Author Archives | Dustin Celestino

Wasting Your Life: One Peso at a Time, One Minute at a Time

I commute to work on a daily basis. I wake up at around 6:00 AM to make sure that I arrive at the MRT station before 6:30 AM. If I arrive any later than that, I basically missed my chance to make it to my 7:30 AM class in Makati.

My teaching obligations end at 5:30 PM. Everything that happens before 5:30 PM, I consider a privilege. I get paid to talk about things that I like talking about. But after 5:30 PM, that’s when the real work begins.I’m talking about the rush hour commute between 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM. The experience is unpleasant, stressful, unproductive, and time-consuming.

In the station I often ride the train from, the MRT platform has a pathway that links it to the Alphaland Mall. The platform links to the third floor. The line, however, often extends to the entrance of the mall. During rush hour, it would take more than 30 minutes just to get to the MRT platform. And let’s not talk about the shoving, grinding, swearing, and cramping that happens once inside the train.

Deep inside everyone who takes the MRT at this time feels that something about this experience is extremely wrong. Everyone that takes alternative means of transportation, via buses, feels equally as miserable. I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but the feelings we all have about our commute is correct – it’s bad for us.

mrt

North Avenue Station

Commuting Makes Us Unhappy

In the article “Your Commute is Killing You,” Anne Lowry discusses how long commutes can make us fat, cause neck pain,increase our feelings of loneliness, cause stress, and may even lead to divorce. According to her, researchers at Umea University in Sweden discovered that, “Couples in which one partner commutes for longer than 45 minutes are 40 percent likelier to divorce.”

In the same article, she mentions how a survey done by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and Princeton economist Alan Krueger reveals that among common activities that 900 Texan women share, they find commuting in the morning the most unpleasant.

The misery of the commute extends to other areas of a person’s life. It was revealed in a report by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index that workers with lengthy commutes report more adverse emotional conditions.

Commuting Isolates Us from Fulfilling Relationships

Robert Putnam is another name that was mentioned in Lowry’s article. Robert Putnam is a Harvard political scientist and is the author of “Bowling Alone.” According to Putnam, every 10 minutes we spend on our daily commute results in 10% fewer social connections. He warns that our social capital is plummeting, and our lives and communities are becoming impoverished. We, as a society, belong to fewer organizations, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less often, and spend less time with our families.

Personally, I spend almost 10 hours a week commuting to and from the office. As much as I can, I try my best to spend Sunday lunch with my siblings and my grandmother. We would sit at the same table and chat from around 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM. That’s 3 hours.

Sometimes, if I am lucky, I can spend an evening having dinner with a few friends. We’d meet at around 7:00 PM, but we’d have to part ways before 11:00 PM because I have to be at the MRT platform by 6:30 AM. I can honestly say that I spend more time at the commute with strangers than I do with my friends and family. That sucks.

Commuting is Unpaid Work

Mentioned in Lowry’s article is another study by Thomas James Christian of Brown University. According to Christian’s research,each minute spent at the commute reduces our exercise time, our food preparation time, and our time for sleep. The length of our commute also determines our propensity for making non-grocery food purchases.

In other words, if we often find ourselves in long commutes, we tend to buy unhealthy food knowing that we will have no time to prepare healthier meals when we get home. Other people,in their desire to avoid the rush hour, would have dinner at a fast food instead to kill time. In both cases, we’ll be spending more, eating less healthy, and we’ll be having less time and energy for exercise because we’re too tired.

When we compute for how much we’re earning, one of the invisible liabilities we often forget to acknowledge is the cost of commuting.

According to Lowry’s article, two economists at the University of Zurich quantified the value of how much more a worker should be compensated to make even just an additional hour of commute worthwhile.

In the paper entitled, “Stress That Doesn’t Pay: The Commuting Paradox,” economists Bruno S. Frey and Alois Stutzer found that for an extra hour of commuting, a worker has to be compensated with a 40% increase in salary, just to make it worthwhile.

In other words, don’t work for a far location if the salary difference is minimal. If you’re working at an office 15 minutes away for P14,000, the same work SHOULD pay you P19,600 if it’s 1 hour and 15 minutes away. If it’s 2 hours away, the same work SHOULD pay you P27,440. Anything less and you’re incurring a loss.

The time we spend commuting takes a major toll on our lives. We experience neck and back pain,spend less time with friends and family, experience loneliness, spend more, get fat, exercise less, sleep less, worry more, and get stressed.

80% of Filipinos are commuters. 80% of Filipinos will have their happiness and their health compromised. Every minute we spend in the MRT line or on a bus along EDSA is a minute of work that we did for free. It is a minute with a loved one that was taken from us. It is a minute we could have invested in our own physical or intellectual development. It is a minute we could have spent preparing a healthy meal. It is a minute we could have spent with our children. It is a minute of our lives that was wasted.

Apparently, it’s not just our money, our taxes, that corrupt and inefficient government officials can squander. They’re wasting our lives: one minute at a time, one peso at a time.

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Atheists and Satanists; Bedfellows?

This post was inspired by a question directed to me by a fellow faculty member. She asked me whether or not atheism was similar to satanism. Well, the obvious answer should have been, “No, they’re different.” However, it’s not as simple as that, really. For one, there are a number of similarities between the atheist and the satanist, beginning with the prejudice both individuals have to deal with on a daily basis.

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Here are some of them:

1. Both atheists and Satanists are accused of sexual deviance

An atheist’s sexuality is often judged as deviant simply because atheists are often sex-positive and LGBT-friendly, having no religiously-motivated biases against homosexuality or sex, in general.

Similarly, Satanists are often accused of being sex-crazed, devil-worshippers who commit unspeakable sex crimes on unsuspecting strangers.

That’s false.

In fact, it clearly states in the Satanic Bible, written by Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan that:

“Satanism encourages any form of sexual expression you may desire, so long as it hurts no one else. If all parties involved are mature adults who willingly take full responsibility for their actions and voluntarily engage in a given form of sexual expression – even if it is generally considered taboo – then there is no reason for them to repress their sexual inclinations.”

Furthermore, the fifth rule of “The Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth”  is, “Do not make sexual advances unless you are given the mating signal.” In other words, a person is not supposed to make sexual advances until provided consent. In Satanism, there is a huge emphasis on consent from a partner.

What’s strange is that it’s often the accusers of these transgressions that often commit them. It’s not the Satanists or the Atheists that encourage the violation of female autonomy, it’s the Bible.

These are verses from the Bible that legitimize rape, if the women were acquired through conquest:

“In the cities that god delivers into thine hands you must kill all the males with “the edge of the sword …. But the women … shalt thou take unto yourself.” — Deuteronomy 20:13-14

“If you see a pretty woman among the captives and would like her for a wife, then just bring her home and go in unto her. Later, if you decide you don’t like her, you can “let her go.” — Deuteronomy 21:11-14

In this verse, it is stated that a victim of rape should be killed if no one heard her scream:

“If a betrothed virgin is raped in the city and doesn’t cry out loud enough, then “the men of the city shall stone her to death.” — Deuteronomy 22:23-24

Atheists and satanists do have something in common, with regard to women. Neither of them considers the Bible as a guide for how women should be treated.

 

2. Both Atheists and Satanists are often accused of sacrificing children in weird rituals.

Another common misconception about both atheists and satanists is that they harm children. However, in “The Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth“, the Satanist equivalent of the Ten Commandments, the ninth rule is, “Do not harm children.”

Once again it’s not atheistic or satanistic beliefs that encourage that attitude; it’s the Bible.

These verses encourage the beating of a child with a rod:

“Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.” — Proverbs 23:13-14

“Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” — Hebrews 12:11

It’s not Satanists and atheists who sacrifice kids as part of a ritual to appease their god, either:

In Genesis 22:2 there was Abraham who was told by God to kill his own son: “And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.”

And, of course, in Judges 11:29-40 there’s Jephthah who promised God that, “I will give to the LORD the first thing coming out of my house to greet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” Unfortunately, after his victory, his only daughter ran out to meet him, playing on a tambourine and dancing for joy. So, he kept his promise to God and burned her.

 

3. Both atheists and Satanists are accused of hating God.

This will sound strange, but most Satanists don’t actually believe in God or Satan. There is a thing such as theistic Satanism, but even these people do not worship the Satan of Christian mythology. For many Satanists, Satan is a symbolic adaptation. “Satan” comes from ancient Hebrew and means “opposer.” The contemporary Satanist is someone who opposes the ideas and commandments of the Judeo-Christian religion because they see them as evil. Yes, both the atheist and the satanist have this in common, “neither of them hate God.” They don’t even acknowledge his existence.

According to the Satanic Bible:

“ALL religions of a spiritual nature are inventions of man. He has created an entire system of gods with nothing more than his carnal brain. Just because he has an ego, and cannot accept it, he has to externalize it into some great spiritual device which he calls ‘God’.”

But there are many atheists who do oppose religion. Some of them are even very vocal about it. Richard Dawkins wrote “The God Delusion.” Christopher Hitchens wrote “God is not Great.” So, technically, when an atheist opposes the Judeo-Christian religion, he is being Satanistic, as in, being an “opposser.”

Furthermore, many atheists are also skeptics. Skepticism is another quality that both Satanists and Atheists have in common.

According to the Satanic Bible:

“The Roman god, Lucifer, was the bearer of light, the spirit of the air, the personification of enlightenment. […] It has been said “the truth will make men free”. The truth alone has never set anyone free. It is only DOUBT which will bring mental emancipation. Without the wonderful element of doubt, the doorway through which truth passes would be tightly shut, impervious to the most strenuous poundings of a thousand Lucifers.”

I have sometimes been called a Satanists by people who can’t tell the difference between atheism and Satanism. However, I don’t consider it an offense. As far as I can tell, Satanism, at least the atheistic LaVeyan incarnation of it, is not so bad. In all honesty, I would rather be mistaken for a LaVeyan Satanist than a fundamentalist Christian.

 

Image Source: http://leavingitblank.wordpress.com/tag/atheist/

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Cheering for Equality

I don’t understand the Filipino sense of national pride. The Filipino sense of national pride is hard to distinguish from geographical bias, or outright racism. Filipino pride, to me, is similar to being proud of being born in a territory one did not choose to be born in. In other words, it’s like being proud of an accident.

Filipino pride, as it is commonly expressed, is like watching a male human being with a complete set of fingers being proud of being male, human, and having a complete set of fingers. Personally, I have these qualities too, but I don’t think I should take pride in any of these qualities because I was born with them. I am grateful about these qualities, but there was no effort on my part done to result in having these qualities. In other words, I didn’t work to be human, or male, or to have a complete set of fingers. I was simply born that way.

What I’m saying is, as Filipinos, we should not be proud, by default, for being Filipino. What I believe people should take pride in is having qualities that come as a consequence of effort. Being disciplined,for example, is an attribute that a person should take pride in because discipline is a product of self-control; a consequence of effort. Being kind, I think, is another quality that one can be proud of. Any person who decides to be kind is worthy of praise in my book.

If there’s anything Filipinos should be proud of, it should be something that is achieved through a collective effort. For example, I do not think Filipinos should take pride in Pacquiao becoming champion, because most Filipinos didn’t really help him train. They contributed very little to Pacquiao’s achievement.

However, Filipinos could take pride in the fact that the Philippines ranks among the most gay-friendly in the world. On the survey called, “The Global Divide on Homosexuality,” 73% of adult Filipinos believe that “homosexuality should be accepted by society.”

This is something Filipinos can take pride in, because being considered gay-friendly, as a nation, takes a collective effort, a collective decision to be tolerant.

Just recently, the University of the Philippines expressed a similar, LGBT-friendly message as part of their performance in the recent 2014 UAAP Cheerdance Competition. Since the theme of the performance was gender equality (#pantaypantay), the UP Pep Squad had their female pep squad members lift their male counterparts. As they were performing, the same group initiated the passing of a rainbow flag, a LGBT symbol, to further highlight their advocacy for equality.

UPPEPSQUAD

As a long-time student of UP (8 years and counting, for various reasons [don’t judge me]) I felt very happy that the UP Pep Squad members did that. I was happy because they promoted an advocacy that I was also promoting.

I felt a sense of kinship with them; like we were comrades and colleagues, fighting for a common good. I felt a sense of pride; I wanted to think that maybe I contributed somehow to the UP community that fostered this environment of tolerance that encouraged the UP Pep Squad to highlight gender equality in their performance. But the pride of the Pep Squad does not and should not extend to me, by default, just because I go to the same school as they do.

I didn’t help them train. I didn’t risk my life being thrown10 feet into the air. I wasn’t part of the group that made a collective decision to take advantage of a national platform to bring consciousness to an advocacy that they collectively supported. They deserve to be proud of what they did.

I don’t.

I didn’t take the risks that they did. I didn’t voice out my support for the LGBT community as loud as they have. In a simple cheer dance performance, the UP Pep Squad was able to force a nation confront the issue of gender equality. That’s quite an achievement, I think. If anything, I should be humbled by that effort.

All I can say is that I’m grateful and happy that I’m part of the academic community whose image these people represented in the best way I can imagine. Congratulations to the UP Pep Squad!

 

Image Source: http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/379148/sports/campussports/binuhat-yung-lalaki-eh-up-pep-squad-s-pantaypantay-routine-a-hit-online

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Evolution Has No Purpose

Eli Soriano of “Ang Dating Daan” promoted the hashtag #EvolutionHasNoPurpose. He’s right. Evolution doesn’t have a purpose.

The word “purpose” is both a verb and a noun. It’s defined as:

1. Noun – the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.

2. Verb – have as one’s intention or objective.

Yes, evolution does not have a purpose. Evolution doesn’t have an objective, or an intention, or an “end goal in mind” simply because it has no “mind,” or intelligence. It doesn’t adhere to a plan or a design.

In a nutshell, here’s how it works:

1) Random mutations happen.

Here’s a picture:

Genetic shuffling is a source of variation.

2) Living organisms fortunate enough to have advantageous mutations have a better chance of surviving than organisms with disadvantageous mutations. This is called natural selection.

Here’s a picture:

Some beetles are born green, some are born brown. Birds tend to eat green ones, because they are easier to spot. Being green is a disadvantageous trait. One day, if this keeps happening, beetles will mostly be brown.

Theistic evolutionists, people who believe in God and scientific facts, argue that evolution is guided. They believe that evolution has a purpose, the purpose is just unknown to us, because we are not as smart as God.

Eli Soriano’s hashtag is actually an argument against both guided evolution and intelligent design. Initially, I agreed with his statement thinking that what he meant was:

“Evolution is happening, but it has no purpose. In fact, it’s mutations are random. Therefore, intelligent design is not happening. Because if intelligent design is happening, natural occurrences, such as evolution, would have a purpose.”

So, I wondered why a religious leader with a reputation for taking the Bible literally would agree with scientists on any matter. So I read his blog and realized that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

His intention for saying that “evolution has no purpose” was an attempt to take a clever jab at science. Unfortunately, his hashtag was neither clever nor a jab at science, because what he stated was simply something many scientists consider a fact.

Unfortunately, “Evolution Has No Purpose” is the only thing Eli Soriano said that was scientifically accurate. Everything else he said about evolution are either blatant lies or ignorant statements. Eli Soriano is implying that evolution is not real. He says that it’s not proven, because its a theory. He’s saying that scientists don’t have evidence (like this) that evolution is happening. What Eli Soriano is saying is absolute nonsense. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

The “Isn’t Evolution Just a Theory?” nonsense is so common that it’s the third question answered in an online FAQ for evolution:

Isn’t Evolution Just a Theory?

Evolution is often criticized by opponents as being “just a theory.” This argument is especially common in America, where the word “theory” usually means an unproven idea. However, in science a theory is the highest degree of certainty. Gravity is “just a theory.” The Earth orbiting the Sun is “just a theory.” By definition, a scientific theory is a hypothesis which has withstood rigorous testing and is well-supported by the facts. There is overwhelming evidence for biological evolution, just as there is overwhelming evidence for gravity.

I find myself having to reiterate, again, what a scientific theory is. A scientific theory is an explanation for a fact. The theory of gravitation is trying to explain why gravity, a fact, happens. The theory of gravitation is not “guessing” whether or not there’s gravity. It’s trying to explain how gravity works.

Now, replace all instances of the words “gravitation” and “gravity” with the word “evolution” in the previous paragraph. That’s what scientists mean.

Eli Soriano is right when he says #EvolutionHasNoPurpose. But he could have said #GravityHasNoPurpose and he would have been just as right. But he didn’t, because he only has issues with the theory of evolution, and not the theory of gravitation, for one very obvious reason:

 

#EliSorianoDoesntUnderstandScience

 

Image Sources:

1 – http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/0_0_0/evo_17

2 – http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/0_0_0/evo_25

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Science is Sexy

A few days ago, I posted this image with the caption, “There is something awesome about this”:

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I think it’s amazing that science has discovered how our fluctuating biochemistry can determine our emotions. Love, according to the chart, is a chemical cocktail of schizophrenia, happiness, and pleasure. Now, some people think that my comment about the image being “awesome” is laid with irony, that this graphic was intended to trivialize human emotion.

Science and science-oriented people both get a negative reputation sometimes; because of coming off as emotionless, detached, objective, unsentimental, incapable of awe, and unromantic. As for the chart above, it’s easy to assume that science-oriented people have a tendency to simplify and trivialize love by reducing it to a simple consequence of biochemicals.

However, in my opinion, scientifically explaining love doesn’t trivialize it. In fact, if anything, science enhances our idea of love. For one, science provides evidence for love. Without science, the romantic concept of love is pure conjecture, and we can dismiss romantic statements as hyperbolic anecdotes. Science, however, concretized this idea; love is no longer just a “word,” a symbolic approximation of a feeling, but an actual biological condition that occurs when an individual is producing high levels of serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin.

But that’s not just why I thought that the image was awesome.

See, science can explain that the good feelings I have are caused by elevated biochemical levels, but it can’t explain why my exposure to the person I love causes my biochemical levels to elevate. What I found just as fascinating, apart from being informed about the chemicals that influence my emotions, is the seemingly eternal gap between how I love, as explained by the rise in my biochemical levels (serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin), and why I love my significant other.

I found scientific attempts at explaining why people love who they love, but even those, I found romantic.

According to evolutionary psychology, I selected my significant other because her sexiness is an indication that she is fully capable of replicating my genes.

Why is this romantic? Think of it this way, the continued survival of any living race is only enabled by the living’s insatiable desire. Beings that are alive have been desiring for millions of years, and we’re not done yet. If desire ends, the human race goes extinct shortly after.

I think it’s awesome to think that my desire for my significant other is part of something bigger, something epic, that has been going on for millions and millions of years.

For some physicists, love is a neurological condition that could be compared to hunger or thirst, only more permanent. People have been fantasizing about eternal love, not knowing that it was eternal to begin with, as eternal and as primal as our need to eat.

Neuroscientists discovered that falling in love can produce pleasurable feelings as if one used cocaine, but also affects intellectual areas of the brain. It’s also been discovered that falling in love takes about 1/5 of a second. So, that means, it took me less than a second to fall in love with my significant other, and all those myths about love at first sight are not actually myths.

Reading romantic literature about eternal love, love at first sight, and insatiable desire is exciting. It allows us to fantasize that the romantic feelings we have for our significant other is just as intense, as spontaneous, and as permanent. But you know what is more exciting than that? Finding evidence that your romantic feelings for your significant other is (or, at least, could be) as eternal, as spontaneous, and as permanent as love in poetry.

Image Source: https://www.facebook.com/AsapSCIENCE/photos/a.236720259792345.60296.162558843875154/538839496247085/?type=1

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Why Catholics Need to Acknowledge Evolution

Catholicism is strange. That has always been my attitude towards it. Even as a kid, I thought it was strange that I was made to get up at 3:00 a.m. to sing the Passion of Christ. I also thought it was strange that I was encouraged to kiss the bleeding knee of a Jesus sculpture after so many people already did. I thought there was something unhealthy about that.

One can say that I belong to a Catholic family. Although our beliefs vary, my family and I have always been culturally Catholic. I’m sure a lot of Filipinos are as well. And because Catholicism, as a culture, is ingrained in many Filipino families, few take the time to examine or study what Catholicism is about. Many assume that Catholicism is simply whatever their parents believed.

I have long accepted the idea that conservative Christians will not accept evolution, but I was definitely surprised to learn that many Filipino Catholics reject evolution too. In classes where I sometimes breached the topic of evolution, I would often ask Catholic students how many of them acknowledged evolution as a fact, and it’s always in the minority. My own Catholic family does not acknowledge evolution.

This is strange because, as far as I knew, the Roman Catholic Church has been claiming that there is no conflict between evolution and the faith, as early as 1950.

pope 2

Even Pope John Paul II acknowledged that evolution is not just a guess or a hypothesis. In 1996, he told the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:

“Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies—which was neither planned nor sought—constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory.”

Pope John Paul II’s descendent Pope Benedict XVI shared a similar belief. Pope Benedict mentioned that the perceived conflict between creationism and evolution was absurd. In a speech in 2007, he said:

“Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called “creationism” and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God. This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? I believe this is of the utmost importance.”

In the article, “Does the New Pope believe in evolution?” George Dvorsky reminds Catholics that the Roman Catholic Church has recognized Darwinian evolution for the past 60 years. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church openly rejects both Intelligent Design and Young Earth Creationism. The Vatican’s very own chief astronomer, Rev. George Coyne argued that intelligent design should not be taught in science classes.

If it’s not clear yet what I’m implying here, let me clarify: the Roman Catholic Church WANTS Catholics to acknowledge evolution and incorporate it into their faith.

The only requirement the Vatican gave with regard to a Catholic’s acceptance of evolution is to acknowledge that the process is guided by God. This belief is called Theistic Evolution. It’s basically the same as Darwinian Evolution, except that in the theistic version, God is involved.

As Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick, is quoted to have said, “As long as in every understanding of evolution, the hand of God is recognized as being present, we can accept that.”

I think a lot of Filipino Catholics remain confused about the Vatican’s official position on evolution, or even how they’re supposed to react to the Vatican. Either way, if you’re Catholic, acknowledging evolution as fact would make your beliefs more similar to the Pope’s, than rejecting it.

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It’s Okay for Christians to Believe in Evolution

evolution-cartoon-11One of the most commonly acknowledged conflicts between men of faith and men of science is the fact of evolution. For many people with faith, scientific evidence for evolution is in direct conflict with the word of God, the Bible. Science, in their opinion, challenges biblical authority. Science, to them, is  threat to their faith. This has led a lot of believers to be skeptical of science, as a whole.

Skepticism, of course, is a healthy attitude, in general. However, it would be a little absurd to be skeptical of science, since skepticism is essential to science. If an individual is being skeptical of science, he is occupies an absurd space, mostly because he’s basically being skeptical of skepticism. Skeptics yield to science, because the scientific process is an extremely thorough form of skepticism.

In any case, people of faith often dismiss the theory of evolution as being “just a theory,” meaning they dismiss it as something similar to a “guess.” But there is a difference between how the word “theory” is used by scientist and how “theory” is used in common language. The question scientists ask when they devising a theory is not,  “Did evolution happen?” but rather “How did evolution happen?”

What that means is that there is evidence for evolution. Evolution is a fact. The only thing that scientists are doing is guessing how evolution happens. To provide more clarity on the situation, I should point out that there is also a theory of gravitation. However, developing a theory as to why gravitation happens does not discount the reality that gravity is a fact.

Here’s the good news: you don’t have to deny facts, such as evolution, to keep to your faith.

In the article, “God vs. Science,” Dean Nelson tells the story of John Polkinghorne.

Polkinghorne is a famous physicist from Cambridge University, who achieved renown for his work in explaining the existence the world’s smallest known particles – quarks and gluons. He has been awarded membership in Britain’s Royal Society, one of the highest honors a scientist can receive. But one day, Polkinghorne invited some colleagues into his office for a meeting to tell them, “I am leaving the university to enter the Anglican priesthood. I will be enrolling in seminary next year.”

Polkinghorne admits that a religious scientist is confusing for some people. For many people, including some of his colleagues, confessing that you are a religious scientist is similar to telling someone that you’re a vegetarian butcher.

However, Polkinghorne argues, that science and religion are not mutually exclusive. In fact, to him, both are necessary to our understanding of the world.

In the article he was quoted to have said:

“Science asks how things happen. But there are questions of meaning and value and purpose which science does not address. Religion asks why. And it is my belief that we can and should ask both questions about the same event.”

That doesn’t mean to say, however, that Polkinghorne completely embraces religious mythology.

In the article, “No Need for Christians to Fear Science,” Dean Nelson discusses Polkinghorne’s initial encounter with the religious community.

As a student in Cambridge, Polkinghorne had a brief encounter with conservative evangelical Christianity. He joined the Christian Union, because he was a believer, and enjoyed fellowship within a community of believers. However, it was not an entirely positive experience, because it felt narrow minded, guilt-inducing, and fearful of other points of view.

According to Dean:

“There was a certain bleakness that seemed to be expected of the faithful, which cast something of a shadow,” he told me. “They thought that their certainty was reality, but they were mistaken.”

Polkinghorne, unlike many conservative Christians, fully embraces evolution. In fact, from his perspective, a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of creation doesn’t do justice to the beauty of the process. Porkinghorne says, “The world is ever-evolving, still being created, and is much more complex than that. That’s what makes it so beautiful. Genesis is poetry, not history.”

The author, Dean Nelson, reveals his own confession:

“In the time I spent with him and in reading his books, I never felt like he was challenging my core beliefs in a loving God who has created a beautiful world. In fact, he challenged me to think bigger, not smaller.”

One does not have to be unscientific to be spiritual. Faith and science, as exhibited by one of the greatest priests/scientists who ever lived, can co-exist. It just takes a little tolerance, a little imagination, and a little faith. To a faithful man, scientific discovery is just another means by which God reveals himself.

 

Image Source: http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/theological-mental-gymnastics-over-evolution/

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Meet a Freethinker: Dustin Celestino

No two freethinkers are exactly alike; a group of freethinkers contains a great diversity of perspectives, so there is no one, official perspective shared among all of them. This makes the freethought community a truly vibrant source of ideas and opinions!

In this light, Meet a Freethinker is our series featuring freethinkers of all backgrounds and perspectives. We want to introduce you guys to the people who make up the proverbial melting pot of this growing movement.

Our next freethinker is Dustin Celestino. He’s the current content editor of the Filipino Freethinkers website. He is a gradute of Philosophy and teaches writing, literature and research at Asia Pacific College. He was once hailed as the “Number One Authority on Anti-RH Arguments,” by mistake. He’s written over 40 articles for the Filipino Freethinkers and you can find them all here (http://filipinofreethinkers.org/author/dustin_celestino/).

Dustin IMage1) How would you define a freethinker?

A freethinker is a skeptic, first and foremost. He is a person whose knowledge about the world is based on the most reliable evidence he could find. He tries his best to be objective, and is suspicious of tradition, authority, and hearsay. He’s the type of person who would spend hours researching, looking for evidence, and would spend even more hours looking for counter-evidence, before he reluctantly makes a “truth” claim. In addition to that, I think a freethinker is a perspectivist who is aware that contradicting “truths” are constantly competing for validation and verification, and that there are agendas that influence the promotion of these “truths.”

He is someone who can understand, and even acknowledge, the merits of beliefs and ideas that contradict his own. I think a freethinker is also a person who is “free” from his own ego; a person that would be happy to be corrected, if the correction made by a rival would bring him closer to the truth that he is seeking.

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

I am an atheist. I live my life with the assumption that there is no God. I acknowledge the cultural reality of the idea of god, but reject its literal reality. I mean, God is real in the same way that abstract ideas like honor and beauty are real. These ideas do not have a physical reality, but they do have influence over the behavior, beliefs and emotions of people. However, these ideas do not have an objective, concrete, or measurable reality, in the same way that objects in the real world do. Until I encounter non-anecdotal evidence that proves otherwise, I will maintain disbelief in the existence of God.

3) What was the funniest or most interesting reaction you got from a person after you told him or her that you were a freethinker?

I don’t usually tell people that I’m a freethinker. I sometimes introduce myself as a member of the Filipino Freethinkers, but I’m often apprehensive about calling myself a freethinker, mostly because I am not entirely sure if I’m behaving or thinking rationally enough to be considered one. I have a tendency to romanticize my existence. I behave irrationally at times. I have a quick temper. I take unnecessary risks. I make bad decisions.

I can provide a litany of resources about why a person shouldn’t drink beer, or why it’s unethical to eat meat, or why a person my age should save more money; I often know what is, scientifically, the right thing to do, but I still end up not doing it.

Sometimes I would rather win an argument than find out what the truth is, when I’m arguing with a person I’m annoyed with. I’m not sure if I’m quite freethinker-like. I’m honestly more comfortable with the term “atheist.” However, I still base my knowledge about the world on evidence, and evaluate information free from the influence of tradition and dogma. So, I guess, that makes me a freethinker, sort-of.

I guess the most interesting response I got after mentioning I was a freethinker was: “Don’t you have to be, like, smart to be a freethinker?”

4) In what way has being part of a freethinking community benefited you?

Well, the community taught me to be humble. I was kind-of a smart ass and a know-it-all before and I didn’t take criticism well. My interactions with freethinkers allowed me to learn humility in that I sometimes found myself staring at lengthy essays about why whatever I said was wrong. The Filipino Freethinkers website also provided me a venue where I could write my ideas, and people could swear and curse at me, sometimes by the thousands. But, honestly, what I’m thankful for most is the friendship and camaraderie.

Although there are a few freethinkers who are quite arrogant and hypercritical, I still think that, for the most part, the freethinking community is populated by tolerant & ethical people who are united by their collective passion for humanism.

5) As the content editor of FF, what is your biggest challenge?

I’m finding it difficult to solicit material from progressive religious people. I’ve been wanting to feature articles from progressive faithfuls about how they integrate their faith with the scientific facts they encounter. I think that there is a way to be faithful without denying scientific facts.

I was hoping that through the works of contributors with faith, people who continue to deny science would be inspired to integrate science with their faith as well. I believe that the negative consequences of religion that are often criticized by many of our contributors can be avoided by offering more perspectives on faith.

I’m looking for contributors who believe in both science and God. So, if you know anyone, or if you’re one yourself, let us know.

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Believers and the “Myth” of the Angry Atheist

One of the most criticized aspects of an atheist is the tone he selects to convey what he believes. He sounds so angry, doesn’t he? That’s because he is. It’s not a myth. A lot of atheists are angry. For a long time, I was angry too. And throughout that anger, it never felt wrong to be angry. I felt that my anger was righteous. I also felt that it was important that this anger was conveyed.

I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that matters of belief are emotional issues. The same goes for non-belief. The atheist believes what he believes because of certain experiences that he encountered. For many atheists, the journey from belief to disbelief has been a painful one. It has not been an easy transition. Religion has been kind to some people, but it has not been kind to everyone. For some people, religion has been cruel.

 

I have some anger too, but recently I have been trying my best to communicate with a neutral tone. I have begun to consider the purpose of my writing and have decided that there’s no point to writing for an atheistic audience. Many of them already agree with me. However, my confrontational tone has been alienating not just religious folk I have never met, but many of my personal friends as well.

If I write with anger, all I would accomplish is either amplify the anger that many atheists already feel or offend many theists. I think my job, as a writer and educator, is to provide information and to encourage the peaceful discussion and evaluation of contradictory ideas.

However, if I do encounter an angry atheist, I will not tell him to stop being angry either. Anger is not a pleasant feeling. Many atheists who choose to feel something as unpleasant as anger have legitimate reasons to make such a choice.

Alex Gabriel, in his article, “To the Atheist Tone Police: Stop Telling Me How to Discuss My Abuse,” provides a comprehensive defense of his anger.

As a young bisexual man, Alex suffered from a lot of religion-inspired abuse. He was told that all Muslims were terrorists. He was told that he was an abomination. He was told that he would go to hell. After all he has suffered from religion, he believes that his anger is the correct response to religion. Part of his goal is to be rude to religion, and the anger that he is able to express is, for him, an achievement – a symbol of his freedom from religion.

In his article, he mentions others who have been labeled as “angry.” He mentions Shasheen Hashmat who was labeled as “angry” because she spoke openly about living with a mental disorder because of the traumas she endured from honor abuse. He mentions Sue Cox who was labeled “angry” because she revealed that her family told her that being raped by a Catholic priest was part of God’s plan.

Some “angry” atheists have had their genitals mutilated. Some have suffered sexual abuse from members of the clergy. Some have been living with shame because they were told that their “lack of holiness” was what caused a man to force himself on them. Some have been living in terror after being told that they were possessed, instead of depressed.

Some atheists are angry with religion simply because they suffered from religious abuse, and they are within their rights to express their outrage at the injustice they suffered.

Whether or not I agree with the communicative efficiency of an angry or bitter tone, I’m in no position to tell an angry atheist to “calm his tits” because I am not completely aware of his personal traumas to make a judgment about his capacity to calm down. It’s difficult to talk about abuse without anger.

And the last person who should be telling an atheist to stop being angry is the believer.

As Greta Christina writes in her article, “Atheists and Anger“:

“It is not up to believers to tell atheists that we’re going too far with the anger and need to calm down. Any more than it’s up to white people to say it to black people, or men to say it to women, or straights to say it to queers. When it comes from believers, it’s not helpful. It’s patronizing. It comes across as another attempt to defang us and shut us up. And it’s just going to make us angrier.”

I understand that theists will be offended by the atheists’ anger, and will make judgments about atheists based on his angry behavior. However, I also understand that atheists have legitimate reasons to be angry, not only because many of them suffered abuse, but also because these feelings of outrage are necessary for social progress.

“Social movements are hard. They take time, they take energy, they sometimes take serious risk of life and limb, community and career. Nobody would fucking bother if they weren’t furious about something,” says Cristina.

Personally, I’m not as angry as I used to be, but I can’t promise that I will never speak with anger again. What I do want believers to understand is that when I express my anger, it’s not directed at you, believers. It’s directed at a system that has enabled this abuse. I’m not attacking your relationship with God. I’m attacking misguided manifestations of your faith that has led to human abuse.

The real battle is not between believers and atheists. The battle is between cruelty and kindness; bigotry and tolerance. I would like to think that as ethical human beings, that we’re all on the same side.

 

Image Source: http://churchandstate.org.uk/wordpressRM/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/reason.jpg

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A Catholic Apologist’s Open Letter to Atheists

I always thought that the term apologist was an oxymoron. My idea of an apology is a regretful acknowledgement of error, and offering a humble gesture to compensate for any damage that might have been caused. Apologists, on the other hand, are people who do not apologize often. They rationalize religious behavior and belief. They make excuses for outdated traditions. They make arguments in defense of contradictory religious doctrines.

When I saw the article, “An Open Letter to Atheists,” written by a Catholic apologist, this was exactly what I expected – empty rationalizations. To my surprise, that wasn’t what I found. In fact, the letter begins with:

As Catholic apologists, we want to do something that our name would suggest we do far more often:

We’d like to apologize.

By that we mean exactly what you would think; we want to say that we’re sorry. We understand that you might be suspicious right now, that you may be thinking that this is another “tactic” for drawing you in. It isn’t. In fact, having tactics is one of the things we’re sorry for.

In the letter, this particular apologist conceded that, historically, apologists didn’t know what to do with atheists or how to respond to them. They were threatened by the very notion of an individual who refused belief, worried that his lack of faith could weaken their own. They didn’t know how to deal with modern atheist rhetoric that challenged the divine purpose of human suffering.

The apologist himself admitted that he finds the notion of “defending God” with rhetoric rather unnecessary, “God can take care of himself; he doesn’t need our defense like that. Neither do we need to defend ourselves from looking foolish or from seeing what you see as clearly as you see it.”

The point he’s trying to make is that a true Catholic will not bother defending his faith. He will not be afraid to admit that his beliefs are irrational. He will not be afraid to acknowledge the merits of an atheist’s arguments without his faith being threatened.

The open letter was what it said it was: an apology to atheists.

In all honestly, I liked it, and not just because it was a sincere apology to atheists. I think it makes a lot of sense. Matters of belief require faith. A Catholic can’t defend his religion with reason. He must do it with his faith.

He must be able to say, “Yes, there is overwhelming evidence that evolution is a fact, but I still have faith that my God exists. Yes, there is no scientific or historical evidence that the Bible is fact. For all I know, it could be a book full of metaphors, but I still have faith that my God exists.”

The faithful are not supposed to need evidence, because the point of faith is to believe without guarantees. Faith does not require facts, but neither does it require ignorance. You don’t have to deny evolution to believe in God. You just need to interpret the Bible in a way that would accommodate your new knowledge, like the Vatican did.

Faith is not static. The religions of today are practiced much differently from how they were practiced in the past. It undergoes its own evolution. The key is to allow one’s faith to accommodate facts, not the other way around.

I believe that a person’s personal, subjective, belief in God should not be used as a basis for matters that need facts, such as: science, health, gender, & sexuality. But I also believe that a person’s faith, if it is strong, welcomes new knowledge and evolves. I believe that the faithful should re-interpret and re-contextualize religious doctrine when they come across new information.

The conflict between atheists and the faithful is not caused by a religious person’s faith in his God, but in a religious person’s insistence on using his personal, subjective “faith” as the basis for facts. As long as we can all agree that religious doctrine should not be the basis for facts about the observable universe, I don’t think I’ll ever have to argue with another person about religion.

ae1
 

Here’s a confession from me, an atheist:

I don’t hate people who have faith in God. In fact, I like a lot of people who have faith in God. My mother, whom I love dearly, believes in God, the law of attraction, and other new age stuff. My girlfriend believes in the dhamma and in a non-anthropomorphic higher power. A close friend of mine is a deeply Catholic poet. Another is an Islam convert who used to teach about the Koran. I seriously don’t mind that people love and worship God.

But you know what? I should apologize too.

I have often criticized religion, in general, and blamed it as something that generally caused pain and misery. But it’s not really religion, in general, that I don’t like. What I don’t like is when a person’s faith in his or her God is used to rationalize homophobia, hypocrisy, misogyny, slut-shaming, censorship, violence, and medical malpractice.

But whether or not God exists, acts of kindness will still help people and acts of hate will still hurt people. I don’t think atheists and faithful people should be arguing about the existence or non-existence of God. I think people, in general, should simply discourage hateful behavior and encourage kindness and tolerance in everything that we do, regardless of what we believe.

Instead of insisting that knowledge and faith are mutually-exclusive, atheists, like me, should start encouraging the faithful (everyone, really) to see scientific knowledge not as a threat to their faith, but a tool they can use to assist them in their own personal spiritual journeys.

As S. N. Goenka, a pioneer of the secular meditation movement, once said:

“Rather than converting people from one organized religion to another organized religion, we should try to convert people from misery to happiness, from bondage to liberation and from cruelty to compassion.”

I agree. Converting people from one religion to another, or from faith to un-faith, should not be the priority. I used to think that I had to disagree with faith, in general, to achieve my secular goals. I now believe that encouraging the pursuit of knowledge would achieve a lot more in spreading good will than criticizing, or ranting about, what I perceive as ignorance.

After all, it doesn’t really matter what people believe as long as they treat each other well.

 

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Religion and Memes: A Hundred Students Walk Out of a Lecture

A few days ago I was doing a lecture on the difference between master morality and slave morality as explained by Friedrich Nietzsche. I told my students that Nietzsche believed that many of the personal qualities Christianity considers virtuous (humility, obedience, mercy, charity) benefit only the weak and powerless. I also mentioned how Nietzsche thought that the promotion of these Christian values is a defensive measure conducted by weaklings to discourage stronger individuals from totally dominating them. While I was talking about these ideas, I knew that many of my students were Christian. If any of them were offended by these ideas and had to excuse themselves, I would not have held this behavior against them.

People, in general, should not be offended by facts that contradict their beliefs. However, some people DO get offended when they encounter information that they feel trivialize, belittle, or criticize the things that they believe. When I present data that contradicts the beliefs of people, I accept the reality that some of them might resent me for saying such things, even if they were facts (I mean, Nietzsche DID SAY all those things).

The problem with discussions that cross religion is that religion is not a rational subject, it’s an emotional one. Even if the information presented was objective & scientific, people will inevitably respond with emotion. People believe in religion because of their emotions, NOT because of reason. Obviously, if I criticize a person’s religion, he’ll respond emotionally and not rationally.

I’m not sure if this sounds condescending, but I have begun to treat people with religion with the same empathy I extend to people with depression. I don’t tell religious people that their beliefs don’t make sense, because that would be very similar to telling depressed people that their sadness doesn’t make sense. Depressed people can’t help but be sad, whether or not there are legitimate reasons for their sadness. Religious people can’t help but believe, whether or not there are legitimate reasons for their beliefs.

I’m not implying that religious belief is a mental disorder. What I’m saying is that telling a person that Christianity does not make any scientific sense won’t suddenly convince him to change his mind about Christianity. He knows it doesn’t make scientific sense, and he chooses to believe it anyway.

One of the challenges I commonly encounter, being a science-oriented atheist, is trying to deliver factual information without trivializing religious sentiment. I want to teach my students basic scientific facts, like evolution, but the very idea of evolution contradicts notions of creationism; natural selection contradicts intelligent design.

I often ask myself, “Should teachers and scientists walk on eggshells around matters of religion?”

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Just recently, Susan Blackmore, the author of the book “The Meme Machine,” held a lecture at the Oxford Royal Academy. Her lecture was about how memes spread.

A meme is defined as “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.” An example of a meme is religion; it is system of behavior that is passed on from one individual to another (conversion, indoctrination, etc.).

Naturally, the lecture would have to tackle one of the most dominant examples of meme systems. However, when she discussed religion, people started to walk out.

In Sue Blackmore’s article, “A Hundred Walked Out of My Lecture,” she writes:

“Then I arrived at religion. I pointed out that religions demand lots of resources (I showed them pictures of a church, a Hindu temple, a Jewish menorah and Muslim pilgrims on Hajj); they pose threats to health (I showed people ‘purifying their souls’ by wading in the stinking germ-laden Ganges) and make people do strange things (I showed rows of Muslims bent over with their heads on the floor). I hadn’t gone far with this before five or six young men got up and began to walk out. They had a good distance to go across the large hall, so I said ‘Excuse me, would you mind telling me why you are leaving?’ There was a long silence until one said, ‘You are offending us. We will not listen,’ and they left. Soon after that another bunch left, and then another.

I explained the idea of religions as memeplexes: they package up a set of doctrines, tell believers to learn them, to pass them on, to have faith and not doubt, and they ensure obedience with fearsome threats and ridiculous promises. This I illustrated with images of Christian heaven and hell. Then I read from the Koran “those that have faith and do good works, Allah will admit them to gardens watered by running streams … pearls and bracelets of gold.” “Garments of fire have been prepared for the unbelievers. They shall be lashed with rods of iron.” More walked out. By the time I arrived at a slide calling religions (Richard’s fault!) ‘Viruses of the mind’, the lecture hall was looking rather empty.”

I wasn’t surprised that the audience walked out. In my youth, I’ve walked out of churches too when I was annoyed with the sermon. What actually surprised me was the fact that the lecturer was wondering why her audience walked out. She was disheartened by the audience’s dismissal of the facts she was presenting.

It was very obvious why they walked out, really. The audience dismissed her facts, because she dismissed their beliefs as ridiculous. She also intended to show them a slide about how their minds have a virus. In my humble opinion, she can’t trivialize someone’s views and expect them to listen to hers.

Yes, everything she said was true: these were facts – a religion IS an example of a memeplex.

However, I can’t help but wonder if there might have been a kinder way of delivering this information, especially to an audience with religion. At this point, most atheists would probably ask me, “What are you suggesting? Are you saying we should respect religious feelings?”

I’m saying that we should have realistic expectations. When we talk about facts that contradict religious teachings, we must accept that some feelings are going to be offended. When we openly criticize religion, we must accept that some of our religious friends would decide to stop being our friends. People’s feelings are more important to them than whatever it is we have to say. As soon as we offend feelings, we should accept the reality that people can stop listening to us, because we were never entitled to their attention to begin with.

I also believe that we should respect feelings, in general, whether these feelings belong to a religious person or an atheist. I believe that some religious beliefs and practices harm a lot of people. But I also have to recognize the fact that religion is important to some people.

I honestly don’t know how to navigate the issue of respecting feelings, being both an advocate of science and a critic of some religious beliefs and practices, but I’m working on it. I believe that there is a way to educate with empathy, all that is needed is a desire to empathize with our audience.

 

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The Problem with “Poverty Porn”

I watched a few films during the Cinemelaya festival. I really enjoyed most of them (First ko si Third, The Janitor, Dagitab, Lolo Me), but there was one movie in particular that stood out for me, and not in a good way: “Children’s Show.”

The movie was about two minors, brothers, who had to train MMA-style combat skills because they were part of an underground child-fighting ring. That premise, by itself, would have made for an engaging movie. However, because of the makers’ inability to turn the premise into a story, they ended up just dumping one misfortune after another on top of the premise.

The makers decided that the siblings needed a mom who killed herself, an alcoholic dad, and some brain injury related hallucinations. The older of the siblings also had to have a girlfriend who had a miscarriage, and also had to stab his own father to death, at some point. Finally, the younger brother had to lose a leg due to some injury caused by the alcoholic father, and had to contemplate suicide, because, you know, that’s what one-legged people do. The decision to add more misery to an already miserable duo turned an otherwise sympathetic story of child fighters into a couple of Mary Sues – characters created for an audience to pity, rather than empathize with.

What was the movie about? In my opinion, the movie was “supposed” to be about kids who literally fight to survive. But what it became about is two kids that the universe decided to torture with every tragedy at its disposal.

It was poverty porn.

Childrens ShowIn “Children’s Show,” the characters seem to have been robbed of any chance for improvement. There was nothing any of the characters could have done, there was no decision the characters could have made, to significantly affect where the story was headed.

Similarly, Emily Roenigk, in the article “5 Reasons poverty porn empowers the wrong person,” writes, “Poverty porn objectifies its subjects, defining them by their suffering and stripping them of the vital components of all human life – agency, autonomy and unlimited potential.”

Although its entirely possible that there’s a child fighter somewhere that has an alcoholic father, a suicidal mother, a one-legged younger brother, a girlfriend who had a miscarriage, head-injury-related hallucinations, and a dead former-alcoholic father that he killed, it’s not an accurate representation of the “norm.” In other words, it’s an extreme example.

Ali Heller wrote about this tendency to feature extreme cases. In the article, “The Race to the Bottom and the Superlative Sufferer,” Heller asks, “Why do we need the superlative of suffering?  Why must we highlight the extreme cases when the norm is bad enough?”

I don’t want to completely disparage this movie. I’m sure it was made with good intentions. In fact, supporters of the movie might argue that the sensationalizing of suffering for dramatic effect was done in order to effectively call attention to the problem.

The problem is poverty porn is not an effective strategy to deal with an issue.

In the article, “Poverty porn: is sensationalism justified if it helps those in need?”, Glendora Meikle narrates her personal experience while working with women suffering from fistula (http://www.fistulafoundation.org/what-is-fistula/), as an aid-worker and as a journalist.

At Queens Hospital in Malawi, Meikle was collecting testimonials and stories for her advocacy work. The first patients she spoke to mentioned how their husbands were very supportive of them. Unfortunately, she felt that a fistula patient that had a supportive husband deviates from the CNN stereotype:

“A woman with a fistula, who is perpetually leaking urine and sometimes feces, is often rejected by her husband and shunned by her village because of her foul smell and inability to bear more children.”

The first few patients Meikle interviewed did not fit that particular profile. Meikle confesses that at that moment, she realized she was actively looking for women with worse cases, so she could come up with sadder stories. Meikle writes, “This is a difficult admission. That I deemed their situations not awful enough to merit attention means I had failed at a very human level: an inability to find a story in the quiet, unassuming lives of my fellow humans.”

In other words, Meikle recognized that she was unable to empathize with the average patient, because she was concerned with finding the perfect sob story for her project. Poverty porn has a similar effect. When only extreme cases of suffering are highlighted, it somehow trivializes the struggle of the not-so-extreme cases, despite both cases being worthy of our attention.

In “Children’s Show,” even if the younger child fighter did not have an alcoholic father, or a mother who committed suicide, or an amputated limb, his struggle is still worthy of our attention, because children should not be punching and kicking for their survival. Unfortunately, the main point of the movie was overshadowed by all the other drama.

Meikle ends her article with an epiphany that, in my humble opinion, can help both makers of film and literature portray suffering properly:

“The truth is that we don’t necessarily crave high drama in our stories. We just like them well told. It isn’t an easy fix (partly because I don’t think the best writers would work for non-profit wages) but if there is one thing that connects humans the world over, it is stories. We’ve just got to do a better job of telling them, so that the voices that emerge are not ours, but theirs.”

 

Image Source:http://www.cinemalaya.org/sites/default/files/poster_0.jpg

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Robin Williams is Not Guilty of Suicide

Robin Williams committed suicide, but he should be free of any guilt or blame. What I’m trying to say is, Robin Williams did not commit a moral injustice by ending his own life, because suicide is not immoral.

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Suicide is Not Immoral

The negative moral implication of suicide is based on a religious idea that was inspired by old superstitions. The Judeo-Christian notion that “life was a gift from God” meant that destroying one’s own life, would be akin to throwing away a divine gift, or, essentially “dissing” God. Suicide guilt, for the most part, belongs to the believer.

However, suicide is neither a moral issue, nor a selfish act.

In his work, “On Suicide and On the Immortality of the Soul,” David Hume argues that, despite the fact that suicide is a one-step solution to end all suffering, people don’t do it because of their fear to offend god. In addition to that, people naturally fear death. Because of these reasons, it’s difficult to evaluate the implications of voluntary death without negative bias. In his work, Hume attempts to objectively examine the common arguments against suicide to show that a person who commits suicide should be free from guilt or blame.

The article “Can It be Right Commit Suicide?” further examines Humes position:

“A common argument against suicide is that it is selfish and harms the people and society that are left behind. For Hume, a man does no harm in committing suicide, but merely ceases to do good. Even assuming that he is under an obligation to do good, this obligation comes to an end once he is dead. And even if it does not, and he is under a perpetual obligation to do good, this must not come at the expense of greater harm to himself—at the expense of prolonging a miserable existence because of some ‘frivolous advantage that the public may perhaps receive’. In some cases a man may have become a burden to society, and so may actually do the most good by committing suicide. In such cases, Hume argues, committing suicide is not only morally neutral but morally good.”

Suicide is Not Selfish

Robin Williams was not selfish for choosing to die, because he was under no obligation to remain alive. Still there are comments here and there about how Mr. Williams deprived people of his talent; that he chose not to add to his already impressive list of contributions to comedy and cinema.

What is overlooked is the fact that, as an audience, we are not entitled to Mr. Williams’ talent. Mr. Williams is under no obligation to remain alive for our sake, if remaining alive caused him great harm. It’s not the suicides who are selfish, it’s us.

Suicide is not something I would encourage anyone to commit.

If my girlfriend, Patricia, for example, hints at suicide, I will do everything I can to prevent her from committing suicide. But, honestly, I will prevent her suicide not because I think suicide is inherently wrong, but because I love her, and I would like to keep her in my life. However, I must also admit to a human flaw:

“When I obligate my loved ones to stay alive, despite having no knowledge of how much suffering they’re going through, I am being selfish.”

Suicide is Not Irrational

A lot of people question suicide, as if it was an irrational act. But suicide is not a failure of logic or reason. In fact, as a concept, it is quite logical.

A few years ago, I contemplated suicide because I felt irrelevant and unhappy. I felt that whether I was alive or dead, was of little consequence. I found it difficult to justify the importance of my existence. I also felt an overwhelming sense of absurdity:

“What’s the point of all this hassle (going to work, commuting, falling-in-line, arguing, getting sick, overcoming illness, enduring pain, etc.) if we’re all going to die anyway? Wouldn’t it be more rational to skip all the hassle and pain part, and just fast-forward to my ultimate ending?”

Suicides are no less logical than those who don’t commit suicide. I didn’t commit suicide not because I was more moral, more ethical or more rational than someone who has. I believe I didn’t commit suicide simply because I have not gone through the same suffering that they have.

What We Don’t Know About Suicide

No one can make a moral judgment about suicide because it’s not a moral issue. No one can accuse suicides of selfishness, because suicide is not an ethical issue. No one can accuse suicides of irrationality, because suicide is not a failure of reason (unless it’s done for 72 virgins).

According to psychologytoday.com, “Psychiatrists believe that more than 90 per cent of cases of suicide are not the result of a rational decision (the so-called ‘rational suicide’), but of mental disorder.” That’s one fact about suicide that a lot of people don’t recognize – suicide happens because of depression, a mental disorder.

As the article, “What We Don’t Know About Suicide,” claims:

“Here is the grim fact about suicide: this is a health problem that claims 35,000 lives a year that we don’t understand, and that we are not trying hard enough to understand. We don’t know why people kill themselves, and that fundamental fact means that we are not very good at preventing tragedy.”

 

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The Internet is Turning You into an Asshole

I become an asshole when I play online games with strangers. I happily curse at all my teammates, call them idiots, throw games on purpose to spite them, and tell both my teammates and the opposing team how I wish that they, along with all their relatives, die in a fire or of a plague.

It’s not just games though. Sometimes I would encounter an idiotic post by a stranger on reddit and it compels me to hurl insults at him. Sometimes I would see a YouTube video that features some form of idiocy or another, and I would use everything I’ve learned from years of creative writing classes to compose the most soul-destroying, suicide-inspiring, comment I can. That previous sentence is an exaggeration. I’ve never done that. However, I know people who have.

In any case, I’ve dealt my fair share of Internet venom. In fact, now that I’m writing this down, I kind-of feel bad about myself. I know that online flaming is unhealthy, and it’s unproductive, but I tend to do it anyway. There is just something about the Internet that turns people into assholes.

Just this month, I’ve encountered two interesting cases of unnecessary Internet vitriol.

There was an article from “the dailypedia” about a girl who sent her ex-boyfriend pictures of herself with a different guy. The girl wasn’t famous. Neither was the guy. However, it still went viral, because of how eager people are to swear and curse at strangers they’ve never met, and whose personal feud they have little knowledge of. There are over 200 comments posted on the article mostly consisting of remarks such as:

“Hahaha!!!Boom panext!!! Nagpapaka silverswan si ate… sawsawan bayan! Mga ganyang babae dapat pinag dadasal n lang…”

“ang babaeng mahilig sa seamen ay mahilig sa semen.”

“She deserve [sic] to be stoned to death!!”

Another article, from “techpinas,” mentions a deaf Filipino who was cyber-bullied because of his faulty grammar. Upon arriving home from school, 24-year-old Mininio Buhat, posted a simple status message about his day:

Deaf Pinoy Cyberbullied

A screen-grab was taken of his post, posted on Facebook, and people started making comments that range from insensitive remarks like, “Ito ang tunay na nakakanosebleed…” (“This is making my nose bleed), to more intense bashing like, “Sakit sa ulo basahin. Bigti na!” (“It’s giving me a headache to read this. Go hang yourself!”).

Thankfully, a certain Mike Sandejas, came to his rescue to inform people that the boy who wrote that “grammatically flawed” post was deaf.

There are a number of reasons why people are more prone to unnecessary aggression in online environments. In the article, “Why Is Everyone on the Internet So Angry?,” Natalie Wolchover and company discuss the social factors that provide the recipe for unwarranted hostility. In the article, Art Markman, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, explains 3 factors that allow for online rudeness and aggression.

According to Markman:

“First, commenters are often virtually anonymous, and thus, unaccountable for their rudeness. Second, they are at a distance from the target of their anger — be it the article they’re commenting on or another comment on that article — and people tend to antagonize distant abstractions more easily than living, breathing interlocutors. Third, it’s easier to be nasty in writing than in speech, hence the now somewhat outmoded practice of leaving angry notes (back when people used paper).”

In the same article, the writers point to another asshole enabler: the media.

Rude television and radio hosts sometimes exhibit rude and aggressive behavior. I’ve heard radio hosts interrupt, insult, and even accuse their guests (many of them, public officials) on air. I’ve also heard radio Dj’s pretend to be experts on love, and call their guests “idiots” or “sluts.” Unfortunately, these attitudes are not corrected and are further legitimized by them having a private platform for their vitriol.

The article quotes Edward Wasserman, Knight Professor in Journalism Ethics at Washington and Lee University, on the effect of media on how people communicate:

“Unfortunately, mainstream media have made a fortune teaching people the wrong ways to talk to each other, offering up Jerry Springer, Crossfire, Bill O’Reilly. People understandably conclude rage is the political vernacular, that this is how public ideas are talked about.”

I’m not a mean person. I’d like to think of myself as rational. If I were asked to describe myself, nice would probably be one of the adjectives I use. However, like most people on the internet, I often become an asshole online.

There are scientific reasons why people become assholes online. However, discovering factors that enable negative behavior does not rationalize negative behavior. At the end of the day, if a person behaves like an asshole, despite any scientific reason, he should know that he’s being an asshole.

Acceptance is the first step to recovery. So, I invite all recovering Internet assholes to say this with me:

“I am [YOUR NAME] and I am an Internet asshole.”

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