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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Political Ads, Ignorance and Propoganda

I really hate when an election is coming near.
I hate it because of the advertisements that appear.
One example that has been airing for awhile where I live is this one:

I find this advertisement particularly repugnant for a variety of reasons and none of them have anything to do with the candidate it is trashing.

This advertisement is completely disjointed and ridiculous.
The term "independent" in politics, and in the context of this advertisement, means that one is not affiliated with a political party.
This advertisement attacks Angus King's declaration of political party independence and states that his voting records shows otherwise. This makes no sense without supporting evidence and explanation - it, in short, is a terrible assertion to make in an ad because one cannot support it. The nature of being independent from either major political party means that you vote however you feel is the right direction for the people you represent. Sometimes your votes may align completely with one of the parties' agendas and other times your votes may be scattered back and forth between the two parties. Even if you voted 100% in alignment with one party agenda it doesn't mean your record tells a different story because you are still not a member of that party and, by definition, an independent.
The last portion of the ad, where it blatantly says "Maine needs jobs" is also a complete and total disjunction. It is obvious that the people who built the ad believe that commenting on the employment situation in the state will draw more attention to their cause and they are probably right. I, however, noticed that that one last comment in the ad was thrown in there in a haphazard fashion and really has nothing to do with the rest of the ad. It weakens the ad. It hurts their cause. It makes the writer(s) and editor(s) of that ad look foolish. If you want to take a direction of "too much spending" in the ad - do it. If you want to take a direction of "not enough jobs" in an ad - do it. There are probably ways you can create an ad that covers both in a productive manner - this advertisement was not one of them.

Furthering my problem with the campaigning season is the level of ignorance that many politicians seem to uncover about themselves during their speeches and interviews.
Chief among those at the moment is the, apparently, rampant belief among Republican public officials and nominees that women who are "legitimately raped" cannot get pregnant from the action. They go so far as to include a separate rider for incest (where I disagree with that as raping your children is still rape and statutory rape of your children is still statutory rape) and some of them claim one cannot get pregnant from that, either.
I firmly believe that the core purpose of politicians is to represent the people that they are elected (and paid) to represent. Their job is to PROTECT our interests when examining legislation changes and problems in the country. Their job is NOT to try and oppress the people and make themselves wealthier. Sadly, the latter is what politicians in this country have become very good at.
I recently watched a movie that dealt with trying to get from East Germany to West Germany in the 1960s as a barrier to the characters in the story. It made me realize that if you have to turn your country into a prison to keep people there so you, the government, have something to govern then you are doing it wrong. Shortly afterward this image starting floating around facebook:

and I found it very fitting.

The bottom line on this upcoming election is that the Republican party has, in my humble estimation, thrown themselves overboard and into the deep-end of crazy, fundamentalist thinking. The people who are getting airtime from this party are showing that their core values are, essentially, no different from those of the Taliban - except their book is "The Holy Bible" instead of the Koran (I know there are multiple spellings, I am going with the easy one).
I am fiscally conservative. I like the idea of supporting people who need it but I also realize that the money has to come from somewhere. I like having my paycheck and dislike seeing how much goes into taxes. What I dislike more is the idea of my country turning into a prison where I am regulated by irrationality and religious fundamentalism. I fear being trapped in a country, unable to leave, where the people in charge will force inequality upon the people and discriminate against half the population based solely on their gender. I fear a country where progress out of that condition (because we are still living within it) has stopped and any chance of it resuming is lost.
I have now come to not only dislike both parties and refuse to join either but to actually fear the republican party and all that it is proclaiming to stand for,
I have said before that voting for the BEST candidate is not throwing your vote away since your vote serves to outline that very purpose. I have stated that voting for a candidate as a vote against another candidate contributes to the downfall of the system as it is designed to support us. I still believe these things but, I feel that the republican party has gone to the point where I may be forced to vote for the democratic nominee as a defensive play against the republican candidates. I hate this idea but I would rather do it that see the misogyny and homophobia continue to run rampant. I would rather do it than see us move more and more toward a religiously-ruled country. I would rather do that than see the continuing decline of scientific knowledge in this country. I would rather see my taxes go up for programs that allow more and more people to view welfare as a lifestyle choice (and yes, they do exist - I have seen it first-hand) than be subjected to the alternative.

Great job, republican party, you are pushing an independent away from you out of a need to defend their own position in the world.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Morality and Religion

I recently read an article examining the "New Atheist" movement and a counter movement that wants to study religion and how it has impacted civilization and whether there is a group evolutionary advantage to being religious versus being secular.

I found the article interesting and it clearly highlights two major arguments in the study of religion.
The first is that religion has caused a great deal of badness in the world and is the constant source of oppression and willful ignorance amongst a great many people.
The second is that there must be a reason we embrace it so boldly when it is the root of so many evils.

The article then proceeds to discuss the champions of each of these points. It refers to those supporting the first point as "New Atheists" and does not provide a specific name for the group supporting the second argument.

What I find interesting about both groups is that they seem to feel, at least based on the article's exemplification of them, that these two points are mutually exclusive and must be in competition with one-another.
This is far from the truth.
If one examines the situation closely one quickly and clearly sees that one is an examination of where we came from to get where we are today with religion and the other is trying to drive a religion-free end point for society. These are not mutually-exclusive, but valid actions to be taken. One informs us of where we've been and the other directs us to where we are going. The best way to get to where you want to go is to understand where you have been and the path you have already traversed. The New Atheists (at least as painted by the article) are attacking the best hope for understanding why religion is a powerful force among humanity. Understanding that force will be the key to defusing it and allowing for a reasonable and logical path in the future.
What this tells me is that the New Atheists have succumbed to is religious fervor. Their dogma is the eliminate all religion from the world and that appears to include the study of how it came to be. They are what I have previously referred to as Atheists whereas those who are simply lacking faith in any god are atheists. The capital letter matters.
I find this incredibly ironic as the force trying to wipe out religion is doing so with a drive that can only be described as equal to that which powered the Crusades and currently drives the concept of Jihad. They are forming a new religion. They are fueling the "science versus religion" concept and they are generating more push against science by their active drive to force people away from their faith. Those people are embracing their faith in higher levels as a defense mechanism to this attack on their religion and belief structure. The greater the attack on religion from this minority the greater the defensive response will be from the religious. The greater the attack the more damage the attackers are doing to their own cause.
Interestingly enough - this also holds true for all other religions. The more ANY religion drives an attack (whether intellectual, political or physical) against the non-believers the more they damage their own cause in the eyes of EVERYONE who is not a fanatic.

I am not religious. I fail to understand the very idea of creating a religion. I fail to understand how someone can have such blind faith. I fail to understand how anyone can have faith at all. I REQUIRE evidence to belief. Sometimes I find myself holding a belief and not knowing what evidence supports it but then, after reflection, I have always found evidence that reinforces the belief. My belief that humanity is generally stupid and easily led while also being generally neutral or good is built on years of being amongst humanity on a daily basis. My belief that my dog will not try to kill me is based on years of him treating me with love and respect. My belief that pizza is going to be delicious is based on a huge rate of success in which even bad pizza is good (although there are certainly exceptions to this one).
I fall into the atheist category rather than the Atheist category because I simply fail to believe. I do believe that religion has caused a lot of harm in this world but I also believe it has caused a lot of good. I have friends who are very religions but fail to proselytize their religious and condemn that don't follow. I respect those friends greatly. I respect their beliefs greatly. I actually envy them for having been given the gift of faith and the peace it brings them.
I also have people who pass through my life regularly who are very religious and do make condemning statements of those who do not believe as they do. People who believe that withholding legal rights from a population of people because it is not as the bible commands it is the right thing to do (I'll limit my comment on how they don't follow ALL of the commands of The Bible to this one sentence). These people I cannot help but condemn and take offense from. There people, invariably, make comments that apply to me and my opinions in a judging manner. This means that they are either judging me silently all the time or that they are hypocrites. Either way; I cannot abide by that stance without taking notice of it.

So far I have covered the topic of religion quite clearly in this post, at least for the purposes intended and you, the reader, are probably wondering how I intend to fit morality into this picture. That answer is quite simple: religious extremists invariably question the morality of people who disbelieve.
In fact, I think if it came down to it all of the religious people would align and ally themselves against the atheists and Atheists on this point. They, quite simply, believe that one needs religion to tell people what is right and wrong.

This is a concept that I find offensive.
I am clearly able to make a determination between right and wrong. I, clearly, do not go out creating havoc and pain and suffering amongst my fellow man. I do this not because any religion tells me to avoid these things. I do not do them because I know they are wrong.

The article I linked above outlines a few studies that show religious people tend to be more generous and forgiving, etc. I can find this concept realistic if one factors in all of the "normal" people who go to religious worship on a weekly basis. If you include my friends like the ones I respect and admire for their beliefs who do not try to force me to believe as they do. If the world is more filled with people like that than people who try to force their beliefs on others I can easily see those studies having merit.
I, however, can also see those studies being insufficient in size to have a valid data set. I can also see the flaws in the studies.
More importantly I can see the logical flaws that exist in the belief that morality comes from religion.
I leave this concept with the following questions:
1 - Who is more moral: one who avoids doing bad things to others out of fear of a supernatural punishment after death or one who simply finds the bad things morally wrong on the basis that they are bad things?
2 - Who is more moral: the person who gives to the poor and needy in an effort to buy their way into an eternal paradise after they die or one who gives because they can and they want to help others for the purpose of helping others?
3 - Who is a better judge or right and wrong: one who needs someone to tell them what is right and what is wrong or someone who can make that determination on their own?
4 - Who is more amoral - one who wants to protect the rights of everyone or one who wants to enforce oppression on people based on their religion?

For me the answers are clear.
While I still wish I knew what it was like to have been granted the gift of faith in a benevolent deity I find that my moral position in the world is solid without having an organized religion tell me what is right and wrong.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Internet Age and self-censorship

The internet is a fantastic tool.
It is great for education and learning.
It is great for communication.
It is great for the opportunity to find like-minded people in any niche.

The internet is also a fantastic tool to support intolerance.
Recently I have become aware of my own dislike of posts on facebook of certain people on my friends' list. The posts that offend me almost all have a similar context: they are pro-religion to the point of being anti-secular and they support suppression of the rights of others based on religious doctrine.

I disagree with their posts and the thoughts behind them. I do, however, support their right to make the posts (note: my statements that your posts are filled with hate and rage is not suppressing your right to free speech - it is exercising MY right to free speech).

What I have recently discovered is that my animosity toward those who think dramatically different from me is something I had not counted on. It is larger than I expected. It can be overwhelming at times. It is a form of intolerance. I am finding that the more I surround myself with people whom I agree with the more I like my life but also the less tolerance I am having for thoughts that I find ridiculous and overly out-dated or oppressive.

I am finding, therefore, the tool of the internet is a double-edged sword.
It has allowed me the growth opportunity to find many people with similar interests and then forced my level of tolerance to shrink when faced with people whom I am diametrically opposed to in belief.

I have, for this very reason, stopped un-friending people on facebook for having what I deem to be hateful posts based on religion. They are choosing to have their faith and they are choosing to embrace the "morality" that they (albeit erroneously) feel is correct and my de-friending them will NEVER change that. My de-friending them will only serve to remove me from their stream and, as a result, remove a voice of reason from their world view. Being selfish enough to remove the annoyance of their immoral beliefs that people should be allowed to be oppressed based on anything (really, seriously, there are no good reasons to oppress a people) means I am choosing to hide from the problem. Being narcissistic enough to leave my thoughts and comments in their news feed is, in this situation, a way to do good.

And, if they don't like it, they can always de-friend me from their end to stop the "insanity" of me vocalizing that all people should be treated equally.

I encourage everyone else to stop self-censoring the world that they experience so that they, too, can be exposed to the views and beliefs of others. You might learn something or, more importantly, you might teach someone else something important to them.

Leviticus and the first half of Numbers

It's been awhile since I last posted.
It's been awhile since I listened to portions of "The Bible" in my car.
But, I have now finished the book of Leviticus.

This book can be summarized quite simply: this is a health code.
It outlines what is edible and what is not.
It outlines how to handle health issues.
This book also has a single mention of men not laying with men as with a woman (no mention of homosexuality among women) but it has a SINGULAR mention of it. It mentioned many other things multiple times.
This is also the origin of the prohibition against wearing items made of mixed clothing (the penalty for which is being stoned to death).

The first half of Numbers outlines a basic census of the peoples of Israel.

One thing worth noting in both of these books is that the lord outlines that people must sacrifice regularly to the lord and that a portion of each sacrifice goes to the priesthood. This seems like a huge scam for those who are presenting the word of the lord to do nothing except repeat the word of the lord and get paid for it.

Another thing worth noting in both of these books is the outright sexism. Women are property and barred from many things. Having a female child make a mother ceremonially unclear for twice as long as having a male child. There are other examples, but those are the most significant ones worth noting.

It is also worth noting that, in each of these books, the lord states that shame and unholy acts must pass onto the third and fourth generation of the one that committed it.

This is a terrible thing. It is blatantly stating that children, grandchildren and great grandchildren should be punished for the acts committed by an individual.

Also it is important to note that one must be stoned to death if one works on the sabbath whether it is done intentionally or not and that god will punish you for a year for each day of disobeying his word.

These books outline that the lord is a hideous and evil entity that seeks to control everyone through torture and merciless killing. It forbids any deviation from the codes and free thought.