrapped up in their own bubbles of pop culture and mindless self indulgence to be bothered. To know and care about this 800 pound gorilla in the room, requires one to think. I can imagine a world in the not too distant future, where giant corporations run the world through shadow governments whom they use to create wars on behalf of their corporate self interests, where they send brainwashed masses to die, who control the media to influence public opinion through a scripted, pseudo reality, and where every stream, drop of water, glaciated tundra and deciduous forest, cannot escape the suffocating ugly hands of a corporation, looking to own and privatize it. Oh wait, that's today.

We need nothing less than a revolution in how we live. If public opinion can sway in my favor, if enough consumers were educated we could bring about the type of change we need to get back on a sustainable future. It will be going up against man's natural tendency for short term happiness and greed, and this is no easy task. I don't have kids, so after I die, I have no personal vested interests in the fate of humanity centuries from now. But many of the corporatists in charge of the rape and pillage of the Earth's finite resources and the abuse of the labor used to turn them into products do have kids, and I wonder where or what they think they will do when the shit hits the fan and we deplete what the Earth can provide us because we hesitated making realistic steps towards renewable resources. Will they use their wealth to build lavish underground bunkers or floating cities while the rest of us turn to savagery on what little habitable land is left? Who knows.

Our entire monetary system is a gigantic ponzi scheme, perhaps the largest ever created. Our money is printed out of thin air by the private Federal Reserve and loaned to the U.S. Government, to be payed back with interest. Since the U.S. Government can't make its own money, this means that the only way the U.S. can pay down this debt is by borrowing more money from the Federal Reserve. And so our entire economy is built upon and endless cycle of debt that is completely unsustainable. The abolishment of the Federal Reserve is paramount to the first step towards a sustainable economy.

Campaign finance reform, though much talked about, is the only way to get most of the money from corporate special interests out of Washington. We also need real ethics in practice in the business world. There was a time when many more corporations were known for treating and paying their workers fairly with decent livable salaries and benefits. This grew and nurtured our middle class. Over the decades this has gone by the wayside as greed lead many corporations to reduce or freeze worker's wages and benefits, or move jobs overseas to cheap labor markets. There was a time when CEOs cared about their workers because they knew they were all part of an extended family. This kept many communities alive for generations. We must put an end to the exploitation of cheap labor because it is abusive and unethical.

The only thing that can truly be done is if enough leaders in the corporate world come to their senses, realize the detriment their enterprises are having on the world, and care enough about it to sacrifice some of their increasing wealth to turn the tide back. CEOs must turn profit for the corporations they run or else they will be removed by the board of directors. This means that the whole system must be changed. Society at large must have a mindset free of the extremes of greed through the a deeper moral understanding of its consequences and its motives. Critical thinking and ethics should be taught in every public school, as well as a solid financial education. But greedy corporations running Washington will never allow it. This influence must be broken.


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