Bad Faith

Following up on yesterday’s post about happiness and truth, I wanted to say a few words about how truth is better for us than comfortable mythologies.

I actually want to perpetually improve myself.  I’m not merely interested in being right (although I would lie if I said that were not a real desire I have) or just feeling comfortable.  I am interested in being a better and more healthy person.  And I cannot do so if I’m not willing to be honest with myself and those around me.

But honesty comes with a price.  Honesty means you cannot hide from the truth, whether it is within you or the universe itself.

This is why I demand a skeptical attitude about the world for myself, and those closest to me.  I believe that there are real answers about how to improve ourselves and our world, and lying to ourselves about the nature of reality is not conducive to finding real solutions.  If I want to be better, and I want the world to be better, I cannot be satisfied with comfortable fantasies.  Fantasy cannot give you real answers, it can only give fantastic, unbelievable, or incredible answers (notice those words, and think about what they really mean).  How can I trust people, including myself, to actually become better if they cannot do the very basic work of not lying to themselves about what is real?

If we cannot do reality, I can’t see how we can do the work of transcending ourselves into anything other than an avatar for a complicated and comfortable lie.

This is why I do battle with faith.  Faith cannot lead the human species to a better future, because faith cannot have a solid basis in reality.

Faith is inauthenticity.

A narrative which avoids the evidence of what the world really is cannot give us consistent good answers to tough questions.  At best, it can give us answers we like that work insofar as we remain within that narrative.  But once you lave that narrative, the answer may not be effective.  So, the question is whether that narrative is real or not.  why would you want to remain within a narrative structure, whether Christianity, Scientology, or New Age spirituality, etc if it contains ineffective solutions to real problems?

Wouldn’t you prefer real solutions for real problems?

Isn’t maintaining the fake narrative just another form of lying to yourself? Isn’t it avoiding the real problem?

That is the very heart of inauthenticity.  That is, as Sartre called it, bad faith.


Not that it’s directly related, but just because it is a beautiful piece of (true) art:

Truth or Happiness?

In a conversation last night with a dear friend, the issue of what is more important—truth or happiness–arose.  As a skeptic, my answer is truth.  But I want to say a few words about that because I think that maybe the terms are not as clear as they may seem.

Is there a “truth”?

Yes.  Next?


…OK, so I should not be so flippant about that answer.  For some people, this question is not so clear, and for others the answer is no.  For the philosophically inclined, I will say that I reject the concept of reality being inaccessible or an illusion.  So While our perceptual tools are not always reliable on their own, there is a reality out there and it actually is what it is regardless of our often faulty perceptions.  Reality is there whether we think about it rightly or wrongly.

The issue following that (and in another way, preceding it) is which epistemological methodology we use; how do we figure out what reality is like while avoiding those mistakes of perception? Skepticism, obviously.  We demand demonstrable, repeatable, and rational evidence for things and the better that evidence the stronger our acceptance of that thing should be.  So our path to truth is an empirical, logical, and and ultimately a skeptical one.  We believe things when we cannot disprove them, for so long as the theories we generate maintain their justification.

A word about theories.

Remember, theories are things which have survived the assault of people who want to try and tear it down (for the sake of, perhaps, another potential theory).  Theory is the graduation point in science, not some mere guess.  But also, they are nothing but language; they are descriptions based upon the logical rules which make up thought, perception, etc within our heads.  The theories themselves are not real, objective things (they are, at best, intersubjective).  But they try and describe real events and phenomena, sometimes successfully.  Pointing out that the theories we use–the language we use–are subjective narratives which are not objectively real says nothing about the world itself.  The fact that our subjectivity is stuck in our own head, and that theories are subjective experiences, does not mean that the referents are not actually there.  It only means that the language we have to describe it is an imperfect map to the terrain.

Theories are not corresponding maps, in other words, but they try and describe reality in terms our minds can comprehend.  And many scientific theories do this so well that we can predict and construct to such a high degree of complexity and resolution that the computer you are reading this on can work.  Amazing, isn’t it? Such huge accomplishments, based on an empirical theory of truth, that provides some happiness for many people.  Technology is the evidence that our ideas can represent the world well.

Unless, of course, you believe some sort of solipsism is true.  In which case, you are writing a wonderful blog post right now!  And no, that is not me being full of myself, that is you being full of yourself.   Also, you are responsible for everything, including the things you hate and don’t believe are true.  If the world is an illusion, you are responsible for Republicans.

What is happiness?

Are you insane? Don’t ask a philosopher that! Unless you want to read 50 pages that will ramble in incoherently, don’t ask that.

Let’s say that happiness is some kind of emotional or intellectual (and no not “spiritual” because that word does not mean anything!) experience.  Whether it is a conglomeration of emotions, it’s own emotion, or even some kind of an intentional stance we take to ourselves, it is an experience or a background set of experiences.  It is a mind or body state, of some kind.  You want more detail, too bad.  All I am willing to say here is that it’s a real, physical thing like any other experience.  It happens in our brain (and possibly in other parts of our nervous system), and is a real phenomenon of some kind.

Happiness is nice.  it’s better than non-happiness, by definition.  It may (or may not) feel different for different people, but it’s a good thing.  People like happiness.

See, less than 50 pages! And only a little incoherent!

And yet you still have no idea what I think happiness is, do you? Well, I don’t give a flying purple fuck, because it’s not important to the point here. So go eat a pile of expertly-thrown monkey shit if you are left unsatisfied by that.

I’m apparently feisty today.

Are happiness and truth at odds?

There certainly is a tension between truth and happiness in our culture, but is that tension necessary?

Will learning more about the actual nature of reality cause happiness to decline?

Maybe.  There might be some (scientifically and empirically valid) studies which talk about that.  I’m not looking them up, mostly because I want to believe that the answer is no but I know deep down inside that the answer of yes would make me unhappy.  Try that mind-fuck on for size!

So, in other words, I want the truth to lead to happiness. I have an emotional interest in the proposition that valuing truth will at least not make us more unhappy.  That being said, here’s my rationalization; I have a value for truth, which trumps happiness, because I know that when people don’t know the truth it often causes harm.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you need to browse this website:

False beliefs may seem harmless, but they are not.  Not always, but they are often harmful.  By demanding a level of evidence to accept something, you make it less likely (ideally) to get swindled or support a dangerous lie.  And because I care about my happiness, which is in part related to the state of the culture around me, I am motivated to care about truth prior to happiness.  Mostly this is because the harm of non-truth upsets me, and so if I try and consider happiness first, it backfires.  But, of course, this is only true because I care about what is true, fundamentally.  If I didn’t care what was true (or if I thought that truth was subjective or didn’t exist) then I could just be concerned with happiness since truth is, in that hypothetical world, not a real thing.

Of course, some might say that my belief that there is actually an objective reality is not true (or only true for me; from my subjective perspective), and so the harm is illusory.  Of course, I want to know what method they used to tell me that my belief in truth is not true!  If there is no truth, then we couldn’t tell the difference, rationally, between truth or untruth.  The concept of truth would be meaningless, and chaos and nihilism would ensue.  Pure hedonistic, lawless, chaos!  Well, not really, but if there is any means to make a distinction between two ideas in terms of which one is more in line with how the world operates, then we have a methodology to determine truth.  It may not always work, but when it does work we have access to the real world! Amazing!

Bu the more important point is that if we deny the distinction between a helpful and a not-helpful method and set of ideas, we ignore real-world harms.  There is no truth, eh? No objective reality? Tell that to the children who die because their parents choose prayer over medicine.  Tell that to people getting the Measles right now because other people believe that the MMR vaccine causes Autism (thanks Jenny McCarthy).  Tell that to creationists and other delusional people who deny evolution for the sake of an ancient mythological just-so story about a man, his wife/property, and a garden they were kicked out of because the property/wife was too skeptical.  Without a reality, we cannot be angry about these things because there is no objective truth to tell the difference.  But we can tell the difference.  and that very ability to rationally discern indicates a methodology of decision.  It indicates a way to choose between theories.

And yes, there are complicated problems with theory choice in the philosophy of science, but this does not point to the lack of objective truth, but only to problems in refining the methodology to attain it.  it’s sort of like how this is not a duck.  The empirical evidence can give us clues, even if we are missing pieces or are not sure which, among similar theories, to choose.

There are actual truths.  Evolution is true, the creation stories of the world religions are not.  This is not mere opinion, this is an idea backed up by evidence derived from experience of the world around us, meticulously tested and probed to the breaking point–but does has not broken.  Mythology is not true for the culture is exists within; it’s either verifiable or it is bullshit.  Saying that mythology is “true” seeks to conflate meaning with truth.  An idea might have meaning, but meaning does not imply truth.  If something is true and is understood by someone then that idea has meaning, but the fact that it is also true is a different question.  The Harry Potter Universe is largely internally coherent and meaningful, but magic isn’t real so the story is not true.  The concept of “spirituality” might have meaning for you, as if does for many people, but it does not correspond to anything intersubjectively real.  When it’s tested, it fails (there is $1,000,000 waiting for you if you can prove otherwise).  Things that have meaning to you might simply not be true.  Yeah, it sucks, but only because you prefer comfort to reality.

This is not about comfort v. truth, because if so comfort would win in a landslide election,  But mere comfort, for me anyway, is not enough.  Comfort is not happiness.  They might coexist, but not necessarily.

So what about happiness, then?

Some people might not like how reality is.  Compared to an emotionally powerful narrative of some religion, the apparent coldness of truth seems dry and is not conducive to happiness.  I don’t give a flying fuck.  Happiness within an illusion can only remain happiness in ignorance.  And this is where some people may come back with “well, I’d rather be happy and delusional than see the world through your eyes and be miserable!”

False analogy.

Christianity and it’s ideological ancestors and cousins may have tainted this question for us too much to see this clearly (Nietzsche sad that “the Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad.”), but there are no mythologies more awesome than the intricacies of cosmology, biology, quantum mechanics, or even mathematics.   As I have argued previously (please read that post if you have not already, as it applies to more than just humanism), the attempts of many liberal-minded people to seek solace in some sort of religious or spiritual environment in the face of the wasteland left behind the wars between the powers of monotheism and science (which has created an illusory dichotomy between the beauty and meaningfulness of religion and spirituality versus the dead, meaninglessness of a world without divinity) are still stuck in that Platonic worldview.  The question is framed in such a way that to ask whether we want religion or science/atheism seems to be asking if we want happiness or boring, dry, grey “truth” (which is actually just a lie, a deception of Satan or at least Loki).  The idea that truth is a fiction is, surprisingly to some, a very Christian (Platonic) theme.

The narrative of Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic (hell, it’s down-right Platonic, neo-Platonic even, of them) dichotomies between meaning and nothing, Heaven and Hell, etc is ubiquitous.  It’s so old, so natural-seeming to us, that most people simply don’t even know it’s there.  When I discovered it myself, I was blown away, and frankly I still reel from it.  I, who never believed in any gods, always distrusted Christianity, and who found the idea of Heaven silly from a young age, was susceptible.  It is one of the most invisible assumptions and ideological axioms in our culture, and it’s power to sway not only our actions but our very beliefs, cannot be underestimated.  And if we think that we avoid it by leaving those large-tent religions, we are fooling ourselves.

But replacing one version this narrative with another one, rather than discarding it, is much easier.  Christianity and New Age Paganism, for example, have a lot in common despite the fact that they hate one another in many cases.  They have very different theologies, for sure, but the similarities of their basic metaphysical assumptions are striking.  There is an implicit distinction between the spiritual and the physical, the sacred and the profane, and meaningful and the meaningless.  These are false distinctions.  They simply are not real except in the mind of believers, and then only as abstractions with no correspondence.

There is no meaninglessness.  If it were meaningless, we couldn’t conceive of it, think about it, etc.  We have a place-holder word, but it points to nothing.  (Also, there is no nothing.  Same reasons).  There is no ‘spiritual’ world or being.  Because of that, ‘physical’ is redundant.  Everything that exists is physical (or material, or whatever term you prefer.  It is made out of stuff).  Tell me the difference between the lack of marbles, the non-physical marbles, and the imaginary marbles again, please? In other words, the dichotomy between the area (or realm, or whatever) of the source of happiness and the (other) area from where happiness cannot derive, is not a real thing.  Wherever happiness comes from, it is coming from somewhere real.  And knowing more about that reality will give you more information about your happiness (if you look in the right places), and what causes it (or prevents it).  Must I invoke Sam Harris?

So, the best way to be happy, both individually and as a culture, is to value skepticism as a methodology towards truth.  That way, your worldview is accustomed to change, possibly being wrong, and since you have been using it you are more likely to already have ideas which are rationally justified, so more likely true.  No matter how open-minded your faith tradition is–no matter how new, radical, or enlightened it is–the nature of faith is to conserve itself.  Conservation of culture is stifling of curiosity, freethinking, and ultimately of the truth.  So while paganism and other forms of Western New Age might be tied to liberalism generally and may provide more happiness than the traditional religions, they can only become less so and never more so.

Not without truth, anyway.

The longer a tradition which is not skeptical stays around, the more tradition, and thus conservatism, becomes important.  So the new age is preferable to Christianity, but only because Christianity has been in a position of power, and power only seeks its own happiness, not yours.

Progress is in the direction of atheism and naturalism.  That’s where the truth leads.  So, again, what about happiness?

Spirituality and religion only look like better sources of happiness because, in our culture, we have been conditioned to see a relationship between meaning and belief in something more than this mere physicality.  Since Plato’s long influence, people have thought that the physical is cold and dead, and needed something more to give it life and meaning.  This is a disease which has been eating at our species for two and a half millennia.  And as Nietzsche said, in my favorite quote of his,

“To translate man back into nature; to become master over the many vain and overly enthusiastic interpretations and connotations that have so far been scrawled and painted over the eternal basic text of homo natura; to see to it that man henceforth stands before man as even today, hardened in the discipline of science, he stands before the rest of nature, with Oedipus eyes and sealed Odysseus ears, deaf to the siren songs of old metaphysical bird catchers who have been piping at him all too long, “you are more, you are higher, you are of a different origin!”—that may be a strange and insane task, but it is a task”

We need to ignore the siren calls of spirituality and religion, thinking they are the only possible source of happiness.  We cannot be content to lie happy in illusion.  There are more things in reality here on Earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your mythologies.

So, tell me that your religion provides happiness where the truth cannot, and I will say you are not looking closely enough at the truth, or are still viewing it though lenses with Platonic or Zoroastrian labels on them.  I think you need new glasses, ones with scientific lenses.  Because if you want to know more about happiness, you need truth.  Truth is the tool by which we better understand the potential for, as well as limits and causes of, happiness.  Because while we could experience happiness with little truth, the truth is the only sure way to lead to any more.  The better our access to truth is, the better we can be sure we are heading in the right direction.  Without truth, our forays into happiness will be a crap-shoot at best.  Being a good craps player means knowing the odds, and the odds are a kind of truth.

It’s not so much that truth causes happiness as untruth causes harm (or at least chaos and unpredictability).  But remember, even if the lack of truth in your world is not harming you (and it might be doing so without your knowledge), it is hurting someone else somewhere–possibly many others everywhere.  And I, personally, can’t remain happy knowing that is possible.  Or, at least I can’t without avoiding truth, which doesn’t seem like a good solution.  Ignorance is one thing, but willful ignorance is quite another.

I choose truth and happiness.

Unskeptical Monogamy: “Monogamy is Natural”

Editorial Note: This post was written by Wes Fenza, long before the falling out of our previous quint household and the subsequent illumination of his abusive behavior, sexual assault of several women, and removal from the Polyamory Leadership Network and banning from at least one conference. I have left Wes’ posts  here because I don’t believe it’s meaningful to simply remove them. You cannot remove the truth by hiding it; Wes and I used to collaborate, and his thoughts will remain here, with this notice attached.



Some time ago, I wrote a post about Skeptical Monogamy. My goal there was to go over a bunch of the reasons why I think monogamy is justified. There are other reasons, though, that are unjustified and lazy. One of the most common is this:

“Monogamy is natural.”

This is an argument used almost exclusively by people who also believe that “natural” relationships only involve one man and one woman. Sometimes, it’s phrased in terms of the animal kingdom. This is one of the easiest arguments to knock down. It’s easy because almost no animals are actually monogamous. Plenty form pair-bonds, some even form them for life, but they almost all play around on the side.

In fact, no species of mammals have been shown to truly be monogamous.. Swans, often held up as a model of monogamy, are, no such thing. Gibbons, who my local zoo claims are monogamous, turned out to be total swingers. Scientist used to estimate that 90% of birds were monogamous. Now the numbers are flipped, and most acknowledge that, at most, 10% of birds are monogamous. The animal kingdom offers no help to those advocating monogamy.

Then you get the other kind of naturalist argument. John Witte Jr., writing in the Washington Post, says:

Both traditional theorists and modern scientists point to four facts of human nature that commend monogamy. First, unlike most other animals, humans crave sex all the time, especially when they are young and most fertile. They don’t have a short rutting or mating season, followed by a long period of sexual quietude.

Second, unlike most other animals, human babies are born weak, fragile, and utterly dependent for many years. They are not ready to run, swim, or fly away upon birth or shortly thereafter. They need food, shelter, clothing, and education. Most human mothers have a hard time caring fully for their children on their own, especially if they already have several others. They need help, especially from the fathers.

Third, however, most fathers will bond and help with a child only if they are certain of their paternity. Put a baby cradle on a sidewalk, medieval and modern Western experimenters have shown, and most women will stop out of natural empathy. Most men will walk by, unless they are unusually charitable. Once assured of their paternity, however, most men will bond deeply with their children, help with their care and support, and defend them at great sacrifice. For they will see their children as a continuation and extension of themselves, of their name, property, and teachings, of their own bodies and beings, of their genes, we now say.

Fourth, unlike virtually all other animals, humans have the freedom and the capacity to engage in species-destructive behavior in pursuit of their own sexual gratification. Given the lower risks and costs to them, men have historically been more prone to extramarital sex than women, exploiting prostitutes, concubines, and servant girls in so doing and yielding a perennial underclass of “bastards” who have rarely fared well in any culture.

Given these four factors, nature has strongly inclined rational human persons to develop enduring and exclusive sexual relationships, called marriages, as the best form and forum of sexual bonding and reproductive success. Faithful and healthy monogamous marriages are designed to provide for the sexual needs and desires of a husband and wife. They ensure that both fathers and mothers are certain that a baby born to them is theirs. They ensure that husband and wife will together care for, nurture, and educate their children until they mature. And they deter both spouses from destructive sexual behavior outside the home.

So, Witte identifies four factors that justify monogamy in humans:
1) humans crave sex all the time;
2) human babies have a long period of dependence;
3) fathers require paternity certainty to bond with a child;
4) humans are unique in engaging in “species-destructive behavior” such as extramarital sex, prostitution, etc.

As we’ve already seen, #4 is crap. Almost all animals engage in such behavior. #3 is also begging for a citation. Paternity certainty is often brought up by evolutionary biologists as a way to justify the way our society mistreats women. However, it’s far from proven, and there is substantial evidence that the need for paternity certainty is far from “natural.” Christopher Ryan, in Sex at Dawn, lays out a pretty conclusive case that early humans societies didn’t care at all about paternity certainty. He also identifies several modern-day cultures for whom paternity certainty is not an issue. Witte’s glib statement that fathers require paternity certainty in order to bond with their children is not supported by the evidence. And I’d imagine the idea is extremely offensive to anyone with an adoptive father or child.

So after taking out the propositions that are unsupported, we’re left with:

1) humans crave sex all the time; and
2) human babies go through a long period of dependence.

Sounds like an argument for polyamory to me! I’d wager that my five-person household is just as well equipped to meet everyone’s sexual needs and care for children than a monogamous couple.

Furthermore, so what if something is natural? “Natural” is not synonymous with “desirable.” In many species, murder, rape, theft, and various other antisocial behaviors are natural. That’s not an argument in favor of humans engaging in these behaviors. Much of our progress as a species has been in overcoming our natural behaviors and learning to act in more beneficial ways.

Even if polyamory isn’t natural, I think it stands on its own merits. Nature isn’t everything.

Sex expert Dr. Darrell Ray weighs in on “natural sex”

If “natural” sex is better, then Catholics are far from practicing it. Natural sex does not include any hocus pocus of religion. Your dog has natural sex as do Bonnobos. The Mangainians of the South Pacific have natural sex and have had for centuries. It included many partners and a high focus on female orgasm. The Na culture in China have natural sex, it includes multiple men for a woman and no concept of marriage. I could site many other cultures that practice sex without the guilt and shame of religion AND they did not use birth control or condoms until recently.

Adventures in Therapy: The Stuff You Do by Yourself – Sex Negativity Edition

In my quest for happiness and, more to the point, general okayness and mental health, I periodically find myself engaging in a “Spring Cleaning” of sorts with My List.

What is My List? Why, it’s my running list of things about myself that I am either actively working to improve or, if I have successfully improved something, things about myself that I must be vigilant about.  Much in the way that my anxiety and depression was eased by shifting my thinking about my body as a complex chemical reaction vessel, having a To Do list of the things that are acknowledged personal struggles makes problems seem not so permanent.  It makes dealing with them a part of a routine and as I develop healthier habits for handling them as I grow, the way they appear on My List also changes.  Slowly but surely, the list becomes less about all the things that are wrong with me and more about things I pay attention to and cohabitate with more peacefully.

Like everyone, I go through low times.  During these times much of My List might be ignored because my energy is focused on handling something difficult and all encompassing.  This is just like what happens when people ignore the laundry or the dishes in the sink for a long time while studying for finals or getting into Hell Week for a theatrical production.  For some of us lucky ones, our low times periodically end, giving way to better times and some clarity of mind.  And this phase of mental clarity is what I am referring to when I talk about Spring Cleaning.

I also refer to it sometimes as a State of the Union kind of thing.  I got that from a friend who used to check in with her partner at the time every so often to see what the State of the Union was.  This was when they would talk about relationship-y things primarily.  In terms of my relationships, this doesn’t really apply because I talk to my partners about this kind of thing all the time.  But when I get through a lousy emotional time, I often find myself reviewing My List and making note of what things are still gnawing at me on a regular basis and keeping me from being as content and calm as I could be.

One of the things was the jealousy I deal with that I talked about earlier this week.  I have been feeling really good about where I’ve gotten with that since my realizations and I can honestly say that this has been a pretty fantastic week.  I have felt, for the most part, calm and collected and positive about that realm of issues and am starting to think that my assumption that I needed a higher dose of meds might have been a little alarmist.  I’ll keep an eye on it still to talk to my therapist about next month, but I think I’m still OK.  This makes me happy because while I’m not afraid of medication (it kind of rules, really), I have been lucky in terms of long term side effects and such and would rather not screw up the balance if I can avoid it.

Unfortunately, I have become abundantly aware (again) of an ongoing source of stress.  I’ll admit that it’s difficult for me to talk about but I think it’s worth talking about in a public forum because, as has been demonstrated again and again by reader’s reactions to these posts, I am not alone in my fears and insecurities.  And, as I said the other day, articulation of issues is the first step towards actually overcoming them and growing more, so here we go.

The other day I talked about how I realized that I am completely terrified of any new dating.  It’s easy to just say “Well, yeah, I’m terrified, but since I have two wonderful long term super committed partners and a small and lovely network of supportive and amazing friends, why bother worrying about it?”  I mean, sure, I have a point.  But ignoring it because I don’t need or necessarily want additional relationships is sort of missing the point of personal growth.  Feeling a supreme fear of something hinders us from living our lives fully and since this is the life we get, wasting it on being afraid when you are capable of being not afraid (with some tough work, of course) is a shame.  So I have thinking about this a lot and realized that it really comes down to something that is really hard for me and presents a very significant challenge.

Sex. Sexual contact.  Assumptions. Expectations. Social Programming. The whole gambit.

I think I have mentioned this before, but I have struggled with some heavily ingrained sex negativity for most of my life.  When I was younger it was easier to articulate why I had such fears and negativity about it.  I was absolutely terrified of getting pregnant as a teenager, so I didn’t allow any activity to get close to making that happen.  Then I went to college and still was completely terrified of pregnancy.  There were lots of reasons for this that included financial fears and anxiety about being The Pregnant Woman at an all male work environment (being a woman in a technical field is tough, yo) and various other neurotic things.  A big fear was that I knew I wasn’t OK.  I was depressed, anxious, and had all kinds of negative view points about life on Planet Earth that I really didn’t want to dump onto a theoretical child.  I had the privilege of not finding myself in the situation of having to bring a kid into the world.  It was still my choice and while it was my choice I knew that I was not equipped to be a great parent.  I had a lot of emotional work to do before I would feel alright about that.

I have since changed my thoughts on the subject, as I have gotten so much healthier in the head over the years.  I think I would be a pretty decent mom now and am not so afraid of that anymore.  At this point also I have been having sex for years and haven’t had anything even remotely looking like a pregnancy scare, so I trust my birth control habits and the miracle of modern science. Hooray!

But having dealt with that fear hasn’t really handled all of the sex negativity.  I am still terrified of it often.  Not with my trusted partners, of course, but the prospect of being put in a position where I have to either say yes or no is scary and undesired.  The worst part is that I can’t even articulate what the fear is or what the thing is that my subconscious is saying when faced with even a thought about it.  There are no words right now…only anxiety and fear and the inkling to just say, “Meh, life as I know it is pretty amazing.  Why add more to the list?”

But it’s not like I just take issues off the list when I don’t feel like caring about them.  They are there for me to see and while each one isn’t the focus of every minute of every day of my life, it doesn’t mean that I should say, “This one is difficult and I don’t even know what to say about it, so screw it.”  I have never successfully done that.  It’s just not how my mind works.  When I acknowledge a problem, I want to take steps to solve it…even if the process will take a long time.

So, I’ve started to think about it a lot more and am attempting to get to the bottom of it.  When I’ve talked about it with Wes, he has said that it seems somewhat simple.  My subconscious simply believes whole heartedly that Sex is Bad.  And thinking about it, maybe that really is all it is…a primal, simple belief that can be paralyzing.  Sex is bad and I am bad for desiring it and enjoying it.  I used to think there had to be something more to it than that, but looking at how I behave now…it just seems so ridiculous.  It’s not that I don’t engage in it.  It’s just that every time I do it, I feel like I am doing something I’m not supposed to be doing and am afraid of getting caught.  Everyone in the house has seen me in this vulnerable way and doesn’t have a problem with it, yet I am afraid that I will be walked in on and that people will be mad at me or disappointed in me for engaging in sexual activity.  I feel guilty about it.  I feel like I need permission from people to be “allowed”.

Some of this I know comes from the fact that up until 4 years ago, I was monogamous.  Since that’s the way we’re supposed to be, working on enjoying sex was a noble goal as long as it was with one person.  While I feel some anxiety about needing permission and such for my sexual relationship with Wes, it’s much worse with Shaun because I feel like I’m getting away with something with him and that Wes might be angry with me or upset for some reason because I am experiencing that with someone else.  This is entirely in my own head, but it’s a hard thing to shake.  It’s especially hard when I tell someone that I am poly and live with two partners and that person reacts like I’m not only crazy and naïve, but also a slut to be shamed.  It’s hard enough being female in a slut shaming society.  Add to that the fact that there is an assumption that non-monogamous people are automatically sluts and it’s a hard thing to not believe (in the “I have not reclaimed the word slut as a positive thing yet” kind of way).

Ugh, just writing all that out makes me a little depressed and anxious because I am not sure what to do about it.

The other part of this is that I am not particularly experienced (in terms of many partners) and since becoming poly, I have had only a few brief dating experiences outside of Shaun and in many of these experiences I have gotten into sexual situations I didn’t want to be in.  Last night I was thinking about it and got a little bit freaked out.  For instance, Shaun (in trying to make me feel better, citing an example of when I was adventurous at a party) talked about us being at a party and me kissing a couple of people in front of him.  I felt bad saying so, but the people I did that with in this particular case I felt them pressuring me.  The guy I was thinking of was hanging around and saw me kiss someone I actually wanted to and then decided that it was his turn and made me feel really uncomfortable about it.  I could’ve have said no, but I thought that made me a prude or something so I did it even though it was really something I didn’t want.  The other experiences were variations on that, some more traumatic than others (one in particular was downright scary and I still get skeeved thinking about it).  While all my other relationships weren’t disasters that make me want to ball up into the fetal position and never show or receive interest in people again, the percentage of ones that HAVE been that way at times is pretty high.

So all this results in a few different things.  The first is that, for the most part, I don’t look at people this way.  Sometimes I might be attracted to someone though and these fears and memories result in me not flirting.  What’s scary about flirting? Well, it might go somewhere and I might have to make a decision, of course!  Because of all these fears, I don’t quite understand my attraction.  If I don’t like someone who likes me, I have to question whether I am not attracted to them because of my issues or because I’m just not interested.  I usually assume that it’s something wrong with me and engage in activity that I don’t really want to because I think it’s a form of therapy or something.  If I do actually like the person, I am afraid that they will turn out to be terrible or that I don’t really have permission to enjoy someone new.  I don’t know who it always is I am looking for permission from…usually Wes because monogamy mindset I guess, but not always.  The underlying problem is that I have a hard time giving permission to MYSELF.  Sex is bad and I am bad desiring it and wanting it.

So how the hell do I stop feeling this way?  Do I need a sex therapist? I consider it but I am apprehensive about finding someone who won’t tell me every week that I am fucked up about sex because I am non-monogamous. But there’s clearly some deep seeded truths in me that are persistent and destructive.  I desperately want this part of my inner workings to leave me alone.  I don’t want it gone because I want to suddenly feel great about sleeping with everyone I meet or whatever.  I want it gone because it makes me sad to be closed off to possibilities.  Having this with me also means that I struggle with certain types of social anxiety because I’m scared of sexuality being an aspect of socializing.  I often consider my being at a party a success if I spend the entire time being contentedly alone (like at conference or something) or not being hit on.  But I remember that flirting and new friendships/other relationships can be fun and rewarding and the solution to this set of problems is not to just disengage.

It’s a lot to deal with but I want to deal with it and make it something that I am vigilant about and am not suffering from.  I’m so close to getting a handle on all the major things that cause me sadness and fear.  It’s just that this one runs very deep and will require more excavating before I can simply put it in the museum and remember the times when it used to be prominent in the culture of me.

So here’s to dusting off and reorganizing My List once again. Progress and growth will reign supreme.

I’m going to need more wine.

Irrelevant Post: The Wonders of the Movie SHARKNADO

The other night, Jessie suggested that we spend the evening watching a movie.  No one had any specific ideas for which of our many downloaded films to choose, so Jessie went through the list of choices and it went something like this:

Jessie: OK, we could watch this decent movie, or this good movie, or this other not-embarrassing movie, or Sharknado.


Me: …yeah, I’m going to have to go with Sharknado.

Jessie: That’s your choice, Wes?

Wes: Out of the movies mentioned, it has to be Sharknado.

And so it was that we put Sharknado on.  I’m pretty sure Jessie sighed a little in disbelief that we were actually going to spend time watching it (she ended up falling asleep near the end…that’s usually my job!).  I went over to Shaun, who was playing Skyrim (obviously) and said, “We’re watching Sharknado if you’re interested!” I was pretty excited.  Shaun, though, raised an eyebrow and said, “Um, no, I think I’ll pass…”

Now, as many of you know, I am a huge fan of terrible movies.  Honestly, in terms of entertainment, there is nothing better than a movie that is so bad it’s good.  Examples of this are Death Race 2000, Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, and Battleship.

Well, let me tell you, folks, Sharknado was definitely so incredibly terrible that it was fabulous.

Incidentally, I have added “Sharknado” to my spellcheck dictionary so that it stops telling me that it’s not a word.  It’s a word NOW, bitchez!

Sharknado has it all. Sharks! Dubious and hilarious pseudoscience! People with a troubled past involving sharks! A retired surfer who has problems with his ex-wife and kids!

SPOILERS! IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS IN SHARKNADO, STOP READING. Though no one should really be all that worried…nothing that happens makes a lot of sense, and there’s no twists, and there’s no one to care too much about.

The film begins abruptly by the sight of a bunch of sharks getting sucked out of the ocean by a big tornado.  They DID NOT waste anytime with that shit.  Later, it is explained that global warming is the general cause of this catastrophe.  Global warming made the hurricane that was going to hit LA (of course it’s LA) and also, I think, made the sharks conglomerate into big diverse and angry schools that want to eat everything in their path.  Also, we got an explanation of “water spouts pick up marine life from the sea all the time…why not sharks?” Why not, INDEED.

Beyond that, there is apparently just a lot of pissed off sharks in the sea near the shore because of the impending hurricane.  So, in case you’re having trouble following: the movie has both a Sharknado AND a Sharkicane.  The Sharkicane allows the sharks to enter the sewers and get tossed into flooded areas, like highways and restaurants!  The Sharknado allows the sharks to eat your face while blowing by, or a shark can fall on you or something.

Make sense? SURE!

So, first we see the formation of the Sharknado.  And then, for some reason, we are taken to a fishing ship in the middle of the ocean where an evil French (?) pirate/longshoreman extorts ridiculous amounts of money out of a Japanese businessman using a gun and a toothy evil grin.  Apparently, the Japanese businessman wants the pirate to catch him some sharks…I’m assuming for sushi, but that’s probably a racist assumption but I don’t think he wants them alive, so it’s not for an aquarium, probably.  He wants to pay the pirate $100K for the catch, but the pirate is like “Non, I will catch you thee sharks for one meeellion or nothing” and the Japanese businessman squirms around while trying to negotiate, then Frenchy takes out a gun and a deal is struck.  By now, the Sharknado has hit the boat and the whole crew has been eaten by flying sharks.  Then the businessman tries to escape but gets eaten and THEN the pirates face gets eaten aaaaand then we’re in Santa Monica.

One of the things that makes this movie so amazingly bad (and so very SyFy channel made for tv film) is that all the sharks are CGI and not good CGI.  I remember when I saw The Mummy 2: The Scorpion King and marveled at how poorly done the CGI version of The Rock as a part Scorpion/part Badass MoFo was, with the kind of budget that The Mummy franchise must have had.  Apparently, by the time they got around to making the Rock, they had whittled their budget down to SyFy channel levels.

The other thing that’s bad and wonderful about this movie is that it stars Ian Zierning of Beverly Hills: 90210 (the original class) fame.  It also stars Tara Reid as his ex-wife.  He plays a washed up surfer who has a Tiki bar on the Santa Monica pier (which gets destroyed by the Sharknado).

Along with bad CGI is also amazingly terrible editing.  They don’t even try to make it look like Zierning is actually surfing.  Most of the time, the shot makes him look like some doofus standing on a surfboard on the beach, but not in the water.  The bad editing combined with the supremely bad acting makes most of people’s motivations make little sense.  At one point Zierning and his Australian friend (who goes jet skiing with him when he surfs) are dealing with shark infested water.  We can tell that there aren’t actually sharks there because the Australian guy looks completely unexcited or concerned that there is a shark a foot away from his friend.  In fact, he only chooses to care (and by “care” I mean start screaming) is when

He has a scrappy waitress friend there who wants to do him but is “too young for him” or something.  She also got bitten by a shark before and really hates sharks.  She said so, about 5 times. She’s also really good with a shot gun, so she comes along to help him save his family…but only because she lives on the beach and her house is probably flooded.

Zierning somehow screwed up his family life before, seemingly from being too heroic all the time or something.  Reid invokes this explanation at some point when he decides he should save some kids from a stranded school bus surrounded by sharks. “You’re such a jerk.  You never consider your family FIRST!” His daughter hates him for never thinking about her first (over her brother, who is getting his “flying license”).  There’s also a neighborhood drunk who hangs out at the bar who is important because he knows how to get to Beverly Hills and also uses his bar stool to kill a couple of sharks before getting eaten.

None of this matters.  They really want us to care about these people but it’s pretty much impossible.  I mean, how can you even think about any of it when there is a whirlwind of sharks wreaking havoc on Southern California?  Tara Reid acts as though she is in a porno (and really, this movie should have been porn, a la the award winning Pirates of several years ago…it’s about the same quality everything else. Reid looks and sounds like the costar of Pirates and there were plenty of places to add nonsensical, gratuitous sex to add to the fun).  The daughter is insufferable.  Her dad risked his life to come safe them and she’s like “I want to have a family counseling session RIGHT NOW!” The son makes a brief appearance to fly a helicopter and come up with a ridiculous plan to drop bombs into the tornado…which works.

I don’t really have anything to say about that.  I don’t know much about meteorological science, but the plan sounded pretty ridiculous, but hey, it’s a way to get this shit handled, so sure.  At some point in movies you just have to accept the science of that universe and move on.

The important part is this: The scrappy waitress and Zierning get swallowed whole by an airborn Great White shark.  Luckily, Zierning happened to be holding a chainsaw when he got swallowed, so he was able to saw his way out, emerging victorious covered in blood and shark guts.  Then he pulled the scrappy waitress out and his son saves her with the power of CPR.

And all this makes Reid want to get back together with him and mend their family.  Because I’m sure all of the previous issues have been completely solved after surviving a Sharknado.  It’s pretty much the number one suggested family therapy, but isn’t practical to come by most of the time.

So, there you have it.  You want to watch now, don’t you?  Yeah, I know you do.

After the movie was over I went over to Shaun and said, “I can’t believe you passed up Sharknado.  It was a movie of a life time.” Shaun once again raised an eyebrow in my general direction.  Being undeterred, I continued, “Dude from 90210 CHAINSAWED his way out of the belly of a Great White shark, Shaun! CHAINSAWED OUT OF A SHARK THAT SWALLOWED HIM!”

Shaun was unconvinced of the importance of this and stated that he’d have to learn to live the rest of his life knowing he made this decision. Mind you, this is the same guy that tweeted the entire time we watch Hobo with a Shotgun together. So whatever.

Wes agreed with me though and engaged in quiet contemplation as to whether Sharknado was a great movie about airborne sharks or the greatest movie about airborne sharks while Jessie snoozed on the sofa.  She woke up to come to bed and asked what she missed.  I informed her of the chainsaw escape and that seemed to be enough for her.

There was no real point to this post except to talk about Sharknado.  Feel free to look at it as a snapshot of life in the Polyskeptic Compound or something if that makes you feel better.  If it doesn’t, well…I got nothin’ for ya.

Adventures in Therapy: The Stuff You Have to Do Yourself – Jealousy Edition

When you talk about polyamory to non-polyamorous people, the first question you get is usually something having to do with dealing with jealousy.  I’m not going to lie, I really dislike that question and generally like to defer to other people to pontificate about it if I can.  I tend to avoid workshops about it or read articles about it.  Why?  Well, primarily because I feel a lot of shame about the fact that I struggle with jealousy and talking to others about it can be triggering for me and often sends me down to places I’d like to forget exist within me.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m MUCH better than I used to be, but it is still something that is there, manifesting for bizarre reasons and poking at my insecurities which ARE TRYING TO SLEEP THANK YOU VERY MUCH!  My insecurities are like a resting mother bear with a nasty past who is NOT going to deal with your shit.  Mauling and maiming of…well, my good mood…often ensue.

Another reason that I don’t particularly like talking about jealousy with people is that jealousy, or at least the inspirations and insecurities behind it are unique and deeply personal to an individual.  Asking me for advice on how to deal with your jealousy in your relationship will likely not actually be particularly helpful to you because the issues that make you fearful are likely different than mine.  And if there are things that need to be addressed, they shouldn’t be addressed with me but with your partner and I’m probably just going to want to tell you to Just Fucking Do It…a concept a lot of people don’t want to hear.

But I also acknowledge that I am not a special snowflake, and that my thought processes are not unique to only me and maybe people are asking me how I deal with it because I seem to be relatively successful at curbing it and maybe we have something in common!  After all, jealousy is usually much more about ourselves than the people we’re jealous of, right?

So today I’m writing about jealousy!  Why am I doing that? Because I have been struggling with it lately and yesterday I had some interesting realizations that have given me some insight into my particular issues and have given me some goals that I want to tackle in the next year.  I’m not writing for sympathy or eHugs.  I thought that maybe some of you might be interested in this kind of process.

This past weekend Shaun and I celebrated our 2 year anniversary by going camping up in the Poconos.  It was a lovely and fun weekend (the weather cooperated and we got some good hiking and camp fires in) and I spent the whole time (with the exception of getting pretty out of whack when I needed to eat and didn’t…) feeling really positive and not stressed.  Up to this weekend I had been struggling with stress and, yes, insecurity and jealousy and was not proud of it.  And what was worse, I couldn’t really pinpoint what I was feeling insecure or jealous about!  Obviously, no relationship is perfect and some of my insecurities about Shaun were founded in actual things that happened.  It was the same way with Wes when I was dealing with really terrible jealousy in the first couple of years of us being poly.  Sometimes they were actual hurtful things, and sometimes (more often than not) they were things that I deemed hurtful that struck a chord with me fears and feelings of self-loathing.  So, with time, a lot of commitment to personal growth, a lot of processing and being pretty hard on myself in an effort to change for the better, and ultimately some therapy and medication, these things don’t feel so insurmountable anymore.

It also means that I am way less tolerant of them when they rear their ugly heads.  The good thing is that I try to use those feelings as inspirations to really think about where the badness is coming from.  What is it that I believe is true that is making me afraid or feel bad about myself?  Is it true?  If it is, what can I do about it?  If it’s not…what can I do about it? Isolation and identification of the badness leads to action and generally progress towards being the best possible version of me.

So, I won’t really go into what inspired my most recent realization, but I was sitting on the couch thinking about why I was having a jealous reaction to something.  I thought for awhile, teetering on the brink of a tear in my eye when I suddenly realized what all my recent jealous and insecure thoughts have really been about.  I am sort of ashamed to admit this, but the first step to not feeling shame is just owning up to the thing, right? Yes, sure.

I have been jealous watching other people have people interested in them because not only do I not perceive anyone being interested in me, but I also don’t see why they should be anyway.

Granted, I’m not even looking for new relationships of any degree. Why? Well, I don’t have a lot of time or resources to put towards anymore relationships, but if there was someone great, I could make the time.  Really, I’m not looking because…I’m afraid of course! Why am I afraid? Because I’ve had a few lousy experiences that convinced me that it’s not worth it.  I have my house full of awesome people.  What more do I need or want?  I mean, there’s not really anything, but ultimately it’s just that I don’t want to deal with something bad or disappointing.  I had four brief dating experiences.  One of them resulted in a wonderful, close friendship but the other three were just terrible and while I try to be positive, the terribleness makes it seem like putting myself out there for anyone is a bad idea.

And yet, even though I haven’t been interested in anyone myself, I still want the validation of people wanting me.  Perhaps it’s the fact that as a woman, I am socialized to only know my value in terms of people who want me.  Perhaps it’s because I grew up learning that you have no value besides how hard you work (for others) and how good you look doing it.  Maybe it’s that I have internalized the fact that very rarely does anyone just look at me from across a room and find me attractive (that I know of.  I realize the silliness of this statement, since I can’t know what anyone is thinking when they see me or talk to me unless they tell me).

When I was dating my first long term boyfriend I had asked him if he thought I was hot, like other more traditionally attractive women were.  He told me that just looking at me, not knowing at me, no I wasn’t hot like that.  But once you got to know me, then yes, I was very attractive.  I would hear this again and again up to now.  I’ve been told that I am understated, so people have to make an effort with me apparently.  I’ve also been told that I am intimidating (which makes me laugh heartily, but I’ve been told this a few times over the years).  Wes has said that I am intimidating at bars because I seem to be content doing whatever I’m doing so no one approaches me. A stranger has never purchased me a drink.  This is apparently strange.  Shaun said that people might be intimidated by me because I’m a very real person (I have been called the “Anti-Doll” before by someone who saw me perform.  I’ve never quite known exactly what that meant, but I think it’s that when I am playing my music, I am there as myself completely).  I don’t know.  What I do know is that I don’t get approached much and people don’t develop crushes on me (that they or anyone communicates to me).

So my jealousy comes up for two reasons: 1. I fear that a new person will remind my partner (and me) of everything that I am not and 2. I see other people having people interested in them and not me and assume that this is because I am undesirable in general (either due to lacking certain qualities, or because I’m scary and cold and people don’t want to come up to me).

And from that jealousy is the reminder that I am scared of dating.  Like, really scared.  I am scared to say no.  I am scared to say yes.  I am worried about being manipulated.  I am worried about a lot of things because I don’t really trust many people and I don’t for pretty good reasons.  I am cynical about relationships beyond the ones I currently have and I am terrified to step into the unknown knowing that I can’t trust myself necessarily to say what I want or don’t want.  And while that is something I definitely need to work on (the confidence to say those things), my mind immediately goes to the place “But everyone else close to me want to date people.  There must be something really wrong with me…good thing no one wants me anyway”.

See? My feelings of jealousy ONCE AGAIN have nothing really to do with anyone else but me.  I am afraid of being comfortable and happy with the person I am because I am so imperfect (you know, because I’m human and stuff).

So, realizing that is, to quote the vice president, a big fucking deal! Why? Because when you figure out that something is about how you’re thinking about things, then you can exercise some control and change if you want to!  When I was sitting on the couch thinking hard about why I was feeling the way I was, and I realized the sort of petty reason I actually had, I felt instantly calm because that’s something I can deal with.

The realization had been coming for a little while, since the goal I set now has been percolating for weeks.  What I want is to be confident as the person that I am.  I want to be content to know the things that I like, the things that I dislike, and the things that I identify as areas for improvement.  Seeking perfection is an asymptotic and ultimately unrewarding task.  Instead, it should be framed as not trying to fix everything that’s wrong with you for an unattainable result, but as a road to calmness and happiness.  Often people talk about the importance of being able to accept the things that are “wrong” with you.  I don’t think about it that way.  I need to accept the things that are true (ie what I actually enjoy and what I don’t, what I care about and what I don’t) and learn to recognize the things that are false and also accept that we can be happy and content while working on growing and improving as people.

It sounds easy when I write it down like this, but it’s not.  Telling the difference between true and false in our own minds is no easy task.  But I’ve been working on this generally for quite a while now and I’m at a place where I can focus more on this aspect in earnest.  I want to be able to say here is what I like, here is what I don’t like.  Here is what I want.  And I need to learn to take rejection if the person I’m talking to does not share those likes, dislikes, and wants.  And I also have to learn to reject.  My not wanting/liking something is not automatically wrong or something that needs to be fixed with me. Oh, also, no more shame.

Hmm…OK, that’s a pretty tall order, but stating the goal is a place to start!  Right? YES.  YES, IT IS.  I think.  Well, it’s what I have done and I still feel good about it, so I’m thinking I’m at least going in the right direction.

See Ginny tonight! Coming live to a computer screen near you!

Today is the kickoff of the very first Freethought Blogs online conference! This online conference concept is a brilliant idea that I’m pretty sure will change the world forever… panels and presentations will be conducted through Google Hangout and viewable through hangouts and livestreams to anyone with internet access. I love so much about this. I love that new technology is leading to new and creative ways to form community. I love that this conference will be accessible to people who can’t afford travel and housing costs. I love that the low low price of hosting (pretty much free) and the relatively low time and planning investment (although I’m sure Miri and the other organizers will still be slightly out of their minds by the time the weekend’s over) mean that there’s an incredible diversity and flexibility around topics and presenters. Realize at the last minute that there should be a panel on skepticism and mental illness? Put out a call over social media and throw one together right-quick! I love that attending from home means I can tune in to the sessions I’m most interested in and do my homework the rest of the time. Or pull up the stream of a panel I’m maybe interested in but have the option of doing my homework if it turns out to be not that compelling. (This will almost certainly not happen.)

Oh yeah, I also love that I’ll be speaking at it. The Sex and Skepticism panel is the very first panel after Dave Silverman’s welcome, and it’s going live at 6pm CST, and I’m totally on it, along with Miri, Greta Christina, Franklin Veax, Sophie Hirschfeld, and Benny of Queereka. Since the panel was put together I’ve been debating with myself whether to openly squee about a couple of those names — writers I’ve followed and admired for years — or to play it totally cool, like yeah man, we’re all just sexuality professionals here. (Evidently I chose… neither?) Anyway, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be one of the awesomest panels ever, and you should totally tune in. (The FtBCon main site gives instructions for finding the stream. When it goes up I will try to remember to tweet a link from @polyskeptic.)

For those who have other plans tonight, the entire panel will be uploaded to youtube for your later watching convenience!

Seriously. So excited. This is gonna rock, y’all.

Reality is not an illusion

I wrote this as part of an email correspondence with a new friend. I thought some others might be interested in seeing it:

The physical world is not an illusion. It may not be exactly as we perceive it, but what we perceive is not a lie, but merely one (of many) perspective. If you are familiar with Kant, then you might say that while we have phenomena, we can’t access the noumenal (the real world behind our mere perception). I reject Kant’s, and this Vedantic-style, metaphysics, because I reject the idea that there is a hidden reality behind the shadows on the wall (I think Plato’s cave analogy was completely backwards). We actually see the real world, it’s just that our perceptual gear does not see all of it (our evolutionary survival does not require an infinite resolution of perception) and so our brains often makes up for what we don’t see by filling in based upon experience and pattern-recognition. That is, what we perceive is not the world fully as it is (it can only be made up of one perspective at a time; that’s why it’s called subjectivity), but it is at least one real perspective on what is really there. If it were possible to see a room from all, or at least many, perspectives simultaneously (that’s a contradiction), then we would be objective beings (an oxymoron, like I said before). Subjectivity creates a problem of perspective, but the illusion exists in the description it creates, not the thing it is describing.

I’ve always liked this saying:

Before Zen, mountains were mountains and trees were trees.
During Zen, mountains were thrones of the spirits and trees were the voices of wisdom.
After Zen, mountains were mountains and trees were trees.

I don’t know what this word “spiritual” means. I have been asking people for years, and every time it seems to be a metaphorical rendering of subjective projection onto reality, rather than a peek at some actually real reality past the illusion of Satan, maya, etc. If we look at the world as a quantum fuzzy cloud of indeterminate particles, that is one perspective on reality. But at another level of description–that of tables, chairs, people, air, fire, etc–are all equally valid and real perspectives. Just because the solidity of matter is not real at all levels does not mean it is not a real description at others. The same way that I am technically (physically) a different set of molecules that I was a decade ago and I perpetually change in many ways, I am also the same fundamental person in many other ways. There is no contradiction there. Language is the source of the illusion, not reality itself.

In my experience, the various mystical and spiritual traditions from world history, including Buddhism, are largely about the nature of our description of the world, and not the world per se. They are linguistics, not metaphysics or ontology. In the postmodern era, linguistics and metaphysics get entangled in ways that are problematic. There is what the world actually is (which we use skepticism and empiricism to discover) and there is the problem of perception, description, and cognitive processes, which only have the power to deal with subjective description. We must dis-entangle linguistics from metaphysics.

Science is the method by which we eliminate cognitive and subjective biases and errors (as much as we can) to describe reality. There are interesting things to think about in terms of exploring “spirituality” and other mystical pursuits (through art, for example), but these things don’t teach us about reality outside of ourselves. what they teach is how we perceive the world, not what the world is. Language, art, and mysticism are only about understanding the nature of perception, language, and description of reality, and are always imprecise. They teach us no facts, and may only accidentally tell us anything about reality.


Adventures in Therapy: Fear is the mind killer, and other nerdy things

It never ceases to amuse me what things terrify a person (and probably shouldn’t) and what things don’t (but probably should).

I was sitting in my boss’ office talking about potentially getting a new fancypants machine that cures UV coating using a curtain of electrons to bust open bonds instead of using UV light to bust up photoinitiators so that they can then, in turn, bust open bonds.  There are various advantages to doing it this way…all of which I will NOT go into now, because I’m sure you don’t care.

The point here is you get to pummel molecules with an electron curtain, which immediately conjures an image of the Iron Curtain, then an iron fist and then we go back full circle to a fist of electrons punching molecules right in their molecular faces.  When all is said and done, the rumble results in shiny coating.  BAM!

As you might guess, something that shoots electrons at other things at high rates might be a little dangerous. Apparently, the state of New Jersey thinks so too and in order to use this thing you need special training, and then 100 hours of use supervised by a Platinum User or whatever they’re called.  You also need to wear an “Am I Getting Irradiated Yet?” badge when using it.  Before anyone gets to use it, there are million inspections including a “Is this thing leaking horrible gamma rays?” inspection.

At this point in the conversation I started reminiscing about my good old days as an intern, employed at a place that had one of these things in the middle of the lab.  I remembered how every time we fired that baby up I would immediately get dizzy.  I would say, “This thing makes me dizzy? Why?” And my supervisors would say, “Oh, there’s a magnet in there.” “Oh,” I would say, “OK. Sounds legit.  I’m just dizzy because of a super magnet.” And I would sit there feeling woozy while I went about my business.

So here I am today finding out that this thing, according to the state of New Jersey anyway, is basically the equivalent of a well shielded dumpster of uranium, and I was exposed to it like it was nothing when I was 19.

My response to this? Light hearted laughter! And a request to get trained in how to use it and all that.  I made some joke to myself about how between the pyrrodine I had to play with (at the same place) and the uranium dumpster, I’m probably sterile! HA! But ultimately, I felt zero fear about this.

Now, part of the reason for that is that I don’t actually think these things are the equivalent of a dumpster filled with uranium.  New Jersey is notoriously strict in all their health and environmental regulations and while I am not going to discourage them from being thorough and mindful, I would describe some of their requirements as Bat Shit.  It’s like how California has a list of chemicals that have to be listed on material safety data sheets because they possibly might cause cancer.  This list includes coffee, alcoholic beverages, and saw dust.

But the other reason is that, well, this just isn’t a fear of mine.  I have always been respectful of chemicals and the reality of the dangers of physical science, and I protect myself from them, but I don’t really think or worry about it.  So my mind goes instead to images of Indiana Jones surviving a nuclear blast in a lead lined refrigerator or other nonsense, but fearing this stuff doesn’t really enter into the equation.

What do I fear? People being mad at me or not liking me, my imperfections pushing everyone I love away, being a burden, and various other variations on the theme of “I will work harder! I will be better! Just please don’t leave!!!”

And when these fears started to border on crippling, I sought out help.  Of course, I was initially quite resistant to medication because I figured that I was weak if I couldn’t do it on my own and I wanted to disprove my weakness…so that people would still want to be around me.  And when I finally noticed that ridiculous thought process, I knew that it was time to try it.

I was afraid of becoming someone other than myself.  I was afraid I wouldn’t be funny anymore.  I was afraid that I wouldn’t feel anymore.  But finally, I was so tired of listening to the nagging, nasty thoughts that were perpetually in my head that those extreme possibilities would be worth it, at least for a time.

And I got lucky. One medication and a month of hell later and suddenly I was feeling OK, and I never realized how much I yearned to feel OK.  The absence of a good deal of my anxiety and depression allowed me to handle stressors in healthy ways and with much less fear.  The way I usually describe how Zoloft improved my life is that no, I am not a different person than I used to be…I am who I have always been with considerably smaller heaps of bullshit weighing me down.

I have been taking Zoloft for 8 months and sometimes I have hard days, but it usually does me good if I can remember how much I have changed and improved and how I generally look at hard days as hard days, not some insurmountable thing that is symptomatic of everything wrong with me.

The first time I really started thinking about medication was when Shaun and Ginny moved in and I was really happy about that…so happy, that I was terrified that I would somehow fuck it up by not…cleaning enough, or being organized enough, or considering their comfort as my number one priority every waking moment I was home.

Yes, it was awful.  I was in a constant state of high stress, cleaning to the point where I would practically fall over and would consider my tiredness some form of failure and that at any moment they would decide that moving in was a big mistake.  I was crying daily and felt completely out of control.  Luckily, I had a lot of people to tell me “Gina, you are driving yourself nuts!” And finally, I saw it and knew that therapy and meds were something that I needed.  After the house was set up, I kept waiting to feel better again, but the effects of the stress I put myself under were persistent and unrelenting.  Those feelings that I spiked never really went away.

So here I am again, still recovering from the great wage debacle of 2013, and I’m starting to come to terms about the fact that the extreme stress I was under during that may be another persistent unrelenting thing.  I may have changed my brain again with how much I put on myself for 6 months trying to remain strong and resolute and not take no for an answer.  I was also convinced that I would be fired for asking for something that I want.  I didn’t think I was a person who got to do that and would be dealt with harshly.

Things aren’t nearly as bad as they were before but I think that I may need an upward adjustment to compensate. And of course, I have fears again about what that will do.  Will it be an amount that DOES change me for the worse? Will it not do anything good and I will have to start looking for a new drug? But my fear of reverting trumps those other fears and I’m willing to work on it even if the answer is not obvious.

I have an appointment in a month and have decided to spend this month paying attention to my moods and focusing on healthy habits (super healthy diet, lots of water, exercise).  I’ve been bad with the exercise, but it’s only day two of my “resolution”.  Then I will go to my appointment with a more scientific approach to whether I need more meds, or simply more discipline.  Probably both.

I am lucky to have the people close to me that I do.  They make this infinitely easier, even when it is feeling so difficult.

I am also lucky that safety standards in laboratories for the time that I have been working in them are really good and so I can joke about radiation leakage instead of lamenting the giant talking tumor that came home with from my internship.  And really, we all know that I want the training so that I can get a certificate with the word Radiation on it to hang on my wall!  I have one that certifies me to handle liquid nitrogen (in 2002…) and it’s the coolest.

See what I did there?  Ugh.

An open letter to a Christian trope

More specifically, this is an open letter to one Christian blogger who apparently ‘liked’ my post from earlier today and who wrote an open letter to doubters of god.  The letter I sent to him just a few minutes ago is quoted below.

[edited to fix formatting issues]


So, through and email notification, I was informed that you liked a post of mine from today.  The notification linked me to this post of yours:

As well as a couple others.  But I have only looked at this one, since it is, at least I think it’s intended to be, directed towards me (in part).
The reason I am writing to you is that you are making a common, but annoying, error here in your classification.  In order to try and educate you, I want to give you a brief run-down of who I am and what I (dis)believe.

Philosophically, I am a skeptic first.  Not in the tradition of radical skepticism from the ancient Greeks (although I appreciate that as well, to some degree) but as in the Skeptic movement, which is related (though there are tensions) to the atheist community.  Skepticism, in this sense, is the position whereby one accepts a proposition as true iff sufficient empirical and logical evidence has been demonstrated which supports said proposition.  In the case of theism a skeptic, if they are applying their skepticism, will hear the claim “god exists” and will ask for evidence, then iff evidence is presented (which should not be logically fallacious, is at least somewhat empirically demonstrated, and repeatable) then the skeptic can rationally accept the claim.  They should keep themselves open to new evidence always.

You don’t want to argue, so my point in the following is not to refute theism, per se, but rather to clearly explain my position.  I see no valid evidence for the existence of any gods. especially the ‘omnimax’ variety which tends to come from the Abrahamic religions.  I see YHWH/ALLAH/Jesus as a non-demonstrated proposed being, and I also see no evidence for any “philosophers’ god” or even a deism.  After many years of reading theology, religious apologetics, and criticisms of religion, I have concluded that no evidence for any gods exist.  If there are any gods, then I want to know.  So either none of the gods want me to know about them, the gods do not care, or there are no gods.  And if gods exist that don’t care whether I believe in them, then so what?
I am an agnostic-atheist.  That is, while I cannot, logically, disprove the general concept of god (specific gods which are logically impossible can be disproved, but not all gods are clearly defined enough for this), I lack belief because there is insufficient evidence.

In your post, you respond to agnostics and “militant atheists,” leaving out non-militant atheists.  In fact, I will point out that despite having been part of the atheist community for more than a decade, I have never met a militant atheist.  I’ve met some angry ones, and often their anger is justified (not always), but never a militant one.  In what way are atheists militant? Have we taken up arms? Have we been violent towards the religious (as a group; individual examples are anecdotal and do not address atheism per se.  Also, Hitler was a Catholic and Stalin/Mao/etc killed in the name of an absolutist political regimes, not atheism.  What person or group has done anything militant in the name of atheism?)?

I do not wish to eradicate religion.  I find that to be a fruitless goal.  My concern is with faith.  I see faith as a fundamental problem for human psychology, groups, and ultimately the progress towards greater understanding of the universe.  I’m using faith as it is defined in Hebrews, where it is belief in things not seen.  In other words, belief in things despite the lack of evidence.  This is a dangerous phenomenon.  Would you apply that methodology in any other aspect of your life besides religion or spiritual pursuits? Isn’t it fascinating that the more we understand the universe, the further away god is pushed into that gap of what we don’t know?  Compare the concept of god as it was understood hundreds, even thousands of years ago, and how modern theologians talk about god (the “ground of being” and such).  The more we can explain, the more vague and abstract gods become.

I find that fascinating–and telling!

But I don’t hate religion and want it gone merely because it does bad things. While I am very bothered by the many atrocities that people have committed in history, often in the name of some religion, god, or other type of doctrine, my larger concern is with the lack of critical thinking, skepticism, and willingness to transcend oneself towards a greater potential for humanity.  Skepticism, science, philosophy, and even humanism are what is needed, not superstition.
Your post does not seem to carry sufficient understanding of what an atheist is, what many of our goals are, and even what “militant” means.  So while I am not seeking to eradicate religion (I’d prefer people organically outgrew it, which I doubt will happen anytime soon), I am trying to eradicate poor comprehension of atheist arguments and tropes which perpetuate the othering of our community.  I have seen posts like this many times from Christian bloggers.  In fact, I looked at the date it was posted to make sure I had not read this post previously, since it was so predictable and trope-laden.

I suggest reading an atheist blog or two regularly.  Perhaps read a book by a former-Christian atheist, who can communicate that issue much better than I can.  I can refer you to some if you are interested, since there are many.  In fact, this one, by my friend Jerry DeWitt, was recently published and looks excellent (I have not read it yet).
But in general, keep up the conversation, so the next time you write a letter to agnostics and atheists, you at least have a better grasp of the relevant issues.  I wish you the best.

In reason,