Sunday, July 12, 2009

Letter to the 6th Billionth Citizen - Salman Rushdie

Dear little Six - Billionth Living Person: As one of the newest members of a notoriously inquisitive species, it probably won't be too long before you start asking the two $64,000 questions with which the other 5,999,999,999 of us have been wrestling for some time.
How did we get here? And, now that we are here, how shall we live?

Oddly - as if six billion of us weren't enough to be going on with - it will almost certainly be suggested to you that the answer to the question of origins requires you to believe in the existence of a further, invisible, innefable Being "somewhere up there", an omnipotent creature whom we poor limited creatures are unable even to perceive, much less to understand. That is, you will be strongly encouraged to imagine a heaven, with at least one god in residence.

This sky god, it's said, made the universe by churning its matter in a giant pot. Or, he danced. Or, he vomited creation out of himself. Or, he simply called it into being, and lo, it Was. In some of the more interesting creation stories, the singly mighty sky god is subdivided into many lesser forces - junior dieties, avatars, gigantic metamorphic "ancestors" whose adventures create the landscape, or the whimsical, wanton, meddling, cruel pantheons of the great polytheisms, whose wild doings will convince you that the real engine of creation was lust; for infinite power, for too easily broken human bodies, for clouds of glory. But it's only fair to add that there are also stories which offer the message that the primary creative impulse was, and is, love.

Many of these stories will strike you extremely beautiful, and therefore seductive. Unfortunately, however, you will not be required to make a purely literary response to them. Only the stories of dead religions can be appreciated for their beauty. Living religions require much more of you. So you will be told that belief in "your" stories, and adherence to the rituals of worship that have grown up around them, must become a vital part of your life in the crowded world. They will be called the heart of your culture, even of your individual identity.

It is possible that they may at some point come to feel inescapable, not in the way that the truth is inescapable, but in the way that a jail is. They may at some point cease to feel like the texts in which human beings have tried to solve a great mystery, and feel, instead, like the pretexts for other properly anointed human beings to order you around. And it's true that human history is full of the public oppression wrought by the charioteers of the gods.
In the opinion of religious people, however, the private comfort that religion brings more than compensates for the evil done in its name.

As human knowledge has grown, it has also become plain that every religious story ever told about how we got here is quite simply wrong. This, finally, is what all religions have in common. They didn't get it right. There was no celestial churning, no maker's dance, no vomiting of galaxies, no snake or kangaroo ancestors, no Valhalla, no Olympus, no six-day conjuring trick followed by a day of rest. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

But here's something genuinly odd. The wrongness of the sacred tales hasn't lessened the zeal of the devout in the least. If anything, the sheer out-of-step zaniness of religion leads the religious to insist ever more stridently on the importance of blind faith.

As a result of this faith, by the way, lt has proved impossible, in many parts of the world, to prevent the human race's numbers from swelling alarmingly. Blame the overcrowded planet at least partly on the misguidedness of the races spiritual guides. In your own lifetime, you may witness the arrival of the nine billionth world citizen.

(If too many people are being born as a result, in part, of religious strictures against birth control, then too many people are also dying because religious culture, by refusing to face the facts of human sexuality, also refuses to fight against sexually transmitted diseases.)

There are those who say that the great wars of the new century will once again be wars of religion, jihads and crusades, as they were in the Middle Ages. I don't believe them, or not in the way they mean it. Take a look at the Muslim world, or rather the Islamist world, to use the word coined to describe Islam's present day "political arm". The divisions between its great powers (Afghanistan against Iran against Iraq against Saudi Arabia against Syria against Egypt) are what strike you most forcefully. There's very little resembling a common purpose. Even after the non-Islamic NATO fought a war for the Muslim Kosovan Albanians, the Muslim world was slow in coming forward with much needed humanitarian aid.

The real wars of religion are the wars religions unleash against ordinary citizens within their "sphere of influence." They are wars of the godly against the largely defenceless - American fundamentalists against pro-choice doctors, Iranian mullahs against their country's Jewish minority, Hindu fundamentalists in Bombay against that city's increasingly fearful Muslims.

The victors in that war must not be the closed-minded, marching into battle with, as ever, God on their side. To choose unbelief is to choose mind over dogma, to trust in our humanity instead of all these dangerous divinities. So, how did we get here? Don't look for the answer in story books. Imperfect human knowledge may be a bumpy, pot-holed street, but it's the only road to wisdom worth taking. Virgil, who believed that the apiarist Aristaeus could spontaneously generate new bees from the rotting carcess of a cow, was closer to a truth about origins than all the revered old books.

The ancient wisdoms are modern non-senses.

Live in your own time, use what we know and, as you grow up, perhaps the human race will finally grow up with you and put aside childish things. As the song says, "It's easy if you try."

As for mortality, the second great question - how to live? What is right action, and what wrong?- it comes down to your willingness to think for yourself. Only you can decide if you want to be handed down the law by priests, and accept that good and evil are somehow external to ourselves.

To my mind, religion - even at its most sophisticated - essentially infantalizes our ethical selves by setting infallible moral Arbiters and irredeemably immoral Tempters above us; the eternal parents, good and bad, light and dark, of the supernatural realm.

How, then, are we to make ethical choices without a divine rulebook or judge? Is unbelief just the first step on the long slide into the brain death of cultural relativism, according to which many unbearable things - female circumcision, to name just one - can be excused on culturally specific grounds, and the universality of human rights, too can be ignored?
(This last piece of moral unmaking finds supporters in some of the world's most authoritarian regimes, and also, unnervingly, on the editorial page of the Daily Telegraph,UK.)

Well, no, it isn't, but the reasons for saying so aren't clear-cut. Only hard-line ideology is clear-cut. Freedom, which is the word I use for the secular-ethical position, is inevitably fuzzier. Yes, freedom is that space in which contradiction can reign, it is a never-ending debate. It is not in itself the answer to the question of morals, but the conversation about that question. And it is much more than mere relativism, because it is not merely a never-ending talk show, but a place in which choices are made, values defined and defended.

Intellectual freedom, in European history, has mostly meant freedom from the restraints of the Church and not the state.

This is the battle Voltaire was fighting, and it's also what all six billion of us could do for ourselves, the revolution in which each of us could play our small, six-billionth part; once and for all we could refuse to allow priests, and the fictions on whose behalf they claim to speak, to be the policemen of our liberties and behavior. Once and for all we could put the stories back into the books, put the books back on the shelves, and see the world undogmatized and plain.

Imagine there's no heaven, my dear Six-Billionth, and at once the sky's the limit.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

summer so far

new dredg is out... it's incredibly wonderful. also new mars volta out. it seems like omar produces a new record ever few months, but i really enjoy this one in comparison to the last few releases. an older friend of mine really got me into the who recently, and he also gave me an old Rush LP. i figure now is the time to start my record collection, since i don't have any excuse not too anymore. my parents are mailing me an old turntable they have in their attic, so once i buy some speakers and a tuner i'll be ready to go.

i've been TA'ing for a summer class here, and it's really awesome. the entire class is online, and all i have to do is grade a handful of quizzes and two really short papers for 25 students, and i get paid 600 bucks. im also working at a crazy busy restaurant bussing tables, and in a usual shift (approx. 5 hours) i can make anywhere from 80 to 120 dollars. best job ever. but even when i do the math i still get depressed because my annual salary if i keep this job is what... 15000 a year? sad. funny how not much money still seems like a lot, even though im 23.

2.5 weeks from now is my brother's bachelor party in portland. i am super excited for that, even though it will be really low-key. it's just a weekend trip, but i can't wait to see oregon and my brother again. i dont know if it will compare to our weekend-long mexico trip, which was probably the best vacation i've ever been on (sorry mom and dad). it turns out you can still have a great vacation and spend under 150 bucks.

and as a final thought, im going to look like this when im at andy's wedding:

Friday, May 8, 2009

first year is done, i can look back and say i've learned a lot in a small amount of time. i have my thesis proposal ready to go, it is completely different than it used to be. i read an interesting article on my topic that pretty much said, further trying to distinguish why this phenomena happens doesn't matter. i believed it. so onto better things! maybe i'll post an outline of my newish thesis topic sometime in the future. i'll be working here over the summer, just in case anybody wants to know, even though this blog gets maybe... one hit per month, and it's probably gracie. i'm also growing out my hair again, i miss my girlish locks that i had a few years back.

my brother is getting married this august, and i am the best man. although i was really excited and happy for the honor, i have no freakin idea what to say. it stirs quite a bit of anxiety in me, knowing i cant say something like "god damnit andy you used to take apart all my legos, and it still makes me sad" or "andy tell your friends to leave me alone" or "andy why did you have to destroy my high school porn stash?" i need to think of something in regard to him being a good brother. of course i jest, i love my brother, it is just tough to put that into words. i could always say something like "andy, you and I are like detroit piston's Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer," though i am sure the meaning would get lost on the crowd as well as you.

anyways that is enough for tonight's midnight ramblings, so it is time for your humble narrator to depart.


Sunday, March 29, 2009


i think IPA's are the best beer ever invented. there's something about the bitter taste of a shitload of hops that i love, and since it has more alcohol than most other beers, its a win-win situation. on a side note, this blog is never updated, and i am sorry for your humble narrator never has much to say. telling you about my love for IPA has been the most profound thing i've needed to say lately. so don't be surprised if this blog turns into more than just a bitching-about-grad-school blog, since a) i don't bitch much about school, and b) well there is no b, just a.

but in regard to school, i think i have come up with a potential thesis idea. its on cognitive dissonance, which i feel is one of the more interesting and counterintuitive ideas in psychology. this is how it works: when you have a strong opinion about something (i.e., you are very pro-life) but then you are given information to counter this information (like a pro-choice argument), you feel dissonance, an uncomfortable feeling, in regard to these two opposing attitudes. The dissonance is uncomfortable to the point where you need to organize your attitudes in a way to relieve the feeling. Possibly the best example is a seasoned cigarette smoker, who when he reads information from a legitimate source stating that smoking is bad for you, feels dissonance. He feels dissonance from these opposing ideas, and rationally, he should change his behavior and try to quit smoking. However, one would be surprised about how often instead of changing smoking behavior, one might try to rationalize or justify their smoking behavior, while delegitimizing the information about health risks.

This effect has been found in a wide variety of settings, and doesn't necessarily need to pertain to explicit behaviors, because as we all know, attitudes do not match behavior, no matter how much we'd like it to be so. Cognitive dissonance also applies to attitude change, such that just reading a legitimate countering argument to one's beliefs can lead to dissonnance and subsequent attitude change. In many experiments, a forced-compliance paradigm is used, which usually manifests itself as having a participant give you his attitude on some concept. We'll continue with the pro-choice/life argument for the sake of consistancy. so in this paradigm, let's say our hypothetical participant is extreme in in support for pro-life. Now we force him to comply with out demand, which in most cases, is writing a counterattitudinal essay in favor of the opposing attitude. So, a pro-life participant would write a pro-choice essay. Now, writing this essay provokes a degree of dissonance in the participant's mind, and theoretically, the participant should change his original attitude in order to relieve the dissonance. This is exactly what is found in literature. Participants will change their original attitude to more closely match what they wrote in the essay; that is, participants adopt a different viewpoint at the end of the study as compared to what they believed at the start. Now, it should be noted this is not a black to white kind of attitude change, it is not completely opposite. Although it is not extreme, there is a certain difference pre- and post-experiment.

Now comes my thesis: many psychologists theorize that people change their attitudes to achieve cognitive consistancy. people want to think they are consistant in thought, in all aspects. this also contributes to self-esteem as well as other self-important ideas, but generally speaking, feeling consistant in thought makes us feel good. However, other theorists think that people change their attitudes in order to appear as consistant to other people. This falls in line with the idea of impression management, in which people try to control how they appear in order to portray themselves in a certain light to other people. basically, i am testing these opposing theories about why people change their attitudes. i would go into the procedure and how i will go about doing that, but im still incubating these ideas a bit. i am pretty excited to do this study, as this is the kind of stuff that i really care about. i was afraid that i would end up doing some BS thesis just to get it out of the way, but since i found something that interests me, perhaps the process of the entire work won't be too bad.

I know that my postings are usually perfect examples of brevity, but if you read this far i congratulate you. if what i said didnt make any sense at all, let me know.

Friday, October 17, 2008

the word of gradschool

the single most used word in grad school is "caveat"

i hear it a few times per class, easy

because of this, i will never say that word, ever, ever, ever.

that's all for now.

Monday, September 22, 2008


one thing that is pretty surprising to me about grad school is the amount of free time you have. i have 5 classes a week. on tuesdays i have 3, on thursdays i have 2. 9 credits is a full load here. i have to admit it is pretty sweet being able to sleep in 5 out of 7 days a week, and also make money on the side for teaching psychology to undergrads (aka grading tests, for now). of course, my free time is usually filled up with reading or writing papers or whatnot, because gradschool isnt gradschool without a larger workload. although i may spend a lot of time reading, the great thing that none of it is really considered "homework" because you have nothing to turn in the next class period. just gotta make sure you know your shit if the professor randomly calls on you. well i dont feel inspired to write anymore, so.... until next time.


Sunday, September 21, 2008


hey everyone, i dont feel like i get enough attention so here is my blog about grad school. since i know a couple of people that want to do grad school in the future, i decided i might make a blog about life as a grad student so people might know what to expect. no, i dont go to harvard, or UC berkeley or central oregon community college. i go to northern arizona university, where i am enrolled in the masters psychology program, on the pre-doctorate track. also, i get payed by NAU to grade tests and stuff which is awesome. i have been here for about a month now, and i have a few things worth talking about, so expect a post or twelve in the next week or so. questions are welcome as comments, and i'll try to answer them. i think thats about it.... bye.