The atheist and the disappointed individual

You know, I’m kind of tired of the skepticism and atheist movements.

When I first left the fold of Christianity and began to discover things for myself, two and a half years ago now, skepticism was about being open-minded. To imagine there might be another way, to actively stop taking the first thing you heard as gospel truth. I saw wonder in it. I saw possibility.

But for so many, it’s just a new way to be close-minded, embrace a herd mentality, and to look down on others who don’t believe what you believe.

Not everyone. But a lot of people. And a lot of those people seem to strive to be as rude as possible while they do so.

The conclusion I come to is either I’m too humanist and ‘live and let live’ to be a good skeptic, or I’m too tired of people pulling the same stupid stunts no matter their philosophy to be a good humanist.

I believe in most of (if not all) the messages the atheist movement espouses, I’m just sick of the attitude that comes with it.

Australia and Marriage #2 – Threatening to Divorce

Continuing my mini series of thoughts on marriage in Australia, Nick (and Sarah) Jensen, a Christian couple, recently made headlines by threatening to divorce if Australia gains same-sex marriage.

Some people are pretty on board with this…

I’m sure we’ve all heard about these two by now, as it was several weeks ago. But in the flood of internet responses (most of which were either ‘this is disgusting’ or a more satirical ‘gay people threaten not to care’), I saw one key point discussed, but not (to my knowledge) elaborated on.

If the Jensens are telling the truth when they say that they intend to divorce legally but stay married ‘religiously’, they have revealed that their definition of marriage might currently align with the legal definition, but it is not based on that legal definition. They have removed any integrity they had when speaking out on the subject of ‘protecting’ legally binding marriage.

The Jensens have said they will continue to live as husband and wife and have children. I don’t think they’re just referring to becoming housemates and going through with IVF. They’re going to continue to sleep together. Most of the authors of the Bible agree when it comes to extramarital sex–don’t have it. Mainstream Christianity follows this position. As a member of the ACL, Nick Jensen certainly agrees with this (I would assume Sarah does as well).

If they want to divorce but live as husband and wife, they believe they are truly still married, regardless of Australian law. This means they don’t believe that secular marriage law really ‘counts’. Nick is even quoted in this article, saying that he thinks marriage is not ‘a human invention’.

So why should he even care about secular marriage law? Given this inconsistency of definitions, why should anyone listen to what these two people have to say about secular marriage law?

I’m not even trying to ask this as a way to attack them personally–it’s just their rationality that bewilders me. Bearing this in mind, it is astonishing that more people aren’t encouraging them to go through with it. It really is. Especially since Nick Jensen is very active within the Australian Christian Lobby (a fact that somehow didn’t make it to the ears of NT News).

In an ideal Australia, Sarah and Nick would get legally divorced, begin to live together in a legal de facto relationship that had the religious definition of marriage, and would leave the discussion of legal marriage to the people who actually want it, most of whom believe it is a human institution. Everyone’s finally happy. Or, if not, at least we’ve moved closer to a rational discussion about it. In an ideal Australia, that is.

Here, nobody’s talking about this. But here’s the thing: it’s an incredibly good idea to separate legal concepts of marriage and religious concepts of marriage. They’ve been tangled up for years, and anyone with a stake in either definition is quite upset. We would all be a lot happier if this changed. Even if the Religious Right was still upset about LGBT rights*, they would still be able to express their views** and marry in the way that they want to, while people in same-sex relationships would be able to express their love in a way that they wanted to, with the same legal benefits and protections that those of us in straight relationships do.

* which they would be

** just because I believe they’re wrong doesn’t mean they should forfeit the right to free speech

Australia & Marriage #1 – the US Supreme Court Decision and YOU!

I don’t intend to make my blog all about marriage rights etc, but it’s an interesting topic and I have thoughts on it. Hence, there will be a couple of posts about it in the next few days. If you’re not reading for this kind of analysis, wait me out. I won’t take long ūüôā

Nabbed from the New York Times. Photo by Doug Mills.

Nabbed from the New York Times. Photo by Doug Mills.

‚ÄúAustralians should be thankful that our High Court has not resorted to divisive undemocratic judicial activism on marriage.‚ÄĚ
– Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton

Those Australians who argue against the US Supreme Court’s holding in Obergefell v Hodges on the basis that unelected judges are moving into making legislature should be very careful when making those arguments.

In America this is applicable, as it is a fine line between interpretation and creating new legislation. In rulings to come it could tip either way. As a non-American it’s okay to make these comments too–when it’s about America.

In Australia, the courts’ interpretations are a majority of what give us an implied right to, for example, free speech. We do not have a bill of rights, or much constitutional support to fall back on, as Americans do, and new legislature can¬†override (and has) any implied right that it wishes to.

Whether it’s technically appropriate in a system that is based on separation of the judicial, executive, and legislative powers, “divisive undemocratic judicial activism” is probably the only thing we have going for us in the Australian system.

This stance can probably be partially explained by the fact that the above argument is one being made by the American Christian Right. The Christian Right in Australia takes many of its cues from the Christian Right in America (due to its higher population and larger output of speakers and video, audio and written material). Sometimes those cues lose their context.

How to Ditch Facebook (Kinda-Sorta)

Carrying on from the last post, which was about reasons to stay on Facebook, I encourage you to think of the following as a method for dumping Facebook after being in an LTR but still keeping its number in your phone in case you want a booty call. It’s a plan that may just work for me, but hopefully other people might get something out of it too. I’ve already put it into action as of the previous post, and once I’ve tested this out for a few weeks, I’ll report back with some results.

My original goal was to decrease my facebook usage, and I’ve also added a new one: to reduce the amount of grumpiness and stress that came with¬†my feed. There are a lot of things I just don’t want to see, and could do without hearing unless I go looking for them. For example, my fascist friends, my gun-nut friends, and my radical feminist friends. Make no mistake; I do¬†love them. There’s a reason I keep them around in person (it’s always good to have dissenting viewpoints otherwise you end up creating your own personal echo chamber)–but online is¬†different. Lately my feed hasn’t been a pleasant place to be.

There are two types of changes I’ve made: environmental changes, and altering my personal habits.

Changing My Facebook Environment

It’s well documented that human beings follow the path of least resistance, (i.e. unthinkingly following habits, rather than the effort of consciously making and adhering to a new decision) which means it’s much easier to tweak your environment to create a new path of least resistance. This is not my original¬†idea, but I can’t for the life of me¬†find out whose it was. It may be Jacob Lund Fisker of Early Retirement Extreme.

Here are the ways I changed my facebook environment.

  1. I went through all 246 of my Facebook friends and unfriended exactly 46¬†people whose faces I didn’t even recognise.
  2. I also unfollowed (but not unfriended) anyone who never seems to post anything I’m interested in–or who hates too much on life and other people for me to want to see anything from them. We’re still friends, I just won’t see anything they post unless I go to their walls. A more seamless way to do this is to visit Facebook as normal, but gradually start unfollowing anybody whose posts you aren’t interested in.
  3. I unliked any page I was no longer majorly interested in. The only ones left are a few atheist groups I need to keep in contact with for my volunteer position with Freethought Student Alliance, and a couple of non-grumpy feminist pages. These will keep getting curated to things I am only interested in at this moment. I can always like things again later.
  4. I changed my settings so that only I can post things on my wall.
  5. I created a list of ‘shit-fight friends’ – people who are racist, misogynistic, and so on, whom I don’t want to start a shit-fight in my comments when we’re talking about something serious. It’s happened before and I’m finally sick of it. These people can no longer see what I post, and therefore react to what I post, unless I specifically change my post settings to include them. Yes, it’s censoring. I used to not censor anything, but the amount of threats people throw at each other is quite frankly a little frightening. I’m over it.

This should automatically change both the amount of ‘spam’ I get in my feed and the frequency with which my feed gives me new updates. By changing the environment (fewer posts with greater quality), it gives me less opportunity to mentally engage with something not worth paying attention to.¬†It should also reduce the amount of time I spend interacting with (or moderating!) others on facebook.

Bear in mind, I’m not trying to say my friends aren’t worth interacting with. I simply think they’re more worth interacting with¬†off-line.

Tweaking My Facebook Habits

What I’ve done here¬†is try to notice patterns in my Facebook usage, and try to find ways I can alter these patterns or use them in a different way to make my life less Facebook-intensive. I’m going to call these ‘habit-busters’, because what is life without a little cheesiness now and then?

Habit-Buster 1: Alter the Urgency

There’s something I have noticed: when you don’t log on for a few days, there are a bazillion notifications waiting for you when you come back. If, however, you only respond to one or two, and leave the rest, then don’t log on for a couple more days, you have much fewer. Rinse and repeat a few more times, and you barely have any notifications left.

It makes sense–the fewer interactions you have on Facebook, the fewer things Facebook has to notify you about, thus limiting the stress of worrying about catching up on your 24 notifications and all the things you’re missing out on. (Yes, I stress about this. That’s why I’m de-Facebooking.)

Point is, if you make it no longer urgent, Facebook stops being urgent. A big part of my plan is to put this little phenomenon to work.

How does this translate into practice? Well, I’m not going to stop logging on for a few days (unless I feel like it). Instead:

  1. I am going to stop interacting where it isn’t necessary. Comments where I’m just trying to be cute or make everyone think I’m funny or otherwise draw attention to myself don’t need to happen (as much).
  2. I’m going to remove the link¬†to facebook from my homepage. When I open up a new tab, it’s always¬†there, just waiting for me to click on it if I get bored. If I don’t have it there, I have to physically type it out. That should give me enough time to reflect on what I’m actually doing.

The key here, of course, is being conscious of what I’m doing. Just writing all this out is, I think, enough to keep me conscious for a good while.¬†It does sound ridiculously simple, but without writing it down and trying to consciously adhere to this mindset, I have a feeling I’d be a lot less successful.

Habit-Buster 2: Bye-Bye Boyfriend

The second pattern I’ve seen is that I frequently log on or stay logged in for longer than I otherwise would to communicate with my boyfriend in a way that lets me type on a full keyboard. Nobody else, it’s just open for him–and it’s a huge distraction. I just had a conversation with him (over facebook of course) about finding a different way to instant message him that doesn’t require facebook or facebook chat.

We’ve settled on using Skype more (I will set my status to ‘away’ when I only have it open to talk to him–if I want to talk to other people I will set it to ‘online’). Skype can be a bit clunky to run in the background, but it is multi-platform. If it doesn’t work, we’ll work something else out or settle for texting, calling, and hanging out in person. I’m sure we can manage not being connected 24/7.

Habit-Buster¬†3: Facebook is¬†Not Your Mind’s Blackboard

The third pattern is that I log on to post random shit or deep thoughts that I could just blog about. So if there’s anything I desperately want to say, I’m going use my blog. I’ve been doing this more and more anyway, but I’m going to stop posting on my wall as much as I can–the blog will be the first port of call from now on. If it’s not worth blogging, it’s probably not worth saying. I don’t need to spill the entire contents of my head to my friends just because I have the technology to do it with.

If I find something I want to share, I will make sure it’s actually relevant to the people I know, not something political that will probably either fail to change their minds or serve as confirmation bias, thus achieving nothing.

While I plan to blog my thoughts rather than Facebook them, I haven’t actually planned on telling anyone I know that I write this blog until I know I want to. Yet posting things here despite the lack of readership still provides psychological release, so it’s probably more about getting it off my chest rather than people actually paying attention to me.

What to Do About Events

The one thing I don’t seem to be able to do is to get email notifications whenever somebody invites me to an event, which is annoying because I know that feature was there in 2011. Admittedly, that was like fifty iterations of Facebook ago. :/ If I can figure out how to do it, I’ll post an update.

You¬†can¬†export confirmed Facebook events to another calendar service, but since it doesn’t seem to notify you of upcoming events and events you’ve been invited to but haven’t responded to,¬†I’m not going to bother using a half-solution. I’ll just make sure to visit my events page regularly, since Facebook doesn’t always notify you of invitations, either.

As for planning my own events–I¬†did consider¬†using¬†another event creation site like Google calendar or something. If I did this, the link would¬†be sent through Facebook to those who use it, and by text/email to everyone I know who doesn’t (I don’t forget any of my four non-Facebooking friends). However, I’m comfortable still using Facebook and simply notifying my non-Facebook friends by other means anyway. I’ve done this in the past and it has worked a treat. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Wow, that was a long post. If you’re reading this and you have more to add, or you’ve done something similar and it worked, please comment below! As I said at the beginning of the post, I will update in a few weeks once I know how this¬†has worked for me.

4 Reasons to Stay on Facebook (at least a little bit)

Time sink, privacy issues, advertising fodder, overabundance of screentime, exhaustion with political causes in your feed: there are many reasons to quit Facebook, but is it practical to do it completely?

This is a question I’ve been wrestling with over the past few months, and I’m sure there are people reading this who have been doing the same thing. Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that while there are many reasons to leave, there are many reasons to stay on facebook, too.

  1. It’s a good way to stay in touch with friends you don’t see often, and to keep passive tabs on them–as long as that’s not all you do.
    Personally, my extrovert side loves catching up with people I haven’t seen in ages, but my introvert side cringes at the thought of trying to arrange twenty-five meetings within two weeks of notifying everybody I’ve deleted my Facebook account.
  2. Facebook is also a great way to contact people you vaguely know and haven’t seen in a while. For me, this is extremely handy, especially if I end up working in some kind of journalistic capacity and need to contact somebody I met that one time for a story. Also a great research tool so that when I talk to them about this story, I can actually engage in some kind of conversation with them on a topic I now know will interest them.
  3. It’s also a good way to address a group of friends en masse–tell them you’ll be out of town, or you’re still sick, or the old ‘I’ve lost my phone so please message me on fb instead’, or what have you. Not to mention it’s FANTASTIC for coordinating events. Email often just doesn’t cut it.
  4. Finally, if you’re just starting out in a working life in this day and age, it’s pretty hard not to have Facebook. It still comes in handy in those random little ways you couldn’t list, but would totally miss if they were gone.

Facebook deletion is possible but not always desirable, and I’d rather take the desirable option. Obviously the ultimate desirable option would be that we weren’t so dependent on just one company for our social networking, but that requires a complete change in… just… everything. But failing that, I want to keep my Facebook account.

However, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on there either. My next post will be about the ways I plan to reduce my time on Facebook by reducing my dependency on Facebook. Hopefully my attempts will help other people navigate their way through the quagmire that is digital decluttering.

Examining the cast of an anti-US, anti-terrorism video

Who’s the real terrorist?

The above video is interesting. What’s even more interesting is the way the ethnic features and genders of the different people are so carefully chosen to represent different points of view.

The male actors are slightly white, so that they don’t look too threatening and ‘foreign’ while espousing potentially threatening viewpoints. They don’t look too different from the assumed viewer, meaning they’re more accessible. The female actor looks slightly not white, so that she seems to be speaking for a more culturally diverse USA, yet is still white enough because She Represents The Viewer.

The viewer’s white, btw, everyone.

This same woman is in there to create the appearance of diversity, yet her role is only to speak out and then be shut down. Her role is created for us to dislike her and to enjoy her demise, as it were.

Now. Just try and imagine a Muslim woman making all those very well-informed points to the American woman, or even to an American man. It doesn’t feel quite right, does it? Like it would pack less of a punch. Like she’s just being bossy or argumentative for the sake of it, or irrationally defensive, rather than making deliberate points that she really knows about.

That feeling is a cultural reaction, and I’m willing to bet that’s why the filmmakers cast the genders they did in the roles that they did. They don’t want to challenge our views of gender; they’re too busy challenging something else. Or maybe they just didn’t think about it.

In summary, I don’t think the choices of gender were as consciously thought out as the racial choices here. Not that either paint a very pretty picture of our society or the people who filmed this.

If you’re offended by the above, it’s an accident, and I’m sorry. No offence is intended here; I call it how I see it because it’s easier to analyse things that way. I in no way support the idea that so-called foreign people are threatening, it’s just a notion that people subconsciously tap into, and has been used here for a certain effect: we are scientifically proven to place greater trust in people who look more like us. Maybe that’s why we often tend to look like the people we marry.

I’m Not Just Looking at Science’s Butt

Somebody posted this Cyanide and Happiness comic in an atheist/agnostic facebook group I frequent. I took objection.

science's buttIn my view, green shirt’s just being elitist. Let me explain with something I know lots about.

If Green Shirt enjoys, say, Pink Floyd and Beethoven, and LOVES music cause he thinks it’s the food of the soul, but has never done the tedious work of studying music theory, getting good at lyrics, chords, scales and inversions, and practiced his damn guitar/violin/timpani till he’s really worked up his fingertip calluses, does that mean he’s just looking at music’s butt? I’d guess not.

You can enjoy the results of something without dedicating all your time to it. You can still be in awe of the people who do study it, and make discoveries, or great music. You can still be in awe of the new discoveries made by scientists every day and have it strike something in you personally without actually being a scientist. A lot of that shit has kept everyone from dying at various points in our lives; who wouldn’t love science for that?

Finally, who is Green Shirt to make this complaint? Lavender Guy is the one who actually mentioned the cool fact in the first place. Green Shirt actually hasn’t shown his knowledge of anything, and is just trying to be obnoxious and dampen another’s enthusiasm unfairly, without adding anything to the conversation.

I rather dislike this particular comic. Partly because it’s unfair to people who like things, but mostly cause Green Shirt is a dick.

(I’ll admit my bias: if we’re not talking about music, I’m closer to Lavender Guy than ol’ Greenie.)