Monthly Archives: April 2016

What I’ve learned about myself: a special message from Ms. Ashley

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Ms. Ashley of NRR

Hey ya’ll! Since we did not have a show this week, nor have I been on any shows this week, I need to get something off my chest…

 

In the last 7 days, I have learned a lot about myself. I have learned that I am strong, dedicated, loving and smart. I found out that I can forgive people for past transgressions. My mom is not perfect and neither am I. She made some mistakes in her life and so have I. I learned that I have to stop disliking my mom so much for her choices. I have to remember that these were her choices and in no way shape or form, did I force these choices on her. Mom raised me. I was the only child she raised. My brothers were raised by their dads. Mom was my best friend as a child. She provided for me, taught me some things about life. She prepared me for my future. She did her part as a parent.

As we both got older, we kind of went our separate ways. She decided she was going to live her life the way she wanted. I was going to live mine how I wanted. Through all of this, I discovered that my mom did her job raising me. Mom is not getting any younger. I have to enjoy the time I have with her. I don’t know if this was a wakeup call for me or for her, but I have had PLENTY of time to think. My mom is strong and I honestly feel like she is going to pull through this. I have found that I have a voice that protects her when she needs to be protected. In the past, I would’ve kept my mouth shut and you know “let the men handle it.”

I have had many people test me in the last 7 days. I have been tested by the religious, self-righteous, and hypocriticals (<—- Ashleyism).

This was the first “close to death” situation that I have had since I have been an atheist. Death scares me, or so it did. Getting the call on Saturday that Mom may not make it, had me immediately looking up at the roof of my car, looking to god for help. Guess what??? He is not there. It hit me, as soon as I begin to pray, WTF are you doing? Who the fuck are you talking to right now? I immediately thought, oh shit, who am I going to talk to about my mom??? Who was going to be the miraculous being that was going to save my mom?? Was my mom seeing angels that were trying to pull her to the light??? All these emotions at one time??? Whew!!! That was tough! I had the thought of my mom dying, getting pissed off because I had no god to ask to heal my mother??? Oh shit, there is no god moment??? I will never see my mom again…. All these emotions at one time… Whew… Yes, this was rough. I will admit Saturday WAS TOUGH!

But…… I made a phone call to Korrine Mailey and told her what was going on with mom. She asked me, “Do you want me to come up there?” Me: Yes. 4 hours later, Korrine walked into the hospital. Three hours after her arrival, I received a HUGE surprise visit from Hugh Mann! I am still trying to get over this one. The out pouring of messages, texts, posts from all of you, I am amazed, touched and at a loss for words. I have never been a part of a family that literally gave five minutes of their time over the entire weekend to show support for me.

I knew I was strong, I never truly knew how strong until this past weekend and I have all of you to thank for that. I drew my strength from y’all. You are the ones who have kept me sane and laughing. Y’all are the ones who helped me find my voice to protect my mom; the voice that says “hey, I got this!”

My emotions on Saturday went from tired, but happy, to worried, crying, and oh my fucking god, PRAYING! Asking the questions who is going to heal my mother??? Really??? I walked into the hospital Saturday and saw my dad, LOST IT! But then Daddy whispered something to me, something that I could hear y’all saying to me… “STOP THIS, BE STRONG! YOU HAVE A WHOLE COMMUNITY BEHIND YOU, THEY DONT.” My first thought was that actually it is not a community, it’s my family, but instead, I said you are right. Although, I am an atheist, I have found that I have a beautiful relationship with Alex Moreschi. He is one of the most kind-hearted, funniest, empathetic, etc. people I know. Alex has been with us at the hospital since day one. He has taken the time out of his schedule to look after my “birth” family. My family asked Alex if he could pray for my mom, Alex looked at me for approval. It was this moment, I realized that this is how I can help my mom and “birth family”. This is me being the strong one. I may not believe in their prayers, but who am I to take their beliefs away from them? I looked at Alex and said, “its ok.” Alex gave me and my family comfort.

Bobby, poor Bobby, with no show to do and Ashley not home, he’s had to deal with dinner, my emotions, picking up children, etc. He is just going with the flow. He has truly been my rock. Although my aunt did piss him off. Tune in Sunday on Spreaker at 7pm EST to hear THAT story!

The night ended on a high note, I had the huge hug that I was feeling from everyone in my “chosen” family. I was surrounded by people who love me, who care for me and about me. It was great! I cannot thank you all enough for the warmness that I felt Saturday night.

In the end, I no longer fear death. I fear what I leave behind. I do not want leave this world without people knowing where I stand regarding religion. I do not want to leave a “mess” for my loved ones to have to try and figure out. I want my children to know exactly what they need to do in the event that I am incapable of making my own decisions. It’s amazing how death can actually bring some things to LIFE.

 

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The Mistake: Where my parents failed in their indoctrination attempts.

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William Cheshire

As the saying goes, I was raised on the pew. My mother is an extremely devout Pentecostal and my grandfather was a pastor for many years of a small, very conservative Pentecostal church in rural Louisiana. From my earliest memories, we were cut off from the real world in a number of ways. This went so far as to forbid watching TV, it was “of the devil” don’t you know. I remember getting in serious trouble many times because I would let my gaze linger on a TV in a public place or at a more liberal relatives house for a few minutes. Women weren’t allowed to cut their hair or wear pants, no beards or short sleeves for men. No secular music, couldn’t participate in organized sports, certainly no public swimming pools or skating rinks. College and military service was discouraged, because they didn’t want any outside influence. Even saving money was frowned upon because there’s no need to plan for a future is the rapture is about to happen. Growing up though, I didn’t realize just how insular our community was, because even if one chafes a bit at the rules, it seemed normal because everyone I knew was Pentecostal as well. It was my whole world.

 

This indoctrination was reinforced three times a week at church as a child, and four or five times a week as I got involved in youth group activities. If the doors were open, I was expected to be there, I wouldn’t even let myself contemplate the fallout if I didn’t show. The horrible stories that most Christians gloss over, like the Bears slaughtering 42 children for making fun of a prophet, were gleefully preached to quell any sort of questioning or descent from the party line. Hell was real and you were gonna burn for the slightest misstep. I heard weekly that “you better get right, because Jesus is coming back any day now.” I bought in, I lived it, I wasn’t even able to acknowledge there might be a choice.

With all of this very effective indoctrination, I look back in wonder that I was able to escape at all. I was finally able to partially shake free of the chains in my mid 30’s, and I was into my early 40’s before I could openly admit that I didn’t believe any of it. This journey out of what I now consider a cult was long and frightening, but it all begin with what I like to call “the mistake.”

I was always a curious kid, I wanted to know why, and how. I was the kid who took apart electronics, stuck hair pins in wall sockets, repaired my own vehicles, etc. This got me in untold amounts of trouble, as questioning certain things just wasn’t allowed. Here’s where the mistake comes in, I was allowed to read. For monetary reasons, I got to go to public school where there was a library that wasn’t censored by the church. (My youngest brother wasn’t so lucky, he went to their creationist church school and is just as devout as my mom.) I lived in that library, couldn’t have “worldly friends” or watch TV, so I read, a lot.

I knew of course, not to leave certain books lying around, because occasionally even that would be monitored. By now you’re asking what books could possibly plant the seeds that would lead me to ask the important questions, and to finally examine my beliefs honestly. It wasn’t the Louis Lamour books (and I read every one in middle school), though they taught me that it was good to stand up for the underdog, and doing the right thing was the only reasonable choice.) It wasn’t crime stories, or the military and spy stories I devoured, even though they showed me an outside world I wasn’t aware of. I even read every single one of those readers digest condensed books printed from the mid 60’s through the late 80’s (my grandmother had a subscription.) No, it was the Sci-Fi books I discovered in my high school library.

There were (and are) reoccurring themes in Sci-Fi of fake gods, detrimental religions, alien civilizations, humanism, a sense of wonder about the universe, alternate universes, and the ability to question anything. As I was reading books of this type, I was receiving an education that my religion tried to deny me, being exposed to ideas and knowledge that they deemed anathema to their faith. You can’t write good science fiction without a basis in actual science, and there are many in my old religion who are scared of, and deeply mistrust science. These ideas, while they didn’t change my belief system right away, did pique my curiosity, and planted the seeds of doubt and critical thinking in my mind. It may have taken me until my late 30’s to finally break free from the chains my early indoctrination placed on me, but the ideas I was exposed to through the writings of authors like Isaac Asimov, Douglas Adams, Larry Niven, Robert Heinlein, David Weber, and Arthur C. Clarke to name just a few, allowed my mind to open to the possibility that perhaps I didn’t know what I thought I did. (These men are all atheist or anti religious, if that had been known I probably wouldn’t have been allowed  to read them, and maybe wouldn’t have wanted to.) So, in conclusion, while the phrase “Sci-Fi saved my life” is a bit of hyperbole, I must say that a life not truly lived is wasted. My old religion would have had me waste all of my life on fables, kept me bound in slavery to Bronze Age ideas about my worth as a human, and not allowed me to live the life I longed for. Books that expanded my mind, and allowed me to think about our universe in new ways, are one of the things I’m most grateful for.

Dancers defy gravity.

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Don Armel

This morning I was watching CBS Sunday Morning, who reported on the upcoming Broadway reprise on Shuffle Along. The first play starring, written and produced by blacks, first performed in 1921. I much enjoyed the story as it focused on two of the up and coming dancers. That is the point I drifted off to physics.

The dancers ability to create the illusion of floating is awe inspiring. I know that this is not possible. Gravity has a set of forces that influence all objects on Earth equally. The illusion is a dancers’ ability to appear to stay aloft longer that is humanly possible. I know that my ability to jump and float is limited by an age and weight related lack of vertical leaping. I cannot jump to high. And I use my skill (such as it is) as a reference point against others people’s abilities. These dancer athletes have tremendous leaping ability.

The dancer adds speed. While running faster does not change ones jumping height, it creates distance while jumping. So not only do the dancers jump higher but covering a greater distance giving the illusion of floating. Consider those awesome dunks from Michael Jordan. It is all framed against our own experiences which are limited in comparison.

I know the science is fixed and there is no supernatural force aiding the dancer, but I cannot help to marvel in their skill and my perceptions. We are easily fooled. Being cognizant that there is a difference between perception and reality helps me to be skeptical and not only double check the world but myself. Anything supernatural is not awe inspiring, poof it’s done. The results from nature, now that is awesome.

 

If you Need a Dictionary to Win your Argument, you’ve Probably Lost

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Jeremiah Traeger

How many people reading this have argued with someone that says that they aren’t really an atheist? Upon their insistence, “you can only be an atheist if you say that there is absolutely no chance that a god exists. If you’re uncertain whether or not a god exists then you’re really an agnostic.” I know that I’ve argued against this too many times for it to be fun anymore, and I know a lot of my friends have as well. We as atheists know that we have defined ourselves as people who “don’t accept or believe in the existence of a god or deity.” We know that if we aren’t a theist then we are an atheist by default. So what’s the problem?

One problem that might give atheists pause is that traditionally, atheism has been defined with other meanings, a denial of certain gods or an explicit belief that “there are no gods.”  Multiple dictionary sources describe an explicit belief that gods don’t exist. Even the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes atheism as “the denial of the existence of God.” If this is the case, then who is using the word incorrectly? Are all of these definitive sources for discourse mistaken? Or are all of us wrong for using the definition of the word improperly?

As it turns out, nobody is really wrong. As members of the in-group, of course atheists get to define what an atheist is, but I am talking specifically about the definition. Nobody is using the definition of the word wrong because there is no “the definition” of almost any given word. Words have all kinds of meanings, depending on who says them, where they say them, when they said it, and what context. Definitions have changed over time; they are constantly evolving and already have multiple definitions. If you look at the above hyperlinks, you’ll find that several of them already list multiple definitions for the term, and if you compare all of them you’ll find that many of them are variations of each other, but never quite the same. Even referring to “the definition of atheism” is problematic because there is no one definition. There are multiple definitions. When you tell someone what the definition of a certain word is, you’re actually telling them that “one of the more common definitions that people tend to use for this particular set of phonemes put together is X”. But that’s a mouthful, so we don’t say that.

Wait, so the dictionary is useless?

The dictionary isn’t entirely useless. It’s great if you have no idea what something means. Not only that, but learning the definition of a word is very helpful for discovering related concepts. But at best the definition you can find is still merely a reference point. Words don’t have fixed meanings, they have usages, and people use the same words in multiple ways. The people who put together dictionaries don’t get together and decide how people from now on will use these words from now onward. They try to give a fairly good description of how people generally use the words at the time of the writing of the dictionary. Even the same word won’t mean the same thing between dictionaries (see above), so when someone uses a word they are certainly using it slightly different from most sources. The dictionaries aren’t like the Bible, there was no canonization of words or not, ostensibly with guidance from the Lord above.

Not to mention, these definitions will change over time. The term “literal” is a good example of this. The word “literal” has traditionally been used to describe things that actually happened, without exaggeration or metaphor, or in other terms “not figuratively”. If some bad news literally tore you to pieces, it probably put you through a human-sized meat shredder and killed you. However, around the 2000s and 2010s, people started to use the term in an exaggerated way to emphasize a situation. People were telling bothersome people that they were “literally killing them”, without actually losing bodily function while consciousness drifts into the void. This change eventually led to the Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, among other dictionaries, adopting the second usage.

This bothered me a lot, because the term “literal” is so useful in many contexts. That being said, when someone tells me “it’s literally raining cats and dogs outside”, I know that I don’t have to put on my boots for wading through animal corpses when stepping outside. I know that the rain is coming down very heavily, even more so than when it rains cats and dogs in a normal sense.

This exemplifies why we use words; we use them to communicate with other beings. Until we get our instantaneous brain-data-transfer wires to start working soon, one of the best ways we convey ideas are through a combination of sounds that present ideas and mental images to someone else. This will never be perfect, as any idea will mean something slightly different to anyone else. But just because one of us will never be able to tell someone else in an absolute sense exactly what they are thinking, doesn’t mean we can’t give each other a pretty good idea and help exchange ideas in a productive way.

What does this mean for discourse?

If words aren’t set in stone, how can we even hope to reach an agreement since we aren’t even using words in the same way? The answer is not to worry about what the words mean so much. Words are merely labels. The words and sounds and letters we happen to use to effectively convey ideas have nothing whatsoever to do with the ideas we are trying to convey. This is beautifully shown by one of my personal heroes, Richard Feynman, from one of his autobiographies, What Do You Care What Other People Think?”

 

“The next Monday, when the fathers were all back at work, we kids were playing in a field. One kid says to me, “See that bird? What kind of bird is that?” I said, “I haven’t the slightest idea what kind of a bird it is.” He says, “It’s a brown-throated thrush. Your father doesn’t teach you anything!” But it was the opposite. He had already taught me: “See that bird?” he says. “It’s a Spencer’s warbler.” (I knew he didn’t know the real name.) “Well, in Italian, it’s a Chutto Lapittida. In Portuguese, it’s a Bom da Peida. In Chinese, it’s a Chung-long-tah, and in Japanese, it’s a Katano Tekeda. You can know the name of that bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You’ll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing—that’s what counts.

 

It’s not so much whether we are using a variety of sounds in a proper way; it’s whether we are using the proper ideas. There are so many conversations we can have where one person will use one word and another person will use it completely differently and the conversation will go absolutely nowhere! That is why it’s important to define terms at the beginning of a conversation, and if we are unsure later make sure we are on the same page.

There’s a particular conversation that I’ve had multiple times that involves the use of the term “bigotry”. When I use the term bigot, it is largely understood to mean a person who holds hateful ideas and acts in a bullying or discriminatory manner against people based on their identity or immutable characteristics. When I use the term “bigot”, my progressive friends think of a distasteful person such as Kim Davis or Mike Huckabee. That is the idea I’m trying to convey, so I am using the word effectively. However, once in a while someone will say, “Actually, the definition of bigotry is intolerance and discrimination against people who have different opinions from you. And since you are the ones disparaging people who have different opinions from you, then you are the person who is the real bigot.” They aren’t entirely wrong on the definition. The first entry to pop up on Google agrees with them.

The thing is, I don’t think it’s a particularly good usage. If people do think of this concept when the term “bigotry” comes up, and someone could make the case for me that this is actually what people use when it comes to bigotry, then I would immediately change how I use my language. Not because I owe it to kowtow to other people’s needs, but for effective communication, which is what we should all strive for. However, people by and large do not use it in this manner. They use the term bigotry when describing discrimination against LGBTQ folk, atheists, and against people of various ethnicities, among many other things. Most of these targets of bigotry are not simply “holding different opinions from someone else”, which is why I don’t care what Google has to say in this case.

Speaking of bigotry, there’s another related term that is the subject of much contention in social-justice related conversations. It’s often the case that someone will bring up someone being “racist” against a white person. We are often taught growing up that “racism” is treating others more negatively based upon race and the color of skin. However, this is a simplistic definition of the word, and when we try to solve social issues on a large-scale societal level we are generally looking at overwhelming systems of oppression based racial based dynamics. This is why we use the term racism to describe institutionalized or systemic injustices based on race. Besides, we already have a term for the first phenomenon, which is “prejudice”. Both prejudice and racism are awful and we should try and stop both whenever possible. However, prejudice being an individual behavior and racism being an institutionalized systematic behavior, they are two widely separate problems that require different solutions. It’s important that we distinguish the two, so we can have productive conversations about both. Admittedly, the definition I prefer is not as common as the other, but that is because it is more useful in sociological, academic circles and social justice focused groups who are discussing solutions to these ills.

By this definition, racism against white folks just isn’t possible, at least in America*. This is a matter of contention with many people who may have witnessed or experienced racial prejudice against a white person. They will insist that racism against white people definitely exists, countering my position that it doesn’t. What many don’t get is that without defining terms, we aren’t arguing over whether something exists or not, we are actually talking past each other using different terms. It’s not a disagreement over prejudice or power structures; it’s merely a disagreement over what label we give to either of these. This is ridiculous and unhelpful. By merely asking, “Can you be racist against white people?” a person often means “Can you be prejudiced against a white person for being white?” If someone disagrees and says that you can’t be racist against white people, they often mean, “no, white people don’t suffer from oppressive power structures based on race.” There is a disconnect between the question and answer, and it’s all because we are all tied up in what the word means. The word is just the label. If we care about either of these problems, the word we use is not important. But the person asking the question will often drop in the first definition that they see after they type the question into Google, and state, “That’s not the definition of racism, this is the definition of racism!” But in this case, he has come no closer to solving either problem, all because he’s insisting on tying a certain meaning to a certain word.

This illustrates the problem. When you’re having a discussion with someone and they seem to be using a word differently from you, the solution is not to insist that “the definition of X is…” and then force them to use what you mean. It’s to ask someone else to clarify what they mean, ask them for their definition, and then respond in kind. The solution is merely to get on the same page, perhaps clarifying what you mean and why you prefer your usage. In the example of racism, I prefer one usage because it distinguishes two separate problems in an effort to combat both. Because, once again, there is no “the definition”, there is just “a definition”. If you think that a word that you are going to use is in danger of being misunderstood, clarify what you mean right off the bat. The goal is to communicate ideas or have a healthy discussion, and getting tied up in semantics gets us nowhere. If you are too insistent on a particular description of a label, you are in danger of saying one thing while someone else hears something else, and you can reach ridiculous conclusions like thinking that a taco is a type of sandwich.

So we can’t ever decide on meanings for words?

There are certain areas where people have decided on meanings for words for proper, unambiguous communication, such as science or law. These are areas where the ways people use the words are rigorous and specific, and unlikely to change over time, and for good reason. It’s useful that we define murder as “killing another human being with malicious forethought” since if we didn’t, we could live in a society where a judge would convict you of murder for killing in self-defense. We assign rigorous meanings to maintain consistent, fair rulings, and we are so insistent on this that we even have different labels and consequences for different types of murder.

Prescriptive language is also useful for the sciences, where we are interested in describing concepts that are unlikely to change. These definitions are rigorous, such that when you read a journal and come across the term “turbidity”, it’s not going to mean anything other than the cloudiness or haziness of a fluid. Within the sciences, terms refer to a very specific concept, and often are even mathematically defined and measured, so it will not be subject to the language drift like some of the earlier examples. Different fields may use the same word for different contexts (stress for a psychologist is not the same thing as stress for a materials scientist), but the use of these words will be clear depending on the context. And in the instance of introducing a term for a potentially unfamiliar audience, a good scientist will make certain to define terms anyway.

This is a problem for a lot of apologists who insist that “theory” refers to a guess or a supposition that someone just came up with. As much as it bothers me that they use the term that way, I can’t say that they are wrong. People often use the term theory to mean exactly that, and as long as they are communicating that concept effectively then it’s hard to say that they are using it incorrectly. However, they aren’t using it within the scientific context, where it is defined as “An idea or model with large amounts of supporting evidence that explains a phenomenon or multiple phenomena”. Apologists simply won’t win by arguing semantics, since there are many terms that mean different things in scientific contexts compared to everyday contexts, and it would be ludicrous to insist that scientists are using any of the following words wrong:

 

Everyday usage Scientific usage
Spin Turning about, usually rapidly. An intrinsic form of angular momentum tied to the state of fundamental particles, such as electrons.
Entropy     Disorder.

kLog(W)

Where W is the number of states of a system.

Error A mistake. An ambiguity in the precision of how something may be measured, often due to limitations of how accurate a measurement can be or due to experimental design.
Normal Having ordinary or everyday behavior and characteristics. Not unusual. At a 90o angle to a curve or surface**.

 

Even if we accepted that people use “theory” to mean a guess or a supposition, it would not change the fact that we do have plenty of evidence and support to know that evolution is a rigorous model. Arguing against the term theory only serves to argue about how we describe the concepts and ideas; it does nothing to address the concepts and ideas themselves.

Hopefully I have made the case that we should certainly place less importance on what words are used for what concepts. Arguing over what a word should mean in a discussion is something I have lost most of my patience for, since what sounds and letters we use for the idea is ultimately arbitrary. In another universe, if I used the word “cat” to describe an elephant, and you thought of a thick-skinned, grey, multi-ton mammal with a trunk that lives in Africa or Asia, then I did my job. If there’s any ambiguity, the best thing to do is to clarify what you mean, and ask what they mean. Once we are on the same page, we are on a much better path to fruitful, productive discussion and debate.

 

*Of course, some may argue that systemic power structures against white people do exist in America, which would be racism. This isn’t the place to argue that, since that is not the point I’m trying to make here. That being said, I will happily admit that prejudiced actions against white people can and do happen. Any reasonable person will agree that yes, this is a bad thing, and I am not dismissing it as harmless.

**Normal” is also a type of statistical distribution, and a synonym for a Gaussian distribution. This is another example of two different rigorous terms where the usage depends on context. If someone mentions a distribution in their use of the word “normal”, it is clear they are not thinking of two perpendicular lines.

Love is a Many Splintered Thing

Deb

Heretic Woman

“Love is a many splintered thing, Don’t be afraid now, just walk on in” ~ Sisters of Mercy, Ribbons

 

Love is something mankind has spent centuries seeking and trying to understand.  Some of us believe we have experienced it, some of us feel as though it has eluded us.  People have killed and been killed for love.  Some might say it is the center of our existence.  But what is love? How do we know if we’re experiencing it?

There have been tomes of literature written about love, it has been described many ways.  We often form our view of what love is based on things we read about the subject, epic love poems, fairy-tale romances, even religious texts.  We listen to heart-rending love songs and dream of what it will be like when we finally experience such exquisite feelings ourselves.

In this, I think we are deceiving ourselves.  We think of love as one entity, with three main facets: love of family, romantic love, and love of friends.  It seems relatively simple, and usually, I am all about simplifying the abstract concepts in our lives.  I think we tend to overthink a lot of things in life, but love, I think we don’t think enough about.

We seem to think that each facet of love is a singular feeling that everyone should experience in similar fashion, particularly romantic love.  We seem to think that there is one “true” way to experience this love and if your experience doesn’t jive with the literature and pop culture versions, then you haven’t “found” it yet.  Fairy-tales and romances speak of “true love” whatever the fuck that is.  It seems to be the notion that there is a romantic love that transcends all other loves, which will somehow make everything else in life perfect if we can just find that “true love”.  That IS a fairy-tale ideal if I ever heard one.  What the hell difference is there from any form of love you feel that would make it less “true” than another? It’s a ridiculous notion in my opinion, at least now.  I fully admit to being lured by that ideal in my youth, as many people likely are.  It’s a fanciful notion, but without a good center in reality, a potentially dangerous notion at that.

So we have come to believe that love is a “one-size-fits-all” ideal, that we all should be experiencing the same feelings if it is love.  I call bullshit on that!  How the hell can that be possible, when we are ALL unique beings?  Like it or not, we all experience life differently, have different perspectives of the exact same things and differing ideologies and philosophies.  There is no WAY we all experience love as the same thing.

What got me thinking about this was a post my good friend Dave Foda made about three weeks ago (October of 2015).  He posted his definition of love, which was this: Love (n.) /luv/ – the comfort of being intimately familiar with someone; the joy of reciprocated excitement; the confidence and respite of mutual personal value and respect between oneself and another.

I liked the way he worded this, and at that moment I realized that I had never really thought about what the definition of love actually is.  Out of curiosity, I looked at the online dictionary I tend to use and got this: noun

  1. a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
  2. a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
  3. sexual passion or desire.

I realize this is a dictionary, but I found this definition woefully inadequate.  I think Dave captured it much more robustly.  In one aspect, I think the dictionary gets it completely wrong but more on that in a moment.  This definition seems too clinical, too bare bones to even remotely capture the feelings involved.  Like I say, I realize this is supposed to be a linguistic reference book, but if someone really wants to learn and understand the concept of love, they won’t glean much from this.

Back to what I said previously, we simply cannot all experience love the same way.  Some people are open and generally passionate and feel deep emotions for many people in their lives that they would call love.  The feelings may be fleeting or exist long-term but they are usually intense.  That doesn’t mean a romantic love by any stretch either, merely that they feel things on a deeper level than other people.

Some people have reason to be guarded and seek to protect themselves.  They keep their feelings close to the surface and do not bestow them too far from home base.  What they might call love, others would call merely liking someone.  Does this mean that the protective person doesn’t really know love? I don’t think so.  There may come a day when they do open themselves up to deeper feelings, but to me, that doesn’t mean that their “love” isn’t really love.  It can be possible to be content and even happy with that measure of emotion, and to call it false is not fair to those who experience love on that level.

Some people feel that you don’t really love someone unless you’re willing to die for them.  I’m sure many people do feel that way about others in their lives, and it is an incredibly powerful ideal.  Yet I don’t think this is a requirement to deeply love someone.  We may think we would be ready to sacrifice ourselves, but until we are actually in that situation, I don’t think any of us can truly know how we would react.  Not being willing to die for someone doesn’t mean you don’t really love them, it means your instinct for self-preservation is strong, and I don’t think that is a negative thing, or necessarily something we can even control.

These are just three very broad examples, and there are billions of us, with billions of experiences inside and outside these examples.  I think it’s wonderful that love inspires us to write verse, stories, music, movies etc. about it, but in some ways we do ourselves a disservice by trying to cling to these ideals without looking into ourselves to understand what love is to the individual.

To thine own self be true.

That really is the key to life in my opinion, know yourself.  If you don’t know who you are and what makes you tick, how can you possibly expect to know anyone else? This goes hand-in-hand with love as well.  I firmly believe that we cannot experience the full depth and rewards of loving others until we can love ourselves.  This is largely why people make bad choices when it comes to love, but that is something for another post.

Love occurs when our emotional needs are met, whether romantically or otherwise.  When we interact with someone who can understand us and fulfill those needs, it fills us with joy, and in most people, the desire to reciprocate that joy back to the person who gave it to us.  The closer you are to living as your authentic self that you are, the healthier this symbiosis will be.  Where we see it go off the proverbial rails is when we don’t know ourselves, or cannot be honest with ourselves.  I think one of the most destructive things we do in life is to deceive ourselves, but again that’s something for another post.

When the symbiosis works, it is one of the most incredible and sustaining things we can experience.  This is why we spend so much time and energy and endure the pain of many failures to achieve it. What needs to happen is ditch the ideal we’ve been fed all our lives and find out what YOUR ideal is, find out what your needs are and what you need to do to have those met.  That’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Now I did say that the dictionary got one thing completely wrong, and that is the notion that love is also “sexual passion or desire”.  Sorry but sex is NOT the same as love.  You can absolutely love someone you want to have sex with, and you can want to have sex with someone you do not love. You can love someone romantically but not want to have sex with them also.  The two are not as intertwined as we are led to believe.  It is absolutely possible to have your needs met in both departments in different ways and avenues and there’s not a damn thing wrong with that. The trick is to find the combination that works well for you.

This is something that I have only recently come to understand, largely due to the cultural indoctrination that the two things ARE intertwined.  There’s no reason why they need to be.  The traditional ways we have been creating our interpersonal relationships have fundamental flaws that centuries of doing the same things have not solved.  For example, the “nuclear family” is largely a failure because we are trying to force an ideal without taking the time to understand our own needs and desires.  The noblest of ideas will fail without the right foundation.

Thinking back to our altruism episode this week(originally aired in November of 2015), I think society has had it backwards for most of our existence.  We’ve thought that we have to give up our own personal needs in favour of the needs of the greater community, to forge relationships based on desired outcomes. (i.e.: procreation, religious exaltation) I think that what we’ve been missing is that we could have been so much more as a people and a society if we had taken the time to satisfy the needs of the individual first. I suppose we lacked the knowledge and understanding to get to that place historically, but we have the tools to get there now.  I hope we start using them more effectively.

So what is love?  Only you know that, and your answer will be different from mine.  Where we find that sublime connection, that joy of reciprocated excitement will depend on what our needs are and who can meet those needs.  So do yourself a favour and discover yourself.  Learn what makes you tick, what makes you feel like you’re an amazing person with the strength to conquer the world.  When you know that, you will know love.

Pass It Up: Why Trans People and Allies Should Abandon the Language of Passing

Ari

By: Ari Stillman

In the transgender community, the term “passing” refers to when a person is consistently seen and recognized as the gender they identify as, even by strangers who don’t know about their trans status or history. For many, passing as the gender they identify as serves as a means to achieving gender euphoria (a sense of satisfaction and comfort with one’s perceived gender), the opposite of gender dysphoria (the discomfort many transgender people feel with their bodies, gendered name and pronouns, clothing norms, and more). Passing is also a safety concern in many cases; the less visibly different from the mainstream cisgender society one appears, the less one needs to worry about possible discrimination and violence.

 

While passing is highly important to many individual trans people – and for good reason – I believe that on the collective scale, this concept is more harmful than many trans people and their cisgender allies realize. It sets arbitrary standards of beauty for trans people which many can’t or don’t wish to meet, erases non-binary and gender non-conforming people, and paradoxically leads to an atmosphere of greater public danger for transgender people.

I used to be a member of a private Facebook support group exclusively for transgender people. It was intended and marketed as a way to share resources, make friends and build support networks, solicit and offer advice and comfort, and share stories, all things that are desperately needed in the trans community. As the group grew in numbers, supportive and helpful posts were quickly crowded out by selfies, invariably captioned with, “Do I pass?”. Most of the comments on these threads were genuinely encouraging and supportive, but I was troubled by the occasional shallow, judgmental reply. Trans people should know, perhaps better than most, the emotional and psychological damage that these types of comments can inflict.

More disheartening for me than the rare insensitive comment was the disproportionate amount of value that the posters of these photos placed on their appearances and others’ opinions of them. They seemed to feel that their worth as trans people directly correlated to how well they could pass for (or, to phrase it differently, pretend to be) cisgender; the less gender non-conforming they appeared to others, the better they felt about themselves. As a trans person, I understand the anxiety, discomfort and outright anguish that physical dysphoria can cause, and I don’t want to take away from anyone the euphoria that can come with outwardly appearing as oneself. But as a non-binary person, I also understand that appearing cisgender and presenting as one’s authentic self are not always necessarily interrelated concepts, and that the concept of passing is especially harmful to those who do not fit traditional cisgender standards of beauty.

For many binary trans people – people who identify as strictly man or woman – being seen and identified by others as your true gender can be a badge of honor and source of pride. It signals that you are finally starting to live and be seen totally as your authentic self and triggers a sense of gender euphoria. But what would passing mean for a non-binary person: someone who identifies as a combination of man and woman, neither man nor woman, or outside of such concepts altogether? What of intersex people who present outside our typical norms of appearance? How can one “pass” in the public eye as a gender which is not recognized by society at large?

For many non-binary or otherwise gender non-conforming (GNC) people, this is a constant source of discomfort. As a non-binary person in a society that exclusively recognizes and privileges binary gender, I am practically never perceived as my authentic self. If passing is the standard to which trans and cis people alike hold trans people, does that make me and other non-binary or GNC people less trans? I reject any concept which rests on the foundation that all trans people must be alike, or that some trans people are more trans than others. There is no rulebook for being transgender; the only requirement is that one is not totally comfortable with the gender they have been assigned by those around them. Transgender people, like any other group, are diverse and varied in their experiences, their goals, their outlooks and their self-expression. Transgender people and allies alike should learn to love each individual for who they are and how they wish to self-express, never look down upon or be made uneasy by those who choose a different path for themselves.

At its core, the idea of passing as cisgender as the end game for all trans people is a concept rooted in cissexism, the belief that cisgender people are inherently more “normal” –

and therefore more attractive – than transgender people. In order to be considered beautiful, trans people must cease to be visibly trans; they must assimilate into the cultural standards of the dominant cisgender society they live in. For many non-binary people including myself, this is not an option, and conforming to the standards for either of the two largely-recognized genders causes anxiety, shame and unhappiness. And why should we? These standards are ultimately arbitrary and often rooted further in patriarchal, essentialist ideas of men and women which box  each gender in to a handful of immutable traits. Trans people, and non-binary people in particular, have a vested interest in combating these notions wherever possible.

Reliance on the concept of passing not only erases and delegitimizes non-binary and GNC people who don’t feel comfortable or authentic conforming to traditional standards of appearance, but it makes navigating public spaces potentially more dangerous for non-binary and binary people alike. By propping up the language of passing, we are indirectly encouraging scrutiny and judgement based on physical appearance. People who are visibly GNC or in a state of transition are targets for ridicule, discrimination and outright violence, especially in areas of the United States such as North Carolina and Mississippi which now actively encourage citizens to discriminate and deny public access based on perceived gender. Even if one wishes to be seen  as exclusively male or female, doing so in our strictly gendered society may require months or years of expensive and difficult-to-access hormone treatments, surgeries and other invasive procedures, wardrobe changes, vocal training, and more. If we encourage people to notice whether someone “passes” or not, what becomes of those who can’t or don’t wish to meet these standards?

I don’t begrudge trans people who want to pass as a personal choice for themselves. We just need to be sure to refrain from judging those who can’t or don’t want to pass for a binary gender. Trans people: do whatever makes you happy and safe, but please don’t expect others to conform to your ideals, because what you wish for yourself should never be a requirement for others. Cisgender people: please be mindful of the diversity within the trans community. Be aware that not everyone wishes to be seen as a man or a woman, and that gender identity and gender expression exist on a large continuum. I strongly believe that it should not be up to transgender people to change themselves to fit into society without risk of violence, but it should be up to cisgender people to challenge their notions of gender in order to make our culture safer and more comfortable for everyone. Instead of judging trans people based on whether or not they “pass” as member of a group they may or may not even consider themselves part of, we should determine success based on the happiness, comfort and gender euphoria of the individual in question. As non-believers in religion, we should strive to challenge our dogmatic, black-and-white views wherever they remain and, as I like to say, smash the binary.

PRAYER IS . . . .

o-DRIVE-THRU-PRAYER-facebook

By Dave Henrie

A member of the Arizona State Legislature recently made a point of advertising he is an Atheist and wanted to lead a prayer in an opening session of the Legislature. Because the ensuing discussion reduced important time which could have been devoted to critical matters of government, why is it necessary for anyone in government (and anywhere else) to advertise their religious preference? Moreover, why pray in any government building?

I am an Atheist with no interest in anyone knowing it. And through out my life, including when I was a Theist, my religious “beliefs” were private along with those of a very large majority of Americans until John F. Kennedy campaigned for President.

It was the Al Smith “thing” all over again!

Although I did not hear any comments like that of Baptist Bob Jones (Bob Jones University) who’s infamous remark, too vile to repeat here, must haunt those who opposed and still oppose Barack Obama as President because of his race.

Prayer in any legislative body anywhere is simply wasted time.

And should all the Theists in America unite at noon tomorrow Chicago time and pray as one for the end of child abuse in America at noon the next day, guess what?

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