Recently I wonder,
Why don’t more of us just spend our days crying?
I’m just so tired of being outraged,
But the things people do to each other.
It’s enough to really make you question: What’s it all for?
I’m also tired, of being tired.
But what right do I have to complain?
The very essence of life is survive,
And there are some strong people out there,
Who have been at the receiving end
Of senseless and unimaginable cruelty,
And there is a toughness there that often goes unnoticed
The toughness to choose to stand on this Earth another day
To try and move through each moment
While painful memories gnaw at them
Trying to drag them back down into a hole of despair.
And people have the gall to criticize safe spaces,
You can’t really know what another person’s been through,
Yeah you may be tougher, but so what,
Life isn’t all about toughness,
Toughness is just the cost of life,
It ain’t none of the flavor.
And everybody…I mean everybody has their safe spaces
Just for some people their safe space is in their head,
Manifesting into a black and white world,
Full of a few simple rules that will keep them alive,
Those rules are the fiction they cling to,
Just to feel safe while they rail angrily at everybody,
Word to the wise,
None of us are safe.
The only real rules are in physics,
And it’s like a chess board.
The set up looks ordered and tidy,
But the universe isn’t the set up, it’s the game.
We don’t know how the game will play out,
And it might amaze you to know,
There are more possible moves in a game of chess,
Than electrons in the universe, And somehow the universe has chess in it.
One thing makes me feel better and also worries me,
Is that from the perspective of the universe we are all idiots
The universe is behaving exactly as it should
We are too,
There are so many mysteries about us to discover
And the universe has us in it
So many people think they understand
The nature of the universe
The nature of us
What happened to humility?
You may think now that this should all come back to a single unifying point,
So that the strands of what I said could clump together,
Maybe a hammer that swings down and crushes life.
But that’s not this universe.
The last time we were one thing,
The last time we were all the same,
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 billion years
We were hurled off into space and change began
Branching into smaller and smaller strands,
Moment by moment,
And we’re all unique and we’re all beautiful
We’re all kinds of freaks of nature,
And that’s how we’re all equal
And maybe accepting and loving that thought,
Is all we can really hope for.
And then I ask myself,
Is all this self-indulgent pondering of the grandeur of the universe,
Just a way to make myself feel better?
Maybe it keeps me strong to take on the world,
Maybe it’s my safe space
But if we all have a safe space
The best we can do is try to move that space
Into something, bigger and more elastic
With lots of blurred edges
Because learning never stops
And change, is our only certainty
Lately I have been trying to push my mind to the other side of the aisle on the issue of Christian persecution in America. I know that for most of my readers you will wonder what for. Maybe it’s because my mother is a Christian and feels that this is the case and so I always like to take what my mother says with more consideration, because I respect her. My mom, for instance feels, that forbidding certain Christmas songs to be sung in class is an example of going too far. The holiday is after all a Christian one and about Jesus Christ. When she was a pre-school teacher she says that mothers of multiple nationalities didn’t have a problem with it back in the day, so why should it be a problem now? Then I came across this article that tries to be academic, by Mary Eberstadt, about the situation and was recently in Time magazine. I have not read her book, It’s Dangerous to Believe (Religious Freedoms and It’s Enemies), but tried to get a more expansive idea of her views by reading a longer article she wrote on religious intolerance. I do find there are some legitimate cases where things have been carried too far and these are referenced in her articles. That being said there are some big picture things that I see being ignored in these articles and are typical of many opinion pieces even when written by scholars discussing what Christianity faces in an increasing secular America:
There is rarely a discussion about why some people might feel anti-religious or anti-Christian sentiment. Perhaps you are one of the good Christians out there and that’s wonderful, but given the history of Christian oppression in this country and in the west in general, might there not be some reasons for concern? If we are going to talk about legitimate instances where good Christians were punished simply for a harmless expression of their belief, should this not be balanced against instances where those who claimed they were Christian also caused harm to others? If we compiled a list of those two types of instances, who would have the most? And I’m not saying two wrongs make a right, but I’m saying there has to be a more honest discussion, because if Christians fail to understand why might not want their beliefs in the public sphere anymore, then it will appear to others that they are uninterested in taking responsibility for the harm their belief system has caused or how alienating it might make some people feel. Again, this always brings someone out who says, well if they were causing harm they weren’t really Christians, because Jesus said this or that. All that is great, but it’s of little consequence to those being marginalized, hurt, or oppressed, when the perpetrator claims their actions are justified by their religious beliefs. It means your belief system isn’t making friends, and if you truly believe in the peaceful message of your religion it as much your responsibility as anybody else to oppose people wrongly using your religion. We don’t see this as often as we should, from any religion.
“Now, the invention of the scientific method and science is, I’m sure we’ll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn’t withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn’t seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That’s an idea we’re so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it’s kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it, but on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘Fine, I respect that’. The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking ‘Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I just said that?’ but I wouldn’t have thought ‘Maybe there’s somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing or somebody who subscribes to this view or the other in economics’ when I was making the other points. I just think ‘Fine, we have different opinions’. But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody’s (I’m going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say ‘No, we don’t attack that; that’s an irrational belief but no, we respect it’.”
I think this is a very real thing to remember. Religious beliefs are protected in a way that other ideas are not. It is a relatively new thing to simply be able to challenge religious ideas. I think it’s a good thing. Notice the language that Eberstadt “…a new low for what counts as civil criticism of people’s most-cherished beliefs”. That phrase itself implies that there are certain rules which apply to religious beliefs that don’t necessarily apply to others. Now I’m not saying that uncivilized criticism is effective, but you would hardly see a lot of angry protests for uncivil criticism for highly tested scientific theories. There are no biologists out there claiming there is a war on evolution and complaining about the mean things Christians have said about people who accept the evidence for evolution. And while I do get upset when I see atheists insulting and demeaning religious people, in the end these are just words. The past and present is full of less than tolerant reactions by the dominant religion to even civilized criticism which Eberstadt is asking for from others. So as much as I would like to see people with religious beliefs not attacked personally and only the ideas, this has not been the case historically when religious ideas have been criticized in the past. Just looking at the past 100 years, the Scopes Trial in 1925 had a teacher jailed for teaching evolution, and it wasn’t until 1966 that the Supreme Court deemed state statutes unconstitutional that prevented teachers from teaching evolution in public schools. Presidents have to be open about their Christian beliefs to have a reasonable chance to be elected. Currently 7 states have it in their state constitutions that atheists can’t hold public office. And while this is clearly unconstitutional, the fact remains that this is a much higher brand of intolerance than that which is being shown towards Christianity. In such states, trying to fight those unconstitutional state constitutions will simply alienate yourself from voters even more. How many politicians can be openly gay? How many people of other religions can make it to office in the U.S.?
And finally, it’s a point that many make, how many Christians would be equally sympathetic to the teacher that was suspended for giving a Bible to a student if it was a Koran? How many Christians in this country would be okay if a coach decided to lead them all in a Buddhist meditation session before a game? How many people would care if that City Fire Chief was let go if he published a personal book saying Sharia Law is great, even if it didn’t impact his work? The work of the Satanic Temple has formed to challenge this attitude, and we find that all of a sudden, a lot of Christians don’t believe in freedom of religion, only the freedom of Christianity to go unfettered, remaining unchallenged in a position of privilege. Now it may be that Christianity is under attack more than other faiths but it is only because it is the faith in a position of privilege in this country. Most secularists would have an equal problem with any religion enjoying such privileges. When one faith or ideology is proselytized over others in the public sector, that depends on faith and belief, without evidence, this is a dangerous path to go down.
Can a push from one direction go too far? Certainly, and we do need people to keep that in check. Nobody should be persecuted. But losing privilege is not persecution. It also seems there are parallels between the reaction to the loss of Christian privilege as there are to the loss of white privilege or male privilege. So any conversation about how Christianity is treated should include a discussion about how other religions are treated, and see if they are on equal footing. And I don’t mean just according to the law, but from a cultural standpoint. Because even if the law did allow a teacher to give a Koran to a student, I think we can agree that this teacher, even if not punished might be in a lot more danger in certain communities than he would by passing a Bible to a student.
Perhaps a question that might lead to further posts, is how easily can religions be inclusive to other religions and consider them equal if by definition a religion sees their beliefs as the true ones, while others are false?
We have a lot of people living in poverty in this country and through various conversations on Facebook and on blogs you see a lot of arguments against providing a social safety net, raising the minimum wage, and helping them in general that I thought I would compile a list of my least favorite and most fallacious arguments I hear.
I know some people that actually think the government owes them, doesn’t look for a job, and these people are just lazy freeloaders. Throwing money at them just supports a dependency culture.
Some variant of this argument is often used so let’s dissect it. Whenever you hear someone say “I know some people…” or “I know this person who…” this argument can already be dismissed based on being anecdotal and not necessarily a representation of how things are. We all have our own experiences that shape our views, nobody is saying your own experience didn’t happen, only that you may not be understand your experience properly in the context of the bigger picture. There is no question that some people cheat the system. But this happens across the board at every level of society, and I would argue that the rich cheat the system by a far higher percentage rate than the poor, the only difference is that the rich can change the laws so what they are doing is legal. They can afford better lawyers. More importantly is that we do tend to focus on the negative, and this is what we tend to see. There are so many poor in our country that even if 2% of the 50 million living in poverty in the U.S. were cheating the welfare system that still 1 million people and FOX news could run 100 stories a day focusing on a different cheater of the system and still not be done in a year, but that doesn’t really give you the reality of the situation. What if there are a lot of people on welfare who are trying to get a job, or who actually work a job but it doesn’t pay well enough to make ends meet? What if most people are actually embarrassed that they are on welfare and are trying to get out of it and don’t get very vocal about it. Do the rest of our time really take the time to talk to all the poor and find out which ones are on welfare and are honestly trying to get out of their situation? Nope. And especially if the freeloaders anger us, not surprisingly we are going to take special notes on those people and they are going to stick in our memory and support our views about wasted taxpayer money. I have also yet to find anybody post some actual data on how many of these welfare freeloaders are. They are always anecdotal.
I would agree that throwing money at the poor is not always the solution that we also need to do better to help people out of it so that they can support themselves, but the conversation always seems to be welfare, or not welfare. There is a 3rd option and that is to improve welfare. To say it doesn’t have value is an insult to many people who have depended on it when times were lean. Not all people on welfare are on welfare for the rest of their lives.
And concerning the subject of wasting taxpayer money if we want to play the “I’m not supporting things I don’t like game” with my taxes, then I would also not like any of my taxpayers to go to foreign wars that I disagree with. You pull your money out of the freeloader driven welfare system, and I will pull my money out of military spending, and I guarantee I will be much richer at the end of the day.
I have never had to work a minimum wage job in my life. If you can’t live on minimum wage, go find a better job. Ask for a raise.
Once again we have a point that rests on anecdotal experience. I find these statements also come from white people. I’m not saying their racist, but perhaps the people who hired you are, and preferential chose you. That’s a light argument though, so let’s get a little deeper.
Let’s just look at it by the numbers. In a capitalist society I think conservative and liberal alike we can say that businesses want to make money. They will definitely maximize their profits by selling some product for the highest possible price that gives them a large base of customers, and they will try to cut costs on expenses. People that work for them are part of those expenses. So we would expect that just like there are always a very small amount of really rich people in the country, there are also going to be a lot of low paying jobs and then less and less jobs that are higher paying. The more special skills you have, and this could simply being really strong and doing hard manual labor, trade skills, or this could be, being highly educated, you are of course are going to garner a higher wage. The types of jobs available to the high school graduate are small. You have a job at $7.25/hr and you want a better one, and of course a lot of people do. You have to compete, and if that higher paying one doesn’t require a specific skill set then you have even more competition, quite simply not everyone can get it. So just to say “Find another job” isn’t realistic. Finally, how easy is it to find that new job when you are working 5 days a week and actually can’t search for jobs which are quite often only open during the times that you work? How do you take time off from your job, unpaid, to go look for jobs? How do you think your boss will react when you need to take an afternoon off to go to a job interview? And if they don’t get the job, they’ve lost money just by taking those hours off. Money they desperately need.
More importantly many poor people have other issues to deal with than just finding that better job. What if that job is another city? Can they afford to move if they already have no money? What if by moving they lose the support of family who can help reduce their costs by taking care of their kid(s) while at work? Even a job in another part of the city may involve a long commute on public transportation which increases the time that they have to leave kids at daycare or a babysitter that increasing their expenses. Finally, should we really expect other people to move away from friends and family for a better job, a decision many of us are not willing to make either? Why is it so unreasonable for them to expect the minimum wage to be increased and keep pace with inflation, since it has not?
Well wanting the minimum wage raised, is actually asking for a raise. Going back to the start of this argument, in a capitalist society why would a company raise the wage of a minimum wage worker if they didn’t have to, if they job had such a low skill they could just replace them with the next applicant? What if by asking for a raise, the boss actually decided to terminate them or give them worse hours? When you are barely surviving rocking the boat isn’t always the safest play either.
And raising the minimum wage will help greatly with reducing suffering. While it’s probably best to raise the minimum wage incrementally, in general the idea that prices on everything would double is wholly untrue, since wages are only a portion of expenses for a business. While $15/hour might be excessive, no study finds that when the minimum wage is raised to keep pace with inflation that this harms the economy. This article by the Department of Labor does a great job of discussing it and remember that when people actually have money to spend, this is good in a consumer driven economy. All those people in poverty aren’t buying as much stuff as you think.
People on welfare are buying steak, have smart phones, getting manicures, smoking, buying drugs, etc.
Nothing cheers me up more than a person of privilege who has been fortunate to have the luxuries of this world, whether through marrying someone with a great job, or being born into a middle-class or higher family, complaining about other people wanting those things too.
Let’s ignore the fact that people need a phone, and that smart phones are practically free, and that maybe spending more money on quality nutritious food is maybe a better idea than crappy food which is cheaper and leads to all sorts of health problems. But let’s look at the psychology of poverty . When you live paycheck to paycheck barely making ends meet, and have grown up in poverty, your ability to long term plan fades, and yes you tend to not save money depriving yourself of creature comforts, because your life is one in which appears to have no long terms solutions. So why live for tomorrow, when you can live for today?
In my training for my volunteer work we had to try and make a budget based on what a family makes on two minimum wage jobs and it is a daunting task. And of course there are many families that do try to save, but saving is hard to do when you’re poor. If you don’t have access to public transport, you have to depend on car. And people live in poverty have to buy old cars that nobody else really wants, but they can get a good deal on them. However, such cars need repairs frequently, and repairs cost. Now you could say why don’t they get a better car that is more reliable. Quite simply it costs more and they wouldn’t qualify for the loan. This leads to, what I call, the “stay-in-poverty-feedback loop”. What little money poor people often save goes to these types of expenses because they literal can’t afford better quality stuff. Car repairs are just one example, but people in poverty often have to get home repairs more often, replace things like water heaters, furnaces, or air-conditioners more often, because poorer housing means people are getting used, cheaper, and/or older stuff in their home. So even if they are able to put away a little money each month it often gets eaten in one fell swoop by these unexpected repairs. And there are plenty of other big costs, like health care, which they often put off, even if they have insurance to save money on co-pays, but then this compound into a worse cost later, but remember how poverty doesn’t lend itself to long-term planning. And if you have kids, there are even more emergencies that can come up.
On the topic of buying drugs, well I don’t see a lot of people asking that all employees receiving public money take such drug tests, only poor people. Some how if poor people are doing drugs, that is more egregious than any other income bracket. As it turns out though, the amount of drug abuse among those on welfare is staggering low. So low that the cost of testing everybody costs more taxpayer money than letting that small percentage of people have their drugs. Not to mention that just cutting off their life support doesn’t actually work as a deterrent to doing drugs, just makes them resort to more desperate measures to obtain drugs likely causes more problems. And throwing these horrible drug users in jail, just gives them a criminal record, making it harder for them to get a good job and get out of poverty.
4. Why are they having babies if they can’t afford to raise them?
Well there are all sorts of reasons that people have children, and if we ignore the fact that there are many areas of the country that don’t have adequate sex education, women don’t have easy access to birth control, or that a woman might simply get pregnant because a man lied to her, or the birth control failed. But let’s say that there are these terrible women out there who are having children as some sort of scam to get more free money. I am sure such women exist. Nevermind the fact that such women were likely raised by a similar mother, probably has little education and special skills and is certainly not mentally well to be making that decision, should we cut her off from that money? Is this the way she will become a wonderful mother? Or will she literally be unable to cope, unable to keep up with all her new responsibilities? More importantly it’s of little good to question whether she should have had children, she does have children. These children are innocent, they’ve done nothing wrong, and so cutting off the mother also harms the children. Where is the humanity in this? If you’re pro-life then this must also be part of your consideration if you care about children.
5. Poor people need to be more personally responsible.
I’ve blogged about personal responsibility before, I don’t want to repeat all I’ve said there, but I think we can agree that one’s responsibility for themselves depends on the environment in which they were raised, such as level of education, family, friends, culture, etc. And as I also stated in that post, when we look around we don’t see a lot of people being personally responsible. Politicians rarely are. Rich kids like Ethan Couch certainly don’t show a lot of personal responsibility and so even if you believe that personal responsibility comes down to the absolute free will to choose to be that way, it’s clear that a lack of personal responsibility is not a trait that only applies to the poor. Should we say that rich people are allowed to lack personal responsibility, but poor people or not? More importantly why aren’t we asking the question of personal responsibility to those that are extremely wealthy? Is it personally responsible to have more wealth than you can spend in your lifetime. Is it personally responsible to have more wealth than is required to meet your basic needs have plenty of luxuries and send your kids off to the best of colleges? Is it personally responsible for corporations to ship jobs overseas just to make more money, while their fellow citizens now struggle to make ends meet? Is it personally responsible to make that 5 billion in a year than the 2 billion you might make if you paid your employees a fair wage? Is it personally responsible to not pay your fair share in taxes by hiding your wealth in off-shore accounts and other tax shelters? For those who hold personal responsibility as the most important of virtues, can we not apply this attitude consistently across all economic classes? Why are only the poor held to these standards of personal responsibility?
I know this is already a little TLDR, so I’ll be brief here. In a line from the movie the Usual Suspects Kevin Spacey’s character says “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled is that he convinced the world he doesn’t exist.” Well maybe there is an even greater trick. Is it possible that those who are driven by greed in the acquisition of wealth and power have instead convinced you that the poor are the demons in our society? That even though a majority of them work longer hours, take less vacation, receive poorer education, less nutritional options, worse health care, and less social mobility, somehow a good proportion of the wealthy have led you to believe they are the bane of your quality of life? And so effective is this message that many of the poor are complicit in that oppression and vote into office the same people who have demonized them in society. If trends continue as they do, with the exception of a small percentage of the population we all sink together so let’s stop making the poor our enemy.
One facet of human nature that fascinates me is the idea of destiny. Now when I say destiny here I don’t mean like some blockbuster movie in which I am destined to save the princess, fulfill the prophecy and become the most benevolent leader of mankind. I am talking about something more fundamental than that. What some people might refer to as “a calling”. And maybe not even in the sense of a career only, but rather one’s passions, one’s nature. It is not too surprising that I am reflecting on that, because as I watch my son, I wonder what he’s going to be like. What will his interests be? How will he want to live his life and how different will that be from me or his mother?
The nurturing influence of parents cannot be overlooked, but we’ve all known people who were vastly different from their parents in some very fundamental ways. Two parents might be very messy and their child is neat. Two parents might be teachers, and their child wants to run his own business. Of course trying to determine why somebody ends up the way they do is a fool’s errand in a lot of ways, because nurture is not just a function of parents, but of teachers, friends, relatives, society, etc. It could be that one day a kid sees a fancy car that he just loves and says to himself, alright how do I get a job that allows me to drive around with that. Perhaps not the most noble of callings, but he we like shiny things that enhance our status and so these kinds of things certainly happen.
For most of my life I thought I had a calling to be a meteorologist. I’ve loved storms since I was a small child. I would get up in the middle of the night to watch the lightning. In grade 6 we learned about different clouds and how they could tell us about the weather that was coming our way. I was fascinated by this and remember feeling hooked by it. I wanted to learn more about clouds and forecasting. In grade 8 our science class was a full year and broken up into 3 parts:
astronomy, meteorology, and geology. I loved all 3 of those and at the time they had us thinking about careers, but I was already hooked on meteorology and I decided then that I was going to be a meteorologist. During my undergraduate I decided that being a forecaster wasn’t for me and wanted to teach it so I went to grad school and I loved it and don’t regret a second of it. At the end of my undergraduate I took a linguistics course and I loved it. At that time I questioned my career decision a little, but it was my last year of undergrad and it seemed too late to do anything else, and what did it matter, I still loved the weather. I do think that I would be just as happy if I had chosen linguistics as a career had I been introduced to it earlier in life. Now my interests lie in cognitive science and neuroscience. I could definitely see myself being a researcher, or even a clinical psychologist because I am deeply interested in understanding others and our nature, and feel I have some aptitude in understanding the motivations of others.
Despite these ponderings on alternative careers, I still don’t have any regrets. I enjoy my job, and perhaps being a professor is the reason I have had time to pursue these other passions. But it has led me to some questions about this idea that I was somehow “destined” to be in the atmospheric sciences. Would I still have become what I became had I not lived in a climate that did not have thunderstorms? What if our curriculum in grade 6 did not include learning about clouds? What if the grade 8 science curriculum didn’t have meteorology which helped me appreciate the subject at a greater depth and attract me to it even more? What if I had a mother who was afraid of storms and that made me afraid of storms? Yet my choice to go into meteorology seems beyond these things. We had lots of subjects in school and with some good teachers. Why didn’t any of those subjects arouse a passion in me? My parents were not scientists, teachers, historians, writers, etc. and it seems that they didn’t influence me in any particular academic field so I could have chosen anything. In terms of time, we spent more time learning about many other subjects than meteorology. There are rocks everywhere and I had been to the Rockies, so why didn’t I go into geology? I loved watching nature shows so why didn’t I become a biologist? Why did I feel I had a “calling” when I meet so many students who aren’t even sure what they want to do? Is this a rare feeling? Or do other people feel it and just ignore it?
I don’t know that I have an answer to any of these questions, but what I do know is that I was very fortunate. I’ve seen many students with a passion for meteorology but very weak quantitative skills, having weaknesses in math and physics that forced them to take a different career path even if their interest remains. I do not have that problem. I am fortunate by circumstances having parents who worked hard for me to give me a chance to pursue my passions. I wonder how many people feel this “calling” towards science, the arts, humanities, history, education, etc., but simply must take a job as soon as possible to support a family. Maybe they can’t afford to go to school and don’t want to take out student loans. Some people might argue that their “calling” is perhaps not that strong to drive them, but there are practical realities that must be adhered to and when basic needs must be met they simply must be taken care of first. Somewhere there are people who could have been brilliant athletes with enough training and leisure time, but instead had to work in a factory to support their family. How many geniuses have simply died of starvation? How many talented artists have died of curable diseases simply because they couldn’t afford a doctor or the vaccine that would have save their life, or a doctor or vaccine simply wasn’t available?
In the end I don’t think I subscribe to this idea of destiny, because whatever natural passions we have, they must be cultivated, and even those passions may fade slightly as new ones take their place. In the end I can only be thankful for the natural gifts I seem to possess and the family, friends, and society that has allowed me to develop them.