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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.

 

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Ramadan at work July 15, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion.
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Islam2So, I work for Muslims.

Some people I know would wonder how I could do so (especially since I wrote this), if they were all Islamophobic and such, but it does not bother me.  I really don’t mind working for this Muslim family any more than working for Christians, Jews, or Hindus would bother me.  They are just people, who are from Syria, and who practice Islam.  From my perspective, it’s not much different than working for people, from Italy, who practice Christianity.  They are both silly religions with checkered pasts.

In the several months I have worked there, only once or twice has the issue of religion come up, and never in a proselytizing way.  They are fairly non-political (they have not expressed any strong opinions about what is going on in Syria right now, except to say that America should not be involved, and rarely talk about it at all as far as I know), they seem to support the concept of the separation of religion and government (their comments about groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood seems to indicate that religion should be separate from political and business decisions), and their two sons seem just as American-acculturated as any kids in the neighborhood.  They are not unlike most America citizens; they came here, love it here, and they have a cultural background they brought with them.  It just happens that theirs is a minority culture and religious perspective in America.

Hell, so is mine.

They are relatively observant Muslims.  They pray at least a couple time a day, that I see, in the back office (Muslims are supposed to pray five times a day, according to one of the five pillars of Islam).  They can be heard singing Arabic songs when in a good mood, they sometimes sit and read from the Koran when business is slower, and, well, recently it has become more obvious.

Ramadan feast

Ramadan feast

You see, recently Ramadan started and this has given me a peek into the reality that there is some cultural distance between us which was not as obvious before, but that distance has given me some perspective.  Watching them get more irritable as the day goes on (due to being hungry, thirsty, etc as they fast during daylight hours, which is longer during the summer) and watching the ritual of the sundown feast shows me, up close, how much these people are like everyone else I know from my mostly Christian family background.  Because while there is distance, culturally, between us, this distance is no so far as to make them alien.  In fact, they are so much like the Catholics on my father’s side of my family (many of whom dislike Islam greatly, for political reasons) in that the way they approach ritual and holy times is automatic and interwoven into their routine.

Have you even talked to a (moderately) practicing Catholic about why they do their daily or periodic rituals? Most of the Catholics I know don’t believe all the doctrines.  Hell, they likely don’t even know what most of the doctrine is, as I have had to explain concepts such as the Nicene Creed and other concepts to them, especially in historical context.  Ask a Catholic about the Council of Nicaea some time, and observe the blank stare you will probably get in return.  But when it comes to ritual, they’ve got it down.  There is a sort of sacred time and space and a set of behavior which provides order, meaning, and ‘right’ feelings at certain times.  When there is a baby, there is a baptism.  When they enter a church, they become serious and reverent where before they seem to not care about such reverence.  There is a seeming difference between everyday life and Catholic life, as observed from the outside.

What I have been observing recently is much the same at work.  Ramadan seems to be a sacred time, perhaps somewhat like how Lent is for Catholics, and it seemingly pulls them into a different space of awareness, because they have to fast during daylight which is a constant reminder.  I have not asked them much about it, mostly because they have been a little irritable (being hungry and all) but I suspect that following Ramadan for them is as natural as celebrating Christmas, baptizing one’s child, etc is for Christians.  I suspect that they don’t really think about why they do it, just like many Christians.  It’s just what you do, if you’re  Muslim.

There are other employees there who are Muslims as well.  When sundown comes, they eat with the family for the evening meal.  I have not been invited to join them.  Granted, I am not really hungry because I ate already, not being a practicing Muslim and all,  but I find it interesting that it does not even seem relevant to them.  They don’t even seem aware that this is happening.  As one of the few non-Muslims who works there, I am different.  I am an outsider.  I am kafir.  I don’t feel ostracized or discriminated against (that is, I don’t really care) but it highlights the role of cultural tradition and ritual to simultaneously pull together the in-group and to otherize the out-group.

Religion is not all bad.  However, one of its strengths, creating cultural bonds, has a complimentary function of clarifying cultural lines of division.  Religion fosters tribalism.  Thus, it’s only a strength to bring communities together for those in the community.

This is generally true, for all sorts of cultural traditions, rituals, or ideas.  Monogamy creates bonds within a coupling that others cannot be a part of, by definition.  There are levels of intimacy in all relationships, even in polyamory, which divide those inside and those outside the tribe, family, etc.  Pride of one’s national heritage, as in “I’m proud to be an American” serve the same function.  They pull together a group, but alienates at the same time.

Kirk: “Spock, you want to know something? Everybody’s Human.” Spock: “I find that remark… insulting.”

Kirk: “Spock, you want to know something? Everybody’s Human.”
Spock: “I find that remark… insulting.”

It’s quite unavoidable.  You can try to universalize the message, but this is only a temporary fix.  Define the in-group as humanity and if/when we make contact with alien sentient life, the other is them (I’ve been watching Babylon 5 again…).  It’s a tough knot to untie, and I am not sure there is a solution.  Because having groups of people who vary in importance to us, hierarchical or not, is a logistical and practical solution to only having so much time and energy to spend.  It’s nice to have people close to you, intimate with you, and who you can call family.  But the other side of this is the necessary alienation of others, especially those with whom we share few values.  Liberals, conservative; Democrats, Republicans; Capitalists, Socialists, Communists, Anarchists, etc.  There are people who are, in some way, ‘other’ to you.  Religion, tradition, ritual, and nationalism all use this aspect of human behavior to its simultaneous advantage and disadvantage.

And yes, it will be an improvement if and when humanity outgrows religion, nationalism, etc.  But I doubt that will solve the fundamental problem.  Personally, I’m not sure there is a solution.  I’m not writing this to say we should try to give up the concept of culture, and to transcend culture, because that would just create a new culture.  I’m writing this because we should all be aware of this phenomenon.  And those others who will not understand it are just stupid and evil, or something.  But we, the enlightened, will understand it.  Or something.

As for my employers and this Ramadan thing, I will say that the evening feast usually looks quite delicious.  Perhaps they are trying to convert me with the promise of delicious food.  It’s not working, alas.  Well, if the promise of 72 virgins (or raisins, whatever) won’t do it, food won’t do it, then I guess they are just going to have to verify their claims rationally and empirically.  Yeah, somehow philosophy wins over food and sex for me.  Sorry, religion.

Atheist Communities and ‘religious’ behavior June 6, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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Over the weekend I had a conversation with some friends about what the atheist community might need to do in order to create an environment that would replace that of the world of religion.  The community, social activities, and even the rituals were mentioned, and it is clear that this is no easy question.  But what I hope is commonly accepted by the atheist community is that we are not replacing religion; we don’t want to emulate the cultural institution in all ways.  We are, I hope, trying to create activities and institutions to improve upon our culture, society, and ultimately the world.  We are not going to build atheist churches, but we are going to build a better world based upon skeptical and rational thinking, evidence, and science.

But how?

First, I would like to make a distinction about what makes up religion.  It is often said that if we are to get rid of religion (which is not the goal of most atheists, I don’t think), we would have to replace what religion does for people socially and so forth.  But what I think is missed here is that the social gathering, community, common purpose that happens when religious communities are done well (As opposed to in-group feeling churches of intolerance, judgmental propensities, and in-fighting, which also is relatively common) are not unique nor original to religion.  Just like how religion usurps the idea of morality as their own, religions often usurp the idea of community as their own idea.  We are not trying to take away people’s communities, we are trying to install reality into them.  There is no need to take away their group upon educating people, we just need to give them new visions of what their communities can be like.  Reality is a good start.

Humans naturally group into communities.  And while I want to see people of different views and opinions talking to each other more, it is clear that we seek out like-minds for most of our socializing.  And so obviously when people come up with strange opinions about the nature of reality, they will seek out others who will accept those views and create churches, temples, and so forth.  But the social grouping came first.  What I take from this is that the atheist community does not have to worry that much about creating alternative communities for people who leave their faith, as that will happen naturally.

However, I think that we, as the atheist community, will need to think about how we organize those communities when we do create them.  We do have to remember that there will be people who are scared, timid, and intimidated upon entering our community for the first time by those who are here and boisterous.  We will have to keep in mind that there are people with very strong opinions and loud voices who will annoy other people.  We have to keep in mind that there are genuine conflicts about definitions, tactics, and goals of the atheist community.  And if we are to try to create umbrella groups (such as UnitedCOR), we have to keep those things in mind.  But since I am not in a position of leadership of such an organization, I will not dwell on the details of how to do so.  Mostly because I really don’t know.

All I want to emphasize is that what we call  “religion” has aspects of it that are good.  Most of these things are natural behaviors of humans whether those humans believe in silly theological positions or not.  But much of what is natural in human groups are things we can leave behind, ideally.  If we are going to, in the long-term, replace the institutions of “religion” with activities that don’t include gods, we will have to be prepared for the reality that things such as tribalism (like what happens between liberals and conservatives) will exist.  In fact, with the arguments such as the one between gnu atheism and accommodationism, it is clear that this already exists.   Because while atheism per se cannot be a religion, the communities that atheists can create will start to emulate, in many ways, the activities of religious groups.  But the mistake that so many commentators make, in trying to argue that this implies that atheism is a religion, is that they forget that the group behaviors that they think of as “religious” are actually as secular as anything gets; they exist independent of religion. So the question is not whether atheism is a religion, but rather whether atheists will create groups like religious people, or whether they will improve upon the idea.

We need to be prepared, as atheists creating communities, that we are potentially subject to the same mistakes that we see in religious communities.  And while we are unlikely to create a system which allows continual abuse (of children or anyone else)  by our leaders, we are certainly capable of sectarian thinking and avoiding continual communication with people of differing opinions.  We must deal with this now, not later.  It’s not as important that we all agree on the definitions, tactics and goals of others (although it might be nice, ideally, to do so) so long as we are trying to comprehend those alternative definitions, tactics, and goals in order to work together when we need to, and set aside those debates for more appropriate times and places.

But we need to keep the lines of communication open, the enemization (rather than demonization) of those we disagree with to a realistic and appropriate minimum, and keep re-building our own views when they are presented with reasonable challenges.  It’s not about being correct, it’s about staying correct.