Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Moment or two on Urban Sociology


I have written on this blog quite extensively about cities, most notably New York City, where I live. New York is where I've lived almost all of my life and in a way, how I look at the world is from the perspective of New York City. As an urban dweller and lover of city life, I am often awestruck by the loneliness and desolation of smaller cities, towns and suburbs.

Arguments For and Against Suburbia

I've been addicted to this site called topdocumentaryfilms.com, where I have been watching on most of my free time for the past few weeks, documentary films about religion, history, science, and society. This one documentary about the cause and effects of suburban sprawl called Radiant City, mentions all the philosophical, societal, and statistical facts of why I already hate the suburbs. Mainly that (1) suburbs, designed around the automobile, disengage people from having to interact in person with others, and foster a cocoon so to speak, of social isolation. (2) Reliance on the automobile creates a culture of laziness, where people don't walk to where they have to go, and this results in further social isolation. (3) Suburbs also force people to live further away from their jobs and where they shop, increasing commute time. And finally, (4) suburbs are typically bland, homogeneous, and decentralize their urban spaces.

In defense of suburban living, many argue in favor of cleaner, safer and quieter streets, better schools and friendlier neighbors. Mind you that cities do not have to be dirty, and dirty city streets are largely a result of their neglect by their residents, and local, state and federal governments due to the absence of the middle class tax base, which was a direct effect of suburbanization. Cities can be clean and vibrant places to live, if society has enough interest to care for them and is willing to devote necessary capital. The unfriendliness or urbanites, characterized by the stereotypical jaded New York attitude is largely a result of the size of the city: with millions of people living in one place, you can expect that most people will be strangers who you will never get to know, and you cannot be on first named basis with all of them as you can in a small town or suburb. It might also be unwise to even smile and gesture at fellow pedestrians on the street because there are simply so many of them.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Winter's Despair


A wave of sorrow and procrastination has over taken me recently. I can do no more than click my laptop to play the next video that slowly cradles me toward the end. I have come across a fantastic site called topdocumentaryfilms.com. It contains over a thousand streamed documentaries on all different subjects, including my favorite topics of obsession: religion, philosophy, science, and history. I have been superglued to my computer due to this, and have as a result, been as lethargic as a sloth; barely able to expend enough energy to feed myself.

As much pleasure as there is in getting free, no commercially interrupted, full length and albeit, illegal documentaries steamed to my comfortable living room(take that SOPA!), I have also been gloating over the current situation in my professional life. I still do retain employment, so I cannot despair as deep as millions of my fellow countrymen do at the moment, but I am hopelessly out of place in the IT industry.

I originally came to this industry because of the multitudinous touting I heard while growing up. They all proclaimed an exponentially growing industry, that delivered large financial payloads. This has more or less held up in some regard, and I testify to this only as anecdotal evidence. But what I forgot to remember, is how much I, as someone who is somewhat antisocial, who doesn't make friends easily, who doesn't vibrate to the stereo-typical, socially popular, favorite pastimes of the "average" person, and who finds trouble befriending those who do, how important it is to be doing something that is dear to my heart.

I'm really a simple man, and I know what makes me happy. Happiness for me resides with in three basic conditions. I am happy when I am doing something I like, with people I like, in a place that I like. I've noticed that if these three conditions are met, I am almost always happy. I hate my job because I am doing something I don't like, with people I don't like, in a place that I don't like. At least with some jobs you may hate the work, but like your coworkers, or you may hate your coworkers, but like the easy commute, I don't have any such thing.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Porn and perspective


I, like most men occasionally watch porn. The internet has made it so easy for all of us to access virtually unlimited amounts of hardcore pornography, the levels of which I would have only dreamed about when I has a preteen. Discussing porn one day with a friend, the idea of pornographic etiquette of sorts came up. I mentioned that in a porn movie, I wouldn't be able to watch it if I knew the guy in the movie, like if he was my friend or coworker. That would be just too personal and weird. The guy in a porn movie should merely be a faceless, nameless male, in a way vicariously acting out the position that I would want to be in. Anything more than that is just too, dare I say it, gay.

This is largely why women tend to not get off on male oriented porn, because of the lack of emotion and focus on the male. Instead porn made for or by women tends to be more story oriented and sensual, where the guy in it has a much larger personality.

Notice throughout this I don't even bring up the questions of whether porn is moral. We have been so desensitized to hardcore porn, largely through the internet, that most of the arguments of generations past, over whether porn is immoral, have nearly all but dissipated. I have no problem with porn as long as it is consenting adults who are performing in it. And porn, just like anything else, such as a drug, should be done in moderation.

Me and my friend both agree how awkward it would be to see another guy we know in a porn movie. It would render the film, un-jerkoffable. I'm sure most other heterosexual men would agree. Porn as it appears, has roles of normalcy and notions of taste and perspective.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Case For "Just" War


With the Iraq War having officially ended this month, I want to reflect on the concept of "just" war. Many of us have an elementary criteria that we apply in determining whether a war is justified or not. But what do we mean when we say that a particular war is "just" or "unjust"? Under what conditions would an act of war be justified? And if we could agree upon a set of standards to justify an act of war, then when applied down to a micro level of individual physical violence and aggression between people, with some exceptions it should be more or less the same.

Self defense is the most commonly agreed upon legitimate motive for a justified act of violence toward another person or persons. That is to say, one has the right to defend themselves against another person's physical aggression, and therefore the injuries incurred to the aggressor are justifiably so. And, if this is true for individuals, the same more or less applies to nations.

With retaliation things get a bit more complicated. Some agree that once one has been the victim of an act of violence or aggression that they could not stop, one then has the right to then retaliate against their attackers. If you agree with this, then revenge could be a "just" cause for violent retribution. And once again, if inflated to the macro level, nations and societies might be justified in their acts of retaliation against their victimizers. Others do not agree, and maintain that only self defensive violence can be reasonably just.

This brings us to to the idea of preemptive acts of violence or war. The invasion of Iraq by the United States and its allies in 2003, was a preemptive strike against a rouge totalitarian State, in order to prevent it from being a more imminent, immediate and formidable threat later on. For some, preemptive foreign policy is never justified, and in the case of the Iraq War the supposed reasons for the preemptive strike in the first place, were either fabricated intentionally or the result of embarrassingly bad intelligence.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What's an Atheist to do Around the Holiday Season?


Christmas is here already. I've been so busy with work and other things that I haven't had time to get into the holiday spirit. I don't really get into the holiday spirit anyway, I'm an atheist. Christmas today, at least in America, is all about mass consumption of goods. That is to say, spending money you don't have, to buy things you don't need, for people you don't like, so that you can get deeper into debt, and so the credit card companies can charge you interest, and profit off of your "holiday spirit". That's how I see Christmas anyway, and I do not wish to take part in this festival of floating capital.

Christmas isn't really a Christian holiday anyway. The Roman empire combined their pagan holidays in the end of December when it was adopting Christianity. It was the winter solstice they celebrated, and the birth of pagan gods like Mithra. Scandinavian pagan traditions were included, such as the tree lighting, and Santa Claus, a 19th Century American creation, added secular chapters to the holiday. The birth of Jesus' significance seems to fade away with each passing year.

It is Christmas' reincarnation into a celebration of material consumption that I most have a problem with. I am well aware of its importance in the business world and in truth, many of us benefit financially directly or indirectly because of this. But still, I do not take part for reasons of principal.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Intellectual Enemies


I don't often debate religion with fundamentalists, but when I get the rare opportunity it is often exhilarating. This made me think recently of the notion of an "intellectual enemy". That is to say, someone who holds beliefs that if they became the law of the land, the very air would be difficult for me to breathe. I wouldn't be able to exist as I am naturally. An easy example of this would be having to live under an Islamist state or a theocracy. Another would be living under a Stalinist-style dictatorship. The people then who espouse these religions or ideologies and who are actively trying to spread them, are what I call my intellectual enemies.

Now I regard intellectual enemies a bit distinguished from other traditional enemies. I do not necessarily wish harm on those who think differently from me. When I wrote The Infidel's Guide to Islam I carefully mentioned in the introduction that I did not advocate any violence or harm towards Muslims in any way. Instead, I wrote that debate and argumentation should be the weapons of choice. This is a ideological battle that is ensuing, not a real war. Now that doesn't mean that our war on "terror" isn't a real war against radical fundamentalist Islam, with casualties mounting on both sides. What I mean is that we simply cannot kill our way to destroying Islamists and theocrats; the war must inevitably be won with argumentation and persuasion. Lovers of freedom and secularism must win the opinion war against those who assert that a politicized and literalist interpretation of religion be forced on the masses. So I'll take a moderate Muslim over a fundamentalist any day. I'll take a cafeteria Christian over a fundamentalist any day as well. I'd take a secular humanist over all of them, although I wouldn't necessarily judge a person solely by their religious beliefs.

Doing battle with words can often lead to real life physical violence. I am aware of that and weary, especially when one criticizes Islam, that people can get killed. I acknowledge this reality, while seeing Islam as the most formidable contemporary enemy to the secular way of life that I relish in. What I fear about Islam is its spread in the West. I hate the idea that ever increasing numbers of subversive Muslims are populating the West, with the overall goal of one day victoriously raising the flag of Allah and enforcing Sharia law. You may call me an Islamophobe if you are a liberal sympathizer, but there is credible evidence that this is the objective to a surprising number of Muslims, and it's not just a tiny fringe minority.

Just as Communism and Fascism was defeated, I hope too that one day radical Islam will retreat into the darkest corners of the minds of a few ineffectual people. I would like for Muslims to embrace a secular political system as we have here in the U.S., to adopt modern secular humanist values as most progressive Christians and Jews have, and for them to detach themselves from the superstitious thinking produced by faith. If these first steps can be made, I think here in the West we can coexist without much conflict. If an evolution of sorts like this is not made in the Islamic world, and Muslims remain in isolation among us in the West, making no attempt at assimilation, then we will never reconcile our differences and remain intellectual enemies. Modernity must force the Muslim to open their eyes with the shine of enlightenment exposing the truth. If they refuse to acknowledge what they see and wish to remain blind, then there is no hope for our two civilizations and therefore little hope for humanity's future.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens 1949-2011




I got a text from a friend at work today for Christopher Hitchens to rest in peace. I immediately Googled his name on my phone to see that Hitchens had indeed passed on, succumbing to the effects of his esophageal cancer.

Christopher Hitchens was my intellectual hero, my idol, someone I wanted to emulate, and an inspiration who changed my life in a new direction. His wit, knowledge, propensity for clever argumentation, and his strong opinionated stances characterize why I think he was the most interesting intellectual of our times. He was a fervent atheist, whose arguments strengthened my disbelief and provided the rock solid foundation for it to build on.

I would Google him and search for him on YouTube almost daily, eagerly waiting for the next clip of him debating an opponent or speaking on one of the many topics he so deeply understood. His articulateness, combined with his British accent, flowed out of his mouth like poetry. I would hang onto his every word, repeatedly watching over and over again.

It was sometime around 2009 when I saw Hitchens on a YouTube video debating religion, that he caught my eye. I loved his style, his audacity, his skills as polemicist, and his ability to so easily expose the most ridiculous and contradictory aspects of religion and the faithful. I was instantly hooked. I bought his best seller God Is Not Great, and devoured it while on vacation in Asia after I graduated college. Getting into Hitchens so late in his life is a bit disappointing considering his early death. I didn't have the time to enjoy him for decades as others have. His works however, both written and oral, are immortalized and can be enjoyed forever. His legacy will live on the spirit of those he touched and for those like me who will continue his argument against the wretched effects that religion and faith produces.

Hitchens was a hard-lined drinker and smoker, a lifestyle that I have embraced more often then not in my adult years. As I glance toward the pack of cigarettes on my coffee table contemplating another smoke while writing this blog, I wonder whether I too will meet such a fate. Burning the candle at both ends, as Hitchens puts it, make one shine brighter, but makes one a candidate for an early visit by the grim reaper. I've always made attempts to do everything in modesty, for the obvious reasons. I've always been a recreational user of any substance. Cigarettes however, pose the biggest challenge to moderation. It's such a subtle and situational addiction. Even Malcolm X famously compared the relative ease at quitting heroine to quitting cigarettes.

I bought a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label, his favorite scotch whiskey of choice, as a tribute celebrate his life and death. I had planned this months ago knowing that the end for Hitchens was nearing. I was clinging on to the hope that he would be a rare exception and beat his cancer, while acknowledging that the odds were not favorable. I had dreams of him dying and how I would feel upon the news. It never is quite as you imagine it to be when it really happens. I have rarely experienced death in my short life. Perhaps I am lucky. I do gleefully rejoice in the opportunity to having had briefly met Hitchens after one of his debates here in New York. I remember making him laugh with a slight joke about having the King James version of his book. It was a great moment, in my life anyways.

While walking home from work, depressed, thinking of Hitchens' death, and staring at the sea of anonymous faces during the rush hour commute, I had this strange thought that it would be better to be dead now with Hitchens dead too. Realizing this macabre prospect, I mentally raced back to rationality, with the knowledge that life goes on, and that it is worth living for. Usually.


This drink is for you Hitch.


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