Of anniversary and double entrendre

It may be arbitrary to some degree, but a year is a year (is a year? How much repetition distinguishes an idiom from redundancy?), and it has been a year.

And digressing thoughts aside (as well as regressive digressions about digressions), perhaps this post could use some context. After all, I do not think it that it is common for people to celebrate arbitrary dates and celebrate (or mourn) random days. Not that I have never been known to do uncommon things, mind you, but not even I am that abnormal…I think.

So, back on October of 2009, I moved to Atlanta with a girl names Seana. We met in Philadelphia, began dating, and when she was offered a job in Atlanta she took it and asked me to join her. I, not having a job at the time and wanting to experience life in another part of the country (and eventually the world), decided to take the risk and go. Risk being the word which has emotional import to this blogger.

So, a few months later things were not going so well, we had a minor argument, and she left. She did not give me an explanation, she refused to speak to me again, and was just gone from my life. That was January 16th 2010, one year ago today.  Happy anniversary to me!  But one does not usually commemorate dates of break-ups, at least if one is to be considered emotionally healthy, and likewise that is not the intention here.

While the circumstances of this painful break-up were non-typical in themselves, what happened next was what more appropriately makes this an anniversary…perhaps…that’s an issue for debate.

That very same day, being emotionally distraught and in need of distraction, I called two friends I had made while in Atlanta. I met them at The Brick Store (if you ever visit Atlanta and you love beer, you must visit this place!) and had a few drinks, distracted myself, and had a few laughs.  One of those friends was a girl I had met a week before, Ginny, and in my anguish and confusion I found myself attracted to her, and things went their natural way as they do with people in such circumstances.  Thus, another kind of anniversary, on the same day.

But that is not quite right.  Despite this start, it took time to heal, and in that time Ginny was the best of friends, most trusted confidant, and eventually we began to see ourselves as partners (polyamorous partners, of course), and I fell in love with her.  But the ability to trust, to love, and to move on after such a wound takes time.  She was patient, and in time I, even with the scars that still exist, have found that I have been able to trust, to love, and to look forward to a better future.

But the question still remains as to when, precisely, our relationship started.  The question Ginny and I have asked ourselves is ‘so, when is our anniversary?’  It’s a legitimate question, one which we  do not have a definitive answer to.  Ultimately, it is of little practical difference, as it does not change how we feel about each other, but it becomes a matter of deciding how long we have been together as partners.

In any case, we are, and I hope will continue to be, partners.  She is a wonderful person, ideal in my opinion, and I am glad beyond my ability to articulate to know her.  In fact, I think I have found myself in a better place now than I was before.  I mean no disrespect to any particular exes, but I think I have upgraded in every way, and there is a lesson in this.  I think the lesson is that sometimes when we are in pain, we don’t see that things can indeed get better.  I urge anyone in pain, suffering a loss of any kind, to keep this in mind.  You may find that you will learn things about yourself in times of loss that while unfortunate, may give you perspective.  I can almost thank Seana for giving me that perspective…but she’d never hear it nor would she likely understand.

And while I would like to have some explanation, some understanding, and possibly some closure (that will not happen, almost certainly), I am almost….glad (that seems odd to say, but it feels true) that previous relationship did not work.  I realize, only in retrospect, that while I did love her, she was not the right fit for me because the truth that is necessary in any relationship was not present in treating a loved one in such a way.  It was not warranted, and if it had not happened then, and in that way, it would have happened some other way, at some later time, most-likely

That’s the thing about trust.  I thought I could trust Seana, but it turned out I should not have.  But I won’t stop trusting.  it took me some time, but I came to trust Ginny.  And there is no guarantee that this trust will maintained in the end, but I will not resign to the cynicism of keeping people at a distance out of fear that they may break any trust I give them.  I will not allow the actions of a fearful and ultimately selfish person to ruin my future with other people I care about.  I hope, for the sake of her current and/or future partners, that she will grow beyond who she was to me.

But, I take one thing back;  it is not a double entendre at all.   No double anniversary here.  I do not need to remember such a day, such an act, or such a person as Seana with any further thought (which is not to say the scars will disappear, of course) or comment (that I can control).  I therefore, commit such things to the past, where they belong.

Ginny does not always wear a bag on her head...

But, more importantly, I hope that the people in my life will end up being more like Ginnys than Seanas.  I thank Ginny for being the amazing person she is, and I wish her a happy anniversary (of sorts).

And, as we plan on moving to Philadelphia, I hope that those I know there will grow to love her as I do.








The Moral Landscape (some early thoughts)

I’m currently (finally) reading Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape (which I am enjoying so far).  I am finding that I agree with Sam Harris much more often than not, and will recommend the book.

Right now, I want to post a few short quotes concern an issue I have been thinking about, as well as arguing about on an email list for atheists.

What are our priorities?  How can we make ourselves better people?  What is a good person?

Here is a quote from the book which is tangentially related to some recent conversations I have been having via email with some atheists with varying priorities.

I am arguing that everyone also has an intuitive “morality,” but much of our intuititive morality is clearly wrong (with respect to the goal of maximizing personal and collective well-being).  And only genuine moral experts would have a deep understanding of the causes and conditions of human and animal well-being.
(page 36)

Inserted at the end of that sentence there is an end note, from which I quote the following:

Many people’s reflexive response to the notion of moral expertise is to say, “I don’t want anyone telling me how to live my life.”  To which I can only respond, “If there were a way for you and those you care about to be much happier than you are now, would you want to know about it?”
(page 202)

This is a question that is relevant to religion and faith.  I ask, sometimes, a similar question to believers.  If there were a worldview out there which could allow you to feel happier, more fulfilled, and could also survive skeptical analysis, would you want to know it?  If it were true that religion is indeed a scam, that belief in god(s) is not warranted, and that science truly is the best method we have for attaining knowledge, would you want to know that?

I can only say that I truly would want to know if there were a god.  Whether or not I would want a relationship with said being would depend upon the nature of that god.  Would theists really want to know if they were wrong? Some would, but perhaps not most.

Harris continues on the next page (in the main text):

Whatever [the Taliban] think they want out of life–like keeping all women and girls subjugated and illiterate–they simply do not understand how much better life would be for them if they had different priorities.
(page 37)

I’m finding that I agree with Harris’ main premise of the book so far.  His main idea is that because our behavior, feelings, etc are a result of a physical brain, science is, in principle as well as (possibly) practice, capable of discovering the states of being that would maximize “well-being.” Knowing what ways we might be well is a good start on how we should behave.  I will keep reading.

Leaps of Faith

It is not often that I will, within this blog, gives book recommendations.  I will even more rarely do so for people you likely have heard of.  But I will make an exception right now, because I have just finished a fantastic book by a wonderful writer and thinker named Nicholas Humphrey.

This is a newer edition than the one I have

The name of the book is Leaps of Faith: Science, Miracles, and the Search for Supernatural Consolation. (Apparently, the British version is entitled Soul Searching: Human Nature and Supernatural Belief).  (Amazon link)

I will not try to summarize or extensively review this wonderful book, for I would not do any justice to Humphrey’s style, intellect, nor his seemingly limitless knowledge of literature, science, and the intersections of both.  He talks about religion and faith, but most of the book is dedicated to the question of parapsychology in general, asking questions of soul, Psychokinesis, and ESP.  His writing is erudite and his use of language is both playful and profound.  His insight into the questions of the soul and its believed (by most people) powers are brilliant, coming at you from an angle I had not seen before reading this book.

The edition I have has a puff on the back by Daniel Dennett, but apparently the newer editions (I found mine at a used book store in East Atlanta–a great little store called Bound to Read Books) has a new forward by Dennett (which I, perhaps obviously, have not read).  The fact that Richard Dawkins has done an interview with Nicholas Humphrey does not, in retrospect, surprise me.

In fact, in many ways this book, which was written in the mid 1990’s, is the cultural predecessor  to many of the so-called new atheist books that began to be published 10 years later.  It is dealing with many of the same issues (the supernatural, the soul, arguments for why belief in such things is not justified) as many more recent books (and some older ones, of course), and it is clear that Humphry has had some influence on at least Dennett and Dawkins, if not other comparable social commentators.

I highly recommend this wonderful book to anyone and everyone, especially if you believe, or think it is good or respectable to believe, in the paranormal.  I also look forward to reading more of his work in the future, as he has books on consciousness as well, which is a topic which interests me as well.

I will leave you with this:

"An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump," by Joseph Wright of Derby

The painting is generally regarded as having been intended as a commentary on the scientific Enlightenment.  But I suggest we might more pointedly take it to be a picture of the vanity of the paradise promised by religion and the paranormal.  For it is they, not science, which if they had their way would pump from the world the elements on which life has taken wing.  They, not science, which by blurring the distinction between life and death, destroying the grounding of one mind in one body, confusing issues of personal responsibility, and undermining privacy, would rob the world of the oxygen of individuality on which all things bright and beautiful–natural and cultural–have relied for their creative energy

(From page 224)

For full context of this quote, you will have to read this book.

The approaching storm

Today, in a correspondence with some people on an email list about atheist issues, there was some discussion about how, in the past, I had helped with some efforts in Harrisburg, the state capital of Pennsylvania, while living in Philadelphia.  I replied thus, also making reference to prior discussions with people on the list about the lively issue, within the atheist and skeptic  community, about being offensive or dickish to believers.  I thought I would share my response, since I am that kind of guy.

Well, me trying to be logical and all, I figured what happened at my state capital might effect me at some point.

I know, silly….

I mean, sometimes I was too busy having interesting conversations with my professors and such, but sometimes one has to actually step up and do something.  Beliefs have consequences.  And what people in the world believe, as well as the perspective they have on what others believe, effects their decisions and actions.  I remember talking with those girls at the Capital building that time we had set up shop.  I remember how they, especially the one vocal and pious one, looked at us with “pity” and gave us literature.  Yet they refused ours.  These girls may not be in control of much directly (they were not representatives), but because they act as intermediaries between those with power and authority, they play a role in the halls of power.  Now, maybe our conversation, in which I was polite and respectful to them personally (although I was honest about what I thought about their beliefs) did not have an impact, and maybe over time it did.  I just don’t know.  But such interactions with people near the levers of power (as well as the more direct approach to the lieutenants and holders of such power) is important in the long struggle we have as citizens and our constitutional rights.

Those who insinuate that any such attempts make other nonbelievers look bad are buying the game they are selling.  They are, in fact, ironically being the very dick they tell us not to be.

You here a rumbling in the distance, and from the south approaches a storm.  His name is Shaun, and with him rides the gates of Hell for any person who tries to limit freedoms of speech and expression by threats from people too afraid or disinterested (and not in the Platonic sense!) to be themselves to the world, rationalizing it as an attempt to not be a dick.  I ride along with people such as Dave Silverman on a wave of honesty, one which hurts the eyes of those who have been stuck the the cave of theistic shadows for too long.  “Too bright!” they proclaim, and pretend their injured optical receptors excuse their hurt feelings which are only secondarily related and really are a defense mechanism of fear and insecurity exposed by such light.  And besides them, who are curled in a fetal position and lashing out at anything in their temporary overwhelmed state, is your philosophical brethren who (unknown to those blinded and hurt) carries the same light hidden under their heavy coat.  Hiding such light, they hold them close, patting their back and whispering to them that they are sorry, that those people don’t represent all of us.

“It’s OK,” they say, “you can believe what you like, I don’t care.  Let me be your friend and never be like them.”

While I sit back, amused and frustrated because I am aware that such a person could never really be their friend, because real friendship involves naked and bold honesty.  Real intimacy involves the ability to say what one thinks, although perhaps not at the moment of greatest pain, but afterwords when the shock has worn off.  I understand what my brethren means when they implore us to not be a dick, but what they don’t realize is that it is not our behavior that seems dickish; it is our perspective that offends, not our presentation of it.  And I will not withhold my perspective in fear of it offending, because if the truth offends then should we never speak the truth?  To live that way is to acquiesce to the fear and ignorance in which the theistic world lives.  It is also to not be honest, which says little for the light they carry, hidden and shameful.

There is room for polite conversations with professors, neighbors, and friends.  But there is a time when you realize that in order to talk with some people AT ALL, one must risk offense in order to maintain any level of relationship.  With some, you will seem a dick even if you say nothing more than “I don’t believe there is a god.”  In such cases, put away the silly desire not to offend, because such people offend themselves without your help.  The offense you fear is not from you, but from the world itself that you act as a conduit for.  Protect not those that fear the world, because you only protect cowardliness and thus take on its mantle yourselves.

What this email also refers to is the fact that I’m moving back to Philadelphia.  Exactly when…I’m not sure.  Latest April 2011.  But soon, nonetheless.

Good days and pleasant nights….

Club Heaven

I just realized it’s been a month since I posted anything.  Man, life just gets in the way sometimes.  In any case, it’s a new year and blogging must go on!

Today, I want to tell you a story.  It’s not a true story, but it might be a good story.

It’s about a man who, upon being pestered by his own curiosity, wanted to see what the fuss was all about.  He got dressed up, went into town, and arrived outside a place that may or may not have looked anything like this:

The Pearly Gates?

He waits in a longish line for a little while as the door is guarded by a youngish man who is smiling and friendly.  People are going in, he can hear music playing, and as the door opens every few seconds or so he can hear the party commencing inside.

Finally, it’s just about his turn to go in.  So, as two people enter up the stairway and into a obviously hopping party inside, our protagonist “John” steps up to the bouncer named “Pete”.

Pete: Good evening sir.  Name, please?

John: John B. Godless

Pete: Godless, eh? OK, let me check the list.

Pete scans his list, shakes his head and half-smiles to John in a way that displays both disappointment and perhaps some veiled enjoyment.

Pete: Sorry John, you are not on the list.

John: So, that means what? I can’t get into Heaven? I mean, this is the only club in town, right?

Pete: No, there is the downstairs club, Hellfire. Although its sort of a kinky club; lots of being tied up, beaten, and so forth. Not really my sort of thing.

John: Yeah, doesn’t sound like my sort of thing, either. Are you sure there isn’t anything I can do to get into Heaven?

Pete: Look, there are a lot of people trying to get in behind you, and you don’t even know the owner anyway. How do you expect to get in without being his friend.

John: Wait, the owner? Who is the owner, and why does that matter?

Pete: See? You don’t even know Hank.   He is the man! I mean, he knows everyone, everything, and runs this town. He is pretty much all-powerful, is what I mean. He’s the nicest guy I have ever known of.  He’s pretty much perfect, at least from what I hear….

John: Wait, have you even met him?

Pete: Listen, I just work the door, ok?

John: But you have never met him?

Pete: No. I don’t need to. I have read his book, and it has inspired me to be the person I am today. I could not be here without Hank’s help.

John: OK, whatever. But, didn’t you just say that this guy knows everyone?

Pete: Yes.

John: Great, then he knows me, as well as everyone else in this line, so how about you just prop the door open and come in with me and all these people can just come in. Is the room big enough for everyone?

Pete: Well, yes, it can fit everyone, but that’s not the point. There are rules.

John: Rules, what rules?

Pete: You know, this.

Pete hands John a book entitled “How to be Hank’s Friend.” John looks at it, and recognition dawns on his face.

John: Oh, that! Yes, I have read some of that that. It was not really a very good book, I thought. Archaic, derivative, and sort of cruel, actually. I am really not sure I want to be Hank’s friend, if that is the kind of book he writes.

Pete: Well, why do you want to go to his club then?

John: Well, I’m sort of here already aren’t I? And I have to either go here, to the downstairs club, or just go away right? Given those choices I would prefer this place, I guess. Listen, how about I just head on in, ok?

Pete: sir, that’s not going to happen. You are going to have to go downstairs, sir.

John: Wait, what? Why do I have to go downstairs? I don’t want to go to that club.

Pete: Sorry, those are the rules. Either you get in here or you go downstairs.

John: Nevermind, I’m just going home then.

Two large men step out from behind Pete and surround John

John: Um, what is going on here?

Pete: Don’t resist. You can’t anyway. You are going to the downstairs club.

The two men grab hold of his arms and begin to drag him to a stairway leading downstairs while John struggles to get loose.

John: What the hell is this?

Pete: Sorry, it’s either Heaven or Hellfire. You chose Hellfire

John: What are you talking about? I never chose to go to that club.

Pete signals to the two men to stop for a moment, and they turn John, who has temporarily stopped struggling, back towards Pete.

Pete: It’s in the book written by Hank. His rules, in his town—and it’s all his town, buddy–say that if you don’t become his friend you can’t get into his club and therefore must go to the other, downstairs, club.

John: But it’s just a book! It’s not the rules for the universe or anything, is it?  I mean, I read a lot of it, at least what I could get through anyway.  I mean, I thought it was a metaphor about how not being his friend was like not being able to go to the cool places in town or something.  I didn’t think it was literal, and that people actually believed that silliness.  You, or Hank for that matter, can’t do this!

Pete: He can, and he will.

John: But that’s ridiculous, absurd, unjust!!

Pete: It’s in the book.

John: Yeah, but I don’t believe the book. I’ve never even seen this Hank, which is weird considering how powerful, knowledgeable, and nice he is. How can I be his friend if I never even get a chance to meet him.

Pete: You don’t need to meet him.  Most of us just send him text messages, emails, or maybe just go to your local Hank center and learn about his great career and accomplishments once a week or so.  Just follow his great teachings and you would be successful and you could hang out in the cool club. But now, you will have to go to the downstairs club, that’s just how it is.

John manages to get free from one of the two men’s grasp and tries to step towards Pete, now visibly infuriated.

John: Wait just one damned minute! If This guy is so Powerful, he could at least have sent me a damned text message, email, or even come over for dinner once in my life!

Pete: He’s a busy man. He does not have time to come to your house. and besides why would he have your contact info or have to contact you?

John: Oh that’s bullshit and you know it! You just told me he knows everyone, everything, and can do anything he wants, right?

Pete: Well, maybe he just didn’t want to be friends with you. Maybe he just doesn’t want you in his club.

John: Oh, well then he’s not a very nice guy. I mean, who runs the whole town, only allows two clubs, and then when this elusive and invisible all-powerful jerk sees you coming doesn’t let you into the party? Sounds like an ass-hat to me!

Pete: Or maybe you are just ignoring him?

John: No, never heard from him. Just lots of people talking about him, and I don’t understand why they like this asshole anyway.

Pete: Don’t talk that way about Hank. He does not like it, and then he will be angry with you.

John: So? What’s the difference? I still can’t get into club Heaven, can I?

Pete: Sir….

John: No! You know what? I don’t like this guy, Hank, if he even exists. I’ll bet he’s a made-up character, sort of like the Marlboro Man, designed to market an idea—a product. I’ll bet this is just a big marketing scheme to get people to buy Hank’s books, go to his weekly motivational lectures—run by his so-called protegees because he never shows up to any of them, from what I have seen—and then to make all you so-called ‘Friends of Hank’ feel superior to those of us who won’t get into his club!

Pete: Sir, keep it down, you are upsetting the people in line waiting to get in….

John: I don’t care! They are all sheep anyway, trying to go to this idiotic club. I was only trying to get in because the girl I have been dating said she has been looking forward to going here, and I wanted to see what the big deal was. But I would rather go to the downstairs club with all those people than be this asshole’s friend, damn it!

Pete: Well, you will get your wish, loser! It’s hot down there, and you will be tied down, beaten, and surrounded by all of Hank’s enemies.

John Smiles, straightens himself up, and then laughs a little to himself

John: Well, Pete, I’ll tell you what. A hot, S&M club with free-thinking people who don’t fall for Hank’s self-help manipulation scheme sounds infinitely better than being in that club upstairs with what sounds like really bad music, boring people, and the possibility of being around that megalomaniac Hank. I bid you a good night, and I hope you one day see how absurd your little club is.

Pete looks at him for a moment, then turns away shaking his head. As he does so, a woman brushes past him towards John and reaches out to him, softly touching his shoulder.  he turns, sees her, and smiles brightly.

John: Jane? there you are!

Jane: yes, I heard what you said, John. I was behind you in line, and didn’t see you until they started dragging you away. What you said makes so much sense. I think, John, I want to be with you. I want to be Mrs. Godless someday, maybe, as well.  Let’s go to that other club, because anything is better than Club Heaven, I think.

She kisses him briefly and takes his hand as they walk together, unaided by the two men, down the stairs to the Hellfire club.

Pete (to the next people in line): Well, some people are just lost. Hank-bless them!  They’ll need it, I’m sure. Next! Name please….

Person in line: Borin S. Christian, sir

Pete: now, that’s a better name. In you go!

Like I said, not a true story, but perhaps an interesting story.