We can’t opt out

There is a contingent of the freethinking community, and I have no idea how large it is statistically, but a contingent nonetheless that believe the conversation about social justice lies well outside the list of things we should be talking about. Science, religion, skepticism – these are clearly part of the relevant topics for us to discuss. Why do people believe crazy things? How do we get them to stop? What is the evidence? Other things like racism, feminism, sexual expression and identity issues – these sorts of crazy beliefs and evidence are obviously not relevant to our group. These folks rankle and agitate any time any of these subjects are even broached, replete with admonishments to focus on the ‘real issues’, and to claim that people are ‘overreacting’.

Of course, anyone who honestly agrees with any of that is hereby invited to fuck right off.

An animated .gif of Jeremy Piven (as Ari Gold) saying "Get the fuck out!" [Read more…]

Blowing the dust off our language

I am not an entomologist. If I was, I’d know that the word I wanted to use there was ‘etymologist’. Also I’d be covered in ants or something.

At any rate, I have not made a careful study of language, and by no means am I up on the origins of the various aphorisms and slang phrases that we use in our day-to-day life. I do, however, remember quite well a scene in the movie Malcolm X where Red (the name that Malik el Shabazz had before he was called Malcolm X) was instructed to look up the words ‘white’ and ‘black’ in the dictionary:

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Suicide of an entirely different form

The Catholic Church says that they’re opposed to suicide. They say they’re very angry about it and those advocating it should cut it the fuck out:

The Catholic archbishop of Vancouver is calling on the provincial government to appeal a landmark B.C. Supreme Court decision Friday that struck down the law that makes physician-assisted death illegal in Canada. Friday’s decision to strike down the law against euthanasia “sadly reflects a distorted view of equality rights that emphasizes autonomy over human dignity and the value of life,” said Roman Catholic Archbishop J. Michael Miller, in a statement.

“True liberty means the freedom to live one’s life secure in the knowledge that those who care for us are in dedicated to the service of life, not the taking of life.” Miller then urged the government to appeal what he called an “extremely flawed and dangerous ruling.”

As a side note, we should definitely explore the feasibility of attaching some sort of dynamo to George Orwell’s grave, because the “Freedom is Slavery” line from a repressive organization like the Roman Catholic Church trying to dictate to the rest of us what “true liberty” means could probably inspire enough spins out of the old boy to generate a few million megawatt hours.

But back to the topic at hand. I don’t think the Catholic Church is actually opposed to suicide. I’m not talking about their fetishization of martyrs – the apologetics that allows them to side-step that bit of seeming hypocrisy is not exactly that difficult to figure out. No, I think the Catholic Church is opposed to everyone’s suicide except their own: [Read more…]

Good because it’s good

So maybe this makes me a ‘centrist’ (a label I abjure because my conception of a ‘centrist’ is someone who can’t make up their damn mind), but I don’t see myself as being particularly partisan. A political party or movement wins my allegiance because I agree with their ideas today, not because I agreed with their other ideas yesterday. The whole phenomenon of “my father voted Republican, his father voted Republican, and right or wrong I’ll vote Republican too” seems equal parts idiotic and insane to me. Of course, voting Republican period seems idiotic and insane to me, so whatever.

This morning I talked about my approach for Canadian health care reform, which is nowhere near as big a political football as it is among our southern cousins. The ideas I put forward, as far as I can tell, don’t belong to any political party. They could be spun as products of either conservative thinking (“it’s time to stop throwing away hard-earned taxpayer money on a bloated bureaucracy that doesn’t deliver for Canadians. Let’s reign in spending by eliminating government waste!”) or liberal thinking (“we must find a fair and equitable way to deliver health care that focuses on providing the right service to the right person at the right time!”). The ideas aren’t good because Bob Rae or Thomas Mulcair thinks they’re good (or because Stephen Harper thinks they’re bad), they’re good because they’re good.

In the same way, I find the fight over the Affordable Care Act in the USA to be patently absurd. Aside from the fact that it is a massively watered-down version of a good law, there’s really not much in there to dislike: [Read more…]

Less relevant by the minute

Since I was a little kid, I’ve loved stories. Even as an adult, I am drawn to the narrative arc – the pacing, the twists and turns of a good plot, the art of a well-crafted climax – these have always been like magic to me. In my younger days though, I was drawn to Greek mythology in a big way. It wasn’t just the fanciful tales, although I liked that aspect a lot – it was the fact that each story was attached to some kind of lesson. They weren’t just stories told for amusement – they were expositions of human foibles and an accounting of how ancient peoples saw the world.

While Aesop’s Fables are not, strictly speaking, Greek mythology, they are perhaps the best exemplar of that type of morality and psychology as taught through story that we have. While Jesus of Nazareth (supposedly) taught in parables, it can often be an arduous exercise to pick out the nuggets of useful knowledge from the heaps of nonsense (what kind of shepherd abandons an entire flock to search for a single lost sheep? A bad one, I’d imagine). The fables attributed to Aesop are far clearer and more real-to-life.

One of the most famous, at least among the secular community, is the Emperor’s New Clothes. The reason it’s famous in our clique is because it so perfectly mirrors the public perception of religion – everyone is told how important and meaningful and significant it is, but as soon as someone takes a critical look at it the whole edifice quickly unravels to reveal one naked fallacy after another. However, turned on its head, there’s another valuable lesson contained in that story. One about the vanity and blindness that accompanies unchecked power and how it can lead people into situations where they completely fucking embarrass themselves: [Read more…]

Whose ground are you standing on?

When Trayvon Martin was killed, the whole world was suddenly confronted with the terrifying reality of the “Stand Your Ground” laws – an approach to “self-defense” that removes from a would-be-shooter the onus to back down from confrontation. Stand Your Ground is a law that specifically grants a license to kill for merely feeling threatened. Of course, given the news-stoked paranoia surrounding black folks in the United States and Canada, simply being black is a threatening act, thus justifying the lynch-mob fantasy of every nutjob with a gun and a nursed belief that life was better in the “good old days” when black people knew their place. Now, in order to avoid getting shot (with no consequence to the shooter), black folks had to make sure they were super-turbo-extra non-threatening.

Now I am not sure that the removal of legal punishment makes murder more likely. While there are undoubtedly people who go out with the intention of murdering black folks, they are rare, and I sincerely doubt that they factor legal consequences into their plans. The issue with Stand Your Ground laws is that they make confrontation more likely. People know that they have a right to accost ‘threatening’ people, and that if push comes to shove, they are armed and can take matters into their own hands.

A cartoon of a black man with a smoking pistol in his hand, speaking to a police officer over the corpse of a similarly-armed white man. The black man is saying "I had a reasonable fear the neighbourhood watch guy following me was going to fear for his life and shoot... so I shot him first." The officer replies "makes sense to me". The caption reads "The 'Stand your ground before he stands his ground' defense"

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God Damn America

Jason Thibeault over at Lousy Canuck brought up a pretty tragic story of a 13 year-old child who was shot and killed by a neighbour in the states while he (the boy) was taking out the garbage. The neighbour apparently (mistakenly) believed that the boy had stolen something, and that the appropriate response was murder. The conclusion Jason drew from this unbelievably horrible story is that greater gun control was needed to prevent these kinds of incidents form happening. I’m sure he’s right, but of course that’s not the whole story.

Unless you were living under a rock in 2008, you’re probably familiar with Jeremiah Wright’s infamous “god damn America” line, taken wildly out of context from a longer sermon about the need for government priorities to be in line with biblical priorities. Now even when I first saw the excerpt from the speech, I knew where he was trying to go with it. It’s no different from when a wingnut pastor calls the President the antichrist, except that when a black pastor does it, all of a sudden it’s a threat to America as we know it. Obviously, as an atheist, the whole idea of bringing the government into line with biblical principles is terrifying to me, but there was another message in that sermon that I understood quite well. [Read more…]

Une brique en plus sur le mur

I suppose it would be fair to criticize me as a radical. There is a scene in the movie Across The Universe where Evan Rachel Wood’s character is on the phone to her mother, who is concerned that her daughter has just become too radical in her political opinions. Wood’s character replies “you should be radical! We should all be radical!” The fact is that there are deep and fundamental problems with not just our political system, but the entire way in which our global society is structured. Nothing short of consistent, ceaseless, radical action will create the kinds of change we need to see if our world is going to improve meaningfully.

It is for this reason that I was so excited to travel to Montreal during the largest student protest movement in Canada’s recent history. This is a protest movement that has caught international attention – due in no small part I’m sure to the fact that it stands in sharp contrast to the stereotype of Canadians as meek, friendly and passive people. It also has the dubious ‘advantage’ of being a story that conservatives can sink their fangs into with gusto: a bunch of rich pampered kids who would rather whine for handouts than work a shovel.

For me, this story is about a central question of how power is exercised in our society, and it is perhaps the most important question we are in the process of deciding the answer to: do political leaders derive their power from the consent of the governed? Are politicians truly beholden to the articulated best interest of their constituents, or is voting merely a cosmetic exercise in choosing which individual goes on to pass the same kinds of laws? Do we have the ability to enforce rules and constraint on the powers that be, or has our democratic system merely become a showy diversion to obscure the influence of those who hold true power? [Read more…]

Crommunist exclusive: I interview Ashu Solo

This morning I briefed you on a fight going on in Saskatoon between the city’s mayor and one of its citizens over a led prayer at a volunteer appreciation dinner. Worse, perhaps, than the mayor’s recalcitrance, was the racist and anti-immigrant backlash Mr. Ashu Solo faced as a result of speaking out, despite the fact that he was born in Canada (brown people are easy to demonize). Perhaps even worse than that was the uninformed and lazy reaction from other atheists who decided that, despite not having been there or knowing anything about the situation, they knew the correct way to handle things.

I spoke to Mr. Solo via Facebook and e-mail, and asked him a few questions about the situation. Here is an edited version of his responses*. [Read more…]