Monday, March 28, 2011

Where to begin?

I suppose an explanation is in order.

Writing isn't something that comes entirely naturally to me.  But if there's anything that does come naturally to me, it's having an opinion.  About nearly anything, really.  While it is certainly true that conversing and debating are two very good means of communicating thoughts and opinions, even the most ridiculously talkative person on earth (my friends and relatives sometimes accuse me of being that person) knows how inexact and imprecise speech can be in the context of an off-the-cuff discussion.  I would estimate that I spend more time in a conversation trying to explain nuances, correct misunderstandings, and generally trying to clear up things already stated than saying new things.  Writing, on the other hand, permits a greater degree of exactitude.  Not to mention the freedom to be anonymous.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not much of a fan of anonymous internet opinion-peddling.  Ordinarily, such anonymity is used as an excuse to make offensive statements for the sake of causing offense.  I like to think of that sort of trolling as the debating equivalent of parking your car in the middle of a busy interstate, and then laughing hysterically at the ensuing pileup.  Plato's Ring of Gyges is exactly the right comparison: People tend to do bad things when they don't have to take responsibility for them.  So I hope it will be understood that I'm not here to be another internet shock-blogger just looking to, frankly, piss people off for page-views.

I do have my reasons for wanting to shield my identity.  Although I do not aim to cause offense for offense's sake, neither do I want to feel inhibited or compelled to censor myself for fear of causing offense.  Two major topics I plan to write about at length are religion and politics.  I don't think there exist in the universe any other topics so readily equipped to cause offense than those.  Need I say more?

Another reason I want to keep undercover is that I'm quite fond of cursing, and that's another one of those things that is sort of a no-no in polite society.  However, there are few ways of conveying emphasis so effectively as cursing.  Calling a ridiculous statement "bullshit" gets the point across a lot quicker and stronger than saying, "That's completely ridiculous."  And so on.  But I will endeavor while writing not to swear gratuitously.

So that's pretty much why I'm here.  I have need of place to opine without the constraints of speech or putting my name to it, ergo I need a blog.

Now that that's settled, I should explain my background.  I have an undergraduate degree from a small school in the Midwest, and an advanced degree from a not-quite-as-small school in the Midwest.  I'm a native Wisconsinite, and my wife is a transplant from Illinois.  We live in an apartment in Northeast Wisconsin with a very mercurial black cat.  We'll get to my interests and hobbies some other time (they are numerous).  But I do want to give a quick-ish explanation of where I stand on religion, philosophy, and politics, because those are my primary areas of interest.

Religion is simple enough: I don't have one.  Contrary to the assertions of some theists, atheism is not a religion or an ideology.  I dislike the fact that it's an "-ism" at all.  Being an atheist means only that I do not believe in the existence any deity whatsoever.  Odin, Zeus, Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, Allah, Jehovah/YHWH, Shiva, etc.  As Richard Dawkins aptly put it, "We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in.  Some of us just go one god further."  It wasn't a simple matter for me to get "one god further."  That's not to say I became a nonbeliever because of some horrible tragedy in my life that destroyed my faith.  Fewer tropes annoy me more than the line used by some truly ignorant theologians and clergymen that all nonbelievers are really nascent believers who have lost faith because of personal anguish or ill-treatment at the hands of believers.

I was raised a believer, and even got through years of studying philosophy thinking of myself as a deist.  When even my belief in a non-intervening god began to waver, I briefly thought of myself as one of those people who wishes there was a god, but cannot see any evidence for it.  But that phase soon passed, and I realized that I had never actually seen any evidence for a belief in any god.  To shamelessly steal from Christopher Hitchens, "Blaise Pascal dedicates his Pensees to 'the one who is so made as that he cannot believe.'  That's me."  Moreover, I find Mr. Hitchens quite accurate when he describes the proposed kingdom of the Christian God as being rather like living in North Korea.  To quote at length:

"[Religious belief] is a totalitarian belief. It is the wish to be a slave. It is the desire that there be an unalterable, unchallengeable, tyrannical authority who can convict you of thought-crime while you are asleep, who can subject you - who must, indeed, subject you - to total surveillance around the clock every waking and sleeping minute of your life - I say, of your life - before you're born and, even worse and where the real fun begins, after you're dead. A celestial North Korea. Who wants this to be true? Who but a slave desires such a ghastly fate? I've been to North Korea. . . .  It is the most revolting and utter and absolute and heartless tyranny the human species has ever evolved. But at least you can fucking die and leave North Korea!"

In case you haven't noticed, I'm quite fond of Hitchens, but we'll get to that some other time.  Suffice to say, I agree with his assertion that religion ultimately wants a dictatorship.  The way I sum up my issues is something like this: The religions have these books.  And for centuries they told everyone that those books were literally true in every way.  Some people still believe this, but they are usually regarded as crackpots and idiots.  Now, however, science and learning have advanced, and we have hard evidence that pretty conclusively tells us that the universe wasn't created in six days, and on and on, so we can say with a fair amount of certainty that these books are not literally true.  But now the religions tell us, "Oh those books are metaphorical!"  And when we quote revolting passages from those books, like exhortations to genocide and execution for all manner of offenses in the Old Testament, we are told by the clergy that we must take such passages in context, despite the fact that they still maintain that these books were "divinely inspired."  I'm sorry, but that is obvious bullshit.  How can an omniscient, infallible deity inspire something that is completely immoral on its face and yet claim it to be moral if only we take it in the proper context?  And the only reason the religions will even go so far as to concede (for the most part) that the books aren't literally true, is because they do not possess (as they once did, and still do in some places) the authority to put me to death if I dare to say that these books are false.

I think that summation will do for now.

With respect to politics, my journey was a bit more straightforward.  Fiscally, I'm sort of an Eisenhower conservative.  Balancing the budget is good, even if raising taxes is required.  Common sense, please.  And Eisenhower is underrated as a president.  Foreign policy-wise, I've studied a lot, and I have mixed views.  Hawkish sometimes, dovish sometimes, very often skeptical of both perspectives.  Not at all in favor of continuing occupations in two Middle Eastern countries which have accomplished virtually nothing other than to hasten the radicalization of the local population and make it ridiculously easy for the rest of the world to hang upon the United States (a country founded on anticolonial sentiment) the labels of imperialism and colonialism.

Socially, I'm very much a liberal.  Mostly that can be blamed on my horror at today's "social conservatism" which looks increasingly like bigotry and intolerance based upon religious grounds.  Consider the arguments against gay marriage.  Never is this argument fundamentally based in anything other than religion.  "Protecting the institution of marriage" is perhaps one of the most idiotic phrases ever conceived.  I'm happily married, and I honestly cannot see what detriment my marriage suffered when one of my gay friends tied the knot, but nevertheless the moralizers tell me that his happiness is a threat to my marriage.  What nonsense.  I'll concede, my wife and I were married in a religious ceremony, despite the fact that even then my beliefs (I'll not speak for her, as she's her own person) were tepid at best.  It made the families happy, and I don't regret it for a moment.  But I have always maintained (and will continue to do so with my dying breath) that I do not need a diety to ensure that I remain faithful and steadfast to my wife by threatening me with punishments if I do not do so (not that that's ever been much of a hindrance to the infidelity of religious figures - looking at you, Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard).  My wife is the most important person in my life, and religion has not the slightest thing to do with it.  I also don't understand why I should be offended if my friend is able to receive spousal benefits from his husband's insurance.  Perhaps someone could explain that to me.

Running down the gamut of issues, I'm pro-choice, but I'm also in favor of educating about other options, and I would love if the actual number of abortions in the country dropped to zero.  Like many other matters, I don't think you can legislate something out of existence.  Criminalizing abortion simply ensures that women seek out unsafe alternatives, and it implies that the government has a degree of control over a woman's body the moment she becomes pregnant.  That kind of logic can lead to unhappy places in a hurry.  I feel exactly the same way about, say, sex education.  Kids are going to have sex one way or another, so better to educate them to have sex safely and responsibly than to prate on about abstinence and just assume they'll listen.  With respect to guns, I'm not opposed to ownership, but the words "regulated" and "militia" appear in the first part of the Second Amendment, so I've no problem with regulations and restrictions either.  I do enjoy target-shooting occasionally, but I don't own any firearms myself.  I'm in favor of the death penalty, but only in the most extreme circumstances with absolutely irrefutable proof of the defendant's guilt.  Timothy McVeigh and the Nuremburg Tribunals come to mind.  But the costs of error trouble me greatly.

And finally, I should mention something closer to home.  My mother's a public school teacher, so I of course have an opinion on the current Governor of Wisconsin's plans to massively screw over the elderly, the middle class, government employees, children, and the entire educational infrastructure of our state.  Normally, I'm not a fan of recalls.  I think they're populism run amok.  And I don't see what's to stop the Tea Party types (how I loathe them, but I'll save that for another time as well) from recalling a Democratic governor on the grounds that "The son-of-a-bitch raised my taxes!"  But something has got to be done, and I resent anyone who calls for "sacrifice" and then proceeds to make life easier on large corporations and the very wealthy, while leaving the actual sacrificing to those less fortunate.

Someone once asked me what political party I was a member of.  I responded, "Well, I'm in favor of gay marriage, I don't believe in God, and I think it's okay to raise taxes some of the time.  What party do you think?"  It's kind of a sad commentary on the Republican Party that any one of those three things seems to automatically disqualify someone from being accepted in their ranks without being mocked or called a RINO.  Lincoln, Ike, and probably even Ronald Reagan (he raised taxes twice, remember) are rolling in their graves.

Do you see now why I'm keeping this anonymous?

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