Thursday, April 23, 2009

Outhouse Lessons

Image by Leonard J. DeFrancisci
This past weekend, I was back in my home town for the "Thunder of Louisville" fireworks event, a spectacle which I have always enjoyed. It was here that I realized that life lessons and revelations come at the oddest of moments among the strangest places, namely while waiting in line for to use a fiberglass shithouse.

For those of you who don't know, "Thunder" is the largest fireworks display in North America and nearly 1 million people attend annually. With all the adult beverages, things get a little rowdy and the pisser is in high demand, so I expected the usual 30 minute wait. What I didn't expect was a confrontation with a shirtless man and his harlot/girlfriend.

I had been waiting for some time and they had been behind me for several minutes when, out of nowhere, the couple accused me of line jumping. "We've been here, like, forever," she said, to which I replied, "Well, I've been here for forever and about 15 seconds." Needless to say she did not appreciate the audacity that I suggest she wait her goddamn turn.

Ironically, it was this couple that I saw line jump the man next to me, while simultaneously two angry women cut to the front of my line. I understand that it's a trivial thing, and people exercised good judgment, for the most part, in not retaliating, but I find the whole thing irritating, and here's why.

This whole scenario is just one illustration of the tragedy of the commons, a problem our culture experiences daily at all levels, ranging from the executive suite to the porta-shitter line. The self-entitlement that seems to dictate an attitude of, "My shit is more important than yours, so fuck off," appears dominant. The problem is, once one person stops playing by the rules and we as a group sanction it, then everyone has to break the social contract just to keep even, which leaves the morally right out in the cold.

I realize it's a bit ridiculous to compare a bathroom line to a societal breakdown, but I feel the similarity valid, and the experience was kind of a profound realization for me. I worry that Hobbes might be right in asserting that basic human nature dictates a world that is both "nasty" and "brutish." Law and rules avert that to an extent, and self-entitlement subverts that establishment.

I do not mean to say that all law is just, but governing rules of basic courtesy are reasonable rules to live by, and it would go a long way to making our culture more bearable. In short, I have to piss just as bad as you, so wait your fucking turn you moronic infant!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Executive Assassins

So I was watching the Colbert Report the other night and was struck by a segment he did concerning an executive assassination ring. Allegedly, a group of assassins traveled abroad and executed U.S. enemies, reporting only to the office of Vice President Cheney and having no oversight by either Congress or the CIA.

I wasn't sure if this bit was a joke, which speaks to the character of Cheney, or at least my impression of him. As it turns out, this is no joke. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh accused Cheney of operating an executive assassination ring during a speaking engagement at the University of Minnesota. Apparently Hersh plans to reveal more details about his findings in his upcoming book.

I'm not sure if the allegations are true, but I don't think a respected journalist like Hersh would accuse Cheney of something so vile without some sort of evidence. We'll see how this plays out, but I find it sad in and of itself that not only is such a thing occurring, but that no one is really that surprised.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Height of Arrogance

Image by Niusereset
I firmly believe that debate is the greatest source of learning. You have to challenge your ideas and the ideas of others to discover what holds true for you, but at some point, you might do well to pump the brakes, lest you become a pompous douche bag.

Case in point: religion.
I do not care if you are a strong believer or a nonbeliever, and the idea that religion is a topic of discussion that should be left off the table is completely ridiculous. Please argue. Please debate. But for the love of God (or Science H. Logic if you are an atheist) don't preach to me. If you promote these ideas, fine; but if you evangelize on their behalf, go ruin someone else's day.

The Religious

Here is the text of a mass forwarded e-mail I recently read:

In Florida, an atheist created a case against the upcoming Easter and Passover holy days. He hired an attorney to bring a discrimination case against Christians, Jews and observances of their holy days...

The argument was that it was unfair that atheists had no such recognized days. The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the passionate presentation by the lawyer, the judge banged his gavel declaring, "Case dismissed!"

The lawyer immediately stood objecting to the ruling saying, "Your honor, how can you possibly dismiss this case? The Christians have Christmas, Easter and others. The Jews have Passover, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah, yet my client and all other atheists have no such holidays."

The judge leaned forward in his chair saying, "But you do. Your client, counsel, is woefully ignorant." The lawyer said, "Your Honor, we are unaware of any special observance or holiday for atheists."

The judge said, "The calendar says April 1st is April Fools Day. Psalm 14:1 states, 'The fool says in his heart, there is no God.' Thus, it is the opinion of this court, that if your client says there is no God, then he is a fool. Therefore, April 1st is his day. Court is adjourned.

You gotta love a Judge that knows his scripture!

Actually, no I don't. Just because someone doesn't hold the same viewpoint as you doesn't make them a fool. If they hold that viewpoint without any reasonable explanation, you could probably make that claim (note that I said reasonable, and by this I do not mean traditionally logical, but rather something that has an explainable cause).

I am not an atheist, and I probably never will be, but I can't argue that individuals that are atheist have reason enough to believe there is no God, just as the theist has a faith-based reason to believe there is. And who the fuck are you to pretend like you know who God thinks is a fool? Just because you memorized an obscure piece of scripture - written by MAN, mind you - does not make you an ultimate authority. Piss off.

The Non-religious

As a Catholic, and lapse one at that, I suppose I am fundamentally opposed to the premise of atheism, but you are entitle to that view if you believe it true, and there is good evidence to that end. However, understand that insulting the religious and calling them ignorant isn't converting anyone to your cause.

The religious people of this country seek explanation for things beyond their level of understanding, which varies for each person. For them, faith is the answer, and sometimes it is a good one.

Christopher Hitchens disagrees vehemently. Hitchens is more than an atheist; he is an anti-theist, actively campaigning against religion. His newest book is entitle "God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything." Thanks Chris. Hyperbole needed a new friend.

Look, I get it. Religion makes no sense to some people, and many see it as a destructive force. I cannot argue that religion has not been a force for destruction. From the Crusades to witch hunts to Islamic terrorism and everything in between, religion has been a breading ground for horrible things.

However, the same is true for secularism. I doubt Stalin went to church very often. And though I haven't read Hitchens' book, the idea that "religion poisons everything" is ridiculous. Again, as a Catholic, I recognize the atrocities of the past and present and condemn them as much as anyone else, but there is good in religion too. Religion offers people a community which they may not otherwise experience, and religious institutions across the globe provide charitable services to the poor and needy. Could this be done without religion? You bet. But religion is undeniably a part of it, so to claim all religion is poisonous is ignorant.

Moreover, the devotion many atheists and anti-theists have toward science is potentially as dangerous. On a recent episode of "Real Time," Mos Def made the argument that everyone has a religion of some kind, a point which Hitchens and Bill Maher immediately refuted based on the misuse of the term religion.

At some level, it probably isn't fair to lump all belief systems under the term "religion." Traditionally, religion is based on faith, while many beliefs have greater logical foundations. Still, the faith many atheists have in science is often as unquestioned as the faith others have in religion.

Everyone looks for a constant in their lives. Religion provides unchanging certainty, so it brings comfort to some. Science - or at least its method - provides something viable to cling to for uncovering truth. I don't question the scientific method, but I do recognize that science changes its mind a bit. What is true today may be false tomorrow. Discovery drives science.

To that end, is it not dangerous to advocate ceaselessly for a cause of science that may be just as false as any religious cause? For example, the inventors of the frontal lobotomy hailed the procedure as a cure for several mental illnesses. They were awarded a Nobel Prize and the procedure gained wide global popularity. Turns out, lobotomies simply destroy part of your brain, making you more docile. And where did all the original scientific support for this procedure come from? One experiment on one gorilla. Imagine if we had individuals advocating as passionately for lobotomies as they do for global warming? We'd all be praying for the Chief to smother us with pillows.

I know what I presented is an unfair comparison; global warming has substantially more supportive evidence for its truth than did the lobotomy procedure. My point, however, remains the same: many people who praise science for its method begin to praise the discoveries of science as ultimate truth. They are not. Science is a game of disproving and questioning, of uncertainty and untruth. So yes, hail science, but do so cautiously.

And atheists, before you criticize others for unquestioned belief, ask yourself how much you question your own, and remember that a religious people may have questioned their beliefs just as fervently and come to a different conclusion. To those on either side of this issues: If you want to debate me, I welcome it, but if you want to condescend to me, you can shove it up your ass.