Monday, November 20, 2006


I was pondering kindness the other day, or rather why it seems some people have it and others don't. Some people do kind acts instinctively: they don't think about it, it just happens. A kid cries in the store, they immediately go to him/her and see what to do to fix it. There's a bunch of homeless on the street, they empty out their wallets, or buy food, or at the very least, keep an active awareness that they are there (no putting on homeless blinders).

Then there are some people that aren't bad, they just aren't actively good. They blind themseleves to the poor, the suffering, and it seems like they could filter out any unpleasant sight or sound.

Then there are the misanthropes. The people who hate everyone, and seem to find glee in the misfortunes of others. The ones that are hopelessly jaded and cynical, and anything too sincere makes them uncomfortable. Sometimes, misanthropes are just idealists that got kicked in the metaphysical groin too many times, but sometimes they just seem born that way.

Finally, sociopaths. They don't feel anything towards anyone: everyone is just a tool to get him/her whatever s/he wants. They're a whole lotta not-touching-them-without-serious training.

What seperates these people out? What makes people kind and others cruel? There's the whole nature-and-nurture debate, but I'm thinking more of a less passive object way.

I posit that kindness is a reflex, like any other. If I went up to a person trained in Judo and grabbed their shoulder, I'm going to go flying through the air before that person even thought about it. The reaction has been honed until it was reflexive. At first, it felt awkward and didn't go exactly right, but practice made it sharp.

The same with kindness: one must train themselves to care and do something about it. AT first, it'll probably feel weird, and one might mess up a little bit, but then it will become more and more natural until it's not even thought about. You'll pick up the liter, you won't even think of not eating at McDonald's and you'll look and see everyone living in poverty.

Hey, if I'm wrong, what was lost?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ah, My family

My family is a bunch of kind-hearted, salt-of-the earth, God-fearing, middle Americans. They are solidly Republican (except for farm subsidies, when they are Democrats). Needless to say, they have not come to terms very well with my liberal Agnostic self.

Recently, they sent me one of those irritating chain mails. This one was another "OMG, Christians are being persecuted" ones. I'll quote it in its entirety:


In March, 2005, this song was performed at a Diamond Rio concert. They received an immediate standing ovation, and continue to do so every time they perform it! Sadly, major radio stations wouldn't play it because it was considered politically incorrect. Consequently, the song was never released to the public. If this song speaks to your heart and you want to share it with friends and loved ones, please do. Then, regardless of our ethnic origin, let us cease being the silent majority and join together. Not as a particular political party, but as Americans!

March of 2005 was the first time this song was performed by Diamond Rio at a concert in Las Vegas. They received an immediate resounding standing ovation, and continue to do so every time they perform it! At the time, my thought was, "Everyone who loves America will be so thrilled to hear this song!" Although Diamond Rio has never before done a statement song, they felt compelled to record "In God We Still Trust." But guess what? Sadly, major radio stations wouldn't play it because it was considered politically incorrect. Consequently, the song was never released to the public.

So, America, see what you think. If this offering speaks to your heart and you feel to share it with friends and loved ones, please do. Many of us feel great concern with the movement of a dissident minority to eliminate God from the face of America! If they succeed, it will destroy the very principles upon which our nation was founded. Are we going to allow this to happen? What would that be like? More would you feel?

Regardless of our ethnic origin, let us cease being the silent majority and join together. Not as a particular political party, but as Americans! Let us voice to the media and the powers that be how we feel about having God erased from everything that is sacred to us. If we don't do it, who will?

I rolled my eyes, but instead of sending straight to the trash, I decided to respond. Here's my email back to them:


Thank you for including me in your forward. It's nice to hear you extending the hand of dialogue over the internet.

As you probably know, I'm Agnostic and have completely rejected the Christian faith. The song you sent me, aside from not being my cup of musical tea, was very offensive to me as a non-Christian because it implied both that as a non-Christian I was not "truly American". It also implied that because I was not a knee-jerk nationalist I did not condemn the 9-11 attack, which is also hurtful and not true.

There were also a number of false statements and assumptions in the song that I would like to point out to you. To whit:

1) The song did not receive air time because it was too "politically incorrect". This is false: the song did receive air time, but it didn't receive widespread airtime because it was not released as a single. Snopes has further information here.
2) The song itself had many inaccurate or misleading statements, the biggest one being the idea that this is a Christian nation, or was based on Christian theology.

You place your hand on His bible, when you swear to tell the truth.

This is no longer done, for obvious reasons of violation of church and state.

His name is on our greatest monuments an' all our money too.
It's not on a whole list of monuments, and it wasn't on our money until the Red Scare. (Ironic, isn't it, that a faith that dictates that one "give unto Caesar’s which is Caesar’s" put god's name on Caesar’s goods).

An' when we pledge allegiance, there's no doubt where we stand:

Again, that pledge was changed during the red scare.

There's no separation, we're one nation under Him.
There is a separation: many Americans are different faiths or not faithful at all. This is explicitly othering non-Christian Americans.

Now there are those among us,
Who wanna push Him out.
And erase his name from everything,
This country's all about.

The country is NOT based on Christian principles. A simple cross-examination of the Bill of Rights and the Ten Commandments would clearly demonstrate that. Notably, the very first commandment of "Thou shall have no other God before me" contricts the right of free exercise of religion.

From the schoolhouse to the courthouse,
They're silencing His word,
An' now it's time for all believers,
To make our voices heard.

This makes it sound like Christians are being persecuted where they are not. Think of it this way: if the majority of the people in your school were Muslim and every day at school they lead the school in morning prayers you'd feel pretty marginalized. Now imagine that you went to the courthouse and ascribed above the wall was "All that oppose Allah are infidels". I'm sure you would not feel that you were going to get an unbiased court. The same applies to Christians: you do not have precedence over schools. You're faith, in the eyes of the law, is equally as valid as anyone else's.

I'm hoping to hear back from you on this subject soon.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Intellectual exercise

Wow, it's been almost a month since I updated. Time flies when you're broke and doing a lot of homework. Anyway, I went to the dentist. It was 73 dollars for them to take x-rays and go "we don't know what's causing this". Nothing like a good investment.

On an entirely new subject, I've found this philosophy game to play. It's called "Find the Assumptions". You take a statement, and then you figure out all the pre-existing premises that you need for it to be true. It can be something as simple as "The sky is blue". In order for that to be true, you have a number of assumptions: you know what the color blue is, that there is a sky, that you have the ability to properly see the sky, that your senses are giving you truthful input (which is different from being able to see) and that your individual knowledge of the sky is accurate. A lot of different premises for something that most people think are generally true.

This is a nifty little exercise, because it helps when you're constructing your own arguments and when you're listening to other people's arguments.

For instance, if someone makes the assertion that "Hard sciences (physics, engineering, medicine) are more valuable than soft sciences (humanities)" there are a whole slew of assumptions in there to make that statement anywhere near true. In general, the premise includes that there is a universal value that one can make a judgment, and that "hard" and "soft" sciences are significantly different.

So, what makes "hard" and "soft" sciences significantly different? As a person who did years in both (communication is normally considered "soft" and aviation is normally considered "hard"), not a whole hell of a lot. One could say that aviation is taught more by focusing on small details and then having to extrapolate themes from them, whereas communication is vice versa, but that's really only a difference in how it's taught. Another could be said that communication is a lot of guess-work whereas aviation is hard and fast. When people say this, it always makes me laugh: any "hard" science: be it engineering, aviation, medicine, what have you is about "guesswork" and "generally". Finally, the other explanation for this difference is that hard sciences are more concrete, as in they actually "do" something. You build a bridge, you cure a sick person, you fly from point a to point b, instead of writing a book or a paper. The next, obvious question becomes: how do you fly from point a to point b without the airport facilities directory (which someone had to write)? Why would you want to build a bridge without someone giving a reason? Why bother curing people unless you are motivated to do so?

If you bust the unspoken premises, you bust the statement. This statement is false, unless you more clearly define "value" and demonstrate a significant difference between the sciences.

And this could be for any statement one wants to make. What are the premises for anything you say?

"Mexicans are undertaking America".

"Academia is insulated from reality".

"Abortion is a personal choice".

"We should have strong leaders".

"Environmental protections are a good thing".

Anything you say has unspoken premises to make it true. I think a lot of disagreements people have about political issues are that they are short-handed. If someone says "we have a collective responsibility to our citizens" and someone responds with "you're lazy" we've hit a place where our presumptions don't match up. If someone says "The wage gap is not due to institutionalized discrimination" and someone responds "you're sexist" our presumptions are not matching up.

Moral of the story: people should learn philosophy.