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Unplanned June 15, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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So, I’ve decided to write more. It’s a way to keep my mind engaged during the months when I want to retreat within myself a lot. Winter sucks, and I’ve developed a way to reach towards mindfulness which is sort of a hodgepodge of methods of meditation, exercise, and creating environments to allow my creativity to stretch itself.

So, as I sit here, I have no plan for what I’m going to write about, which is the opposite of my normal routine.

Usually, an idea crystallizes in my mind, then I spend time throwing a flurry of thoughts onto some screen, then (sometimes) editing it later before publishing it. It’s safe. Because I have anxiety about writing, as I have about most things. But my project for now, and so long as it is working for me, is to write more spontaneously.

Where I am.

I’m at a favorite local spot. Local 44. No specific plans tonight. Decided not to make any. But because I would otherwise stay in and be alone, I have a beer or two and read, or wrote, and sometimes I get into conversations with people.

Being an introvert, that’s sometimes a challenge. But I like it here. Good beer, good food, interesting people. If you’re a Philly person, look for the guy writing on a portable bluetooth keyboard with his phone in from of him.

How I am

I’m…ok. This time of year is hard. Always has been. I think it is for most people. The Winter has a way to simultaneously chase you into yourself and occasionally force you to seek warmth. One must seek a personal heroes journey, in the midst of depression and it’s neighbors, to separate oneself from their caves and transform their circumstances into the potential for experience, understanding, and hopefully a step of change in the ongoing education of being alive.

Somewhere along the way, you might find something inspiring, or at least interesting, along the way which will unlock a piece of the world. Treasures are hidden out there.

Damnit. I’ve been playing too much Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. I have metaphors of heroic treks through a world of magic, legend, and a lot of killing from behind.

But–an I know it’s cheesey–it’s also true, sort of. There’s a reason that myths hold sway over psychology, culture, and history. There is something compelling about a narrative, and over the millennia we have unearthed certain patterns of narrative that stick better. It’s a sort of natural selection of stories.

Didn’t I write a paper about that in grad school? Something about applying Darwinian natural selection to language games (a la Wittgentein), if I remember correctly.

That was a long time ago. Speaking of which…

10 years

This bog will soon be 10 years old. I’ve been doing this for 10 years. I’ve changed so much.

So many mini-journeys in my past. So many failures, mistakes, and lessons.

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Surreal June 14, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal, Polyamory.
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A week ago, I was in pain. I still am.

A week ago, I embarked on a new path with a person who I have respected and looked up to for many years, and whom I am beginning to love in a new way.

These things are related. Confused? Yeah, me too.

I’m not monogamous. No shit. But being actively polyamorous–or a relationship anarchist or whatever I am–is different from merely not being monogamous. Over the last several years of my life, I’ve dated women who were not nonmonogamous, but were willing to give it a shot. In some cases, it worked out at least for a while. In others, it flamed out spectacularly. Most recently, I lost a person who was very special to me because I made the decision to invite a polyamorous person with whom I’ve had a growing relationship and flirtation to spend the weekend with me, despite the fact that the first relationship was already in jeopardy.

And, you might say that such a decision was not wise. And you are right; it wasn’t wise, and it cost me that relationship. And when I made the decision, it was a last minute, need to decide this now situation. And I hadn’t slept the night before. Excuses? Explanations? Rationalizations? Yes.

And, didn’t I know, deep down, that that would be the result? I mean, if I had really thought about it? I mean, if I had the time to think about it, maybe. Hadn’t I learned that the learning curve for previously monogamous partners is too steep to handle real life, in your face, not owning your partner nor their time?

I understand, from the point of view of the traditional set of relationship rules and expectations, that what I did was too much for her to handle. More than a few people out there would read this and be like “what a dick!” And, from their point of view, it was dickish. I feel a little like a dick, honestly. It’s hard to unlearn those cultural rules.

I understand that accepting that your lover has other lovers is a thing most people can sort of understand; we all have those carnal desires, and deciding to be ok with the people you love actually pursuing those desires, so long as you are open about it, is reachable for a lot of people. It sounds hard, but many people get it and can possibly give it a try. I understand that if most people can keep those things at a distance, it can be fine.

But my mind doesn’t live in the world of traditional relationship expectations and rules.

I understand that from the point of view of polyamorous theory from which I center myself, what I did was a little selfish and sudden, but it was a decision I should be able to make without ending a relationship in doing so. I also understand that theory and real world feelings and expectations do not often mesh. I understand that in doing so, I took a risk which I didn’t need to take. But I also knew that doing so would only be kicking the can down the road, rather than dealing with it now.

And it also meant putting off another thing I’ve wanted for some time, and so when life handed me an opportunity I took it. I don’t believe in gods nor fate, but I know that life is short and truly amazing opportunities do not come around often. If you don’t grab a hold of those rare opportunities, then you may miss them forever.

And now, I have to live with the consequences. One woman I care very deeply for, and now miss, is mad, hurt, and she’s probably gone from my life. I’m sad, and I miss her.

And yet….

And then something amazing happened.

And I don’t think I’m able, even several days removed, to comprehend what has changed, and how significant it could be.

And I feel guilty for also feeling good about what I gained in making that selfish decision. I feel guilty for taking a chance which paid off fantastically (for me). I feel bad that my heart is simultaneously aching from loss and from the pangs of a new love which has been years in the making. It’s too much.

And yet I know it was the right decision to make. And I would make it again, even if I might have handled some of the details differently.

I don’t want to go on, and the truth is I cannot anyway. The gist is I have started a new relationship with a woman who is not new to polyamory. In fact, she is one of the people who, over the years, has been an inspiration to me as well as a person whose wisdom and experience within the community has given me perspective on my own views about the nature of relationships, love, and sex.

And I’m scared. Terrified, in fact. Because new relationships are always a combination of scary and amazing, but also because she’s someone I esteem so much, in terms of her knowledge and experience, that I’m afraid I’m not good enough. Because that never goes away. Not fully.

I don’t have any philosophical point to make here. I don’t have any great lesson or insight here, because I know I’m in the middle of the storm and I’m too emotional and cluttered to make any sense of it all right now. I lost someone I really love because I was selfish, and then I spent a weekend with a woman who was everything I thought she was and more.

And it’s all been surreal.

Perhaps I’ll have more to say when I’m not in the eye of the storm, and can reflect on it with more clarity. For now, I will need to weather the double storm of loss and gain, simultaneously. I think it’s a set of feelings that many polyamorous people have experienced over the years.

Where am I? May 31, 2019

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Since I got back from Europe 5 days ago, I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night, not sure where I am. It’s a quite disturbing experience, and rather than fading with each successive night, I think last night was the most intense version of the phenomenon. Here’s a brief description of what’s been happening each night in the last few nights.

I wake up, and sit up in a mostly dark room, and the surroundings look foreign and unfamiliar. I have the sensation of looking at the doorways, wall-hangings, and even the ceiling fan and having the sensation of all of it indicating that I’ve traveled to a very different place than I’m used to. And for maybe the next 30 seconds, I’m trying to remember where I am, and I just want to be home. And I’m very clearly NOT home.

Did I travel to England?

Is a thought I had one night. Another I was almost certain that I had gone back to Bruges. The only thing I was certain of, in those moments before I come back to reality, is that I’m definitely still traveling, and I’m exhausted and just want to be home, finally.

I was away from home for 2 weeks. I visited 7 cities.  I landed in Brussels, then continued onto Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Den Haag (because I cannot think of it as “The Hague” anymore), and finally Amsterdam. I was changing cities every other day or so, and so I woke up, both in the middle of the night and on each morning (excepting the 2 nights I closed out some clubs until dawn), in an unfamiliar place. And, now that I’m home, that sensation has seemed to stick to my brain, despite the fact that Kate was next to me 2 of the last 5 nights.

What’s most interesting about the experience is that moment where my brain finally understands–and accepts–that I’m back home. I’m back in the US, I’m in West Philly, and this is my apartment. What’s interesting about it is that my mind seems to fight this realization, and there is a moment of cognitive pain, not unlike cognitive dissonance, where my brain is forced to accept that this is my stuff.

Even stranger is the experience of almost watching the surrounding of my bedroom almost visually transform into my stuff. It’s not that they literally change shape, but the realization of where I am shifts the emotional content of the items in a way that is, in some cognitive sense, indistinguishable from actually changing their shape and color. Perception and recognition are embedded in a foundation of emotion, and if you don’t believe, deep down, that this is home, then it won’t look like home.

And this makes me even more aware of how much belief and emotion effects perception and cognition.

And it makes me even less certain that we 1) choose our beliefs and 2) can change our worldviews simply with rationality and logic. Because in that moment, right before I accept where I am, the room is foreign. I am NOT at home. I’m in some weird AirBNB or hotel somewhere and I’m far away from home and I’m a little scared. And my mind fights the evidence to the contrary, even when it is as plain and overt as evidence can possibly be.

Imagine how hard it would be if I refused to, or could not, look at the evidence? How could I change my mind?

[insert argument about how people refuse to be skeptical and seek out alternative information, and how this is bad and we’re all screwed. Feel self-righteous]

There is obviously some residual emotion left over from my trip. Because while I enjoy traveling, and am glad I went to see all those places, I had moments while away of painfully missing home, and having the sensation, especially at night, of feeling lost, alone, and very much wanting to be in my own bed.

It’s somewhat ironic that when I actually returned to that bed, I then have the experience of that bed feeling not like home at all.

I’m tempted to try and concoct or fabricate some deeper meaning to all of this, as if there were some profound personal revelation of feeling lost everywhere, making my home equally wherever I am, but I think that’s evidence of a brain trying to find pattern and intent where there is none. I think it’s simpler and less interesting than that. I think that our brains try to predict the world, and for 2 weeks it got used to predicting being far from home, and it’s going to take a few more nights for it to settle back into the routine of being home.

And yet the sensation of a deeper, existential, and philosophical lesson is fighting to remain in the spotlight of consciousness, and I more deeply understand the workings of the spiritual or religious sense of mind; it’s a sensation that insists upon itself, in the face of evidence.  Despite the fact that its more like a waking dream-state where the monsters and fantasies of the sleeping mind slip into reality which cannot permit them, we still won’t look directly at reality and see it for what it is.

The vacation is over, I am home, and I have to go to work in a few hours.

To sleep, perchance to dream

Open thy eyes and let escape a dreamscape.

To wake, entranced to seem

Open thy mind and the world will let itself

 

 

 

 

 

 

work in progress May 24, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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imagine paradise.

What images come to mind, immediately?

Is it Spring? Fall? Is the concept of season meaningless?

Think about the world you would create, if you had the ability. Maybe Thanos gives you his glove, and you can snap any universe into being. Or maybe you would just make one world, continent, or square kilometer just as you would want it.

Perhaps it would be empty, excepting yourself. Perhaps it’s full of family, friends, loved ones, and perhaps some friendly animals. Then again, perhaps it would be full of potential friends (strangers), each more alluring than the last.

The exercise is not to find out what actual, objective, paradise would be like. That’s probably a futile effort, anyway. The exercise is to show you that whatever your paradise is, eventually it will be hell.

Have you ever been a believer in a religion which preaches the promise of heaven? It’s not relevant if the same preaching includes a hell, because it’s the promise of heaven that I’m interested in, here.

Have you considered shopping around, and trying to find the religion with the best heaven? Sounds prudent. The alternative–avoiding the worst hell–is a similarly futile endeavor. It’s futile because if you accept something as a story you’ll “believe” in, or at least live within, whether in some metaphorical sense or with some regard for rigorous orthodoxy or orthopraxy (hey, your kinks are ok, I suppose), in the end you have not even considered the question, most likely, of whether truth matters to you.

I mean actual truth. Not your truth. But let’s not get distracted by that, already. I know…it’s not in fashion today, to consider truth. Trends, as they are.

Ok, so you’ve found your designer religion, with its bellini sunday brunches or Friday night whippings or even both simultaneously (like I said, your kinks are yours), and you are comfortable, occasionally gazing into a passing thought about the heavenly reality that you either look forward to or are emulating in real time. Hey, whatever paradise is for you. I can’t decide that.

But here’s the thing. I’m not sure that any paradise, whether we are talking about an afterlife, whether eternal or not, a set of ideals, or even a code of laws (logic included?), is ever going to be sufficient or necessary at all levels of scale, both in terms of space and time.

What I mean by that is that I don’t think that any ideal world, values, or laws are worth sacrificing ourselves to. I’ve never seen a religion, political philosophy, or code of ethics that always worked, in all situations.

So, I’ve given up on ideals.

Everything is a work in progress, and the targets are temporary stops, at most, along the way.

Remember: heaven is a place, where nothing ever happens. The world is a place where everything happens, but we keep missing so much of it because we’re so distracted by a blur of heavens everywhere.

Focus on the living Force, my friends.

In Nederlands May 20, 2019

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Half way through my trip. I just arrived in Rotterdam, after a long last night in Ghent, Belgium. I stayed with some new friends who showed me around a city I had barely known anything about, but in which I had a tremendous amount of fun and enjoyed far more than the other three cities I visited in Belgium. Bottom line; if you visit Belgium, go to Ghent. It’s lovely, less touristy than Bruges (which is also lovely), and if you like a night life, it’s pretty amazing.

Belgium is a lovely country with nice people. Cosmopolitan and international. Excellent beer and it’s very easy to get around. But last night I arrived in Rotterdam and checked into a lovely hostel (truly the way to stay, especially in Europe). Almost immediately, I befriend 3 travellers from Toronto and England, and we play cards, drink wine and beer, and talk about Game of Thrones.

Finding common cultural connections is the best way, I have found, to circumvent the social anxieties which haunts my mind, and it is a good thing when we can find those who share the lust for life and experience. It is, after all, why I travel. Those who travel find, in the willingness to not concern oneself with destinations, a companion which can be the best of friends and also the bringer of chaos.

And chaos, not unlike Folly, is perhaps under-appreciated. Especially by myself.

Brief note; yes, I am in Rotterdam. And yes, I did re-read some of of Erasmus’ The Praise of Folly this morning. and yes, Erasmus lived here in Rotterdam. And yes, those things, in concert, suggest not a coincidence. I regret nothing. Let me have my folly.

But back to chaos. (Or, perhaps, are the repeated tangents germaine to the theme here?)

Chaos has cast a shadow behind me for most of my life. Ironically, it was the anxious yearning for order that cast it. A shadow with such darkness and with such crisp lines of contrast to the terrain behind me can only indicate a close and brilliant distraction before me, perhaps blinding me.

Beautiful, like an angel–a Vorlon indeed–its manipulated sense of deification and desire for obedience is the call of a self-righteousness that , I believe, one should shed if one seeks any sort of wisdom. And I’ve known this for many years. That is, I have understood it, but I don’t think until quite recently did I breathe it, and feel it, and feel humbled by the illusion of understanding.

Perhaps all understanding is illusion? Is that too stark? Is the contrast cast by this image, this fire sun outside my personal Platonic cave, too black and white? Too binary? Not enough grey-highlighted detail?

It doesn’t matter. All that matters, at this moment, is that I remember that time is fleeting, and all of this is for nothing, ultimately. And that while this reality is not preferable, it is also not a reason to cast such a bright light upon it all.

Shadows are inevitable and necessary, but perhaps we should not keep any of our sources of light and folly so close that we create such deep, abysmal, shadows.

And remember the admonishment (or was it encouragement?) that Nietzsche left us; Staring into the abyss will invite the attention of the abyss.

Now, if only we could point that beam of certainty and ordered light into that abyss. The problem is that we are in our own way, too often. So move yourself out of the way and allow your lights to illuminate your shadows.

I’ll be home in less than a week.

Maybe I will leave some of myself back here, and only bring home that which serves the happiness of those I love, including myself. I should have less shadows following me, mostly because I’ll stop allowing other people’s lights (and their subsequent shadows) to land on my skin.

Not letting anyone cast any shade on me.

Yelling at Each Other Through Trees April 18, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
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Last night, in a conversation over a couple of beers, an analogy just sort of spontaneously emerged from my brain and spilled out of my mouth.

We are all walking a path of life, each carving a path through a dense forest, and yelling at each other through trees.

Yes, many of us travel in packs, with a few trailblazers hacking away at the brush in front of them with machetes of varying quality and sharpness, defining the cultural path for those behind them. And some, behind them, will wander off into the forest around them, perhaps bumping into other cultural paths, but in general the world is a network of paths being blazed through a forest, leaving the separated groups in the position to yell at each other through trees in order to try and figure out what is going on, where we are, and if there is anywhere to go better than this.

We are a tribalistic species. I’ve written about this all too often over the years. We truly, and literally, don’t understand each other much of the time. A dominant narrative metaphor for the lack of understanding frames this problem in terms of us not sharing a common set of facts, anymore. The political Right, especially those supporting Donald Trump, have a different set of facts than, say, the progressives on the political Left, and neither understands each other.

Now, it’s quite likely that one of those political tribes is closer to “the truth” than others. You may guess which camp I think is closer to such a truth based upon my previous commentary, but the larger issue here is that none of the various political cultures who are contributing to the inter-cultural conversations are likely to be right, in any objective sense.

Wait….”right”? Do I mean in the sense of having facts that cohere to a skeptical methodology which sifts between those ideas supported by evidence from those that do not? Or do we mean right in terms of values?

I’ve written about the false dichotomy between facts and values in the past (see here and here, for example), but I’ll summarize that I don’t think that they are really all that different. We can have wrong values, in the same way we can have wrong facts.  With facts, the question is evidence. With values, the question is whether our values support human well-being, fairness, and transparency.

Of course, the larger issue is meta-ethics and such, which is a thorny mess I don’t want to deal with right now. The bottom line, for me, is that if you aren’t concerned with well-being, truth, fairness, etc, then I’m not sure you are interested in being a good person. Why should you care about those things? I’m not interested in playing those sorts of games with people who aren’t. They aren’t acting in good faith, I believe. They are interested in power, control, and manipulation. Those values are not values worth respecting. If you disagree, I will fight you.

 

But, back to nobody being right….

The problem is that we conflate being more right than someone else with being right in general. I believe that I’m right that there isn’t a god, or more specifically that sets of ideologies such as Christianity or Islam are not real. If I’m talking with someone who believes that Jesus is real, Heaven is real, Hell is real (and I’m going to it), and I believe I am right in not thinking those things are real, I’m not (ideally) claiming that I’m right in the sense that what I actively hold to be true is correct, but rather that I’m right concerning the specific question of whether their religious beliefs are rational or real.

I want to paint this distinction, because I think it’s lost all-too-often in such conversations. In the atheist community, some debaters and thinkers have tried to make it clear that their atheism is merely a “no” to the question “do you believe in god?” In other words, it’s a lack of belief. But, based upon my many such conversations, it often seems that my interlocutor is hearing something else; not merely that “I don’t believe you” but also “my worldview is actually correct, not yours.” Those are quite different claims.

Now, I, of course, do believe my worldview is correct. This is true by definition. If I didn’t believe it, it wouldn’t be my worldview. But it’s a different claim to say “I don’t believe you” and “My worldview is right.”

Because while I do believe my worldview is right, the fact is that none of us has a completely defined, seamless, systematic worldview which covers all possible questions. We don’t carry around a systematically air-tight philosophical theory of the world which can answer all possible questions. We have loosely knitted ideas based off a set of methodologies, and they might not even be logically consistent with each other.

If you ask me about what I think about the Christian concept of sin or what the soul is supposed to be, I can come up with an answer. How I do so is based upon how I organize and coalesce information. I may have a few quick and easy answers (sin is a concept which essentializes us and causes guilt, for example) or even sound bites to pull out of memory (the impermanence of the soul is akin to a flame, waiting to be extinguished ), but worldviews are generated in real time, perpetuated by the way my brain has formed itself through experience, and always subject to change with new experience.

In an analogous way, a political movement, made up of people of related worldviews, is neither right nor systematically defined. The current progressive leftist movement is, in my view, superior to that of the alt-right in terms of both facts and values, but there are processes in the Left which are as flawed as anything in the right. In the absence of an alt-Right to compare it to, the left would be a set of ideas in need of both criticism and improvement. But so long as the alt-Right exists, they are the lesser of evils with a large margin of point-differential, so they have my support until a better movement comes along.

None of the teams are worthy of worship or unquestioned reverence. We need to stop being so attached to groups, parties, and especially our own in-groups (this is my major criticism of hard-core Democrats, right now; loyalty to party over social improvement). I’ve seen too many groups become subject to tribalism, cliquishness, and corruption to even trust any group, no matter how well-intentioned its people are. My recent interactions with the secret Facebook group, Polydelphia, is a prime example of how a group with good intentions can become corrupted and internally ruined by people who think they are doing the right thing.

 

What to do?

I don’t know. I’m not optimistic. Talking to people from vastly different worldviews was always hard, but it’s much harder right now because of the demonization, cultural bubbles, and enmity which has been created by well-intentioned (in many cases, anyway) social media outlets and meta-narratives which cannot parse fringe movements nor their criticisms (neither can those fringes understand each-other).

But we are trying to get a bird’s-eye view of the forest terrain by yelling through trees at each other. And so far the best ways we have found to do such things is to pull ourselves out of ourselves, to transcend and elevate ourselves above the hacking and slashing. Skepticism, science, and any other methods we can use to minimize bias (both individual and group biases) is the only means we have found, thus far. Seeking ecumenical similarities in religious traditions (for example) as a means to unite us is nothing more than people comparing their paths through the forest, and is unable to transcend the question.

Only by attempting to prove ourselves wrong, through skepticism, can we hope to transcend the forest, or at least draw an accurate map.

So long as we continue to abandon skepticism and the answers it supplies–and both the Left and the Right are doing so–the further way we get from the truth, collectively.

I’m not optimistic.

Fuck all the things, especially ourselves March 6, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
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You know what? fuck the Republican party. You know what they did, what they are doing, and what they are likely to keep doing. Fuck them.

Going forward, we need to find a Democrat who can defeat Trump. That’s what matters.

Right?

I mean, sort of. But that’s too simple, and it misses the point of something important. let’s build the argument.

 

The Democrats are the home team, right now.

Aside from the few months I was a Democrat in order to vote for Bernie Sanders in the primary back in 2016, I’ve always been an Independent. I have no political party. I doubt I ever will have one for more time than it might take to vote in a primary.

Right now, I like the Democratic party much more than I like the Republican party. It’s an easy choice to make. That is, if I had to back one of them I would not hesitate to support the DNC in this moment in history.* The attempts of the House of Representatives to find some justice and the truth in their investigations into the doings of people around Donald Trump related to obstruction of justice, corruption, bribery, hush money, and potential cooperation with Russian attempts to alter the public opinions and actions around the 2016 elections is something we should stand behind.

But, did you notice the heading of this section? Yeah, see I’m clever like that and I intentionally wanted to invoke that process in your brain that cheers for the home team and boos when the other team scores. I wanted to get the circuits of tribalism flowing in your head, because some of you read that paragraph above and you were like “fuck yes!” and some of you, maybe, were more like “fake news!” Maybe a few of you were like ‘dude, I totally saw what you were doing and am not impressed with your bashing the point over my head with that over-sized cartoon sledgehammer.’

And you’re right, keen observer of my overtly obvious point.

And yet, still, I’m compelled. I do believe that Donald Trump is, in objective fact, corrupt and criminally guilty. In addition to his ample personality flaws, he’s also done illegal things and should not be in a position of power. He surrounds himself with cons, liars, and ethically dubious people who do his bidding to enrich themselves. That narrative is, to some extent, just the truth. If you disagree, well I think you are just factually wrong.

So, the democrats are the good team, then, right?

No. That’s a false dichotomy. Yes, I also know that this point was obvious from the start.

 

Your friends are great. Fuck your friends.

It’s nice to have friends. They have your back when things get tough. They give you advice that you need from time to time, and are good fun on occasion, as well. We need friends. We need people we trust in our lives.

And aren’t you glad you cut some people out of your life? You know, the people who were assholes that time? The people who you used to like, but now they are evil?

It’s sort of bizarre how easy it is for a person to be your friend, having your back and giving you advice or feedback, to being not a friend and suddenly they are not available for either. There is a strange cognitive switch that sort of goes off in some of these situations, and over time you may even wonder how you could have been, at one time, friends with this person.

In recent years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this cognitive phenomenon, and I’m fascinated by it. It has made me reconsider many things about the nature of friendship and the alienation of being mad at/hurt by someone. And this has had a major effect on how I view the concepts of trauma and desires for “justice” or whatever.

I don’t want to dwell on that and that’s not the point of this post, directly. I also don’t have any solid conclusions, but I do have a lot of skepticism about the various narratives about such things which I know will rub many people the wrong way. And the implications of this skepticism is already alienating me from people who are, in some sense, allies.

But, to go back to the point of this post, which is about politics overtly with the minor tangentially relevant analogy of all things related to people, groups, and cultures, I’m of the opinion that I don’t care to support the democratic party. I’m of the opinion that supporting individual candidates, who may or may not be members of that party, is more important than supporting the party itself.

So…

 

Fuck the Democratic party

This is the nuance that I am seeing which some people I know don’t seem to see. Yes, the Democrats in congress are playing an important political and historical role, right now, by initiating certain investigations and by (hopefully) shifting the party to the left and being more inclusive of people who have, traditionally and historically, had less of a political voice.

But fuck the party

You know why? Because every time a group of people comes together to work on something as a group, shit gets done. But, also, when people start to identify with that group, the almost necessary product of such an association is to out-group the people who don’t. That is where tribalism starts.

There is a story going around about Bernie Sanders running as a Democrat, for president, and as an Independent, for his senate seat. And democrats are losing their shit over this. I don’t see the problem.

No, Bernie Sanders isn’t a loyal member of your team. He doesn’t identify as a Democrat. He sees running as a Democrat to be useful for him, in terms of running, and you’re mad because he’s not supporting the party at large. Well, why the hell should he? Why should anybody have to demonstrate loyalty to a party? Why is loyalty to a party a good thing? Notice the nuance between working with a party to get shit done and loyalty and identity with such a group.

If you cared about having a good candidate, with good ideas, who can possibly do good things for the country as a whole, then why would that person have to be a member of one of your parties? Why the fuck is that a good thing?

Fuck your stupid party.

 

Fuck Bernie Sanders

Actually, I like Bernie Sanders. He was the first (and, so far only) political candidate whose campaign I gave money to. If he were nominated, I’d be happy. I don’t necessarily think he’s the best candidate for the upcoming election, and I might prefer someone else, but I’m Ok with him and would support him.

But fuck Bernie Sanders. And fuck his loyal followers, especially.

Are you confused yet?

Ok, let me see if I can clarify

 

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him

Everyone who knows me is aware that I’m not a big fan of religion in general. Christianity is a plague upon the world. Islam is a silly yet dangerous thing. Judaism is problematic for so many reasons. Hinduism and its various sub-religions are silly, especially as it’s sold in the West as a bunch of platitudes and stretching. And Buddhists are threatening to (and sometimes actually are) killing Muslims. Pretty much all religion is problematic, either overwhelmingly so or merely in part.

But we need to keep in mind that religion overlaps with philosophy, in many respects. The Bible has some wonderful literature (I like Ecclesiastes and some of the Psalms and Proverbs, for example). The Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita are all largely lovely. There are even parts of the Koran which are poetic and lovely. And Buddhism has many pearls of wisdom worth paying attention to. Not to mention the Dao de Jing, which is overwhelmingly impressive and absolutely worth reading.

But one thing that keeps coming back to mind, for me, is the heading for this section. Another formulation is this Buddhist koan:

“If you meet the Buddha, kill him.”– Linji

This koan is a mind-puzzle for you to ponder, as I believe it has many interpretations and many uses. In this case I think what it might point to is the problem of deifying or idolizing certain people, groups, or ideas. I think that it has relevance to how we look at our heroes as well as our enemies.

If you are not a Trumpster, you might see Donald Trump as the idol of all that is wrong with people and the world in general.  Let’s be real for a second though, ok? He’s just a spoiled, immensely privileged, and largely clueless man who probably didn’t really want his position anyway, and has no idea what to do and has been doing illegal and immoral things for decades, hidden behind his celebrity, which he would have probably gotten away with if he weren’t president.

He’s not the devil, the antichrist, or even a criminal master villain. He’s a very flawed human being surrounded by leeches and fixers who have been pulled out of the swamp and into the light, and they are now drying up in the hot exposure of the sun. Instead of draining the swamp, he’s dragged many of his hangers-on out of the swamp and put them on the dry land above for us all to see.

Sure, politics has always been corrupt and slimy, but perhaps not until now (at least in the U.S.) had the lower swamp scum been in this position, and the nakedness of the sliminess is both a relief and a shock to us because we are used to it being better attired.

But it makes me wonder whether part of the phenomena which is this moment is history is that we do not kill our Buddhas when we meet them. In other words, we aren’t willing to tell our heroes, revered institutions, and even our culture to go fuck itself, often enough.

We are too attached to the things we identify with.

 

Self criticism is the beginning of destroying tribalism

What do you love? What do you value? What do you hate? What is your identity?

When we identify with a person, group, culture, nation, etc, we start to project ourselves onto those things. And as those things are challenged, questioned, or not taken seriously, it’s as if we are being attacked ourselves. This is about as universal as a human experience as anything I can think of.

It’s well past time to enthusiastically consent to being challenged, questioned, and not taken seriously. It’s time to tell ourselves and our identities to fuck off and die already. Not literally, of course. But it is time to take ourselves, our values, and especially the groups we identify with way less seriously.

Every friend group, every facebook group, every subculture experiences drama and in-fighting. Rifts occur, people are ostracized, and enmities form and eventually calcify to become the structure of the group itself. It becomes the identity of the group and its members.

Activists within the DNC really don’t tend to like Bernie Sanders right now. And Bernie supporters are really mad at the DNC. Both sets of people have reasons to be mad. They aren’t incorrect. That isn’t the issue. The issue is that they are taking it personally and therefore unable to transcend the fray and see it as if they were an outsider.  What we need is a political and cultural version of the Outsider Test for Faith.

Not enough of us have killed our Buddha, upon meeting them. We have not told ourselves to fuck off.

And until we are all willing to tell ourselves to fuck off, we’re fucking ourselves, collectively.

 


*Also, fuck the Green party, the Libertarian party, and all the other parties. Fuck all the things.

 

How the Bush years foreshadowed the Trump years February 13, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
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Back in the George W. Bush years, and as a person very active in the atheist community, I took note of how the GOP and the conservative Christian world continued to be wedded. And, today, the same thing is true of Trump world, and it’s just more of the same. Well, more terrifying.

There was a time, well before my time, when the GOP was a quite different party. Remember, this party was originally the party of Lincoln, and while it certainly was never ideal (as if any group of people could be), it was a laudable party which managed to defend the Union during a crisis which almost tore the nation apart.

Although, in some senses, it did. Because here we are, a country divided, and the points of division are, in many ways, historically connected to the ones that had us shooting at each other a century and a half ago. There are reasons why a lot of Trump supporters wave the rebel flag, after all.

 

The Bush Years

I did a lot of protesting, reading, and some writing about the growing alliance between the GOP and the evangelical Christian world which became more and more obvious after September 11th, 2001. At the time, most “liberals” (the term “progressive” had not caught on yet, if I recall correctly) thought that George W. Bush was the dumbest, most embarrassing, and most damaging president America could have had. His administration was highly problematic for many reasons, but the Christians loved him.

He was one of them, after all.

Super-patriotic and conservative Christian jingoism started to appear in popular political narratives in a way that most Americans had not ever seen before. The existing culture wars ramped up to a degree that we had not seen before. We didn’t think it could get much worse. We thought that our nation was on the brink of collapse. The Christians thought it was because of the impending apocalypse, and other people foresaw endless wars which would leave America a wasteland.

We were so naïve…

Back in 2006, there was a series of events called “Battle Cry” which were run by a Christian organization called Teen Mania Ministries (which closed in 2015). They would rent out large stadiums where thousands of Christians would listen to bad Christian rock, patriotic music and images would be everywhere, and a message warning their audience about the dangers of secular media, culture, etc. And, as I observed in an article I published in a local Communist newspaper at the time, and later published at the Rational Response Squad (and which I host a copy of here), it really came across as a way for hungry Christian media to deal with its secular competition.

In other words, it was a way to control where such largely white, evangelical, suburban/rural, conservative, middle class people got their information, and to make sure it was from the Christian media, artists, etc. 

Is this starting to sound familiar?

 

Building the Base for an Alternative

I don’t have any data to support this idea, but I think that a lot of the teenagers I saw at this event (I attended the one in Philadelphia, upon invitation from the organizers), as well as their parents who drove them to it, are predominantly Trump supporters today.

Ron Luce, the organizer of these events, saw his purpose as influencing a generation. In other words, he wanted to create a generation of people who would get their information from wholesome, Christian, and patriotic sources. His book talks all about this. In other words, many evangelical leaders, associated with conservative causes and therefore the GOP, have been making a concerted effort to groom a generation or two of Americans to ignore a large segment of media sources in order to control the narrative that those people hear.

In the case of the Bush years, it was the “secular media” and it’s demonic influence on our children (“won’t somebody please think of the children!”). Ron Luce and his organizations, including these Battle Cry events of 2006 (which were only a few of many similar efforts in American culture at the time) were a way to advertise the various Christian alternatives to music, news, and other sources of entertainment and information.

From the episode of South park called “Christian Rock Hard”, we see Cartman being awful, but simultaneously demonstrating something true; a lot of Christian music is just stealing from the secular alternatives, and that Christians would figure this out and make a lot of money from it in America.

What’s worse is that their offerings were a pale alternative, blithely and badly copied in form but not in content in order to be “righteous” and godly.  Just think about how much Christian music is a lot like secular music. In the South Park episode referred to above, the plot is lampooning the fact that changing love song lyrics to say “Jesus” rather than “baby” or whetever was how Christian music worked, in many cases. But so long as the kids were listening to that, and not the devil’s music, then they might not be tempted by Satan.

The fact that the Christian marketing companies had a bunch of things to sell them and which were present at such events was, well, just convenient I guess.

Seth Andrews has talked about this as well:

 

It’s a brilliant strategy, from a marketing point of view, and it largely worked. There is a whole alternative universe which Christian kids grew up in which has a lot of parallels to the one I grew up in, but it’s isolated and insulated enough to keep the home-schooled evangelicals pretty ignorant, at least until they reach the outside world. I’ve met many of these people who grew up in said environments, even dated a couple of them after they escaped.

What this creates is a template for creating quite distinct sub-cultures, fed by very different sets of media, worldviews, and even facts.

And since those years we have seen the division of where Americans get their information widen, until we get to the last few years which will likely be known, to historians, as…

The Trump Years

You know, the age of “alternative facts.”

For decades, conservative radio, the evangelical Christian sub-culture, and many conspiracy-theory laced sources have been cultivating more rural, conservative, and largely older people to distrust the admittedly problematic corporate and mainstream sources of news and entertainment which dominated places like where I grew up.

As the internet grew, there were all sorts of weird corners for such people to gather, and as they started to coalesce, meet, and work together, some realized that there was a market here. Hence such people as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Alex Jones became household names. There is an impulse and maybe even an instinct that such people, and their messages, link onto in an unskeptical and uncritical mind.

So, you know how The Daily Show, back when it was hosted by Jon Stewart, spent years making fun of Fox News and other conservative outlets of information? You know how it lead to a spinoff of Stephen Colbert, for 9 years, mocking Bill “Papa Bear” O’Reilly? And you know how conservatives totally watched those shows, and subsequently became self-aware that they were being duped?

Yeah, that last part probably isn’t true. But we libtards surely got a kick out of laughing at them dupes. I wonder why they are mad at us….

And you know how it seems like people who hate trump and people who love trump seem to get their information from different universes? It’s almost like there has been a concerted, overtly-stated, effort to get conservatives who lean towards the evangelical side of the culture to learn how to ignore a large swath of sources (whether “secular” in the Bush years or “mainstream” later on) in favor of trusted, reliable, “fair and balanced” sources? Or, you know, to resent those mainstream and liberal sources for laughing at them all the time and feeling elite about it all?

It really seems as if a large segment of American culture has been groomed to be controlled and manipulated, while being told it was everyone else who was being manipulated. It’s a classic technique used by abusers of all sorts, to control the narrative and point at other people for doing what they, themselves, are doing (even if they aren’t aware they are doing so). Many of my family who are conservative consider me to be the one who is brainwashed. Perhaps you think so too. 

If you do, I don’t think you know me very well. 

And, as many of us in the atheist community used to try to argue (before we were distracted by rifts related to feminism and such), it’s the tools of religion; faith, sacredness, righteousness, etc which are at fault. Wielded by the right people, these tools are great at controlling large amounts of people, as the history of religion has taught us. And over the last few decades, conservative Christians have had a lot of practice honing their skills at utilizing marketing techniques and religion to influence politics and culture. And here we are, now, in a world where Donald Trump is considered, by many evangelicals, to be sent by God to lead us through these times. 

The Battle Cry seems to have worked. Ron Luce’s efforts seem to have come to fruition. Congratulations, I guess, but I still feel a little like crying.

I cannot prove that there is a direct cause and effect relationship between these movements during the Bush years and now, but it seems a reasonable line of argument to entertain, and it fits in so many ways. It exemplifies what is worst about the religious instincts:

  • Tribalism: in-group/out-group separation of people. (whether it be Christians/sinners or MAGAheads/”Libtard cucks”)
  • The preference for sacred or trusted sources of information while simultaneously shunning other, contradictory, sources (whether it be the Bible/secularism or Fox News etc/”lamestream media”)
  • the cult-like defense of and adoration of a central figure (whether Jesus or The Donald)
  • The lack of ACTUAL skepticism, as opposed to lip service to rationality. If you’ve ever read “sophisticated theology,” then you know what rationalization looks like, as opposed to rationality, logic, and skeptical analysis. Similarly, if you’ve ever talked to a Trump supporter use logic, you know what I mean, as well.

 

Where we are in history, right now as Americans, cannot be a surprise if we look back at the culture in which we have lived. And to the people out there who didn’t, and perhaps still don’t, see the effect that faith and religious conviction is having our culture, and how it will continue to effect our politics and history, then all I say is you are probably helping it to repeat, or at least rhyme, in the future. In other words, your respect for religious traditions in the face of their harm is fucking us over.

Please, more skepticism. Those teenagers at Battle Cry 13 years ago are now adults. And insofar as the efforts of people like Ron Luce and the many other Christian organizations who saw an opportunity to drive a wedge between people and a secular, rational, and potentially better future were successful in their efforts, we now have a significant percentage of people who unfailingly support this historical disaster.

I overhear Trump supporters often. They are not cartoonishly evil or stupid people. They are just convinced they are right, like everyone else, and are largely uninterested or unimpressed by what other sources say, because they think they already understand. This is one of the reasons when I hear anyone, especially myself, sounding self-righteous or overly certain, I’m skeptical. This is one of the reasons I am critical of even people on “my” side, because I don’t want to be part of a tribe in the same way.

I want to make sure I’m not subject to the groupthink that takes over groups, so I’m critical of people I’m allied with.

It’s easy to mock creationists, flat-Earthers, or people who believe that the reptilians control the world. But what if the people in your tribe start talking about how dangerous vaccinations are or how the new lady congresspeople are all stupid feminazi drones?

And remember, even if Trump is impeached, we still have to deal with Mike Pence. 

Let’s stop this historical rhyming, already.

 

10 Years February 12, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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So, this blog had it’s first post 10 years ago, today.

5 years ago, I posted a summary of the first 5 years, which included links of favorite posts from the early years. But 5 years ago I was also about to dive into some of the worst times of my life. We won’t speak of any of that, today.

I won’t provide any links to recent posts that I especially liked from the last 5 years, today. There have been some lovely posts over the last few years, and also a couple of years where I didn’t post much of anything at all. If you’re curious, feel free to peruse the tag cloud on the right side of the page. It should be not too far below this text.

I also don’t have any deep thoughts about 10 years of growth and change in myself, my life, etc. There have been all of these things, but I’m not feeling especially sentimental about any of it at the moment. In fact, the reason I even realized this was the anniversary was because while reading some posts from other sources this afternoon, I saw a mention of “Darwin Day”, and I remembered that I intentionally waited to post my first post on Darwin day, because 10 years ago I was very involved in the atheist community, for which such a day was a kind of holiday.

Man, how much has the atheist community changed in 10 years!

In short, the blog is now 10 years old. It’s readership has declined, it’s owner has grown older as well, and I no longer have additional writers adding their thoughts. I don’t think I’ll ever be as prolific a writer as I was around 7 years ago or so.

But I do carry a portable keyboard around with me in case I’m suddenly inspired, so I’ll keep jabbering. Maybe a few of you are still around to check it out.

So, happy birthday, blog!

frustrated by unrequited ideals February 4, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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Do you ever get the sensation that you exist in the wrong universe?

It’s a common cultural trope that we find ourselves living in the “wrong” time, place, or family. Man, how did I miss the 1960’s, someone might say.

I’ve felt that way, but I think something else is going on here, and I think it might be related to a bunch of other relevant questions our culture is wrestling with. I think that there is a sort of pain, cognitive dissonance, or at least ennui which permeates the distance between the world we want to live in and the worlds we are faced with, and in some sense compelled to choose between.

We are thrown into the world, screaming, and then just left to figure out what the fuck is going on. And along the way, we create families, cultures, and national identities–tribes–which overlap in bizarre ways. At some point, some people, or perhaps all people to varying degrees, we start to notice gaps between the narratives. Grey areas in culture. Moderate positions between your Capulets and their Montagues.

We’re going through another cultural shift, in America right now. And in some sense, we are also teetering on the edge of a chasm that our widening narratives have created. We may not survive this next 20 years as a country of power and influence, and we’re having an ideological fight disguised as a moral one. The problem is that the several (and probably more) factions get shuffled into essentially 2 teams, and the bedfellows on each side are left to in-fight in their own particular ways, creating the illusion of a bicameral rift, when it’s really a shatterprint not unlike the damage done to a windshield when impacted with a large pebble at high speed.

Unpredictable and it weakens the surrounding substrate that allows the pattern to exist.

In other words, when the United States falls apart, the factions will no longer have a common culture in which to express itself, because there will no longer be the mechanisms of communications to express these differences.

And no matter who “wins”, the people who rise to power in such situations are usually monsters.

I weep for our future, because I can see the grey areas between our factions, and it will matter less and less who is right the worse it gets.