Saturday, January 3, 2015

"Create Your Own Religion"

Quit Playing Prophet by Mark Yuray is certainly worth a read.

I've been following a few atheist and humanist sites over the past year or so. I always find it interesting to try out the head space of people who view the world much differently than I do. I find it fascinating that suddenly, arriving seemingly concurrently with post-apocalyptic visions of the world in pop culture, young people are obsessed with science and rationality - religiously obsessed, as if all of life must be put through these twin lenses or be counted inauthentic. And these are the same people who spend loads of money on steampunk costumes and paraphernalia so they can go to comic book conventions and interact with other people who are also pretending to be fictional characters.


I also have found it amusing to read ranting comments about the harmfulness of religion and how it "poisons minds and hearts" and amounts to child abuse while watching the twin trends of lessening religious observance and increasing rates of suicide, mental illness, obesity, illness, depression, illegitimacy, family breakdown, crime, arrests, imprisonment, and poverty.  Not that these two are in any way connected. Of course not.

Full disclosure: While I am a practicing and observant Catholic, I've experienced my own periods of religious doubt, some lasting for years. From what I've read few people come out of the experience of infertility and miscarriage with the same view of the world and how it works. I was no exception. It took its toll.

I've read the whole Bible, had read it by the time I was 15 (I was raised in an evangelical tradition). There are a lot of things, particularly in the Old Testament - which, I confess, I prefer - that do not rest easily in my mind with my ideas of right and wrong and how to handle conflict.

I've never observed a miracle, have never seen anything that I would classify as even being close to miraculous. I am naturally religious; I'm not at all spiritual. When people - and this happens frequently - tell me that everything happens for a reason, I cringe.

I have come to believe, however, that my personal ideas and beliefs, questions and doubts are unimportant, that focusing on what I need my religion to provide for me is, in fact, hubris and completely inappropriate. Religion was never meant to provide individual satisfaction or happiness, although it does do this frequently enough. I've known so many people who have survived horrible trials only because of their religious faith and the support their religious community gave them.

Religion is the way culture maintains and reproduces itself. It's the way values are transmitted between generations, the way worldviews are shaped, and destructive behavior within a community is minimized. Religion gives us multisensory ways of experiencing the passage of time and heightened spiritual experience. Religious belief inspires; it's creative. Religion ties people to their communities and brings them together to celebrate and mourn everyday happiness and sadness.

While it's true that people could theoretically come up with purely social methods for transmitting culture and bonding themselves together, most people would not feel compelled to participate without some higher meaning or guilt attached, and you need significant buy-in for the prophylactic effects of religion to work. A small percentage of people are capable of creating community and policing their own behavior adequately without this framework. Most people are not.

Human beings are endlessly innovative, and it's quite possible that someone could come up with a successful religious framework that would accomplish the above goals in the West better than Christianity has for the past two millenia. Certainly Christianity has not done a great job of standing up to the kindergartenish ideals of "fairness," "equality," or "tolerance" over the past century. But I have absolutely no interest in a religion created out of whole cloth for practical reasons for the same reasons I wouldn't bother to learn to "speak" Dothraki or an Elven tongue, even though I love languages. The countless iterations of Christian observance tell us nearly everything we know about our ancestors and what they believed, lived, and valued. The rituals they made up to celebrate life and time satisfy me very likely because they satisfied them and we are genetically connected.

The pastor's chair that once sat in the front of my grandfather's church sits in my bedroom today. It's not the most valuable piece of furniture in my house, but it reminds me that my grandfather helped build his church with his own back and his own money and these things were important to him. I still sing his favorite hymn, and it helps me to remember the person he was. I have my grandmother's stained glass nativity set, and I think of her and how we are alike and different every year when I set it up.

I am neither a philosopher nor a theologian, but I am a mother, and I have chosen to raise my child in a religious community with religious values. He feels he is a part of something and surrounded by like people who care about him. We talk about the saints who came before us, we sing the Agnus Dei as people did for centuries. Religion meets different needs in different people, but I'm not confident I could manufacture anything out of whole cloth that would be as relevant or inspirational as what Christian tradition offers. And it would not be a connection to my ancestors or their lives.

From what I've seen over the past 43 years, attempts to bypass the negatives of "organized religion" while still maintaining its "spiritual" benefits have failed, and the Boomers had the benefit of being raised in a functional society with actual rules and obligations. I'm not foolish enough to think I could do better on my own.

Friday, December 5, 2014

21st Century 'ships: Cartoons, not gay gay couples, and Kimye

Yesterday, EOnline wrote up a piece about the 20 most 'shipped couples on Tumblr in 2014. For those who aren't familiar with "'shipping" - and I'm not really either - it's:

Ship: (noun) Short for "relationship," an imagined romantic pairing of two people, fictional or otherwise.

Basically, from what I can tell because I don't read or write fan fiction or slash fiction, it's readers and viewers writing, video editing, gif making, and talking about real, fictional, or imagined couples from popular media. It seems to have exploded with the internet and particularly on sites like Tumblr which allow for the fast spread of any idea someone can come up with and make a .jpg or .gif file about.

I know I'm dating myself here, but we didn't do this sort of thing when I was young. Popular media was still somewhat universal, and there was little way for fans of esoteric fiction, written or filmed, to come together to obsess about their fandom. There were media events - like when Dave and Maddie hooked up on Moonlighting (epic writing/plotting mistake) - but we just watched them and then talked about them with our friends. Or we watched with our friends. We didn't buy Moonlighting-inspired Shakespearean costumes off of Etsy and go to conventions dressed as Katarina and take 1000 selfies with people dressed as werepuppets or some other absurdity.

Seriously, I don't get this trend. None of it. It's all too bizarre to me. What is going on with kids these days?

It's not just that I don't get fan fiction, although I don't. I've written fiction. I have no interest in writing other people's characters doing things I'd prefer them doing. That feels intrusive to me. I certainly would not want to write their characters doing or being something other than what the original writer wrote them doing. For instance, being gay or hooking up with villains.

I first became aware of slash fiction when people started writing Lord of the Rings characters Merry and Pippin as gay lovers instead of semi-intrepid hobbit friends in a war zone. I remember thinking, "Why would anyone ever want to read or write that? Why is this kind of character shift intriguing to them? What are they getting out of this?" Particularly because the people I knew who were doing this sort of thing - then on Livejournal - were young, heterosexual women. What was it about these women that made them want to see hobbits get it on?

I still don't get it, but as this trend exploded, I find it more and more distressing because fast forward 15 or so years and now out of the Top 20 Couples of 2014, only five of them are heterosexual. Five. And one of those five is Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. The rest of them are anime character couples, Youtube video makers, a couple of actually gay couples, and pairings made up of heterosexual characters who people think would be hotter if they were gay.


Look, Harry Potter isn't supposed to be with Malfoy. Romantic couples are supposed to be inspirational, aren't they? When girls read or watch Pride and Prejudice, they're supposed to want to be Elizabeth Bennet, right? When Colin Firth stares at Jennifer Ehle in P&P, a normal reaction is not to wonder what it would be like if Darcy and Bingley hooked up. Right? Right???  I just looked it up. There actually is Darcy/Bingley fiction out there. What? What a bizarro world we are living in.

Babies, people. Babies. It used to be, you wanted your characters to get together so that they would be all romantic and everything and then the natural would occur and they would have about twelve babies and be happy forever. Because gorgeous people - perfect couples - should reproduce themselves and populate the (imaginary) world with smarter, more athletic, better looking, more inspiring people with perfect teeth

When even women's fantasies don't involve family formation and reproduction - or even the involvement of female people - that's some kind of mass-induced insanity right there. What is going on here?


Friday, November 28, 2014

Feminine nurturing as a social building block

I was thinking aloud on Twitter tonight and thought it would be good to write some things down. 

The crazy, Marxist push back on Thanksgiving always bemuses me. I mean, who hates Thanksgiving? I love Thanksgiving. It's a warm, relatively low key, family-and-comfort-food-oriented holiday thoughtfully placed on the calendar in the bleakest part of autumn. It's true that it can be a lot of cooking and baking, but there's no requirement to serve a 20-pound turkey and seven sides.

Besides the usual attempts to torpedo Thanksgiving with absurd white guilt, there's the bitching about how cooking enslaves women (please). And this year some SJWs tried to conflate holiday family interaction with oppression and killing of the Black race.

I've made peace with the fact that SJWs are mentally ill, but I still do not understand the loathing they have for white men. In the history of humanity, women have never had it better in terms of freedom and social mobility than white women do, particularly white women married to white men. Does that mean all white men are good? No. As in every population, there are any number of violent, unstable, and difficult men. But in my experience, those men are in the minority. Most of the white men I know and have known have been very good to me, and frequently kind and solicitous. (I won't comment on other ethnic groups. I interact largely with middle and working-class white men.)

Haven't these SJWs seen a group of middle-aged men show up on a Saturday morning to move all of a parishioner's household goods to a new apartment? I have. Haven't they seen guys bring chain saws and axes to clear roads after a big storm? I have. I've also had men walk me home, fix my car, drop off yards of free mulch for my yard, and offer me work when I needed it. My sister's father-in-law once drove to the state capital to get a document apostilled for me when I needed it in a hurry and couldn't get it done myself. (That man can get anything done.) All of these services were done without a hint of payback, by the way, either sexual or otherwise.

What I think has changed - and perhaps this makes the SJWs experience very different from mine - is that women no longer interact with men in the traditional ways that set up a more positive dynamic between them. It used to be that older women of some station or qualities had rather a significant amount of influence over men, which, given their lack of sexual allure, seems inconceivable today. Now women have all of the power they will ever have when they are young and at their sexual peak. And, generally, they squander this power or deliberately abuse it instead of focusing it on loyalty building through nurturing and relationship building. When they are older, then, because they have not cultivated those important ties, they wind up like Liz Jones complaining about being lonely, poor, and ready to die.

It's all so bizarre. Women are natural nurturers; they've evolved to be this way. Check out Tumblr if you think the desire isn't there. It showcases thousands of girl blogs full of pictures of puppies, kittens, and baby hedgehogs propped in baby-like poses. Or browse Pinterest for the plethora of homemaking adventures and craft projects pinned there. But instead of embracing these female yearnings in the traditional vocations of wife and mother, girls online are writing thousand-word essays on the lack of bad-ass role models on TV and writing gay slash fiction about apparently heterosexual Harry Potter characters.

It's a little stated fact that this female nurturing, while requiring considerable effort and self-sacrifice, it sets up more positive interactions with men (and, for that matter, people). Feminine behavior like cooking, baking, tending, touching, listening, smiling, laughing, and singing, brings out the protective nature of men and sets up a natural, positive give-and-take between them. Whereas a bitchy, kick-ass persona actively repels most men. It's very counterproductive.

Women can't compete physically with men. Period. And the vast majority of them don't even seem to want to compete in traditionally masculine high-stress endeavors. Given this, women would be far better off building affection, respect, and loyalty by developing their natural caring abilities.  And I don't mean to say that in some kind of stick-to-your-knitting, condescending way. I don't think women are only good for a handful of uses or that they cannot make contributions in any number of ways. You can have a career and still interact with people in ways that makes everyone's experience more positive. However, I don't support women who only want to bitch about how there aren't enough women in STEM careers or in CEO positions or making boatloads of money writing simulation software or having their games developed into the next big thing.

As far as I am concerned women have a choice there. They can either excel at the things men excel at, expending their own time and energy, or they can develop more cooperative strategies. Complaining endlessly about "male privilege" and attempting to shame successful people may seem like an easier path, but it's going to go nowhere given the relationship between the sexes right now.

Friday, October 24, 2014

What goes around comes around

Q: How satisfying is it to watch Gawker squeal a bit after pressure from gamers on their sponsors?

A: So soooooo satisfying.

Gawker has now lost at least potential ad revenue from at least three major sponsors: Adobe, BMW, and Mercedes. Since, unlike other passions, evil gossip, personal speculation, privacy violation, and bullying people out of jobs cannot, apparently, be done on one's own time and must be hired, this Gamergate offensive seems to be working. Even Amanda Marcotte seems alarmed. 

There you go. What goes around comes around.

Lest we forget how very deserving the demise of Gawker's carefully engineered empire of poison words would be, let's recap. Twitter in the past year or more has turned into a bloodbath, and wherever there's a pile on, wherever someone's life or livelihood gets ruined, someone from Gawker has been there, holding a torch or a pitchfork and smiling, smiling, smiling.

Justine Sacco, Pax Dickinson, Brendan Eich - all lost their jobs because of the actions of a mob ginned up by Internet activists. After Sandy Hook, Gawker listed the names of all of the gun owners in New York City. These people are gleeful about causing trouble for anyone who does not subscribe to the worldview they are advocating for, or for anyone who deviates from the PC script any time, anywhere.

People who are active online should know that it's not a safe place, and it's not only unsafe in the sense that there are pedophiles waiting to talk to kids in chatrooms. It's unsafe in the sense that everything is archived and can be called up to use as a weapon in any future conflict. And there are apparently thousands of mean or mentally unstable people waiting impatiently for the right opportunity to do just that.

What is Twitter? If you consider the hundreds of millions of people every day who tweet things via this medium - most of it is nothing but air. It's the equivalent of bar conversations, only every conversation is public, not in the sense that it's being "heard" in real time, but that it's recorded, and can be played back, minus any context at any future date.

Have you ever been obnoxious in a bar? Have you ever made a joke that your audience would appreciate, but your mother - or your girlfriend - or your boss - would not? This is a normal part of discourse. Obviously the things we say are not always appropriate for any audience. Unfortunately, people like Sam Biddle are out there combing Twitter and other online media for ammunition to ruin people's lives. Really, how awful is that?
It's just so petty and malicious. So middle school girl clique-y.

Well now, after Sam Biddle made a callous "joke" about the necessity of bullying nerds, he's being moved around the Gawker empire from editor of Valleywag to some senior writing position at Gawker itself, after a short forced sabbatical.  How does it feel, Sam, the fire of public opprobrium? Not so great, huh?
Unfortunately, that awful Nitasha Tiku who is just as nasty is taking over for Biddle, and no doubt things will be business as usual.

Perhaps Gamergate can do something about her too? Go, gamers! Keep it up! Maybe if enough of these horrible people have to suffer at least some consequences, they will think twice about being so casually cruel to others online.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Piece of Advice #116: Don't rely on the government to protect you

It should now be clear to even the least engaged American that, when it comes to our government, the adults are not in charge. In fact, from Ferguson to the Ukraine to Iraq, whatever our current U.S. Government has touched has turned to blood. They've been busily destabilizing sovereign nations and stirring up race hatred in the heartland, all the while ignoring their role in scandal after scandal, and responsibility for their decision making processes in failed projects of their own choosing, like the healthcare rollout.

However, the average American, not really known for his awareness of what is happening within his ever expanding, ever more complex and corrupt government, can't really be blamed for his ignorance of large scams like Pigford. First, because it doesn't affect him directly and probably doesn't affect anyone he knows directly. Second, because the media has been running cover for the Obama Administration for over six years, framing their actions and covering their misdeeds in a decidedly Soviet fashion. And, third, because, under the New Normal that followed the economic freefall of 2008, we're all pretty busy trying to do more with less. At the end of the day, if there are only bread and circuses, we'll we'll take a second helping of both, please, and maybe a beer?

But here's the deal: while the bad faith misdoings of the IRS, the DHS, the FBI, the ATF, the HHS and the Justice Department are certainly bad news for all of us, and the military purges and our porous border will absolutely affect the security of the U.S. longterm, in the shorter term, most of this stuff, again, doesn't affect us directly in ways we can point to and accuse. Yes, the new jobs aren't anywhere near as good as our old jobs, and the average taxpayer will be on the hook for the needs and demands of an unending stream of immigrants, but it's still a fairly indirect assault. You have to be paying attention to pinpoint the source of your troubles.

But now we have Ebola on our soil, and there's nothing like a disease that makes people's inner organs hemorrhage and their eyeballs liquify to shake things up a bit.

So far the CDC is doing about as good a job as you might expect from a federal department under this administration. Ebola has been ripping through Africa for months now, a horrible disease that has no cure. The mortality rate is currently about 70%. 70%! Still, the media has attempted to run cover for the inadequacies of organization and planning which lead to it cropping up in Texas, instead bringing up gun deaths and Republican budget cuts, and reminding us that the flu kills 36,000 people in the U.S. every year (a statistic that even the Huffington Post blatantly calls out as a lie). Obama personally told us that it was "unlikely" that Ebola would surface in the U.S. CDC officials told us it was unlikely that Ebola would spread in the U.S. And now we have pockets of Ebola in several states and at least two homegrown cases in healthcare workers who treated Thomas Duncan, the Liberian man who knowingly brought it here. The last case even flew about the U.S. after her coworker was diagnosed with Ebola. Wow, the government is really on it. Relax, peeps, cheeel. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow golf. Yeah, that's right. Absolutely nothing to worry about.

Seriously, people. My brother-in-law's border collie mix could do a better job of herding people and keeping mischief from happening.

I think it's time we realized that our leaders have a different agenda here, and it's not keeping average Americans safe or healthy. Obama can give Frieden the ax to try and save face, but until we stop flights from West Africa, seal our borders, and quarantine anyone - anyone - who's had exposure to the virus, we are all at risk.

Most of these scares will prove to be false alarms, and it looks like the people who did not treat Duncan medically have not come down with the virus. But officials have begun rethinking that 21-day quarantine period as sufficient, and, frankly, we don't know enough about this disease and how it's spread yet to make any more mistakes. But it's hard to imagine, after such an auspicious beginning, that there will be no more mistakes. The paperwork from the medical liability lawsuits will decimate forests.

So, we're on our own here. The CDC isn't going to save you, so take care of your own. Beef up your health as best you can, stock up on Sambucol, and start a hand washing ritual. We may have to self-quarantine as well - which would require stocking up on essentials and will have a significant impact on our economy. Be aware of the risks of being in public places or in germ incubators like public transit. Prepare for possible financial disruption. And make sure your employer has some policy on how to handle outbreaks of sickness in the workplace to minimize exposure to everyone else.

Good luck, and God bless.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Piece of Advice #115: Teach your girls not to rape

Originally, I was going to talk about hitting and physical violence among women since new evidence has shown that frequently, in roughly 40% of cases, men are the target of domestic violence. We are so programmed by our duplicitous media to regard women as victims, that younger generations cannot imagine such a high rate of abuse victims are men - except for young people who grew up in the households of abusive women. They can imagine all too well.

I've known a number of men personally who were perhaps not physically beaten by their wives or partners, but were subjected to endless psychological abuse, crazy, jealous, or controlling behavior. At least three of these men's wives took a blowtorch to their lives, and they barely survived. They were normal men whose lives were ruined when vicious women used the system against them for fun and profit.

Teach your girls not to be like that.

Start with the idea that they need to keep their hands them themselves. That just because they're cute and small, they don't get a free pass on hitting. It's not okay to hit a boy just because he's bigger or male. Then move up to the idea that "Want, take, have" is a philosophy suited to psychopaths not women, and certainly not ladies.

It's distressing to read all of the recent stories about adult women who have taken sexual advantage of the boys entrusted to them socially or professionally, like local teacher Jamila Williams who sexually molested two of her students. This is not an isolated incident. Women pedophiles are becoming more common. I'll forgive you if you haven't read more of the hundreds of these cases (h/t SOBL1). The media doesn't seem to think they are as interesting as priest pedophile cases. We are still getting thorough coverage of archived Catholic scandals in the national press, although female pedophile cases are much more of a trend now. Where there is little oversight, predators will roam, and schools apparently are great hunting grounds these days.

Some may say boys who are sexually molested by women must consent or sex cannot occur, but the fact remains that these boys are still minors. Their brains have not fully formed, and they cannot conceptualize the legal responsibilities they will have for their predators' children should these women become pregnant or what life with herpes (or antibiotic-resistant Gonorrhea) will be like. We shelter them from the responsibilities of voting and drinking because our society thinks they are unready. If it's wrong for a 30-year-old man to have consensual sex with a 15-year-old girl because one is adult and has adult understanding and the other is a child with inadequate experience, it's wrong for women to have sex with boys as well. Personally, I don't think we have the punishments right for these "consensual" sex cases, but I do agree that this isn't trivial stuff. I'm not raising my son to believe sex is like a handshake and matters just as little.

Then there are the truly crazy cases, like the one in Chicago where the nurse had sex with a medicated patient without his consent. It's fair to say that if on college campuses consensual sex must contractual, having sex with your drugged up patient is rape. You can't broker any kind of business if you can't count to 10.

For those confused about how women (and girls) should respect men's boundaries physically, psychologically, emotionally, sexually, and legally, remember: What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Piece of Advice #114: Stay together for the children

This piece of advice basically goes against all of the "wisdom" of the last 45 years, since the second wave feminist movement and the Sexual Revolution. Since I was a child myself I've heard adults rationalizing that if they're not happy in their marriages, the kids suffer, so it's just better to make a clean break and create a new happier environment for them to thrive in.

This sounds really great; the problem is, it's just sheer crap.  I think by now we all know it because the people who are of childbearing age now have seen so much of the insecurity, sadness, loneliness, anger, violence and abuse that are the results of broken families.

It's hard to even type that phrase, "broken families," because I've had so much negative reinforcement and reeducation of the "every family type is unique and valuable" kind. "No family is broken, we're all just making different choices, etc., etc."

So last week I found out that a woman I know, have known for several decades, who comes from a good intact family of loving but strict and religious parents, who was homeschooled as a girl and has been homeschooling her many children, has decided to Eat Pray Love and dump her, by all accounts, kind, decent looking, good provider, good dad husband so she can find herself. Or whatever. I should have known this was going down by the large increase in Facebook preening selfies (a number of them on horseback) being posted on her timeline, but I guess I wasn't paying enough attention. I really didn't pick up on the fact that she was getting divorced until she changed her last name back to her maiden name and her status to divorced.

She has many children. And, yes, she's held together well. She's still really attractive, and she's fun and creative and energetic, but what a nightmare. At least one of her daughters is taking being separated from her daddy really hard. And looking even a short distance into the future, her economic prospects are fairly grim. She's not particularly educated, and her job training isn't in a lucrative field. I don't know what she's thinking.  There is no way that she's ever going to do better than her now ex-husband.

She says her children are doing really well, but "well" is a pretty relative term.

My son spent a lot of time this summer playing with a friend whose parents got divorced two years ago. It was an "amicable" split up, and they were both very discreet on the reasons for it. Their son had anger issues then, and I remember thinking, "This isn't going to make him less angry." He spent this last summer terrorizing his family, including both sets of grandparents who were helping to take care of him. Apparently the only time he was easy to be around was when he had friends over, so out of pity, I let my son play there more than I was comfortable with because I know his grandmother, have known her for years, and I was dismayed to hear her say in astonishment how good he was when my son was over.

The last week of the summer his mother locked herself in the bathroom with her daughter because he was so out of control. Her father had to come over and get this boy talked down. Another total nightmare.

While I think this boy could seriously benefit from the establishment of some strict parental boundaries, the longer the summer wore on, the more I realized he was punishing everyone because he was angry and because he couldn't do anything about the divorce two years ago, but he sure could now. So he did. He made everyone in his family as miserable as he could.

In the last six year since my son went to school we've seen numerous families split up, and a number of my son's classmates have really floundered. They've been angry. They've hit kids on the playground, they've gotten thin and ghostlike, and their grades have seriously suffered in school. I've had to inform my son's school of abuse, and I've testified in court. And this is a private, middle class Catholic school, not the inner city.

Their parents have suffered too. They don't know how to handle escalating misbehavior. They don't have time to do enough intervention. They don't have any money. They've married and divorced again, or not married and just had serial relationships. Or posted a lot on Facebook about how strong and independent they are when it was obvious that they were just hanging on by a thread.

I don't know what was going on behind closed doors in most of these situations, but divorce didn't make any of these people better parents or happier. Yes, it's still the short term, but there has been so much collateral damage.

Marriage is hard. It's not always happy. Sometimes there are long spells of sadness, disappointment, health problems, money problems, or incompatibility that must be weathered. Children add complications and stress. Individual wants or even needs often must be put off. But the sheer act of keeping on keeping on in the face of difficulties is an education for kids, and the long term benefits of growing up in a house with both biological (or adoptive) parents are of immeasurable. An inheritance richer than pearls or diamonds. 

If that's a gift you can give your children, why wouldn't you do everything you can to provide it?