Monday, December 26, 2011

I have written in a previous post about the similarity between religion and some sports cultures. I have always enjoyed sports. As a child and teenager, playing sports was all I ever wanted to do. I was a pretty decent athlete too, usually one of the best players on whatever team I played on and usually the fastest or second fastest runner in my grade. As I grew older, though, I started to migrate away from team sports and towards more individual sports. At the time I started to become fed up with what I perceived as some of my teammates complaining all the time and others not pulling their weight or putting in the full effort. A few times I remember being downright embarrassed by my teammates actions in a game, and wanted nothing to do with them. This happened whenever a teammate of mine showed no respect for opposing players or even referees. I hate trash talking. When I played sports I kept my mouth shut and played hard.

Ice hockey is an interesting sport. It is a game that requires a huge amount of skill to play well. Not only does a player need to have all the technical, tactical, and strategical skills involved in most team sports, but in addition the game is played on skates. You can have great hand-to-eye coordination and a fantastic ability to read plays in sports, but if you can't skate well then you'll be a lousy hockey player. The finesse, speed, and skill of the game are fun to watch. Sadly, though, in North America there is a culture surrounding ice hockey that I see very few positives in. From a young age players are taught to be "tough", to never show any pain or emotion of any kind other than anger at opponents, retaliation for an intended or accidental slight by an opponent is a must. If someone accidentally trips you, then make sure you slash him across the wrists with your stick next chance you get. Hockey is a physical game. Part of the game is using your body to check someone and take the puck away from them. Knowing exactly when and how to hit someone to body check them effectively takes some skill. But in hockey culture, if someone effectively body checks you (legally) then you are encouraged to take offence, remember their number, and get them back later in the game even if it means stepping outside the rules of the game or the normal conduct of sportsmanship. This payback can often take the form of a fight, a pervasive part of ice hockey in North America. The penalties for fighting in hockey are minimal compared to most sports. Indeed, one could argue that fighting is encouraged in many ways. Traditionally, each professional team would have an "enforcer" or designated fighter who would make sure that anyone who hit a star player was challenged to a fight. As with any such system that uses force to discourage violence by an opponent, an arms race develops. In the case of ice hockey, each team has an enforcer, so often all that ends up happening is the enforcers fight each other ultimately having little to no effect on the intiiation of hits against star players. Thus, the whole system of fighting in the game is entirely futile. There is no question that if hockey leagues properly officiated their games, then star players wouldn't get targeted for dirty hits because opposing players would know that their season or their career would be over.

So, with that background, I recently read the autobiography of Bob Probert, an NHL enforcer (fighter) who played professionally from the mid-1980s to 2002 for Detroit and Chicago. I won't make this post a general book review, the book itself is far to poor quality to deserve an actual review, but I will make a few comments on the sad and pathetic life of Bob Probert. Probert grew up playing hockey and, as a big man or 6'3" and 225 - 230 lbs, he was probably destined to be a fighter if he ever made it professionally. He knew his role, and one can't really fault him for playing his role in the sport given the money on the line. But, Probert's life was a tragedy. A raging alcoholic and drug user, throughout the first two thirds of his career he was drunk most days. He never took his training seriously, and often stayed up all night partying before a game. Somehow he managed to keep playing at a hight level. But, as expected of someone who can't control their drinking urges, he was caught numerous times driving while drunk. He was also arrested several times with cocaine on him, once while he was trying to cross the border from the United States into Canada. The man's life was a disaster zone. What surprised me about the book was not the number of times he was in trouble with the law, but how irresponsible he was towards everything and everybody in his life. In his autobiography, he never takes any responsibility for any of his massive foul-ups. He always blames the cops when he gets arrested, the reporters when the story appears in the papers, his teammates when they tire of his antics and say they expected him to get in trouble again, his coaches when they demand accountability from him. In short, anyone whom he perceived to stand the least between him and a lifestyle of pure unadulterated fun with no accounatabilty. Probert recounts going into rehab at least half a dozen times. Most of the time he was in rehab he treated it like any overgrown adolescent would: with an attitude that simply betrayed his disinterest in changing, but rather simply going through the motions to pacify the authority figures in his life. At least twice in rehab he had sexual relationships with staff or others going through treatment. His sole objective during rehab appeared to be to find a way out and get another drink. Countless times in his book he talks about being clean for a few days or weeks and then caving the moment anyone asked him if he wanted a drink, as though it was their fault for failing to keep the alcohol away from him. As far as the reader can make out, he was unfaithful throughout his pre-marriage relationship with his future wife, and throughout their marriage as well. When his wife confronted him with infidelity his response was to more or less shrug it off and blame the booze. In short, there is no other conclusion to come to than that Bob Probert was a first class asshole who happened to be good at playing hockey and fighting while standing on ice skates.

And yet...he was revered by the hockey world. Fans adored him. Teammates generally respected him as one of the "good guys". When he died, at the predictably young age of 45, in July 2010, the hockey world paused and mourned the tragic loss of this great man as though none of them could have seen it coming. It is simply stunning, given his reckless approach to life, booze, drugs, women, and driving, that he made it past 30.

So why do people in the world of sports get so revered? If Bob Probert had not been a professional hockey player, I am convinced he would have been considered a collasal foul-up and loser. He would likely have ended up in jail long-term. (As it is, he did a significant stint in jail, and faced huge legal problems which were only handled in his favour because of the large financial backing involved in professional sports). In his book he must recount, in passing, driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs dozens of times. How many hundreds of other times did he drive drunk that he doesn't mention? He was staggeringly lucky to never kill anyone while driving drunk.

To me, the cultures of sports and of religions are interesting. I find many similarities in the cultures. There are unwritten and written codes that one must follow for no particular reason. People are blinded by irrational thought.

Had Bob Probert not been a hockey player and had instead orphaned some kid during one of his countless episodes of impaired driving, he would be remembered only as a total loser. The fact that he was lauded and rememberd as a "good guy" by all of the hockey world at his funeral and in multiple media stories only illustrates the insane, irrational thought processes in the world of sport. Sport is a religion, plain and simple.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Definition of Hypocrisy

Joseph Ratzinger, known by some billion people as their spiritual leader, today stated: "Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light" in this story.

One would be hard pressed to think of a person who appears in public less "glittery" than the pope. One would be hard pressed to think of an organization (one can hardly honestly call it a nation) that is as wealthy as The Vatican. And this man encourages the rest of us to see through the superficial glitter?

I'll tell you what, Mr. Ratzinger, I will do just that. At this time of year, I promise to see through all the fake glitter that your organization represents and remember Christmas for what it really is, which is to pause and celebrate the winter solstice. We are through the darkest part of the winter and, although there are many cold days and nights to come, the light of spring at the end of the tunnel is beginning to be in sight. And so another growing season will begin.

What is Atheism part V: Don't shine your light in my face please.

In the contemporary "battle" that seems to be going on between traditional religions and what seems to be a popularizing of atheism, one of the more common sticking points is the argument about pushing your beliefs on other people and into society. As an atheist, I hold the position that personal freedom when it comes to religion is an important thing to protect in society. I believe that everyone in society should be able to believe whatever religion they wish, so long as their beliefs and practice of those beliefs doesn't infringe on other people's rights to be free from them. To me, this is the only reasonable approach to a society in which everyone has religious freedom as well as freedom from religion if they so wish. However, this is a very difficult concept to put into practice.

The difficult part seems to be helping the religious understand how to avoid having their beliefs infringing on others' rights to be free from them if they so wish. As an atheist, I believe I have the right to live in society without being subjected to any law that stems from religion. I believe this just as strongly as I believe that a religious person has the right to live in society without being subjected to any law that stems from someone else's different religion. This sounds like a logical and respectful position that most people would agree with, but it is amazing how difficult it seems to be to put it into practice. Most religious people, on the face of it, would initially agree with my position. After all, how many Christians really want some of society's laws to be based on Muslim Sharia law? Most open-minded religious people can understand the mutually respectful position of this position, and that it benefits everyone to not be subjected forcefully to someone else's religion.

I would be quite happy to leave it at that, but the catch seems to come when you introduce atheism into the equation. And, let me be clear, it is the religious who do so. I have no need to force atheism into society in any manner. What I do feel the need for is to protect the above position that religion should not be forced into society. There is a very significant difference. The religious will tend to get defensive, when asked to keep their religion out of the courts, the schools, and other public institutions, and almost universally insist that atheists do the same and keep their atheism out of public institutions as well. On the face of it, some people would think this sounds like a fair arrangement, but it actually represents a gross misunderstanding of what atheism is. Atheism is not a religion.

I find that I often think in analogies and I think one here might be helpful. Imagine that each religion is represented by a different coloured light. Imagine that, instead of religions we are talking about various groups of people who like to decorate society with lights of their favourite colour. And imagine that you find offensive lights of differnt colours. Imagine a large group of people who love shining red lights around, another group who loves to shine green lights around, and another who likes blue. Also imagine that the group who likes red lights finds it offensive when they see blue lights or green lights shining in public. Wouldn't the solution appear obvious? Shine your coloured light as much as you want in your own home or even in your own private club of same-minded people, but don't shine it around society and everyone else will agree to do the same. That should take care of any offensive lights being shone in public, but equally protect your individual rights to enjoy your own coloured light whenever you want. You can even walk around in public thinking about your red or green or blue lights as much as you like. Just don't ask to hang one up in the courthouse, the school, or the legislature.

Now, in my analogy, the atheist is represented by someone who doesn't feel the need to enjoy lights of a particular colour. We don't mind you shining your red or green or blue lights in your own home or in your private club as much as you want. But we don't like coloured lights hanging all over town. So, we ask that you don't do so. In my analogy, the religous attitude towards atheis is represented by someone responding by saying: "Yeah, but you're asking us not to shine our red lights around town while at the same time you are trying to shine your dark lights around town." Doesn't make any sense, does it? How can you shine a light that makes things dark? You can't. If you don't like coloured lights then all you can do is request that others don't shine their coloured lights. There is no dark light you can shine that overpowers the coloured lights.

This is all we as atheists are asking for. Don't shine your coloured lights in our faces. Don't bring them into public institutions. We have no intention or need to "bring" atheism into the public institutions either. It only appears to the religious that we do when we ask them to put out their coloured lights.

Of course, the problem with this analogy, and with the reality of religion in society is that everyone thinks that their particular colour is right and everyone else's colour is wrong.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It Takes Religion to Make Good People Do Evil Things

I read this story this evening about a man who attempted to circumcize his four-year old son on the kitchen floor for religious reasons (to get "right" with God). Apparently the unnamed child was born premature and circumcision was not possible at birth. Once the boy was four years old his father decided it was time to cut off a chunk of his genitalia, against his will. The poor boy was not admitted to hospital for another four days following the trauma. Can you imagine how awful those four days would be for that young boy?

I have to say, this story actually made me feel sick and heart-broken at the same time. I would hope that most people who have children of their own (and even those who don't) are appalled at the thought of taking a knife to the private parts of their four-year old son. Sometimes changing a diaper on a child is a huge battle of wills. Often getting them into the bath requires some significant coaxing. But can you imagine how hard your child would be screaming and kicking and writhing if you pinned him down on the kitchen floor and took a knife to the most sensitive skin on his body? Can you imagine the fear and life-long trauma that would result from seeing your own father, who is supposed to be your primary protection as a child, looking down on you with a grim determination on his face as he hacked away with a knife? Can you imagine?

This story is truly sickening, and I don't imagine there are too many readers who would empathize with the father. But, I don't really see any significant difference in circumcision of any kind. It is genital mutilation that has become culturally acceptable. Anytime I have had a discussion about circumcision, either online or in person, there seems to be a mix of opinions for and against it. Amazingly there are still people who think that it is healthier to chop off a piece of a young boy's penis. There are claims that it prevents foreskin cancer. Well, no kidding. By definition it is impossible to have cancer of a tissue that doesn't exist. But how many men have you met who have had foreskin or even penile cancer? There are claims that it helps prevent transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. Wear a condom. There are claims that it helps keep the penis cleaner. Take a bath. There is no valid medical reason for circumcision of a healthy foreskin. Most medical associations now recognize this.

There are many, many good reasons NOT to circumcise a young boy. Firstly, the foreskin includes the most sensitive (i.e. pleasurable) part of the penis. Any man who has been circumcized as a boy has missed out on significant sexual pleasure. There's simply no way around that fact. The parallel situation in females is to cut off the clitoris. Any woman who has had her clitoris removed at birth has missed out on significant sexual pleasure. That is not to say that a woman cannot have sexual pleasure without a clitoris, nor to say that a man cannot have sexual pleasure without a foreskin. But there is without question something missing.

Another good reason NOT to circumcise a young boy is that he has no choice or say in the matter. Let a man decide, when he becomes an adult, whether he wants to lose part of his penis for religious reasons or for any other reason.

If it weren't for religion, it is unlikely that circumcision would have ever gotten off the ground. Traditionally it was mostly the Jews who circumsized their young sons, but of course in North America the practice became popularized in the 20th Century due to faulty medical beliefs that it was healthier. Given the nature of our society these days, in which lawsuits seem to ever push the boundaries of personal freedoms and also of accountability and liability, I think it is a matter of time until an adult male sues his parents for having circumcized him as a child. I say the sooner the better. I suspect we are still in a time when most courts would not find in favour of such a plaintiff, but I think that may change. Freedom of religion will undoubtedly be used as a defense if such a case comes along, but it should not be a valid defense. Freedom of religion should only be a viable defense if it refers to the person themselves. I should not be able to claim freedom of religion if my actions are taken against another person, even if they happen to be my son or daughter.

I feel sorry for those little boys who are still subjected to the Bronze Aged barbarism of genital mutilation. I was shocked this past summer when Russell Crowe was ostracized for speaking out against circumcisions and calling it for what it is: both barbaric and stupid.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Don't Worry...Hell Makes No Sense Whatsoever

Last week Christopher Hitchens passed away. Prior to his death, Mr. Hitchens foresaw a couple of things happening when his time was to come. Firstly, he predicted that there would be those who claimed he had a last minute death bed conversion to Christianity. Secondly, he predicted that there would be those who claimed, as soon as he died, that he is now in hell. The second of these has happened, though I won't be referring to the specific people who have done so - they don't deserve the publicity.

But, more importantly, these types of claims give us the opportunity to pause and really consider their utter absurdity. Consider for a moment the idea of a hell. Most people will traditionally think of hell as a place where there is eternal suffering and pain at the hands of the Devil. Many modern religious believers will have long since given up the notion of a goat-hooved caricature of the Devil, but many undoubtedly still believe that hell consists of horrific suffering as a result of being tortured by the Devil and his demons. I always like to consider things a bit literally and see where it takes me, so consider that version of hell for a moment. The Devil is God's enemy. God will undoubtedly do one of two things to his mortal enemy of the ages: either destroy him once and for all, or punish him forever. Now, if the Devil is the sort of character who gets off on torturing people to begin with, then spending an eternity in hell torturing unbelievers is probably what the Devil wants to do for an eternity. That would be like heaven for the Devil, wouldn't it? So, if God is just and can't stand evil, then he must either completely destroy the Devil, or make him suffer endless torture alongside all the unbelievers. Either way, hell most certainly does not consist of suffering at the hands of the Devil as that would bring pleasure to the Devil, which surely God wouldn't allow. Why would God reward the Devil with what he wants at the end of the world?

So, many more modern Christians might shun the idea of a Devil-centred hell then. Perhaps they espouse the popular "eternal isolation from God" version of hell. But would that be hell? Suppose you weren't being tortured. Suppose you were alive and pain free for eternity, but were separated from God. Wouldn't that be a version of heaven for an atheist? We're going around in circles here. I just can't find a decent hell.

Then, of course, there is the scientific problems associated with an afterlife of any sort, let alone hell. We know that our personalities are the result of cerebral structures. Give someone a degenerative brain condition and their personality literally changes. They are no longer the same person. Tragically this happens all to often in old age with the onset of Alzheimer's and other debilitating diseases. So once the brain is dead and creamated, the personality of the deceased no longer exists. The memories, language, intellect, are all gone never to exist again. Would God really re-establish that person physically (by somehow magically re-creating their brain physically) just so that he could show them he is right after all and to punish them by separating them from him for an eternity? We know the God of the Bible is petty, but that takes it to a whole new level.

So, if you are one of those Christians who are still struggling with the whole issue of fear of hell, or if you are one of those newish atheists who still occasionally feel the tug of Pascal's Wager out of fear of being wrong after all, then relax. Think it through. There is no hell. The whole concept makes absolutely no sense at all. It is not at all reasonable.

Instead, go have a glass of Johnnie Walker (no ice), sit down with a good bit of writing by Christopher Hitchens, and enjoy what he had to offer the world. His writings are immortal and heavenly.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Good-bye Hitch

Photo courtesy of Google Images

Christopher Hitchens died yesterday. When I first started writing that sentence, I paused after writing "Christopher Hitchens" and wondered what descriptive would best fit following his name. I came up with a blank. Not because he didn't do any one particular thing well, but rather because he was well known for so many things. Christopher Hitchens, author, journalist, essayist, contrarian, iconoclast, debater, and atheist, died yesterday. There, perhaps that's more accurate.

We all knew this was coming. Hitchens has been ill with oesophageal cancer for some time and in his latest public appearance in Texas in October he appeared incredibly gaunt and looked close to death's door. It is not surprising that was his last public appearance. Dying from cancer is probably not the way anyone would choose to go. It is undoubtedly painful, slow, and involves all sorts of peripheral dysfunction along the way. As Jack Nicholson so aptly puts it in the film The Bucket List: "Some lucky bastard is having a heart attack right now." Yet Hitchens retained his dignity, his intellect, his wit, and his stamina until very near to the end. By all accounts he was still writing while in his hospital room in the last few weeks of life.

Christopher Hitchens was a remarkable man. It would be easy to dislike him, for he refused to engage in the normal apologetic approach that often permeates human interaction. When he held a point of view he let others know, unapolagetically. When he disagreed with someone he most certainly let them know, and again did so unapologetically. I don't believe that he did so in order to be abrasive but rather simply because he was more concerned with rational thought than he was with appearing polite and agreeable. But I did not dislike Hitchens. I most certainly liked what I knew of him from the public arena. His writing is brilliant. If one is able to write one paragraph as well as Hitchens wrote entire books, one would be doing well. I once heard him say in an interview that he estimates he wrote at least 1,000 words a day. Try to do that on any given day and you might succeed. Try to write 1,000 words sewn together with quality, day after day for decades and you may find that you're not up to the task. But Hitchens most certainly was up to the task, all the more impressive considering much of his writing was presumably combined with a good measure of Johnnie Walker, his favourite "amber restorative". Hitchens also made enemies, of course, due to his most recent fame as an atheist author. Anyone who holds a religious position felt the need to defend their position against his relentless attack on the irrational, superstitious beliefs of the religious.

There are a myriad of Hitchens quotes, and many are some of my favourite quotes. One of my favourites seems particularly appropriate to Hitchens' character. Following the death of Jerry Falwell in 2007, Hitchens was quoted as saying that: "Jerry Falwell was so full of shit that if you gave him an enema you could bury what was left in a matchbox."

For Hitchens himself I doubt a boxcar would suffice.

Monday, December 12, 2011

I read the news today...oh boy.

Today in the news, Canada's Conservative government was reported to have made two significant decisions, one which I would classify as common sense and one which I would classify as common ignorance.

First, the good news. It was decided that in Canada, you will not be able to veil your face when taknig the oath of citizenship. This decision is primarily aimed at women from Muslim cultures who might have preferred the practice of wearing a niqab or similar garment while taking the oath of citizenship. There is currently a similar challenge to the supreme court concerning the rights of witnesses to wear a veil over their face as they testify in court. Identifying people by their face is a standard part of our culture and most cultures around the world. Further, being able to recognize emotions such as fear, hatred, anger, love, friendliness et cetera, is a fundemental part of most human interaction. Therefore I would go one step further than this decision and outlaw the wearing of any clothing that completely covers the face in pubic (with the exception of clothing worn as genuine protection from the elements such as scarves or balaclavas in the middle of winter). Certainly when undertaking something as significant as the oath of citizenship one should have to show one's face for a host of reasons including identification and verification that the oath is actually being said. As I say, to me this is common sense.

Unfortunately the second decision announced today is not so positive. Canada has officially withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol. In short we are reneging on our responsibilities that we signed up to in 1997. Whether you agree with Kyoto or not is more or less irrelevant in this case. The Conservative government is not pulling out of Kyoto because they think the protocol itself is faulty (though they will use that as an excuse) but rather because they don't think global climate change is relevant. As I've pointed out several times in past posts, when you have a Minister responsible for science who does not accept or understand basic science, then you are doomed to making very poor scientific decisions. A government that truly doesn't believe in climate change will not make any decisions to invest in change in the effects we have on the climate. They see it as a waste of money. Indeed, they see the opportunities to make vast amounts of money precisely by ignoring climate change. Sadly many of my fellow Canadians truly believe that climate change is a made up story. Many believe that it is a United Nations scam designed to increase international tax revenue by the U.N. Many otherwise intelligent people actually believe that we can burn fossil fuels ad infinitum with no consequence. This is a bit of ignorance that is all too common.

Drill, St. Peter, Drill?

I've a simple question to ask those who don't believe in anthropogenic climate change. For those who think that increasing fossil fuel production is the answer to any problem with energy demand and supply. For those who can't seem to separate their religious beliefs from their political beliefs and who just loved hearing Sarah Palin chant "Drill, baby, drill!" back in her brief and spectacularly disastrous national political career in 2008. For those who can't imagine a world without fossil fuels as the main energy source. Please at least try to answer the question honestly.

When you think about your future eternal life in heaven, are fossil fuels the source of energy there?

When you imagine leaving this earth and finally being rewarded by spending an eternity of bliss on your knees worshiping Jesus and his Heavenly Father, do you imagine a heaven in which there are gasoline and diesel powered cars, trucks, trains, and ships everywhere?

Just curious, because I'm willing to bet that 99% of people have never imagined a heaven in which fossil fuels are used heavily . Presumably energy in heaven will just be "free". As though it were just beaming down all day for free from some huge burning energy producer in the sky, just waiting to be harnessed.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Insecurity: The Unifying Theory of Humanity?...Part I

It is said that Einstein, after having changed the world of physics and science forever with his work on relativity in the early 20th Century, then spent the rest of his career searching in vain for a grand unifying theory of physics. When you are genearlly considered to be the greatest scientist in modern times, you can likely find a bit of space to spend a few decades pondering the nature of the universe without too much criticism that you're not being productive.

Is there such a grand unifying theory of human behaviour? Can we humans be defined by one theory? Can our societies be reduced down to one statement that, ultimately, governs all our behaviours, both individual and collective? Perhaps not, given the complexity of human emotion, psyche, and great cultural differences. Do the same things motivate investment bankers on Wall Street as a young child on the streets of Dhaka? Freud might have reduced everything we do to some motivation stemming from the basics of sex and violence. Other psychologists and sociologist might have other theories about human behaviour, and I have my own theory (though admittedly I am not trained in the study of human behaviour, beyond my understanding of neuroscience). At least, in observing people in North America, I have a theory about what motivates a lot of the negative behaviours I witness. I don't claim to have a grand unifying theory of humanity overall, but I do profess that one thing motivates a lot of the negative human behaviour in our society.


That it is. Ultimately, the vast majority of North Americans are supremely insecure. All of us have witnessed someone who is clearly insecure on the surface. We might think that insecurity always manifests as timidity, nervous chuckles, et cetera. Most young women in their late teens and early twenties are supremely insecure about their bodies. They perceive that they are not sexually attractive enough (for what?) and often overcompensate with inappropriate clothing, excessive time spent on self-examination et cetera. Young men in North America are, I believe, also so insecure about their own sexuality that the default position for many of them is one of open homophobia. Any young man who is not openly homophobic is suspect amongst his peers. 

But what I'm proposing is something much more profound than that. Even a cocky, wealthy, powerful politician or businessman is ultimately very insecure about who they are and what their qualities are. Indeed, they are perhaps more so than most. Recently I saw a wealthy businessman (well, one would be tempted to call him a businessman except that he isn't actually in any business other than using money to make money in investments) who stated that his primary objective in life was to go to bed every night with more money than he woke up with that morning. I looked up this individual's net worth and found it to be in the order of $300M. I'm not a jealous person, and I have no problem with someone having significantly more money than I do. I have no problem with someone being a multi-millionaire or billionaire if they have taken risk and been successful in their business. But, I will never understand how someone with more money than they could know what to do with could still have making more money as their primary objective in life. At least, I would never understand it if I didn't put it down to deep psychological insecurities. If you had enough money that you could easily live whatever lifestyle you wanted, why would you want to spend your time (limited as it is in this life) trying to accrue more money? That is a a bit like going to university to become a science teacher and, instead of becoming a teacher when you graduate, just going on in university taking more and more science courses, not because you enjoy the subject for its own sake, but because you want to have more scientific knowledge than any other science teacher.

Ultimately, I believe that what motivates a lot of people's behaviour is insecurity about what people think about them. Deep fears that you aren't good enough are very motivating in life. Those sorts of feelings can drive someone to work hard for decades in a career that they would otherwise have little or no interest in. Ever met someone who really doesn't care what people think about them? I don't mean someone who pretends not to care, and who therefore tries to stand out in some hippy-ish way, but someone who really doesn't care about what other people think. No jealousy, no inferiority complex. Just contentedness.

This brings me to a test of my theory of insecurity. If you are curious about whether your or someone else's behaviour is motivated by insecurity, ask yourself if you would still spend time doing a particular behaviour if you were the only person on earth. I mean this in a theoretical sense. If one was really the only human being on earth, then one would be spending every minute trying to find food and shelter. But what I mean is, if you had your basic needs met but never saw anyone else, would you still behave the way you do? If you drive to work in a BMW sports coupe, would you still do so if no one ever saw you in the car and if no one ever would see you in the car? If so, then perhaps it's not insecurity that is motivating you, perhaps it is just a love of the BMW sports coupe itself. But if you hesitate and think that perhaps you would put the extra $60,000 you spent on the car towards some other use if no one ever knew you had the car, aren't you partly admitting that you own the car because of what other people think of you? That is the essence of insecurity, isn't it? You care deeply about what others think of you, and it motivates your behaviour. And you don't care about what other people think about your abilities to form friendships, to love, to be honest, but rather you care about what strangers think about your car as you drive by. Why else would a man worth $300M still be motivated to make more money every day unless to show the world that he was even better than the guy who happens to have $350M?

So, why does insecurity motivate bad behaviours in our world? Because insecurity always drives people to behave in ways that try to make up for their feelings of inadequacy. It always motivates people to try to make themselves feel better than others. Part and parcel of this is putting others down. If I want to feel better than someone else, I can achieve that partly by pulling myself up and partly by putting others down. Insecurity leads to arrogance, bullying, power, greed, violence. All of the things that we need less of in the world.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


If I commented too much on this video clip, I would degrade the immense intellectual quality apparent in it. I challenge anyone to speak just one sentence, without forethought, in such a grammatically correct manner as does Mr. Hitchens. If I had half the intellect in my own field as this man has, I would be the greatest scientist in my institution, and perhaps in my country.

Christopher Hitchens speaks at the recent Freethought Convention in Texas:

In this, there is perhaps one of his greatest quotes to date:

"There are no final solutions. There is no absolute truth. There is no supreme leader. There is no totalitarian solution that says that if you will just give up your freedom of inquiry, if you will just give up, if you will simply abandon your critical faculties, a world of idiotic bliss can be yours. You will certainly lose the faculties, and you may not know, as a result, that the idiotic bliss is even more idiotic than it looks. But, we have to begin by repudiating all such claims. Grand Rabbis, Chief Ayatollahs, Infallible Popes, the peddlers of surrogate and mutant quasi-political religion and worship. The Dear Leader, the Great Leader, we have no need of any of this. And looking at them and their record and the pathos of their supporters, I realize that it is they who are the grand impostors, and my own imposture this evening was mulled by comparison."

- Christopher Hitchens

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sounds Like Something out of an Orwell Book...

My country is instituting a federal Office of Religious Freedom. George Orwell would be proud. Well, in fact he would be ashamed, but he might be proud that six decades ago he wrote about just such offices in his book 1984.

This latest waste of taxpayer money is a classic example of the slow slide towards theocracy. The Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Harper, is a devout Christian. He doesn't talk about it much in public, but he is. There is little doubt that he believes there is a god overseeing everything, that he has a personal relationship with this god's son Jesus and that, ultimately, the whole world would be better off if they were Christians too. This is one small step in that direction. But, as much as Mr. Harper is a deluded religious fool, he is also a smart politician. Even more than theocracy, what he wants is to retain political power and get re-elected. So, this latest venture is politically aptly named the Office of Religious Freedom rather than the Office for the Advancement of Christianity, which is what it really is. When election time rolls around, you can be Mr. Harper's response to any criticism on this waste of tax dollars will be to point out that we all want human rights to be protected, and that religion is just one of the basic human rights. But, this office is not about that. You can bet that this office will spend the vast majority of its budget on programmes that promote Christianity rather than protect all religions. Isn't this the very same prime minister who just earlier this year said that the rise of Islam is the greatest threat his country faces? Will this new Office of Religious Freedom go about protecting the spread of Islam?

Ultimately what this boils down to is a long-term plan to increase the number of Christians in Canada, thereby increasing the base for the Conservative Party (for whom almost all Christians vote). James Waterton is said to have stated that when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and heralded as a plea for liberty. It seems the prime minister has heard that quote and is taking it not as a warning but as re-election advice.