Showing posts with label new york. Show all posts
Showing posts with label new york. Show all posts

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Religion At Work

The other day I saw this ad on the internet advertising a 1 day conference called "Faith at Work New York" that according to its website is a "dynamic, one-day conference on how we, as Christ-followers, can engage in everyday work as a sacred calling from God Himself, and thereby become agents of grace in workplaces everywhere."

It seems to me like it's trying to teach people to preach the gospel and proselytize at work, and it got me thinking: is it appropriate to proselytize at work?

I would say the answer is no. One should keep their religious beliefs out of the workplace as much as possible. Here's why.

Work is a place you have to be (unless you want to go broke). And most people don't have the luxury of just being able to quit their jobs and go somewhere else. Millions of Americans are a few paychecks away from being homeless, and so work is such a special kind of environment. It's not like a shopping mall, or a street corner that you can leave without severe consequence. Because of this, when people are at work, they shouldn't be subject to religious proselytizing as it could make them uncomfortable with undue pressure to respond a certain way.

This is heightened by the fact that there are many power imbalances at work. Managers have the power to fire workers. What if a manager tried to preach the gospel to a subordinate? The subordinate might feel as if accepting their manager's enticements might get them favors, or worse, rejecting them might get them fired. Just as with workplace relationships, power imbalances at work make religious proselytizing a big complication. Big enough that I think it should be avoided altogether.

Every work environment is different and I have no idea what kinds of tactics will be taught at this conference. I would hope these concerns are taken into account. At my job, religion is almost never talked about, certainly not in a way where it's presumed to be true. My manager is actually a theist, but he's critical of religion, and so whenever it comes up, he's never preachy about it. If I was put under pressure at work to believe Christianity, I don't know how I'd react. The anti-theist in me would lash out and tell my coworkers their religion is nonsense. The accommodationist in me would be more diplomatic. Thankfully, living in the secular metropolis of New York, I've never had that experience. But I know my fellow atheists in the south are not as lucky.

I don't think religion nor atheism should be promoted in the workplace. In other words, there should be a separation between business and religion. Now if your business is religion that's another story. But in general, in most businesses that are merely selling a product or service that has nothing to do with religion, and so religion should be kept out.

I hope that the faithful don't think it's a good idea to bring religion into the workplace as a tactic to increase their numbers. That will likely backfire in our increasingly secular culture. There is no going back to pre-2000s levels of religious belief. That's just not happening Christians, sorry to burst your hopes. And the increased irreligiosity of generation Z ensures that.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

A United Atheist Community Is Impossible

It's been nearly a month now since The Atheist Conference collapsed and I've been thinking about the fallout and it's implications for the broader atheist community.

First, I want to clarify a misconception. It seems that many people thought that having Steve Shives at the conference lead to its demise. This is not true. What killed TAC was entirely due to the director's immoral behavior, which lead to many of our major speakers pulling out. Shives had nothing to do with it.

Second, the rift created by having Shives at our conference has lead me to completely abandon any hopes of atheist unity. The atheists community is irreparably divided and this is an inevitable consequence of the individualist atheist mindset. We're not divided over doctrine like the religious are, we're divided over politics and social issues. Since atheism has no doctrine, there's nothing to unite atheists other than disbelief in god. But that's hardly something to be united under. There's no organization or community dedicated to non-basketball players, or non-chess players, nor is there any reason too. It just isn't a thing.

The only thing that unites an atheist community is extreme persecution by the religious, like the kind happening to atheists in Muslim majority countries. But atheists by and large just don't experience that kind of persecution in the West. This is why there is little reason to have a strong organized atheist community in irreligious parts of the world like Denmark or Sweden, or New York or San Francisco. It is only where religion dominates and persecutes the non-religious that atheists feel the motivation to unite, which is why atheist communities in the American South tend to be much stronger than those in the North.

As atheism becomes more and more normalized and the rights of the non-religious become more and more secured, the need for an atheist community becomes less and less. Basically, the goal of the atheist community is to make itself obsolete. Perhaps the efforts of the atheist community for the last 15 years, which saw the rise of the New Atheism cultural movement, has become a victim of its own success. It's become so good at normalizing atheism that the need for it to continue existing at the size it was simply isn't there. And once religion ceases to be the threat that it once was to atheists, other issues will take center stage, and that's exactly what happened.

We were hoping that Trump's election would have a uniting force on the atheist community, and the main goal of TAC was to help facilitate this. But it didn't. The persecution of atheists even under fundamentalists like Mike Pence and Jeff Sessions just isn't bad enough to warrant such a unity. Most atheists across the US saw no difference in their lives once Trump took office. On top of that, the social issues that divide atheists today, like radical feminism and extreme political correctness, only seem to be getting worse by the day, and they have a much greater tangible effect on the live of most atheists in the West than religious fundamentalism does.

I've accepted this reality and I will no longer call for the futile idea of atheist unity. A united atheist community is impossible; that's just the way it is. But I'm definitely not going to stop being an active atheist. With TAC out of the way I can now focus on other projects. I will continue writing on this blog about atheism and related issues. I will continue working with my local atheist community in making more atheist related content, especially video content — something I haven't explored deeply. This will be in the form of documentaries and videos about atheist related subject matters, science, philosophy, and social issues, in both a scripted and unscripted format. I'm also planning on making a documentary about free will this year, something I'm uber excited about. This will necessarily reduce the number of blog posts I can make, so my frequency might be reduced, but there will be videos! Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Atheist Intersectionality: The Many Hats We Wear

I was just recently thinking about atheist intersectionality: how atheism intersects with my gender, race, place of origins, my politics, ethics, economic philosophy, and views on sexuality. Additionally, the question of whether my atheism should affect my views on these things is an open question. I was inspired by intersectional feminism, which a lot of people, mostly feminists, like talk about. The idea of applying intersectionality itself to other things is a wonderful philosophical venture and one I want to explore here.

We all 'wear many hats' so to speak, and some of these hats are more important to us than others for various reasons. Atheism is very important to me in how I identify myself overall, but depending on the situation, other hats I wear are more important. I want to explore the relationships between these various identities I have with atheism. So let me start by listing some of the many hats I wear as part of my identity. In no particular order:

Atheist: I am an atheist in that I do not believe any gods exist. An atheist is someone who lacks a belief in any gods existing. This is what I like to call bare minimum atheism. It is the minimum requirement for one to properly be called an atheist as I define it. One can go further and declare they know god doesn't exist, but it isn't necessary. I've been an atheist or agnostic all of my life, and I wear the identity proudly, although I'm not always wearing it on my sleeve. You could technically classify me as a moderate atheist on this scale.

Anti-theist: Not only am I an atheist, I go a step further and say I'm an anti-theist. An anti-theist is an atheist who opposes religious belief. Not all atheists are anti-theists. Most atheists are more or less indifferent to religion. I was inspired by the New Atheism movement to oppose religious belief and dedicate myself to decreasing religiosity in the world and increasing secularism and atheism. It is an extremely important motivating factor in my life.

Determinist: I am a determinist in the sense that I reject the notion of libertarian free will and I think that everything in the universe that happens is inevitable given the initial conditions in the big bang. In this view if you were to rewind the universe back to the big bang and play it again, you'd get the same exact results and events every time you did so, ad infinitum. This you can say is part of my metaphysical worldview.

Epiphenominalist: I am an epiphenominalist in that I think whatever the mind is, it is ultimately caused or explained by something going on in the brain. Understanding the brain will most likely unlock the mystery of consciousness, although it is certainly possible a full understanding of the brain will not resolve the hard problem of consciousness. As an epiphenominalist, I reject substance dualism in the sense of dualistic interactionism.

Eternalist: I am an eternalist whose ontology includes all moments of time existing at different areas of spacetime. In this metaphysical worldview the universe is basically a block that is composed of all of spacetime laid out.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Thinker - A Novel (Chapter 1 Part 6) New Yawk Tawk


THERE'S A WEIRD WAY WE NEW YORKERS TALK that some outsiders may not fully understand. The cities of the Northeast each have their distinct slang and dialects. There’s the Boston accent, which just about everyone considers annoying. The Philadelphia accent, which is similar to the New York accent, but with a bit more Pennsylvanian-Southern Jersey in it. They each have their local slang and ways of pronouncing words. And then there’s the New York accent. Some of the slang terms we use in New York have become national over the years, and some of them derive from the hip hop culture, which of course started in New York. Growing up as a kid in the nineties I remember we used to use words like “wack” which meant bad or lame. “Mad,” which meant a lot, as in “I made mad money last week.” “Foul,” which was similar to wack, but was usually used when somebody wronged another person. And then there was “yo” which could begin or end just about any sentence, as in “Yo that shit was crazy.” It could also serve as a universal greeting, similar to “hi” or “hey.” We’d almost always answer the phone with a “yo.” Perhaps most controversial of all was the N-word. In the hip hop subculture in New York City, everybody used the N-word, regardless of what race you were, but it was always “nigga” and not “nigger.” This might take some people by surprise to see an Asian kid or a white kid drop the N-word, but it wasn’t about racism. It was just a slang term we used it to refer to anyone—regardless of their race. You could be talking about the whitest kid in the world and you might say, “John, that nigga’s mad crazy yo.” I don’t remember a single black person ever getting offended by this in all my years growing up.
     But this was all back when I was a little hood rat. I had since matured greatly and slang terminology fell out of my vocabulary. But some of it still remained, and being around native New Yorkers—especially when drunk—brought it out. I’d like to think that one can be educated and intellectual and still keep some of the slang of one’s youth, or of one’s city. Slang allows you to personalize language. It allows you to create an in-group code. Sure, if used too much it can make someone look like too much of a hood rat or like someone who needs to grow up a little. So I made a conscious effort over the years to minimize my slang and upgrade my vocabulary. I also upgraded my social circle. I stopped hanging out with almost everyone from my old high school clique, most of whom were losers doing nothing with their lives. In college I made new friends. I sought out people I thought were bright and who had a decent head on their shoulders but who still knew how to have a good time. I wasn’t about to stop drinking and partying. I tried to learn new words and sound sophisticated. I even managed to fool a few people in the early years that I actually was a lot smarter than I really was. I even tried to get rid of my accent so that no one would know that I’m from New York. Perhaps in my new persona, that of the sophisticated intellectual, I felt the need to extricate myself from my working class Queens roots. I didn’t want to be judged as a simpleton because of it. The working class New York accent carries with it many connotations. Many of them negative.
    This was all part of crafting my new image. I remember one of my teachers in high school telling me right before graduation that college would be a wonderful experience where you could reinvent yourself. That was exactly what I intended to do, although it didn’t happen immediately. I had no idea who I wanted to reinvent myself into upon high school graduation but I did know I didn’t want to be the person I was in high school.
    And so when you read me and some of my friends using slang when communicating just remember that it’s due to us growing up in our environment as New Yorkers, not because we’re all a bunch of unsophisticated hood rats. (Although clearly not all of my friends are sophisticated intellectuals.)

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Thinker - A Novel (Chapter 1 Part 5) Cocaine and The Meaning of Life


WE FINISHED OUR CANCER STICKS, closed out our tab and made it out just as the bar was starting to fill with annoying yuppies. Alex’s apartment was on the Upper East Side just off of Third Avenue. He was a Manhattan kid, growing up right in the heart of one of New York’s most sought after addresses. His parents were well off and gave him a nice upper middle class upbringing, although they weren’t “rich” by New York standards. He was the product of a Jewish father and an African American mother. In Facebook pictures his family looked like the stereotypical liberal cosmopolitan Manhattan family, the kind that wouldn’t be all that hard imagining in a sitcom. He had a younger brother that I had never met.
     I decided to lock my bike up on the street and take the subway with Steve to get to Alex’s apartment since bringing my bike on the train during rush hour would be impossible. I still had time on my monthly Metrocard that if I didn’t use would all go to waste. So we hopped on the subway for the short ride from Midtown to the Upper East Side, stopping to get some orange juice on the way to mix with Alex's vodka. We made the trip up the three flights of rickety old stairs to Alex’s apartment in his prewar brownstone. I knocked on Alex’s door and he opened a second later.
     “Yo what’s good?” Alex said with a big smile. We palmed and patted each other’s backs in typical New York fashion. Alex always showed mad love to his friends. He did the same with Steve, even though they weren’t as good of friends and Alex and I were.
     “We got a bottle of OJ,” I announced. “I thought we’d make some screwdrivers.” I then realized Alex had a lady over.
     “This is Daniella,” Alex said. She was a Dominicana, New York style, sitting on the couch with her legs crossed watching the TV on low. She had glasses, big tits, and some extra fat around her midriff. I knew Alex liked his girls generally on the bigger side. It must have been the black in him.
     “How do you do Daniella?” I asked being cocky and purposely animated.
     “We met at work,” Alex said.
     “Oh nice,” I replied.
     We all got situated on the two couches in his tiny living room and I started making drinks. Steve and I were already sufficiently wasted, and everything Steve said was at maximum volume. I was actually worried in the back of my mind that Steve would get a little out of control since he was such a lightweight with his alcohol. The last thing he needed was vodka. Alex and Steve got reacquainted since it had been some months since hanging out. I got reacquainted with some vodka.
     “Steve! Take it easy on the drinking tonight, alright?” I yelled from the kitchen. “I don’t want you getting crazy on us.” Although Steve was a little guy, only about 5 foot 8, he was often quick to start a fight when drunk.
     “Dude, I’m fine man. I can handle myself,” Steve shouted back.
     “You can’t handle your liquor, that’s what I’m worried about.” I served us all drinks, making note to water Steve’s down a lot and we all sat on the couch.
     “Alex. What’s going on man?” I said in a slightly drunken stupor, “You still working in sales?”
     “Yeah, although I just got into a fight with my boss last week,” he said. “Check this out. They wanted me to work both Saturday and Sunday and I said I couldn’t do it. Then they told me that if I didn’t work both those days they’d fire me. So I told my boss, who’s a total bitch, I was like, ‘Listen, I can’t work seven days a week. I need a life. I’m not working Saturday and Sunday. You can fire me if you want to but I’m not working seven days a week.’ So I didn’t work, I didn’t show up. And you know what? They didn’t fire me. They were bullshiting. They can’t fire me and they know that. But now I’m on their shit-list at work because unlike everyone else, I spoke out. So I still might have to look for another job soon.”
     “Holy shit that’s fucked up,” I said. “You know what? I just got fired from my job earlier this week.” Alex and Daniella’s eyes grew twice their sizes.
     “Your serious?” Alex asked.
     “Yeah, I have no job now.”
     “What happened?” Daniella asked.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Thinker - A Novel (Chapter 1 Part 4) Economics 101


I MET UP WITH STEVE A HALF HOUR LATER. He was a first generation Korean immigrant who came to the US when he was three. As is typical of many Koreans, he excelled in school, especially math, and had decided to go into a career in finance. We met in my first year in college in economics class. He was studying business and I was studying tech. We soon started partying together. I still remember the day when I first introduced him to cocaine at a house party. He liked it so much that doing coke soon became our thing, and for the rest of college, me, Steve, and our other friend Mario, got together virtually every weekend to drink beer, snort coke, and then go bar hopping in the city. Eventually it started getting out of hand. Doing coke had initially started out as a side thing, a little extra something something to make our nights a little more interesting. We’d pregame it at someone's house, usually Mario's. We'd drink, do a little coke, and then head out to a bar or club for the real fun. But before long, coke had become the main dish. It started replacing everything else in importance. We eventually got to the point where we were spending all our money on coke, and we didn’t even want to go out to the bars anymore. We began thinking like total cokeheads, with each of us reinforcing the worst ideas of drug addiction in the others. Why go out to a bar and spend ten dollars on a drink if we could just spend that money on more coke? It seemed logical. And so we did. Mario especially got out of hand, so much so that I eventually had to stop hanging out with him altogether. At some point, when my tolerance got so high to where I had to spend at least fifty dollars on coke just to sustain a decent buzz, a light bulb went off in my head. I realized that the coke was using me and I wasn’t using the coke anymore. It was working against me and not for me. So I gradually stopped doing it until I didn't need it anymore, which is the way George Carlin quit. Neither Steve nor Mario were able to have this epiphany, and they both spiraled further down the hole. Eventually I managed to get Steve off of it for the most part, but Mario was a goner.
     Being in finance, Steve could never kick the habit entirely, as it generally goes with the lifestyle. But for the most part he kept it under control. He was a diehard capitalist, a true free market proponent. Over the years we had many heated discussions on economics. And so when I met up with him that day I wanted to talk to him about my situation and whether he thought there was anything wrong with our current state of affairs. We went to one of those Irish pubs you see all over Manhattan. I liked those places. I could go in an anonymously drink among strangers and feel like I could fit right in. Steve knew the bartender it seemed from the way he greeted him, although it was hard to tell since he always acted like he was everybody’s best friend. He kindly ordered me a beer and we sat down in one of the booths in the back, away from the rowdy patrons at the bar.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Thinker - A Novel (Chapter 1 Part 3) Bike Ride

I WOKE UP AROUND TEN-THIRTY IN THE MORNING. Being a natural night owl, I knew a pattern was slowly developing. Each day I’d wake up a little bit later than the previous day and would eventually be getting up at three in the afternoon and going to bed at seven AM. I didn’t want to let myself get that bad. Not for a while at least. I made myself breakfast, using the last egg that had probably been sitting in my fridge for a few weeks and some Italian sausages that probably weren’t much younger. I put some frozen waffles in the toaster and sliced up an avocado to add something a bit more healthy in the mix. As I sat and ate I watched the day’s news on TV and contemplated what I was going to do that day. Thoughts of work and getting fired were quickly fading away. Two days unemployed and I was nearing that point where I couldn’t give a shit anymore. My morale was quite high. I was excited about this journey and where it would take me.
     Since the weather was so nice and it was midsummer I decided that a bike ride was in store. I had an old red Raleigh mountain bike that was nearing its death but still ran decently. I greased the chain up with some WD40, pumped up the tires, put on my shades and my old cabbie hat and took off out into the summer sun. I lived in Queens but I had Brooklyn on my mind for some reason, and so Brooklyn it was.
     It felt so strange being out in the middle of the day on a weekday. It had been so long since I saw the city it this day and hour. The streets were lively and filled with people. Kids were out playing in the playground sprinklers; old men were playing bocce in the park; beautiful young women were walking their dogs. And all of this went on every day when I was slaving away at work. I crossed the John Jay Byrne bridge from Queens into Brooklyn. It goes right through that big industrial area bisected by Newtown creek. I headed south towards Williamsburg, hipster central. It was a favorite party area for me and my friends due to all the twenty-something girls and the abundance of bars. In the daylight it almost seemed like a sleepy neighborhood, far from its nighttime alter ego. I remember when the so-called “hipster” culture exploded in New York back in 2001. The Strokes had come out and reinvigorated indie rock and set off a new culture trend. They brought skinny jeans and mop-tops back. It slowly put a death curse on the angry rap metal that had permeated the culture for years up until that point. I was glad to see rap metal and nu-metal die. I never felt acquainted with its brashness and angry vitriolic lyrics and sound.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Thinker - A Novel (Chapter 1 - Part 1) A New Beginning



Chapter 1 - Part 1 - A New Beginning

IT WAS THE MIDDLE OF THE SUMMER as I recall, and I found myself sitting alone in Union Square Park on a beautiful sunny day thinking about what had just happened to me. I had just gotten fired from my job. The actual firing itself was rather uneventful. My manager had pinged me over the company instant messenger program to come to the HR office. I had a strong premonition what was in store for me. He told me that I was being terminated due to my performance on the job and although hearing the actual words was slightly shocking, I was actually relieved knowing that I wouldn’t have to trek over to New Jersey to work and spend 11 hours a day anymore at a job that I hated. The lovely young female human resources manager briefed me on a few things and then told me that I was free to leave. And that was it. I gave her my building pass, got my stuff from my cubicle, and then walked out for the last time. I remember leaving the building and stepping out into the blinding sun and feeling so awkward on the way out. A few of my coworkers were just coming back from lunch and we waved hello to each other. I didn’t have any real friends that I hung out with from work on my personal time and so that was the last time I ever saw them. The train station I had used everyday appeared foreign to me because of how the angle of the midday sun made it look. I had not ever seen it at that hour being that I was always at work during the middle of the day. I stood in the middle of the nearly empty platform patiently and boarded the next train back to Manhattan.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

It's Time To Be Thankful Again - A Short Rant

So, it's been another year since Thanksgiving. This time last year I was recovering from surgery and having to work from home. That episode involved two operations and two nights in the hospital, and totaled nearly 40 thousand dollars. It was $7,000 per night just to stay in the hospital. The hospital was decent but the food was absolutely horrible. Can you believe it costs that much to stay at the hospital per night? It's outrageous.

Thankfully though, I had health insurance, and good health insurance at that. I only ended up paying $500 out of pocket for the whole thing. Had I needed surgery a few years earlier when I was unemployed and without insurance, I would have been financially fucked. So this has made me appreciate what I've got and its always good to set aside a time of the year to remind us of this. I have a good job that is low stress, pays good, and provides me good health insurance. I'm a middle class person living in a first world country. Right there I have it better than 90 percent of the world's population. I live in the best city in the world. I have good friends. My family relationships are mostly good. I have my health (thanks to my insurance). And I have a new girlfriend and things are going well (so far). Right now my life is pretty good. I don't really have anything that's causing me tremendous stress. Things aren't perfect of course. I have problems here and there, but overall things are pretty good.

And this is mostly due to pure luck. I'm simply lucky that I was born with a healthy body and a healthy brain, into a secular middle class family in a first world country where I enjoy levels of freedom billions of people are not afforded. I got dealt a good hand. I lucked out in the genetic lottery. That's the reality of my situation. I'm just luckier than most other people in many ways. But with that luck I plan to make this world a better place so that other people can be just as lucky as me. That way, a greater number of people in the future will win this genetic lottery. If anything we should always thank the people who've made the pleasures in our lives possible. I thank them mostly.

I am optimistic that the world will get better. We no doubt have problems—climate change, income inequality, terrorism, war — plenty of stuff. Religion is declining in the West and I'm happy about that. We're going to have problems with the Islamic world for generations to come unfortunately, but I think the Islamic world will eventually liberalize and secularize. It won't be easy. Technology is going to improve all of our lives. Diseases will be eradicated by genetic manipulation. We've not even begun to reap the rewards of our ability to manipulate DNA and realize its potential. This is going to utterly change our ability to combat disease and make nature work for us. We can't pray for change, we must be active agents in making the world a better place — at least in the sense of making it a point to not cause any unnecessary suffering. If we all were negative utilitarians in this sense, the happiness and well being of the world would go up tremendously. That's one of the reasons why I had to give up eating meat.

This will also be my first Thanksgiving as a vegetarian. It will be interesting, but I like mash potatoes and stuffing enough to call it a meal.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

How To Do Recreational Drugs Responsibly

I just watched Vice's special on our broken prison system where president Obama sat with several convicted felons in a federal prison, the first time ever for a siting president. It was pretty fuckin' good, I have to say. Vice knows how to do some really good reporting. Several inmates were profiled and their situations highlight just how broken America's prison system is. According to the show, about 97 percent of people arrested and charged with non-violent drug offenses plea guilty to lesser sentences because the mandatory minimum laws passed in the 80s and 90s are so stiff. Once you serve your time you'll often actually be charged fees for your public representative and for your parole, putting you in debt. Combine this with the fact that having a felony conviction makes it very difficult to find a job, especially without an education, and it prevents you from applying for food stamps, public housing, or getting federal aid for college, the recidivism rate is 67.8 percent after 3 years. And so the cycle goes on and on and on, generation after generation, and no community is hit harder than the African American community. 

Watching the show reminded me of my life growing up. I was raised by a single mother. I grew up in the inner city - not in the worst of neighborhoods, but definitely not the best. Many of the friends I knew during high school and immediately after were dropouts who often engaged in petty crimes like vandalism, graffiti, and low level drug dealing. When I went to college I stopped hanging out with them and made new friends and took a new path. I now hang out with people who have a much better mindset and I have a good job that affords me a comfortable middle class life. Watching the show made me realize just how good I have it. I am really, really lucky. I cannot stress that enough. I have it ridiculously good compared to so many people. For one thing, I'm a middle class person living in a first world country. Right there I have it better than about 90 percent of the world's population.

That got me thinking. Given how the inmates profiled in the show were convicted of low level drug offenses, I want to offer some advice to the readers out there. I've done plenty of drugs in my life, and I'm not against responsible drug use. I'm a libertarian in the sense that I don't think the state should be telling people what they can and cannot put in their body for the most part. So given this, here is some advice for responsible recreational drug use.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why Fear Secularism?

I think one of the reasons why so many religious people fear political secularism is because they fear that once you prevent religion from mingling with government, or public institutions like schools, it marks the beginning of the end for religion. And you know what? To a certain degree they're right.

Look at the spectacular secularization of the Western world over the past century or so. Much of Western Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are culturally post-religious. That is to say, religious belief and practice plays a very insignificant role in people's everyday lives that in many cases is near invisible.

When I was chatting with Aron Ra the other week, we were talking about how much more motivated atheists seem to be in the South and how northern atheists seem to mostly be apatheists. One of the reasons why is because here in secular New York, we've essentially achieved what secularists are trying to achieve in the South. Religion doesn't matter here. You're very unlikely to get fired from your job over being an atheist, or lose all your friends and have your family disown you. In the South, that is unfortunately all too common. If in 10-15 years attitudes in the South become as friendly towards atheists as it is here in the North, atheists might become apatheists there too.

But religious belief may have to pay the price for this. The more atheists are tolerated, the more there seems to be more atheists. This is due to atheists "coming out of the closet" because of the friendlier environment, but also the friendlier environment might make it easier for theists to deconvert. Once the social pressures and taboos are gone that keep you conforming to the faith, it seems that this has the possibility of opening the floodgates of disbelief.

So then, if you're a person who is alarmed at the rise in non-religiosity and wants to prevent it, then I suppose from a purely strategic tactic, it's in your best interest to foster an environment as hostile to atheists and secularists as much as possible. This is what many religious fundamentalists are trying to do, but in doing so, they also damage the image of religion by making it look more irrational and intolerant, and that might also backfire and lead to more atheists. So tolerance might be the best tactic, and that only seems to grow the numbers of atheists.

But still, many of the fundies march on with their war on secularism and their vain hopes that the West is going to return to traditional Judeo-Christian values full force.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Night Of Philosophy

Last Friday night I went to an event called "Night of Philosophy". It took place at the French Embassy here in New York and the Ukrainian Institute of America. The idea is interesting: 12 straight hours of half hour presentations giving by many world-renowned philosophers on a variety of topics from logic, to existence, to religion, to god and science. Entry was for free. Oh yeah, and there was a bar. Given how all this stuff is right up my alley, I went straight after work.

Although it was 80 degrees last weekend, this weekend it was 40 degrees. Other than having to wait about 35 minutes in the cold with ferocious winds, the event was very unexpected treat. I missed David Albert's presentation on the arrow of time, but I did get to see presentations from many philosophers I've taken an interest in, including Massimo Pigliucci, Alex Rosenberg, and Tim Maudlin.

Alex Rosenberg gave a speech in defense of scientism and included a PowerPoint slide with his "answers" to the biggest perplexing philosophical questions:

Is there a God? No.
What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.
What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.
What is the meaning of life? Ditto.
Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding?
Is there free will? Not a chance.
What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? Nothing beyond the emotions mother nature selected us for having.
Does human history ave any lessons for the future? Few and fewer, if it ever had any.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

I Met Sean Carroll Today!

I just got back from the World Science Festival in Manhattan where there was a talk about the quantum measurement problem. The quantum measurement problem is traditionally where the different interpretations of quantum mechanics come in to explain the peculiar phenomena like the results of the double slit experiment. Hosted by physicist Brian Greene, Sean Carroll was there to represent the Many World Interpretation. After the show I got to meet him in person and have my picture taken with him. He was a lot taller than I expected but other than that he was very nice and cordial. I mentioned that I was a huge fan and that I particularly enjoyed his recent debates, especially the one with William Lane Craig.

It's so great being able to have access to some of your heroes in person. I actually saw Sean walking down the street right outside my job on the way to work this morning. Good thing I was late! Tomorrow I will be seeing the program about the latest developments concerning the gravitational waves that seemed to have confirmed inflationary theory. And later this weekend there will be several interactive exhibits and programs about science throughout the city, including a stargazing exhibition. It should be fun.

Watch the program below:

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Fuck It

About five years ago I really started taking my atheism seriously. I began learning about many of the world's religions and I became obsessed with the arguments for god. This made me a whole lot smarter in the areas of science, history, philosophy and of course, religion. But now I feel like I'm at that point where I've pretty much heard everything. I've taken on the best arguments for god that I could find and tried to refute everyone of them. I've had dozens and dozens of debates with theists online and in person. And after 5 years of debates and rigorous education in the arguments between atheism and theism, I have yet to still hear a reasonable and convincing case that a god of some sort exists.

Now I don't think that I'm done, but I do think that counter-apologetics for me might be running out of steam. Don't get me wrong, I'm still fascinated by the science and philosophy behind the theism vs. atheism debate. If I had enough money, I would actually consider getting a PhD in philosophy or maybe physics specifically so that I could become the best atheist debater in the history of the world. It's a fantasy of mine. But there is also a pull from the materialistic world. And I don't mean materialism in the sense of ontological naturalism, I mean materialism in the sense of money, bitches. There is a part of me that wants to say, "Fuck it, you only live once. Why not just party, drink, give into consumerism and carnal pleasure, and forget about all that atheism shit? God doesn't exist."

I struggle with this. These two mindsets seem to be pulling me from either side, like an angel and a demon sitting on opposite shoulders. Only with me, it's the angel that's telling me to focus more on my atheism!

Right now, it's winter and it's freezing outside. We've had a particularly nasty couple of months here in New York, but in a few weeks spring will be here and I will want to get back into party mode. Perhaps I should take a cue from the Buddha and find the middle path. Perhaps I should strike a balance between my conflicting desires to immerse myself in these intellectual things and immerse myself in gratuitous debauchery. I guess that's probably the right thing to do. Plus, I know that if I do immerse myself in the party scene again I'll quickly get bored with it, because I've been there and done that, and the people living the party life are not deep thinking intellectuals for the most part. So it's probably best I do a little of both. I can't live without my intellectual fix, and the desire grows stronger and stronger as I get older. So there is no way I'm giving up my pursuit of wisdom.

But, I don't want to turn into some old fogey either, who's buried in books and who's totally lost touch with style and coolness.

Fuck it, I'm going to have to rethink my previous "fuck it."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

50 Years Since Beatlemania Hit The US

50 years ago the Beatles touched down in the newly renamed John F. Kennedy Airport, and Beatlemania hit the US. It was the beginning of a cultural phenomenon, the likes of which has never been seen before, or since. From that point onward, American music was forever changed, and the Beatles would go onto define the sound of  the decade along with an entire generation.

Beatlemania hit me in the summer of 2001. I remember exactly how it happened. I was working out at a local gym and I heard a song come on the radio on the speakers. It was "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by George Harrison. It hit me at just the right time, in just the right way, that it sparked my interest in all things Beatles and I eventually collected most of their albums.

I had heard them before; a friend of mine had been a big Beatles fan and I was of course familiar with their music, but early on they just didn't strike the right chord with me. The way I get into a band is funny. Sometimes I hear a band and I don't like them, and then I hear the right song at just the right time, in just the right circumstance and somehow I get hooked.

The Beatles are one of those unique bands that get near-universal respect from all artists and subcultures. I remember even my metal head friends in high school respecting them for allowing heavy metal to evolve. I remember growing my hair out long for the first time because I wanted to look like I was a Beatle. My newfound Beatlemania back in 2001 was part of a larger context and phenomenon going on around me. The indie rock explosion was just happening right at the same time and mop tops came back into style. The 90s shit that I had hated so much seemed to be quickly disappearing and replaced by this new culture in which everything retro was in. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Animals, The Who, along with Led Zeppelin, The Stooges and a host of other bands from the 60s and 70s seemed to be undergoing a popular resurgence. Many of the contemporary bands at that time had a sixties mod look and influence, indicating the Beatles' influential power 40 years later.

For me, it was the perfect mix, and I became enthralled at watching the Beatles almost as much as many of those screaming teenage girls were all those years ago. They were to me, more popular than Jesus. By far.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Atheism Can Help You Get Laid

If you've ever spent time browsing your local singles on OKCupid you will most likely notice one thing immediately: there are tons of self-described atheists on the site.

Two years ago at a friend's request, I joined the free online dating site OKCupid. I'm not a huge fan of online dating personally, and I'd much rather meet someone in person, but since it was free I thought I had nothing to lose (except maybe some pride). Initially, I hesitated about whether I should keep my atheism in the closet and perhaps feign agnosticism as I have sometimes done before. But I figured I might as well try being honest and see what happens. So when I filled out my profile I made it very clear that I was serious about my atheism. Long story short, OkCupid got me several dates but none of them went anywhere. A few months after I joined I started dating a girl I met at a bar and eventually disabled my account. Now I'm back in the game but I browse for ladies mostly for fun.

Browsing the many twenty-something singles in the NY metro area, it is amazing how many report "atheism" under religion. (Atheism is of course not a religion but OKCupid makes you report it as such.) Even OKCupid's blog confirms this and one of its rules for a successful first contact is "Consider becoming an atheist." Interestingly, according OK's trends, mentioning "god" in a first contact is one of the quickest ways to deny yourself getting a response back.

I live in New York, which is a city that attracts a lot of heathens, so the numbers of atheists that I'm seeing may be skewed upwards from the average. But nonetheless, the stats on dating sites like OKCupid confirm my personal experiences talking with young people all over New York (many of whom come from other parts of the country and all over the world). Most of them are either totally indifferent to religion, in that religion is the last thing on their mind and they don't give a shit about it, or they have open disdain for it. I almost never run into a young person who speaks positively about traditional religion. And this is all music to my ears and a trend heading in the right direction.

So it now appears that being an atheist can actually help your love life and ability to get laid. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Further Thoughts On Hipster Atheism

Hipster culture to me is kind of like the fetishization of fashion itself. Fashion and beauty have been around for centuries, but what hipster culture does is it takes image and style and fetishizes it to the point where it becomes the only thing that matters. And living in New York, I can't help but pay attention to this subculture because hipsters are everywhere. They're unavoidable. If you're a relatively young person like myself in New York, you're going to feel a lot of pressure to be stylish and you will indeed be judged by how you dress, not only by hipsters, but by New Yorkers in general.

Hipsterism I suppose is the primary cultural phenomenon of our day, as was the hippy subculture of the sixties, and the beatnik subculture of the fifties. I guess you can say that I too am a hipster, but I don't fit all the stereotypes. Yes, I do care about how I dress. I do wear skinny jeans. I do have a beard. I do wear a lot of plaid. I do listen to a lot of indie rock and a lot of classic rock. I do like many things that are somewhat obscure. I do like art and film. And, I am an atheist. But - I'm not a trust fund baby pretending to be poor. I care more about science and philosophy than I do about style and looks. I sometimes wear things that aren't cool. I don't keep up with all the trends. I like many things that are mainstream and commercial. I don't wear thick rimmed glasses. And I fucking hate PBRs!

I do however, have somewhat of a love/hate relationship with hipster culture. Once you get into it, you start looking down at people who have no style. This is why hipster culture has so many haters. I've noticed myself numerous times insulting people behind their back who I thought had no fashion sense. But then I also despise people who take that attitude to the extreme and judge people only by what they wear. I don't go that far. I judge people by their personality. If you're interested in the same things I am, like science and philosophy and can carry your own in an intellectual conversation, then I don't necessarily care about how you dress. And conversely, you can be the most stylish mother fucker in the world, but if you're a purely superficial, lame ass douche bag who only cares about fashion and pop culture, then I will have little to no interest in hanging out with you.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Walk Through Chinatown

I want to digress from religion bashing for a bit. For the past year or so I've been focusing intensely on counter-apologetics. I've been trying to take on the toughest arguments theism has to see if they hold any water. So far they don't. But it's always fun demonstrating so in the process, and one of the roles this blog plays is for me to share counter arguments with the skeptic community and have a repository available when I get into online debates with theists where I can simply copy and paste many of my arguments.

But since this blog is also about the city, I also want to share some of the doings about my city, New York. I recently took a walk in Chinatown in Manhattan and snapped a few pics. I loved Chinatown growing up. I remember my dad taking me there when I was a kid. I remember back in the day buying illegal fireworks there around July 4th with my older friend Jimmy so that we could  put on a show for the neighborhood folks, while nearly blowing it up in the process. The neighborhood has become a bit gentrified like all Manhattan neighborhoods, but it still retains most of its essential character.

I'm not sure if this is Confucius, arguable China's greatest and most well known philosopher, or someone else. This park used to be the site of Collect Pond, which was New York's water supply in the days when New York was a small town. See here.

Monday, October 21, 2013

What Came First The Atheist Or The Skeptic?

We all wear many hats in life, and carry many identities. For some of us, our race is the most important factor in our identity. Some people are black first and then an American or a Christian, or they're Latino first and then a woman. For other people, religion is first and foremost. So they might see themselves as a Muslim first, and then an American, or a Jehovah's Witness first, and then an Australian. Still others identify strongly with their gender. So for them, they might see themselves as a woman first, then a mother or a Latina. And others put nation identity first. So they might see themselves as an American first, or French first, and then male or female. And then there are those who see their occupation first. So they might see themselves as a chef first, then an Argentinian, or as a musician first, and then British.

How we identify ourselves depends on what identities we feel are most important to us. I've always hated the idea of being identified too strongly with what I do for a living because I've never really had a job that I liked a whole lot. In a city like New York, all too often you are what you do. When you meet someone new one of the first questions that you'll be asked is what you do for a living. When I would give my answer I'd feel like that person was immediately coming to conclusions about me based on what I did. I've worked in the IT industry for the past several years and I've had to deal with quite a few people thinking that I must be a computer geek who sits home and plays video games for hours on end. I happen not to be much of a gamer at all, and I'm not even much of a computer geek either.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Tokyo For Foreigners

Watching a few documentaries recently on YouTube about the experiences of culture shock of Westerners in Japan got me thinking of the time I visited Tokyo in 2010. Now I love to travel, but I truly hate that experience you get when you're in a foreign land and cannot speak the language. It almost turns you into a toddler, unable to communicate the most basic of needs and wants. I once got terribly lost in the Tokyo subway system and asking people for help was virtually futile as hardly anyone spoke English. Nonetheless, the Japanese people I asked were very nice, and they tried their best. I somehow eventually found my way.

So what was my experience like in Tokyo? Well, I remember the first night in Tokyo I went to the Shibuya district, which is kind of like Tokyo's Time Square. It's a very trendy district and full of Japanese hipsters. I felt a bit out of place because I wasn't stylish enough. I hadn't really brought any stylish clothes with me because the main destination that I was going to was Bali, and Bali is a tropical resort where you really have to dress as minimally as possible because of the heat and humidity.

And so I spent the night ogling at the people...

Now I come from New York, and we have plenty of Asian people, so being around tons of Asians is not something new to me. But in Japan it's a different story. I was on their turf, their land, where their history goes back centuries, uncorrupted by strong Western influence. Although Japan was occupied by America after World War II, the Japanese, being a very secretive people, and living on an island, have been able to retain a strong core to their cultural identity. Whatever American or Western influences you see there are mainly on the surface.

So of course I headed over to Starbucks for a drink.


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