Thursday, June 29, 2017

Folks, This Has to STOP

I am truly disgusted at the latest video from the NRA.  With the publication of this kind of violent rhetoric, this organization has officially shown that they are no longer advocates for gun owners, but for gun manufacturers.  Watch this, if you can stomach it:




"They... They... They..."  Did you notice that?  "Their schools...  Their movie stars...  Their ex-president."

That type of language is pure propaganda designed to enflame an, "Us against them!" mentality.  And the NRA knows it.  It's no longer acceptable to just have a disagreement over how our country should be governed.  This organization now casts liberals as an enemy that needs to be fought with a, "clenched fist of truth."

Truth?  There is no truth in a video that is filled with dimwitted hyperbole without an ounce of real evidence.  And it doesn't take a genius to know that you mean a gun, you NRA assholes.

Casting fellow countrymen as enemies is dangerous, folks.  And it's sick to boot.  We are ALL Americans.  Not just the ones that have an (R) after their name; not just the ones that are Christians; not just the ones that are white; and not just the ones that are happy about the last election.  As if a peaceful march is a crime.  As if a peaceful protest is illegal.  As if calling out racism, or sexism, or xenophobia is wrong.  With this anti-democracy abomination of a video, this organization goes against everything that our great experiment represents.  Besides, the NRA categorically does NOT get to define who we are.

Oh I'm sure their lawyers will argue that they never advocated directly for violence.  And I'm also quite sure there are already people justifying this crap by suggesting that this is a message to the "far-left", not all liberals.  Whatever that means.  And as sad as I am to have to admit to this, I've even heard this kind of anti-liberal/liberals are the enemy stance from my own family.

I beg anyone who has a membership to this organization to cancel it, NOW.  Cancel it before their greed and corruption send our beloved country spiraling into another civil war.

Who knows?  That's likely what they want.

More gun sales, you know.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Concept Perversion

There has been something on my mind over the past few days which has led me to examine a couple of concepts that have been perverted by a vast majority of people: knowledge and courage.  I'll explore both of these in turn, with a bit of my aim (or slant?) directed toward interactions between individuals on social media.


Knowledge

I am reasonably comfortable assuming that a vast majority of people know someone, or are related to someone, who in casual conversation carelessly takes for granted that others may know as much as, or even more than, they do on a particular subject.  In particular, when it comes to complicated topics that affect a great number of people (say, politics or religion), these individuals tend to have intellectual blinders on that mask their own arrogant assumptions.  I know a few of these types, and over the years have found ways to - for the most part - deal with them without instigating a pointless argument.

(Now I'll take a quick moment here and mention that I am sure many of my friends and family would politely disagree with that last sentence, and respectfully remind me that oftentimes I have a penchant for voicing my opinion.  Indeed, there are times where I just can't help myself.  So I'll let you all have that one.)

With social media, on the other hand, many people today have a persistent habitual bias that most family and friends (or "connections") fit neatly into the same social bubble as they do.  They just assume that if they're conservative, then their family members must also be conservative.  If they're Christian, then their family members must also be Christian.  Rinse and repeat.

But when a friend or family member does burst their bubble of social bias, it can be a bit of a shock to people.  Sometimes it can even be a bit precarious for the person doing the disappointing, as controversial topics can cause otherwise easygoing people to become disturbingly hostile and shockingly cruel.  I have found that this is applicable for both older friends/family members and younger friends/family members.  Where older friends have difficulty recognizing the younger generations as fully capable and quite knowledgeable adults, younger friends audaciously promote their opinion without researching its validity.

(At different times in my life, I'll freely admit that I've been guilty of both.)

And it is in these situations where the corruption of knowledge creeps into the discussion.  It's become so commonplace with social media that people rarely even recognize it anymore.  Before my own exit from Facebook, I was constantly surprised at the myriad of posts I saw that had so little truth to them, yet so many people redistributed the lies without an ounce of skepticism.  As a matter of fact, it was one of the reasons I left.  People would proudly display their own "knowledge" that a particular political meme or religious quip or generic "the universe loves you" reflection must be true because the reader of said meme/quip/reflection believed it to be thus.  I hate to pick on Christians again, but seriously, just scroll a bit through your feed and without fail someone will have shared something about the Bible that is blatantly false.  Yet behind all the tens (or hundreds!) of likes, not a single person possessed the knowledge to recognize, nor point out, the lie.

I'll give you another example: the recent shooting at the GOP baseball practice.  Facebook conservatives just knew all those liberals were violent and crazy.  Yet none of them had the mindfulness to recall Jared Lee Loughner, or Edgar Madison Welch, or even Timothy McVeigh.

Which brings me to another reason I left - it was the spiteful way in which people responded when confronted with the inaccuracy of a shared post.  This kind of combativeness doesn't even necessarily come from the person sharing the post; I found on quite a few occasions that other family members or friends would come roaring to their rescue with even more flagrant falsehoods.  Not to mention that generally speaking, it's a no-win situation for the person pointing out the flaw in their bubble of bias.  Point it out to a younger family member and you're, "... picking on them".  Point it out to an older family member and you're, "... not being respectful."

Is this the beginnings of illiteracy?  No, not necessarily.  I do believe, however, that it's the beginnings of single-mindedness, which in turn leads to prejudice.

Knowledge is tricky, mind you, because there will always be someone that undoubtedly knows more on any given subject.  But it is the wisdom of skepticism that one can rely on to recognize when a complicated subject or an inconclusive topic sounds a little too good to be true, or fits a little too easily into your own bubble of bias.


Courage


If you ask several different people what courage means to them, you'll likely get anything from, "... standing up for what you believe in," to, "... defending our country."  And both of these are most assuredly true.

However, when it comes to what people perceive as courageous on social media, the concept has been recklessly twisted into a characteristic that no longer has respectable merit.

As a hypothetical example, let's say that you're an ardent follower of Leviticus 11 and believe that eating lobster is unclean, and therefore anyone that eats lobster is unclean before the Lord.  But to your dismay, it has become social acceptable to eat lobster as more and more people are willing to admit to everyone else that they forego Levitical law in order to be honest with themselves that they enjoy a well-prepared lobster.  The government even goes so far as to say that it is discriminatory and therefore illegal to alienate anyone who eats lobster.  Other friends you know begin acquiescing to those filthy lobster-eaters simply because, they say, it's none of anyone's business if another person eats lobster.  Their argument even goes so far as to ask, "Who cares what other people eat for dinner?"  Well the Lord does, that's who!

So you, a disciplined follower of Levitical law, unfriend or ignore as many of those disgusting, abominable lobster-eaters as possible.  "They're all sinners," you think.  "No matter what secular law says."  You're really flexing your religious muscle now...

So, you muster the "courage" to compose a brilliant and religiously conscientious post that anyone who eats lobster, and anyone who defends those who eat lobster, are behind the moral decay of our once God-fearing society.  And you know that deep down in your, "heart" that you're not trying to hurt, or be rude to all those indecent sinners.  Goodness, no!  You're just reminding them that what they are doing is in direct opposition to the law of the Bible.  Why, you even go so far as to say that in your post!

If you are reading this and have ever posted something similar, believe me when I say to you that you're not being courageous in the slightest.  You're just being an asshole.  An asshole that's pandering to other prejudiced assholes.  And you get off on the likes/shares from the other assholes that you already know agree with you.

Why is it not courageous to take a stand like that?  Because it doesn't take an ounce of courage to stand up in a room full of like-minded people sympathetic to your own bigotry and rattle off a parochial opinion piece where you know it is extremely unlikely that anybody will disagree.  That's why.

Real courage, I would argue, is whether you bother to take the time to listen to a person who might actually disagree with you, or acknowledging verifiable evidence refuting your current assumptions of what is factually accurate.  Real courage is whether you question your peers, your elders, and even your own deeply held beliefs, not grandstanding among amicable supporters.

                   *                    *                    *                    *                    *

Now, I encourage all three people who actually read this to chime in and join the discussion.  What do you think?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Selling the Supernatural

Super-Duper

Getting into another person's automobile has always been a bit of an entertaining game for me.  I find that a person's car or truck is a fascinating window into that person's habits and quirks, especially if they spend a lot of time in their car on a daily basis.  And this is totally an anecdotal guess on my part, but most of the people I've ridden with likely don't even realize how much of themselves that they're exposing to their riders.  I'm betting it's because the passengers have a lot of time on their hands to be nosey, while the driver is predominately occupied with, you know, driving.

Okay, now that you have some background on my own, "inquisitive quirks," the reason I started a blog post in such a strange way is to segue into the fact that my family and I spent a lot of time in cabs and other shuttle services while we were on our most recent vacation.  (We also used the mass transit system as well, but that wasn't nearly as entertaining this time around.)  In doing so, we regularly found ourselves with plenty of interesting things to talk about after the ride.

Before I go on, I will say that some drivers were respectful, quiet, and the interior of their automobiles were extraordinarily clean.  And obviously they all got us to our destinations safely.  Well done, gents.

But this post is for you few drivers that seemed to awkwardly forget what you were listening to on the radio.  Because that's where it got really... REALLY interesting.

I heard heated discussions varying from the legality of political asylum, to the legitimacy of disclosing menstrual cycles to employers.  With the latter, I can only imagine how uncomfortable my teenage son must have felt listening to that contentious debate.  Anyway, the most laughable situation, by far, was our exposure to an extremely lively monologue, by a religious radio personality I've never even heard of, detailing how he had various god-given methods to provide the millennial generation with actual supernatural powers.

You read me right.  This guy was trying to sell super powers to young people.  Real, honest to Abe, X-Men style super powers.  He was using the god of the Bible to promote it.  And it wasn't a joke.

It wasn't a joke because we were forced to listen to this religious radio personality promote his superhuman regimen for at least 20 agonizingly hilarious minutes where, out of respect for the driver, we couldn't laugh our asses off.

You may snicker and dismiss this guy on the radio as a nut, but what he was selling is really just a modern twist on Christian beliefs and Biblical presumptions.  Before you think I'm as nuts as the, "Weapon X Program" promoting pastor on the radio, hear me out on this...  There really is no difference between that type of crazy and any other pastor who claims that the stories in the Bible are real.  For example, in the Bible a guy caused multiple plagues on a country, one poor woman was turned to a pillar of salt, a snake and a donkey spoke to people, one guy had colossal strength, one guy even walked on water and healed a blind dude with mud and spit...

See what I mean?

What I'm getting at is that while it's easy to ridicule a radio personality for trying to convince young people that they can possess supernatural powers, it's equally easy for most religious people to sit quietly feckless in church and accept the ridiculous stories being presented to them simply because those particular stories are wrapped in the protective presumptions of the authenticity of the Bible.  Why is that?  Why didn't the cab driver scoff at this nonsense and change the channel?  And for that matter, why is it easy for me to predict that most religious people reading this would think that radio personality is as nuts as I do, yet be perfectly comfortable believing any of the supernatural passages I listed above?

If god is your rationale for belief in the supernatural, then you totally missed the point.  If faith is your excuse, then I would argue that you're just being lazy.

Okay, I'll admit that it's really not fair for me to pick on this particular cab driver on this.  He stood out to me simply because riding in his cab/shuttle was definitely the most memorable.  And yes, I realize that he's not the only one.  I see this and hear this type of thing on a daily basis, automobile or no.  And some people reading this may also feel that it's not fair for me to pick on people that might believe the stories in the Bible.  But if you believe those supernatural stories in the Bible, why don't you immediately believe that this radio pastor can indeed give millennials super powers?

Answered Prayers

Most religious people I know are very skeptical of supernatural claims by people they don't know personally.  They get it that people lie - frequently - and thus they are generally not willing to accept an outrageous claim without some form of actual evidence.  However, what they generally have the most difficulty with is being equally skeptical of people that they know who claim that their prayers were answered by god herself.  All that is necessary for most religious people to believe a claim is to wrap it around a smidgen of, "I prayed about it..." or a pinch of, "I asked God..." and religious folks practically knock each other over just to fawn over his or her good fortune.  I mean, it basically gets believers into the religious equivalent of a piranha-style feeding frenzy with all the exclamations of, "Praise Jesus!" or, "Amen!" or, "Thank the Lord!"

Be that as it may, I've found that these answered prayers are never that extreme or over-the-top.  I'm assuming this is probably due some unspoken restriction where believers have to keep claims of answered prayers just under the threshold of other people's bullshit alarm.  Sure, there are those that think Jesus saved their house from a tornado when other people were killed by it, or that their god was good enough to leave a cross at the World Trade Center after allowing the death of over 3,000 people. But all in all most religious folks think even THAT kind of crap is nuts.

It's the people that believe their prayers are answered over the silliest of things that I honestly cannot tolerate.  Like finding a $20 dollar bill in their jacket pocket after praying to god for more money.  Or praising Jesus for putting that pair of jeans on sale so he or she could finally afford them.  Or worse yet, thanking god for curing your cancer after going through surgeries and/or various other medical treatments.  That kind of nonsense makes my blood boil.

Yet I rarely hear about instances where god simply couldn't be bothered to answer any prayers.  (Don't get me started on amputees or people who die from cancer even after aggressive treatment.)  And if I do hear anyone whining about an unanswered prayer, I can bet money that person will have the absolute perfect excuse for god.  So perfect in fact, that the excuses themselves appear designed to relieve god of any burden whatsoever.

God seems to have the perfect gig.

What you're witnessing here is the case where people ignore the failures and concentrate on the successes.  Gamblers do it, superstitious people do it, and sadly, very sick people do it.  In science terminology, we refer to this as confirmation bias, and it's every bit as dangerous as the people peddling the supernatural.  By ignoring the times that something fails, people are tilting the scale in favor of a lie.

It is this type of believing behavior that creates and maintains the idea that somehow, somewhere, there is something larger than what the universe allows.  It is this believing behavior that rationalizes a supernatural being taking time out of her busy schedule to spot you a $20.  Belief based solely on the requirement that all you need is a little faith.  Faith that god answered your prayer because you believe and are somehow special.  Faith that god intervened in the natural law of the universe in order to make sure you have a new pair of jeans.  Faith that against what you know is impossible, a supernatural being is looking out for you and yours.

Of course, if you've ever taken the time to wonder why god answered your prayer but couldn't be bothered to protect a child from being raped or couldn't take the time to keep people from starving, then you're on the right track.

In any event, that kind of supernatural crap is fine when writing fiction, and works really great when creating comic books.  But in the hands of people who know how to exploit others, it's essentially a ticking time bomb.