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Married Men, Transgender Women, and the Intricacies of Conditional Consent

In an article from telegraph.co.uk, Laura Perrins discusses how the legal definitions of both consent and rape is is changing. Apparently, courts are beginning to consider the notion of conditional consent.

What exactly is conditional consent?

Let’s say a woman agrees to have unprotected sex with a boyfriend given the condition that he withdraws and doesn’t ejaculate into her. She has given her boyfriend sexual consent, but only if the conditions for her consent are met. If the boyfriend decided not to withdraw, he violated the conditions of her consent, violated her, and has committed rape.

But what if a woman agrees to have unprotected sex with a boyfriend given the condition that he ejaculates into her? If the boyfriend decides to withdraw, has he violated her consent? Is it also rape?

The writer, herself, has her own apprehensions regarding how conditional consent is interpreted.

She says, “Does this new idea of ‘conditional consent’ include any condition being attached to the act? So if a woman only consents to sexual intercourse on the condition that they are in a relationship, which the defendant leads her to believe is true but in his mind there is no such relationship on the current law, this could be rape.”

I’m not here to argue whether or not such violations should be considered rape. The question I’m asking is what kind of information, and how much of this information, does a partner have a right to?

This is not a simple issue. What makes this issue more complicated is that different people have different conditions for sexual consent. Some people will only consent to sex with a partner of the same religion. Some people will only consent to have sex with partners from a given race. Some people will only consent to have sex with rich people.

Some prerequisites for consent are prejudiced, or even irrational. However, if these prerequisites are intentionally violated, whether through deception, manipulation, or physical force, can we all agree that it is unethical?

The issue of conditional consent raises some relevant concerns.

If a woman withholds the fact that she’s a porn star from her partner, knowing that her partner would hesitate to have intercourse with a porn star, is she committing a violation that should be punishable by law?

Should a transgender woman disclose her transgender status to a partner?

If we extend the idea of conditional consent to transgender relationships, would it mean that a transgender woman must ensure that her partner is open to having a romantic or sexual relationship with a transgender woman, before the transgender woman engages in romantic or sexual relationships with her partner?

Honestly, I’m on the fence regarding this issue.

In a conversation, a friend of mine argues that:

“Only situations where nondisclosure harms others, i.e. with HIV, ‘should’ a person disclose. In any other case, it’s their own private decision and none of anyone else’s business. Consider cases as mundane as having a third nipple. Or a micropenis. Or extra thick pubic hair. Which details should a person be obligated to disclose before having sex with another person, and is it really anyone else’s business to say, besides just being between those two people? It really depends on who you’re talking to. Some people don’t mind finding out certain things in bed, some people do. It’s a dynamic of sex and dating that people need to navigate, and aside from increasing the openness of society to the variety of people in the world, I don’t think it’s anyone’s business to tell anyone what they should/shouldn’t disclose to another person.”

I agree with him, in theory.

Although it’s outside my preferences, if I had relations with a transgender who I thought was a cisgender, not having this information probably won’t harm me. But, personally, I would prefer to find out if the person I’m about to have relations with is a transgender woman or a cisgender woman. I am neither entitled to that information nor is she obligated to provide me that information, but I would like to know anyway.

Even though I consider both the transgender woman and the cisgender woman real women, I would still prefer to have relations with a cisgender woman. I asked a friend if this preference for cis meant that I was transphobic. He replied, “If I refused to date a man am I a homophobe or just straight?”

Just to clarify, I do not prefer a cisgender woman because she is “more woman” than a transgender woman, neither am I making a distinction between a “real woman” and a “fake woman.” It’s not either/or, or black and white.

A person’s gender identity and sexual orientation exists in a spectrum. But people still have preferences. Some men are more heterosexual, some men are more homosexual, and some men are more transoriented.

In the same way that most homosexuals will not consent to have sex with women, some cisoriented men will not consent to have sex with transgender women. A homosexual man who refuses to sleep with a woman is not heterophobic. A man who refuses to sleep with a transgender woman is not transphobic. Both these men simply have preferences that exclude certain groups of people.

For the same reason that a transoriented man will probably prefer to be with a transgender than a cisgender woman, a heterosexual cisoriented man will probably prefer to be with a cisgender woman than a transgender woman.

There is nothing wrong with these preferences.

On Preferences

It’s unfair that some men prefer only cisgender women. It’s also unfair that some women prefer only men with jobs. People’s preferences are influenced by many biases: social class, purity myths, homophobia, transphobia, ignorance, religious intolerance, intellectual snobbery, etc. But what influences the prevalence of these preferences are irrelevant. What’s relevant is that regardless of how silly these preferences are, they are prerequisites for a person’s conditional consent.

One can make the argument that a cisgender woman’s conditional consent – “I only want to have sex with single men” – is often violated. That’s true. In fact, a lot of married men intentionally pretend to be single until they have sex with a woman. But the common occurrence of a violation does not make it less of a violation.

Married Man
 

It’s wrong that women who consent to having sex with single men sometimes end up having sex with people who turn out to be married men. But it’s also wrong that some men who consent to having sex with cisgender women sometimes end up having sex with transgender women.

Although I do not believe that people should be required to disclose harmless information that they don’t want to, I think that withholding information that you know is important to your partner is a violation of his or her consent, regardless of how trivial you think that information is. But, I could also be wrong.

What do you think?

 

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Do you need a shrink?: An Introduction to Mental Disorders Part I

We have at least once in our lifetime, met a weird but fascinating character. They sometimes may be extremely annoying but brilliant.  Sometimes, from an indispensable genius, they turn to totally useless. If you yourself, are thinking that you might be one of them or that someone close to you is, then it might be good to have a little introduction on what a mental disorder is. This may help you decide if you or your friend needs to see a doctor or if it’s just a quirkiness one could easily cope with.

Let’s all think of a hypothetical character named Tom. Tom is a brilliant, creative individual whose charisma and optimism inspire a lot of the people that he meets. However, those who are truly close to him know that his mind runs too fast, and sometimes gets overloaded. He tells his friends, at some point that he feels so happy, like he was flying or is on top of the world and then he crashes. Upon crashing, he feels as if dark clouds are hovering above him. Sometimes, this crash is triggered by a dreaded event, too much stress or sometimes, the dark clouds just come with no apparent reason. Hopeless, unfocused, lethargic, he stays in bed all day. Occasionally, his kindness gets shrouded by his irritable mood that manifests itself by his snide remarks or sometimes coldness. He would also bang his head on the wall, smash an expensive piece of equipment on the floor or walk along the streets hoping that a car would just hit him. Tears would not stop falling even if he is in a place full of strangers. He pushes people away. His work and relationships suffer. He entertains the idea of taking his own life.

Tom’s extreme moods characterized by elation and sadness are nothing but symptoms of what psychologists call Bipolar Disorder. On one pole there is the depressive condition, on the other pole, there is the manic state – a state of intense optimism, happiness and delusions of grandeur. Some of Tom’s concerned friends tell him he should seek professional help but some others tell him that it is all a matter of control and that takes practice. As one of his friends says, “arent’ we all a little crazy?”. What then distinguishes someone with a mental condition from a “normal” person? Are the boundaries between disorders that clear cut? Tom, in his readings finds that he could also be someone with Aspergers Syndrome or ADHD. What does he really have? Should he take pills? Should he see a shrink or should he just simply exercise, meditate and practice Deepak Chopra’s tenets? (No, he does not follow Deepak Chopra.)

In diagnosing individuals, psychiatrists have a guidebook called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM -5) [1]. The book is the culmination of more than a decade’s work of revising the classification of mental disorders. Depression is not just some short feeling of sadness. The DSM V characterizes someone who is suffering from depression as someone who has experienced at least five signs of depression for more than two weeks. [2] Some of the symptoms are, moroseness, hopelessness, significant weight loss and gain, too much or too little sleep, feelings of worthlessness, fatigue, decreased interest in activities that s/he usually enjoys, difficulty concentrating or making decisions and recurrent thoughts of death and suicide. Someone with Bipolar Disorder however may flip back and forth between overexcited states of mania and depression within a single day, week, or month or year. With the manic state he can also be hyperactive, he also overestimates his abilities and his self.

While Tom did entertain the idea of visiting a psychiatrist, it took him seven long years before he went to one. His parents warned him that, consultation might be too expensive. He might also be too dependent on the drugs and he might suffer from unwanted side-effects.  His intelligence made him very self-aware. He tracked his moods. He exercised, meditated, ate fish which has a lot of omega-3 fatty acids that are supposed to “heal” the brain and he wrote a lot of poems and reflections in his journal. They all helped his character. However, he has noticed that in times of extreme stress, pressure from school, work, financial and family problems still get the better of him despite all his efforts of preventing a fallout. The tipping point came, when he ran away and took a 24-hour trip by land and sea to the south of the country. Without clothes and not enough money to last him a week, he left. It almost destroyed him and his dreams. He finally decided to meet a doctor.

The doctor admired his self-awareness and noted that this is one of the most important abilities one should have. He should be able to recognize the feelings that are coming to him so that he can gain full control of his so-called demons. He must come up with a strategy or a game plan.

Fig. 1 Tom came to his doctor with a piece of paper describing the mood swings he was experiencing. He made a rough sketch of his ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ over time when he was off and on medication.  With medication, Tom’s mood became more stable.

One of the strategies suggested to him was cognitive behavioral therapy[3]. Specifically, he was asked to write his thoughts and feelings whenever he feels like he is bound to do something that has dire, irreversible consequences. For example, reasons for suicide, things he might look forward to the next day, week or year, snapping at someone, quitting a job instantly, among many other things. Writing his thoughts and how he dealt with them, helped become even more self-aware and things that are needed to be done to are clearer to him. He was also asked to try certain drugs that will address the chemical imbalance in his brain. Exercise and eating food rich in omega-3 fatty acids, are no longer enough.

In the beginning, Tom’s medicine worked well with him until he experienced lethal side-effects. While others were afraid, Tom was willing to experiment to get the right balance and dose so that he could get the quality of life he wants. He had experienced rashes, extreme sleepiness for over 12 hours, and vomiting. He has also arrived at a point that he is confident enough to skip a couple of days without medication just so he could experience the “creative highs” of a typical bipolar. He just has to prepare for the “crash” that will ensue.

So to answer the question, “Do you need to see a shrink?”. If you think that you have been undergoing prolonged distress, your behavior has been negatively affecting your work and the people you love no matter how you try to control yourself, then it is best to seek professional help. Seeking professional help will not magically take away your troubles. The pills, the strategies, the changes in perspective are all part of a delicate balancing act in having a well-lived life. It will be a lifetime of management and the first step is to recognize that you do need people who can understand what is going on in your gifted but differently-wired brain. The next question is, how does your shrink know what kind of condition you have?

Preview for Part II: Standardized measures in psychiatry, Learned Helplessness and Comorbidity. Tom thinks he has Aspergers Syndrome and ADHD too. We will introduce another hypothetical character named Sylvia who “demands” understanding for her bad behavior just because she has a disorder.

Useful Links

[1] Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition :http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DSM-5

[2] Crash Course Psychology on Psychological Disorders:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwMlHkWKDwM

[3] Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_behavioral_therapy

 

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Filipinos are Poor Because of a Loser Mentality?

loserIn the research writing classes I teach at Asia Pacific College, I often argue that research should be seen as a social and personal responsibility, rather than as a practice done exclusively for academic reasons. I believe that it should be an individual’s duty to approach information he encounters online and elsewhere with a healthy dose of skepticism. I also believe that it should be an individual’s duty to refrain from making unfounded accusations prior to actual research.

Earlier today, I read an article from GetRealPhilippines.com that says, “Filipinos’ obssession (sic) with ‘happiness’ is what keeps them mired in chronic poverty.”

According to benign0, “You wonder why the Philippines continues to fail? It is because Filipinos have been led to believe that simply being “happy” makes them “winners”. That is a nice philosophy to live by — when you are happy being a loser for the rest of your existence, that is.”

One reason why people need to research more is to prevent their fingers from typing ridiculous statements. The only thing such a statement reveals is that the writer doesn’t understand poverty.

There are three questions the writer is trying to answer in his poorly researched article:

1) Why are many Filipinos poor?

2) Why are many Filipinos happy even if they’re poor?

3) If a poor Filipino is happy, is it a bad thing?

His answer to question number one is, “Because they’re obsessed with happiness.” His answer to question number two is, “Because they have a loser mentality.” His answer to number three is, “Yes, because it’s their happiness that is making them poor.” What data were used to support the validity of these answers? None.

The writer was guessing, or making up information, or making an erroneous observation. Basically, all his answers are wrong.

I like teaching research. Every time I correct a student who makes assumptions based on nothing, I feel warm and fuzzy inside, like, maybe I made the world a slightly better place by reducing the number of people who say dumb things by one. So, as a public service, I’m going to demonstrate how to use simple research data to make defensible conclusions about the world we live in.

Why are Many Filipinos Poor?

There are many reasons why a Filipino could be poor. We can blame a rapid population growth that our economy can’t keep up with. We can blame unemployment, inflation, inequality and corruption.However, if we wanted to simplify the subject, we can definitely say that most Filipinos are poor because they were born poor to begin with.

According to an SWS survey, self-rated poverty in Luzon is at 45 percent, 74 percent in Visayas, and 71 percent in Mindanao.

Needless to say, many Filipinos become poor before they can even spell “happiness.” Filipino babies become poor before they can obsess about happiness.

Once these babies grow up and realize that they’re poor, why don’t these people just decide to be rich then? Well, for one, life doesn’t work that way. A poor person can’t simply “decide” to be rich. In fact, even if he wanted to, there are factors that may prevent a poor person from being rich, and it has very little to do with the often blamed Filipino laziness.

People Who Grow Up Poor Experience More Negative Emotions as an Adult

With regard to how difficult it is for a poor person to be rich, it’s possible that people who are born poor struggle to become rich because kids who grow up poor have less impulse control. According to ScienceDaily, “Researchers found that test subjects who had lower family incomes at age 9 exhibited, as adults, greater activity in the amygdala, an area in the brain known for its role in fear and other negative emotions. These individuals showed less activity in areas of the prefrontal cortex, an area in the brain thought to regulate negative emotion.”

What that means is that a person who experienced chronic stress from childhood to adolescence may be less capable of suppressing negative emotions such as fear. In fact, according to surveys, 1/6 people raised in poverty develop mental disorders.

The psychological consequences of childhood poverty and stress are the same psychological barriers that may prevent a person from becoming more successful in adulthood. Furthermore, impediments to the development of the prefrontal cortex can also affect a child’s ability to learn, making it more difficult to compete with children who did not grow up in poverty.

Poor People Make Bad Decisions

A common gripe against the poor is that they’re poor because it’s their fault. They’re poor because they make bad decisions. However, according to this, this, and this, it’s actually the other way around.

Bad decisions don’t cause people to be poor. Poverty causes people to make bad decisions. The research article, “Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function,” suggests that stress experienced due to poverty impede cognitive function. In other words, people who are poor are at greater risk to make decisions that further perpetuate their poverty, because their brain is so exhausted by, well, poverty. The poorer are person is, the higher the likelihood that he’ll make decisions that will worsen his situation.

“Previous views of poverty have blamed (it) on personal failings, on an environment that is not conducive to success. We are arguing that the lack of financial resources itself can lead to impaired cognitive function,” says Jiaying Zhao.

Why are many Filipinos happy even if they’re poor?

Benign0 implied that he’s seen too many Filipinos who are poor use “happiness” as an excuse to not try to improve their own economic situation. He even mentioned that, “It is easy to retreat to the ‘happiness’ metric when all other success indicators suck. That’s the loser approach to rationalising one’s existence. There’s a a simple colloquial term that encapsulates that attitude: sour grapes.”

In other words, he’s saying that unless you are “successful,” you can’t be happy; and if you’re poor, and you say that you are happy, you’re probably lying, because the Philippines, as a country, is not among happy countries.

Here’s the thing, according to most studies, happiness can be attained by people who are poor for various reasons.

Happiness is Determined More by Genetics than by Economics

A person’s capacity for happiness have very little or nothing to do with other indicators of “success.” In the research report, “Happiness is a Stochastic Phenomenon,” David Lykken and Auke Tellegen write:

“Are those people who go to work in suits happier and more fulfilled than those who go in overalls? Do people higher on the socioeconomic ladder enjoy life more than those lower down? Can money buy happiness? As a consequence of racism and relative poverty, are black Americans less contented on average than white Americans? Because men still hold the reins of power, are men happier than women? The survey in this journal by Myers and Diener (1995) indicated that the answer to these questions, surprisingly, is “no.” These authors pointed out that people have a remarkable ability to adapt, both to bad fortune and to good, so that one’s life circumstances, unless they are very bad indeed, do not seem to have lasting effects on one’s mood.”

In other words, people who are poor are just as capable of happiness as people who are rich. A more productive question to ask is “Why do rich people think that they are happier than poor people?”

Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer?

Two professors from Princeton, economist Alan B. Krueger and psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, along with several colleagues wrote the research paper, “Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer? A Focusing Illusion.”

According to the paper, a lot of people believe that a high income is associated with a person’s good mood. However, it’s not true. The correlations are illusory. Wealthy people are content with their lives, but they’re not much happier than poor people. They don’t spend more time doing cooler, more enjoyable, activities either.

According to Kreuger, people with a higher income report more satisfaction only because they think that they should be more satisfied because of the high income they enjoy. He says, “If people have high income, they think they should be satisfied and reflect that in their answers. Income, however, matters very little for moment-to-moment experience.”

If Anything, We Should Encourage Poor People to Be Happy

If someone wanted to help poor people, discouraging them from happiness and calling them losers, like benign0 did, will not help them. The article, “Self-worth boosts ability to overcome poverty,” from ScienceDaily discusses how encouraging the poor to improve their feelings of self-worth will help them overcome the psychological and emotional barriers that prevent them from seeking help or making good decisions.

According to Jiaying Zhao, the study’s co author, “This study shows that surprisingly simple acts of self-affirmation can improve the cognitive function and behavioral outcomes of people in poverty.”

In addition to that, happiness improves a person’s motivation and actually causes an individual to work harder. A study on the relationship between happiness and productivity was done by Andrew Oswald, Eugenio Proto, and Daniel Sgroi. According to the study, “Happiness and Productivity,” happiness made people around 12% more productive.

“The driving force seems to be that happier workers use the time they have more effectively, increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality,” says Dr. Sgroi.

Conclusions

Based on the evidence gathered from multiple reliable sources, we can make the following defensible conclusions:

1. Filipinos are poor NOT because they have an “obsession with happiness.” In fact, there is no evidence that suggests that “contentment” can cause poverty. Through inferences made from reading the evidence, we can say that it’s possible that many Filipinos are poor simply because they are born poor. Their experiences of poverty in the crucial years of their mental development negatively affected their capacity to learn and their ability to regulate negative emotions – factors that may impede their economic progress as adults. Furthermore, poverty itself impedes their cognitive function, making them prone to bad decisions that could worsen their situation.

2. Some poor Filipinos are happy NOT because they have a loser mentality. Some poor Filipinos are happy simply because nothing is preventing them from feeling otherwise. Although depression is twice as common among poor people, poor people who don’t have depression are not much less happy than rich people. In fact, a study suggests that, “one’s life circumstances, unless they are very bad indeed, do not seem to have lasting effects on one’s mood,” implying that there are genetic factors to be considered when measuring a person’s capacity for happiness.

3. Happiness has a tendency to increase a persons productivity and make him work harder. If a person thinks that the problem of poverty is due to a poor person’s lack of productivity, the scientifically correct thing to do is to help them recover their self-esteem and encourage them to be happy, to improve their cognitive function and increase their productivity. In any case, one should not call poor people losers, because doing so will only reinforce the psychological barriers that impede their cognitive functioning.

Based on the same evidence, we can also conclude that benign0’s article, “Filipinos’ obssession (sic) with ‘happiness’ is what keeps them mired in chronic poverty,” is wrong about a lot of things. THAT is why research is important.

It’s the difference between being a writer and being a ranter.

 

References:

benign0. (2014). “Filipinos’ obssession with ‘happiness’ is what keeps them mired in chronic poverty.” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://getrealphilippines.com/blog/2014/05/filipinos-obssession-with-happiness-is-what-keeps-them-mired-in-chronic-poverty/

Brady, D. (2013). “Poverty strains cognitive abilities, opening door for bad decision-making, new study finds.” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/poverty-strains-cognitive-abilities-opening-door-for-bad-decision-making-new-study-finds/2013/08/29/89990288-102b-11e3-8cdd-bcdc09410972_story.html

Examined Existence. “The Profound Effects of Childhood Poverty and Stress on Adult Brain Function”Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://examinedexistence.com/the-profound-effects-of-childhood-poverty-and-stress-on-adult-brain-function/

Flores, H. (2014). “Number of ‘poor’ Pinoy families up by 600,000.” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2014/07/29/1351563/number-poor-pinoy-families-600000

Kahneman, D. Krueger, A. Schkade, D. Schwarz, N. Stone, A. (2006) “Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer? A Focusing Illusion “ Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www.morgenkommichspaeterrein.de/ressources/download/125krueger.pdf

Kim, P. Evans, G. Angstadt, M. Ho, S. Sripada, C. Swain, J. Liberzon, I. Phan, K. (2013). “Effects of childhood poverty and chronic stress on emotion regulatory brain function in adulthood.” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1308240110

Lykken, D. Tellegen, A. (1996). “Happiness is a Stochastic Phenomenon” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://cogprints.org/767/3/167.pdf

Mani, A. Mullainathan, S. Shafir, E. Zhao, J. (2013). “Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6149/976

Oswald, A. Proto, E. Sgroi, D. (2014). “Happiness and Productivity” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/staff/eproto/workingpapers/happinessproductivity.pdf

ScienceDaily. (2013). “Self-worth boosts ability to overcome poverty” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From:
Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131217085056.htm

ScienceDaily. (2013). “Growing up poor, stressed impacts brain function as adult.” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131021211450.htm

Starecheski, L. (2014). “This Is Your Stressed-Out Brain On Scarcity.” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/07/14/330434597/this-is-your-stressed-out-brain-on-scarcity

Weller, C. (2013) “Poverty Lowers IQ: How Financial Strains Put Pressure On Cognitive, Logical Reasoning.” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www.medicaldaily.com/poverty-lowers-iq-how-financial-strains-put-pressure-cognitive-logical-reasoning-255093

Yglesias, M. (2013). “Bad Decisions Don’t Make You Poor. Being Poor Makes for Bad Decisions.” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2013/09/poverty_and_cognitive_impairment_study_shows_money_troubles_make_decision.html

 

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Is Victim Blaming Always Irrational?

stop-victim-blamingVictim blaming, which is said to occur when “the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially responsible for the harm that befell them,” is perceived by many as irrational because it shifts the blame or at least a part thereof from the real offender to the innocent victim. They contend that the victim has zero responsibility every time regardless of the circumstances.

I intend to challenge this absolutist position.

When comedian Ricky Gervais posted a tweet about the leaked nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities, people called him out for victim blaming. In his tweet, which he later deleted, Gervais wrote:

“Celebrities, make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer.”

The following are some of the responses he received:

@rickygervais, Ah, victim-blaming at its finest. “If you don’t want people to break into your house and steal your things, don’t own things.” – Brian Herbert

@rickygervais this is like telling women, make it harder for rapists to rape you by not going outside. – Jen Italia

While Gervais’ tweet was done in bad taste, I do not find it necessarily illogical as what the responses seem to suggest with their analogies. My position is that there are certain instances where victims can be held at least partially responsible for the harm that befell them, and those instances are where they acted negligently, and especially if they were grossly negligent.

Negligence is defined as “failure to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in like circumstances.” Now whether the celebrities’ act of uploading their nude photos on the Internet constitutes gross or even simple negligence is an issue beyond the scope of my contention, because in order to resolve it certain facts need to be established, like how secure were the sites they used, how strong were their passwords, and what other necessary precautions they took or did not take.

For sure, however, not uploading one’s nude photos if you don’t want them leaked cannot be equated to not owning things if you don’t want people to break into your house and steal your things, or to not going outside if you don’t want to be raped. The analogies used by those who responded to Gervais’ tweet certainly do not constitute even simple negligence. We only need to ask the question: Would a reasonably prudent person not own things, or never go outside?

On the other hand, uploading nude photos involves a presumably unnecessary risk to one’s privacy. Of course, it is also entirely possible that the person actually did not know the risks, or had a compelling reason to back up photos online. These factors would certainly modify the dynamics of blame, but their existence is not to be presumed. Someone who knows how to upload photos will probably have a basic idea of the risks involved, and I cannot think of a compelling reason for a person to upload naked selfies. But even if you can come up with something, such “compelling reason” would probably be the exception rather than the norm, hence, its existence is not to be presumed.

For a better perspective, let us say person A, a famous actress, uploads to a non-secure site, not her naked photos, but those of her friend, person B, another famous actress. The site gets hacked and the photos are leaked. Would person B not have the right to blame person A – to hold her at least partially responsible for compromising her privacy? Can person A raise the defense that it is the hackers who should be held entirely responsible for the leak?

The problem with the term “victim blaming” is that it seems to imply that a person is being blamed because he or she is a victim, when in fact the reason for the blame is that he/she acted negligently. This is made clear in the above example where the one who acted with negligence and the victim of the privacy breach which the negligent act helped make possible are not the same person.

Moreover, we must distinguish between criminal liability and the non-criminal culpability arising from negligence. In the case of hacking, no amount of negligence on the part of the person uploading private photos to a non-secure site can remove or even diminish the hacker’s criminal liability in invading other people’s privacy. Just because the victim acted negligently does not mean that the hacker acted less criminally.

A friend of mine expressed this in another way:

“What people who keep bandying about the ‘victim-blaming’ argument seem to scarcely understand is that blame isn’t a zero-sum game where holding the victim partially responsible for her victimhood (i.e., if she can be said to have done something she knew would significantly increase the likelihood of being victimized) removes a proportional amount of blame from the victimizer; a victimizer can be 100% responsible for a crime (whatever it is) while the victim can be partially responsible for knowingly placing herself in a situation that increased the odds of said crime taking place. There is no contradiction there.”

Suppose a guy who jogs at night decides for no compelling reason to change his route and passes through a dangerous part of town known for its alarming number of muggings. He enters a dark alley and, sure enough, gets mugged and robbed of his wallet which contained a lot of cash and all his IDs and credit cards. At this point some people would probably say that the jogger should not be held even partially responsible for his loss and that all the blame should be laid on the mugger because it was the latter who committed the entire crime and the jogger took no part in it.

But let’s suppose that hours before his evening run he went to a wedding for which he borrowed his friend’s gold watch that happens to be an heirloom. He didn’t remove the watch when he went out jogging to that dangerous part of town. He gets mugged and loses his friend’s watch along with his own wallet.

If you were his friend, would you hold him responsible, not for the mugging because the criminal liability solely belongs to the robber, but for losing your watch because he was being grossly negligent for wearing it when he knows he’ll be passing through a dangerous area?

If you say yes, would you also hold him partly responsible for the loss of his own wallet in the same mugging incident? If your answer to the second question is no, then how do you distinguish between losing his own wallet and losing your watch? What fundamental distinction lies between a person’s negligence that contributed to his own loss and the negligence that contributed to another’s such that the negligent person can be blamed for the latter but not for the former?

But if your answer to the first question about holding your friend responsible for losing your watch is no, then I’d be very interested to hear your reasons for finding no fault on his part. And if you decide to play with words and say that you blame him for acting negligently but not for losing your watch (since it’s the mugger who’s solely to blame for that), then would you still blame your friend if he returned home safe and sound with your watch in one piece?

To blame means “to say or think that a person or thing is responsible for something bad that has happened.” If nothing bad happened, there is nothing to blame. A person can be blamed for something bad that has happened, or he can be blamed because of his role in allowing that bad thing to happen in that particular instant.

It must be stressed, however, that life is full of risks, some of which are unavoidable, and not acting negligently does not guarantee that one will not be mugged or that no nude photos will be leaked, or that one will never suffer any tragedy.  But to knowingly place oneself in a situation where risk is unnecessarily increased is to act with gross negligence. Even if the jogger in the above example never went to that dark alley or even if he invested in a treadmill and stayed at home, he could still be mugged elsewhere, or he could be robbed of his friend’s watch at the parking lot right after the wedding. The only difference is that he could not be blamed for losing it in that particular incident because he did not go out of his way to increase the chances of a bad thing happening.

After all, in this so-called “victim blaming,” what’s being blamed is not the victimhood.

It’s the negligence.

* * * * * * * * * *

Postscript:

Some readers might be tempted to draw a simplistic analogy from the mugging scenarios and relate them to rape. I caution them from doing so. Rape is a far more complex issue than mugging and nude photo leaks, and the dynamics of rape requires a deeper analysis than what this article provides. Here is an article that discusses victim blaming in rape cases. It is up to the reader to decide, after reading that other article, whether the principles laid down in this article apply to rape cases.

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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.

Posted in Personal, Science, Society, Uncategorized45 Comments

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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An Organic Tale of a Chemical Nature

The Power of Words

Words are powerful. Consider, for instance, the fact that right now you are staring at a grid of pixels on a computer screen and somehow because of this you hear a voice — my writer’s voice — inside your head. What more, through this voice you hear words that, as if by magic, conjure images, evoke emotions, or transport you across time and space. By a careful choice of words I can gain a certain degree of control over your mind, and consequently your behavior.

Because of their power, words must be used with care. To abuse words is to endanger people. This fact, though true in general, is most acutely felt in the case of scientific terms.

Take, for instance, the word ‘chemical’. Does it describe something dangerous or beneficial? Something to be avoided, perhaps? More than a few TV commercials boast the absence of chemicals in a product, and our supermarkets are filled with merchandise claiming to be “chemical-free.” What do these commercials and product labels mean, if they mean anything at all?

This ad for SunFX, a brand of spray on tan, is just one of many disavowing the use of chemicals. Does this claim make sense? [Photo credit: mysunfx.com]

Sometime ago, after performing a science demonstration for a general audience, I was approached by a girl of about 6 years who called my attention by tugging at the bottom of my lab coat and calling me, “Mr. Scientist.” When I finally looked down at the little girl’s quizzical face, she said, “Mr. scientist, Mr. scientist, what is a chemical?” The question gave me pause. I had to put down the tray of glassware I was holding (which contained several chemicals) and sat down. I couldn’t have given her wonderfully deep question justice by merely blurting out a textbook definition. Neither would she have been satisfied with the meaningless answer, “Oh, everything is made of chemicals.” Light and sound aren’t composed of atoms, are they chemicals too? Are space and time chemicals? Is dark matter composed of chemicals? Her question deserved nothing less than a story in reply.


The word ‘chemical’, like many scientific terms, is a shorthand for a story of discovery. Every time we refer to something as being a chemical, or of a research as part of chemistry, we are referring to this story — we are making reference to a narrative. Like all stories of discovery, it is a rich and intriguing detective story where the mystery to be solved is nature’s behavior and where the detectives are the scientists. In telling this story, we also learn about related and likewise oft-used words like ‘organic’ and ‘natural’, words that, like ‘chemical’, are often used to appeal to people’s emotions but not to their reason.

What are the advantages of products that are labelled organic? What does it take for something to be “100% natural”?


The (Distilled) Story of Chemistry

The story started with people asking what everything is made of. Are all the various things around us made of different stuff, or are they all made of the same stuff arranged differently? How many different kinds of basic stuff are there?


When this story began people let their imaginations run wild. “Everything’s made of water,” asserted Thales. “Nope, it’s all fire,” replied Heraclitus. “Atoms and the void, is what I say,” retorted Democritus. “My money’s on earth, air, fire, and water,” declared Aristotle. “Oh, and also ether,” he added. Most of these early thinkers scarcely bothered to check if their guess was the correct one.

Aristotle's five elements in their nested spheres: earth, water, wind, fire, and ether.

Aristotle’s five elements in their nested spheres: earth, water, wind, fire, and ether.


Sometime later, however, people started to earnestly and systematically burn, boil, pulverize, and purify every piece of ore they could get their hands on. In the hopes of one day finding a way to change common metals to gold or extract the elixir of life, these investigators carefully wrote down their methods and observations, trying to find patterns behind it all. In detective stories, this is the part when the detectives pin the many collected clues onto a board, connect related clues via strings, and stare at the constellation of facts wishing to discover the secret symmetry behind it all. These mortar-and-pestle-wielding detectives were called alchemists, a word which can be traced to the Greek word ‘khemia’ or the”art of transmuting metals”. Little by little the alchemists, who were later succeeded by people who called themselves ‘chemists’, saw a pattern emerging, a pattern suggesting that while most things are made of a mixture of stuff, some are made of just one kind in pure form. They called the latter group ‘elements’. The rules that govern the interactions of the elements came to be known as chemistry, and the products of these elements mixing and matching came to be called chemicals. (And oh, they also finally got the hint that you can’t turn lead into gold through chemical means, but by that time they found use for their knowledge in distilling good whiskey, and that more than made up for it.) After some false leads involving non-existent substances like “phlogiston”, the chemists eventually came up with the Table of Elements tabulating all the basic stuff that make up tables, chairs, planets, and stars.

 

The Essence of the Organic

But what about plants and people? What about animals and those unseen things called “germs” that make folks sick? Clearly they must be made of different stuff, aren’t they? After all, trees grow, fruits rot, animals make other animals, and things that live eventually cease to be alive. Dead matter like mineral ores, alkaline solutions, and hazy vapors did none of these things. Because of the striking difference between rock and rabbit, early detectives thought that living organisms were made of some special, life-giving stuff — organic matter, they called it (from the Greek ‘organikos’, meaning “relating to an organ or instrument”). And because the ‘vital force’ that moves a cheetah during a chase seems so different from the mundane forces of the elements that move pebbles around,investigators thought the processes of life were fundamentally different from those undergone by lifeless chemicals. (The word vital comes from the Latin ‘vita’, meaning life.) If you look at the miracle of life with eyes unaided by our current knowledge, as when you compare a rose in bloom with a crystal of rose quartz, it’s easy to relate with this mistake in understanding. But given how our modern life depends on the most recent scientific insights, it is important that we progress from this mistake.

Rose quartz

At a cursory glance, it is hard to believe that a rose quartz and a rose flower are made of the same kinds of stuff, only in different proportions. (Rose flowers have lots of carbon, quartz crystals have lots of silicon.)

 

What we would call living matter, it is now known, is made of stuff that can be found in the Table of Elements. Recall that these elements were discovered by people who dealt with so-called dead matter. For example carbon, which there’s a lot of in living things, is also what makes up diamonds, and the oxygen that so confused many chemists into thinking about phlogiston is just the pure form of the oxygen found in sugars and many other so-called organic molecules. What more, the rules that govern the interactions of the elements in flasks and test tubes are the same rules that hold inside cells and working organs — life is just chemistry. However, despite the fundamental similarity between dead matter and living matter, the differences are striking and important. The chemistry of life is mesmerizing; it’s complex and delicate — one might say that life is chemistry on acid. All this is made possible by the chemical properties of the element carbon, an element which can form the backbone of compounds as simple as ethanol and as complex as DNA. For this reason, we stuck with the original terminology ‘organic’. But because we know better, we now call the study of organic substances ‘organic chemistry’.

The atoms of elements (atoms are the basic units of a chemical element) can be promiscuous, but none are more promiscuous than the orgy-loving carbon atoms.

 

Organic substances are chemicals. The food we eat, the drugs we take, and we ourselves are composed of these chemicals. The processes that move our muscles and power our thoughts are chemical processes. It is therefore absurd to avoid chemicals and dishonest to claim that a pharmaceutical product, a product that has benefited from great advances in chemistry, contains “no chemicals”.

We continue to use the words organic and inorganic out of convenience because they signify concepts that are helpful in organizing our world. But a lot of important properties easily cross this divide of convenience. For example, many organic substances are poisonous or toxic, and a lot of inorganic ones, like water and table salt, are needed by living things. 

In agriculture, the word organic is often used to describe a certain group of food and farming methods that involve audit trails to ensure that certain standards are met in animal welfare, agricultural drug use, the application of biotechnology, corporate transparency (or more often the lack thereof), ecological impact, and many more. The problem with this use of the word organic is that it has little to do with the scientific meaning of the term. More often than not, people use the word ‘organic’ to invoke emotion without invoking much thought. True, some chemicals used in industrial farming might be harmful to the environment and the health of consumers, and it is best if we replace them with chemicals that work just as well and that have fewer negative side effects, but their being chemically organic or inorganic has little to do with it. The same can be said about their being natural or unnatural.

The USDA’s requirements for obtaining the label ‘organic’ vs common practices in products with the label ‘natural’. [Pic credit: stonyfield.com]

 

Natural Tendencies

When I’m in the supermarket, I am always amused to see so many products claiming to be “all natural” while being wrapped or contained in plastic and placed on a refrigerator in an air-conditioned, artificially-lit department store. But what about that seedless banana that looks so different from its wild counterpart? Does growing this product of generations of human cultivation without using pesticides and fertilizers make it “all natural”?

The word ‘natural’ is tricky because it means a handful of very different things. The word can be traced to the Latin ‘natura’, meaning birth in the sense of “having a certain status by birth”. It is natural, for example, for most people to want to eat. It is a tendency that people have since they were born. It is not natural, however, to want to listen to obscure music. Babies don’t have an inclination to visit pitchfork.com. Things like taste in music are what we describe as ‘cultural’, a word that can be traced to the Latin ‘cultura’, meaning ’tillage’. Something cultural is something that is cultivated. (Does this mean that anything cultivated, like nearly all plant products we currently consume, are not natural? In this sense, yes.)

The word ‘natural’, however, was for hundreds of years also used to refer to the collective phenomenon of the physical world outside the realm of human control. On the one hand was nature with its trees, animals, mountains, clouds, and rain, and on the other were humans with their cities, governments, philosophies, culture, and Stanley Kubrick films. A line was drawn between what was natural and what was ‘artificial’ (from the Latin ‘artificium’ meaning handicraft). Using this sense of the word ‘natural’, the predecessors of scientists called themselves ‘natural philosophers’ — people who love to reason about things that happen outside the human sphere.

The more these natural philosophers learned about nature, however, the more they noticed that the dichotomy between the natural world and the human world is at best arbitrary and at worst untenable. Not only are we made of the same stuff that make up things that were considered natural, we are governed by the very same “laws of nature”. Humans are part of nature, there is no way out of it. (After all, what is outside nature? That is, what is supernatural? Jensen Ackles’s handsomeness, maybe?)

As with the case of the word ‘organic’, we continue to use the words ‘nature’ and ‘natural’ because they are convenient shorthands. When we say a chemical “exists in nature”, we mean that it would exist even without humans manufacturing it. When we say a phenomenon is natural, we mean that it would happen even without humans around making it happen. As with ‘organic’, the main problem with ‘natural’ is not its uselessness, but the emotional undertones that people incorrectly attach to it. The word ‘natural’ is very often used as an assurance of superior quality. It is not. Parasites and pests are natural. Poisonous fruits and plant toxins are natural. Many diseases are natural. Heck, death is natural. Compare the above natural things with the following, all of which are artificial: lifespans that are relatively long and comfortable, low infant mortality rate, homes made cozy by electricity, medicine, anesthesia, distilled water, contact lenses, pet animals, YouTube, and Lena Headey’s blond hair in Game of Thrones. While one can argue that at least one of these is not good, the rest are great. Who can imagine life without modern medicine? Or YouTube?

Science and Stories

‘Natural’ does not mean better nor ‘artificial’ worse. ‘Organic’ does not mean beneficial nor ‘chemical’ harmful. These words have rich and complex histories, and we do these histories a great injustice by using the words that stand for them simplistically. Worse, by forgetting the stories behind these words, we not only forget all the amazing men and women who have labored to discover the workings of the world, we endanger ourselves by failing to grasp the nuances of their meaning.

Needless to say I did not tell all of these things to the little girl who asked me about chemicals. I told her a story that was more brief and less pretentious than the one above. She seemed to enjoyed it. At the end of the story, the little girl asked me one last question. She said, “So scientists are story tellers too?” “Yes,” I said, “Scientists are story tellers. But most of all, they are story makers.”

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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”:

10641276_538839496247085_2294766886721050280_n

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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