Did I just pull an Us vs. Them?

Max, 2007/01/31 

posted today at DailyKos

Hypocrisy sucks, and one must be ever vigilant against this scourge. As much as I believe that there is no single consciousness known as Max Wyvern but rather he is comprised of a swarming assemblage of consciousnesses and therefor inconsistency of message is inevitable, I have a wish for certain core principles to remain steady enough that I'm not a complete blithering schizophrenic shredding any and all personal credibility. The other night I lay awake pondering my momentary minor fame of an unprecedented 217 comments from a single diary, my admission of a new understanding that I don't believe in the big guy in the sky, and it occurred to be that certain aspects of that essay may have run counter to an earlier, much less famous diary which decried the whole idea of fighting against those whom we disagree with in favor of fighting for that which we believe; the folly of Us. vs. them. The splendid proclamation that I am an atheist devolved predictably into the enemy camps of rationalists vs. spiritualists. Us against Them in all its glory.

To say this was not my intention is only half true. One of my motivations, as expressed in the diary was the memory of a diary here a few weeks ago entitled "Atheists, Get out of my face." I recall thinking that the title alone called for vigorous response by those of us who feel entitled to our lack of belief in the supernatural. I was also, however, genuinely hopeful of not antagonizing certain people whom I deeply respect and who do feel that their spiritual beliefs are very important to them. One such friend I've known since high school. He's a brilliant engineer, a fine musician, a reader of deep works on history and thought and a lover of futuristic sci-fi, and he believes in God. In discussions we've had at my blog New Worlds, I've learned that my often casual pronouncements of the way I feel on this subject have unintentionally wounded him to an unexpected degree. As much as I've wanted to have the blogosphere draw us back together after years of fate separating us physically and culturally, the opposite seems to happen more often than desired. We get on opposite sides of the Us vs. Them divide.

This is one of the main reasons I strove to not offend the religious in that essay. I think there are other good reasons however. None of us are born with particular spiritual beliefs, though we may have devout parents and communities in which we are immersed. An argument can be made that we are born atheists until convinced otherwise. Richard Dawkins argues that it goes further than this. No child is a Christian child or a Jewish child or a Moslem child. We can't be said to really have a religion until our brains have matured enough to decide these matters for ourselves. This matches well with my own experience where I threw off the whole Christianity pose at about age fifteen in favor of atheism/agnosticism. Many if not most of us, though, remain spiritual to some degree in the model of our upbringing. My friend calls this "providing a religious foundation" for his child. It could be said that it is potentially a cage that it is building, but in his view it is on the balance a good thing and the greatest gift a parent can provide, if not a solemn duty.

It is because of this foundation/cage/gift/trap whatever it may be, that I don't think it's appropriate to consider the spiritual majority to be deluded fools to be mocked and ridiculed and placed in an enemy camp. Like the political argument I made against the Us vs. Them view, I see the best way to engage these people in fruitful discussion is to argue for what we consider right and just rather than to attempt to defeat Them. We're all in favor of truth, it's just that the model of their base view of reality is that some aspects of truth are already settled, where for we rationalists this is not the case with regard to the issue of a cosmic entity who rules us. That said, we must stand up for ourselves, and when we feel that our rights to hold whatever views we wish in these matters are threatened by discrimination against the common rights of citizenship we must respond and respond forcefully, not yielding our rights to any commonly accepted taboo. 

I am a Brianist.

byronius, 2007/01/30 

Really.  I've always found Monty Python to be the most coherent Moral Compass and Philosophical Commentary. 

From Meaning Of Life:

    …And spotteth twice they the camels before the third hour, and so, the Midianites went forth to Ram Gilead in Kadesh Bilgemath, by Shor Ethra Regalion, to the house of Gash-Bil-Bethuel-Bazda, he who brought the butter dish to Balshazar and the tent peg to the house of Rashomon, and there slew they the goats, yea, and placed they the bits in little pots. Here endeth the lesson.
    Let us praise God. O Lord,…
    O Lord,…
    …ooh, You are so big,…
    …ooh, You are so big,…
    …so absolutely huge.
    …so absolutely huge.
    Gosh, we're all really impressed down here, I can tell You.
    Gosh, we're all really impressed down here, I can tell You.
    Forgive us, O Lord, for this, our dreadful toadying, and…
    And barefaced flattery.
    But You are so strong and, well, just so super.
    Now, two boys have been found rubbing linseed oil into the school cormorant. Now, some of you may feel that the cormorant does not play an important part in the life of the school, but I would remind you that it was presented to us by the Corporation of the town of Sudbury to commemorate Empire Day, when we try to remember the names of all those from the Sudbury area who so gallantly gave their lives to keep China British. So, from now on, the cormorant is strictly out of bounds! Oh, and Jenkins, apparently your mother died this morning. Chaplain.
    [organ music]
    O Lord, please don't burn us.
    Don't grill or toast Your flock.
    Don't put us on the barbecue
    Or simmer us in stock.
    Don't braise or bake or boil us
    Or stir-fry us in a wok.
    Oh, please don't lightly poach us
    Or baste us with hot fat.
    Don't fricassee or roast us
    Or boil us in a vat,
    And please don't stick Thy servants, Lord,
    In a Rotissomat.

I am an atheist.

Max, 2007/01/29 

Now, that wasn't very hard to say, was it?

Yes, it was very hard. So hard that I don't think I've ever made such a simple and clear statement of my non-belief since my teens, and even then I'm not sure I ever told anyone. It is a statement of simple courage, for it comes with significant risk. Atheists are looked down upon to such an extent in our culture that it's very close to a real taboo. Despite that, I don't think I'm all that rare.

The first thing I want to make clear is that this statement, this profound admission, has absolutely nothing to do with anyone else's beliefs and should not be seen as an attack or a statement of intolerance. If I believe anything, I believe people need to figure out their beliefs for themselves and that it is a terrible crime to push anyone to accept a belief they don't feel or to tear away a belief that gives them something of perceived value. 

I have chosen to "come out," but I have not chosen to be what I am. To me, atheism does not mean to believe God does not exist, but to not believe God exists. This is fundamentally different. It is completely lacking in dogma because it is not a belief. It's simply the lack of a belief in God. When I was young I was trained to believe in God and I thought I did. I recall praying for miraculous events when I needed them and to consider the life of Christ and his disciples to be filled with magic and miracles. My beliefs were challenged as I started reading science and science-fiction. A passion for astronomy and a growing knowledge of the workings of the cosmos gave rise to increasing skepticism until at the age of about fifteen I had had enough and, in the nonchalance of youth, I proclaimed myself an atheist- at least to myself. I kept this as my credo for another several years until I got tripped up by the semantic confusion I alluded to earlier. I thought, who am I to be so absolutely sure God does not exist? For all I know he or she or it is real- however much I may doubt it. I thought that must mean I am an agnostic, one who seeks truth without pre-suppositions. A true scientist in this matter must jettison beliefs such as that God does not exist. Perhaps I did have this belief and maybe I still do, as much as I might want to be 100% objective. But, at least since that 15 yr-old conversion, I have always been lacking in any real belief in the existence of God. For a long time I longed for miracles and felt that this was part of my quest for the truth. Most likely I was just out to get some kicks.

There are a couple of things that have driven me to make this admission. One, certain conversations on New Worlds over the past year have led me to understand how I really feel. Sometimes when your fingers are flying in the middle of a hot and heavy thread you surprise yourself with what appears on the screen before your eyes. Did I say that? Wow- that's exactly how I feel! And it makes a lot of frippin' sense! 

Second, I've been affected by the simple, unspoiled reflections on the universe emanating from my ten yr-old son. Unlike me, he hasn't been trained to believe in supernatural forces (excluding the standard litany of childhood secular magic critters). The reading with him of a child's book on philosophy, Sophie's World, resulted in conversations that opened my eyes to his natural view of the world that simply had no need for a God. I've introduced him well to geography and history and he knows abut the tendency of peoples in all cultures through time to develop superstitious beliefs in cosmic entities. I've tried to take the contrary view and have felt like a courtroom attorney with an open and shut case… against my client. 

Third, recent conversations on DailyKos , and some of the writings of evolutionary biologist and avowed atheist Richard Dawkins, have convinced me that atheists are a persecuted minority- especially in the United States which is supposed to have religious freedom as a fundamental tenet of our constitution. I am convinced that the number of athiests in this country is far greater than generally accepted, though very few have the courage to state it openly. When out of 535 members of congress, presumably a well educated group of largely rational thinking humans (though we know there are many exceptions) every single one proclaims a belief in a God or gods of some persuasion, you know it's taboo to speak the truth in this matter. I believe this taboo is unwarranted and quite possibly dangerous. Those of us who honestly feel no real belief in the existence of God should say so plainly and without fear. This is how cultural enlightenment begins.

Flooding As Fear-Therapy. Redux.


Sigh.  All right, Max.

Urfle-urfle.  (Wombatia, official language of wombakinnons everywhere)

Now, there's a frightening fellow.

Me, I'm afraid of Republicans. 


mountain lion lost his lunch

raison detre, 2007/01/27 

SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) — Wildlife officials on Thursday credited a woman with saving her husband's life by clubbing a mountain lion that attacked him while the couple hiked in a California state park.

Jim and Nell Hamm, who will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next month, were hiking Wednesday in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, 60 miles south of the Oregon state line, when the lion pounced.

on thin ice

raison detre,  

An ice skater's Friday-morning outing on a frozen Donner Lake turned tragic when he broke through the ice and apparently drowned. 

Ski resorts hop onto the trail of environmentalism

raison detre,  

interactive graphic

the latest public relations gimic for east coast ski resorts… 

Okemo, for example, has already, just about halfway through its season, used more than 320 million gallons of water, enough to cover each of its 550 acres of trails with over three feet of snow. Okemo is on pace to use well over its usual annual 500 million gallons, said Barry Tucker, vice president of mountain operations.
When snowmaking conditions are perfect — temperatures in the teens, with optimal humidity — Okemo's snowmaking system can drain the equivalent of a tractor-trailer tanker of water every 49 seconds. It also requires industrial diesel engines to generate the compressed air that blasts water into tiny droplets and helps them freeze into snowflakes.

My 8 minutes 50 seconds.


Randi Rhodes 1/26/07

marla olmstead

raison detre,  

i thought her 15 minutes were over.  60 minutes II did a show on her when she was 4 or 3.  and they didn't last. seems like marla has, since there's a movie about her at sundance.  

op ed from the Press and Sun (Marla's hometown paper)
 From the NY Times Article: At Sundance, Art and Journalistic Ethics on Trial
But underlying the exchange about aesthetics was one about process, a continuation of a discussion that dominates “My Kid Could Paint That,” a documentary directed by Mr. Bar-Lev that had its premiere at the festival to immediate acclaim and was bought by Sony Pictures Classics for $2 million.

The painter, Marla Olmstead, was 4 years old when her work, with its vivid swirls of colors and dynamic brush strokes, began selling for thousands of dollars. She became a news media cat toy, with writers and camera crews parachuting into Binghamton, N.Y., from all over to cover the prodigy, a term her parents, Mark and Laura Olmstead, have never used. As often happens, the coverage crested, then curdled, and it was alleged by Charlie Rose on “60 Minutes” that her father, a night shift manager at a Frito-Lay plant and an amateur painter, was helping her with the work.

Us Versus Them Cubed.


I laughed a lot.  The Freepers March on D.C.

Now, that's just mean.

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