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The assorted meanderings, rantings, and pontifications of... us!

Topics may include, but will not be limited to: feminism, hockey, atheism, shoes, politics, fat acceptance, fitness, skepticism, dancing, introversion/HSP issues, and anything else that happens to be on my mind.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

More on my Godless Morals

This is a follow-up to my previous post on the Infinite Perspective Vortex; you should probably read that first.
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In an insightful conversation stemming from Unapologetic Atheist's damn fine post about conventional wisdom, an anonymous commenter quoted the Christian Answers website:
As with all moral issues, our beliefs about our origin determine our attitude. If we believe that we arose from slime by a combination of random chance events and the struggle for survival, it is understandable to say that there is no higher authority, and we can make our own rules.
This, in a nutshell, is the theistic "how can you possibly be a good person without god" straw man.

I mean, yes, there is no higher authority, and we do have to make our own rules, because somebody has to, but does the fact that we must make our own rules mean that we can make those rules be whatever we want? I would argue we can't, for the simple reason that our actions have consequences, and some of those consequences are pain and suffering and death, which we, for some reason that just is, tend not to want to experience.

In my previous post, I said,
My life is the only thing I have, and the only chance I have. The rest of humanity is in the same boat. Up against more than any one of us can handle alone, and without our mommies, or our deities, to get us out of our messes, we're left with the choice of hanging together, or hanging separately.

And that, in a nutshell, is where I get my morals from. I know that I'm no more or less special than anybody else. I don't want anybody to take away my one chance to exist and to flourish, because even if it means nothing in the grand scheme of things, it means everything to me. I don't want anybody else's chance taken away either.
Using that as a basis for moral reasoning, it turns out that my morals end up sometimes identical, and sometimes less, and sometimes even more, exacting, than the morals of the Abrahamic traditions.

For example, murder, stealing, lying - all wrong, because they hurt people.

When it comes to sexuality, there's no question my morals would be a bit depraved in the opinion of the Christian Right. I don't have some kind of omnipotent, omniscient being obsessing over what I do with my crotch and threatening me with eternal punishment if I violate any number of arbitrary rules and double standards. As a result, I'm free do do pretty much whatever I want, with whoever I want, as long as it's safe, sane, consensual, and fun - again, if it's not SSCF, it's hurting people, and that's wrong.

On the other hand, there are some areas where my beliefs are more stringent and more demanding than the Abrahamic religions, and that's where it comes to social and environmental responsibility.

For example, I'm not aware of any commandment not to buy clothes made in sweatshops, but I feel strongly that supporting abuse and exploitation of other human beings is seriously immoral.

Similarly, while Christians have been known to justify desecration (and I used that word on purpose) of the environment because God gave them dominion over the earth, in my opinion damaging the environment is, again, seriously immoral, because that is everybody's children's future we're wrecking. If you're a Christian, you might believe it doesn't matter because the Rapture is coming soon, but if you're a bit more reality-oriented, you realize that people have been believing the Rapture will be during their lifetimes for close to 2000 years now, and so maybe we should get our acts together in case we have to wait another 2000 years.

Here's where things get difficult: my godless morality has made my sex life morally A-OK. But in other areas I really am a terrible sinner.

There is only one store I know of that carries clothes I like, in my size. I have no idea if these clothes are made in sweatshops. It would be easy to research and find out, but I haven't done it. Why? Because I don't want to have to stop shopping there.

Also, until recently, I owned a car, and sometimes I would take the long way home for the simple reason that driving is enjoyable. I also buy the regular vegetables rather than the organic, eat meat and dairy, and don't recycle nearly as much as I could.

In conventional, western, theist moralities, maybe these things don't seem so bad. So I'm not a very good hippie. So what? But the fact of the matter is, by doing these apparently-minor things, I'm contributing to abuse, exploitation, and the depletion and destruction of our ecosystems and non-renewable resources. This is a really seriously bad thing, way worse than any of the various ridiculous sexual and gender-role taboos I may have violated. By failing to behave with proper respect for the environment and for social justice, I am adding straws to the camel's back, and I am letting down everybody on Earth, and all of our future descendents.

That's a pretty hard rap to take. What's worse, and Richard touched on this in his response to Part I, is that I really have no way out of this enormous responsibility and guilt. If I were a Christian, I could go pray for forgiveness and that would be that. I would know that even if life on Earth is kindof sucky, everything will be made fair later and the good people who are being harmed by my choices will get to go to heaven. No such luck for me. I can either live right or live knowing the harm I'm doing.

And I have a feeling I still haven't sold this to the theists.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Happy New Year?

The Marines are forced to travel four hours out of their way to avoid a particularly dangerous highway between TQ [Camp Taqaddum in Iraq] and Fallujah. “The most powerful army in the history of the world,” one soldier told me, “cannot keep a two mile stretch of road open.”
From: Improvised, Explosive, & Divisive – by Tom Bissell in the January 2006 of Harper’s Magazine.


Happy holidays, I guess. Is it not just like Harper’s to drop a whopper of poignant commentary just in time for the New Year? The two articles on Iraq provide a chilling commentary on the lumbering atrocity that is the occupation of Iraq. Let us make a few resolutions this year.

First and foremost let us not trust the media. A large part of the media today has a vested interest in maintaining the current blood filled status quo. They, as any information source, must be regarded with the utmost skepticism. Pay attention to the facts the media chooses to report and ask your own questions. Your questions and insights are just as valid as the so-called experts we see every night. Question everything; a critical mind challenges all assumptions. Check their facts. Check your facts. Examine your own bias, recognize the easy ideological out, and face the assorted unpleasant truths that are out there…

I step from my soapbox… I have no patriarchal finger waggling left at the moment, but for heavens sake we have to do something about our society. We must awaken from our dogmatic slumber and struggle with our problems, fight for what is right in the world. Decide that the status quo is not enough. Vault past the ingrained indifference and decadence.

Howard Zinn said: “We need to decide that we will not go to war, whatever reason is conjured up by the politicians or the media, because war in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a war against children.”

For the New Year, it is time to stop the war. Stop the killing and end the slaughter. It is the children who inherit our hatreds, our war making, and our prejudices. The violence we do unto each other knows no innocents; none are spared as the bloody tocsin of war continues to beat.

Stop the war.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

This is awesome

An O'Reilly Factor Christmas Tale

'twas the night before holiday
and there at fox news
not a sentient was stirring
neither brain cells, nor clues

Go read the rest.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Infinite Perspective Vortex: Morals in a Materialist World View

This was supposed to be a submission to the God or Not Carnival on Morality, but I'm a little late. A number of the theist articles reminded me why I wanted to write this piece, in particular Maureen at Dying in Christ, who wrote about The Utter Depravity of "Human" Morality, and the Mathetes post on Evolutionary Ethics - I think it's really important to get the atheist perspective out there, and with as much passion as theists have for their moralities. So this is my best shot.
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I remember the time I realized I was going to have to be an adult whether I liked it or not. I was in third-year university, in an honours program that I just couldn't hack, and I knew I had bitten off more than i could chew. There were several courses I was going to have to withdraw from right away, or else fail them, and if I withdrew from any courses, or failed any, I would be kicked out of the honours program.

And I remember sitting there filling out the withdrawal forms and thinking, my mom can't write me a note and make it all better with the teachers any more. I felt very alone, because at the same time as all the academic sh!t was hitting the fan, I was going through a deep depression which eventually left me without religious faith. (And yes, the depression was probably a lot of why I couldn't hack the academics) And so there I was, my parents couldn't fix things for me and God wasn't there, so I would have to deal with it and take responsibility myself.

At the time, it was a sad, scary experience, and I have the impression that theists imagine a life without faith to always be in that sad, scary, lonely place. I won't deny that it can be.

In the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, the worst way to be executed was to be thrown into the Infinite Perspective Vortex - the victim would see, for an instant, just how vanishingly insignificant they were in the face of the entire universe, and the terror of it would kill them. Zaphod Beeblebrox avoids being killed by the Vortex because (iirc) he gets transported into a parallel universe whose sole purpose is to bring him into existence. The Vortex simply confirms his belief that he is the centre of the universe.

Given the choice, I'd rather live in a universe that was created for me and my species by some benevolent entity, but I haven't found any evidence that this is the case, and I see plenty of evidence daily that it is not the case (not the purpose of this post or I'd elaborate).

So here we are, utterly insignificant in the eyes of the universe, if the universe could be personalized enough to have eyes, which it can't be. The only thing we are really sure we have is our own individual lives, and our collective lives as a society. Which have the unenviable position of counting for fuck-all in the grand scheme of things, while simultaneously being all we've got.

I imagine I still haven't sold naturalistic atheism to the theists at this point.

But here's the thing: My life is the only thing I have, and the only chance I have. The rest of humanity is in the same boat. Up against more than any one of us can handle alone, and without our mommies, or our deities, to get us out of our messes, we're left with the choice of hanging together, or hanging separately.

And that, in a nutshell, is where I get my morals from. I know that I'm no more or less special than anybody else. I don't want anybody to take away my one chance to exist and to flourish, because even if it means nothing in the grand scheme of things, it means everything to me. I don't want anybody else's chance taken away either.

My life's goal is far from heroic. I have no delusions that I will ever be a Gandhi or a Mother Theresa, I don't have what it takes to go out and try to save the world. But I do hope that my life can touch other lives in small ways and make them better, and at the same time I feel that I have an obligation to further the flourishing of humanity worldwide in other small ways - respecting the earth so we have somewhere to continue flourishing (or at least trying to); opposing tyrrany; doing what I can to help people in need.

I can't explain why I believe existence is better than non-existence, or define flourishing any better than I can define pornography (I know it when I see it), maybe those are my articles of faith, I'm not sure.

All that I am really sure about (as much as I can be sure, which isn't much) is that while the universe doesn't, and can't, care, the rest of the human race just might. If I can make life better for even one person, it may not matter to the universe, but it matters to that person, because their life is all they have.

My worldview can be bleak and cold and often lonely, I won't deny that. Scary too. But that's life as a grown-up. Freedom and the responsibility that comes with it, are scary things. But I wouldn't ever trade them in.
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Part II of this rant is available here.

Stream of consciousness post on Christmas

When the only time you see the sun is if it's at the exact right angle through the skylight in the mall when you escape your windowless office for lunch, you need something to celebrate or you'll go mad. Christmas is what I grew up with, so regardless of what I believe any more, or the fact that my idea of celebrating lately is to put on a funny hat and get roaring drunk with my office mates, I call the thing I do Christmas.

I don't go for Baby Jesus and I don't go for Santa, but I've had my lights up on my balcony (and turned on) since we set our clocks back an hour, the excuse being, of course, to ward off the darkness. But once it gets "appropriate" - which is to say, the rest of my street is an epileptic's no-go zone, I start putting out more shiny stuff.

And I cook! It's nice to have an excuse, once a year, to give people stuff. I suspect people would find it weird if I started bringing them homemade candy at random times of the year.

It pains my hardnosed little rationalist heart to say it, but at least based on my own experience, there is some kind of Christmas Spirit to be gotten into. And for some reason, making (and regularly sampling!) candy whose calories could feed entire families, while listening to EuroRadio's 12-hour Christmas music marathon just puts me in a really good mood.

Even when I started questioning whether a federally-funded radio station should be broadcasting 12 hours of religiously-themed programming, I stayed in a good mood. I decided that if I can celebrate Christmas without believing in any of it except for the excuse to have a party and give people stuff, then there's no reason to ban the really beautiful art that has been created over the centuries to celebrate the made-up occasion. Bach's Christmas Oratorio can kick Rudolph's ass any day.

Even when I discover I'm out of tinfoil right when I'm supposed to be pouring hot fudge into a tinfoil-lined pan, go to the grocery store for more, discover my wallet is not in my pocket, go home, go back to the store, buy the tinfoil, come home, and realize I'm also running low on sugar, I feel all merry and bright and contemplate with amusement that I really do deserve to be boiled in my own Christmas pudding with a stake of holly through my heart. Good thing I'm not making any Christmas pudding.

Incidentally, my reason for getting my butt back to blogging: I'm avoiding this:

After listening to the EuroRadio broadcast, the main thing I'm thinking is, there are all sorts of other cultures that I don't know nearly enough about, and that must have equally beautiful artistic traditions surrounding their high holy days, and one thing i would really like to see is similar broadcasts for Hannukah and Eid and Diwali and Kwanzaa and Solstice and Chinese New Year and, and, and...

And I wouldn't mind more excuses to cook and eat yummy things either.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Jesus Christ! Under attack by *gasp* the Left!

First of all a rousing ‘AMEN!’ for our ever so vacuous right wing media establishment; thank you for grapping hold a trivial story and blowing it completely out of proportion. The evil forces of ivory tower political correctness set want once again to snatch Christmas and Christmas Trees from our vocabulary… forever! Happy Holidays and holiday trees shall be our bane. Was Christ not nailed to the cross so we can celebrate his sacrifice by the sacred edifices of gifting and regifting? The kind of hoopla we get from Christians being ‘persecuted’ at this time of the year is predictable as it is annoying.

In a multicultural society there is nothing wrong with saying Happy Holidays or having a holiday tree. There is no shame in saying Merry Christmas or having a Christmas tree either. Acknowledging that other cultural practices exist other than our glutton based materialistic purchasing festival is a good thing. What we do not need is more agonized commentary on such non-issue (other than of course the blogosphere...we eat this kinda stuff up).

In any case, let us just try to put our fears to rest that the Christian faith (as it is) and Christmas etc… will probably survive this malevolent attack upon its very core (again). Please take your fingers off the panic button take a deep breath and…

Happy Holidays

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Unsexy Left

“The grandstanding leaders never deliver, their fury mounts and mounts, and nevertheless they turn out every two years to return their right-wing heroes to office for a second, a third, a twentieth try. The trick never ages; the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get the government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly in everywhere from media to meatpacking. Vote to stand tall against terrorists: receive Social Security privatization. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated that ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining.”

A prescient quote from Thomas Frank’s book, “What’s the matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.”

I heard Thomas Frank lecture on Conservatism and the idea of the backlash that is gripping America on Alternative Radio a couple of Saturdays ago. I work in the same building which houses the main bookstore for the University. Therefore if I listen to someone really interesting on the radio, there is a pretty good chance I can find his work in said bookstore. This nefarious spatial arrangement has serious negative consequences for my finances to say the least. However, I think that it is better to be well read and poor than ignorant and rich (if I repeat that enough, I’m sure I’ll believe it sooner or later).

Back to the book now, it was a great read. By great read of course I mean it made me angry at the current state of political affairs. Chomsky is always good for that, Zinn as well. It was a righteous fiery anger that had me agitated every time I picked up Frank’s book. Frank’s work also got me thinking about the politics of the left and what we have allowed them to become.

I think, to a certain extent, that the Left just is not sexy anymore. I’m not sure what happened but when people start voting conservative to vote against the establishment something is way wrong. The idea that the right-wing of today represents the people just blows me away. Yet, as Frank observes, it is exactly what is happening.

Living in Canada I can see the same sort of polarization creeping into our debates. It threatens much of the political fabric of our society. It is an old political fact in Canada is that you campaign from center-left and then run the country center-right. It concerns me when the paradigm might change to campaigning from center-right and then running the country from further right of that.

Next after a little goodness from Chomsky's most recent interview book, I intend to read "The Ingenuity Gap"by Thomas Homer-Dixon. It should sit well with the other 'End of the world' book-binge I have been on as of late. I cite Ronald Wright's "A Short History of Progress" and Joseph Tainter's remarkable "The Collapse of Complex Societies" as fine examples of the excellent work that has been done in this field.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Waaah-mbulances not covered under universal health care

Just an note in case there's anybody who checks this blog to see if there's new stuff ever (I don't know how I find that out, and if anybody is reading and knows and wants to tell me, I'd be thrilled!), I wanted to let any possible readers out there know, we'll be back soon.

Last Tuesday, Sardeth and I were simultaneously hit by some kind of nasty bug and we're just getting back to being able to sit up and take interest in things beyond the well-beaten path between the sofa and the toilet.

We hope to be posting more often (at all) soon.