Trump, Aleppo, & Standing Rock: A World Fueled by Fossils

Human history, as taught by history books, is a story of great wars and great leaders, exploration and adventure, ideas and inventions. But underneath it all, the world has largely been shaped by one thing: energy resources. The discovery of fire gave our ancestors warmth and allowed them to get more energy from their food. Further harnessing the energy of nature through agriculture led to the dawn of civilization as we know it. The use of coal for steam engines brought about the industrial revolution. Even today, our exploitation of fossil fuels continues to shape the world around us.

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In early 2016, the world was exposed to the struggle of indigenous people in the United States against the construction of an oil pipeline through their sacred lands. The clash between American government forces and Native Americans at Standing Rock is just another chapter in a long history of genocide in this country for the sake of resource exploitation. As the new nation of America expanded west across the continent, Native Americans faced mass deportations and executions, all so the new government could envelop the continent’s resources into its own. And unfortunately, the US’s exploitation of resources is not limited to the continent it occupies.

In November 2016, Russian state officials employed hackers and propagandists to influence the US presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. Many people speculated that Trump’s business ties – and possibly massive debt – to Russian industries was a determining factor in this unprecedented alliance. Later, Trump’s nomination of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to Secretary of State further clarified Russia’s intentions. Previous US sanctions against Russia for the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine had stopped a $500 billion dollar deal between ExxonMobil and Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned oil company, to drill for oil in the Arctic Circle. With Tillerson in position to lift those sanctions, both ExxonMobil and the Russian government stand to make an unprecedented amount of money extracting the oil from an increasingly endangered region of the earth. And if destroying the environment isn’t enough to deter the exploitation of resources, don’t think destroying people’s lives will be any different.

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On December 13, 2016, the Syrian government took control of the majority of the city of Aleppo, killing at least 82 civilians and getting one step closer to ending a 5-year civil war in that country, which has already taken the lives of at least 86,000 civilians. The war has been plagued by confusion and conflicts of interests, concerning some experts about the possibility of a third world war, as US-backed rebel forces clash with the Russia-backed Syrian government. The reason for such international involvement in an otherwise domestic dispute was unclear, unless you boiled it down to energy resources. It turns out Syria was smack dab in the middle of two competing Natural Gas pipeline propositions that stood to deliver the majority of that resource to all of Europe. One pipeline would go through Russia-aligned Iran, and the other through US- and EU-aligned Saudi Arabia. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad went in favor of the Russia-backed Iran pipeline, and immediately the US decided it was finally time to overthrow this brutal dictator.

The debate about climate change and energy resources still rages on in every corner of the world, and it mostly seems isolated from any debates about these other geopolitical issues. But make no mistake, this world, and our place in it, is continually being defined by how we find and use energy. We can continue to invest in an energy infrastructure that destroys lives, nations, and environments; or we can choose to safely harness the energy that exists all around us, with technologies that have been available for decades. Unfortunately, the time to make that choice is quickly running out.

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Listen.

trump

What happened last night was due to a lack of empathy. On both sides.

We high and mighty liberals decried Trump and his supporters because it was easy. It’s easy to decry racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny. And it feels good. Because we know we’re right. And we let each other know that we were right. And we all enjoyed being so so so right. But it’s a low-energy response. It’s the same function as decrying immigrants, Muslims, or minorities. It’s easy, and it feels good. What we failed to do was to listen, and to empathize. Trump supporters tried to tell us it wasn’t about the racism, the sexual assaults, and the basic indecency. They tried to tell us that they were willing to look past all of that. And instead of asking why, we attacked them. We refused to listen. Because listening is hard.

Republicans were no better. We tried incessantly to shove facts down their throats, and they refused to listen. We tried to tell them that our friends and loved ones were scared, and they refused to listen.  When anyone challenged Trump’s business dealings, his behavior toward women, or his false views of the world, they brushed it off. They fabricated lies to tell themselves that Hillary was ‘just as bad.’ They spread misinformation at a rate that fact checkers couldn’t even keep up with, not that it would have mattered. They made it very clear that they didn’t care about facts, no matter how many we came up with. And that they didn’t care about the fears of people who didn’t look, pray, or love like them, no matter how many they claimed were their friends.

What happened this election season was a populist uprising. As much as I hate to admit it, Bernie Sanders’ movement was linked with Trump’s. Both were giving working-class people something to fight for, and something to fight against. The cry from the people was that the establishment was not working. And neither party listened to that cry. Trump forced his way through a crowd of adversity from the Republican party and landed in the driver’s seat. And the Democrats outrightly and corruptly rejected their own populist candidate for one that represented the very thing the uprising was against.

This is not to place blame on any party, any candidate, or any voter. We are all to blame. Because we refused to listen. Because being right was so much more satisfying. Now we’re left with a choice. To keep blocking people, unfriending people, pushing people away. To refuse to listen to facts and opinions we don’t like. Or to embrace our enemies, love them, and for god’s sake listen.

Words Matter

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“It’s just words, folks.“

I’m a writer. Words are my trade. Everyday I wake up and ask myself, what words will I write today? My head is constantly filled with words. Words I’ve heard in movies or songs, spoken by great thinkers or just witty comedians. I think, as I assume most you do, in words. The words that flow through my head determine my worldview, my actions, my behavior. I write for a simple reason: words matter. Words have meaning. Words convey thoughts, and thoughts direct action. Much like the first step to a movie is a script, the first step to any movement, idea, legislation, war, or religion, are words. Words spoken by world leaders hold enormous weight in our minds. If words didn’t matter, we wouldn’t all know the words “I have a dream” or “The only thing to fear is fear itself” or “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Donald Trump’s words matter. They matter because words inspire actions. Since Trump announced his candidacy, there have been countless acts of violence, discrimination, and harassment where perpetrators specifically mentioned his name. A former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan is running for Senate in Louisiana, specifically citing Donald Trump as the man who inspired him to run. Multiple outlets have reported a marked rise in white supremacist hate speech and hate groups on the internet since the start of his candidacy. Even an innocent internet meme has been commandeered by white supremacists and used by Trump himself in tandem.

No, Trump doesn’t have a political history that we can look at for proof that he will actually instill bigoted, hateful, and intolerant policies during his possible presidency. We do have a long political history for the man he picked as his running mate, but not for Trump himself. All we have are his words. Words like “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the country.” Words like, “..they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” And words like “When you’re a star, they let you do it. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” These words matter. They matter because they inspire others who share those views. Views that we as a society have rightly ostracized. And his words are bringing those people back into society. His words are making those views acceptable again.

Words matter because every woman I know has a story of being verbally harassed. Words matter because 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted. Words matter because no matter where you say them – whether it’s in a locker room, on a bus, or on national television – they spread ideas outside of those venues. Words matter because Brock Turner blamed his rape of an unconscious woman on “party culture.” Words matter because the judge in that case said, “it’s more morally culpable for someone with no alcohol in their system to commit an offense like that than with someone who was legally intoxicated.” Words matter because a judge in Canada asked a rape victim, “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?” and said that young women “want to have sex, particularly if they’re drunk.”

Words matter because they inspire action. Words determine legislation, verdicts, and sentencing. Words affect the behavior of those who hear them. The words a person speaks offer a glimpse into that person’s mind. And when words are said by world leaders, the entire world listens.

On consciousness

A brief but honest response. I’ll admit I included the last question in a (possibly fruitless) attempt to drudge up an admission from a self-proclaimed atheist as to even the slightest possibility of a vague definition of the misnomer ‘afterlife.’ And now that I’ve stated it as such, I doubt I’ll receive anything less than a blunt and unwavering ‘no,’ but I’ll hold on to hope.

 

In response to the first question though, Mugatu (as I like to think of him) has only tackled the ‘easy problem’ of consciousness as described by David Chalmers (see this post). Namely, he has outlined why he believes that the outward appearance of consciousness is merely a brain state, which is all but unarguable. He, possibly for brevity’s sake, did not address what Chalmers calls the ‘hard problem,’ that is, the qualia of one’s subjective experience, which he states, and I agree for the most part, has no physical or chemical counterpoint in the brain, or in physical reality at all. Chalmers argues that these phenomena cannot and will not be found in physical reality, as their definition restricts them to metaphysics, but I’m sure my friends at EoA will have some arguments against this. So, as I have nothing else to add to Makagutu’s response, let’s see if anyone will tackle Chalmer’s ‘hard problem.’

Enquiries on Atheism

 Do you believe consciousness exists in this reality? Is it merely a by-product of brain function? Is it contained somewhere in the brain?

Do you believe in the possibility that consciousness can continue to exist after death

The quest to understand consciousness

These questions appear here. I have decided to combine the two because they deal with the same subject matter, that is, consciousness. We all must be aware that this happens to be one of the questions that our species has been attempting to answer for centuries if not millenia and as such a blog post by yours truly would not be sufficient in dealing with this problem. Having said that, we will then attempt to give the question an attempt.

I am not a neuro-scientist and so in order to answer this question, I would first like us to look at the definition of consciousness, definitions that…

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Open Enquiries from a Featured Theist

In my first ever blog post, almost a year and a half ago, I declared my sentiment that the debate on the existence of God is ultimately meaningless.  Since that fateful day, I have posted articles about philosophy, science, psychology, history, mythology, as well as random thoughts and just some utter bullshit.  Inevitably though, I am time and time again roped into the same religious debates that I denounced with that first post.  In these debates, I have argued from both sides of the fence, playing Devil’s and God’s advocate depending on the context, all while stealthily avoiding affiliating myself with any one denomination.  Throughout the course of these discussions, the rare times I’ve had to directly address the question, I’ve described myself as an omnist, a deist, an agnostic apologist, and an aimless wanderer between all beliefs (and no belief).  But, despite all my efforts to avoid it, I have recently been labelled by a wonderful alliance of atheist bloggers on their compendium, Enquiries on Atheism, as a ‘Featured Theist.’  Now don’t get me wrong, I am both honored and flattered to be featured on this collaboration, and I want to send my sincere thanks to whoever is responsible for making the decision (even if it’s just a random computer algorithm).  But it does draft me onto the losing team of a competition of which I’m growing more and more wearisome.  Through all my debates for and against the values and hypocrisies of religion, the one consistency has been inconsistency, specifically, the inconsistency of beliefs among those of the same nomenclature.  Even within a specific denomination of a specific religion, you’re not likely to find any two people who share all of the exact same beliefs, moral, philosophical, or otherwise.  For example, two Christians who attend the same church and both declare Christ as their Lord and savior may have completely different views about the importance of the factual validity of the bible.  Likewise, two atheists may be variably certain about the nature of objective reality.  It’s these and similar discrepancies that have led me to avoid declaring any affiliation myself.  Nonetheless, we humans need to categorize our world in order to understand it, and so people with vastly different beliefs may end up being labelled, by themselves and others, with the same assumption-laden label, which further sparks the debate based on nothing more than each person’s own presumptions about that label.

But while I’m being cast, I might as well play the role, for the show must go on.  And I’d like to take the opportunity to explore the varying beliefs within one of these sticky labels.  Atheists are notorious for avoiding declaring any of their own beliefs by exploiting the loophole that atheism is a lack of belief.  But as atheism is merely a lack of belief in gods, as opposed to nihilism, I’m not gonna let the writers over at EoA wriggle out of the witness stand so easily.  So I do have some enquiries, which I’ll list here and also shoot over to them, that should, if they choose to answer, help clarify what beliefs atheist do not lack. These questions are open to all who want to answer though, and if you don’t mind disclosing your preferred label, it may help to exemplify my point even further.

1. Do you believe in the finality of objective reality, despite that our only source of knowledge about that reality is subjective experience. In other words, do you believe that the physical universe is all that exists?

2. Do you believe that logic, and thereby science, is inherent to reality, or do we project it onto reality.  Is logic the language of nature, or is it simply our method of understanding it?

3. Do you believe that our logic, and thereby our science, can or will someday explain the entirety of reality. Can the true nature of reality be known?

4. Do you believe consciousness exists in this reality? Is it merely a by-product of brain function? Is it contained somewhere in the brain?

5. Do you believe in the possibility that consciousness can continue to exist after death?

I’ll stop there for now, as these are the questions I’m mainly interested in.  Hopefully from here we can foster a discussion that explores each others’ worldviews.  Until then, have at it!

Why this dog has to die.

A common claim by the antireligious is that religion can and should be blamed for the wealth of atrocities committed in its name.  From the Crusades to the bombing of abortion clinics, religion is to shoulder the blame for the sins of those who claim it justifies mass murder.  By that logic, this poor lil’ pup is to be held accountable for six murders committed by David Berkowitz in 1976 and 1977.  Sorry Harvey, but it’s your word against his, and you can’t talk, ’cause you’re a dog.  Don’t worry though, you’re in good company.  Last week we put J. D. Salinger to death for the murders of John Lennon, Rebecca Schaeffer, and the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan.  And while we’re doing away with any arbitrary reason people might use to murder, we better get rid of love, lust, power, property, politics, money, drugs, music, books, food, water, shelter, nature… let’s see, anything else?

 

The Religion of Atheism

Would love to open a discussion on this, especially to hear thoughts from some of my atheist readers. Debilis has pointed out some key questions:

 

1.Does this make Atheism into a religion, where hitherto Atheists have claimed that it is simply the lack thereof?
2. Does this set forth Atheist ‘beliefs’ as has hitherto been denied as #1? And for atheists, do you share these beliefs?
3. Is an ‘Atheist Church’ more or less helpful to Atheists than other secular or humanist assemblies?

 

Personally, I’m in favor of anything that brings people together for community fellowship and self-reflection, and if this makes it so Atheists are more comfortable doing it, then more power to ya. Though I can’t help but feel that they are merely borrowing practices of religion and simply taking God out of them. The Huffington Post aritcle states that members meditated and group-sang Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back In Anger.” Again there is nothing inherently wrong with doing so (though I would have preferred “Champagne Supernova”), yet an article by another (obviously biased) attendee stated that comedian Sanderson Jones’ “sermon” was more focused on bashing other religions than promoting the Assembly’s stated theme of “New Beginnings.” This seems odd for an assembly that is “radically inclusive,” ” a place of love that is open and accepting,” and “won’t tell you you’re wrong if you do [believe in God].”¹ As an assembly of like-minded people to reflect on their lives and minds, I support this new assembly, but if it devolves into nothing more than scheduled and organized religious bashing, I’d have to whole-heartedly withdraw that support.

Fide Dubitandum

atheistSunday Assembly (more casually known as “The Atheist Church”) has announced a campaign to spread itself into a global movement. The “Atheist Denomination”, as it were.

The criticism has been that these people are “turning atheism into its own sort of religion”. 

Personally, I think the criticism is unfair. The group is simply not religious in anything like a traditional sense of the term. But, I find that there are a number of interesting things about the fact that many (even many atheists) are making this complaint.

How so? Let me run though some thoughts:

1. This Assumes Atheism is a “Thing”

Atheists have recently insisted that atheism is simply a “lack of belief”. I find it odd, then, that they think that atheists gathering to share there (non-religious) beliefs turns atheism into anything. It could be a slip of the pen (or keyboard), but the same thing…

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Kids With Guns

Trying to prove he’s got what it takes, young Theo decides to tag along with his older brother for the day, unaware that Finn’s new friend is a juvenile delinquent intent on pushing the boys past their limit.

 

Be sure to like the film on Facebook!

American Horror Story Goes To Hogwarts

It’s not a good sign when the best part of any television episode is the slave torture scene, but hey, this is American Horror Story we’re talking about here.  The third season opener of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s conflated amalgam of pulp fiction tropes did have some contenders though, including a good ol’ gang rape scene and not one but TWO murder-by-vagina scenes.  AHS has so far been unique in the way it combines similar horror/sci-fi concepts into one inter-related setting; such as the Murder House of the first season, which gave us numerous creative murders, infidelity, psychopathy, home invasions, and Rosemary’s Baby-ism all wrapped up in a ‘haunted house’ scenario; or the second season which ran the gamut from insanity to serial killers to aliens to genetic mutants to angels and demons, all contributing to a cold-war-era fright fest.  So it’s no surprise that when the show reared its horned head to New Orleans, we’d be in for Voodoo queens, torture houses, angsty teenage witches (wait a sec…), reincarnation (huh?), and… hold up, was that a Minotaur?  Where are we again?

Following the initial first glimpse of sheer unforgiving terror, the show plunges head first into a storyline eerily reminiscent of a young adult fantasy novel.  And while I agree that the world desperately needs another one of those, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed by the choice.  At first I was into it.  When Taissa Farmiga started her fast-talking sardonic narration, I thought, ‘There’s AHS doing what it does best, playing with genre.’  But then it kept going.  And going.  And she gets sent to a special school.  And going.  And there’s some more stereotypical teenage characters.  And going.  And there’s a star-crossed romance.  And going.  Aaaaaaand… I don’t care.   Just like that, what was once a severely adult-themed exhibition of terror is now placating to the most idiotic, annoying demographic out there.  Coupled with its unabashed references to social media, the show’s main storyline seems to be steering it away from its classic-yet-modern style and towards blatant teen-targeting trash. I stopped reading the Harry Potter books when I was 15, and I didn’t spend the last near-decade of my life actively avoiding the Twilight craze just to have it infused into a show I once thought defied the formula of cable TV.  Especially with the teen-trendy Vampire Diaries spin-off The Originals now set in the Crescent City, I was expecting AHS to provide a dark and demented ringer against which to pit that deplorable heap of softcore vampire porn, but to no avail.

AHS’s attempt at young adult (in other words, children’s) fiction came complete with a rigid set of rules that the imaginary world has to play by, where witches only get one power each, except one in a generation, the “Supreme,” who has all of them… ooooooooooh….. I’m intrigued.  Oh wait, no.  I don’t care.  And in case you didn’t catch what each girl’s power was by them actually acting them out, there was a lovely dinner scene where each of them explained their powers.  I think I did an actual physical facepalm when Precious shouted out, “I’m a human Voodoo doll!”  Thanks Precious, I totally didn’t understand it from the perfectly clear demonstration of it literally two seconds before.  There was even an altered-history background that explained how all the witches from Salem sneaked down to the bayous to avoid persecution, which despite the gang rape, slave torture, and aneurysm-inducing vagina, was probably the most offensive part of the show.  One of the most heinous acts committed against women in history reduced to an arbitrary and unnecessary backdrop for a story that totally didn’t need one.  For a show that’s shaping up to be a powerful showcase of female character drama to paint the Salem witch trials as anything other than a fear- and superstition-driven act of pure misogyny is more than a tad ironic to me, but what do I know.

Despite my qualms with the tone of the main plot line, I’ll hold out hope.  After all, this is American Horror Story, and you never know what might come into play in later episodes.  The show’s alternative plot line pits real-life 19th century psychopathic socialite Madame Lalaurie against also-real-life famed Voodoo Queen Marie Leveau in what will inevitably be a racially tense rivalry surrounding the torture and murder of the latter’s converted man-beast lover. Despite its deviation from the usual unilateralism of the show’s motifs, the twisted image of the perverted Minotaur at the end of the opening is a disturbing use of symbolism, and given its use in the show’s teasers, we can only hope it will come into play later.  And though the two probably never interacted in real life, the play on the big easy’s haunted history is enthralling enough to keep me seated through the droll of the teen fic storyline (and Precious trying to act).  All in all I’m in it for the long haul, and I can only hope the show’s creators will pull more from the depths of the classic horror genres they’ve introduced than from the shallow end of the pool of literature that’s clogging the arteries of popular culture today.