Video: Imagine being Ben Shapiro

I’m working on something fairly grim right now, so I revisited this old video for the entertainment value. It’s an interesting breakdown not just of Ben Shapiro’s ludicrous critique of John Lennon’s Imagine, but also of the song itself, and what makes it unique. I also like this because it makes me think about how my own political journey, thus far, has changed my perspective of the song, and my understanding of how it relates to the world.


The witch hunts never really went away

Over the last few years, I’ve had a gradual realization that has honestly made me pretty worried about the future of humanity. I’ve been an atheist for over a decade now, and in that time, I definitely went through a phase of anger at the degree to which our world is governed by magical thinking. At the same time, knowing and respecting a large number of religious people, I knew that most of them are perfectly rational people whose day to day thoughts and actions fit with a naturalistic understanding of the world. Hell, I generally tried to make decisions rationally, though I would pray over/meditate on important or difficult ones.

I also grew up learning about strange and horrible things “from the past”, like witch hunts, which happened because of superstition, and possibly contaminated grain? But all of that was in the past. We know better, now, and those areas that still have people murdered for being “witches”, well, they’re just backwards and primitive, and… Boy, when you lay it all out it starts to sound pretty bad, doesn’t it?  Almost as if I grew up within a society constructed around white supremacy, and bought into a fair amount of it, particularly about places to which I had never been. I bought the narrative of Africa as a poor continent, that was strangely slow to develop technologically, and they weren’t doing education well enough, so superstition filled in the gaps in people’s understanding, and that led to stuff like problems being blamed on witches. That, and a dim awareness of religious and spiritual practices outside my own experience as a white, middle-class, Quaker kid from New England.

As with most misinformation and misunderstanding, there are fragments of truth there. I still believe that magical/religious thinking leads people in bad directions, and to bad conclusions, it’s just that there are a myriad of other ideas and ideologies that do the same, and are often far more destructive in the process. White supremacy is a good example, not just in its most blatant and bloodthirsty forms, but also in the more subtle ways it excuses the abuses of the rich and powerful, and masks the real causes of societal problems. In fact, bigotry in general seems to operate very like a magical belief. The beliefs that drive it tend to have connections to a bigot’s sense of self, and so they will tend to cling to those beliefs even in the face of falsifying evidence.

Through that lens, we can see that the social dynamics leading to things like witch hunts have changed in appearance, but they have not gone away. The Renegade Cut video below does a good job of breaking this down, but think about things like the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, where lives were destroyed over accusations of, well, practicing dark magics and human sacrifice. Think of current moral panics.

The horrifying reality is that this stuff never went away. Not in poor countries, and not in rich countries. Some of us just managed to convince ourselves that our society had gotten past all that. We haven’t, any more than we’ve gotten past white supremacy, and that fact has me worried about our capacity to actually change things for the better. I think we can do that, but it seems that as a species, we’re far too good at convincing ourselves that the mere passage of time has moved us “forward”. It seems that this is a problem that will not go away by itself.

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Tips for accessing reproductive healthcare in the United States

Whether or not the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade has the exact language as the leaked memo, I think it’s safe to assume that the GOP will continue their relentless effort to make reproductive healthcare inaccessible. That won’t reduce the need for abortion and contraception, but it will make safe reproductive care difficult to access, and impossible for some. In some parts of the U.S., the “right” to an abortion exists only on paper, because of the logistical barriers that have been put in place. When confronted with unjust laws, it is right and just to break those laws, and when it comes to something like health care, I would say it’s our duty to do what we can to help those in need of care, to whatever degree we’re able. To that end, I’m linking some relevant resources. I’ll try to update this as I come across more materials, and I hope you folks will fill in any gaps in the comments. As with everything else, we’re at our strongest when we work together.

I have one more thing to add: The kinds of organizing and networking I periodically talk about are humanity’s original multi-tool for dealing with big problems. Having a network and knowing who in it believes what is a way for people to seek help. If you aren’t likely to need help yourself, it puts you in a position where others know that you might be able to provide it. Also a general reminder – if you’re planning to do something that could get you in trouble, don’t post about it online, and consider who might have access to your modes of communication.

This resource was last updated on the sixth of May, 2022.

There’s more on that thread that’s worth looking at.

Take care of yourselves, and take care of each other.

Video: Science says understanding evolution makes you less likely to be a bigot

I admit that I’m biased, but I feel that the contents of this video make a great deal of intuitive sense. The more I’ve understood about evolution, and about my literal kinship with all other life on this planet, the more I’ve felt that kinship, including with my fellow humans. That said, there are definitely people (Richard Dawkins come to mind) who almost certainly know more about evolution than I do, and yet manage to persevere with their bigotry anyway. As always, we’re talking about statistical likelihood, not a universal truth. You’ll find the video and the transcript at the link above, or you can watch the video here:

Spirit photography and cults

Hey, didja know that this blog is part of a larger blogging network? I know! It’s true! Unfortunately, I’ve been a less-than-exemplary community member over the last couple years. International moves seem to use up a lot of my energy, so I just kinda turned into a hermit. In the name of doing better about that, I’ll be cross-posting more stuff from my fellow Freethought Bloggers, starting with this:

There is a very strong desire among some segments of the population to make contact with dead people. This desire has been exploited by charlatans, people who claim that (for a fee, of course) they can channel your loved ones. The methods used have varied over time. In the US, the rise in interest in communicating with the dead coincided with the Civil War that saw massive numbers of dead people that left their families devastated and seeking some form of comfort.

I’ve found the occult fascinating for years, both as a social and psychological phenomenon, and because I enjoy the aesthetics. I think that the phenomena behind both occult fads and cults are related, and that’s something we’d do well to consider as we continue into this century of high technology and climate chaos. At times it’s hard not to feel like the world is ending, and with the predicted rise in death and destruction, I think a lot of people are going to end up turning to strange places for help. I also think that with traditional Christianity being so closely tied to political leadership in the United States, a lot of younger people are going to prefer things that don’t remind them of the folks who seem to be screwing everything up. Reading Mano’s post made me think of this Tumblr thread Tegan came across a little while back:

Check out Mano’s post (there’s a neat video there!), and maybe spread this post (or the Tumblr post) around, because I’m pretty sure this is going to be one of those aspects of history we’d do well to learn from.



Writer’s block, free time, and atheism: Tinkering with the human machine

I can’t speak to the experiences of others, but for me, the notion of “writer’s block” as a lack of ideas has always felt a bit wrong. I’m never sort on ideas, it’s just that I often have a great deal of trouble trying to convert those ideas into a good piece of writing. It’s less that the wellspring of my creativity is blocked, and more that the ideas flowing down the stream it creates in my mind sometimes jumble together like sticks and leaves, and turn themselves into a temporary dam. Some stuff gets through, or finds a way around, but a clear state of “flow” is unavailable. Most of the time, the primary culprit is one big piece of work that I’m struggling with.

In the current instance, it’s a post about how we perceive energy as a tool or resource, how we perceive the courses of action available to us, and how I think we’ve been approaching the conversation wrong. Specifically, we’ve mostly been approaching it from the perspective of capitalist notions of competition and scarcity. I’m trying to pull together a couple disparate concepts into a single article that’s coherent, and hopefully persuasive. It’s often a fun challenge to do this sort of thing, and it’s the kind of writing that makes me feel like I’m “earning” the backing of my patrons.

It’s frustrating because the longer a piece like this takes me, the more space it occupies in my mind, and the more the pressure to get it done with builds, along with the worry that I’ll do a worse job just to get it out of my way. Sometimes all I can do is set the work aside, and find a way to move on without finishing it.

Mental dams like this have long been a problem for me. Tegan thinks I have “inattentive type” ADHD, and though I haven’t gotten around to getting checked out for it, what little research I have done makes me think she’s right. In struggling with the symptoms over the years, I once came across an online community that treats procrastination as an addiction, and developed a version of the “12 step program” for it. At that point in my life – around a decade ago – I think I was some form of Quaker/Taoist, and still approaching problems like this from a spiritual perspective. While I was desperate to find any sort of time management strategy that would fix everything, I also still very much had the notion that I could more or less pray my mental problems away.

It wasn’t until I started to truly understand myself as a complex, self-aware machine that I started to make progress. I am my body. My “self” is an emergent property of the various systems that make up my body. Primarily, it’s my nervous system, but that’s also affected by all my other systems. In a lot of very real ways, a human is a self-aware biological “robot” that’s capable of taking in information from the world around it, translating it into patterns of cells in our brains, and storing it in that imperfect form to compare to future information. We are also capable of choosing inputs for certain results, like establishing a particular cell pattern through repeated exposure to a particular bit of information, to the point where it becomes more or less permanent, needing only occasional reinforcement – memory.

Dealing with things like writer’s block is, in whatever way it’s under my control, a matter of using the tools I have available to me to run maintenance, and learn to better operate the meat machine that is me, so I can use it for the things I want to do. Dismantling mental blockage like this, and restoring a state of flow is, in some ways, as important a part of the writing craft as is a large vocabulary, or an understanding of grammar. It’s a form of recalibration done by going through a difficult piece of writing one word at a time, if necessary, and watching for every spot where my brain gets derailed, so I can see the problem and find a way to get through it more easily.

It’s a skill that can be easy to do without most of the time, and mental dams like that often sort themselves out, eventually, or become obstacles we’re used to avoiding. The problem is that it’s time lost that I don’t want to lose. For whatever reason, I seem to have a harder time with things like forming habits than a lot of people I knew growing up, and so that’s something I need to work around. Approaching it in this manner makes it easier for me to break problems down into their component parts, to a degree, and work out how to get things done despite those obstacles. The problem is that this kind of work is difficult to do. Brains are remarkable organs, but they can’t just fix problems with themselves. Sometimes all that’s needed is the help of someone like a therapist who’s trained in ways to get brains to operate in one way or another. Often that’s not enough. In my case, I’m on anxiety meds, and I’m lucky enough to be in a situation where my duty to the household, beyond things like housekeeping, is being as good of a writer as I can be.

It may be that this is a problem I can figure out how to manage without medication that would require an official diagnosis, but the only way I have a shot at that is because I happen to be in a situation where I have the time and energy to work on things like this, and because by doing so, and writing these articles, I’m also paying our grocery bill.

Any success I have in this endeavor – and I have been having some success – is due not just to my own efforts, but to a combination of factors. I needed the time to dedicate to this, I needed the mental security of knowing my basic needs would be met, at least for a short while, and I needed the mental framework of philosophical naturalism – understanding myself as the physical being that I am – to be able to make a material analysis of my situation.

All the fantasies of self-improvement that are so popular in our society ultimately come down to nothing if your circumstances prevent you from actually treating it like a valuable use of time. I guess all of this is to say that I’ve been having some trouble with my writing of late, but I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I have the resources to actually deal with it, at least to some degree. So there’ll be a post about energy sources and uses up tomorrow!

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Someone else’s perspectives on religion and family

It’s easy, when entering the world of atheism, too get a biased view of religion. A lot of what’s talked about are the clearest examples of how bad religion can be. My own experiences with religion were largely positive. I was raised in a Quaker household in New England, and my religious community was, for a long time, my primary social community. It was a group of kind, welcoming people who were great at making everybody feel valued. I think a lot of effort went into creating that space for the kids growing up there, and I’m glad I had it.

And I should be clear – while I was pretty devout, in my way, and pretty clear that Quakerism was a Christian religion, albeit an unusual one, many of my friends, and many adults in the society were not Christian, and viewed Quakerism as more of a lifestyle thing. That really bugged me sometimes. All in all, the people were kind and respectful, and while I had to part ways with that community, I hold no resentment towards Quakers, and it’s been made clear to me many times that if I chose to rejoin the community, or even just to visit, I would be made welcome. The worst that I would suffer would be awkwardness from long absence and different understandings of the world.

Not everybody is so lucky, and not everybody has parents who are as open-minded, understanding, and willing to work for a good relationship with their kids as mine are. Case in point, fellow FTB denizen Joe Sands, over at Incongruous Circumspection:

Now, I will introduce you to one of my most popular series on my old blog, off in that dusty corner of the internet.

I grew up in an abusive environment, learning to cope quite well until I was 19 years old. At that point in my life, the heat got too hot and I was ready to be free. I left and went to live with my dad to get on my feet and expose myself to the real world in full color, rather than a world through sheltered and well defined, paranoiac lenses. My freedom came with many bumps in the road as I discovered that I was truly lazy when I wasn’t being yelled at to accomplish a task. I needed to mature…grow up. Life moved very fast and I needed to jump in and roll with it.

I’ll let you read the rest at his latest installment of Letters from my Mama, and just add that talking to other people from religious families sometimes makes me quite grateful for my own family, and my own experiences with religion.