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    • Inequality is Unnatural
      I’ve been reading UltraSociety, by Peter Turchin. Turchin’s a biologist turned to mathematical models of human society, and he’s done interesting work, not all of which I agree with (or agree is quite as radical as he claims.) But one of the points he makes in UltraSociety, which has been made by many archeologists and […]
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Coming out of the closet as a non-religious person

Digby’s back to her usual quotable self today, lamenting why it is that the religious get all of the respect.  With respect to a doctor’s concern with his freedom to treat women in a Catholic hospital according to his professional judgment, Digby writes:

He points out that the Catholic Hospital system has been growing as they take over more and more community hospitals around the country. He also points out that they receive many millions of taxpayer dollars to do it. So, what about my conscience? It is truly offended by this behavior and I’m not being facetious. Why does this only go one way?

This isn’t just about lady parts, although they are as obsessed with them as ever. This is about dying with dignity as well, another extremely personal decision that these religious people take out of the hands of individuals and their families and insist on their own religious practices, regardless of the medical necessity among other extremely personal issues.

I find that story morally reprehensible and I deeply resent contributing to such practices. Maybe it’s time for non-believers and those of other faiths to seriously start challenging this with their own arguments. Many of doctors who’ve been forced into these institutions chafe at what they are required to do as well. Perhaps they should invoke the Hippocratic oath and stop doing harm as well.

[…]

Maybe we should be thinking about ways to change that mix.

Well, there’s always The Reason Rally that’s coming up on March 24. Richard Dawkins and Adam Savage will be speaking there.  The rally is intended to be a demonstration of the growing numbers of secularists in America.  You don’t have to be an atheist to attend.  You just have to want to protect our secular government and the separation of church and state.

But now that I’ve brought it up, how many people have come out of the closet about their religious beliefs?  The podcast, TheThinkingAtheist, hosted by Seth (whose last name I can never find), takes calls from many people every week who have come out to their family as non-believers and get a similar reaction to coming out as gay.  Their families reject them or treat them as sub-adult.  What’s really annoying is that the religious refuse to confer the same respect for the non-religious believer’s worldview that the religious demand from everyone else regarding their belief in God.  Some out of the closet non-believers have been disinherited.  You can even lose your job or custody of your children if you’re an atheist.  In many respects, it really is like being gay.

But the numbers of non-believers is growing and there is some safety in numbers.  I’ve really been surprised by the number of non-believer outlets out here that have sprung up in just the last couple of years.  There are worldwide conferences as well.  For some strange reason, Australia seems to host a lot of them.  Maybe that has something to do with their single, white, female, atheist prime minister.  But even here in the US, freethought societies and atheist associations are springing up all over the place including the south, where being an atheist might be hazardous to your health.

This new cohort of non-believers are all ages, all sexes, all socioeconomic groups.  There are more women and they’re not the Madelyn Murray O’Hare types of the 60’s.  They’re people like Annie Laurie Gaylor of FFRF, Cristina Rad, and atheist minister Margaret Downey.  And Seth gets calls from young and old, cosmopolitan and good old boy.  Suddenly, it’s getting safer-and apparently a lot more popular, to be a non-believer.
This bunch of non-believers are not rejecting God so much as thriving in a naturalistic worldview without God.  It’s a return to nature.

We’re not a majority.  The religious still outnumber us by a wide margin.  But our numbers are not insignificant anymore and we are a growing voting bloc.  Whether this is a natural evolution of the human condition, part of a step from totems and anunna spirits, to polytheism, to monotheism, to something else, or just a reaction to the non-stop, shoving of 13th century BCE traditions down our throats to the point where they have a choked the life out of our modern American culture is a question that will only resolve over time.  But whatever it is, it’s not going back in the bottle.

So, what’s the membership like these days?  Can we get a show of hands? (BTW, there’s no way for me to know who you are if you respond to this poll.  Your secret is safe from me)  

My resident atheist was mildly curious about my recent interest in the atheist community.  “Are you ready to come to the dark side?”, she asked with a grin.  “We have cookies.”

I have to admit that the prospect of hot chocolate chip cookies and a glass of cold milk is very tempting…

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Wednesday: I don’t like this

Aside from an Occupy march or three, my life is unexciting.  I’ve never had a speeding ticket, never been arrested, don’t do drugs.  But if I *wanted* to smoke a joint in my backyard, I’d like to think I could do so without some drone hovering a mile overhead watching me do it.  Don’t they even make little drones that look like insects and birds and stuff or did I read that in a Michael Crichton book?

This article in The Atlantic should have all of us pretty pissed off.  There’s a limit to how much surveillance we need to keep everyone on the straight and narrow:

Drones, in my mind, make it clear how many of our feelings about privacy rest on the assumption that surveillance is time consuming or difficult. If someone smokes a joint in her backyard, she is making the (pretty good) calculation that a police officer is not watching. In our cars, we assume we can quickly send a text message at a red light or not wear our seatbelts for a few minutes or drive a few miles over the speed limit. We don’t expect that someone is watching our every move and that gives the law some give, a bendiness that reflects it’s a human construction.

But these little flying video and audio recorders, paired with powerful data analysis tools, make previously unthinkable levels of surveillance possible, even easy. Before the Internet, tracking someone’s reading and shopping activities would have been nearly impossible without a private detective. Now, new online tracking tools make it possible to easily capture every page that you visit on the Internet. So companies do. Technology doesn’t create entirely novel privacy questions, but it tilts the playing field towards or away from increased privacy without many citizens (or courts!) really noticing that anything had changed.

Let’s look at one example of how drones change the privacy equation. We tend to think of our homes as having a perimeter. Property maps are two-dimensional, we talk about property lines as if they were burned into the ground. There are access points in two-dimensional space — paths and roads — that channel visitors through a small number of places. We can build fences or plant hedges and they need not be high to mark the territory out.

A flying drone with a zoom lens, though, makes that whole sense of two-dimensional privacy an anachronism. If one wanted privacy from the government or other citizens, one would have to defend the entire volume of airspace reaching up from one’s property to several hundred feet up, if not much farther. This vastly increases the cost of physically hiding one’s activities. And, vis a vis law enforcement, the idea of “plain sight” hardly even makes sense anymore, as Jonathan Zittrain pointed out yesterday:

“The prospect of constant government surveillance of citizens through cheap drones tests the “plain sight” doctrine by which, under our Constitution, police are generally allowed to scope out whatever is in plain view, without requiring a warrant. Supercharged technologies face some limits — extra-sensitive remote microphones, or heat signature detectors of the sort that might be pointed at the wall of a home to detect marijuana-growing lamps in use inside.”

Anyway, the concept of a drone is sort of what my concept of biblical God is.  Doesn’t God have better things to do with his/her time than watch ordinary people do things that shouldn’t be illegal?  And what kind of life do you have when everyone is afraid to step out of line even a fraction of an inch for fear of being fined or jailed?  Isn’t that like being a cow or some other dumb animal?  You get up in the morning, go out to a pasture, chew some cud, go home and go to sleep.  What would be the point? I’m sure the apocalyptic evangelical fundamentalist crowd would see this scenario as some kind of earthly paradise but what about the rest of us?

On the other hand, all of those people who are looking for houses with a lot of “privacy” from their neighbors might as well give it up.  You’re never going to get a chance to have a threesome in the pool with your wife and that personal fitness instructor that you’ve been fantasizing about.

The writer of the Atlantic article thinks the additional surveillance (just because we can) will prompt citizens to run screaming to their legislatures and courts demanding legal protections and that the backlash will include things we don’t even think about now, like various internet giants tracking our every move through the web.  I don’t care if they check out where I’ve been but there is a limit to how much information I’m willing to share with the outside world and the world right now is pushing it.  And giving an entity this much power is an invitation to abuse.

One other thing that’s worth noting is the effect this will have on our most innovative, artistic, and politically useful people.  If everyone is forced to conform as if they live in a fanatical townhouse association with the Staasi for neighbors, then we’ll get the same cookie cutouts running our elected offices too.  Nassir Ghaemi, author of A First Rate Madness says that in times of crisis, the last thing you want is some normal dude or dudess who has no mental abnormalities and has never tested the bounds of what is socially acceptable, which is why it should come as no surprise that George W. Bush and Barack Obama have been such disasters. Monogamous, normal, sane, conformity minded people make the worst leaders in times of crisis and make horrendous decisions.  In fact, it helps to have had a mental health crisis of some kind or to have broken some social taboo.  Think Winston Churchill and his cyclical political career, JFK and his affairs and illnesses, Abraham Lincoln and his depression and atheism and finally Steve Jobs and his LSD use.  If there’s a drone watching you and listening in to every conversation, it’s much harder to think out of the box and do what needs to be done without fear of severe reprisals.  In fact, you may never get the chance.  Drones are going to nip a first rate madness in the bud (no pun intended).

Maybe the world works best when there’s a little bit of unravelling, a soupçon of testing the limits.  Sometimes you have to go up in energy to overcome some barrier.  That involves a certain amount of risk taking that others may not approve of.  As Nucky Thompson said, “We all have to decide how much sin we can live with.”  With a drone buzzing up above, that decision may be made for us.  And that’s not a good thing.

**************

The People’s Party considers non-violence:

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In other news: Chemists are screwed.  The statistic in this article is old.  The pace of job losses has accelerated in the last two years for chemists.  You know, I can’t think of a more depressing prospect for a chemist than to have spent at least 4 years stuffing my brain with all this complexicated nollij and then be stuck in a CRO lab doing the same damn thing, day after day, like some low level factory worker, never being involved in the design of the compound or asked to participate in a project.  So, maybe it’s better if we just didn’t have American chemists at all.  Yeah, let’s all devolve.

*************

The only guy who could compete with Jon Stewart, George Carlin, takes on the pro-life (actually, the pro-dirty, illegal abortionist) position:

It’s hard to believe he’s been dead for 4 years because he could have written this material yesterday.