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FF Podcast (Audio): Dan Ariely (Conversations for a Cause)

FF Podcast (Audio): Dan Ariely (Conversations for a Cause)

Dan Ariely

Conversations for a Cause is a series of interviews with celebrity freethinkers, part of an online donation drive to support ongoing Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) relief and rehabilitation efforts.

This week, we talk with Dan Ariely, psychologist/behavioral economist and the author of Predictably Irrational. We ask him about attractiveness, cheating, and the value of human irrationality.

You may also download the podcast file here.



Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in audio podcast, Religion, Science, Society0 Comments

A Conversation with Dan Ariely

A Conversation with Dan Ariely

Conversations for a Cause is a series of interviews with celebrity freethinkers, part of an online donation drive to support ongoing Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) relief and rehabilitation efforts.

This week, we talk with Dan Ariely, psychologist/behavioral economist and the author of Predictably Irrational. We ask him about attractiveness, cheating, and the value of human irrationality.

You may also download the video file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Media, Podcast, Science, Society, Video0 Comments

FF Podcast (Audio) 44: Priest Humiliates Unwed Mother

FF Podcast (Audio) 44: Priest Humiliates Unwed Mother

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) 44 - Watching Your Words

This week, we talk about the priest who humiliated an unwed mother during the baptism of her child.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in audio podcast, Religion, Society0 Comments

FF Podcast 44: Priest Humiliates Unwed Mother

FF Podcast 44: Priest Humiliates Unwed Mother

This week, we talk about the priest who humiliated an unwed mother during the baptism of her child.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Media, Podcast, Religion, Society, Video1 Comment

The Government That Prays Together Steals Together

Senate Prayer

How does one know that a politician accused of plunder is a devout Catholic? Don’t worry — they’ll tell you. One even put a Bible quote on a shirt — Bong Revilla’s had the following on his the day he surrendered:

“The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”

This kind of religious gesture is usually shorthand for, “I’m not corrupt, I’m Catholic, for Christ’s sake!”

But a recent study concluded that if you’re a Catholic politician in a predominantly Catholic country, you’re probably corrupt. I had read several studies that confirm the correlation between religiosity and other signs of societal dysfunction.

But this most recent one, titled “A Cross-National Investigation into the Effects of Religiosity on the Pervasiveness of Corruption,” went a bit further. It argues that religion, instead of just being correlated with corruption, actually promotes it.

Secularism and Societal Health

A few weeks before Revilla’s surrender, Alex Gonzaga, a celebrity contestant of reality show Pinoy Big Brother, preached about the virtue of theism and the vice of atheism. She said that while believers solve their problems with God, nonbelievers “deteriorate,” trying to solve their sins with yet other sins.

But such statements can only come from someone who doesn’t know about Scandinavia and other secular societies. Study after study has shown that when it comes to countries, a strongly religious population is rarely a good thing. The more religious the population, the higher the incidence of, among others, poverty, crime, corruption, inequality, infant mortality, inability to access education and a decent standard of living — the list goes on. The least religious countries are better at most, if not all, of these measures.

However, correlation does not mean causation. Just because strong religiosity usually coexists with high crime rates does not mean one causes the other. When it comes to causation, I share the conclusion of the sociologists at the World Values Survey. They argue that what causes both high religiosity and low societal health is existential insecurity. When you live in a society where you can’t count on your government for survival, you’re more likely to pray to God for help or to get the help yourself — regardless of the legality of the means.

But this doesn’t quite explain why politicians — particularly those who are rich enough to own private jets — would plunder millions, especially while professing belief in a God that sees and judges everything they do.

Hamid Yeganeh & Daniel Sauers of Winona State University, USA, provide an explanation.

Corruption By Catholic Privilege

Even after controlling for the effects of socioeconomic development — making sure that how developed a country was didn’t significantly influence the outcome – they concluded the following:

“Considering the variety of corruption measures, the reliability of data, and the large number of included countries, we have to conclude that religiosity not only does not impede corruption but tends to promote it… The fact that religious denominations did not have considerable effects on the level of corruption suggests that religiousness inherently increases the occurrence of corrupt business behavior.”

But isn’t religion supposed to make people more moral and less corrupt? Yeganeh and Sauers argue that “while religiosity provides guidance on morality, some of its characteristics practically promote corrupt business behavior.”

The first of these characteristics is the creation of “a hierarchical socio-cultural structure promoting the elites’ discretionary power that ultimately endorses corruption.”

Consider clerical child abuse. The abuse of children and adolescents had been happening for centuries before it was brought to public awareness. Then it was discovered that systematic cover-ups and cleric shuffling made it difficult for the proper authorities to get involved.

I emphasize “proper” because the Catholic Church claimed that abuse cases were handled by their internal courts. They thought that whether the abuses should be handled by external authorities were up to their discretion. Because they could ensure the victims’ silence with threats of excommunication, they alone could decide whether to report the crime to the police. And the decisions usually favored the priests over their victims.

Now consider the psalm on Revilla’s shirt: “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” This sentiment was shared by Vatican and its bishops when it decided that their authority alone was enough. What can man (the law) do to one with the Lord on his side (Catholic official)?

Thus bishops and politicians see themselves as privileged. But they wouldn’t have any power if the population didn’t actually share this perspective. Unfortunately, this is the case. The more religious a country, the more faith citizens have in both priests and politicians. These privileged people deserve more special treatment, more respect, and more trust.

On the other hand, secular societies are more skeptical of authority. They realize that there’s nothing special about priests, politicians, or any other person of authority. The more power they have, the more scrutiny and skepticism they are subjected to. Because the idea of faith is more foreign to secular societies, reason and evidence hold more currency. In the researchers words, “rationality, without too much emphasis on morality, wordlessly and effectively hinders corruption and supports ethical behavior.”

Religion: Sedation, not Solution

Another characteristic of religion that promotes corruption is the doctrine of forgiveness. In the researchers’ words, “the function of religion with regard to corruption is to provide sedation rather than a solution.”

If the allegations of plunder are true, then condemnation should be the least the people could do to ensure that justice is served. Yet CBCP President Villegas found it necessary to ask Filipinos not to condemn the alleged pork scammers.

You may think that there’s no way the public could be that stupid. Surely Filipinos would never forgive, never forget. But what kind of country would make Revilla consider running for president right after his arrest? What kind of country would elect a president impeached for corruption as Mayor of Manila? What kind of country would have so many of its people forget the atrocities of Marcos and elect his family into power?

A country that can forgive a corrupt politician seventy times seven.

The Government that Prays Together

To this day, the supposedly secular Philippine Senate starts every session with a prayer. Most, if not all, of them are implicated in either the PDAF or DAP scandal. A lot of Filipinos ask, “How can a government that is so religious be so corrupt?” If you’ve read up to this point, I hope you’ll agree that the correct question is, “How could it not?”

___

Image source: kickerdaily.com
Author’s note: This article was previously titled, “The Government That Prays Together Plunders Together.” “Preys” was also suggested, but “steals” sounds better (and sounds closer to “stays”).

Posted in Politics, Religion, Secularism, Society8 Comments

A Letter to CSB on the Recent Hazing Incident

Dear College of Saint Benilde,

In the University Mall, next to my alma mater, DLSU, I once saw a 6-foot fratboy punch a much smaller guy in the face. Immediately after, he ran to his “brothers” excited to show them his hand, red and bleeding from a small wound, because the tooth of the guy he punched grazed his knuckles. He rushed to his brethren and said, “May sinapak ako! May sinapak ako!” Then, everyone got excited and they grouped up, around 8 of them, and they surrounded 3 guys to tell them, “Ano, babalik pa kayo? Babalik pa kayo?”

A fratboy once saw me laugh with his “brother’s” ex-girlfriend as I was walking next to her, a classmate of mine, from the smoking area to our class. Later, six people surrounded me around L. Guinto street, and I was randomly accused of “talking shit” about her ex. Whenever I denied it, one of them would slap me across the face and call me a liar, until I said, “Yeah. I was talking shit,” at which point I was sucker punched by the ex. Then, they left.

Here’s what I want you to know, people join fraternities for two main reasons: they want to satisfy their need to belong, or they don’t want to be bullied. Between those reasons, the latter is a more deciding factor.

In my high school, around 3-5 students in each section was a member of the same fraternity. Either you were one of them, or you weren’t. My classmates who were bullied by fratboys ended up joining the fraternities that bullied them. Almost overnight, the bullied is suddenly the one doing bullying. To be honest, the only thing that stopped me from joining a fraternity in high school is the fact that I was a member of the Taekwondo varsity team and the soccer club. It would have been impossible for me to train with injured legs. Otherwise, I might have joined.

I have been invited to join fraternities althroughout my academic life – from elementary to college. I’ve had friends who were fratboys, and friends who have been assaulted, bullied, extorted, sexually assaulted, and intimidated by fratboys.

At the end of the day, regardless of what bullshit excuses fraternities make for why one should join their “brotherhood,” fraternities are about violence. The currency of fraternities is violence: violence you are willing to commit (for a brother, a turf, a reputation), violence you are willing to endure (hazing, sexual coercion, institutionalized rape), and violence that you want to avoid (bullying, etc.).

The initiation rites of these organizations is not the only problem with fraternities. Hazing is just a natural element of a culture that functions through violence.

The site insidehazing.com explains that hazing is a rite executed to determine who’s “fit” enough to join the group. Furthermore, the site explains that the purpose of joining such a group “is for protection from outsiders; and by joining, one is assuming that the members of the same group will be protective towards one another.”

There are many studies that attempt to explain the nature of and logic behind hazing:

It creates cohesiveness within a group – you’re definitely going to bond with someone you spent an evening paralyzed from the waist down with. You’ve gone through the same trauma. You and a “brother” both know what it took for the other to survive the ordeal, etcetera, etcetera.

It’s designed as a slippery slope. An initiate’s willingness to consent to torture does not happen overnight. It happens over a period of weeks. An initiate’s tolerance for abuse gradually increases, in small increments, as he or she is assigned mundane tasks (cleaning, homework) at the beginning, but later escalates to more extreme forms of dehumanization. As mentioned in an article called, “The Psychology of Hazing,” “Even when we realize that we may find ourselves in the midst of hazing rituals, we may not step away because giving up at this point may feel like a sunk cost. We’ve already put in effort that we cannot get back, so isn’t it better to keep going than to feel like it was all for nothing?”

Another purpose of hazing is to destroy a person’s sense of self-worth through systematic abuse. After suffering through the humiliations you are forced to endure, you start to feel that the only people who can understand you are those who went through the same suffering – those who were spat on, beat, paddled, and sexually assaulted.

Sexual violence is one of the hallmarks of fraternity culture. Stacey Copper and Elizabeth Grauerholz conducted a study called, “Sexual Victimization Among Sorority Women: Exploring the Link Between Sexual Violence and Institutional Practices.” In that study they learned that, “24% experienced attempted rape, and 17% were victims of completed rape. Almost half of the rapes occured in a fraternity house, and over half occured either during a fraternity function or was perpetrated by a fraternity member.” Even in the Philippines, it’s not unusual for sorority members and initiates to be “gifted” to members of a brother fraternity.

When I was in high school, I was warned by a friend, a “brother,” not to court a girl, because many “brothers” already had their way with her as part of her initiation. They called it “hirap o sarap,” an institutionalized form of sexual abuse where an initiate is given the option to suffer physical injuries or provide sexual favors.

In many cases, these arrangements, these assaults happen in the presence of “sisters” and “brothers.” I don’t have intimate knowledge about fraternity logic, but I do know that most people consider it wrong to sexually assault your “sister,” or to watch your “sister,” get sexually assaulted by your “brother.”

Arguing for or against violent hazing rituals is pointless. It’s a moot point. Even the most naive freshmen know that there’s something wrong with being tortured for hours, or being coerced to fuck, and no one thinks that these are pleasant experiences. The question we should be asking is, “Why would anyone willingly endure hours of pain?”

The answer is simple: They are willing to endure a few hours of pain, in the hope that they could avoid years of pain.

Fraternities, despite all the negative consequences they cause young people, provide members with the illusion of safety. They are “supposedly” there to provide a young individual with everything his family, his community, and his school has failed to provide: security and a sense of belonging. The truth is, being accepted by, and being a member of, a group that has a reputation for violence immediately exempts one from being bullied.

Although fraternities have varied mission/vision statements, no one really cares what those are. A young person joins a fraternity because he doesn’t want to be beat up by a fraternity, without being able to retaliate. Violence is an issue schools have failed to address for decades.

The institutions that are supposed to protect the student can’t do its job properly, so young people are forced to look for alternatives. I mean, what statement did you, the prestigious College of Saint Benilde, release after another death due to hazing?

Well, you offered some very cheesy and useless advice:

“Brotherly Care not Brutal Hazings

and Real Friendships not Ruthless Frats.

Therefore, choose God not Gangs.”

Really? That’s your solution? Choosing God? When a kid gets his ass kicked over some dumb shit that probably involves women, money, or territory, it’s not God who helps him out; it’s his gang.

As much as you would like to pretend that your God, being the ultimate bully, will protect your students or retaliate on their behalf, He won’t be around when your students are mocked and humiliated by their peers. God won’t be around when your students are extorted and intimidated. Where I came from, gangs and fraternities provided confused, suffering, depressed, frustrated, young people the illusion of sanctuary from violence, something that this your invisible God couldn’t provide.

God wasn’t around when Guillo Servando was killed. No one was around; not his gang, not his school, not CSB’s God.

frat image

No one warned Guillo Servando about how fraternities used systematic violence to reduce his sense of self-worth and increase his dependence on the organization. No one told Guillo Servando what he could do if he made the mistake of joining a fraternity and wanted to withdraw from his initiation. No one told Guillo Servando that they could help him or protect him from those who threatened him when he wanted to quit. That’s your God’s job, right? Well, He’s not doing it, and neither are you.

There are all of these articles saying the same shit they’ve been saying for decades: “Hazing is dangerous.”

DUH.

Everyone knows that, and you’re missing the point. The point is that some kids think that joining a fraternity, with all its brutal initiation rites, is safer than going to school without one. That’s what you have to fix. CSB, in all honesty, “your house” does not have the structure to eradicate the institutionalized abuse happening in your own backyard. And the half-assed approach of encouraging students to “choose God” is not going to improve your odds.

*Addendum (July 10, 2014):

My response to some of the comments are found here — “On the Hazing Article: A General Response to Comments

Posted in Religion, Society82 Comments

FF Podcast (Audio) 43: Should Progressive Catholics Leave the Church?

FF Podcast (Audio) 43: Should Progressive Catholics Leave the Church?

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) 43 - Should Progressive Catholics Leave the Church?

This week, we talk about the Vatican report that said that a majority of Catholics disagree with the Church’s teachings on sex. We talk about whether dissenting Catholics should just leave the Roman Catholic Church.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

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FF Podcast 43: Should Progressive Catholics Leave the Church?

FF Podcast 43: Should Progressive Catholics Leave the Church?

This week, we talk about the Vatican report that said that a majority of Catholics disagree with the Church’s teachings on sex. We talk about whether dissenting Catholics should just leave the Roman Catholic Church.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Media, Podcast, Religion, Society, Video0 Comments

FF Podcast (Audio) 42: Should Politicians Suffer in Jail?

FF Podcast (Audio) 42: Should Politicians Suffer in Jail?

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) 42 - Should Politicians Suffer in Jail?

This week, we talk about politicians charged with plunder and whether they deserve their special treatment.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

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FF Podcast 42: Should Politicians Suffer in Jail?

FF Podcast 42: Should Politicians Suffer in Jail?

This week, we talk about politicians charged with plunder and whether they deserve their special treatment.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Media, Podcast, Society, Video1 Comment

FF Podcast (Audio) 41: Alex Gonzaga and Anti-Atheist Bigotry

FF Podcast (Audio) 41: Alex Gonzaga and Anti-Atheist Bigotry

Alex-Gonzaga

This week, we talk about Alex Gonzaga and her prejudiced rant on Pinoy Big Brother about atheists.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in Audio, audio podcast, Pop Culture, Religion, Secularism, Society0 Comments

FF Podcast 41: Alex Gonzaga and Anti-Atheist Bigotry

Alex Gonzaga rants about atheists

This week, we talk about Alex Gonzaga and her prejudiced rant on Pinoy Big Brother about atheists.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Media, Podcast, Religion, Society, Video15 Comments

If You Want To Be A Thief

Photo Credit: *sax via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: *sax via Compfight cc

If you want to be a thief in our country, make sure it’s not some petty theft like pickpocketing, robbing a jewelry store or even robbing a bank. Those are quite risky and life-threatening crimes. The potential pay-off of those are in the magnitude of hundreds, thousands or at most, a few million pesos – but the consequences are dire as well – you spend years in one of our overcrowded prisons (like this, this or this), neglected and forgotten except to those very close to you, or if you are unlucky enough to be caught in the act, you may get shot and killed as well.

So if you want to be a thief, go big time. Get close to a politician (and not some two-bit politician either but make sure they are big names) or be one yourself. Do not think about stealing hundreds of thousands or a few million only. Expand your horizons. Think big. Think hundreds of millions, and even billions. The bigger your vision and the grander your scheme, the better it will be for you. Oh, and make sure to make regular and hefty donations to your church, and always maintain an image of outward piety – this will come in handy later, as you will see.

Consider now the consequences if you are caught.

One, you will become an instant celebrity. Your face will be all over the national papers, on television and on the internet. Your name will be on everyone’s lips. You will be the topic of many conversations, tweets and status updates. Never mind that people are cursing your name and damning you to the deepest hell. That is only for the moment. Think long term. Filipinos are a forgiving people. In a few years, their anger will mellow down but you will still be known and famous. Why, you can even run for public office. One only has to think of a certain former first lady with a penchant for shoes, forced to flee from the country three decades ago, only to come back to wield power and influence once more. Heck, one of the accused senators, who thought that a privilege speech is a chance to show off his latest MTV, is even declaring his intent to run for president.

Two, you will get medical privileges. You can avoid going to those nasty prisons and instead opt for “hospital arrest.” All you need is a little skill in acting and a wheelchair. Just make sure to highlight a medical condition you already have and ask to be thoroughly examined. If you’re lucky, the government will even foot the bill for your stay. If not, well, there’s nothing to worry about. Since you had the foresight to steal huge sums of money, you can easily pay for your stay (you will even seem generous for not being a burden on the government). Do you get such benefits as a petty thief? Can you ask for an executive check-up at any of the top hospitals in the country? You should be so lucky if they let you out of your cell to go to the prison infirmary.

Three, your local priest or head of congregation will call for leniency and ask people not to condemn you. This is where your huge donations and friendliness to the clergy pay off. They will quote Jesus who confronted the crowd ready to stone the adulterous woman and say, “Let he who has no sin cast the first stone.” (Never mind that the story does not appear originally in the gospels but is generally thought by scholars to have been added on by scribes at a later point). “Do not condemn the scammers, for you could be just like them,” they will say. But do you hear them uttering those words if you are not a huge contributor or if you are a known critic? It was only a few years ago when a tour guide walked into the Manila Cathedral dressed as Jose Rizal, holding a sign that read “Damaso.” He was later convicted and jailed for “offending religious feelings.” Did you hear the clergy preaching non-condemnation and mercy then, as loudly as they do now? Perhaps he forgot to tithe his ten percent.

Four, you get exclusive accommodations especially built for you. After stealing billions from the government, it now feels obligated to spend a few more millions to ensure that your prison stay is safe and comfortable. Heaven forbid that they throw you into the same jam-packed facilities where they put all other thieves of lesser stature. Surely you deserve more because you stole a whole lot more. In fact, your custom-made “prison” is probably more luxurious than the homes of the “lesser” inmates. Yes, this is where the hard-earned taxes of your fellow citizens go. This is why the government has to work so hard to squeeze taxes from our professionals like doctors, actors, and even small earners like fishermen, sari-sari store owners, and even tricycle drivers. That is how privileged you will be for being a big-time crook.

Five, you will enjoy perks on your birthday, Christmas, New Year and probably other special holidays. Your relatives can come visit even beyond regular visiting hours, or you can take a trip to an outside facility and where you can spend the day with your relatives, as demonstrated by our previous president just last year. Now, try asking for those favors as a petty thief. “Excuse me, guard, it’s Christmas tomorrow. Can I go spend the day with my family instead of my 30 stinky cellmates?” Not likely to happen.

Six, if you’re lucky, you may even get a presidential pardon and be elected to public office again. Hopefully, you will be smarter about covering your tracks this time.

See? Thievery pays, but only if you are a man or woman of vision and lofty dreams, especially in the Philippines, where it’s more fun. Go big time!

Originally published in Sunstar Davao. Also published in Freethinking Me.

Send me your thoughts at [email protected]. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Posted in Politics, Society0 Comments

Atomic Bombs, Cryogenics & Jorge Luis Borges: The Aesthetic Appeal of Science

I’ve been reading a lot of comic books recently. I’ve always been a fan of comic books, but there are a number of titles I’ve encountered recently that made me fall in love with the medium all over again. Vertigo’s “Transmetropolitan,” Image Comics’ “The Manhattan Projects” and “Nowhere Men.”

Science in Contemporary Comics

Nowhere Men” wonders what would have happened if there were scientists in the past that were as popular as The Beatles. They created a universe where scientific innovation is as culturally revered as popular music.

The Manhattan Projects” premise is based on a single question, “What if the Manhattan Project, the government initiative that resulted in the creation of the Atomic Bomb in 1945, actually went a lot further than that?” In this comic you’ll see Richard Feynman make weapons with Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer, while contemplating the consequences of the weapons they’re creating.

Transmetropolitan” is about Spider Jerusalem (a futuristic Hunter S. Thompson), a gonzo journalist exploring the cultural paradigm of his milleau. He exists in a city where people from an earlier time (our time) is scheduled to wake from cryo-preservation, where citizens have the option to live in cultural reservations (brutal ancient civilizations) that are isolated from contemporary society, and where commercials can be uploaded into a person’s dreams (Inception style). He blogs and he wears a device similar to Google Glass. However, this comic book was written in the 90s, which means it sort-of predicted Google glass and online blogging.

Every issue of the series tackles a different social concern, but does not provide conclusive answers. What it does is it invites the reader to think, to speculate, about the different social, ethical, spiritual, political, and economic implications of each scientific innovation introduced in each issue.

These works appeal to me precisely because they invite speculation. The point is not the story, but its premise – “What if?” – a style reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges’ “Labyrinths.”

Labyrinths

It’s hard to summarize what exactly it is about because, mostly, it’s not about anything specific. The protagonist, the hero, of Borges’ collection is information – ordinary, mundane facts.

This collection of works by Borges rarely even have a plot. One could, in fact, describe them as pseudo-essays. Often, the protagonist of the story encounters a document or a study that provides an alternative interpretation of reality. In Borges, ordinary scientific and historical facts exists as a possibilities that could be interpreted in many ways.

TIME

In the story “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” Borges provides the reader three alternative interpretations on time and the nature of its passing:

1. “One of the schools of Tlon goes so far as to negate time: it reasons that the present is indefinite, that the future has no reality other than as a present hope, that the past has no reality other than as a present memory (Borges, 34).”

2. “Another school declares that all time has already transpired and that our life is only the crepuscular and no doubt falsified and mutilated memory or reflection of an irrevocable process (Borges 34-35).”

3. “The history of the universe [events in time] – and in it our lives and the most tenuous detail of our lives – is the scripture produced by a subordinate god in order to communicate with a demon (Borges, 35).”

The point of the narrative is not necessarily what happens to the protagonist, but the reader’s recognition of these interpretations. These stories are about ideas; ordinary facts people overlook on a daily basis are placed under a microscope and investigated, speculated upon, until the reader himself asks, “Is the time in this story the same time I exist in?”

The appeal of his work is that the possibilities that exist in the fictional world of Borges can exist in our own world. The language itself is a formal attempt (an attempt in form) to create an almost academic (ordinary) atmosphere. Borges mixes quotes and ideas of people from “real life” (Shopenhauer, Bertrand Russel, Friedrich Nietzsche) with the fictional ideas of his fictional characters. Information, itself, generates the experience of the reader. The knowledge is not used to describe the protagonist’s experience. It is used to create “an experience” in the reader.

In Borges, common language itself can be viewed from multiple perspectives:

1. “For example, there is no word [in the southern hemisphere of Tlon] corresponding to the word ‘moon’, but there is a verb which in English would be ‘to moon’ or ‘to moonate’. ‘The moon rose above the river’ is hlor fang axaxaxas mlo, or literally: ‘upward behind onstreaming it mooned’ (Borges, 33).”

2. “[In the northern hemisphere] The prime unit is not the verb, but the monosyllabic adjective. The noun is formed by an accumulation of adjectives. They do not say ‘moon’ but rather ‘round airy-light on dark’ or pale-orange-of-the-sky’ or any other such combination.”

The fictional themes in Borges are broad. There are meditations on ordinary language and interpretations of time, but there are also perspectives on, and interpretations of, religious and historical concepts.

In the story “Theme of the Traitor and the Hero,” a publicly loved president is revealed to be a traitor. Once caught, he negotiates with his captors regarding the manner of his execution. To retain peace in the country, among the people who admire him, he takes part in the preparation of his own heroic assassination.

In “Three Versions of Judas” the reader is provided three different interpretations on what may have motivated Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. One version hypothesizes that Judas was God’s instrument of revelation. The betrayal was a way to reveal the divinity of Jesus. Another versions suggests that Judas’ betrayal was an act of love; that he was an ascetic to the highest degree, one that believed that no one, not even him, is worthy of God’s grace that he committed acts that would guarantee his damnation in hell. And there’s another version that suggests how God was actually revealed through Judas and not Jesus. God, in the form of Judas, sacrificed the innocent Jesus to teach the world compassion.

Science as Art

Borges’ “Labyrinths” show how fiction is not any more “magical” than real life. In fact, most of “the magic” (the philosophical perspectives, possibilities and ideas) in Borges’ fiction is found and is based on real life. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine a person from real life having the same epiphanies and speculations Borges’ fictional characters have experienced. In fact, Borges himself admits that these stories are “autobiographical” and are, to an extent, non-fictional in nature.

In Borges reality, facts and ideas are aesthetic objects. Fiction exists only as a tool to highlight facts that generate wonder.

In his paper, “Games with Infinity. The Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges,” Martin Johnson suggests that Borges attitude towards the creation of fiction is best reflected in his description of the metaphysicians of Tlon from his story “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” – “The metaphysicians of Tlon are not looking for truth, nor even for an approximation of it; they are after a kind of amazement.” Facts and ideas, for Borges, function in the same manner. It is something that one should be amazed by.

I think such an attitude towards science should be encouraged, and the trends these comics have chosen to set (the exploration of scientific ideas and the ascension of the scientist/philosopher as a comic book superhero) reveals a promising cultural shift – mainstream interest in scientific and philosophical speculation. Science is not just a cold, precise tool human beings can use to measure universal forces, it is also a playground – a venue for mental play – as well as a source of constant awe.

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