Hanging Out Here, On This Edge

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Ever hear of the Political Compass? It’s pretty cool. It basically suggests, based on good evidence, that simply left and right aren’t enough to really characterize political views. You have to include at least one more axis, and that is libertarian vs. authoritarian. It’s worth taking the test, just to see where you fall. I imagine many people I know will fall somewhere in the green left bottom square. But I’m quite the outlier. Ghandi and the Dalai Lama are less outliers than I am. And Obama is actually well up and right in the blue quadrant, kinda near Mitt Romney (that’s correct, we really didn’t get that much of a choice, now, did we? But we knew that.) Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate (president, 2012), is five little squares more authoritarian and 6 little squares more right than I am. (She’s kinda in the upper right of the lower left quadrant.) The governments of Scandanavia, the leftist poster children, are still in the blue quadrant.

So what does this mean? It means that I feel completely politically alienated, almost all of the time.

Let me give you a few examples:

Q. What can we do about police brutality?

A. Why are there police?

Q. What can we do about unemployment?

A. Why do people have to have jobs?

Q. Shouldn’t we tax the rich? 

A. Why are there people who hoard money?

Q. How’s that Obamacare doing?

A. Why are for-profit entities involved in healthcare?

Q. Should we regulate against GMOs?

A. Why should for-profit entities be growing our  food?

Q. Should there be a carbon tax to combat climate change?

A. What is all this shit we’re doing for, anyway? What’s the point?

Every single political question of our time leads me not to an answer or my opinion, but to another question about our fundamental assumptions about how to live our lives. Of course, if you constrain me, and force me to answer questions based on current assumptions, then I’m your standard, garden variety far-leftist. But I don’t like being constrained in that way. And I also am fully and completely aware of how I am constrained into living a life that isn’t actually the life I’d want to be able to lead, and some things I do go against my own ideals.

There’s another part of being alienated, for me. It has to do with my own identity. Because I’m black, queer, genderqueer and a woman in our white, heteropatriarchal society, I live on the edge of danger, of marginalization, of silences, of struggle. I don’t generally see myself reflected in society, and when I do, it’s usually distorted. And I also don’t always see myself reflected in queer of color spaces, either.  Often it’s because I don’t live an urban life. Sometimes it’s because I’m too much of a geek. Sometimes it’s because I’m too much of a weird spiritual mutt. Sometimes it’s because I just can’t sustain anger and outrage.

You might say, especially now, how can I say that? Oh, I’ve been angry and outraged. But I can’t hold onto the anger for more than a short while (like less than an hour). It’s not healthy for me. Feeling it is important, but so is letting it go. I have to let it go, or it will eat at my soul like battery acid. I don’t want an acid-eaten soul.

So here I sit, on this edge. This socialist/libertarian/queer/geeky/rural/mutt-spiritual/not-so-angry edge. And  this is  why I write novels. At least I can use this alienation to good ends.

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Religion vs. Atheism

I read an interesting article the other day, in Salon. It includes quotations from Lawrence Krauss, suggesting that religion could be gone in a generation. One salient quote:

Change is always one generation away. So if we can plant the seeds of doubt in our children, religion will go away in a generation, or at least largely go away. And that’s what I think we have an obligation to do.

There is so much wrong in this one sentence, I can’t even… To start, change is sometimes a generation (or shorter) away, and often not. But what’s more important, I think, is the attitude that many atheists have (some, most? I don’t know how common this is, but it certainly is common among the “new atheists”) about religion. To them, religion at worst are these big, fundamentalist systems that deny science, and do horrible things in the name of God, and at best are some stupid fairy tales that people use as a crutch to give their lives meaning.

I want to start with the flaw in the fundamental premise that many (most?) atheists espouse: atheism as the rational, logical conclusion based on what we’ve learned about science. I have nothing against atheists, just like I have nothing against anyone who believes in anything else. That’s the key. Atheism is a belief, just like any other. The scientific method doesn’t have in its toolkit a way to investigate the divine (especially since there are gazillions of ways that people define  it.) The only logical, rational conclusion based on science is “who the frakk knows?” Anything else is belief.

Second, what is “religion” anyway? As you see above, there are a couple of definitions that apply here. First “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” It’s funny, by this definition, I’m not actually  religious (I take issue with the phrase “controlling power”.) The second is “a particular system of faith and worship.” Ah, that’s pretty broad. I think in modern life, people who consider themselves religious are those that are part of big systems – the Catholic church, some form of protestantism, islam, etc. The rest, if they choose, often call themselves “spiritual” which has probably as many meanings as there are people who call themselves that. But it’s really important to say that not all religions deny scientific truth. Not all religions tell you exactly what to believe. Not all religions do horrible things in the name of their god/s. (And, of course, the “new atheists” hardly mention Stalin, Mao, and the Kmer Rouge.)

One of the things about being human is that it’s pretty frakking mysterious. How did we get here? Why are we here? What’s the point? What meaning does my life have? These are questions that can’t really be answered by science, probably because we as human beings aren’t really equipped to understand them (that’s my belief.) People will always be searching for an answer.

And what is planting “seeds of doubt” in children? Teaching them science? Again, the assumption is that all of the children of religious parents deny science. Nothing is further from the truth. Certainly, in some parts of the country, there are plenty of parents whose religion denies science (in odd ways: they will get a vaccination, but they believe the Earth is 6,000 years old. Go figure.)

For me, the fundamental issue with this article and the writings and attitudes of current “new atheists” is that it’s not a conversation among perceived equals. They think they are better/smarter/whatever than people who are “religious.” But in fact, there are plenty of religious people who are smart, open-minded, and fully and completely accept the findings of science. Just talk to some Jesuits or Sufis, would you? Or talk to me. 🙂

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