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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!

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frustrated by unrequited ideals February 4, 2019

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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.

Stream of Consciousness January 25, 2019

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There’s something odd about white people of wealth. I perceive it as weird because I share so much in common with them, yet when I’m around them in a social setting, I feel like an ethnologist. But that’s not quite right either, because I speak the language and understand the customs. I know the rituals, the symbols of authority, and if I need to I can blend in.

Sort of.

I can pass, for sure. But I can’t take it seriously. I have that privilege.

One of the weirder aspects of being able to see your culture as if you were playing a role playing game, is that the NPCs (Non-Player Characters, for those of you not up on gamer lingo) are ever so slightly more complicated in groups, in real life. Sure, if you catch them one-on-one, they can demonstrate some nuance and humanity, but groups are weird.

Families, friends, neighborhoods, towns, cultures, and species are strange epiphenomina.

Then you start to ruminate, meditate, or zone out while stoned (and where are the differences there?), and you start to wonder if you are actually one of the NPCs. And then, on some occasions, you are almost certain that you are.

OK, so granted; from everyone else’s point of view, you’re sort of a NPC. But what happens when you start to become aware that you are one from your own point of view as well? Not all the time. Well, actually, yeah all the time. But you’re only aware of it some of the time. Then you sort of forget.

Why is it easier (for me at least; I cannot speak for other weirdos) to build a conceptual map of groups of people but not the groups of proto-people in your head? All the potential thoughts, decisions, and other psychological phenomena are, in some metaphorical sense, fighting for control. I mean, they aren’t actually fighting, because they are not aware of each other. At least I don’t think they are….

What would it be like to be a set of patterns in the brain which were trying to compel you to eat that whole carton of ice cream? What if that set of patterns became “aware” of another set of patterns, which, in this case, is trying to compel you to take a walk and stretch your legs, this evening? Does it hate that set of brain patterns? Is it jealous? Is it in love, with a love necessarily unrequited, because they can never merge?

How many people are in your head? I’ve got a few, at least. I have a feeling they don’t tend to like each other very much. And isn’t that the weirdest way in which you have ever heard someone admit they might hate themselves?

But that’s not all that weird, right? Everyone does, sometimes, right? Perhaps the word hate is too strong; a word with so much linguistic meaning, that to invoke it usually indicative of a feeling being too strong. Way to emotion-shame, brain.

We are legion. Perhaps the royalty figured this out years ago, and have been trying to explain it to us through the “royal we” (who are definitely not amused) in a way that we have been hearing as some aristocratic arrogance which turns us off and makes us susceptible to wanting too eat the rich, behead them, or at least try to make them feel bad by talking about the realities of poverty in the world.

That got dark quicker than expected.

And that, ladies in gentlemen, is why I shouldn’t refer to myself as we; I don’t want you to misunderstand me. I’m not sure that eating the rich is the solution. I know, I know…I’m such a bad Leftist.

What does it mean to be right if a part of your mind disagrees?

Hell, what does it mean to have an opinion, if a part of your mind disagrees?

I’l have to think about that. Translation: I will let the proto-people in my head fight that one out.

How are you?

Yes, all of you.

Postcript:

I wrote this without thinking about it at all. I just let thoughts fall out of my brain, and only mildly edited for typos (I almost certainly missed one or two). New project; write even when you don’t know what to say. Let’s see what’s been shaking around in there, while doing life shit.

I’m out

Death January 15, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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So, I’ve been thinking about death a lot.

Not in the sense of thinking about committing suicide, but more in the sense of the stereotypical mid-life crisis sense. As in, I’m feeling absolutely terrified about dying and simultaneously thinking about how death might be one of the ideas we literally can’t think about, and yet I am thinking about it a lot these days. Absurdity is the word of the day, folks.

As a person who rejects the reality of souls, gods, and all that nonsense and  is therefore seriously skeptical of any possibility of life, consciousness, or awareness after bodily death, I am aware that death is literally nothing. Nobody has an awareness of their own death, once it happens.

One day, whether through horrendous accident, slow sickness, or quietly in my sleep after a long, happy life, I simply will no longer be. And that, I think, is both among the more simple and more difficult to comprehend concepts.

And it’s that which I want to try to articulate today.

 

Sleep

After work yesterday, I took a nap. I was really tied, such that basic focus was difficult, and I just needed to rest for a while. Now, I’m often really good at power naps, and this particular nap lasted 15 or 20 minutes, and I awoke from it recharged, as I often do, and ready to be productive again.

But what about the nap itself? What was that like? If you’ve ever fallen asleep, and I’m assuming you have, then you have had the experience of drifting off. You are decreasingly aware of your surroundings, your body, and perception starts to dissolve and become more fluid, and as you approach sleep, there is this dreamy, non-linear, almost not real sense of reality. Then, well, nothing.

But doesn’t that “nothing” only take shape, and actually become something, after the fact? I mean, upon reflection, I can try to pierce the timelessness of the lack of consciousness that was the time I was not aware (or, at least, not forming memories I can now retain), but all I can do is sort of bracket it and place a label of “nothing” or “lack of awareness” upon it. It becomes something upon reflection, so it’s not even nothing, right?

It’s not completely undifferent, conceptually, from trying to imagine what it was like before the universe existed,  north of the north pole, beyond infinity, or any concept which tries to point towards a barrier which, by definition, is impenetrable.

And so the question becomes this; was I alive during those times I don’t remember, while sleeping? Do I die every time I sleep? Do I die every moment, and the next a new person exists, momentarily, simply to then die a moment later handing off the shell of processes, parts, and perceptions in which it lives ever so briefly?

How many Shauns have existed?

 

And now, for the obligatory Star Trek reference

There’s a philosophical question which has taken many forms over the centuries, but which is perhaps best exemplified by the transporter problem as it is often referred to. It’s also related to, in the history of philosophy, as the problem of the ship of Theseus. Google it, because philosophy is cool and people will be impressed with this reference at parties.

So, Commander William Riker of the USS Enterprise (NCC 1701-D, to be precise) has to beam down to the surface of some planet to do some thing or other, because Riker is awesome and he knows how to handle shit. He steps onto the transporter pad, Scotty (sorry, more likely some random ensign or maybe Miles O’Brian) beams him down to the planet.

The transporter does something like the following; it scans every particle in the body of Riker, says damn that man is sexy, then in some way stores all of that information, transforms his molecular pattern into some form of energy, then transmits that energy to a spot on the surface of the planet below and then reassembles the energy into exactly (hopefully) the Riker that stepped onto that pad.

In other words, it kills Riker and makes a copy on the planet below. Right? Sure sure, the thing on the planet looks like Riker, talks like Riker, and probably fucks like Riker, but is it the same person? The body was vaporized by some computer, then the same computer made a copy of Riker as he was right before he was vaporized. Sounds nice for Riker 2.0, but what about the original Riker? Well, he’s no longer aware, or around, to care. So, it”s fine, right?

How different is this from me before my nap and me after my nap?

Before the nap, I have my predilections, memories, etc, but is it functionally any different than being faxed to some planet somewhere (preferably Risa)? And, if so, then why would this kind of death scary? I won’t be aware of it, and then I pass the torch to some twin of mine who gets to go on doing things, at least until their next nap or transporter suicide.

What terrifies me, in the wee hours of the morning, or moments of existential dread while sitting at my desk, is the fact that one of those deaths won’t have a copy of me to remember it. And no matter how irrational this is, it scares me in a way I’m unable to articulate. 

So, let’s try to articulate it.

 

Finality

But death, as we usually think about it, is quite different in comparison to being transported or an epic post-work nap. Because not only will the me stop perceiving, buy there’s no copy. There’s no more versions of me to keep interacting with the world, writing overly cynical and depressing blog posts, and also no me to reflect upon the nothing or fuzziness of transport to label as part of the continuation of “me.”

Because if it is the case that I die at every nap or transporter trip, at least with those, so far, another copy of me gets to wipe of my brow and be glad to “still” be alive. And if I contemplate the possibility that, as I step onto the transporter pad, I’m about to die, but it’s fine because “I” will only bracket the nothingness of that death as a memory after the fact and go about my day. My day.

And this is where those who don’t view the transporter problem as a death step up and remind me that all that matters is that you keep going on. All you are is the pattern, so even if, in some way which we cannot pierce epistemologically, we die whenever we fall asleep, transport, etc, functionally we continue in any way that has any continuing meaning. So it doesn’t matter. 

For them, William Riker stays alive throughout all his transporter adventures (and, to make this all more complicated, in one case another Riker actually gets created and another, separate, person is created who we remember as Thomas Riker), and the only death to be concerned with is the final one. You know, the real one.

Some day, hopefully decades from now, I’m going to lose consciousness and never have it return. I won’t be able to reflect upon that. I won’t be able to reflect upon that. I just won’t be, anymore. The same is true for you, and every living thing that has any level of consciousness. Even if we find a way to stop aging, cure all disease, etc, there will be a time when eventually all conscious things will die, even if they die with the end of the universe itself.

And I have no basis in experience to contemplate that. And recently, it’s haunting me. But, it’s not a Hell I”m afraid of. It’s not the fact that I’ll look back after I’m dead and regret things. It’s the finality of it. All of my experience is a memory of what either happened some days, years, or milliseconds ago, and one time there will not be that memory. There will be no prediction, reflection, or even boredom. It will just be over.

I’m staring into the abyss, and despite what Nietzsche said, there will be a time when it won’t stare back any longer. I’m terrified of the moment when the dark, terrifying abyss gazes elsewhere forever. I’m terrified of no longer being able to be terrified.

 

Inspiration?

Now, most of my life, when I would think about this, it would motivate me. Go out and live. Fuck convention and cultural norms, because they are just games we play, worldviews we are chained to, and mentalities which are not worth spending too much time bogged down in. Enjoy this life as much as possible, because one day it will be gone, it won’t matter, and you might, towards the end, look back in regret at missed opportunities while you are still able to regret.

Yes…I’ve thought about that since I was around 13 or so. Does that elucidate me a bit more?

Perhaps. But more recently, another edge to this realization has crept into my thoughts, and I meditate on the question of the finality of death only to perpetually be faced with an impenetrable wall. 

I become aware that I won’t be able to see how people react to my death. I won’t see those who love me grieving any more than I’ll see my enemies raising a glass to my demise. 

All of my experience comes from being alive and remembering something, or simply being aware of my own mind and the world around me. And the analogy of sleep is impotent here, because sleep, from the point of view of the sleeper, is defined by its being bounded by awareness on each end. Death can best be described as oblivion. An eternity of not being aware.

So why is that scary?

Is it because I don’t want it to happen? Yes. But it’s more than that. And I recognize that at some point, ideally when I’m much older, I may welcome oblivion. But I’m not there, at this time. Now, on top of compelling me to gather experiences of the world and enjoy it, it’s adding a true existential dread that, while I read about it from various philosophers, thinkers, etc, I was not intimately surrounded by in previous years.

I think there is something inherently terrifying about not being able to conceive of a thing you know will happen to you. From one point of view, knowing that I won’t be aware of it means I won’t be potentially suffering, so it’s not suffering I’m afraid of, here. And while I am afraid of dying painfully, it’s not that either. 

The image that comes to mind is the feeling of consciousness drift away, and screaming, somewhere in my fading mind, to not go. I don’t want to go. Please let me stay, is what it says, aware that nobody is listening. The desire to cling to life, and feeling it going away forever, screaming being replaced by silence, and then nothing forever, to be eulogized by those that remain to face their own subsequent oblivion.

I think it’s a fear of loss of autonomy, in some strange way, because the fear feels more like how I feel when I’m being controlled, manipulated, or compelled by another power than like falling asleep. It’s the inability to resist it which makes it the ultimate unpleasantness.

And yet I don’t think free will is real. I know I’m not in control of much of what and who I am, and I’ve known that for a long time. But with much of that, wherein I do have some control, I have at least a fight. With the fight against bad government, laws, or other people’s attempts to control me and the world around me, there’s the possibility of victory. In the fight with death, the inevitable loss is the ultimate nihilism. 

And all I can do, in the meantime, is not think about it, because thinking about it only means I’m not living now, but rather living within the fear that takes so much away from life. And yet I know that these thoughts will persist, even if only occasionally, until the finality of death finally makes it impossible.

It’s almost funny. No, it actually is funny. It might be the funniest thing I have ever conceived of. And yet I’m not laughing. I think I will need to learn how to laugh at death, while I’m still alive.

Once upon a time, I wrote for a blog… August 20, 2018

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And then life happened.

I decided I should start writing again. And I’ve decided to make some changes to the blog. From here on out, I will not be perpetuating any of the previous silliness about silly people, as I have long moved on from that part of my life, and am in a far better place. This paragraph will be the last I make reference to any of that, on this blog.

So, if any of you are still reading this blog (and I wouldn’t blame you if you do not), going forward this will largely just be a space to sort out thoughts that I’m having while reading, thinking about issues I find interesting, or sorting out my continuing thoughts about the nature of religion, sexuality, and critical thinking in a world that is still pretty shitty.

And I’m quite aware that I’m just some over-privileged white, cis, hetero male in a culture that is increasingly focused on the voices of the marginalized. And to that I say, well, good!. I am glad those voices are focused on more. I’m glad that small, incremental changes are happening is some places, and am saddened that the skeptic/atheist world has been overtaken by so many awful people opposed to the world becoming more diverse and critical of privilege. People such as the “Sargon of Akkad,” Some “Amazing Atheist,” and “Thunderf00t” (among many others) are, frankly, just awful human beings not really worth listening to, anymore. If they are your people, then kindly go elsewhere.

But this will be my space, and I will not shy away from my own thoughts, and nobody has to read it. Frankly, I’m doing this more as an outlet for myself than for any readers. That said, if you are reading this, welcome, and feel free to comment, share, or navigate elsewhere per your preferences.

For anyone who used to read my blog and has come back, I’ll provide you with the briefest of update as to what I’m up to:

I live in West Philly, alone, with my two cockatiels, and I work at Penn Medicine as a System Administrator (running some software called Maximo and building intranet sites). I’m currently single, as of recently, and am dating. Not currently seeking a polyamorous partner, per se.

I’ve been playing guitar more in the last couple of years, and bought 2 more of them (for a total of 3), and have been known to sit on the porch and play with some neighbors or friends. I continue to expand my experience with music via Spotify, where I try to listen to new music and continue to discover bands I’ve missed over the years.

I have done a lot of travelling in the last year or so, and plan to do more travelling going forward. I’m mostly off of Facebook, occasionally tweet a thought, but my Instagram (@ShaunPhilly) is pretty active. I read a lot, I walk a lot, and still like to grab a beer in the evening (usually with a book) and listen to one of the many podcasts I subscribe to (and, in many cases, support on Patreon.com. Favorites include On the Media, The Scathing Atheist, Cognitive Dissonance, and (of course) Hardcore History.

Still an atheist. I argue with people less, as I find it largely a waste of time. I am more prone to the methods of the various people who have been doing street epistemology in recent years, although I will leave it to them, as I’m pretty much done with debating people at this point. I’m more interested in enjoying my life than trying to convince other people of anything, anymore.

So, what will this blog be? Well, I suppose it will just be my own personal mental masturbation gymnasium.  If that’s your kink, then have a seat.

Later

 

The tendrils run deep. February 26, 2018

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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And, so here we are, again. Hey, remember 4 years ago? The mess with a former polycule to which I belonged? Yeah, I try not to think about it either.

But, well…..

I became aware, recently, that Wes Fenza has not slithered off into the netherworld from which he was spawned, and is once again trying to become active in the non-monogamous world, taking over for another predator within a nonprophet for geeks, or someshit.

Listen….I’d be more than happy to let all this shit behind me, and not post things like this. But Wes is unrepentant, and he does not appear to have changed or even care about changing. If he had appeared to do some personal work to improve himself, I’d at least be willing to remain neutral, or at least quiet.

I have done personal work to overcome my flaws, and I am a quite different person than I was 4 years ago. Nothing he could say about my past can hurt me, anymore. I have transcended that shitty period of my life and become a better person. Can Wes say the same? Not that I have heard.

Source

Be careful out there.

Philosophical rifts are to be expected November 15, 2017

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
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Way back in 2002, I was in grad school, in West Chester University and saw some flier about a 10 Commandments plaque that had been on the local courthouse for many years, and some local atheists were making a stink about it. So I attended a meeting related to that, and met some local atheist activists and started learning about the atheist community. This was in the early days of the post-9/11 atheist community expansion, but before any of the major atheist books were published or the community took off in size and scope. And it was long before the rifts became apparent to us all. They were there, of course, but they had not yet become flaming internet arguments and YouTube channels raking in money for…well not all of them are terrible human beings.

Having a lack of belief in any gods, or being convinced that no gods exist (the difference of which is actually a minor philosophical rift in itself) is a pretty specific and singular data point of who a person is, and so knowing this about a person will not tell you very much else, if anything at all. PZ Myers has been arguing for years that such a worldview should lead one to a progressive worldview. And while I might agree with many of his progressive worldviews, I don’t agree that one must necessarily reach those positions, logically, from the starting point of atheism, per se.*

 

 

The cultural divide becomes polyamorous, and takes on the polyamorous community as a new partner

If you look at the atheist world today, you will find a myriad of political views, opinions about feminism, and both wonderful and awful people. There are people I tend to agree with, people with whom I may share almost no conclusion except for the lack of gods, and there are people with whom I have much in common, but disagree on small points, or on certain issues. The rifts which have occurred over the years have led to situations where some people simply cannot talk to certain people, because of vast differences in opinions. In some cases, I think the nature of the disagreement is important, in others, it’s mostly hot air and emotion preventing an actual conversation. Such is life as a human being on planet Earth.

So, will you be surprised when I point out that I’ve seen much of the same phenomena within the polyamory community? No, I don’t think you will be that surprised.

But, before I go there, I want to take a step back because I don’t think that the analogy of the atheist community maps all that precisely to the poly community itself. Rather, I think that the atheist community is a better analog for the non-monogamous world in general; some people have come to the conclusion that monogamy (more specifically, sexually/romantically exclusive relationships, since monogamy is not quite the right word. monoamory works, in some cases) is not the best way to go about relationships the way atheists have come to the conclusion that god is not real, or at least that they are not convinced that it is real.

In the atheist community, there are more traditionalist/conservative people who tend towards libertarianism, Trumpism, and are opposed to much of the feminist movement as it currently exists; mostly the “shitlords” with whom I share almost no philosophical worldview (I qualify that because inevitably some shitlord would see this and point out that we might share some opinions here and there, which would be technically true but missing the point, completely). There are also many liberal, progressive, or even downright anarchistic revolutionary people in the atheist community; people with whom I share many more data points with, philosophically. But the fact is that I’m not tied to any specific ideology, so even though I overwhelmingly agree with the more leftist, progressive worldview, there are places where I disagree on some points, even if I accept the general schema of the worldview of the progressive movement concerned with social justice and so forth. To be clear, I am not identifying with the centrists, a la Sam Harris (whose podcast I listen to, because he has interesting conversations, even if I agree with him only about half the time at best. I don’t agree that he’s especially racist, except in the technically true sense that we all participate in a racist culture to some extent). I’m definitely very far left, and the shitlords could call me a SJW if they like, but I disagree with many other social justice oriented people on some points related to the worldview, even if I accept the general schema.

The non-monogamy world, including swingers, poly folks, etc, are similarly all over the map. In general, swingers tend towards more traditionalist/conservatism. In fact, the swinging world is itself an extension of a kind of conservatism insofar as the environment is overwhelmingly couple-centric, often unfriendly towards male bisexuality, and often unwelcoming to trans people. Swingers may, individually, be OK with these things in theory, but they still tend to be much more comfortable with staying within their rules which defend a more conservative worldview about relationships and identity. Poly people tend towards the progressive side, and are generally much more open to all shades of the LGBTQ rainbow. A focus on listening to marginalized people, consent culture, and a plethora of discussions of all sorts of things which will expand your mind and worldview exist at polyamorous conferences, and I would highly recommend what the poly community has to teach to all people, and support the vast majority of the lessons they have to teach. In short, the communities to which I belong tend to be made up of people who have overwhelming support for progressive values and politics. The shitlords would certainly call it a den of SJW cucks, or some other myopic prattling.

But within polyamory, there are definitely rifts and disagreements, which is similar, in many ways, to the arguments going on in the progressive world in general. That is, even among the idealistic, Relationship Anarchistic, touchy-feely, progressive group of people, there are differences in opinion on many questions. Let’s take one example, shall we?

 

“Poly” is not cultural appropriation

About a year ago, there was a bunch of conversations about the term Polyamory being abbreviated to “poly,” and whether it was a cultural appropriation from Polynesian people, who apparently sometimes call themselves “Poly.” Now, I won’t get into the minutia of the arguments, but the gist was that if we want to be sensitive towards people who have been historically treated pretty badly, perhaps we should not use the same term; we should not appropriate the term. Now, I agree with the first part; we should be aware of such things and seek to do less harm, when possible. We need to be aware of the effects of history and try to be aware of how we use language, borrow from cultures, etc to make sure that we are not doing it in an unnecessary and offensive way. But I came down on the other side of this argument; I do not think that using “poly” for the polyamorous community is a form of cultural appropriation from Polynesian people, and so I still use “poly”, rather than “polya,” which has been adopted by some people recently. I’m not against doing so, I just think that it’s not based on sound reasoning. In other words, I came to a different conclusion.

I’m not insisting that people say “poly” instead of “polya”, but I do sort of roll my eyes a little when I read “polya,” because I believe that the argument for doing so is nonsensical, even if I agree with the sentiment.

Here’s the thing; I’m a skeptic first. I want to have as many true beliefs, and as few false beliefs, as I am able to have given my cognitive abilities. In short, I care what’s actually true, and I try to use logical and rational means towards figuring out what is true. I also care about justice, but I will not sacrifice the truth on the alter of avoiding offense. I will not offend intentionally (at least, I try not to), but there simply are times when the truth might be offensive or not in line with a desire to be culturally sensitive. In this case, the argument for using “polya” is a bad argument. So even if the intent is to be aware, sensitive, and non-offensive (which I think is a good thing), the argument that it actually is appropriation falls flat. That is, the argument is not true. The fact that somebody is offended by the term “poly” in a polyamorous context is unfortunate, and their feelings are still valid. The thing is, their argument isn’t valid. One can be offended, have that emotion be legitimate and important, but still be wrong.

Others disagree with me, of course. But I’m not convinced by their arguments. The problem came in when it’s pointed out that my argument is coming from a place of privilege, where my attempts to be rational about the question at hand are a function of that privilege. And yes, I am privileged. Over the last several years, I have been listening. I have learned quite a bit about how privilege works, and have come to recognize that it’s a real force in the world, with real effects. I believe that people have a range of privileges, dependent upon historical, cultural, etc factors which make certain things much easier for people like me. I understand that there are things which are much harder for me to understand, and that I have to listen first, especially when talking about an issue related to historical, cultural, or political marginalization. That is my responsibility. But that does not erase rationality. A rational argument is not subject to privilege. Rational arguments, skepticism, and logic transcend social justice concerns. A person can be privileged, use motivated reasoning (*cough cough* Sam Harris *cough cough*), and thus make mistakes in utilizing reason, but reason itself is not subject to the effects of the theory behind privilege.

Thus, in terms of answering the question whether “poly” is cultural appropriation, if the argument for it being so is nonsensical, then all the concerns about cultural sensitivity and historical/cultural structures become irrelevant. They are still relevant when discussing the Polynesian people in terms of their cultural circumstances, of course. And, of course, if the arguments in favor of calling such a use of “poly” were not nonsensical or logically flawed, then it becomes relevant to discuss whether the appropriation is problematic or not. As it stands, I’m convinced that the arguments are nonsensical. If someone disagrees, they need to address the logical concerns first, if they want to be taken seriously.

 

How long does one need to listen, before their questions become relevant?

Over the last few years, a question kept swimming to the surface as I thought about things related to social justice, privilege, etc. In the beginning I saw this question as a internal emotional reaction against the information; as a emotional reaction more than an actual philosophical problem. For a long time I dismissed it as a side-effect of privilege and part of the very problem I was trying to learn and understand, so I didn’t follow it to any conclusion. I was still listening, and the listening will never stop. But after a while this question persisted, and so I kept reading, listening, and hoping to find this issue addressed in a way which satisfied the question, but no answer ever satisfied me. Further, I found no way to voice this question because the question is always reacted to with dismissal and often with anger (No, I’m not tone-policing; I have no issue with the anger per se). I became terrified to ask about it, because every time I saw anything like it broached it was met with dismissal, hostility, and was never seriously addressed. The question is something like the following:

If privilege is a blinding force, which prevents those with it to see certain things about culture, in particular people’s lived experience, to what extent is this blinding force merely an obstacle or an impenetrable barrier? In other words, does ones privilege merely make it much harder to understand a set of ideas, born of a marginalized or non-privileged experience, or is it one of complete obscurity, such that the privileged person can never hope to understand or have anything to add at all?

And as I started to think more about this, the question began to have subsequential concerns and questions, which I was similarly afraid to voice in social justice circles. Because if privilege merely makes it harder to see parts of the world, that would imply that if one listens enough and comes to understand, then it is possible to come to a rational conclusion that may or may not be the same as the person who is marginalized, no? In other words, it might be possible to, from the point of view of one who is privileged, disagree with someone’s opinion who is marginalized, and still potentially be factually right. Because it’s possible that any person, in any set of circumstances, might be wrong. That’s part of being human.

If a Polynesian person, or someone on their behalf, is offended by the use of “poly” by the polyamorous community, their feelings are important and valid. We should be kind to them, and we should hear them, and we should do our best to understand where that pain is coming from and seek to minimize it as much as we can. But, again, if someone listens and comes to a different conclusion because they think that the arguments in favor of it being problematic don’t add up, or if there is no argument at all, but merely a focus on the offense, then what is a person supposed to do? Is it really wrong to have a different conclusion? Is it wrong to say so? And if so, why?

And this is where the “red-pilled” shitlord comes in and says “Exactly! The SJW cucks are all a bunch of groupthink sheeple who insist upon allegiance to feelings and will insist upon ideological purity over the truth.”. And this is the part where I tell that shitlord to go fuck themselves and find something else to do, because I’m not talking to them right now and I’m certainly not taking their red pill.

Because I’m not throwing out the larger theory by disagreeing here. Disagreeing with a conclusion or a small detail of the theory is not the same as disavowing the whole left, progressivism, or social justice. In fact, such disagreements and questions are the only way to keep those theories strong, vibrant, and not dogmatic. The dogmatism that the idiots who call us SJWs, talk about being “red-pilled, and who troll all over the internet is based upon this dismissal of any questions from people who are not convinced, either in whole or in part. No doubt potential allies who accept most of the worldview concerned with justice in society have been pushed towards the red pill (because tribalism is often dualistic) because they disagreed with some small bits here and there and were dismissed. Erased. Sound familiar?

 

Skepticism to the rescue, I hope

I do share one thing with those red pill people; I care about what’s true. Well, they say that they care about that, but I don’t think their application of reason is very good at all. It’s true that many shitlords, anti-feminists, and other anti social justice people grew out of skepticism. But was their skepticism properly applied in all of their opinions? I would say most certainly not. It seems to me that the anti-feminist, pro-Trump, sexual abuse “skeptics” (there are so many kinds of shitlords) on the right are holding onto notions of human rights, consent (or lack thereof), and freedom of speech which are overly tied to tradition, misunderstandings, or (in some cases) obvious trolling and lying to manipulate towards their own goals (I’m looking at you, Scott Adams)**. Some who have been red-pilled might share more opinions with their cultural interlocutors (he says euphemistically) than either side would want to admit. The tribalism at the core of this divide is obvious to me, and is actually the fault of people on both sides. I believe that one side’s worldview is generally correct, and the other is problematic, but individual people on both sides, or caught in the middle, are all over the map in terms of their specific responsibility for being decent skeptics.

So, right off the bat here, skepticism as a community is not the best example of where to turn, and being overly “skeptical” in the face of allegations of sexual misconduct is technically skepticism, but it’s also technically being completely clueless about the realities of how our culture teaches us to interact when it comes to sexuality in our culture. Or maybe it’s just that those people want to keep having the excuse to not ask for or be concerned with consent. I did hear one guy say, in response to hearing that situations such as being intoxicated, in a position of relative powerlessness (like being an employee), etc as a circumstance where consent might not be fully possible, that if that were so then he might never be able to have sex with that woman he wants to have sex with. No shit, asshole, but you’re really missing the boat here. Social justice theories about privilege, consent, power structures, and so forth are something you really need to understand, because they are real. Holding onto traditional ideas because they work for you (privilege) is a shitty way to be skeptical.

I think that social justice theories are wonderful at making important cultural, political, and historical observations, and it’s a wonderful method for understanding how various personal identities effect power structures, but it is not the best method for determining what is actually true, philosophically, in every situation. Reason, wielded by skepticism, is the best method we have for determining truth, and where social justice theories of privilege conflict with reason, we need to value reason first. That is how I rank my values, and I understand that other people do not do this, especially many people working for social justice. I simply disagree with this approach.

And I’ll be clear, I think that a social justice set of theories armed with skepticism would be a powerful tool, the problem is that not all social justice activists are always clear thinkers, and (because they are human) therefore make errors in thinking and come to bad conclusions, sometimes. And, again, while our feelings are immensely important, and things like micro-aggression, racism, sexism, transphobia, body shaming, etc are all things that actual people live through and have legitimate feelings about, in the cases where their conclusions are not rational, we should feel free and comfortable to express this when and in the space in which that person is willing to hear it. 

The problem is that I rarely feel free or welcome to do so, and am am merely dismissed as being privileged. There needs to be room, sometimes, for marginalized people to hear this criticism. I know, I know…that space for criticism is the dominant narrative, right? But, is it? Are you really going to try to argue that the dominant narrative of our culture is reason and skepticism, properly applied? I’m not talking about listening to privileged people, because I know you already understand their perspective pretty well. I’m talking about when a privileged person, who has been listening, and who cares about the truth and who has tried hard to understand but has a question, a criticism, or a disagreement and they are dismissed merely because they are privileged. That is not rational.

Maybe that person is wrong, and maybe they’ll change their mind, but we, as human beings, need more than your experience, at some point in the process of listening. We need actual arguments, and sometimes the arguments you have are not sufficient because sometimes even marginalized people make errors in judgment and thinking. Those arguments don’t have to be on the terms of the person asking, and they don’t have to invade the spaces you make for yourself to feel safe (I, for example, am writing this on my own blog), but philosophical conclusions cannot be merely asserted in the name of lived experience, because there is no “my truth” or “your truth”; there is only truth, and we all have it and miss it’s mark on the merits of our arguments. I’ll take your word on your experience, and your feelings, but your philosophical conclusions are everyone’s territory, because you’ve left the realm of experience, and are claiming something to be true. So if someone in your community disagrees with your conclusion, you cannot merely play the privilege card against a genuine disagreement because reason transcends that theoretical concept.

My point is that there needs to be room for disagreement within our communities, whether poly, atheist, or whatever, because truth is the realm of philosophy and is not subject to theories dependent upon historical or cultural realities. If someone does the work, listens, and tries to understand but simply comes to a different conclusion, the response has to be better than something like the following;

Of course you disagree. You’re speaking from the most privileged position of anyone here. You’ve got a personal investment in being able to look down, talk down, and still deem yourself as logical and correct. It’s a matter of perspective and you’ve got it.

Because that’s not an argument. That’s merely dismissal. We must do better, if we want to be role models.

 

No, I don’t have any answers which cannot change

The bottom line is that I don’t have answers to my questions, yet. I may never have them. But I will not merely conform and agree, because I’m supposed to. I cannot choose my beliefs, because they will form themselves in my mind based upon the strength of argument made in their favor. If I disagree with you, then it might be the case that I’m missing something, and I’ll keep doing my work to see if that’s the case. But if I’ve had the same nagging question and concern with some specific aspects of the worldview you espouse after several years of attempting to understand, then at some point the responsibility becomes less mine, and more yours to have better explanations.

Perhaps my point of view occasionally allows me to see something that you cannot see, even if only extremely rarely. I admit that it’s quite possible I’m completely wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time. But so far I disagree with many people in the progressive community concerning specific beliefs and details of the worldview we generally share. But I need to feel free to have these disagreements without being dismissed and erased. Perhaps that’s something I learned, initially, from you. Perhaps you need to listen sometimes, as well.

 

 

So, thanks for reading, those of you who used to be friends (perhaps as of this reading. I’ve already lost FB friends recently articulating similar points in comments sections), those of you who might agree or disagree but are ambivalent towards me specifically, or people who agree with me here (I’ve heard from some people in the poly community the last few days who might agree with much of what I’ve said here. No, none of them were also white, hetero, cis men). Something finally compelled me to write after some time. If you disagree with me and feel like dismissing me because of my privilege, then I guess we’re at an impasse.

*Skepticism might, in itself, have more logically derived conclusions, but that’s a conversation for another day

**Listen to the podcast episode at this link only if you really feel like yelling at your earbuds a lot

 

 

Going cross-country this Summer April 26, 2017

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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I cannot stop thinking about driving.

I’m taking a vacation this summer. There are places I have not been, and places in between that yearn for the attention of my curiosity. The small towns, the scenic views, the empty and quiet spaces between civilizations.

I was going to go to Bruge, Belgium, this year. I like old cities with history and culture. And beer, of course. But as I started to think more about it, I realized that I do not know this country, the one I grew up in, very well.

There are these maps people have created, showing how The United States of America is more like a quilt of different cultures and nations, and that one can often tell stark differences between someone who was raised in the Midwest, the South, or the Eastern Seaboard (for example). Also, the differences between the cities and the country reveal another way to divide us, we Americans, into different people.

And so I thought that maybe I’d fly out to Chicago, San Francisco, or maybe even Toronto to see another part of the world, and then slowly it became clear to me that this would be missing too much, and possibly missing the point.

I love cities. I love just dropping into a city with no plan of where to go, what to see, or even where to sleep. I did that in Edinburgh and London, and had a lovely time in each. And so I planned, several months back, to go to Bruge and do the same. sure, I’d probably take a train over to Brussels or Amsterdam while there, but I just wanted to wander around and take in the city. This is my favorite way to vacation. No plan, just pure spontaneity.

But what about all the places in between? What about the mountains, the slowly changing landscape, and the anticipation as you watch the world transform from field to town to field to suburb and to city, over and over again. What does the rest of the country look like? Seeing the USA this way would be like visiting Philadelphia and just taking buses from tourist location to another tourist location; you don’t actually get to know the city the way you would if you walked around.

So I’ll drive around, given that walking to San Francisco is a bit of a hike. And driving around the country is analogously similar to walking around a city, I feel. And I’ve done similar trips, before.

I’ve seen a lot of the South. Took a two-week road trip that ended up in Austin, Texas years ago. I saw Atlanta (in which I later lived), New Orleans, Memphis, Johnson City and dozens of places in between. I got to see a part if the country that was in many ways foreign to me, along the way.

But I’ve never been to Chicago, or St. Louis, or San Francisco. I have always wanted to visit Vancouver. And so this summer, I may see all these places, and all the spaces in between.

Shortly after Independence Day, I will depart Philadelphia and start driving West. I don’t know the exact route, where I’ll stop, or how long I’ll stay in any of the places. I don’t know who I’ll meet (although I have some idea, especially in a couple of places). I am not even completely sure I’ll make it all the way to San Francisco. The point is that I’m just going, and I will keep going until I don’t want to go anymore.

I’ll probably come back. I mean, I have an apartment, friends, and family here. But there’s no guarantee that I will. The point of the trip is to just go. I will be freshly 40 years old, and there is too much of the country I’ve not seen, and this is the best opportunity that I will have to see it all while I’m young(ish), healthy, and I have the money to afford the trip. And, of course, I’ll post updates and pictures, both here and Facebook.

Maybe I’ll come to your town. If it’s between here and San Francisco, it’s quite possible.

Polydelphia outreach: seeking diversity in membership and leadership January 26, 2017

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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Hello PolySkeptic readers. My recent silence has had a lot to do with the changing political status in the US, and as you may guess I have been busy with protests, a new job, and also with the every-day activities of relationships, actively learning to play my guitar with increasing skill, and reading. I may have more to say in coming weeks, but for now a brief advertisement for a local polyamorous Facebook group that I am a part of, which has been making moves to change its image, structure, and leadership.

Polydelphia is a secret Facebook group, made so in order to protect the identities of some members who wish to remain anonymously polyamorous to the general public. There are quite a few out members, myself included, but because of the potential risks of being out, for many people, the group itself is invite only.

That said, we want new members and potential new leaders. Thus, starting yesterday, we are trying to elect a “steering Committee” to oversee some of the structural and decision-making aspects of the group. Related to this, Polydelphia has written the following as a means of outreach:

 

As members of a larger polyamory community, we are aware that a priority needs to be placed on creating safe, inclusive environments and fostering diversity of thoughts and experiences. Through dialogue with the greater Philadelphia community as well as volunteers from within our membership, we realize Polydelphia has fallen woefully short of that mark.

To improve the way Polydelphia leadership represents its membership and the community at large, we are holding elections for a 5-person steering committee.

Details of the Steering Committee’s role, demographic makeup, and establishing candidacy, can be found here:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1o6WZAxdLbbTRiylQwaqe0XZWfdQP_SlaoBthZH7MkVU/edit?usp=sharing

Anyone with an interest in joining or voting for the steering committee, would need to be a member of the Polydelphia Facebook group; a secret group. Please reach out to current members, like myself, in order to be added as a new member.

The Nomination Period opens on January 25th and closes at midnight on February 14th.

Online Voting will go live at midnight on February 15th, and close at midnight on February 20th.

Results will be posted on the Polydelphia FB page on February 21st.
Thank you for your patience as we work to make our group and our community both stronger and safer for all.

I want to make it clear that I am not, in any way, a spokesperson for Polydelphia. I am a member merely using my blog as a means towards outreach. I am not a part of the leadership nor am I seeking votes to become part of the upcoming Steering Committee.

In the discussions over the last few months, we have emphasized diversity within the leadership and the membership in general, as well as considerations of safety and consent.

If you are in the Philadelphia area, are polyamorous or are interested in potentially becoming polyamorous, please follow the link within the quoted section above, and communicate with those who have taken it upon themselves to shoulder the burden of this task.

 

 

Liberal elites and Rural White America: a failure to understand or a failure of skepticism? November 16, 2016

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory, Religion.
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The internet is ablaze with various opinions as to whether the lessons that the DNC, and liberal America in general, need to learn is that we don’t understand the struggles and anger of most of America or whether it’s something else entirely. I’ve been sort of moping about trying to make sense of this, and then today something snapped into place, for me.

Now, in some sense I cannot answer this question on my own. I am a life-long East coast liberal elite, and so I’m looking at this through that lens. I am (over-)educated, I’m economically comfortable, I’m a progressive, and I’m privileged as fuck. But what I can do is tease out some complicated questions which are colored by some issues with which I have ample experience and understanding.

White American Christianity, Dominionism, and lack of critical thinking skills are a huge (yuge?) part of this story, and we cannot afford to lose sight of that while ruminating about what to learn from the US election of 2016. From fake news articles spread via social media, the conspiracy theories thrown about by conservative media for decades (including Trump’s chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, who worked with Breitbart.com), to the theocratic fear spread by Christianity since the 1960’s here in America, this past election cycle was a perfect storm of un-skeptical bullshit, perpetuated by a con-man and picked up by millions of American idiots all over the country.

Let’s start here. Read this post by Forsetti:

On Rural America: Understanding Isn’t The Problem

No, seriously, go read the post now. I don’t have to wait for you, but this perspective is what compelled me to write today. It was this article which sparked something to snap in place in my head.

If you didn’t read the post, (because I know you most-likely didn’t) here’s the conclusion, for context:

What I understand is rural, Christian, white America is entrenched in fundamentalist belief systems, don’t trust people outside their tribe, have been force fed a diet of misinformation and lies for decades, are unwilling to understand their own situations, truly believe whites are superior to all races.  No amount of understanding is going to change these things or what they believe.  No amount of niceties is going to get them to be introspective.  No economic policy put forth by someone outside their tribe is going to be listened to no matter how beneficial it would be for them.  I understand rural, Christian, white America all too well.  I understand their fears are based on myths and lies.  I understand they feel left behind by a world they don’t understand and don’t really care to.  I understand they are willing to vote against their own interest if they can be convinced it will make sure minorities are harmed more.  I understand their Christian beliefs and morals are truly only extended to fellow white Christians.  I understand them.  I understand they are the problem with progress and will always be because their belief systems are constructed against it.  The problem isn’t a lack of understanding by “coastal elites” of rural, Christian, white America.  The problem is a lack of understanding why rural, Christian, white America believes, votes, behaves the ways it does by rural, Christian, white America.

Them be some strong words, and they fly in the face of the narrative which I have seen dominate the liberal blogosphere, social media, etc in the last week. You know, the idea that Hilary Clinton didn’t win because she and the rest of the DNC have failed to understand the plight, fears, and anger of the parts of America which are not the metropolitan, elite, largely-coastal parts of the United States. That if only the elite Hillary campaign could have reached out better, addressed more of the concerns that many Americans have, and stopped being so damned arrogant and dismissive then perhaps Trump’s America would not be so opposed to the messages of those of us who want an inclusive, open, and diverse culture.

And maybe Donald Trump could not have rose to the power he so very much craves, and which threatens the future of so many.

It’s a compelling story.  It strokes the introspective and self-deprecating nature of most liberals and progressives. But isn’t that the very problem? Don’t we, liberal, educated, elites who live mostly in larger towns and cities, spend too much damned time making sure we are being understanding and respectful of those who don’t see the world the way we do? Are we too introspective and self-deprecating? Aren’t we failing in the very same way we failed in the George “Dubya” Bush era?

OK, let me breathe here, for a second, and spend a few moments reflecting on that message. For me, the strongest case made for the view that we didn’t sufficiently understand Trump’s America, written by Emmett Rensin several months ago (long before the election or nomination of trump) and which has been making the rounds recently, is the following article:

The Smug Style in American Liberalism

TL;DR:

Here’s the conclusion I draw: If Donald Trump has a chance in November, it is because the knowing will dictate our strategy. Unable to countenance the real causes of their collapse, they will comfort with own impotence by shouting, “Idiots!” again and again, angrier and angrier, the handmaidens of their own destruction.

The smug style resists empathy for the unknowing. It denies the possibility of a politics whereby those who do not share knowing culture, who do not like the right things or know the Good Facts or recognize the intellectual bankruptcy of their own ideas can be worked with, in spite of these differences, toward a common goal.

 

In other words, we, smug elites will look down upon the rural, angry, and politically powerful (we know now) people but fail to understand them. And it’s true; I do not understand their perspective very well because I’ve never lived it. But I have been arguing, for years, that the tribalism, religious ignorance, and unwillingness to look past one’s own bubble is the cause of people’s continuing religiosity (in this case, white Christian privilege), conservative attitudes about relationships (default monogamy), sexuality (hetero-normativity) and the pervasiveness of gender binary among other staples of the conservative worldview underlying Trump’s message.

I have been arguing, for years, that conservatism (especially the Alt-Right) is anchored in fear, tribalism, and lack of understanding. I’ve seen, from the point of view of a polyamorous, atheist, skeptic, that the lenses through which most of our culture sees the world are skewed and built out of a lack of understanding. So yes, I live in a sort-of bubble, but that bubble is one mostly of privilege and the comfort that comes along with that; the world I live in is safe to be abnormal and marginalization is less severe here. But I do understand that ignorance and fear exist and informs worldviews–and I know what those worldviews are because I have seen pockets of them even here, and I make a point of listening to them when they aren’t.

But do those people in conservative rural America understand my perspective? Hundreds of conversations, over my lifetime, about religion imply that the majority of our culture does not understand the nature of their own religion, let alone other religions or atheism.  Similar conversations about relationships and sexuality indicate that most people have never really questioned why they are monogamous or why they are afraid of homosexuality/bisexuality in many cases. And most of the conversations I’ve ever had imply that basic skeptical attitudes are foreign to the majority of people, everywhere.

So, is the problem a lack of understanding? Yes. But I think that the majority of the lack of understanding does not come from those of us who are elite (but yes, some of it does). I believe the lion’s share of that lack of understanding comes from the people who do not understand how their own worldview, beliefs, and anger fits into the larger set of ideas about the world. Whether ignorance, fear, or simple inability to comprehend are responsible, the simple fact is that the majority of people do not understand the arguments of the elite communities everywhere. The privilege of a good education, including the skills of skepticism and doubt, supply some people with a greater understanding of the world around us. And cosmopolitanism provides an environment for that to exist, where rural areas tend to stifle it.

Those of us able to see that Donald Trump is a con man, unprepared for his role are POTUS, and a representation of almost everything wrong with our culture were screaming, for months, how dangerous he is. And a significant number, about half of those who voted, could not understand that. Or didn’t care. Or weren’t paying sufficient attention. I’m not sure which of those is worse than the others, but they are all bad.  This was the wrong time for an establishment candidate, so people were tired of it all and either protested at the ballots or stayed home on election day. They failed to understand how bad Trump’s candidacy was. And so we will all be forced to deal with the consequences of that ignorance, apathy, or deplorablility.

Fuck.

 

The Future

But let’s not forget that there is something to take away from Emmett Rensin’s article. Our reaction cannot simply be to call them idiots, morons, ignoramuses, etc and then go about sitting in our comfortable shells, feeling superior, with our “Good Facts,” feeling smug. No, we need to organize, reach out, and at least try to improve education, filter out poor sources of news and opinion (I’m looking at you, social media), and actually do the work to raise the level of dialog in our culture.

You know, like the good parts of the skeptic/atheist movement has been trying to do for years.

The time for blame is past, and now is the time for action. If we want our dialogue to change, so that our culture can change, and so our politics can change, then we need to do a lot of hard work.

We, skeptics and atheists, have been honing these skills for a long time now. Well, some of us have (I’m looking at you MRAs; You are part of Trumps’ America). Now we need to start utilizing those tools in wider circles. We need, in our culture right now, a serious injection of skepticism, curiosity, and (perhaps most of all) empathy and patience.

Because wherever the truth is, introspection, skepticism, and communication will dig it up. Not bigotry and fear.