Today will be one of my more counter-intuitive and possibly controversial ideas. I want to talk about what it means to be shallow in terms of one's character. What is shallowness, really? But before I dive into the depths, a bit of preface on the subject of free will is in order. In recent years, I have come to accept the fact that free will, insofar as most people think about it, doesn't exist. If you've never heard or read any lectures on this idea, you may find yourself quickly losing the plot, but that's okay--I find it takes awhile for these ideas to make sense. The basic premise is this: although we absolutely have the power of conscious choice and voluntary action, our choices and actions are all directly caused by our thoughts, and you don't author your thoughts. You don't actually bring your thoughts into being. You are not the driver or pilot of yourself that you think you are. You are not the author sitting at the desk in your mind, writing the thoughts of your life. Thoughts simply arise in consciousness. They spring into being. You don't create them; you are merely witness to them. With a little bit of practice at introspection, one can easily prove this to oneself. If you pay close enough attention to what it's like to think a thought, you will see that you don't create them, and don't truly have any control over what thought comes careening into consciousness next, even when it seems to be otherwise. I could go on at length attempting to demonstrate this, but I don't wish to get bogged down and run too far off the rails. The punch line is that because you don't author your thoughts, you don't actually have the freedom over yourself that you think you do. Everything you think and do arises out of a perfect crucible of prior causes stretching back to the beginning of time.
Confused yet? It took me some time before I stopped being so. Hopefully you're still with me. To help you understand this idea a bit better, I recommend listening to this short audio clip before continuing:
Now then, today I would like to argue that being concerned with physical attractiveness is no more shallow than being concerned with intelligence. This is quite a bold claim, and cuts directly against what most of us tend to believe, but I think I can argue this successfully.
If you've followed me much at all, you might already know that I am a highly sexual person, and a great proponent of embracing and celebrating physical and sexual beauty. People who place a high degree of importance on physical beauty often take a lot of flak for being shallow, and I probably would too, if I actually went outside and talked to people... :/ In my country of America, there is an odd double standard at play when it comes to physical attractiveness. We live in a culture of mixed messages, where the media tells us that looking good and staying young is paramount, but we are also admonished to look at inner beauty and judge people only on their characters. Most people typically say that part of what constitutes being a good person is looking past outer beauty, and to pay little to no attention to what people look like. I think that even when people are concerned about physical beauty, they feel societal pressure to say otherwise because it's the "right" thing to do. It seems universally accepted that looking only at "inner" beauty is an inherently good, noble, and virtuous way to be. People who say that they care only about what's inside, even when it comes to their romantic partner, typically get pats on the back.
What I am arguing today is that essentially every trait we could conceivably care about is largely out of our control, and thus, it is no more shallow to compliment someone's looks than it is to compliment their smarts.
Here comes the part that many people really don't want to hear. Intelligence is pretty much entirely genetic. You either have it or you don't. From there, it comes down to what you do with it. You can use it, or not. Education--filling your brain with knowledge--will help you reach your potential, and early childhood environmental factors certainly play a role in facilitating this and priming the brain for the rest of it's life, but that's not really what intelligence is. Intelligence is your ability to understand and to think. It's not really about what you know, or how much, but about how you think. It's about your potential. This is genetic. You're either born with high intelligence or you're not. You can't really change your intelligence level in any deep sense. This is the uncomfortable truth that people don't want to hear, but it is a truth nonetheless. Your intelligence simply is what it is. What you can do is exercise your brain to help maintain it and reach your potential. You can study to increase your knowledge, you can perform various mental exercises to improve memory, and you can make new neural connections and pathways by learning new things. There's lots you can do to improve the brain, but this is merely sharpening up and honing what you already have. It's taking the brain you have and helping it be the best it can be. It's helping you to reach your potential, but it isn't really changing your intelligence.
If you find yourself resisting this idea, let's look at the rest of the body instead. I probably don't need to spend a second convincing anyone of how genetics and exercise work with respect to physical fitness. We all know that genetics plays a major role in how your body will look and function. You're born with whatever build you're going to have--you get what you get. From there, it's again a question of what you do with it. Some people put on weight easily, others stay stick thin regardless of what they eat. But no matter what your genetics, you can always improve by eating a healthy diet and exercising. But this is about improving what you already have and reaching your potential. It doesn't change your genetics. No matter what your build, your genetics are either better or worse, relatively speaking, and that comes down to luck. It is conceptually no different when it comes to intelligence. You get the dealt your hand, and then it comes down to what you make of it.
From a certain perspective, there's really no difference between mental and physical health. The tendency to differentiate our beings into the mental and the physical is a tad illogical. The brain is just another organ in the body. The gray matter between your ears is just that--matter. It's just atoms in there. Whatever happens in your brain--whatever you learn, whatever memories you make--it's all just a restructuring of atoms. There's nothing else it can be. It's not as if memories and knowledge are some non-corporeal energy that has no physical basis, some spooky magic floating in the aether. Whatever is in your brain is just atoms, just as whatever data is on a hard drive is just atoms. A hard drive basically stores data by magnetizing and demagnetizing billions of little particles. What happens in your brain is like an analogous process with goo. The point being that it's all physical, in a sense, so mental health is just another part of physical health. You just have to do very different things to exercise the brain versus exercising muscles. We have this tendency to refer to the body and the brain as these distinctly different and separate things, when they're really not.
Genetics gives you whatever body you're going to have, including the brain. You either get good genetics for physical health or you don't, and you either get good genetics for intelligence or you don't. The rest comes down to use, maintenance, nourishment, and exercise of the given parts.
So, from here we can see that you are no more responsible for your base intelligence than you are for your physical attractiveness. Both are determined by genetics. You can improve your physical health and athletic ability, as well as your brain's health, in the ways I described. You can also do things to improve your attractiveness, though these things are much more subjective. You can shave, trim, and style hair, file nails, sand rough skin, moisturize, etc. Whether it's intelligence, athletic ability, or hygiene, one can always improve oneself, but none of this changes genetics. The only way to actually change what you look like in any deep sense is to have some sort of invasive cosmetic surgery. Likewise, the only way to truly change your mind, to change who you are and how you think, is to physically alter your brain in some way, either by trauma or some type of hypothetical rewiring, such as switching which hemisphere is dominant, for example. Without opening up your head and tinkering with the goo inside, you can't truly change who you are, or your intelligence level. Of course, who you are changes in each moment because that's the character of life, but you're not truly responsible for that, either.
It should be clear by now that when we compliment either someone's intelligence or their appearance, we're essentially congratulating them on being lucky. We're saying, "good for you for having good genetics." It's conceptually no different in either case. If someone has made good use of their luck, we can congratulate them on that as well, but that's just more in the way of luck. Noticing intelligence over appearance isn't inherently noble or virtuous, as people have no true responsibility for their intelligence.
When asked what they look for in a mate, people will often take care to list "inner beauty" traits in order to appear a deep and better person. However, you're no more responsible for your intelligence, your sense of humor, or anything else about your personality than you are for your appearance. You don't choose or design your personality. You have no control over your likes or dislikes. You're no more responsible for your love of sports than you are for your height. You're no more responsible for your warm and caring nature than you are for your breast size. All of it is genetics, and then the ocean of prior causes that shape who you are.
I wrote this piece in part as a self-defense; I resent being thought of as shallow simply because physical beauty is important to me. Any trait that we could conceivably care about is mostly genetic, and it's not wrong or immoral for us to want any given trait in a partner, or a friend for that matter. It's not shallow or immoral to seek a partner that you're attracted to physically. At this point, I want to make it abundantly clear that I care very much about intelligence and personality. In fact, those are far more important than appearance, and this is ridiculously easy to prove. You can be friends with an nice, ugly person, but you can't be friends with a pretty, mean person. It's simple, but really, that's all I need in order to know that "inner beauty" is far more important. To add a bit more, I'll just say that how we behave and how we treat others is far, far more important than how we look. I would never even imply otherwise. I merely submit that it's not shallow to be concerned with physical appearance as well.
So, what is shallowness, then, if not paying attention to appearance? Simply put, shallowness is judging someone character based on appearance. Seeking out beauty isn't shallow, but treating people poorly on the basis of appearance is. Concluding that a fat or ugly person is therefore bad or stupid is shallow. Concluding that a pretty person is therefore good and smart is shallow. Determining someone's worth as a human being based on appearance is shallow. Systemically excluding unattractive people, or doling out more wealth to attractive people, is shallow. But choosing certain traits for the people we want in our personal relationships isn't. To desire physical attractiveness is to desire good genetics. To desire intelligence is simply to desire another variety of good genetics, and wanting good genetics for our partner is the prerogative of every human being.
To be shallow is to judge someone's character based on appearance, and to then treat them thusly. To notice, compliment, celebrate, or be concerned with any trait we might care about, be it physical appearance, athleticism, or intelligence, is simply to say, "way to go on winning the genetic lottery." Desiring or seeking physical beauty is therefore amoral, and not shallow.
I am a big proponent of honesty. I believe that honesty is the bedrock foundation for all relationships--the "master virtue", if you will. In fact, I believe that healthy personal relationships cannot exist if dishonesty is involved. I am even opposed to so called "white lies", and believe that they are corrosive to personal relationships in subtle ways. This doesn't mean that I think people should openly broadcast every thought they have to everyone, á la The Invention of Lying. It's perfectly acceptable to choose not to share certain things. Sometimes it's appropriate to do what I call "Vulcan lying", or the selective presenting and/or withholding of information without actually telling any falsehoods. Another way to describe this would be not lying, but not showing all your cards, either. Now, it's still wrong to deceive people in this way, but it's perfectly acceptable to simply decline to answer a question that you don't want to. When it comes to personal relationships, I believe in complete transparency. Essentially, I view lying as being on the same continuum as violence. In other words, lying should only be done in defensive situations that might require violence if all else fails. If you are in danger, you might try lying your way out before resorting to force. If you are suspicious of someone and think they might mean you harm, then you obviously aren't going to give them honest answers that they could use to hurt you. The colorful example I always like to give is if you're sheltering Anne Frank in your basement and the Nazis come a-knockin', you sure as hell aren't gonna tell 'em the truth. Sometimes, lying is clearly the only ethical thing to do. But under normal circumstances with people you trust and care about, I believe that lying should never have a place.
Now that you understand where I come down on the subject of lying, I'll get to the point. I believe that we should stop telling our kids that Santa Claus is literally real when they are little. I believe the myth of Santa is unnecessary at best, and downright harmful at worst. It's something that we need to outgrow.
When I float this idea by people, the first counter-argument I hear is that by ending this myth, we would be robbing children of the joy and magic of Christmas, sucking the fun out of their lives, and killing their childhood. This is demonstrably false. Children do not need to think that Santa is real in order for Christmas to be fun and magical. Children need no extra incentives beyond reality in order to get excited. Children seem to do a pretty darn good job at getting excited by My Little Pony, Batman, Spider-Man, Transformers, Disney Princesses, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc, without thinking for a second that any of these things are real. In fact, parents typically take great care to make sure that their children know the difference between reality and what they see on TV and in movies. It's universally agreed upon that to be confused in this regard can be dangerous and harmful to children. We reassure our children that the monsters in movies can't really get them, and that they, our children, cannot fly like they see superheroes doing. Then we turn around and tell them that one jolly fat man can defy the laws of time and physics and do the things they see in movies. Surely I can't be the only one to see a problem here.
Circling back, children need no extra help to get excited about these fictional characters. In fact, children tend to get head-over-heels obsessed with fictional characters, and the fun isn't sucked out just because the characters aren't literally real. I can personally attest to the fact that I was far more excited about Batman, Ninja Turtles, and lightsabers as a kid than I was about Santa Claus, but I never thought that those other things were real. Christmas needs no help to be fun. It can stand on its own without supernatural aid. Decorating, yummy treats, and piles of toys are more than enough to make any child excited.
More importantly, though, I believe that telling young children falsehoods about Santa can be harmful in a variety of ways. I believe that it can prime young minds to be less skeptical, more gullible, and less apt to think critically. Now, admittedly, this is just a hypothesis, and I have no specific evidence to back it up. What I do have solid evidence for is the following: the Santa myth can actually be frightening to children, as well as cause their trust in their parents to be shaken.
When I was very young, and believed in Santa, I used to be scared at the thought of him creeping around our house. It didn't matter to me that he was just supposed to be the jolly gift-giver. To me, he was a stranger, and I didn't like the idea of a stranger in my home. In our house, it was traditional for stockings to be placed on the foot of our beds. My parents would sneak into my room when I was asleep to do this, but what they didn't know is that I was often still awake. They had told me that it was Santa that came into my room, and this idea scared me. I would squeeze my eyes closed and tense with fear until the intruder had gone. Why I never thought to approach them about this, I can't say. Evidently, young children do not have the presence of mind to explain or interpret such things. They simply accept what they're told. Parents can be frightening their children with this myth without even realizing it.
When I reached the age of doubt, I asked my mother point blank, and she told me the truth. I remember this conversation very vividly. It was in the car before she dropped me off at school. When I realized that they had lied to me about Santa and where the gifts came from, I was bewildered, confused, and frustrated. I was actually angry with them. And hurt. I trusted them, and I felt like they had betrayed that trust. Most people dismiss the entire Santa issue. They just wave it away, claiming that it's harmless fun. But for some kids, it's not so harmless. I actually felt hurt. I couldn't believe that my parents had lied to me. I felt confused, and began to reevaluate other things they had told me. Could I be absolutely sure that there hadn't been any other lies? My trust in them had been shaken, and it took me a little while to fully get over it. How long, I couldn't say. More than a month, less than a couple of years. I can't be any more accurate than that. I just don't remember. But I do remember feeling very upset for awhile. And let me be clear: I wasn't upset that Santa wasn't real--I was upset that I had been lied to by the people I trusted the most.
Now, looking back on it at 33 years old, it seems rather silly, of course. I know my parents are honest and trustworthy, and I have a great relationship with them. I know they weren't being unethical, deceitful people; they were just going along with the cultural tradition because it's what their parents did, and it seemed fun and harmless. But we need to wake up and realize that a child's perspective is different, and some children don't handle it as well as others.
It may surprise some readers to hear that every single one of my friends had similarly unpleasant experiences regarding Santa Claus, and their learning of the truth. None of them, not one, remembers it fondly. They all have negative stories to tell, just like me. One friend of mine was a very interesting case--he was actually relieved when he found out that Santa wasn't real. This was because he thought that Santa watched him all year long (as the song goes), and that if he did something wrong, even accidentally, Santa wouldn't bring him any presents. He was scared and paranoid all year because of this. When he learned that it was his parents that bought the gifts, he was relieved because he knew that his parents' love was unconditional, and they would forgive him for mistakes, and still bring him presents. People might not realize that children think this deeply about things. Well, live and learn.
I simply see no upside to filling children's heads with this confusing nonsense. It can be harmful, and I guarantee that children will have all the fun in the world without it. I am given to understand that the Santa myth is not commonplace in other parts of the world as it is here in the U.S. I know someone from Europe who said that no one ever thought Santa was real in her home country. Parents just didn't do that where she grew up. But Christmas was still fun and figuratively magical for them. She moved to the U.S. when she was still a child and was completely blindsided when she found that her schoolmates literally believe in this dude with flying reindeer and elves from the north pole. Her parents had to sit her down and explain how some cultures do this nutty stuff. As usual, the United States, while seemingly ahead in certain ways, such as having freedom of speech enshrined in our constitution, is also sorely lacking in reason, rationality, and logic. To be blunt, America is bat crap crazy in some regards.
Let's stop telling our children that Santa is real. Just let it be a fun fantasy--a fairly tale, just like any movie they'd watch or book they'd read. The same goes for the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy, or any other made up nonsense we tell kids. If you are a new parent, or plan on becoming one, I highly encourage you to be honest with your children. And telling yourself that it's harmless because you're giving them the gift of fun and magic is just self-delusion; it's still lying, and it's still wrong. Together, let's end the Santa mythos.
Today's blog entry will be about the show for a change. I have always loved the lore surrounding cutie marks, and I find it fascinating to discuss them. I was prompted to write this post when I stumbled across a Dr. Wolf video in which he posed the question of whether or not Pear Butter rejected her cutie marks when she married Bright Mac. Such an idea was instantly captivating to me. Before I respond to it, I would like to post a short piece I wrote some time ago in a thread asking about cutie marks, what they mean, and how they work. I feel that my piece sums it up quite well.
[Well, first of all, I'd like to address a point that I feel many people tend to get a little confused on. I often see some chicken-or-egg like confusion over cutie marks, in which people seem to think that a mark appears when talent is shown, and thus reveals to the bearer what they're supposed to do. There's confusion on the actual show to this effect, with foals talking about how they "hope they get a good mark," or "the right mark," and so forth. This is completely backwards of how it works, and the wisest of ponies, such as Luna, know this. The mark is just a representation of one's belief about who they are. In fact, cutie marks have nothing to do with talent. (Yes, you read that right.)
Cutie marks appear when a pony decides that this is who they are, and this is what they were meant to do. It doesn't necessarily mean they are good at it. Troubleshoes exhibited zero talent for the rodeo, yet he got a rodeo related mark. He misinterpreted its meaning, but the mark remained because he never stopped believing that he was meant for the rodeo. The mark did not mean that he had talent at clowning. This claim makes no sense, as he had never even tried clowning up to that point. The mark simply meant that he belonged in the rodeo, and he (thanks to the CMC) found a way to make that possible with the "gifts" he had available. Consider this: what if he had no liking for the rodeo whatsoever? He would still be a klutz, but would he have gotten the same mark? No. He got that mark at that specific time because it was when he decided that he was meant to be in the rodeo.
Conversely, in the very same episode, the CMC exhibited a talent for helping others long before getting their marks. Even after helping Diamond Tiara, their marks did not immediately appear. Talent alone did nothing. It was only when they decided for themselves that that was their calling did the mark appear. Consider this: suppose that, after helping DT, the Crusaders had decided that they wished to continue their quest of trying every activity under the sun to find their talent. Would they have still received their cutie-mark-counseling marks at that time? Certainly not. The marks appeared when the decision was made--when the identity was realized. Every mark appears in this way. Marks don't appear as a response to exhibition of talent. They appear when an internal decision is made as to what the bearer is meant to be. To reiterate, this need not be something that the bearer is good at, though logically, in the vast majority of cases, it will be. If we extend this understanding of cutie marks to its logical conclusion, it seems to be an inescapable truth that cutie marks can change based on the currently held beliefs and self-perception of the bearer.
That said, many viewers may be left wondering: "If I don't live as a pony in Equestria, then how will I know what I'm supposed to do without a mark to tell me?" When it is understood that marks do not tell the bearer what to do, but it is in fact the exact opposite, then this question simply disappears. We know what we're supposed to do in the exact same way as ponies: we feel something inside and we decide it for ourselves. The only difference between us and ponies (or ponies and any other race in FIM) is that we don't get a pretty emblem of our identity to wear for all to see. (Unless we get a tattoo.)
Gabby helped show us, at least to an extent, that an outward sign isn't necessary for one to find their sense of identity. It would have been a bit better if she had come to the conclusion of who she wanted to be by herself, but it was still a great message. She had a limited and exterior understanding of cutie marks. She was under the impression that marks tell the bearer what to be. Thus, she was trying to obtain a mark to find out what her place in the world was. Trying different things is certainly a good way to find one's place in the world, but her expectation of how this would occur was obviously reversed. In the end, hopefully she learned that cutie marks have no power whatsoever, nor do they tell one what to be or shape one's destiny. They only tell others what the bearer already knows inside. Thus, cutie marks aren't necessary, and are purely cosmetic.
What viewers should take away from The Fault in Our Cutie Marks is that we should never look to others, or to any external signs to tell us what to be. Look only inside. Only you can know what you're meant to be. Looking to others is a great way to broaden your experiences and wisdom, but in the end, it's up to you to decide who you're meant to be.]
That's the end of the piece. Back to the present. Let's take a look at the Dr. Wolf video, shall we?
Absolutely fascinating! What an intriguing idea! I had never considered this. But after taking the time to consider it, I definitely know what my response is. If you fully understand my theory of how cutie marks work, then you can probably guess why I would say that Pear Butter absolutely didn't reject her mark. Do you know the reason? I'll give you a few seconds to figure it out.
That's right: a pony cannot "reject" their mark because it's not even ontologically possible! As a pony's mark is a reflection of their own beliefs about their identity, it follows that "rejecting" the mark would simply mean that the pony doesn't feel that that is who they are and what they're meant to do anymore, and thus, that would no longer be their mark. In essence, a pony cannot "reject" a mark because the moment they did so, the mark would cease to be. This would mean that the mark would change, which goes back to that piece I wrote earlier.
One of my very top wishlist items for FIM is an episode where the CMC help an adult who's cutie mark changes. We'll probably never get such a phenomenon...unless we actually have already?? Perhaps Pear Butter isn't the first example of a pony who rejected their mark, as the good doctor suggests, but instead, the first example of a pony who's mark changed. Maybe it did, and nopony noticed. How could this be? The answer lies with Goldie Delicious. She pointed out that the jars of apple and pear preserves look nearly identical, so that gave the kids no clues that their mom was in fact a pear. Could it be that shortly after the wedding, her mark changed to a jar of apple preserves? I submit that it's entirely possible. Another possibility is that her mark remained the same simply because she still felt that she would always be a pear at heart, regardless of if she was actually growing, harvesting, and bottling pears. I argue that one does not need to be actively practicing a given activity to have a mark related to it. As long as one feels that that's their true identity, then the mark would remain. Maybe Buttercup always felt that pears were her identity, but she was willing to give up that life for her love. Many a similar story have happened in real life. Cutie marks are as complex and nuanced as our own perceptions of who we are.
Personally, my headcanon is that her mark changed to apple preserves, but no one noticed, possibly not even Pear Butter herself. My theory leads to an even more startling truth that I had not considered until now: not only can cutie marks change, they can disappear! That's correct: a marked adult can regress to a blank flank!!
But doesn't that just make perfect sense? If ponies' marks are determined by their beliefs and self-perceptions (which I maintain they most definitely are), then what would happen when a pony decides that their current mark isn't who they are anymore, loses their way, and doesn't know what to do with the rest of their life? Why, they'd be a blank flank again, of course! And what could be more relatable and realistic? How many people have gone through a transition like that in real life? Marks must be able to change, or disappear entirely, because they are just an outward representation of what the pony knows inside, and they can't hold a pony prisoner. Cutie marks are just a way to add a little visual splash to the struggle of identity that we all face.
At any rate, Pear Butter's story was a really interesting one to consider.
Thanks for stopping by, everypony.
If, when, and only if it becomes exceedingly unnecessary to properly undermine the extensive and uninhabitable eccentricities, which, under normal circumstances would defeat the purpose of such extraneous matters, that are heavily scrutinized and routinely serviced on a regular basis with or without authorized clearance en route to various and/or particular paranormal anomalies, one must immediately compromise or police the accurate and precise microcosms in order to effectively prevent he outbreak of conventional and stereotypical subroutines, which are furthermore paralyzed through a series of structural performance issues regarding the aftermaths of internal and foreign processes through which local and domestic aggression postulate a scientific and implied requirement for affixed economic policies, while at the same time intertwining a reverberation or “supremacy” towards the obligatory remarks, which, on an occasional basis have been known to force a rather inexplicable or vexed outcome through which outside factors, both mechanical and chemical, can control, manipulate, reconcile, fumigate, decapulate, compostulate, extrapolate, or otherwise disregard the primary volition, which is the underlying clockwork that constrains each of the contributors before violating or extravagating specific examples by which feedback pulses extradite the remaining problematic devices; moreover, when such composite communiqués resurface, one must realize that it is most advantageous to exercise the privileges explicated in the web-like geometries which amount to several destructive and penetrative types of indirect illumination, two of which can regularize the specious tendency to obliterate and cognify those which are not obviously or otherwise stated in the outright and blatantly unencrypted waves through which both polar and non-parametric distillations can easily travel; the other nineteen, though not as lethargic and demeaning, can still result in great catastrophe if not properly organized during the predominant opportunities outlined in the first relationship through which electronic output, by definition, interrupts the auxiliary percentile of non-threatening maelstroms, though not as implied, can seamlessly distract orientation and defection of virtually every complied linking console, that is to say, without appropriate solutions and condensation, it is precariously impossible to determine the diagnostics of such a protocol, yet even though each of these is constricted to one or more metaphysical volumes void of differential detriment, it is assumed that they can relay standard input through which both types of emissions can congregate without further disruptions; if not, it must be known that while it is futile to benevolently extract the solutions, it is in fact compulsory to irradiate the distraught surges that, in a closed system, will transition a more volatile form of eccentricity that, if allowed to endure, will undoubtedly prevent the approximate security measures compromised of the legitimate and practical statistics used for either succession or hydroponics, yet if not pursed with the utmost intensity, the subroutines will ultimately remotely distinguish each aspect of the original form of phenomenon, through which one can hypothesize that it is possible and instinctively inclined to, with or without probably cause, investigate and preclude the microcosms that, in a sense, force the issue in its entirety by utilizing advanced components including cause, effect, propulsion, exhaust, magnetic acceleration, and exorcism, yet the preceding arguments can only be true if, when, and only if the foremost circumstances are contrived either by accident or design.
During the 56th episode of his Waking Up podcast, entitled "Abusing Dolores", my favorite thinker and philosopher, Sam Harris, explained that it would be monstrously evil to create conscious, artificially intelligent machines that are capable of suffering. To do so would be a highly unethical crime, and would create suffering where there was none before. I completely agree, but I believe this begs a follow-up question--perhaps the most important question ever asked: if it's unethical to create artificial machines that can suffer, then why is okay to create organic ones? I submit that it's not. I believe that it is unethical to create conscious life.
Every conscious life-form that we know of has a natural bias towards life. Once we are alive, we tend to want to stay that way for as long as possible. We have a strong survival instinct, and for good reason, for I cannot imagine any life being able to sustain and perpetuate itself otherwise. The vast majority of people also have a very natural and intuitive fear of death--a fear of nothingness, of the lights going out forever. Most people believe very strongly that something is better than nothing, and that life is the greatest gift you can ever give or receive. I argue that these intuitions, like so very many of our intuitions, are flawed. I believe that we ought not to create conscious life of any kind, under any circumstances. To do so is, in my view, a highly immoral act. I believe that the human race should voluntarily cease reproduction, making the current youngest generation the last, and let ourselves go extinct.
At this point, I want you to notice the offense, revulsion, and repugnance you may be feeling at such a notion, and the walls of resistance that may be going up around you in opposition to such a vile idea. Merely notice these feelings, but try to set them aside for the moment. Stick with me until the end, and I promise that your feelings will be addressed before I'm done.
Consciousness, or the character of having a first-person experience--the feeling that it's "like something" to be you--is the only reason why anything in the universe matters to begin with. Without consciousness, without experience, matter has no meaning or purpose whatsoever. Consciousness is the cash value of the universe. Life only matters because we have an experience, and experience shapes everything. I believe that the only purpose to being alive is to experience happiness in some form. I'm not arguing for pure hedonism, and it is, of course, unethical to reap happiness at the expense of others. However, I maintain that the experience of positive emotions is the only reason to be alive. Everything we do in life, every single thought and action, is oriented towards this goal of experiencing joy, happiness, or pleasure in some form, or bringing those emotions to others. Naturally, many actions lead us into into needless suffering because we are notoriously bad judges of what we want, and what will benefit us most. But everything we do is for this purpose, even when it may seem otherwise. Even the most arduous labor is for the goal of bettering our life in some way, such that we may enjoy the fruits of that labor. Many actions we take are unpleasant in the moment, but we know they will yield greater rewards in the long-term, such as a difficult and fatiguing work-out at the gym. We go to work because we know life will be better and more comfortable for us and those we love if we have a reasonable amount of money. Even if work is unnecessary to earn a living, we still engage in challenging or creative pursuits because they bring us fulfillment, a positive emotion that we continually seek. We give of ourselves and our time in order to create a better life for others. We work hard and sacrifice of ourselves to raise our children, such that they might enjoy the fruits of a good life. We work hard to build a better world for future generations. We experience our own forms of joy and fulfillment when accomplishing these tasks. Even the most altruistic of pursuits, intended only to benefit others, still yield positive emotions to us. It can be argued that our lives can be reduced to an attempt to maximize happiness and minimize suffering. Even if one is determined to devote themselves wholly to others, to the complete exclusion of their own happiness and well being, the fact remains that the only reason to help others is so that somewhere, someday, someone might experience happiness. There is no other reason to do anything. There is no other endgame.
The concept of morality itself is a reflection of the purpose of life--a navigation problem between happiness and suffering. Life is a quest to maximize one and mitigate the other, so morality is simply a question of which direction you're navigating towards on this spectrum. To intentionally cause suffering is unethical. That's about all there is to it.
Now think about the character of life in its beginnings--Existence is non-consensual; we all know that none of us chooses to be born. Existence is thrust upon us without our permission. We have absolutely no say in who or what we are, or whether we exist or not, and by the time we are old enough to understand that we are alive, we already have an investment in life. We also all know that every life contains suffering, albeit some much more than others. But no matter who you are or how good your life, it will still contain pain, loss, and suffering. Many people suffer unimaginably for a multitude of reasons, but even if you're the happiest, healthiest person on Earth, time will eventually break down your body, everyone you love will die, and so will you. Simply put--to create life is to create suffering. If you create a life, that life will contain suffering. There's no way around it. Some people are absolutely fine with this deal. Others are not. Many people greatly resent being thrust into this world without their consent, fated to endure whatever suffering awaits them. It is horribly unethical to force this upon a person. My thesis would change entirely if time and physics worked in some sort of non-linear way, such that we could be consulted before our own conception, and asked if we would like to live. Unfortunately, it seems impossible to even imagine a universe where that would be possible. To create life is to create suffering without permission, and thus, it is immoral and should never be done.
Now, the intuitions and defenses that are undoubtedly overflowing within you at this moment are extremely powerful and very natural. I will attempt to explain why they are wrong. We have a very deep-seated bias towards existence. Humans intuitively feel, very strongly, that no matter how bad life may be, it's better than no life at all. We tend to feel immensely grateful for life, and we feel that giving another person a chance at life is a precious gift. We also tend to feel, very strongly, that if we had not been born, we would be missing out on the joys of life. We have an intuitive fear of "missing out". We look around at the good things in our lives and think, "Just look at all this joy and wonder. Look at what I would have missed out on had I not been born." But the fact is that if a person doesn't exist, they are not "missing out" on anything, because "missing out" is predicated on existence. A person cannot be missing out if they don't exist, because there is no one to do the missing. In order to miss out on something, you must first exist. If your friends have a party and don't invite you, and you sit home alone, then you are missing out. If you had never been born in the first place, then you are not missing out. People intuitively feel that to not exist is to be deprived of happiness, but this is not so. We only feel this way because we are looking at existence through a very narrow lens, framed by our own life. We think about the good things we feel, and imagine being robbed of those things, and we imagine what that would feel like, which is predicated on existence yet again. We imagine our lives without our loved ones, and we imagine how our loved ones would feel without us. Again, this is all framed from a perspective of existence in the first place. Non-existence is not the tragedy that people think. There's nothing wrong with not existing. I submit that people need to outgrow the intuition that non-existence is the worst thing that can ever happen to you. This is a completely faulty mindset, as there's no you for this horrible fate to befall if you don't exist.
To understand why a lack of existence does not equate to a deprivation of happiness, we need only look at beings who don't currently exist. Take my sister, for example. I don't have a sister. I have one brother. My parents stopped at two, but what if they didn't? What if my parents had a third child--a daughter? Let's call her Ashley. Think of all the joys that Ashley might have known. Look at what she's missing out on. Look at all the joys that the rest of us are missing out on by not having Ashley in our lives....except that nobody is actually missing out on anything, because there is no Ashley, and never was. My parents felt completely fulfilled and happy with my brother and me. They never felt one second of sadness for someone that never existed. They never felt deprived at not having a third child, and Ashley certainly didn't care. Some people might want to push back at this point and suggest that perhaps we are missing out, and that Ashley should have existed. After all, we have no way of knowing how good life may have been with Ashley in it, right? But why stop there? What if my parents had a fourth child? A fifth? A sixth? A twentieth? Look at all of those children that are missing out. Is that a tragedy?
Let's keep going--look at me: I don't have kids, and I'm never going to have kids. From the time I was old enough to have sentience, I knew I would never want to be a father. Are my children being deprived of happiness? Residing in my genitals is the potential for millions of children. Is it a tragedy that they don't exist? Is my non-existent, hypothetical firstborn child missing out on their shot at life? Many people might be tempted to say, "yes". But what of my secondborn? My one hundredth-born? My one thousandth-born? As a male, this is entirely possible for me, from a purely biological standpoint. If nothing else, I could donate to sperm banks ad-infinitum for my entire life. Is it a great and terrible tragedy that my 2423rd child, little Susie, is never going to get her chance at sweet life? No, it's not. If you think it is, then I submit you have a lot more thinking to do about the nature of reality.
This concept becomes ever clearer and more salient the further away we look. The world currently has about 7.3 billion people. Is it a tragedy that there aren't more at this current moment? F*ck no. Most people agree that we have an overpopulation problem as it is. But in theory, there could be countless billions more on Earth right now. Is it a tragedy that there isn't? Are all those hypothetical people missing out? Do we grieve for them? Now let's look at Mars. There's no intelligent life there. But perhaps there could have been, had the big bang gone just a tad differently. There could be a flourishing race of sentient, intelligent beings on Mars right now, enjoying all the fruits, beauties and joys of existence. But there's not. Is this a tragedy? Is it a great sadness that there's no race of Martians there to enjoy life? Do we shed tears for the non-existent Martians? No. What of the planet between Earth and Mars that might have existed, had the big bang gone just a tweak differently. Another chunk of rock may have settled into an orbit halfway between us and Mars, and that hypothetical planet (let's call it Kratos) may have supported life. There could have been a whole race of flourishing Kratosians. But there's not. Does that make us sad? Do we worry about that? No. What about the entire solar system that might have existed between us and Alpha Centauri that could have had many planets which may have supported intelligent life? What of the galaxy between us and Andromeda? We could imagine an infinite amount of hypothetical things and life-forms that don't exist. To spend one second worrying or feeling anguish over these non-existent things is, in my opinion, utter insanity.
It's okay to not exist. Non-existence is not a tragedy. The Kratosians are not missing out. The Martians are not missing out. My kids are not missing out. Ashley is not missing out.
An easy way to help break the spell of the intuitive bias towards existence is think about the time before you were born. Do you remember it? What did you feel like a thousand years ago? A million? A billion? Did it hurt? Were you miserable? Perhaps I'm being facetious and a little patronizing, but the point is valid. You didn't mind not existing. You weren't sitting in heaven's waiting room going, "Dammit. Look at all the fun those people are having without me! Why can't somebody have sex so I can get my shot at life?!"
There is an asymmetry about existence: if a person exists, then they will experience suffering, along with (hopefully) some happiness. If they don't exist, then the suffering doesn't happen, but they're not "missing out" on happiness, because there's no one to do the missing. If you live, then you will suffer. If you are never born, then you will never know, and never care, because there will be no you. There is both an upside and a downside to existence. There is no downside to non-existence. This is why it is better to have never been.
At this point, one might be thinking that I am simply a nihilistic misanthrope advocating for mass-suicide because life sucks. This is not true at all. My position that the creation of life is unethical, known as antinatalism, can be argued for from either a misanthropic perspective, or a philanthropic perspective. The philanthropic perspective is the stronger argument, and that's the side I argue from. It is out of compassion and concern for all conscious beings that I wish that no more exist. It is for their sake. It is in the best interest of conscious beings to never exist in the first place, so that no suffering need be experienced.
I don't advocate for suicide because there is a big difference between a life worth starting, and a life worth continuing. It is never worth it to begin a life, but once we're here, once we have an investment, a stake in this world, it's generally worth seeing it through and trying to find as much enjoyment as you can. That said, while I discourage suicide, I have never judged someone for it. After all, being dead means an eternal end to suffering. Moreover, a person's life is theirs to do with as they choose. Your body is the only thing you can every truly own, and no one can tell you what to do with it. Your life belongs to you, and it's your choice what to do with it, including ending it if you wish. That said, I would always encourage the continuation of a life begun. Why, you may ask? After all, if not existing is ideal, then aren't we all better off dead? Well, in a sense, yes, but the world isn't so black and white. Your death would undoubtedly cause more suffering to those you leave behind. In a complex world entangled with emotions and bereavement, death is never a pure, simple end to suffering with no consequences. You also deserve all the happiness you can find, and as long as you don't mind being here and putting up with the bad stuff, then you owe it to yourself to keep going and experience all the joy you can for as long as you can. For these reasons, it is typically preferable to continue a life once begun. However, if life becomes truly intolerable with no amount of happiness, such as for a terminally ill patient in agony, then ending it is a perfectly reasonable and understandable option. (Needless to say, I have always been in favor of medically assisted suicide for the terminally ill.) Life is worth continuing so long as you still feel it's worth continuing. If you want to stay here, then by all means, stay. No one can tell you otherwise. I am continuing my life because, at the moment, it still feels worth it. That may change one day. I wouldn't care to continue surviving if life was pure misery with no hope of improvement. I have always been for "life if it's worth it", not "life at all costs". Quality over quantity.
That said, if there were a mass extinction, such that our entire species ceased to exist simultaneously, painlessly, with no prior knowledge, and no one left behind, then that would indeed be the best thing that could ever happen to us. Imagine a scenario where we all go to sleep, everyone in the world, at the same time, and we all die painlessly and simultaneously in our sleep, with no knowledge that it's coming. No one would know that it's about to happen, and no one would ever know that it had happened. There would be no bereaved, and no suffering. This would be an ideal scenario. But at this point, you might be thinking, "Well, according to your logic, we should just nuke ourselves, then." No, I don't think that, because it is also unethical to kill. Another person's life does not belong to you, and thus, you have no right to end it against their will. But if the lights simply went out on their own, all at once, then that would indeed be a good thing.
People also have an intuition regarding permanence. People feel that it would be tragic if our species didn't continue, because "all of this will have been for nothing." This is yet again a flawed mindset. Our species will go extinct. That is a certainty. Nothing can last forever. Someday, humanity will be gone. It doesn't matter whether it's today or a trillion millennia from now. It doesn't matter what joys might have been felt or discoveries made in that time. It's not a tragedy for those things not to happen, because they're just theoretical, non-existent people. The only tragedy is suffering that is felt by beings that exist.
Admittedly, I often feel the pull of this intuition about permanence myself. I am a gamer, and I tend to feel that it's pointless to play a game unless I know that my file will be preserved. I back up my saves and take painstaking efforts to make sure my data is protected, because I feel like if I lost that playtime, then it will have all been for nothing, even if I've finished the game and am unlikely to ever play it again. I feel like if I don't have that monument for posterity, then it was pointless. But logically, I know this isn't true. Did I have fun playing it? Was the journey enjoyable? Then it had meaning, whether the save file is preserved until I die or not. Still, it's a tough intuition to overcome. But it is the journey that matters, and what comes after, once we're all gone, is irrelevant. Life has meaning while we're here, but once we're extinct, it won't matter how long we were here for.
* * *
Within my argument lurks the answer to the abortion question. If it's unethical to create life, then we shouldn't be conceiving anyone in the first place. It would be nice if we could leave it at a full-stop right there, but unfortunately, we have to keep going. Pregnancies happen, and their not going to stop. I believe that it's a highly immoral act to bring a person into this world, so ideally, much to the horror of everyone on Earth, I believe it would best to abort all pregnancies. (Transparent didn't seem to get me in any trouble, which I found surprising. Maybe this is the line that will do me in...) I don't think this makes me into the monster it sounds like. Remember, it is out of compassion and caring for the well-being of conscious creatures that I wish for them not to exist. It would be better for everyone to not be born. But how dare I take away someone's chance at life, right? How dare I judge whether someone should be brought into this world or not, right? That's a person! How DARE I make this decision for them! They could have been anything and experienced a rich, full life, but now they won't, because I robbed them of it! I understand this powerful intuition, believe me. But I believe that it is more unethical to bring the person into the world to begin with. I also understand that the weakest link in my entire argument lies right here: I said that it's immoral to take a life, because another person's life does not belong to you. A unborn child is still a person. That's a life. So taking it is wrong....right? This is a logical argument, and it is why I respect and understand the perspective of so-called "pro-lifers". Their argument seems, on its face, to be more straightforward and logical: "I'm not allowed to hurt you and you're not allowed to hurt me. That baby is a person, too, so we're not allowed to hurt it, either." This is simple and elegant, and it's why pro-lifers often seem to win debates. Unfortunately, they're coming at the entire argument from the assumption that life is a wonderful gift. It is not. Whether or not you personally enjoy life, is irrelevant. I'll concede that it's immoral and regrettable to kill the unborn child. I'll grant you that. But I believe that it is far worse to bring them into this world without their consent. Moreover, I believe that a forced pregnancy is a heinous violation of the mother's rights to her own body, and I believe that the rights of the mother trump those of the unborn fetus.
Once again, I admit that this is weakest part of my argument. Suggesting that we abort all pregnancies seems drastic and abhorrent, and I'll admit that I probably wouldn't be personally willing to have that blood on my hands. I would also never suggest forcing someone to have an abortion. That seems much more unethical to me. Abortion must remain an option, but it is regrettable that we have to make that decision at all. Ideally, from my perspective, people simply shouldn't get pregnant at all, or at the very least, only if they truly want the child. In other words, abortion shouldn't need to exist, ideally speaking. However, rape happens, carelessness happens, poor judgement happens, and birth control failure happens. Thus, we are faced with a moral dilemma: it is unethical to kill, but it is also unethical to create a life, so which is worse: to see the life all the way through, or to promptly end it before it has a chance to begin in earnest? Despite our strong intuitions to the contrary, I believe that the latter is the lesser of two evils.
I will take it a step further and say that I would be in favor of euthanasia of babies born with extreme deformities, conditions, or birth defects, such that they are likely to have an agonizing existence. This would have to be the parents' decision, of course. A good example of this would be, say, epidermolysis bullosa, one of the most painful conditions known to humankind. I believe we need to outgrow the idea that a life of agony is better than no life at all. Sparing someone a life of misery is much more humane. It is still a difficult moral dilemma, as taking a life is typically wrong, but I believe that in cases of ending extreme suffering, it is sometimes the more ethical option. People who live with extremely horrific conditions may still say that they are grateful for their life, and that's fine. I'm not disputing that. I'm glad they're able to find some happiness, but this is irrelevant to my argument. If their life ended the moment they were born, then they'd be spared the pain, they wouldn't miss out on anything, and they wouldn't care. I realize how callous that may sound, and I also know that this is the most slippery of slopes, to be certain. How would we decide who should live and die? Which lives are worth living? Which defects are too intolerable? I'll be the first to admit that I don't know where that line is, or if it's even possible to find it, (which is why, in all practicality, we should probably leave well enough alone) but some cases seem completely unambiguous to me. Take the case of Jaxon Strong: Jaxon was a young boy with a rare condition that caused his brain to stop growing part way through utero-development. His parents were aware of this well before his birth, and doctors informed them that Jaxon would probably never be able to walk, talk, hear or see. Doctors gave them the option to abort, but they refused. Jaxon was born via C-section with a caved-in skull and half a brain. He survived against all odds, only to be trapped in darkness and silence, barely able to move under his own power. Ladies and gentlemen, brothers, sisters, friends, comrades--I submit to you: this is no miracle. They didn't save a life; they ruined one. This isn't a life at all--it's a prison. Jaxon's parents are moral monsters in my view. This isn't a wondrous gift; it's mind crime--the creation of a consciousness that can basically do nothing but suffer, all because his parents were unwilling to let their child go.
* * *
This brings me to my next point: why do people have children? Accidental pregnancies aside for the moment, in the vast majority of cases, people have kids because they want to. Because they, the parents want to. People decide they want a family, and that bringing a child into their life will fill some void, bring love, richness, and fulfillment to their lives, and make them whole. I rarely hear anyone express any real concern about the child, and whether or not they should exist, would want to exist, or would be likely to have a happy life. In these cases, people have kids for their own desires--for what it will give them. This is transparently selfish, though having a child in order to fill one's life with love seems to most people to be the most wonderful, noble, and beautiful thing in the world. It is selfishness masquerading as virtue. I argue that parents who keep unplanned children are making an even graver moral misstep. They believe they're doing something incredibly noble and virtuous by sacrificing of themselves to keep and care for this child, when all they are doing is adding needless suffering to the world. Immorality masquerading as selflessness. And it just slides downhill from there--parents who keep unwanted children and give them a poor life are moral monsters. In rare cases when someone professes to be thinking only of the child--when a person has the money, the means, and the stable home life to give a child the best chance possible, and they claim that all they want is to give someone else a chance at happiness, regardless of their own feelings--in these cases, a moral misstep is still being made, simply by bringing a life into existence without permission.
At this juncture, it is vitally important to differentiate mistakes from evil. Evil is to cause suffering intentionally. If a person has a child with the best of intentions, believing that it's a right and morally sound thing to do, and give that child the best life possible, then they are by no means evil. They have still committed a mistake by creating a life, but as long as they were doing the best they could with what they knew at the time, then they are not evil. It's always a mistake to create a life, but it is not evil if done with the right intentions. This is why I don't hate good, loving, responsible parents. This is why I don't hate my own parents. I love them, and I'm grateful for them being such good parents. I just want to educate and encourage people not to have kids.
This would be a good time for me to mention that I am huge advocate for adoption. In reality, I know that reproduction will never stop until the universe prevents it, so there will always be children who need a home. Adoption is a great way for people to have the family they want without doing anything unethical. Giving an unwanted child a home is, in my opinion, one of the best ethical decisions a person could make. It only reduces suffering in the world, and helps fight overpopulation. I wish that more people would choose to adopt over having their own kids.
* * *
I will now address an obvious question that many of you probably have--I make these extremely bold and controversial suggestions, but how would I feel if it was me that this happened to? What if my parents had aborted me, or had me euthanized because I had a disability? Firstly, I must point out that I wouldn't care, because I would never know that this had happened to me. Of course, this undoubtedly sounds like a cold, callous, technical response that would probably disgust most people. That doesn't make it untrue. However, I understand the overwhelming intuition that it's monstrous to "rob" someone of their chance at life because you feel that their life wouldn't be worth living. Who is anyone to make that judgement, right? To most, this idea is unspeakably hideous. While I honestly think that it's unambiguously unethical to create a life in the first place, perhaps I can't adequately defend this particular argument. All I can say is that I am very sensitive to the suffering of conscious creatures, and it pains me to no end that there is so much suffering that, in my view, could have been avoided. Even from my perspective, given my current life and all that I know and feel, I honestly wouldn't mind if was me that had been aborted. I wouldn't care, I would have been spared all suffering, and I wouldn't miss out on anything.
* * *
If you've stuck with me for this long, then I'd first like to say thank you, and secondly, I'd like to try to address the concerns you may have. My view of life probably sounds pessimistic, nihilistic, misanthropic, and utterly vile. You may be thinking that there must be something seriously wrong with me--I must really hate life in order to feel this way. I assure you that this isn't the case. Antinatalism isn't the negative view that it sounds like. In fact, a love of life and of other people is perfectly compatible with antinatalism. Once again, antinatalism can be approached from a philanthropic point of view. Feeling that it is unethical to create life does not mean that one must feel that life is purely a curse, it simply means that it contains unavoidable suffering that should not be inflicted on others without consent. When you get down to bedrock, the ultimate principle is that the only life you truly own is yours--you have no right over another's life, and thus, you have no right to kill or create life. And the key to understanding the antinatalism argument is realizing the asymmetry--the fact that non-existence means a lack of suffering, but does not equal a deprivation of happiness. In other words, if a person does not exist, then they are not "missing out". This is a counter-intuitive idea, I know, but most truths that we've discovered about reality have been counter-intuitive. This should be unsurprising to us, as we are not evolved to understand the nature of reality, the cosmos, and our universe. It is only by a lot of hard work and some amazing coincidences that we've been able to repurpose our ape brains to do so.
I would now like to list some things you may be thinking or feeling, such that I may address them directly. Your push-back may sound something like this: "How can you possibly judge the value of another's life? Who are you to say I shouldn't exist? You have no idea who or what someone will be, and what joys they may experience! Who are you to rob someone of their chance? Are you suggesting the world would be better off without me? How dare you tell me that I'd be better off dead! Life and the human experiment are wondrous, beautiful things."
I'm not judging the value of anyone's life. I'm arguing that we have no right to create it in the first place. Once again, this puts us in a difficult moral dilemma with respect to abortion and babies with conditions that would lead to an agonizing existence. In those cases, though it may appear otherwise, I do not believe that I am judging the value of their lives. I know their lives still have value. I simply believe that it is more humane to spare people suffering, though admittedly, I feel torn about what the right answer is, here. It's a slippery slope, for sure. I'm certainly not in favor of murdering anyone who happens to be in pain, but I can't help but look at children born with excruciating, untreatable conditions and feel that it is morally reprehensible to allow that agony to occur.
I'm not saying that you shouldn't exist, or that the world would be better off without you. I'm not saying that you'd be better off dead or that you don't deserve to live. There's no need to feel any personal offense. I'm saying that it would be in our best interest to never exist in the first place. Seeing the merits to my arguments requires a willingness to step outside yourself and not feel personally insulted. I'm not suggesting that anyone doesn't deserve life...although, perhaps from a certain perspective, I am. I am suggesting that non-existence is preferable, so I am therefore suggesting that none of us "deserve" to have life thrust upon us, with its unavoidable pain, without our permission. We deserve better. But ultimately, please remember that I'm not suggesting that your life has no value. Quite the contrary. It has immense value. If it didn't, then I wouldn't need to write this essay in the first place. If human life didn't matter, if our feelings didn't matter, then our suffering would be irrelevant, morality would be irrelevant, and my thesis would be irrelevant. It's because our lives have value that I care to begin with, and it's because I care that I want no further suffering to exist.
Before closing, I'd like to point out that religion shouldn't have any effect on my thesis. As an atheist, I believe that death will feel exactly as it did for the eons before you were born--it will just be nothing. However, if you believe in a heaven, then you can rest assured that you'll just go there when you die. And if you never existed to begin with, then you won't be missing out on heaven, because there will be no soul to do the missing. Heaven just becomes a parallel for Earth in this case, and the argument remains unchanged.
All of the beauty, wonder, and joy of life does not warrant its continuation. We can love life and feel immense gratitude for it, and still feel that it shouldn't and needn't continue after we're gone. Even if life was perfect and blissful for everyone all the time, then we should only be indifferent to existence, because there is no downside to non-existence. I am against murder, and I feel that life is generally worth continuing once we've had a chance to start it. I feel that it is a horrible tragedy when happy people die before their time. I grieve for them, and perhaps more so for the bereaved they've left behind. I cried for the Orlando nightclub shooting victims. I have cried for many mass shooting victims. I have cried until there were no tears left. I am against suffering in all its forms. I suffer greatly from thinking about the suffering of others. I have devoted much time to writing this blog series in the hopes that my words may have some sort of butterfly effect that may lead to less suffering in the world. I want to make the world a better place. I don't want anyone to be miserable. I'm not an antinatalist because I think life always sucks. Life can be truly wonderful and beautiful. You may be deeply offended by my views because you may feel immensely grateful for every single second you have. You may feel so incredibly thankful to be alive, and that every moment of your life, even the worst ones, are a sweet and precious gift. And that's wonderful. That's how you should feel. That's how I want everyone to feel. That's what I want for all people. I don't want anyone to hate their life. I want everyone to treasure their lives, because life can indeed be beautiful and joyous. We can find breathtaking beauty everywhere we look, from the swirls of galaxies, to the swirl in the center of a sunflower. We can find unimaginable joy all around us, from epic adventures to curling up with a good book. We can find wonder and excitement in all of the spectacular discoveries we make about our world and the cosmos. We can find humor and whimsy in every corner of our lives. We can revel and relish in life's greatest pleasures, from the taste of your favorite food, to the sound of your favorite song, to the passion and joy of sexuality. We can find deep fulfillment and happiness from sharing all that life has to offer with our friends and loved ones. None of this....none of it....is a valid argument for existence in the first place.
Ultimately, another person's life does not belong to you, and thus you have no more right to create it than to take it away. It is not your choice to make. It is unethical to take a life, and it is unethical to create one.
I think that we need to outgrow the concept of tradition. I believe it can be a dangerous mindset. Our species seems to have a very natural tendency towards sentimentality, and attaching great importance to tradition, and while this is often benign, it is just as often not. Traditions often prevent progress and new and better ideas. For example, many seemingly decent people clung to the institution of slavery because it was tradition, and it was just what was always done. Another example is the "traditional" definition of marriage: it's is between a man and a woman, that's the way it's always been, that's the way we've always done it, and so should it remain. If we had adhered to this backward way of thinking, then we never would have won fair and equal treatment for all people. For a long time, many people were against interracial marriage for similar reasons. And, of course, the harms of religious traditions know no bounds.
One should always have a valid reason for anything that they do, and that reason could be as simple as "because it's fun," or "because I want to." Those are perfectly good reasons. Many traditions are harmless, such as baking Christmas cookies, or going to a theme park every New Year's Day. If you enjoy such traditions, then go for it, but sure you only do them if you really want to. Don't feel pressured to do something just because it's what you've done in the past. More importantly, never do anything just because it's tradition, and for no other reason. "Because it's what we've always done," or "because that's just what you do," are terrible reasons to do anything. This mindset can cause harm ranging from wasting your Saturday putting up decorations that you don't want to, all the way up to oppressing whole groups of people for generations. The next time you find yourself doing something because "that's just they way it's always been done", stop ask yourself: does it have to be done that way? Probably not.
Today I'd like to talk about transgender issues. I want to try to unravel and dispel as much misinformation as possible because I see so much confusion and frustration surrounding this issue. I also want to try to bridge some gaps and find some common ground between liberals and conservatives because there is a lot of hostility around this subject. My goal is to try to have an honest discussion, get at the facts, and provide my opinions and perspective, all while remaining compassionate and sympathetic to people's feelings. I am doing this as part of my ongoing project to try to make the world a better place by thinking and reasoning publicly (albeit anonymously). I believe that getting a solid handle on reality and finding common ground is crucial to achieving this goal. So, let's begin.
I have always been what you'd call "pro-LGBT", but that's extremely vague, and could encompass so many things. A good way to reduce this position to something clearer would be to say that I don't believe people should be judged based on how they were born--something they can't control. However, it has been pointed out to me that the acronym "LGBT" (sometimes with and added Q or other letters) is a bit illogical and misleading to begin with. The fact is that the L, G, and B are sexual orientations, but the T is not. Being transgender has nothing inherently to do with one's sexual orientation. As we all probably know by now, trans issues have to do with sexual identity, which is what you are, and orientation is who you love. Hence, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to lump T in with L, G, and B, as if they are all one group of people. We constantly hear this term, "The LGBT community", but I've heard gay people say things to the effect of, "I'm just gay. I don't know anything about what it's like to be trans. I'm not part of a trans community. Being gay has nothing to do with being trans." And I've heard vice versa from trans people. So, it's a bit illogical, but I suppose that this label caught on in this way out of a matter of practicality and convenience. I don't think it's particularly useful to combine these terms as such, but I don't think it's particularly harmful, either.
I'd like to make one distinction perfectly clear from the get-go: I think orientation is a simple issue with a clear and simple answer--it's absolutely fine. Gay marriage--absolutely fine. I believe that there's nothing wrong with any sexual orientation. It's all amoral. Love is just love. It doesn't matter who it's with if it's consenting adults. We can't control who and what we're attracted to, anyway. I believe that anyone who is not on this side of the argument is simply on the wrong side of history and reality, and I don't believe it's any more complicated than that, nor warranting of further discussion.
Trans issues are a lot more complex and warrant more discussion. We hear a lot of frustration from the left and right about this. You hear people from the far left talking about how sex, gender, and (depending on who you ask), everything that you are and the totality of your being is a feeling, and that you are whatever you identify as. Then you hear people from the far right saying things like, "Born a man/woman, always a man/woman. Trans people are delusional. Only two genders," and etc. Let's try to get to the bottom of some of this. In particular, I'd like to start by trying to put an end to this "how many genders?" flim-flam, in which I see much confusion and conflicting answers. But before we can do any of that, we must first properly define sex and gender, so let's do that.
Let's look at three different definitions. First, a 1992 copy of The World Book Dictionary:
Sex - One of two divisions of humans beings and animals; the character of being male or female.
Gender - 1. Grouping of nouns into certain classes, such as masculine, feminine or neuter. 2. Sex, synonym.
Next, a 2009 copy of the Oxford Dictionary:
Sex - Either of the two main categories (male or female) into which humans and most other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive function.
Gender - 1. A class (usually masculine, feminine, common, or neuter) into which nouns and pronouns are placed in some languages. 2. The state of being male or female (with reference to social or cultural differences.)
Usage on sex and gender:
The words "gender" and "sex" both have the sense 'the state of being male or female,' but they are used in different ways. Sex usually refers to biological differences, while gender tends to refer to cultural or social ones.
And finally, a quick search on dictionary.com:
Sex - 1. Either the male or female division of a species, especially as differentiated with reference to the reproductive functions. 2. The sum of the structural and functional differences by which the male and female are distinguished, or the phenomena or behavior dependent on these differences.
Gender - 1. Either the male or female division of a species, especially as differentiated by social and cultural roles and behavior. 2. A similar category of human beings that is outside the male/female binary classification and is based on the individual's personal awareness or identity.
In school, I was always taught that sex is your biological makeup with respect to reproductive function (male or female), and gender is what you perceive yourself to be socially (masculine or feminine). The three sets of definitions, while varying slightly, seems to align to this. Sex is biological, and gender is social/cultural. When I hear people discussing and debating how many sexes/genders there are, it annoys me that they usually fail to define terms, and instead use them interchangeably, when they are, in fact, different. So, here's my breakdown: there are two sexes. That's it. Pretty simple. Excluding intersex abnormalities and anomalies, such as hermaphrodites, there's just male and female. There are no other options. Gender, on the other hand, is a spectrum between masculine and feminine, and thus, is infinite. Regardless of your sex, your gender can be anything along that spectrum. You can be a feminine male, a masculine female, you can be gender fluid; you can shift between feminine and masculine, you can be one today and the other tomorrow, you can be right in the middle--neither masculine nor feminine. You could even have some of each traits simultaneously. The possibilities are endless. Gender is predominantly a feeling. It's your identity--your self-perception. It is social and cultural. Many, but not all, gender characteristics are arbitrary cultural constructs, such as fashion and hairstyles.
So, to reiterate: Sex--binary. Male or female. (excluding biological anomalies). Gender: Masculine/feminine. Infinite spectrum.
Given these definitions, the term "transsexual" would seem to be a more accurate term for someone who undergoes sexual reassignment surgery, but that term has fallen out of favor for some reason; I'm not quite sure why. For the rest of this essay, I'll typically just say, "trans person".
People often seem to get bogged down in semantics when debating this "how many genders" thing, and it leads to confusion and frustration. I've heard some people try to argue that there's more than two sexes, but this argument hits a wall when you ask them what these additional sexes are. You have male, female, and....what else? What other option is there? What other reproductive organs are there? What other chromosomes are there? There aren't any. If there were, then we'd know what they are. I've seen people argue that they are neither male nor female, and this tends to lead to a frustrated backlash, usually from the political right. I sympathize with that frustration, because the fact is that you have to be either male or female, biologically speaking. There's no other option, no matter how much you'd like there to be. So, when a person states that they are neither male nor female, they appear to many to be delusional, and I can understand that. I believe that the problem comes from the fact that they are confusing sex with gender. They can be neither masculine nor feminine; they can be neither male nor female culturally, or socially, meaning that they don't fit into any societal man/woman archetypes, but they have to be male or female biologically. I would never ask anyone to fit into any cultural boxes. Regardless of your sex, you can have any kind of personality, and you can be anywhere on the gender spectrum, or possibly even somewhere orthogonal to it, or off of it entirely. I'm open to the possibility of more possibilities besides just masculine and feminine, though I'm dubious about what those would be. You don't have to be any sort of man or woman that society expects you to be. However, like it or lump it, you have to be biologically male or female. You just are one or the other, period--either XX or XY. So, if someone argues that they are, literally, neither male nor female biologically, then I would argue that they are indeed delusional. Or just faking for attention or something. My ultimate point here is that I sympathize with conservatives who feel like many of these trans people are delusional. I get it. But I believe that so much of this frustration and confusion could be avoided if we better defined and understood the terms sex and gender from the outset.
So, now let's discuss the actual nitty gritty of gender dysphoria and transitioning. What do we know? Well, let me start a different way, and tell you what I thought I knew--for many years, I thought that male and female brains were uniquely, perfectly different in such a crystal clear way that you could look at a scan of one and say with absolute certainty that that one is a female brain, and that one is a male brain. I thought this to be a plain, cut and dry biological fact. Thus, as I understood it, a trans person was one with the brain of one sex, and the body of the other. I thought that this was a biological certainty, and that we could prove with a scan that person was "born in the wrong body." Because of this, I couldn't understand why so many people had such a hard time believing that gender dysphoria and transgenderism are real, biological conditions. Well, after doing my own research, what I learned is that our understanding of the brain is not nearly as good as I thought. Gender dysphoria absolutely is a real thing, but it's not as cut and dry as just taking a brain scan and saying, "yup, this boy has a female brain." Male and female brains differ in chemistry, but they're not as perfectly defined as I thought. Instead, we see trends. Things that tend to look one way in a male brain, and tend to look another in a female brain. Certain parts will be bigger in one brain than another, suggesting a higher capacity for certain types of abilities or information processing, or multitasking, or emotions, or what have you. These types of brain differences between the sexes are trends, but they're not absolutes, and we cannot simply scan a brain and say, "oh, look a that--sure enough, you've got a female/male brain." Now, the trans brain tends to look different from both. It will appear to have bigger/smaller/different looking regions than either a typical male or typical female. These differences in brain chemistry can create a very real feeling of being the wrong sex. There absolutely is a difference. Gender dysphoria is a real, biological phenomenon, but it is not nearly as understood as I once thought. We can see different trends, but we cannot scan a brain and determine a person to be in the wrong body--not with any certainty. Not yet.
Many of my beliefs about this subject were based on assumption, not research. After learning these facts, I had to backtrack on some of my opinions, such as young children being able to transition. I lean against that now. There are children who seem absolutely certain that they are supposed to be the opposite sex, and I have no doubt of their sincerity, but given our shaky understanding of the brain, it seems risky and irresponsible to allow children to make such drastic decisions for themselves. After all, children's brains are so underdeveloped compared to an adult's, and many children don't really know what they want or how they feel. They can change so dramatically, and as I understand it, many minors who transition regret it later on. But then there are those individuals who feel absolutely horrified at the prospect of going through puberty of their birth sex, and I sympathize with them. That's rough, but I still lean towards not allowing minors to transition, especially after hearing from many adult trans people who are against it for the reasons I've put forth. At the end of the day, I completely support a person's right to transition and to do what they want with their own body, but it is a massive decision that I believe requires maturity to make. That said, I don't see the harm in allowing children to express their gender (masculinity/femininity) as they wish. I think that children ought to be able to choose the clothes and toys that appeal to them most, and I don't think this "warps" their minds, as haters love to say. In some cases, gender nonconformity in children may just be a phase that they will grow out of, and sometimes not. But either way, wearing clothes or playing with toys cannot damage or permanently alter someone, it cannot make a cisgendered person trans, and it certainly cannot affect orientation. I believe that children should get to choose what they're most comfortable with, but should not be allowed to make physical alterations until adulthood.
At this point, it's also worth mentioning that gender dysphoria is indeed a variety of mental illness. That's not to say that it is in any way comparable or equatable to, say, something like schizophrenia, Downs Syndrome, or bipolar disorder, or things of that nature, but it is most certainly a problem in the brain. It's obviously not supposed to happen. It's a glitch in the operating system. It's a bug, not a feature. It's an illness in the same way that clinical depression is a real illness. Many conservatives/anti-trans people will say that trans individuals are mentally ill, which causes an eruption of outrage from the left, with liberals giving retorts to the tune of, "No, their not! There's nothing wrong with this person! They're just a beautiful woman/man/whatever!" There's a couple points to unpack, here. Firstly, when conservatives say this, liberals are usually taking it to mean "trans people are f*cked up, disgusting, and wrong for trying to transition". Now, I'm sure that many people do mean it in this insulting way, and that's terrible. To those people, I would naturally argue that there's nothing wrong with a person taking steps to feel more comfortable in their own skin. However, it should also be understood that when the liberals argue that there's nothing at all wrong with these people, that's not entirely accurate, either. Of course there's something wrong: they have gender dysphoria. If there was nothing wrong, then they wouldn't need to transition to the opposite sex in the first place, now would they? Saying that there's nothing wrong suggests that gender dysphoria isn't a real condition, which is counterproductive to understanding trans issues. It isn't hateful or intolerant to admit that there's a problem. There is something wrong--these people do have a mental illness, and transitioning to the opposite sex is the way that mental illness is fixed. Gender dysphoria is the illness, and transitioning is the treatment.
* * *
I would now like to migrate towards the conversation about how society views trans people, and what really makes a man a man, and a woman a woman. I think that, typically speaking, most people want to be compassionate and sympathetic towards others without entering into any fiction. Depending on where you look, there's something of a war-zone at the moment between people who want others to respect whatever they identify as, and people who flat-out refuse to acknowledge a trans person as the sex they identify as. Let's see if we can't find some common ground and look at each point of view.
Take a character like Ben Shapiro for example: when talking about trans individuals, he will only refer to them as their birth sex. When asked why he won't call this transwoman "she", he replies, "because it is a lie". For convenience, let's use Caitlyn Jenner as an example of transwoman, just because she's probably the most famous one. Ben takes hard-line stance that Caitlyn is a man with some hormone therapy and cosmetic surgery. His opponents will ask why he refuses to respect her sexual identity, and he will explain that it's intellectually dishonest. This is enraging to many, as they feel that a person's internal, self-identity is their true self. I.e., if you feel that you're a woman, then you are a woman. To many, refusing to acknowledge a person's self-identified sex is a heinous act of hate. But surely there is some middle ground.
Is Caitlyn Jenner a woman? Is Caitlyn female? Let's explore this question together from both sides.
At one time, I would have answered, without hesitation, unabashedly, unequivocally, yes. Yes, Caitlyn is a woman. However, now, when I think about this question, it gives me slight pause. I feel like I'm not sure I want to answer, and this hesitation, according to many, instantly makes me a vile, despicable human being and forever disqualifies me from playing for Team Liberal. Lifetime ban. I have to turn in my uniform, right down to the official Leftist underwear, and walk home naked, dragging behind me the Stone of Shame. Well...I'd like to be able to talk about this like rational human beings without jumping to such extreme conclusions.
Here's the facts: Caitlyn has a Y chromosome. She can never truly be biologically female. Not in a reproductive sense. I know it. You know it. Caitlyn knows it. Chromosomes tell the final story, right? So, does that mean that Caitlyn is male? Well.... ....yes. I suppose it does. If I'm being completely intellectually honest, then I have to say yes. I can't argue with that logic. The part of my brain that cares about facts, reality, and intellectual honesty won't let me answer any other way. Imagine it this way: let's suppose there was a zombie apocalypse--one caused by a virus like KV from I Am Legend. Let's suppose that we invented a cure, like Robert Neville did in the movie. Let's suppose we were able to make a vaccine. Let's then suppose that, for whatever reason, the vaccine was sex-specific. It interacts with chromosomes in some way. There's a male vaccine, and a female vaccine. The correct vaccine will make you immune to the virus. The wrong vaccine will kill you. Hospitals are offering free injections. They have huge booths set up with every available doctor and nurse administering the vaccine. People are lined up around the block. There are two lines: the male line, and the female line. Which line is Caitlyn Jenner going to get in? Bear in mind, the wrong one means death. When we look at the question this way, it seems pretty straightforward.
So, the point is, I sympathize with Ben Shapiro's perspective. However, I am comfortable acknowledging and respecting the sex that a trans person presents as because there's more to this stuff than just chromosomes. I know Caitlyn has a Y chromosome. We all know it. Nobody's delusion, here. Nobody's trying to pretend that reality doesn't exist. But the fact of it is this: trans people are human beings telling us of a very real, agonizing condition that they're going through, and they're doing their damnedest to try to navigate it, and to find some way to be at peace with themselves, physically and mentally. A decent person should be compassionate and sympathetic to this, in my opinion. If a person transitions, get the hormones and the surgery, and fully presents as their self-identified sex, then what's the harm in respecting that and referring to them as that sex? (I guess I'm talking directly to the Ben Shapiros of the world, now.) I mean, Caitlyn has breasts and a vagina now; isn't that enough? For all intents and purposes, isn't that enough? Do we really need to worry about her chromosomes in our everyday interactions? If a person has completed the transition, then it seems to me that it's not intellectually dishonest to refer to them as that sex. Physically, they have the body of that sex, now, so what's the problem?
Now, it starts to get grayer when trans people have only partially transitioned, or haven't begun at all. Personally, I am once again comfortable respecting the sex a person identifies as, but I am sympathetic to people who are more squeamish about it. I think the feelings of that side (conservatives, or whoever they may be) become more and more understandable the less and less effort that a trans person has made to transition. I.e. is a person has made zero effort to transition, then I completely understand feeling uncomfortable referring to them as their self-identified sex. Just for kicks, let's take a look at some extreme examples--give this the ol' reductio ad absurdum treatment.
Suppose that this person,
looking exactly as so, suddenly said, "I'm a man. You must acknowledge and treat me as such in every way." How would you feel about that? How would I feel about that?
And suppose that someone who looked exactly like this:
said, "I'm a woman, and you must treat me as such."
I don't know about you, but I'd feel a bit like this:
And who could blame me, y'know?
I do think that conservatives (or whoever is not accepting of trans people) should try to be less rigid and more compassionate, but I also think that trans people need to realize that it's unreasonable to expect people to accept their self-identified sex without a reasonable effort to present that way. And, by and large, I think trans people get that. They do make the effort. I mean, of course they do, because they don't want to look like their birth sex. They're unhappy with it. That's the point. But if zero effort is made, then it gets a little dodgy, and I get that. As far as genitalia goes, that's really nobody's business. If a person presents as a given sex, then I'll accept that; I don't need to know what's between their legs. Nobody does. It's up to them if they want to get surgery, anyway. Ultimately, I think that we can be respectful without denying any reality.
Let's cover the bathroom stuff real quick. I'm in favor of letting trans people use the bathrooms of the sex with which they identify, but I understand the feeling from the other side. Is the worry here that we are approaching an endgame where anyone can go in any bathroom or locker room they want just by saying, "I identify as that thing"? Can any guy just say, "I'm a woman", and hang out in the women's locker room and enjoy the show? Look back up at those example pictures--what if the swimsuit model wanted to go in the men's room? What if ol' Hugh Jackman there wanted to go in the women's room? There would probably be much more of an uproar about the latter. Obviously, there's an asymmetry here due to the (almost exclusively) unidirectional nature of rape and sexual abuse. I.e. the man in the women's room is a potential threat, while the woman in the man's room isn't (a fact which makes me greatly resent being male). This stuff seems sketchy, but here's the thing--do we really need to worry about these problems? Has this kind of thing ever happened? Not to my knowledge. We just don't see these cases of regular, sexually unambiguous people going in the opposite sex's bathrooms. Once again, trans people want to do their best to resemble their self-identified sex, so if they go in the bathroom with which they identify, it will probably look less conspicuous than the other. No one wants to make a horrendous scene. Trans people going in the bathroom will probably either look "passable", or androgynous, so what's the big deal? I think they can be left alone. I don't think any trans people are going in the bathroom to rape anyone. I think that this is an issue that we just don't need to think much about. Let 'em use the damn bathroom, and then let it be out-of-mind.
* * *
I want to be as accepting and non-judgemental as possible. That's the kind of person I want to be, but Celestia help me, there are times when even I feel the cringe when certain liberals say certain things about this stuff. I have repeatedly made it clear that gender dysphoria and transgenderism are real things, and I have also made it clear that your personality (gender) can be anything on an infinite spectrum regardless of your biological sex, but I understand how conservatives feel when liberals toss around phrases like "men with vaginas" and "women with penises". Sometimes I feel conflicted about this stuff. I'm open-minded, and I want to be respectful and supportive of people being true to themselves, but scientific facts also matter to me, and they should matter to you. I think it would dangerous to move further towards this idea that you are whatever you feel you are. That certainly isn't always true. Physical reality matters. A person can be born as one sex but have brain chemistry more closely resembling the other, but I don't think it's entirely accurate to say, for example, that a person born biologically male who identifies as female is "every bit as much of a woman" as a natural born female. I'm worried that that last statement may get me in a lot of trouble, and may be considered the most flammable and controversial thing I've ever said on these forums. Such is the nature of this conversation. But does it make me a bad person to just wonder about these things? To be unsure? To have an opinion? It doesn't mean I hate anyone, or that I want to hurt or offend anyone. But the fact is, I don't think a biological male is "just as much of a woman", simply because they identify as such. I don't think that the definitions of "man" and "woman" are purely cultural, or social, or internal feeling-based. I don't think that simply feeling like a woman makes you "every bit as much of a woman" as any other. I think that biology and physicality actually matters, which is why trans people want to make the physical transition in the first place. I'm sorry if this opinion seems inflammatory, but it is not based in any sort of intolerance or desire to tell others how they feel or who they are. This is just a fact of reality as I see it. Youtuber Stephen Crowder made a great point about Caitlyn Jenner. After Caitlyn had her "downstairs" surgery, she said that she was no less of a woman before the surgery. Stephen said, "Then why get the surgery?" If you are literally, truly just as much of a woman before the surgery, then what's the point of the surgery? Aren't you getting the surgery in order to be a more complete woman? So that your body matches how you feel? I think that one's biological makeup actually does matter, or no one would ever bother having the reassignment surgery.
Before I close, I'd like to mention that it's hypocritical, judgemental, and unfair for trans people to expect or demand that certain people be attracted to them, regardless of genitalia. So, for instance, if a hetero man doesn't want to date a transwoman with a penis, that doesn't make him a bad person. Judging someone for which genitals they'd prefer their partner to have is absolutely ridiculous. In my opinion, this shouldn't even warrant discussion. We have no control over what we're attracted to, and judging someone for such is completely antithetical to the entire LGBT movement.
I don't think that sexual orientation should warrant discussion anymore, either, but I wanted to write this piece because I feel that trans issues are still complex, confusing, controversial, and can be difficult for many to understand. Please don't misconstrue any of my doubts or opinions as intolerance or hatred. Please know that when I read a post by a trans individual who says that they came out to their family, or they began their transition, or finished it, or what have you, I always think to myself, "That's wonderful. Good for you. I'm so glad you're able to be true to yourself and live the way you want, now." That's how I really feel. But that doesn't mean I can't think and reason about facts and reality as well, and have some opinions you may not share. And just to give you a final bit of perspective, this is all coming from someone who's a bit of a gender nonconformist himself. I'm a cis, hetero male, but I wish I was female. I have determined that I'm not trans; I don't have gender dysphoria. I just hate being male in this culture. I believe I'd be happier had I been born female. I have a strong feminine side, and I like to wear dresses and feminine clothing, and I'm always worried about how I will be perceived and accepted. Ultimately, I just want everyone on Earth to be able to be their authentic selves, to be comfortable in their own skin, happy with themselves mentally and physically, able to live as they choose free from judgement and hatred, and I want all of this to able to occur in harmony with scientific facts and physical reality.
[Thanks for reading, thanks for keeping an open mind, and major props to anyone who actually made it through this whole, convoluted pile of garbage.]
Expanding on the recent theme of the last several entries...
I've been meaning to tackle this issue for years, and am just now getting around to it. If you're a gamer, and a regular denizen of the various interwebs, then you've probably heard the name Anita Sarkeesian at some point. (In fact, you're probably sick of hearing that name.) I'm not sure how relevant this issue still is, or if it's drifted away from the spotlight, but for some time, Sarkeesian was making quite a bit of noise about sexism and the misrepresentation of women in video games.
If you're unfamiliar with Sarkeesian, it will probably only take about one minute of watching her content on youtube to know all you need to. In short, she seems to believe that if a man finds a woman physically, sexually attractive, in any context, under any circumstances, then it's sexist and wrong. (Perhaps a little bit of an unfair generalization of her, but it doesn't seem too far from the mark.) She makes quite a lot of displeased noise about women being depicted as sexual objects in games, and offered as rewards and such. Now, I happen to agree that there is indeed some problems with sexism in video games, but the solution is not what Sarkeesian would propose. (If Sarkeesian got her way, she'd probably just destroy any hint of sex appeal in games.)
Let's be blunt and get straight to the point. Let's talk "bikini" armor, or "sexy" armor. Let's talk about this:
Is it wrong to have scantily clad women in fantasy games? Or other games? (Mostly fantasy games.) Is it wrong to prominently display sexuality and sex appeal this way? Is it wrong to have women wear a ludicrously impractical metal bikini for armor? If you've read my previous blog entry, you can probably guess that my answer to all of these questions is a resounding no. It's not wrong. I'm one of the most sex positive people you'll ever meet, and a huge proponent of a healthy celebration of sexuality and sex appeal, and beauty in general. This may sound shallow to some, but I don't see it that way. It's just another wonderful aspect of life to enjoy. An appreciation for this part of life doesn't automatically mean an unhealthy objectification of people. In fact, I submit that appreciating and enjoying sexual beauty, and sexually objectifying people are mutually exclusive. I can enjoy beauty and still look at people (or even video game characters) as complex individuals.
Back to the bikini armor--Anita Sarkeesian makes the assertion over and over again that such things are not armor. Well, no sh*t P.I. Rarity. Who said it was? Of course these revealing swimsuit outfits aren't going to protect characters in battle. It's a GAME. It doesn't have to be realistic. Why can't we have some sexy outfits if we want 'em? What's the harm in that? Is is really so evil? Well, according to Sarkeesian, you bet your sweet patootie it is. (Oh, whoops. Shouldn't have said patootie. That's evil and sexist, too.) And Sarkeesian's answer to the question, "what's the harm?" is that is will create a society full of men who don't know how to respect women. We're gonna be a horde of Dothraki, that's what it is. Well, it's not true. And I'm going to give the same response I do when it comes to children with respect to NSFW internet content: just comes down to parenting. Watch what your kids are playing, teach them properly, demonstrate how to treat women in real life, both by your words and by example, and don't let your children play mature games until they demonstrate mature behavior. Don't blame your problems on games, and don't expect the ESRB to do your job for you, and definitely, (and I can't stress this one enough), definitely don't take away my goddamn sexy games because you don't like 'em!!
I love me some sexy games, and I love me some sexy characters, and I don't see anything wrong with that. I respect women, just as I respect all people, I don't mistreat real women, and I don't objectify them, and yet I still enjoy a scantily clad fantasy game character, a phenomenon that Sarkeesian would probably deem impossible.
So, I stated that there is a problem. And here it is:
The problem is that we often have sexualized female characters in revealing outfits, but their male counterparts are always these giant tanks wearing so much armor that they look more like a vehicle from Mad Max: Fury Road. This is a double standard, and it's unfair. (Unless you actually have a valid, story based reason for it.) So, what's the solution? Well, it's not to cover up all of the females, as Sarkeesian would like. It's....*drumroll*....yup, you guess it! Let's show some skin on the males! Offer equally revealing, equally sexualized male variants. I'm arguing for equality, but not equality by censorship. I argue for equal celebration of sexual beauty. Depending on the game, it could also make sense to offer "real", practical armor and "sexy" armor for each sex, and let players choose what they want. Now, revealing armor and sexy outfits don't have a place in every game. It all depends on the game. I don't want revealing, silly armor for my Spartans in Halo. Some games are serious business, and it would ruin the story to have impractical garbs. Skyrim was another game that made the right choice to have practical armor. But Final Fantasy games?! Kingdoms of Amalur?! Heck YEAH! Sexy all the way! Just offer both for players who want it, and offer the same types of outfits for male characters.
Now, if it seems like this idea wouldn't fly, I'd like to take a moment to point out this:
I mean, these guys are in armored bikini briefs, for Celestia's sake. They're heavily sexualized. Now, maybe it was actually more practical for them to be able to move, but the point is that we just need more options like this for male characters in games. But too often, we see the armored bikini goddess, as in that first picture, and the male tank, as in the second. Just, y'know, take a lesson from 300. It's not rocket science. God of War did it. Have realistic attire in games that warrant it, have sexy attire when applicable, offer both when feasible, and offer equally revealing outfits for males.
Incidentally, I'd like to place Warframe on a pedestal for managing to simultaneously be the most equal, least sexist, and (in my opinion) sexiest game ever made. It is possible.
[This is a Life Advice vent I wrote couple of years ago. I wanted to save it in my blog for easier access. Some revisions have been made. To those of you who have been reading a bunch of my recent blog entries, yer gonna be like, "Oh, Celestia, there he goes again!" Yup, here I go again. But, in my defense, I didn't write all of these recent ones back to back. They were spread out over quite awhile in Life Advice, but I wanted to put them in here for easy access because I'm in the process of a little project to compile and organize my writings into something useful.]
Hi, I'm Justin Case. You may remember me from such vent threads as "Can Men Be Beautiful?", and "Proposals, Rings, and Double Standards".
Today, I want to talk about something else that really upsets me.
I'm so sick of sex being thought of as something dirty, naughty, or corrupt. I'm sick of sexuality being thought of as something that destroys innocence. I just don't see it that way.
Firstly, let's take a moment to consider the definitions of innocent, and it's opposite--guilt. Why would these concepts necessarily have anything to do with sex? I submit that they don't. For all intents and purposes, "innocent" usually just means that you haven't done anything wrong. Well, provided that you don't view sex as being wrong, then there's no logical reason to think sex has robbed you of innocence. We tend to imagine that kids systematically lose their innocence as they grow and are exposed to mature things. I argue that this is a faulty mindset in which we have confused innocence with ignorance. If one has sex, then the only thing they are "guilty" of...is having sex, which is only wrong if you believe that sexuality is immoral or sinful, and....
As an atheist, I certainly don't believe in the concept of sin, and I can't fathom or respect the idea of a god who condemns a natural expression of love. I also don't believe that there is any inherent virtue or nobility in abstinence (though it can be a very wise decision in many circumstances, especially when young, but that does not suggest inherent virtue or nobility.) That said, sex is still serious business, and should not be taken lightly. But I'm getting a bit off topic, and I've covered that stuff more in depth in "The Problem With Virginity."
I don't see why sex should be thought of as dirty or not innocent. I'm tired of hearing that if someone thinks about sex a lot, then they have a "dirty mind". No I don't. I think about sex a lot, but I don't believe my mind is dirty, because I don't think sex is dirty. Forgive me for sounding cheesy or perhaps romantic or idealistic, but I believe sex to be the most beautiful expression of true love. That's what it is to me. There's nothing dirty or guilty or corrupt about it. Not to me.
That's not to say that it's always appropriate. Certainly not. It's an adult topic, and there's a proper time and place for it. I think it's fine for children to learn about it in the right and appropriate way, though. And if you think that children are ignorant about sex and don't have sexual thoughts and feelings, think again. I had sexual feelings and attraction and fantasies in first grade, and I had a standard, sheltered childhood. (I.e. I wasn't exposed to porn at a young age or something.) All of those feelings came from within. I didn't understand all the mechanics of it. Of course not. I didn't know exactly how sex worked. I didn't know much about the biology. But I knew boys and girls were different, of course, and I knew those differences could be used in some way or another to express love physically. And I fantasized about it. A lot. I was in first grade. Did that make me a guilty, corrupt person? I don't feel any differently now, really, except that I'm more mature, and have 30 years of education, experience, knowledge, etc. I'm less ignorant, but I don't believe I'm less innocent. I'm still a virgin, but if I ever find someone who will be my mate, I don't believe I will feel any less innocent afterward. If I find the right person, I will feel right and good about what we've done, not guilty.
Circling back a bit--I think it's fine for children to learn about it. I had these feelings at a young age, and my parents taught me something about it in a proper, gentle, and educational manner. This can help children to feel less confused about themselves and their feelings. But there's obviously a time and place for it. I don't mean to say we should have sexuality in kid's cartoons. But what annoys me is when someone is criticized for finding something sexy, and they're told to stop corrupting the innocent show, and to get their mind out of the gutter, etc. I don't think it corrupts anything or destroys any innocence. I happen to think it's quite beautiful, actually. It's just something that's not appropriate for the actual show (any kid's show). There's a time and place.
I wish our society would change the way we think about sex. Our culture tends to demonize it while being obsessed with it at the same time. There must be a healthier perspective, one where we can think about it as a beautiful, natural, and wonderful thing, but at the same time, something that is not to be taken lightly. I think this is more how it tends to be in primitive cultures. The media often destroys healthy perspectives, I think.
It's also unfortunate that sex is used to hurt people, but this is true of many things, and that's no reason to demonize it in principle.
I think it's a truly life-enriching thing, and I don't want to be called dirty for thinking so.
[This is a Life Advice vent I wrote couple of years ago. I wanted to save it in my blog for easier access.]
Hi, I'm Justin Case. You may remember me from such vents as "Can Men Be Beautiful?". Today, I want to talk about another double standard that really irritates me.
I'm so sick of the continued double standard than men must always do the asking, the proposing, the buying of rings, etc. Often times, women still tend to wait to be asked out and proposed to, and if nothing happens, they assume the guy isn't interested, or isn't serious. Is this the year 1300?! Why don't we guys just go up to the girl's father and buy her for two goats and sack of corn meal?! Why can't we erase these antiquated double standards and gender role stereotypes? I often read this advice column in the paper, and the other day there was one of these stereotypical letters:
(Paraphrasing) "I'm a thirty year old woman. I've been with my guy for X years, and I want to get married, but he hasn't proposed or given me a ring yet. What do I do? I guess he's not serious about us. Maybe it's time for me to move on."
Why. Don't. You. F*CKING. ASK. HIM??!!
This kind of thing gets me really riled up. Sorry. And I'm not suggesting that it should be the other way around, either. Why can't it just be 50/50? Whoever wants to ask, just ask.
And don't get me started on the engagement ring thing. Why can't a woman buy an engagement ring for a man? Or, why not skip the rings if you don't want to do it? It's not a requirement, but people treat it like it is. Society paints this picture of men having to win women over with a grand gesture, work hard to woo them, buy an expensive gift for them, and if we're really lucky, she'll say yes. Why can't a woman propose to a man? I know, I know--it's because woman are beautiful, and men are undesirable australopithacines, a fact society loves to pound into me every day. So sick of the double standards.
[This is a Life Advice vent I wrote couple of years ago. I wanted to save it in my blog for easier access.]
I've had some stuff in my head for a long time that I need to organize and get down. I'm male, hetero, almost 30, single. I'm sick and tired of living in a society that perpetuates the unfair double standard that women are beautiful, and men are ugly, simian australopithacines that can be manipulated with sex. All my life, I've wanted to be beautiful, and all my life, I've felt like society tells me I can't. I love to break to the rules when it comes to clothing. I love to wear feminine things, including dresses. I make a lot of things myself so I can wear dresses designed for a male figure. When I look in the mirror, when I put on the clothes I want, when I can manage to see through the poison fog that society puts in my mind, I think I'm beautiful. I feel beautiful and sexy. But society tells me that that's more or less impossible because I'm male. Why can't men be beautiful, too?
The examples are everywhere. I can't turn around or open my eyes without seeing another illustration of how women are attractive and desirable, and men are not. The stereotype seems to be that men want women, that we would do anything to get with a beautiful woman, but women are basically aloof, can take us or leave us, and need to be convinced or "won over", or "wooed" in some way. And then there's the stereotype that no woman, anywhere, ever, since the dawn of time, has ever wanted to have sex with a man. They only do it to appease or to manipulate. Which isn't true, I know, but that's the joke you hear.
Men are still expected to do the asking out, the proposing, the buying of rings, etc. Men are expected to buy Valentine’s gifts for their wives and girlfriends. The stereotype is that men will be in the doghouse if they forget a Valentine's gift. But what of the reverse? Assuming that you actually acknowledge and care about an arbitrary holiday, why can't a man be irked if his woman doesn't get him a gift? Because society tells us that that's just not how it works.
Here's the ultimate illustration of what frustrates me:
That's it. That's the feeling that society perpetuates, and it makes me hate myself, feel ashamed of myself, and basically feel like I can never really be happy because I'm just a neanderthal. It's just a tv show, but it's supposed to be funny because there's some truth behind it. If they reversed the sexes in this joke, no one would understand it.
Another great example is in the pilot of Rick & Morty. As much as I love that show, this one line annoys me. Morty, a 14-year old boy, is constantly being pulled out of class by his mad-scientist grandfather, Rick, for high-concept sci-fi rigmarole. Morty's parents are angry with Rick, and are chewing him out for making Morty miss school. Morty's mother says to her dad, "Come on! It's not like he's a hot girl; he can't just bail on his life and set up shop in someone else's!" I rest my case.
This leads right into another tangent--the idea of a stay-at-home husband/father still isn't all that socially acceptable. I know from personal experience than many people believe that a stay-at-home husband/father is just being a mooch and not “manning up” and taking responsibility for his life, while these same people don't seem to judge or have a problem with a stay-at-home wife/mother.
I'm not a CEO or a doctor, so I guess no woman will ever be interested in me. It's still more socially acceptable for a woman to be a stay-at-home wife, but if a man does that, he's a good-for-nothing deadbeat. I think I've scared off more than a few eHarmony matches by being honest and saying that I wish to be a stay-at-home husband, and work on my Redbubble art. In the old days, and I'm talking ye-olde days, women weren't even allowed to work or do anything, and men were expected to provide everything. If a man wasn't a good provider, then he'd get the brush off. Sometimes I feel like little has changed.
But let's get back to the thesis. Can men be beautiful? Here's another example that pisses me off. I said I make Redbubble art. Redbubble requires a mature tag for content containing profanity, drugs, alcohol, violence, guns, nudity, or lingerie. That's right. Lingerie. They don't make any mention of male underwear. Why? Because everyone knows that men are ugly and unattractive, and no one is going to bother making art of the male form. (See that Seinfeld video again.) In fact, we might as well just go ahead and say that male underwear isn't even a sexual thing at all. It's not suggestive. It's not provocative. Lingerie is this whole category, this whole world of sex appeal, but male underwear is not even worth mentioning. Doesn't even require a mature Redbubble tag. Now, maybe if you posted something with male underwear without a mature tag, they'd frown upon it, but I'd bet dollars to donuts that it's never happened. I resent the fact that there's no "intimate apparel" section for men. The thought is simply laughable.
Tilting at the same particular windmill as the Redbubble tags, here's a fantastic example of this sexual asymmetry at play: so, I noticed something the other day that I never had before: in animated sitcoms, and possibly other cartoons, it is very commonplace to show the bare buttocks of male characters, often in comical "moonings". However, I cannot think of a single example of a female buttocks being shown on an animated TV show. Perhaps it has been done; all I'm saying is that I cannot think of an example. But the male butts are everywhere. I first noticed this when watching the King of the Hill episode, "Sug Night". After Hank has saucy dreams about his neighbor's wife, Peggy proceeds to save and spice up their intimacy by taking Hank to a clothing optional retreat for a nude barbecue. During episode, we see Hank's bare butt several times. We even see the buttocks of a peeping Bill Dauterive. However, they are painstakingly careful never to show a female butt. They show Hank and Peggy standing side by side, from the rear, naked, at the barbecue; Hank's rear end is unobstructed, but they strategically placed a foreground flower in front of Peggy's. The number of times that Homer and Bart have brandished their bare buttocks on The Simpsons is absolutely beyond counting, but I don't recall ever seeing a female character's. Now, Marge and Lisa are not the kind of people to moon others, but you'd think that somewhere in the series there would exist a story-relevant, opportune moment to show a female rear end. But nope. At least, not that I recall. I think the same goes for Fry on Futurama. Probably plenty of moonings, there, but never a Leela or Amy butt to be seen.
So....theories? I'll tell you mine. This asymmetry seems to me to suggest that female sexuality and nudity warrants a higher rating than male. It is more "powerful", if you will. It is suggestive and sexy in a way that the male is not. This is what depresses me, because at heart I feel like a very sexual person, and I want to be sexy and desirable as well, and I feel like society tells me I can't be. The mindset seems to be that men only do the desiring, and women are the objects of desire. I want it to be truly equal. I want my partner to desire me as much as I desire her. Now, I think that that is the way it is in many relationships, but it doesn't seem to be the mindset of society as a whole. Another possible way to look at the animation asymmetry is that society believes that males will get "too excited" by the female form, and will behave inappropriately or develop unhealthy perceptions of women as a result. This highly insulting theory, if true, just reinforces my assertion that society tends view males as neanderthals. Either way, this still results in female nudity warranting a higher rating. The male buttocks in cartoons is commonplace, and show creators know that no one will care, but they are unwilling to take the risk to display a female behind because they know it could be playing with fire. Even on higher rated shows where nudity is commonplace, such as Game of Thrones, females still seem to warrant a higher rating. They will show full frontal male nudity way before allowing an explicit revealing of female genitalia. E.g, they have clearly shown male parts on Thrones several times, but you will never, ever see female parts unless it is actually pornography: X rated. Is female nudity and sexuality treated this way because of the (virtually exclusively) unidirectional nature of rape? Must that cause us to treat all males as being incapable of civilized behavior and self-control?
This asymmetry between males and females can be seen in another interesting place: ever notice how we use slang terms for genitals as insults for people? Ever notice how the feminine one are always more powerful? E.g. if you're a weenie, you're a wimp. If you're a p*ssy, you're an even bigger wimp. If you're a dick, you're a jerk. If you're a c*nt, you're even bigger jerk. The feminine terms are worse. They will use the word "dick" in a PG-13 movie, but c*nt is R. Maybe not even then. Sometimes they treat c*nt as a worse profanity than f*ck. Also--notice something I did there? I censored the feminine terms because I am actually, literally concerned about using them on the forums. That says it all, right there, doesn't it?
What does this reveal about society? Is female sexuality more powerful, somehow? Is it better? Is female nudity more special? Are women just sexier, period? Are men simply less desirable across the board?
Now, I understand that there's a lot of complex sociological factors at play here. Women were the ones that were mistreated and denied rights throughout history. They had no professional power. It's still a largely male-dominated world. Most CEOs and politicians are male. Most doctors are male. Every dentist I've ever seen is male, but every dental hygienist I've ever seen is female. That's not right. It's still out of whack. So, to compensate for this, it seems women are given a different kind of power in the media, a power men don't have: sexual power. (This may also be to compensate for the fact that women are more often than not the victims when it comes to abuse.) Modern sitcoms love to depict the woman as smart and mature, and the man as a neanderthal that does what he's told, lest he end up sleeping on the couch. In the '50s, sitcoms depicted men as the head of the household, and the wives did as they were told. But today, that would be monstrously sexist. Why can't we ever find a happy medium?
And I'm tired of people saying that "men are visual" as an insult. I'm tired of being made to feel like I'm a shallow piece of garbage because I want someone who I'm physically attracted to. I also sort of resent the fact that women are apparent not visual. Why? Because women can't see my personality when they look at me in public. They can't see my intelligence or my sense of humor. But I happen to think I'm quite good looking, but apparently my primary weapon, my only means of attracting a mate, is useless because women, apparently, don't like the way men look and aren't attracted to them. Or so our culture would have us believe.
I'm not trans, but I constantly wish I had been born female. It would suit my personality better. I don't know if I can ever be happy the way I am. You know, just a man. Might as well be an ape. A cro-magnon at best. But inside, I feel like Rarity. I'm not “supposed” to be female. I just want the same opportunities as women—to be able to be beautiful. I must sound crazy, because it's women who have been fighting for equal opportunities for thousands of years, but in today's world, with such diverse personalities, sometimes paradigms can reverse themselves. I know that men still hold more professional power in this world, but I don't and never will. I'm not a successful professional. What good does that kind of power do me? I want the kind of power women have.
I suppose it's a grass-is-always-greener situation. I'm sure many women will say things like, "You don't know how lucky you are that society doesn't care how you look. You have it easy. You don't have to wear makeup or shave your legs. You can wear comfortable clothes and shoes. You aren't the target of rude catcalls." Well, I guess I'd respond by saying that you don't know how lucky you are to be able to wear anything and get away with it, to wear beautiful dresses, to be desirable and sexy, to be the center of attention, etc. At a wedding, men are designed to be presentable camouflage, while all attention is drawn to the radiant bride. I guess men might have it easier in some ways, but I reckon most women probably never imagined how society can make a man like me feel like crap. And guess what? I want to shave my legs because I find my body hair unattractive. [Oh, I do that, now. :/ ] Society would berate me for doing such a thing. Unless I'm a competitive swimmer, that is.
I just want to be able to be who I am without the societal poisoning. I want to live in a world where we're truly equal. I'm so sick of this double standard. And I know there are examples of the reverse. Times Sexiest Man Alive, cheesy romance novels with some long-haired, bare chested guy riding bareback, etc. But the massive, overwhelming majority seems to be the stereotype that women are beautiful, and men are not.
What do you think? Can men be beautiful, too?
Before reading this essay, please read this preface, which I am writing about nine months later. Of all of the blog entries I've written, this is the only one that I'm not quite certain I can still stand by 100%. A lot of it is okay, but I would definitely change some things and make some revisions if I was to write about this topic today. I'm not quite happy with some of the things I said, and some of the wording. I'll be the first to admit that I am not a gun expert at all. In fact, I know virtually nothing about firearms or the buying process of them. I'm not qualified to write about this topic in any factual sense. Stephen Crowder, a conservative youtuber that I occasionally watch, once said that he believes the gun debate largely takes place between gun owners and the completely uninformed. I think that's probably spot on. I'd wager that many anti-gun activists have never purchased a firearm, and thus know little about them. I just wanted to give my opinions and brainstorm some suggestions about how to decrease gun violence. But I probably made some incorrect assumptions about guns and the buying process. I have had a bit of education since then, and I know I would change some things about this essay if I did it over again. But the thing of it is, I don't really have the time or the motivation to do that right now. Truth be told, I don't really want to write about this topic anymore. It's a conversation that needs to be had, for sure, but it's not something I enjoy thinking or writing about, and I want to move on to other things. I'm just being honest with you--I have not done the homework required to speak comprehensively about guns, and I'm probably not going to. So, make what you will of my opinions and suggestions. Some of them may not work. Some may be crap. That's okay. I'm just brainstorming. I'll repeat the very last thing I said in the debate following this essay--I just want to decrease the severity and frequency of mass shootings. I'll support whatever action(s) actually leads to that outcome.
I'll briefly say what my current ideas are to decrease gun violence: I still believe we should require some type of safety training courses for gun ownership. I believe we should put more money into the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, as well as de-stigmatize the taboos surrounding said illnesses. Lastly, we need to support a reformation of Islam. This is something that isn't talked about nearly enough due to rampant fears of racism and un-political correctness. Jihadism is a massive source of violence in our world, and it won't stop until Islam sees a similar transformation as Christianity in the west, such that Muslims cherry-pick their Qu'rans and don't follow the literal violent stuff. This can only happen from the inside. We need to support moderate Muslim reformers such as Maajid Nawaz who speak out against jihadism. A great place to start would be giving money and resources to the Quilliam Foundation, a group founded by Maajid to help fight Islamic extremism.
Those are my thoughts as of right now. All in all, it's a complex topic, and unlike most of what I write about, I don't feel that confident about it. I'm rather unsure of what the solution should be, and I remain largely agnostic about guns. Just wanted you to know that before going in. I did not want to make any changes/revisions to my main essay because I had a conversation/debate in the comments afterward, so I wanted to preserve the original essay as it was written. Changing it would be disgenuine and unfair to the people who responded to it. So, with that said, on with the show.] END EDIT.
I find it extremely troubling that, in the United States, we can't even have a conversation about guns without a certain section of the population flying off the handle, outraged at the very idea of regulating their guns at all. The US definitely has a unique love affair with guns that I find disturbing. Some people seem to want guns to work like candy bars; go into any store, buy any kind you want, as much as you want, no regulations, no questions asked. Some people seem to think that the second amendment gives them this right. However, the Second Amendment, like all of the Constitution, is, after all, just words written by men trying to come up with the best rules they could at the time. It's not the be-all, end-all, codex of ultimate wisdom. Even if you're a religious believer, I think we can all agree that the Constitution is not the word of any god. It did not come from the heavens on high, and yet, a certain variety of American often seems to talk about the second amendment as if it did. Well, guess what? Times have changed, the world has changed, our species has gained a lot of collective wisdom, and we are, in fact, capable of writing new words that work better today. Perhaps it is time to start thinking of guns a privilege, not an inborn right.
I have given a lot of thought to the problem of gun violence and mass shooting in the US, and the following is my suggestion on what to do about it. This is a three-part plan.
The first part is fairly simple: ban all assault-type weapons, bump stocks, high capacity mags, etc. These things only serve to make offense more effective, which is exactly what we don't want. In the hands of civilians, guns only ever need to be used for defense, and weapons and accessories that make it easier to mow down large crowds are never needed for defense. An assault rifle doesn't help one to take down the bad guy. These types of weapons and accessories have no place in our society. Also, we should raise the minimum age for all guns, across the board, to 21. That's pretty straightforward--I don't believe 18 is mature enough for firearms.
This part is much more robust. Here is what I propose: form a governing body responsible for licensing to purchase firearms. This body will henceforth be known as the Department of Firearms, or the DF. In order to purchase a gun, one would need to obtain a license from the DF. Here is what that process would entail: A firearm license would require the user to pass a comprehensive safety and competence test. This would be administered by an examiner at a shooting range. Before the test can be taken, however, the user must take a training course, also given at the shooting range. This course would be comprehensive, covering firearm safety, usage, and maintenance (after all, a poorly maintained gun is an unsafe gun). After passing the course, the user would then have to log a certain number of hours of shooting at the range. The range would rent guns for this purpose, and shooting would only be done under trained supervision. An examiner or other official would keep track of your hours.
I propose the requirement of logging a certain number of hours spent shooting for the following reason: if one is allowed to buy a gun, then one should know how to use a gun. This is common sense to me. The last thing I want is guns in the hands of people who have never fired guns. This is incredibly dangerous. We know the statistics--people are more likely to shoot friends or family members than the bad guys. Guns in untrained hands are a hazard to everyone around. People should prove they can use a dangerous thing before being allowed to buy one. After all, you cannot buy a car without having proven that you know how to drive one. Now, one might argue that this will only serve to make the bad guys more efficient at killing the rest of us, but I don't think that that will be the effect. Bad guys likely won't go through the proper channels to purchase a gun, anyway. The licensing process would filter them out, and make it extremely difficult for them to acquire guns. The requirement of competence will only serve to make the good guys better at defending themselves, and less likely to shoot friends, family, and bystanders.
So, circling back, the user would need to log their required number of hours at the shooting range, under trained supervision. The number of hours needed is something that I would no nothing about. We'd need to assemble some of the most experienced gun experts around and have them discuss and agree upon the amount of time an average person would need in order to achieve safe competence. The names Jocko Willink and Scott Reitz come to mind. So, after passing the training course and logging the required number of hours, then, and only then, would the user be allowed to apply to take the exam. The exam would test everything they've learned: safety, usage, and maintenance. The test would also serve to filter out the mentally unstable. It would also include an eye exam, just like a driver's license. Upon successful completion of the exam, the user would be given documentation as proof, which they would then take to the DF. There would be a DF facility in every major city. The DF would look very similar to the DMV inside. No firearms would be allowed inside the DF. It would not be a place for shooting--only a department for the licensing. The user would present their test completion documents at the DF. The DF would then run a full background check. If all checks out, then the user would be photographed and given a temporary license. Their permanent license would be mailed to them later. The user could then walk up to any gun counter in any sporting goods store, ask to buy, and the clerk would say "license, please,". They'd hand over the card, and if it's valid, then they'd get to buy their gun.
So, that's it. A rigorous process that would surely be much to the chagrin of many gun enthusiasts, but to that I say: boo hoo. Too bad. With great power comes great responsibility, and guns are a great power, indeed. They should require rigorous licensing standards. It would be a pain, but we put up with stuff like that throughout our lives. Going to the DMV probably makes everyone's top 5 list of the most miserable things to do, right up there with root canal and dinner with the in-laws. But we do it anyway. We put up with it, because we understand that it's necessary. Guns should be no different.
But wait....there's more. The firearm license would have an expiration date. I don't know how long this would be. Again, the experts would have to determine that. Upon expiration, the user would need to renew. In order to do this, they would need to retake the exam at the shooting range. If they pass, they would simply mail in their certificate of completion, and the DF would mail them their new license. If the user fails, they would be required to retake the training course, after which they could apply to take the exam again. If they fail again, they would need to wait a designated period of time (perhaps three months or so) before taking the training course again, and then the exam. After a third fail, they would need to wait a year before being able to try again. I would imagine that ownership of firearms with respect to licensing would work like cars: if you own a gun(s), but you do not possess a valid license, then you can still own the gun, but you may not use it. Just like a car--you can still keep it, but you can't drive it. You wouldn't be allowed to take the gun to a shooting range, or hunting, etc. Now, no one can really stop people from using their guns inside their own house, so even without a valid license, one could probably still keep the gun for home defense. I don't foresee law enforcement kicking in doors to confiscate guns.
I should also note that when taking your own firearm to a range, you'd have to present your license. If you're caught with a gun and an invalid license, you'd be arrested. Also, just like a car, only licensed users would be allowed to fire the gun. I.e. A licensed user cannot bring their son or friend to the range and let them shoot, just as you cannot let your unlicensed friend or son drive your car. Also--and this should go without saying--but if you ever commit a violent crime, even once, you're banned for life from ever obtaining a firearm license. Period.
Here's where things get more theoretical. I propose the creation of a research and development department with a single goal: the invention of a Star Trek phaser. I do not believe this goal to be outside of the realm of possibility. I believe that if we made it priority one, the technology would be only decades away, not centuries. The goal would be to create a laser-beam type weapon that has perfect accuracy, light speed, and longer range than any bullet, but is only capable of stunning. This would be the perfect, non-lethal defense weapon. Small, light, accurate, point it at the target, press the button, and the target instantly goes down, unconscious for several hours, but otherwise unharmed. Licensing would be required for the purchase of phasers as well; even though they would be non-lethal, it would not be a good idea to have instant knock-out power in the wrong hands. Once phaser costs come down a comparable level to guns and have completely permeated the market, then all guns and ammunition would be completely banned except for police and military. Period. Again, I wouldn't foresee law enforcement kicking in doors to confiscate guns at this point, but with all ammunition banned, it wouldn't take too long for guns to become nothing more than clubs and paperweights.
* * *
And that ends my three part plan. Unrealistic? I'm sure. But I strongly believe that this is what we should do, unless I hear a better idea. So far, the extent of our actions to end gun violence has been thoughts and prayers. Yup. That's really done the trick all right. Now, I realize that the third part of my plan would undoubtedly suck for good, responsible gun owners who love hunting as a sport. In response I say: find a new sport. Isn't that a fair price to end gun violence forever? But actually, it doesn't have to come to that, either. You could still hunt. Here's what you do: stun the animal with a phaser, then kill it with a knife. Or use a bow and arrows. Either way would be far more badass than a gun. You'd have to adapt, but those are the breaks. I think the payoff would be worth it. But even if we just implemented parts I and II of my plan, it would improve things a heck of a lot.
It's also worth noting that my plan would be extremely expensive, even without part III. It is, in my opinion, a necessary expense, however. My dad suggested a great way to save money--combine the DMV and the DF. The Department of Motor Vehicles and Firearms. The DMVF Since the DF would only be the licensing department, not involved in actually shooting or testing, the departments needn't be separated. A DMV employee would already be equally qualified to look at a firearm test certificate, take a photo, and mail some stuff. And you'd already have the facilities. No need to construct new buildings. The majority of the cost would come from expanding shooting ranges and hiring and training the staff to teach the training courses and administer the exams and so forth. I do have one idea of where we could get some of this money from. We could....just throwing this out there....we could....I don't know....say....use the money that's going to be spent on this border wall....perhaps? Since....y'know...the border wall is just like flushing money down a giant toilet. Just an idea.
I could add a forth part to the plan, but it wouldn't be as directly related to firearms. I propose increasing funding for the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. This would just be a good thing to do all-around, and could only have benefits, one of them being to reduce the number of firearms in the wrong hands.
Before I close, I feel I should address one last thing--a counter argument I've seen from gun activists. Inb4 "But a knife can kill people. Should we have training courses and licensing to buy a fricking kitchen knife?" This argument is a reductio ad absurdum. Anything can be a weapon. I could stick a pencil in a table and then ram someone's head down onto it, lodging the pencil in their brain and killing them. (That would be quite the magic trick, eh?) Should we require licenses for pencils, then too? We obviously can't, shouldn't, wouldn't, needn't, and won't start regulating anything that could be used to hurt someone. We'd be left with nothing but marshmallows. This is a case of common sense. No, I don't think we should regulate kitchen knives. Yes, I do think we should regulate guns. There's a big difference. A gun is a highly-lethal weapon designed to kill targets swiftly and instantly from extreme distance. Such weapons must be treated differently from a knife or a baseball bat. People will throw statistics around such as the fact that there are more deaths from knives than guns. This seems to me to be dodging the issue. There's more deaths from knives because there are many, many more knives, being used inside homes, in domestic disputes, and the like. There's also more deaths from a lot of things, but again, we can't ban everything but marshmallows. The point is that a lone knifeman can't kill dozens of school students, or movie goers, or concert goers, or night club goers, or church goers. Common sense, dude.
The bottom line is this: I want gun violence to end, but I'm not trying to leave good, responsible people defenseless, I'm not trying to take away your rights, and I realize that outright banning all guns would solve nothing at the moment. The goal of my plan is to allow intelligent, responsible, law-abiding people to buy guns, while making it extremely difficult for bad guys to get through the licensing process. The net result should be to decrease the number of guns in the wrong hands, while leaving the good hands relatively untouched. I think it's time to stop thinking of guns as an inborn right, and start thinking of them as a privilege that must be earned.
It would actually be ridiculously easy to make a much better world for everyone--easy in the sense that there's nothing about physical reality that precludes it; virtually impossible in the sense that we'll never get all humans to cooperate. I spend a lot of time thinking about how much violence and suffering there is in this world, and it leaves me feeling sad and bewildered. I find it rather astonishing how easy it would really be to fix everything, if only people would listen. If you break everything in the world down by difficulty, you have things that are objectively difficult no matter how you slice it, and then you have things that are physically easy, but made difficult because of a lack of understanding. An example of the former would be the large hadron collider: a monumental undertaking that required extremely advanced technology and unimaginable amounts of resources an humanpower--an objectively difficult task. The latter are things that really shouldn't be difficult, but are made so because of a failure to listen to reason. The latter could also be described as a war of ideas.
You want to know how to make a better world for everyone? It's really easy and really simple. You ready for it?
Just stop hurting each other. That's it.
Well, let's also extend this to property. Don't steal or vandalize others' property. Basically, just keep your hands to yourself. That's all there is to it. Would this end every problem in the world? Hell no, but it would be a utopia compared to what we have now. We'd still have economic inequality, starvation, poverty, disease, natural disasters, accidents, as well as disagreements, hatred, bigotry, etc. But just imagine how good life could be if everyone in the world just kept their hands to themselves. Just imagine a world where people don't kill each other. You can disagree with people. That's fine. You can say anything you want; you can voice any opinion. That's fine. You can insult people; you can tell them exactly what you think of them. That's fine. It's not nice, but it's allowed. You can even hate people; you can hate whatever and whoever you want. That's fine. After all, we can't control what we like and dislike. You can hate someone for how they were born, or how they dress, or how they walk, or for how they looked at you. That's fine. It's not nice or ideal, but it's allowed. No one can control or dictate how you think or feel. You can hate all you like, and you can tell people you hate them. You can even tell people you don't think they deserve to live. You can't threaten them, but you can give any opinion, no matter how vile. That's fine. You just can't hurt them physically or take their stuff. You just have to keep your hands to yourself. It's that easy.
Let's do a little thought experiment. Imagine....really imagine....what such a world would be like. Imagine a world where no matter what anyone says or does, you know that no one is going to physically damage you....on purpose at any rate. We'd still have accidents. Can't help that. And that includes animal attack. Wild at any rate. Can't help that. But imagine what it would be like if you knew, absolutely knew, that no one is going to hurt you. Imagine being able to go anywhere, anywhere in the whole world, anytime, and know that you'll be safe. Imagine knowing that you could wake up every day, go out with your head held high, be exactly who you are, and no one one will hurt you. The most they'll do is insult you--say hurtful things. And words do hurt, no doubt, but it's not the same as physical danger. Imagine knowing that no matter who you are, what you look like, what you do, where you go, who you talk to...no one will hurt you. You could be an open lesbian in Syria and dress like Vanille from Final Fantasy XIII. No problem. You could walk down the darkest alley of the darkest city on the darkest night. No problem. 5-foot, 90 lb woman who works nights and has to walk to her car in a dark, empty parking lot? No problem. No need for pepper spray or self-defense classes. No need to own a gun unless you want to go target shooting. No bombings. No shootings. No rape. No murder. No arson. No theft. These words wouldn't need to exist outside of fiction. And there'd certainly be no wars. No nukes. No Kim Jong F*ck and his rockets. No threat of being blown up. There'd still be problems, and life would still carry risk. You could trip and fall, you could get sick, your house could accidentally burn down....but no one is going to intentionally hurt you, or take your stuff. Just imagine a world where everyone keeps their hands to themselves. Really imagine it. Close your eyes and think about it. Open your eyes when your done. Go ahead--do it now.
Eyes open again? Well, guess what, that sort of world could exist...or at least it should exist. It would be so stupidly easy to have that. All we have to do is just stop hurting each other. Do whatever the f*ck you want as long as you're keeping your hands to yourself. I mean, there's a little more to it than that, obviously. Don't infringe on the rights of others; that's the more accurate way to put it. But basically, just keep your hands to yourself. Just...don't....hurt each other. So easy. Doing this requires no resources, no technology, no money, no expenditure of energy. It requires nothing. It's actually easier than hurting each other. It's the path of lesser resistance. It's, like, the lazier approach--doing nothing instead of doing something. E.g. grabbing that woman in the alley and raping and beating her requires a greater expenditure of energy than not doing it. I don't know why this has to be made so difficult. I don't know why human existence has been a battle against violence since the dawn of our species. Well, that's not exactly true; I actually do know why. I understand that we're a violent, tribal species by nature. I guess I just don't really understand why that is. I guess it served us well in the wilds of the Serengeti. Our subsequent existence has been an excruciating battle to overcome that nature. It's the Default Position. That's another blog post of mine. You can read that one if you're interested.
Ending violence could be so easy, but of course it's not easy, and it never will be, because we're just apes trying to figure sh*t out, and by the time people are old and wise, they're dead, and each new generation has to learn and figure sh*t out all over again. And of course, it's never as simple as I make it out to be. Many, if not most, of the people who commit violent acts are mentally unstable and basically can't help it. I like to think that everyone in the world could just make a collective decision to stop hurting each other, but I know that's not possible. But it could get a lot better, and the only way I know to get there is just more conversation, which is why I write things like this.
I no longer like to identify as any part of the political spectrum, mostly because I believe that identity politics is utterly toxic tribalism that prevents us from talking honestly about issues, but also because I'm finding it increasingly difficult to see anywhere on the spectrum that's a comfortable fit. My views haven't changed much in the last decade, but the political sides sure have. For my whole life, I have considered myself left/liberal, and I still have what I would describe as "classically liberal" views. For my whole life, I have also been under a grave misapprehension, which is why I wanted to write this post.
I want to speak directly to all conservatives/anyone who considers themselves right of center. For most of my life, I have been under the impression that conservatives are, for the most part, all backwards, bigoted, racist, sexist, gay-hating religious maniacs, and that this is more or less the definition of conservatism. This is obviously false. It's only in the last year or so that I started to look, listen, escape my echo chamber, and realize my mistake. I've read and listened to the opinions of many conservatives whom I was pleasantly surprised to find are very open-minded, rational, compassionate people. Some even share many of my views, and it surprised me when they said they identify as conservative. It made me stop and say, "Wait a minute....but those views you have sound like classically liberal views!" Most conservatives are just normal, nice, decent people who don't want to stomp on other's rights. Likewise, most liberals can be described exactly the same way. I have always considered myself a liberal, but I am absolutely not one of these trigger-warning, free speech stifling, offensive word banning, college speaker de-platforming, SJW snowflakes. Don't make the mistake of thinking that that's how all liberals are. Both sides seem to see only the worst of the other. In one corner the liberals say, "Yer all a bunch of bigots," and in the other corner, the conservatives say, "Yer all a bunch of delusional nutjobs." Neither is true. These extremes are just fringe minorities that are not representative of most people. I believe that the percentage of leftists that are extreme, free speech stifling SJWs is about the same percentage of rightists that are truly racist, sexist, hateful bigots. Please remember that these are just tiny, yet disproportionately noisy, minorities. Conservatives are not all my enemies, and liberals are not all your enemies. If we drop the labels and listen to each other, we might find allies in unexpected places.
Of course, I feel like I'm probably preaching to the choir in here, as I've always been extremely impressed with the maturity and decency of this community (at least what I've seen of it.) My words probably aren't needed in here. They're needed out there. Like....y'know....on the Twitters or the Youtubes....but I don't feel like being chased down the street by a mod with torches and pitchforks....so I hide in here. :/ It's better than nothing. Better than not speaking up at all, I guess. Thanks for reading. Have a ponirific day.
This entry is sure to upset a few people, though it is not my intention to offend anyone. I simply want to discuss reality as best I can.
I spend a fair amount of time criticizing religion, and writing and arguing for reason and rationality. I do this for many reasons. There's no shortage of reasons to oppose religion. Take your pick. Dogma of any kind is antithetical to conversation, logic, rational thought, and progress. Religion has caused a massive amount of senseless violence, death, and misery throughout human history. It has retarded scientific progress, and continues to do so today. Religion provides shields and justification for irrational bigotry, intolerance, and hatred. Religion also gives us jihadism, arguably the greatest threat this generation faces. Moreover, all of the good things that people get from religion, and all of the good that religion does (and I will concede that there indeed is some good), can be found and had through benign, secular means, if only enough people would get started on such a project. Rather than spend too much time explaining why I oppose religion and risk letting this essay spiral too much out of control, I will simply point to the works of writers and thinkers such as Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Matt Dillahunty for anyone who's interested. I mention these people on the forums a lot, (probably to a fault) but it's only because I believe so strongly in what they have to say, and I think it's of the utmost importance.
I am an atheist. I don't believe in any god because there's evidence for one. But I honestly have no objection to a belief in a god(s), provided that the believer is intellectually honest with themselves and others, admitting that we can't know for sure what there is or isn't, and if there is a god(s), we can't know who or what it is. In other words, I have no quarrel with the deist. The deist is one says, "I think the universe must have had a creator, so I believe in something, but it's impossible for us to know what it is." I can't imagine that that way of thinking would be very harmful. My problem lies with the theist. The theist is one who says, "I know there's a god, I know which one it is, I have a personal relationship with God, I know exactly who and what God is, I know His will and His commands, I have the authority to speak on His behalf as His representative, I know what foods you should and shouldn't eat, I know which days you shouldn't work on, I know how and when you should pray, I know exactly how much of your genitals should be cut off, I know who you should sleep with and in what position, and failure to comply with any of these conditions will result in an eternity in a lake of fire." It shouldn't be an mystery why I'm not keen on this way of thinking. No one has any right or authority to tell others how to live.
I don't believe because I don't see any reason to, but I understand why some might arrive at a different conclusion. The universe is, after all, a mystery. We know the big bang happened, but we don't know the story of how or why, or what was here before that. One could lose their mind contemplating such mysteries. To think about these things can be terrifying, and, in my opinion, a lot of fun. I can understand why some might feel that it makes no sense without a designer, that there must have been a creator of some type. The catch though, as it seems to me, is that a god doesn't really get you anywhere. If your explanation for everything is God, then you can stop wondering where the universe came from, but now you have to start wondering where God came from, how long he was here, what was here before God, or if he was here forever, how is that possible, and so forth. The mysteries don't end. You just have different mysteries. You can't escape mysteries. This is a fact we have to live with, and it makes some people very uncomfortable, evidently. But like it or lump it, you're going to be stuck with one mystery or the other for the time being, and as I see it, there's just no reason to throw a god into the mix. It's an unnecessary variable that needlessly complicates the equation. That said--that's just my opinion. Perhaps there is a designer. I don't know, and I can't know for sure, and that's the point. I have no objection to generic, elastic deism. Once again, my problem lies with dogma--with the doctrines that claim to know the truth, seek to enforce it on others, and tell people how to live their lives. This is pure delusion, as it is impossible to know any of this for sure.
The biggest plothole of orthodox religion, it seems to me, is quite simply the fact that there is more than one. Why do people believe in their specific religion, their book, and their god? Why is the Christian a Christian? Why not a Muslim? Why does the Christian believe in the Abrahamic god and not Zeus? Or Odin? Shiva? Anubis? Why your religion, and not another? You will almost never hear an honest answer to these questions, because the only honest answer, as it seems to me, is essentially an outright admission that all of these religions are human-made, fallible, and nonsense: because they happened to have been born where they were born, and this was the religion taught to them. That's it. By and large, that's the reason why anyone is the religion they are: because they were born into that culture, to parents of that religion. Any feelings, signs, or experiences that they interpret as evidence are seen as evidence of their god. The Christian will have some feeling of profundity and know it to be evidence of Jesus. The Muslim will have the same feeling of profundity and see it as evidence of Allah. How convenient. Religion obeys geography, and believers will interpret any possible evidence as confirmation of what they already believe. Confirmation bias continually reinforces each person's belief in their own god, even when the evidence remains consistent across the board.
People are born into a religion, and thus, that is what they believe. The Christian believes in the Bible and Jesus because they were born to Christian parents. If they had been born in the Middle East to Muslim parents, then that's what they'd be. If they'd been born in India, they would be Hindu. If they had been born in Denmark in the time of the Vikings, they would have worshipped Odin and Thor. If they had been born in ancient Greece, they would have believed in Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon, ancient Egypt, Anubis and Horas. Any experience they have that reinforced their belief does so for their specific god--the one they were born with. If they had been born in any of those other places, the experience would have reinforced the belief in that god. How do believers reconcile this? How does this not bother anyone? I am completely and utterly mystified as to how this simple fact of religion does not cause a complete derailment of the faith, an instant full-stop, causing everyone to say, "Well, wait a minute. If everyone over there believes something totally different, then how do we know that any of us is right?" Time and again, you will hear the same answers to this: faith. They just have faith. They just know. Well, all the other religions claim the same thing. How does this not bother anyone? What reason is there for anyone to think that they just happened to be lucky enough to be born into the right religion? People seem to believe that theirs has to be right, simply by dint of the fact that it is their religion, and for no other reason. The fact is that every religion is equally unlikely, and none of them have unique authority. From the outside looking in, the Bible and the Qu'ran appear no different than the teachings of ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, or any other. Just uncorroborated, unsubstantiated, fantastical stories of gods. And yet, for completely arbitrary reasons, we are admonished to regard modern religions with utmost respect, while we file the old, dead gods into the graveyard we call mythology.
The idea I'm trying to get across has never been articulated better than this:
Yes, this video is satirical, mocking, and comical, as is this youtuber's style, but the points are completely accurate, and make this problem with religion crystal clear.
There are many believers who will argue that which religion you are doesn't matter, and that they basically all worship the same god, just with different names. This simply isn't true. Each holy book tells a completely different story, and they are all incompatible with each other. Take Islam, for example. Islam says that Jesus was not the son of God, and that it is blasphemy to say he is. Worship of Jesus will lead you to hell. This obviously doesn't square with Christianity. People who argue that all religions basically worship the same god either haven't actually read the books, or they cherry-pick and interpret the books to fit what they already believe, which is something that came from the people around them, or from themselves, not from the books. I would argue that such people are more deists than theists, and their elastic interpretations of religions are less harmful. However, at that point, I would submit that if one is going to cherry pick the holy books, then you've already broken the "rules", so why not jettison the rule book entirely and admit that we do not, and cannot know?
But I digress. What explanations could there be for this massive discrepancy between religions? There aren't many possibilities. Each religion claims that their holy book was written or dictated by the creator of the universe, and that it is his immutable word. At most, only one book could possibly be true, because they all contradict each other. Therefore, the possibilities are as follows: 1) God wrote all (or some) of the books, but only one is true. He gave one group the truth and gave the rest gibberish. 2.) God wrote one book. He gave the truth to one group, and just ignored the rest. 3.) God wrote none of the books. Humans wrote all of them, and none are true. This means that either A.) God is a troll, B.) God is a jerk, or C.) Humans tried to explain existence with extremely limited technology and knowledge, each culture invented a religion and wrote different flawed books. Which scenario seems more likely?
Many theists will claim that this discrepancy between religions is actually by design, and that it is a test by God. They claim that God is testing their faith, and that they will be rewarded for keeping faith in their religion despite the disagreement between the others. To be blunt, I cannot overstate what a hollow, non-sequitur cop-out this claim is. What motivation could a supposedly perfect being have for deliberately sending us flawed, confused, mixed messages, and then demanding that we believe one of them with no sound reasons or evidence? What could be gained from this? Why would a perfect being reward blind faith? In what possible sense is blind faith a virtue? Why would God not instead reward us for questioning, for thinking critically, and for using the mental faculties that he supposedly endowed us with? Why would he not appreciate a commitment to truth, to intellectual honesty, and having the courage and integrity to follow wherever the evidence leads? The answer is quite simple: because the gods of our holy books are petty, vindictive, vain, and selfish. Chief among their concerns is that we worship them alone, above all else. It seems to me that an omniscient, perfect being would be wise enough to more concerned with how people actually treat each other, rather than if we worship him blindly. Only a selfish being would demand worship. I submit that a being who demands worship is not worthy of it to begin with.
I can't imagine that I will ever understand how believers are able to wave away this glaring plothole. It seems that they either haven't given it any thought, and simply take the religion that was thrust upon them without question, or... they actually have evaluated other religions, questioned, thought, and reached a conclusion that theirs must be right, and all others must be wrong. If the latter, then I don't understand how this conclusion can reached. What reasoning could there be to think that yours just happens to be right? Believers must surely be aware that all other believers of all other religions have reached that same conclusion about their own faith. If all people of all faiths are reaching the conclusion that theirs is right and all others are wrong, then something isn't adding up. This is clearly a demonstration of confirmation bias in its most elegant form.
I'd like to offer one more elegant summary of this plothole before I move on:
I have heard from people who identify as a particular religion, and yet their views are so malleable, so flexible, that they admit that all religions could be wrong, believe that all could be right in some bizarre way, and believe that all you have to do is be a good person and you'll wind up in heaven. To these people, I ask why they still identify with their religion? Many will say that it is for the community aspect, the social bonds and fellowship that it provides. This is understandable, but these things can be obtained without subscribing to a divisive doctrine, and without believing anything on insufficient evidence.
At this time I would like acknowledge the fact that there are some smaller, independent-type churches that are not dogmatic, and teach a very generic and malleable form of spirituality. Such churches are usually much more tolerant, open-minded, and don't tend to threaten people with ideas like sin and hell. These types of churches seem fairly harmless to me. While I personally don't see the need to bring spirituality into the mix, I also generally don't object to churches like this if they aren't doing any harm.
I have been asked why I write essays like this, and why I fight against religion. People have called me hypocritical, saying that I claim I want religion to leave people alone, and yet I won't leave religion alone. Why can't I just let people believe what they want if they're not hurting anyone? Well, the reason is because I believe that orthodox religion is always harmful, even if it doesn't seem that way. Even if a particular subscriber keeps their faith private, doesn't push it on others, and doesn't appear to be causing any harm, I argue that they are still causing harm in unforeseen ways simply by being a part of the religion. They're still supporting an organization that is damaging to the world. It may encourage others to subscribe or continue subscribing to the religion. It encourages the perpetuation of superstition. Even if a particular church or religious denomination seems harmless and loving from the inside, in can still be perpetuating and encouraging a larger world of dogmatism and irrationality. I'll concede that there may be particular individuals who are so private with their faith that they truly aren't hurting or affecting anyone else, and I'll stipulate that those people aren't directly causing any harm, but I will still fight to change their minds so as to gain a potential ally in the war of ideas. I will continue to fight against the doctrines because I dream of living in a world where divisive dogma doesn't impede science and progress and cause needless suffering. I want to stop theocrasy from continually creeping into public policy. Most of all, I dream of living in a world where people stop fighting and killing each other over flawed, ancient books.
As always, it's impossible to say everything I want to in one essay, and I'm sure I've left things out or made some errors or contradictions that may come back to bite me. I also realize how touchy this is, and that I've probably angered a few people. For that, I do apologize. Sometimes I think it would be better to keep my mouth shut rather than invite the flames and reap the whirlwind. That's exactly what I did for twenty years, and I still choose to write in this quiet corner of the internet that is more tolerant and open-minded than most. But I've decided that it's better to speak up, at least somewhere, because my time on this planet is so limited, and I want to do what I can to make the world a better a place. Thanks for reading.
This entry will a bit more personal than the last few. Today I'd like to talk about how American society judges our worth and value as human beings. By and large, I feel like American society defines our worth as people by our ability to do a job and get paid for it. Financial independence is paramount in this culture, and we are often judged by whether or not we have it. Throughout my life, I've often felt like people in my culture believe that achieving financial independence is the single most important thing you can do, and failure to do so diminishes your very worth as a human being. Interestingly, it doesn't seem to matter much to people how much money you make, just that you support yourself. Indeed, if you make too much, that can make you a social pariah as well. What is of chief importance in this culture is that you work. Period. Identity and human worth is defined by work.
Think about how our social interaction begin--what is usually the first question one asks or is asked when meeting someone new: "What do you do?" I have been asked this many times, and I usually respond by listing, quite literally, the many things that I do. I swim, I read, I walk, I play video games, I sew, I design and make my own clothing, I make digital art, I 3-D model, I ice skate. "No, no, no," the inquirer would then say, "I mean, what do you do for a living?" Ah yes. Of course I am well aware that this is what they meant. My listing of all the activities that make up my life is my clever attempt to suggest that our identities are much more than our jobs, and that perhaps our hobbies and interests often say far more about us. If the person I'm talking to is someone I'm likely to see again, then I'll be honest and explain that I'm unemployed. I make a few bucks selling art online, but nothing you'd call income. I live with my parents, who support me. When a seemingly functional, intelligent 32 year-old man says this, many people's reaction is thinly veiled disgust. I reckon most people think something like, "Ugh. What the hell is wrong with you? How can you do that to your parents?? How can you live with yourself?!"
So much value is placed on what we do for a living--how we make money. If someone doesn't achieve financial independence, they are often regarded with disgust, contempt, and are shunned. Of course, this isn't the case if some has a "proper" excuse. If a person has Downs Syndrome, for example, they are obviously not thought badly of for not making money. How could they make money, after all? They are, in most cases, incapable of doing so. But there are many reasons why having a normal job might not work for someone. Take me, for example; I have high functioning autism, obsessive compulsive personality disorder, social anxiety, and clinical depression. I have had jobs before, but I was miserable in them, and couldn't continue them for very long. The workforce life just wasn't for me. My parents have always been very understanding, and were more than happy to support me and let me continue living with them. It works for us. It's not a burden for them. We are very happy together, and they love having me around. I wasn't lucky enough to invent a massively popular social networking site from my bedroom, so the best I can do is make my art, which I sell on Redbubble for a few measly dollars. But I do the best I can, and our arrangement works for us. I don't know what I'll do when my parents die, but for now, it works. Unfortunately, my problems are not deemed to be reasonable excuses by society. I am not literally, physically incapable of getting a real job, and therefore, I am viewed as a pathetic leech and a deadbeat for not doing so, even though my parents don't see it this way at all. My battle with depression has nearly claimed my life many times, and it has taken everything I have just to get where I am. I am happy to be alive at the moment, and proud of many things I've accomplished, but society doesn't see it this way. Others simply see me as a worthless drain on society--a lazy bum with no excuses. Perhaps this is because depression is little understood and not talked about much. Many people still think depression is just feeling "bummed out", that it can be ignored or beaten by just trying harder, or even that it's made up in the first place. I believed that it could be ignored and beaten by willpower for over fifteen years. That's the road that led me to be suicidal.
But I digress. Society doesn't approve of my lifestyle, because I appear to be perfectly capable of supporting myself, and yet I don't. Nevermind the fact that trying to work a normal job would probably destroy me and lead to me suicide. A better person would just push through and do it anyway. After all:
Now, despite what it sounds like, I'm really not trying to complain and play the victim card. This isn't supposed to be a "woe is me" rant, and I apologize if it sounds that way. The real purpose of this essay....or, I guess, ramble would be a better term...is to remind people not to be quick to judge others just because they don't do the "normal" society thing that is expected of them. You don't know their struggles or what their life is like.
I have worked hard to come back from the lowest points of my depression, and a huge hurdle for me has been simply accepting myself, and not hating myself, which is a common staple of depression. I try to metaphorically (and sometimes literally) hold my head a little higher when I go out in public, but it is very hard because I constantly fear that I am being harshly judged whenever I'm seen with my parents. I fear that everyone looking at me is thinking that I'm a bloodsucking leech and a deadbeat. At this juncture, I need to take a brief tangent to point out that in addition to achieving financial independence, American culture also places enormous importance on moving out of one's parents' house. Casting off the shackles of one's parents is a rite of passage, and living with one's parents as an adult is often thought of as greatest failure and humiliation one can endure. I am told this is not the case in other cultures. For example, I am given to understand that in Asian culture, it is very commonplace for several generations of family to remain together under one roof, and that adults with their parents in public is a common sight. Perhaps I'd be better suited for that culture? Who knows.
Some of these ideas are changing. Obviously, as we all know, far more adults live with their parents than did, say, back in the fifties. But I still feel this pressure and judgment from society. But there is more to a person than just their job, and there are other ways we can contribute to the world. I make art which, although it doesn't rake in the big bucks, does make people happy. I write, as I am doing now, to try to teach, open minds, and make the world a better place. I publicly try to break down unfair gender double standards. Even though I am male, I love fashion, and I have always loved dresses and feminine clothing, and I wear such things in public. Though it may sound strange, I'd like to think that in some small way, this helps to make the world a better place. I know this works, because I've been told several times by strangers that my courage inspired them to wear interesting things that they've always wanted to, but were too afraid to. I also wear my Pony shirts in public. I proudly cosplayed as EG RD to the movie. I hope that perhaps some young boys who may be afraid to show their authentic selves see this and learn that it's okay for them to be different. These may be little things, but I'd like to believe that the world is just a tiny bit better because I'm in it. And yet, I still feel that judgment, that I'm worthless because I don't work for a living.
I believe that we need to outgrow this feeling of tying our sense of identity, human value, and self-worth to our paid work. After all, there is a much larger picture unfolding here--as technology increases, we may one day invent AI and automation that eliminates the need for human drudgery. In fact, unless a disaster prevents this, it seems an inevitability. If we create the perfect intelligent machines, capable of building all other machines to do all work, manage all resources, and build for us a utopia, then we will need to evolve beyond the career identity paradigm. If there is ample wealth to go around, then we will need to find a way to feel deserving of such wealth simply by being alive, not because we punch a clock. We will have to find meaning in creative and recreational pursuits, rather than in doing the work that needs to be done.
That last paragraph was a rather orthogonal leap into a rather esoteric topic that one could easily write an entire book on. I only barely skimmed the surface, but I will leave it at that. Thanks for reading, and I hope you find my ramblings worthwhile.
I'd like to talk briefly about the idea of sexual virginity. I believe that the very concept of "virginity" is one that we could do without. I believe virginity to be a flawed idea that does more harm than good.
What words and images crop up in your mind when you hear the word "virginity"? What sort of ideas do your hear associated with virginity? Virginity has long been portrayed as a sacred, precious thing, a thing of great value that must be cherished, and that somehow diminishes the person when lost. Having one's virginity tends to be thought of as being pure and untainted. Virginity is depicted as something that must be safeguarded, something that makes you a more noble or virtuous person so long as you still have it. I don't think I should really need to explain the problem with this way of thinking, but I will attempt to do so nonetheless. As I have argued many times on these forums, sex is not inherently dirty, corrupt, or immoral. Unfortunately, it is used to hurt people, but that doesn't mean that any one person needs to attach a feeling of corruption to sex with respect to themselves. I am a very sex-positive person. I view sex as a beautiful, wonderful expression of love. That's what it is to me. Whatever it is to anyone, it is not inherently immoral. The concept of virginity implies that it is immoral, and that abstaining is a virtuous choice. The concept has caused people to feel ashamed of themselves for having sex outside of marriage, even when it's with a committed partner whom them love very much. The concept of virginity also tends to make people feel that once they lose it, they are tainted, and "damaged goods". This is where our old friend the gender double standard rears its ugly head once again. It cannot be denied that, throughout history, and even still today, virginity is placed at a higher level of value for women. Women are thought to be much more impure than men once they've lost their virginity. In many cultures, and at many points in history, men desire a virgin mate/wife, as if that makes their partner better. Often times, men are actually praised for sexual promiscuity, while women are ridiculed and shamed. In the traditional marriage ceremony, the bride is supposed to wear a white dress only if she is a virgin. I can see no other reason for the origin of this tradition other than to advertise, like a giant flag, that the bride is still pure, and if she's not, it becomes a source of shame.
These ideas cannot be jettisoned soon enough. We need to outgrow this idea that sex is inherently dirty, and that virginity is pure thing, and keeping it until marriage automatically makes you noble and virtuous. Sex can be one of the most beautiful things in life, and yet, to my despair and dismay, humanity has done an exemplary job of dragging it through the mud and making people feel ashamed of sex, ashamed of desiring it, ashamed of losing their virginity, and ashamed of their own bodies. A healthy individual, this attitude does not make. Of course, these unhealthy views of sexuality all come from religion. Where else would they come from? People aren't born automatically thinking that their private parts are evil and should be avoided at all costs.
That said, I also want to make it perfectly clear that there is nothing wrong with waiting, with abstaining, with keeping your virginity, etc. That's completely fine. There's nothing wrong with waiting until marriage, and nothing wrong with being asexual, either. Whatever makes one comfortable. And I will be the first to admit that sex is absolutely a big deal, and should be treated accordingly. It carries risks, and requires the proper level of maturity and education. The point is that we need to stop treating virginity as an inherently precious thing that needs to be safeguarded. This just leads people to believe that losing one's virginity diminishes them in some way, which isn't true at all. To my knowledge, sexuality is the only thing in life that we attach such a concept to. There is no other area in which we have a term for someone who hasn't done something, such that that unblemished record needs to be safeguarded to keep the person pure. We need to let go of the very idea that having sex means you've lost something. I argue that when it's with someone you truly love, having sex means that you've gained something precious.
For anyone who knows me, it's no secret that I despise much about this world, and spend a lot of time wishing I could live somewhere else. We've all been there to one extent or another. Who among us hasn't wished she/he could live in Equestria? Quite frankly, I often feel like I don't belong in this sh*thole. Most days, I would describe myself as a nihilistic misanthrope. The thing is, I see a lot of potential in this world, and in our species, but 99% of it has gone unrealized. I've often pondered why that is, and I have a hypothesis. It's more of a connection of existing dots, really.
I call it the Default Position. By default, everything is this universe is garbage. Hear me out on this. The laws of physics have generated a universe in which, by default, everything is basically as bad as it can possibly be. This is evident all around us, from the cosmic scale to the microscopic, from inanimate objects to emotions. Think about it--it's easier to hate than to love. It's easier to lose trust than to gain it. It's easier to lose one's temper than to stay patient. It's easier to destroy than to create. It's easier to not learn a thing than to learn a thing. It's easier to be confused than to understand. It's easier to let oneself go than to exercise. It's easier to do nothing than to do something. We live in a universe where entropy is always increasing. The existence of life is a constant struggle against entropy, and in the end, entropy will always win. It has to. Things exist in the state they do because the universe allows it to be so, and things only have to be just good enough to exist, and no better. Living things need only be just good enough to get their genes into the next generation, and no better. This is how evolution works. Each species evolves to be just good enough to survive and no better. Competition between species ensures that the best and fittest will survive, which would seem to be the opposite of what I'm arguing, but I submit that it's not if we look a little deeper. There is no evolutionary reason for any species to be any better than it needs to be to get its genes into the next generation. The gazelle needs only be just a little faster than the cheetah, and it will survive. If the cheetah then evolves to be faster, than the gazelle will evolve to keep pace, or die. Each species only needs to be just fast enough to catch prey, or outrun predators, and no faster. Species basically stop evolving if they can continue to pass their genes along with no resistance. Therefore, living things are essentially as bad as they can possibly be while continuing to be just good enough to reproduce. There's no reason for anything to evolve beyond that. This is why humans are, by default, rather dumb, and rather weak. There's no evolutionary reason for us to evolve to be significantly smarter or stronger than what is needed to survive, and so we're not. And of course, our species has created a unique phenomenon: de-evolution. Through society and technology, we have ensured that anyone can pass their genes to the next generation, no matter how stupid, weak, disabled, sick, or genetically inferior. We are capable of making future generations worse than ourselves. No other species is capable of this phenomenon.
It is only by enormous effort that anything is made better. Whether it's bettering ourselves physically or mentally, or creating something great, it all requires great energy. When we learn something new, work out at the gym, build something, or compose a great song, we are fighting against the default state of the universe, and rising beyond the intended purposes of our evolution. After all, we are evolved to survive on the plains of the Serengeti--to be able to look at something at a glance and immediately ascertain if we can mate with it, if we can eat it, or if it's going to eat us. We aren't evolved to write literature, compose music, or build large hadron colliders. It is a remarkable achievement that we were able to take these ape brains and make some pretty great stuff with them. It's astounding how far we've come given our biology and ancestry, but it's only by directing incredible effort and energy in opposition to the default position that we have been able to get here. Everything worth doing takes great effort, and the majority of efforts fail. We've all heard of Sturgeon's Law: Most creations are garbage, and it requires many, many failures before we get anything right. We can make things great, but that's not how things are by default. Nothing is good by default, and we have to put in the effort to change that for a brief time during our little blip of an existence.
Unfortunately, humans, by default, are not well equipped to succeed in this project of making a great world for all of us. I would argue that our minds are tuned wrong--we seem naturally inclined to be largely intolerant or fearful of anything that's different, we seem inclined to be irrational and create divisive belief systems like religion, we seem naturally inclined towards tribalism, and we seem inclined to make decisions based on feelings rather than logic and evidence. In point of fact, we actually do many things that are guaranteed to make our lives worse. We must work hard to correct these natural tendencies, which can definitely be done, but requires great effort. We have made a lot of headway, but not nearly as much as we could if this project wasn't met with constant resistance from the universe.
I spend an inordinate amount of time wishing I could live in a universe with unimaginably different laws of physics in which everything is spectacular by default, and it takes more effort to f*ck things up than to fix them. It's almost impossible to imagine this, because we can't even conceive of such a universe, because it probably is, in fact, impossible. I hate to leave things on a sour note, and I try not to in all of my writings. However, I don't see a whole lot of silver lining, here. I don't believe there's some grand answer or solution. The fact is that the universe, and everything in it, is basically junk be default, and if we want a nice world to live in, then we must put in the work and effort to fight against the default position.
There's no question that we've made an enormous amount of social and scientific progress over the centuries, perhaps most of that progress being in the last half century or so. Even though the current political landscape and discourse can make us feel the contrary, things are definitely the best and most evolved that they've ever been in the history of our species. However, as I see it, there remains one major hurdle that desperately needs to be overcome in the near future: clearing up misconceptions about atheism, which is the purpose of this essay.
Whether you are an atheist or not, we need to start having more honest conversations about the topic. We can still have disagreements, of course. People can disagree about the existence of a god(s), but do so in a civil way in which no one is portrayed as a villain. Here's the short of it: atheism is nothing more than a lack of a belief in a god, but an inordinate amount of people, still today, believe that atheism is some sort of immoral doctrine. This insanity has to stop. Let me explain this very plainly. Atheism is not a doctrine nor a dogma, it's not a belief "system", nor a choice. It simply means that one hasn't been convinced that a god exists. That's it. "I've seen the arguments for and the evidence against, I've read the books, and I'm simply not convinced that a god exists." Nothing more. And yet, it seems that there are still a lot of people who think that atheism is some sort of unethical, immoral, evil, dogmatic belief system, some sort of hedonistic chaos doctrine that says, "nothing matters, so let's all just have orgies willy nilly and kill each other." Nothing could be further from the truth. Atheists, by and large, belief that life matters a great deal. In fact, it is specifically because of the finality of death that we believe every moment is precious, but that's a larger tangent that I don't want to get into right now. The point is that atheism isn't a set of rules or some sort of satanic belief system. It just means one isn't convinced. If I handed you a copy of Harry Potter and said, "Now, do you believe that Lord Voldemort is real?", you would obviously say no. Even if the book itself said that every word was literally true, you probably still wouldn't be convinced. Not without evidence. What if I asked you if you believe in fairies? Unicorns? Dragons? You wouldn't be convinced of the existence of any of those without evidence. It's not outright impossible for any of those to exist, but we have no reason to believe they do. We've never seen a shred of evidence. So, you wouldn't be convinced. It's no different with respect to atheists and god(s). We're just not convinced. It's not a choice, and it's not an active rejection of any of the good teachings of god or the bible (of which there aren't many. :/ ) It's simply a position of looking at the bible and going, "Eh, I just don't see any evidence. I'm not convinced."
Before continuing, I'd like to add that atheist are not dogmatic. We don't say that it's impossible for a god to exist, and absolutely nothing can change our minds. No, not at all. Quite the contrary. You show us some evidence, and our minds will be changed accordingly. If a god descends from the clouds and says, "Here I am," they by golly, I'll be a believer. I simply don't believe in things for no reason with no evidence.
Not being convinced that a god exists is clearly an amoral belief--neither moral nor immoral. It has nothing to do with whether you're a good person or not, just as not being convinced that unicorns are real has nothing to do with morals. Arguably, not believing in a god often results in better morals because one must get their morals from themselves and other people, and modern people are far more moral, and far better arbiters of morality than an ancient book. Moreover, most religious people don't get the majority of their morality from their holy book. If they did, they'd be executing gays and stoning their children to death for back-talk. Religious people still get the vast majority of their morality from the other people in their culture, and that morality is a product of centuries of secular progress. For instance, figuring out that gay people are just people, and deserving of the same respect, rights, and compassion as everyone else, was the result of secular ideas and pressure. This realization didn't come from rereading and reinterpreting the bible. We have become more moral and more ethical throughout the ages because we are thinking beings with an innate ability to reason, to tell right from wrong, and improve our morality. Morality doesn't come from a god. It comes from us. But whether or not you believe in a god, it's time we stop thinking that atheism is inherently immoral.
I chose the subtitle for this essay because there have been so many social hurdles that have been cleared, and are now commonplace and widely accepted, but atheism still has so far to go. In the not too distant past, the issue of the day was civil rights, racial equality and integration. Even though racism is still a problem, there is absolutely no comparison to how it was in the 1960's and prior. We've had a black president, interracial relationships are completely commonplace, and there's lots of black people in the entertainment industry, and in media, and has been for many years. Even though it's not perfect, I'd say we're basically past that hurdle. In my generation, the big issue has been homosexuality. I'd say we are by and large past that hurdle as well. We got gay marriage, and there's a quite a lot of gay representation in entertainment. I mean, you've got sitcoms like Will & Grace, you've got gay characters on shows and in movies, you've got entire LGBT networks, and hell, just the other day I say a jewelry commercial--y'know, one of these "a diamond is forever" things--that featured a lesbian couple. Sure, there's still lots of gay hatred and intolerance, but homosexuality is brazenly out there in the media, and most people seem cool with it. Most shows/movies/networks don't seem afraid to have a gay character. Most filmmakers or tv show producers, or game developers for that matter, don't seem to be scared that if they include a gay character, they'll lose their audience. It's not an issue. But atheism hasn't made much headway, here. Atheism is still kept in the shadows, and having an openly atheist character is taboo. The only openly atheist characters on tv are edgy cartoon characters like Brian Griffin and Rick Sanchez. The makers of these shows get away with it, in part because of their target audience, but also, I believe, because people have an easier time stomaching this position from a cartoon character who isn't real. I suspect that if live action sitcom characters were openly atheist, people would have a completely different and objectionable reaction. I suspect they'd become soured, start hating the show and the character, and possibly even conflate the character with the actor, thinking that they are immoral and such. Cartoon characters don't seem to have this problem as they are so much further removed from the real world. Personally, I think it's tragic that the Big Bang Theory guys are not openly atheist. Of all people, they absolutely should be, and yet with some of them, they just don't mention it, and with others, they are "culturally" religious--they identify as a particular religion, but don't seem to really practice it. I have no doubt that the writers felt that openly atheist characters would drive the audience away. This is absolutely shameful. It is time that we have atheists represented in entertainment at the same level as gays. One of the only openly atheist characters in television history was Mike from All in the Family, a show that was far ahead of its time. Atheism needs to be commonplace in the media. The misconceptions about it will probably never stop until people start seeing atheists in the media and realizing that they're just people, not a cult of vampires or something.
We need to start talking honestly about atheism. We need to stop tiptoeing around the word, saying it hushed tones, and being afraid to admit that we're not convinced that a god exists. Regardless of one's beliefs about a god, it needs to be understood that atheism absolutely is not something unnatural, sinister, or immoral. You may have noticed that I always used the phrase "a god", not just, "god", like a name. I do this intentionally to raise awareness that the Abrahamic god is not unique, special, or different from the thousands of other gods that have been created throughout history, thousands of which are still worshipped today. The god of the bible is just one god--one among many. Every believer is an atheist with respect to every other god that's ever been worshipped. We non-believers just take it one god further.
Trump recently attended some type of voter summit where he belted out to a crowd of adoring fans about how he would restore Christian values to a nation that had lost its religious roots. Allowing companies to deny women birth control on the basis of religion was just the beginning. Every day that I wake up, it's some new unspeakable horror. Most days, I wish I didn't wake up.
Yes, this blog entry will be provocative and probably offensive to some, if you haven't figured that out. I can't pull any punches today. The fact is that losing our religious roots is the only way that we have made any progress. Outgrowing our attachment to divisive, irrational, superstitious dogma is how we move forward, improve our world, grow out of the infancy of our species, and become adults. And yet, fans cheered with joy as Trump touted about rolling America back to a more traditional and religious time. He said, (paraphrasing) "My, how the times have changed, but mark my words, they are changing back." The actual quote was something extremely close to that. Trivially different. That's the sentiment he conveyed. Trump's vision is bad enough, but the cheers from his fans is what upsets me the most. It fills me with a horror so dark, black, and unspeakable that I sometimes I feel like my heart is literally going to cave in from despair. Knowing that, most likely, the next ~7 years will spent watching my culture crumble and eat itself makes me wish I was dead.
Yes indeed, our country has drifted too far from its religious roots. We have drifted too far from burning witches and heretics. We have drifted too far into the realms of reason, rationality, sanity, compassion, knowledge, science, truth, fact, tolerance, and equal protection under the law. No sir, we cannot have any of that. We must return to a dark age when god's law was THE law, and if your beliefs differed from those in power, then it's a fiery death for you. We must return to a time when the Earth was flat and the sun revolved around us, as it should. Letting companies discriminate on the basis of religion is a good start, but certainly not enough to meet our goal of returning us to circa 1314. We must outlaw gay marriage, and interracial marriage to boot. We must then teach pseudo-science in school. All public schools must have a creation class, followed by bible studies, prayer, and alchemy. We'll want to destroy most modern medicine, as god never intended for us to play him with our bodies in this way. We must get rid our doctors, surgeons, and therapists and bring in priests to perform exorcisms on children with schizophrenia. We must roll back women's suffrage--after all, what good has a woman ever done in this world? Oh, but that's still not enough, is it? No. We'll need to reinstate slavery as well in our quest to make a world worth living in. Above all, we must roll back our world to a time when gods came down out of the sky and flooded the earth and performed miracles, because that time was far more interesting, romantic, and exciting than the boring world of today when all we can do is make self-driving cars, look at the microwave background radiation of the big bang, and move silly carbon monoxide molecules around to make a stop-motion movie with atoms that can only be seen under an electron microscope.
I apologize profusely for the exaggerated sarcasm. I realize that that last paragraph probably went too far, and was offensive, but my gut-wrenching despair is often too much to bear, and it helps to vent honestly. I'm sorry. Please understand a couple of things: first, I am in favor of reason, rationality, secularism, and equal protection under the law. That last paragraph was sarcasm intended to paint a vision of the most horrific world possible. Secondly, I am not in any way saying that every religious person, or every conservative, or every republican wants the dark world I just described. Of course not. That's crazy. And I'm not in the habit of painting entire groups of people as my enemy. But what terrifies me day and night is that a sizable number of people really do want to roll back time, not to the middle ages perhaps, but to the 1950's, absolutely. Many people desperately want the bible to be a part of our constitution. They want god's law to be federal law. They want homosexuality to be a capital crime. They want segregation. They want pseudo-science taught in schools. They want birth control banned. They want to take away all rights that a woman might have over her reproductive cycle. I must take a quick tangent to say that while the abortion debate is at least a valid debate, with valid opinions to be heard on both sides, the idea of contraception, of preventing unwanted pregnancy to begin with, being immoral, is purely medieval. Believing contraception to be immoral is perhaps the darkest, most backwards and disgusting stupidity that our pathetic species is capable of. Many people want to undo a century of fantastic progress, and I do not doubt for a second that Trump is one of them. I genuinely believe that if Trump were made lord emperor of earth, with absolute power and no checks of balances, he would roll back our civilization to the dark ages.
I desperately wish to be told that I am GREATLY exaggerating, but I fear am I not. I fear that we are on a knife's edge, and with the slightest nudge, the enemies of basic human sanity could win. I fear that forces of superstition, lunacy, and religious fanaticism may be gaining an unstoppable amount of momentum. It doesn't help that people are losing trust in liberalism due to the outrage culture, what with free speech being hindered due to political correctness and such. I fear that the agents of ignorance will never stop trying to eat this world, and if we relax and grow complacent, they might yet win. We need to keep speaking out against dangerous ideas with every fiber of our beings.
I'd like to talk for a few minutes about adult gamers, and the surprising mindset still lingering in a few people today that video games are but a child's toy that a mature adult has no business playing. Considering where I am at the moment, the MLP forums, I'd be willing to make a deal to eat my computer if there's a single person on these forums who harbors this opinion, however, this opinion is still floating around in the world. There are still those who hear about an adult who plays video games, shake their heads, and says, "Ugh. How can a grown man/woman waste their time with children's toys? Grow up."
I recently watched a old video by Boogie2988 about this very subject. I'm sure many of you are familiar with him. Here's the video if you're interested. It's old, but not old enough to be irrelevant by any means. The following story is basically a response to that video, and a story you can tell if you ever meet someone who says games are just for kids.
I am 31. I have been a die hard gamer for my entire life. I started gaming practically before I could walk. About five or so years ago, my mom got into gaming. She would have been....~57 at the time. She had her first taste of video games, as many older folks have, with Wii Sports. She has never been interested in gaming before. She never gave it much thought. It didn't seem to her like something she'd be interested in, or indeed able to do. It was a young person's thing. But she was instantly intrigued by the Wii Sports. (And props to Nintendo, here; they were really ingenious with Wii Sports, and the Wii in general. It attracted so many people outside of the regular demographic. They expanded their market so much. It really was a smart move, and a brilliant business model.) So, my mom asked if she could try it, and I did it with her, and to all of our surprise, she loved it. She asked me to play it with her all the time, and I gladly made time to do so, even though I wasn't all that interested, to be honest. I'd rather play Final Fantasy, or Skyrim, or Halo or something.
After awhile, my mom wanted more, and became curious about what she could do. I took it upon myself to become a gaming mentor to her, and to try to expand her horizons. We bought some simple Wii games to get her started. She loves CSI and Project Runway, so we got the Wii games of those. Little more than animated menus, these games can hardly be called games. They are rudimentary point and click apps that would be best suited to a phone. (Indeed, I have mobile app games that are more robust than those.) She devoured these quickly and was hungry for more. We graduated to some more substantial games, and got her Final Fantasy: Chocobo's Dungeon, Epic Mickey, and Disney Universe. She loved them. I mean, she absolutely loved them. She was just madly in love with Epic Mickey and Chocobo. She played them non-stop. She had a lot of trouble along the way, but I helped her every step of the way. She then had her first experience with a sh*tty game, which every gamer has to square with at some point.. She tried Cursed Mountain on Wii. When she got stuck, and I tried to help, and I can attest to the fact that that game was definitely sh*t. She resold it back to the used game place.
She played a few other simple Wii games after that, but she quickly started running out of options. Her needs were growing a bit specific: she needed a real, robust game with enough challenge to be interesting, but not so hard as to become a roadblock when she runs into a boss she can't handle. After all, she was very new at this. A small fish in a small pond. I tried to think of what would fit the bill. I did some research, watched tons of Wii reviews. Nothing where the game would stop if she can't beat a boss. No God of War games. That wouldn't do. She needed freedom. I had a wild idea, and I decided to pitch it out of the blue one day. After helping her with something on Mickey, I said, "So, mom, would you like to learn how to play Skyrim?" She was surprised, a little hesitant, but then said, "Yeah. Absolutely." And so, we undertook the epic journey. I had already mastered Skyrim inside and out, so I would be her guide and mentor. I gave her semi-formal lessons. I even formulated a bit of a curriculum in my head before-hand. We would sort of alternate between lessons on smithing, enchanting, perk constellations and all that stuff, and hands-on combat training. She did amazingly well. Over the months, I watched her grow from bumbling around like an idiot, getting stuck in a corner and helplessly spinning in a circle while looking at the floor, to playing completely proficiently, crafting dual-enchanted Daedric armor, killing Alduin, getting stealth kills, riding her horse, and using an infinite alteration set to hold a piece of fruit with telekinesis to level grind. Oh, she was no pro-gamer by any means, and certainly could not survive Legendary difficulty, but she was absolutely proficient. She LOVED it. So much. She had the most fun she's had in years. She was blown away by how much she loved it. She did everything. Every quest, every house, every thane task, every misc objective. Everything. She milked Skyrim for every drop it was worth, and she wanted more.
I recently picked out a new game for her. It was a bold choice, and I wasn't sure how it would work out, but my instincts told me she'd love it. Red Dead Redemption. Now, here's the odd thing--I've never played Red Dead. (Yes, yes, I know--crucify me, right here and now.) I own it for PS3, but I've never played it. It's sitting, along with many other great titles (Last of Us, for one) in my to-play stack. The only reason I haven't gotten to it is simply time constraints. I'm just too busy, and I tend to put more of a priority on the multiplayer games that my friends are into on Steam. But I'm a GTA 4 veteran, and I knew Red Dead would be similar, and I knew enough about it that I knew I could trust the game and the developer. So we bought it for her on 360. She knew I had never played it, so she knew she would be sailing into uncharted (yes, that's in my to-play stack also) waters. She wasn't in the small pond anymore. She was in the middle of the f*cking ocean. I gave her the Celestia-type speech: "I'll still be here to help and guide you, but this is your game now, and you must rely on yourself now. Remember everything I've taught you." I am immensely proud of her. It's amazing. So little experience, such a newbie, such a green gamer, and she is handling herself remarkably well. Sure, she dies a lot, and combat is tough at times, but she plays that game. I mean, she plays the hell out of it. She completes missions, kills the bandits, rides horses, plays mini-games, collects money, harvests resources, hunts animals, explores the world. She really does it, and all on her own, and she f*cking LOVES it. She is so excited to play it. She never imagined that she'd enjoy shooting bandits and hunting game in the wild west; it's so far removed from the norm of her life, but she absolutely f*cking LOVES it. Just loves it.
Gaming has become a fantastic new hobby for my mom. Her life was getting a little...shall we say...routine, and gaming has given her so much new fun and excitement. And there's no question that it's sharpening her mind and dexterity as well. And she's even playing Final Fantasy VI from the Wii virtual store on the side! And you know what she loves almost more than gaming? Telling people she's a gamer! She doesn't go around broadcasting it or anything, but when it comes up naturally, she gets such a big kick out telling people, and she just loves their total shock that an older woman plays f*ckin' Skyrim, Final Fantasy, and Red Dead. It just tickles her to death. She is extremely proud of her hobby, and I'm so happy for her.
My mother is 62 years old, and she plays the hell out f*cking RED DEAD REDEMPTION, and loves it. Games are for everyone. That's all I have to say.
*EDIT* Update a few months later--She's now working on the Halos. Finished 1 and loved it. Nearly done with 2. And she got Fallout 3 for later.
*RE-EDIT* Update a year later--She finished the Halos, Fable, and Fallout 3. Next it's Farcry 2 & 3, and then... drumroll.... RED DEAD 2!!!!! Prolly Farcy 5 after that, I imagine.
So, it's a funny thing--I've been a huge Pony fan for years now, and the franchise is extremely important to me, and yet, I find myself dreading most new episodes, as well as the movie. I just...tend to expect the worst these days, and I'm not entirely sure why. The show has proven that it still has the right stuff, but I guess it has been rockier the past couple of seasons, with more ups and downs. A casual observer would think I'm nuts, and ask why the hell I stick around if I dread new episodes. I probably am nuts. It doesn't make much sense, does it? Why continue to be so involved in this if I don't seem to get much enjoyment from it? Well, I still do get an enormous amount of enjoyment from the good episodes. I stick around for the Perfect Pears. That made me cry. I still love these characters and their world so much that I want to stick around, even if I don't enjoy all of it. I also love the community and fan-content aspect. It's a weird thing, and it's probably impossible to explain to someone who doesn't get it. Maybe it only makes sense to an autistic nutcase like me.
I almost decided not to see the movie because I was so horrified by the animation change. I'm not going to re-explain my thoughts on that. If you're interested in hearing the details, check out my Stop & Talk blog entry entitled, "Why I Might Not See the Movie". Obviously, I ultimately decided to see it for one simple reason: I had worked very hard to make a highly accurate Equestria Girls Rainbow Dash cosplay to wear to the movie, and I felt I owed it to myself to see that through and wear it. I did, and I enjoyed that part.
Onto the actual movie. Alright, so....as usual, my opinion is going to be an extremely unpopular one. When I expressed my thoughts about the animation change, it became horrifying clear to me that I would be all alone in my opinions about the movie. Why should this bother me? Well, I don't know. It shouldn't. I have problems. Honestly, though, I can't help but feel very alone and a bit....well....betrayed by my fellow fans. This entirely on me, of course. It's wrong of me to implicate anyone else like that. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and it would be wrong of me to take out my frustration on anyone else for not sharing mine. I still can't help feeling the way I feel, and I'm sorry. I'm also sorry for my harsh opinion, and I'm sorry if it offends or upsets anyone. So, I thought the movie was absolutely horrible. Abysmal. I cannot believe what I just watched. It was unspeakably, shockingly bad. And I feel even more shocked that I seem to be the only one to feel this way.
I knew it was going to be bad, but I never knew it was going to be that bad. I cannot find one good thing to say about the movie, and I consider myself to be a very fair reviewer. I actually consider myself one of the more tame and charitable reviewers of the show. There wasn't a single redeeming factor about the movie. Terrible plot, terrible acting, terrible music, and (yes, I still think so) terrible animation. I felt like the movie was a complete insult, a betrayal to everything Pony. It's like they jettisoned everything that made the show great. They just took all of the magic of the show and blew it out the airlock. I know I have a very biased and unpopular view regarding the animation change (they just don't look like our ponies at all), but disregarding that, everything about the movie was still garbage. The story was completely goofy--just one ridiculous, over-the-top, stupid, themed adventure after another, with no real depth or development. The characters felt like overly silly caricatures of themselves, lacking any and all of the dynamic and realistic depth from the show. It was a non-stop string of cringeworthy jokes and stupid gags with one predictable, idiotic song after another.
I absolutely abhorred the decision to make the movie essentially a standalone feature, excluding and disregarding most of the lore and continuity from the show. I do, however, understand why they did this. I assume they wanted to make something that someone who's not a fan or follower of the show could watch, and still enjoy. This makes sense from a marketing standpoint, and I guess from a critic standpoint as well. I still hated it. They've made a rich and detailed lore, and it felt like they just threw it away. I predicted that Starlight wouldn't even make an appearance, and I was right. Terrible decision. (Perhaps I missed her in a cameo. I saw Trixie.) I know it needed to be mane 6 focused, but there should have been other characters in there, too. Starlight should have had a scene or two, and the CMC should have a line or two. A least a brief, throwaway line. SOMETHING. I was shocked and appalled that they didn't even show Ponyville or Twilight's castle ONCE. No Boutique, no Sweet Apple Acres, no Sugarcube Corner, nothing. I realize they went for world building, but they should have at least had an exposition scene in Ponyville for Celestia's sake. No mention of Rarity's fashion empire, no mention of Ranbow being a Wonderbolt. (Twilight, why were you looking at Rainbow when you said you had ordered clear skies? That's not her job anymore, remember? She's a Wonderbolt, now!) I know the movie was supposed to be fantasy and adventure focused, but I really think there should have been some effort to at least briefly incorporate the professional lives they've all built. I knew that movie was going to basically jettison the developments and continuity of the show, and...well, I'm not at all happy about it.
But worse than all that stuff, the movie just didn't even feel like FIM. It didn't even feel like the same franchise. It was so dopey, and nothing fit in the FIM world. It was just: "let's see how many old Disney movies we can cram in." Seriously, we had Aladdin, Peter Pan, and The Little Mermaid, and, I guess, f*ckin Aristocats or something? Seriously, what the hell was that bipedal, humanoid, smooth talking, like, f*ckin 1920's New York jazz hole cat? What the HELL was that?! He didn't belong in the FIM universe at all. I can't believe they invented all of these new, underdeveloped characters to help stop the villains when they already have an array of fantastic characters with enormous potential to draw from. Instead of alley cat, pirate birds, and sea ponies, why couldn't they have had, oh, I don't know, let's say, Ember lead the dragons to Canterlot, Thorax lead the changelings to Canterlot, Gilda lead the Griffons to Canterlot, maybe even Prince Rutherford lead the yaks to Canterlot, and then they all charge the Storm King? (The dopey, stupid, and completely idiotic Storm King...) Why not give some big screen time to some of the great characters they've developed throughout the show?! Why not further develop these great characters instead of cramming in these weird, Disney-esque idiots? Now, I love Disney, but that doesn't mean you can cram it into FIM and expect it to work.
I could go on and on, but there's no point. I'm sure I've lost all readers by now, anyway. I really love Pony, but I cannot express enough how much I hated this movie. I waited so long, and I can't believe that this is what we got. Even my mom was squirming in the theater seat, thinking, "Oh my god, how long is the piece of crap?!" and she's a much more casual and less critical fan than I am. This wasn't Pony. This was an abomination. Absolute trash.
I apologize again for my unpopular opinion, and my harshness. I understand how frustrating it can feel when someone hates and dumps on something you love. I don't wish to upset anyone. I'm sure most of you will think I'm completely warped and gone right out of my head. I probably shouldn't have written this. I probably should have observed the old rule of "if you don't have anything nice say, don't say anything at all." My only defense is that, for some reason, it makes me feel mildly better to get my opinion out there, probably because I feel betrayed by the writers and filmmakers, and it's therapeutic to vent. I am entitled to express my opinion, after all. I'm sorry if it's bothers anyone.
I guess that about wraps it up. Before I go, I need to do one last thing, and I apologize profusely in advance for this. Please don't take this too seriously, and if you don't agree, please just ignore me and my extremist fringe opinion. I just need to do this. I have to get it out of my system once and for all.
*Catches breath*. *Ahem*. Sorry. Uh...sorry. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. This was my first and last word on the movie. I won't subject anyone to any more of my opinions. I'll just go on from here as if the movie doesn't exist.
Alrighty, folks; I'll see you later on. Stay pony, my friends.
Until next time.
I have been avoiding all movie spoilers with a meticulous level of dedication. As soon as the first teaser was released, I began avoiding most pony content. I stayed away from the forums for the most part, and I avoided watching anything pony related on youtube except for older things. I was determined to be completely surprised. I didn't want to know anything about the movie. Absolutely nothing. I wanted to walk into the theater completely blind and just be totally surprised. But earlier today, I accidentally saw a thumbnail for a trailer. That was to be expected, since I'm not going to completely avoid the internet. (I mean, without youtube, what would I do all day?) Upon seeing the picture, I was immediately and greatly disturbed. I wouldn't have been bothered by it, because you can't tell anything about the plot from a thumbnail, but it was the animation style that upset me. I had no idea that they were changing the appearance of the characters. I mean, I had heard something about a new animation studio being used, but I just figured that it would improve the quality, not alter the actual character models. I needed to know if this was really how they look in the movie, or if the thumbnail was misleading, so I clicked the trailer, left the sound off, paused it, scrubbed through a bit, and just click a few still frames so I could see what they look like without spoiling the plot. Honestly, I am devastated by this new style. I am shocked and horrified that they would actually change them like this. They don't look right. Not at all. These aren't the characters I know and love. I expected the movie to be upgraded and look fancier. In fact, I wanted that, but I didn't want the basic shapes and models to be altered! I just wanted some fancier lighting and depth. Characters shouldn't be altered this way. Take the Simpsons, for instance. Now, completely disregarding the drop of quality of the content, the show never changed the way the characters looked, not even for the movie, and that was the right call. The movie stepped up the game for lighting and made it look fancier, but the characters were still the same. When you watched the movie, you felt like, "Oh, yeah, this is the Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie that I've always known." But the ponies in this movie trailer look all wrong. I expect franchises to evolve, JUST LIKE MLP DID, but not mid-generation like this. You can't (rather, shouldn't) alter characters that we've come to know and love. These just aren't the same ponies anymore. They're fan art interpretations.
Is this cool?
How about this?
Heh, gotcha! It's Ghostie! (For all you old timers on the forums.) But seriously, again, it's awesome. But I wouldn't want the actual show to look like any of these, because these are NOT THE ACTUAL CHARACTERS. These are fan art interpretations. And that's what this movie is. Just a big fan-made youtube video. And don't get me wrong, I love fan-made youtube videos. But it's not the real characters.
I am actually very sick over this. Upset enough, in fact, that I don't know if I even want to go anymore. And today I was planning on working on my skirt to finish my EG Rainbow cosplay that I was planning on wearing to the movie. Now I don't even know if I want to see it. This animation style change feels like a complete betrayal, a travesty of MLP. Now, I'm still sane enough and rational enough to admit that the only reason I feel this way is because I'm a sick, sick person. And I don't mean sick as in twisted. I mean sick as in ill. I'm autistic and clinically depressed. (Heh, there you go, anti-bronies. Have some ammo. A fucked up person who couldn't fit into real life was drawn to ponies. Surprise, surprise, huh?) Now, I'm not telling you this to try to get attention, or to brag in some sick way about how screwed up I am. I'm simply stating the facts. I realize that I'm such a sick, sick person who is so miserable that I've placed an extremely unhealthy level of importance on this franchise. I've used FIM as a crutch, sometimes to the point of being the only thing to keep me alive. I built walls of ponies around myself to try to shield myself from the pain of my own existence. When one has no self-worth and no confidence, it becomes horrifying easy to let fictional franchises become a tether that you attach your life to, even when you actively try to prevent that from happening. If you let yourself become dangerously attached as I have, then it can come crumbling down at the drop of hat. Escapism is a house of cards.
I am pathetic, and this is my own pathetic problem. I'm sure that my opinion is an incredibly unpopular one. I just wanted to express it. I am probably the only person who is bothered by this at all. I just have to deal with this, and I don't know how.
I am young and do not know many things. I do not how to fix political problems, but this I know: we must stop claiming that our political opponents want to destroy our country. Since the election (and probably for my entire life if I had been paying attention), I have read and heard countless times things such as, "liberal progressives will do anything to destroy our country," and "republicans will stop at nothing to destroy our country." It is the same on both sides. The fact is that neither side actually wants to destroy the country. Endlessly I hear claims that Obama actually wanted, desired to destroy America. This was his intention. His mission. I hear the same of Trump. Endlessly. This is pure insanity. Neither of them want to destroy America. Liberals/democrats don't want to destroy America. Conservatives/republicans don't want to destroy America. This insanity needs to end now. Each side has differing views on what's best for the country, but neither side intends on destroying it. The only people who intend on destroying the country are actual terrorists and jihadists, and perhaps a few anarchists and nihilists on the fringes. But I continue to hear endless claims from each side that the other side is actually hell-bent on the destruction of the country by any and all means. It is mind-boggling how ridiculous and unproductive such claims are.
I am very liberal, but I have no loyalty to any political party. I am very anti-Trump, but I don't believe for a second that he actually intends on destroying America. I believe that his way of going about things is wrong, and I believe he's a narcissist and a pathological liar with a tenuous grasp on reality, but not for one second do I think he hates America and wants to destroy it. If we are to solve any problems, we need to talk, and before we can talk, we need to stop this insanity and admit that we all want what is best for the country. We just disagree about what that is.
Trump's inauguration was stomach churning enough already, but in my view, what was far more horrifying was the fact that the presidential inauguration is, in 2017, still chocked full of religious benedictions and prayers. Thomas Jefferson must be spinning in his grave.
There is supposed to be a figurative wall of separation between church and state. As I often point out, it is only by this wall that we are guaranteed freedom of religion in the United States. And yet, this wall has never been more than a weak, crumbling fence. Regardless of anyone's religion or spiritual views, religion must have no place in our government, laws, and public policies. "One nation under god" in the pledge is not a separation of church and state. "In god we trust" on the money is not a separation of church and state. Prayers and benedictions at the presidential inauguration is not a separation of church and state. Requiring legals oaths in government institutions to be taken while placing one's hand on a bible is an embarrassing and archaic tradition that should have died out when our country was founded.
The horrific truth is that, beyond the invention of some pretty nifty gadgets, little has changed since the time of ancient Greece. Compare the following two clips; the first, a scene from a movie depicting ancient Greece, and second, the benediction from Trump's inauguration:
(The first 30 seconds or so of this one will suffice.)
There is little difference between these two scenes. Imagine the change in tone, the change in reaction, the change in the world, if Reverend Graham had substituted the word "Apollo" for "god". Imagine if the reverend stated that Poseidon had blessed Trump's family, administration, and presidency. Think for a second about what that would have done to the good Mr. Graham's reputation, as well as Mr. Trump himself, and most of the people involved with the inauguration. I don't think I need to elaborate or extend this analogy any further. It should be quite clear how such a statement would be received at a presidential inauguration. And yet, what was said is absolutely no different. The names have been changed. That's it. There's no more evidence for the existence of the biblical god than there is for gods of ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, or anywhere else. It's not like at some point along the way, humanity disproved Zeus but not the god of Abraham. This was not a discovery made in the third century. The fact that a moment from the presidential inauguration of 2017 can sound essentially exactly like a scene from Troy should terrify every one of us. It certainly terrifies me. Go watch Troy. Right now. That's basically our world. Give everyone in Troy a smart phone, and that's the world we're living in. There's really no fundamental difference. Anyone who believes that this is a great exaggeration is either delusional, grossly ignorant, or willfully blind.