Got to find the reason, reason things went wrong…

I once attended a forum for black students held at York University, where there were a number of seminars and sessions to try to broaden the discussion and (I guess) impart some life skills. One of these forums was about developing and harnessing economic power, moderated by two women who had a successful business consulting firm. Some of the stuff was useful (invest in real estate, work closely with other black businesses to keep money ‘in the community’), while some of the stuff was a bit… different (sell your real estate and buy platinum bouillon!). In a fit of mysticism that I have found to be distressingly common among black intellectuals, they encouraged us to think of ‘money’ as part of an acronym:

Mobilize Our Natural Energy Yield

Which is, y’know… not where the word comes from, but whatever. Small quibble.

The point of the acronym was, I think, to divorce our minds from the concept that paper money is actually worth something in and of itself. Money is, and always has been, a proxy for the time and skill that goes in to the production of goods or services. Since its very early days, it has grown and expanded to represent a lot of other things as well, but at its fundamental level money is what you exchange for goods and services according to the level to which you value them.

The recent economic collapse revealed that our concept of ‘money’ had moved dangerously far away from anything resembling goods and services, and has instead mutated into a seemingly-arbitrary score that different groups use to decide who is better than the other. And when we started realizing “hey, wait a second, this whole thing is built on fairy dust and leprechaun tears”, it collapsed. But at some point, there was MONEY flowing between places, right? So where the hell did it all go? Did it just disappear into the ghost of the machine? Maybe. Then again, maybe not: [Read more...]

Because I am an atheist: Benjamin Stonier

Today’s contribution was submitted via e-mail by Benjamin Stonier

Because I am an atheist…

It’s really hard to sum up what being an atheist means to me. I’ve never really locked into a label like this before. Even when I was nominally Christian, I wouldn’t go out of my way to call myself that. I wouldn’t pick a denomination, though I attended many. I guess being an atheist has meant to me both enlightenment and sadness, though more of the former, unlike so many who tell their tales.

I’m an atheist because I try to think critically and skeptically – but because I am an atheist, I think critically and skeptically. Discarding the notion of a deity was the change in the way I think. Everything has simple factual merits, and we should make our decisions based on this. It’s let me toss the last vestiges of cultural oppositions to things like being against trans people changing their sex on their passports, being against gay marriage, or being against equal treatment regardless of differences. [Read more...]

#Occupy: the answer to an important question

When the ‘Occupy together’ movement started nearly a year ago, the media narrative almost immediately pivoted to bafflement (either pretended or genuine*) over what ‘the point’ was. Occupy, without a pre-determined raison d’être aside from “shit’s fucked up“, and lacking an official spokesperson to boil down the issues into bullet points that would be ready by the print deadline, actually required people to really dig in and collect the relevant facts and a cross-section of sentiment within the movement. This, incidentally, is also known as “being a fucking journalist”, but I will save you my diatribe about how terrible media organizations are** for another time.

Now Occupy is a lot of different things – a social justice movement, an experiment in anarchic self-governance, an attempt to introduce income inequality into the political mainstream discussion, an expression of contempt for the political status quo – depending on which direction you turn the direction of your analysis, you can probably come up with a lengthy list. The headless organized chaos that typifies Occupy necessarily leads to the formation of a movement that intentionally fails to resemble any of the top-down structures we’ve come to expect in human interactions (at least in this part of the world).

When I was participating in the protests in Montreal, I had a realization. It wouldn’t be fair to call it a ‘sudden’ realization, since I’ve been talking about Occupy for a minute. Whatever it was, I put the pieces together and realized that at its core, Occupy is the answer to a question. The question, and I think it’s a fundamentally important one, is this: how do we respond when those we elect betray our trust? I don’t think there are too many people who look at the political realities right now without a bit of practiced cynicism. After all, being cynical about politics is as old as the hills. But when our response starts and stops with witty rejoinders, we sell ourselves and the world short. After all, some things need to be dealt with: [Read more...]

In Defence of Abused Fallacies

Y’know, if you don’t think that a horse is defined as such due to some innate form of ‘horseness’, then you should go read some Aristotle.*

If you don’t think that Evolution has any basis in reality, then Darwin has some things to tell you.

If you think that we can’t know anything at all about the origin of the universe, then you should listen to Victor Stenger.

I’m appealing to authority here? Well… Yes, I am. And this is not a problem at all. Let me break it down for you…

[Read more...]

Because I am an atheist: Mano Singham

Today’s contribution comes from fellow FTBorg Mano Singham:

Because I am an atheist…

…I experience a tremendous feeling of intellectual liberation. For many years I struggled to reconcile my scientific understanding of the world with the constraints imposed by believing in a god. When I tentatively tried out the ‘What if there is no god?” hypothesis, I experienced a sense of freedom so profound that I knew immediately that there was no going back. Now I feel free to go wherever my mind takes me and explore any idea without the sense that there are some questions whose answers will remain forever inscrutable. There are no “Stop! No Entry” signs in the intellectual road map of an atheist. The highways are wide open and call out for adventure.

Consider submitting your own statement, by e-mail or as a comment!

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Kiva Project Update: July 2012

It’s that time of the month again, Cromrades – where we sink our hard-earned money into Kiva loans! Here are this month’s recipients:

Mary – Kenya

Mary is age 36 and married with one child who is age 12 years and in school. Mary has been in farming for 14 years running and currently produces milk, maize, beans, vegetables, and poultry birds. She runs a retail business in the local market dealing with grocery items. Mary has made a loan request of 31,200 Kenya shillings (KES) from Juhudi Kilimo to buy and insure a dairy cow. She believes this will improve her farming income, which she will then use to expand her retail business and purchase more land. Mary says the major challenges in farming include substandard input materials and high cost of feeds. She is happy with her Juhudi Kilimo partnership and believes she will be able to meet her family’s needs adequately.

Julius – Kenya

Julius is 48 years old and married to Emily. The couple is blessed with six children between the ages of five and 19 and they jointly provide for their family. For the past 14 years, Julius has been selling cereals and earns a monthly income of 5,000 KES. Julius is requesting a 25,000 KES loan through KADET LTD to pay university fees for his child. This is his second loan and he successfully repaid his previous loan. His dreams and hopes are that his children are educated well for a brighter future.

Canaana Group – DR Congo

This client, Kabugho, is the leader of the Canaane loan group. She is a young entrepreneur, bravely dealing with her situation, and is 30 years old. She is married and has three young children. Her husband is a broker for a transportation carrier. This featured client sells beignets and cakes that she makes using local technology. She began this business with her own funds, given to her by her husband. However, she just received her first loan with the microfinance institution Hekima. This group recently joined Hekima’s microfinance program. This client is full of hope for her business. This new loan should allow her to supply herself with one bag of flour, 10 kg of sugar, yeast, etc. She is grateful to Hekima for this first loan she is receiving without the need for a material guarantee, because thanks to this loan, she is going to improve her capital and provide for her family’s various needs.

This is our 7th round of loans, and brings us to a total of 21 loans since we started this project back in January. Traffic took a little drop in May (because of my vacation) and has been up for the past two months, so depending on how the numbers shake out, we may end up with a fair chunk more to loan going into the fall.

For the month of October, we made $46.38, and loaned $50.
For the month of November, we made $65.81, and loaned $50.
For the month of December, we made $44.76, and loaned $50.
For the month of January, we made $58.59.
For the month of February, we made $57.33 and loaned $125.
For the month of March, we made $78.68 and loaned $125.
For the month of April, we made $64.62, and loaned $57.50
For the month of May, we made $58.45, and loaned $75.00

Total amount loaned so far: $525.00
Total loan funds repaid: $93.78
Fund balance: $19.70

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Getting token in

I have, at various points in my life, been the ‘token black guy’ in one social group or another. In the smaller groups it’s been simply the result of small numbers – if there’s 4 people in a group then it’s not exactly surprising that there will a token somethingorother. In other activities, my tokenism was the result of niche interests – there were precious few other black kids in either the youth orchestra or the drama program.* Still others, like both my undergrad and graduate school experiences, were due to things that would probably require some in-depth sociology to answer.

I don’t watch very much television these days – a function of little interest and little time – but I have long been familiar with the practice of inserting a token dark face into commercials. The idea, I suppose, is to show that even black people like to eat at The Keg, or something, provided they are surrounded by their white friends who get the vast majority of the camera time. Much rarer are the commercials where folks of colour make up the majority, with a few white faces peppered in (salted in?) for ‘diversity’. Now, this may be vastly different in other parts of the world, and if it is I would very much like to be made aware of that.

If we are indeed as ‘post-racial’ as we pretend to be; if race really “doesn’t matter” when casting a group of friends enjoying beers on a patio, then there is really no good reason why there should so often be only one (or, if you’re really progressive, perhaps two) people of colour in your commerical, or in your office, or in your cabinet, or in your [insert endeavour here]. The fact that this is the case with depressing frequency leads me to believe that tokenism is nothing more than a shallow show of forced diversity aimed at showing how ‘not racist’ your group is. “Racist? Couldn’t be. If we were racist, would we have hired Angela? She’s… um… Thai. Or Taiwanese. Or Turkish. Something weird with a T.” [Read more...]

Irrational Rationalists

The other day while perusing a few of my usual skeptical and atheist haunts online, I came across a conversation that seemed rather out of place; two individuals were having a serious discussion about the plausibility of extraterrestrials having constructed the pyramids. The cheerleader for the aliens had linked more than a few YouTube videos, conspiracy theory sites, and a book or two into the conversation, and appeared for all the world to be a die-hard ‘ancient aliens’ enthusiast. “Really?” I thought to myself, and then moved on.

A couple of sites later – again one deeply aligned with the atheist movement – I read another conversation; this time the topic of discussion was the “weather-controlling” abilities of the U.S. HAARP program. Specifically, the debaters were arguing whether HAARP was responsible for all of the ‘weird weather’ this summer, or just the droughts that have been punishing parts of the United States. “Or how about none of it?” I muttered to myself, clicking away from the site, “Jackasses”.

Throughout the rest of the day’s online browsing, I stumbled across even more of these conversations – some focussed on aliens or the paranormal, others centred on 9/11 conspiracies. In each of these discussions, I noticed individuals – many of whom had proudly been displaying their atheist bona fides – abandon reason entirely and plunge headlong into logical fallacy after blindingly obvious logical fallacy. But these flights into fancy weren’t the real source of my growing frustration; after all, flights of fancy can lead to remarkable places. No, the primary source of my angst was the fact that I knew from previous browsing, discussions, and even a debate or two that these same people were often the first to write theists (and believers of all sorts) off as ‘delusional’, irrational, or ‘crazy’. If only there was a word to describe someone condemning another person’s behaviour while behaving in the same way themselves… [Read more...]

Movie Friday: @Toure and microaggressions

One of the things we discussed in the interview I posted yesterday is the power that the internet has to democratize the flow of information. I used the term ‘anarchic’ intentionally, because when nearly everyone can access the mechanisms of broadcast, the hierarchy of media enterprise is quickly obliterated. All of a sudden, the size of a media organization becomes only as important as whether or not they are able to reliably deliver accurate information and analysis in a timely way (sorry, CNN). Of course, this is based on the assumption that people are critical consumers of information, and there’s certainly plenty of information to suggest that this is not the case.

One of the other advantages to this media explosion, as I summarized with Jamila, is that minority voices will disproportionately benefit. Rather than all voices needing to go through a fixed number of filters that throttle content based on how much ‘general interest’ it will garner (i.e., will white men like it), every person becomes a broadcaster. This not only means that you as a consumer of media are more likely to run across ideas that lie outside the mainstream, but that you can tailor your consumption to a degree that is unprecedented in human history – if all you want to take in is brony slash fiction, I’m confident you’ll find what you’re looking for.

One of the voices that I’ve come across perhaps solely as a result of the anarchic delivery of media is writer, television personality, and host of MSNBC’s new daytime show ‘The Cycle’* Touré. While he’s well-known in general circles, I don’t watch any of the channels he’s on, nor do I read many magazines. I do, however, spend a lot of time on Twitter, where Touré is prolific. It was from his feed that I got today’s video: [Read more...]

Because I am an atheist: James Croft

Today’s contribution comes from James Croft, vice-chair of the Humanist Community at Harvard.

Because I am an atheist…

…I know we’re in this alone, and that any change for the better in this world will be the fruit of human endeavor. There was never a eureka moment in which I realized there is no God: I was raised in a happy atheist household, and religion – except for the music, the art, and the architecture which my parents introduced me to – played no part in our lives. I only began to fully understand that other people weren’t atheists when I hit my teens, and began to have heated discussions with religious friends.

There are many things I can understand, even appreciate, about the best expressions of the religious impulse. I value narratives which frame our lives, strong moral communities where we can develop our commitment to each other, artworks which express our highest ideals, experiences of solidarity and transcendence, and I want to find ways for Humanists to enjoy these social benefits. [Read more...]