Category Archives: psychology

American Religiosity and Wellbeing.

I was perusing the Gallup website the other day and wandered across a very interesting four part post about a survey they conducted which correlated levels of religiosity with levels of wellbeing. (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4) In summary, people across all faiths have consistently higher scores for wellbeing in all areas tested when they are “very religious” and consistently lower scores when they are “nonreligious”.

It’s a little bit more complicated than just that though, because one of the faith categories was “No Religion/Atheist/Agnostic”. I think that just by being included as a category we atheists have unknowingly thrown a wrench in the works for anyone who would say this is proof that religion raises wellbeing.

Overall wellbeing was determined under six categories:

  • Life Evaluation
  • Emotional Health
  • Physical Health
  • Healthy Behavior
  • Work Environment
  • Basic Access
The three categories of religiosity were defined as such:
  • Very religious — Religion is an important part of daily life and church/synagogue/mosque attendance occurs at least every week or almost every week. This group constitutes 43.7% of the adult population.
  • Moderately religious — All others who do not fall into the very religious or nonreligious groups but who gave valid responses on both religion questions. This group constitutes 26.6% of the adult population.
  • Nonreligious — Religion is not an important part of daily life and church/synagogue/mosque attendance occurs seldom or never. This group constitutes 29.7% of the adult population.
(More on their methodology here)
First of all, to the 30% of people who identify themselves under faith but already have nothing to do with it, let me just invite you on over to the dark side.  Critical thinking and reason and evidence are a great way to determine your world view and personal morality. And we have a lot less rules and a lot more fun. Give us a chance, we’ll show you a good time. It’s like the old saying goes: ain’t no party like a party without omnipresent thought police threatening you with eternal torture. But I digress.

As might be expected the atheists fall at the bottom of the religiosity list. What first confused me was why we appear on it at all. Clearly someone who identifies themselves as atheist would by definition be 100% nonreligious, right? Well I was forgetting, as I tend to do, that not everyone is exactly like me. In fact there are about 6.5 billion people out there and all of them are different from me.

There is certainly a subgroup of atheists, quite a few actually, who acknowledge their own lack of belief but continue to go to church for various reasons. Most notably would be that they are not out of the closet to their family, but I’m sure there are other reasons one might still attend religious services. They may just enjoy the people, or agnostics may try to glean the good bits they can from services, or maybe like me they just have a masochistic obsession with religion. But for whatever reason, there are very religious atheists who got polled, and they scored higher on overall wellbeing than nonreligious atheists. (ugh, my head hurts when I say that)

Now we’re seeming a little more legit as an option, but even though we come in third for overall wellbeing on this list, the nonbelievers who attend church services regularly clearly have a significant increase in wellbeing. That’s not the kind of wellbeing margin a rational mind would choose to ignore out of convenience. Of course I would love for nontheists to top every list, I’m sporting a chubby just thinking about it. But we aren’t, so now it’s our responsibility to figure out why and to fix it.

Now as far as I can see, the argument that belief in religion leads to better wellbeing (as far as this study is concerned) can be dismissed because the wellbeing benefit of religious attendance is shared by those who lack similar belief, or outright oppose faith altogether. So if the belief isn’t the key to wellbeing, then it must be a social aspect. There must be some part of human kind that fundamentally needs community and acceptance and a group to belong to. I think that’s the thing atheism is lacking right now. We need a stronger community.

So many of the atheists I have met, including myself, are headstrong individualists. We prefer to stand on the outside, to define morality and fashion and cultural norms on our own without anyone else’s input, thank you very much. But the very thing that makes an atheist strong when atheism doesn’t exist as a movement (the ability to be fulfilled leaving a group and standing alone) could be the worst thing for an atheist movement that is taking it’s first steps. I think we should be pushing for greater group involvement.

I’m not saying make atheist churches, that’s not at all something I would enjoy. Screw the format, it’s not an appealing one. But maybe we should recognize that religion has us beat in one major area, and then steal their success right out from underneath them by doing it better. Because I know you guys. I know what nonbelievers are like, what we’re good at, and we are fucking fun. I’ve never experienced any of the Lord’s faithful who could hold a candle to the kind of no-reservations, let it all hang out kind of atmosphere we heathens embrace all day every day. Look at the gay rights movement and what do you think of? Flamboyant style, outrageous public parades, scandalous club scenes. We could do all of that so damn well. Basically, in order to save the world from god, we’re going to have to party like hell, and we have to invite people to that party. If a social connection is something that religion does well, then we need to start connecting socially more often, and do it better when we do get together.

And now for some good news.

Overall we’re ranked number two baby! That’s for the overall wellbeing index score for each religious grouping. So clearly the Jesus bump (as I have affectionately nicknamed it) doesn’t really bring everything into factor, it merely reflects one aspect of overall wellbeing. I take extra pleasure in pointing out that protestants are losing to both mormons and muslims.

Second is quite good considering atheism as a movement is in it’s infancy, giving our counterparts in many cases a head start of several thousand years. In addition, I think we deserve a little pat on the back for holding our spot near the front of the pack despite the fact that we are persistently one of the most hated groups in America, which would almost certainly negatively affect our scores in emotional health and work environment, and arguably all our scores through less tangible prejudice.

Overall I would say this poll should give atheists a positive outlook on the present and our future, but also a new challenge in improving our own culture through self examination. Arguments, additional points, and tangents are encouraged in the comments. The internet is a forum, not a pulpit.

The source of human morality: an email to my father.

Paul Wilson 23 December at 20:38
In your blog about the WBC protest you wrote;
“I personally don’t need a master to tell me what is right and wrong, and I think when people let go of their fear and look inside, they will realize that none of them need servility either. We can make the world better, but we aren’t going to get any help from an outside source, it’s up to us as human beings to fix it ourselves.”  Question: If you have no standard for your morality, then how do you define what is right and what is wrong?
What follows is my answer to my father, unedited. I had planned on looking into this further to form the best possible response to this question, but seeing as my blog is more a tool for me to articulate my thoughts in an orderly fashion, mostly for my own benefit, rather than an ultimate argument for my ideas, I think it is appropriate to address some of these issues as they present themselves. So here, only minutes after I sent the message, is my response at this time on the issue of human morality. All forms of support and criticism are welcomed and encouraged. Your scrutiny makes my view better when I accept it.

It’s interesting that you would ask me this particular question. It’s one that I’ve run into many times, especially lately. Actually I’m preparing to address it shortly as part of my next blog which is going to be a response to a catholic man with some rather extremist views on atheism. It was a question I had when I was first fully realizing my atheism, and I think it is a legitimate question, although it is somewhat insulting to atheists when you examine it.


The answers that I found when I looked into it are what pushed me to choose secular humanism as a moral platform for my life. You could say that in atheism (although certainly not with all atheists, because atheism is much like the left-wing in that it is more of a loose commonality of ideas held by widely different people, skepticism and the scientific method are the most widely accepted ideas comparable to your theology, and secular humanism is the most widely accepted idea comparable to your biblical morality.

In order to answer your question I first have to critique it. You ask how I define what is right and wrong if I have no standard for morality. This is what can be frustrating for atheists. The connection between religion and morality has been enforced, by the religious, for so long that they are culturally synonymous. But I believe that religion has very little positive impact on morality, and that morality is demonstrably a separate entity from religion. And the idea that people who don’t believe in a god are incapable of understanding morality is an understandable but annoying constant slap in the face for us heathens. When religion states that it is not only morally superior, but has a total monopoly on morality, I kind of roll my eyes and try not to be the arrogant atheist dick that constantly spouts off endless examples of immoral behavior being rewarded by or commanded by god in the bible. So it’s an easy question to answer, but it’s a difficult question to answer without coming off like a jerk, because in order to answer it I have to eventually point out why I believe that all religions are fundamentally unhealthy for not just human progress, but human wellbeing.

I think morality stems from two different things. First off it is a function of survival useful for most life and has been widely propagated among the species on earth through evolution. Second, it is one aspect of our higher cognitive function that gives us an advantage over less intelligent forms of life, and at the same time gives us a greater degree of responsibility for how we conduct ourselves given the ability to understand complicated and intangible concepts that affect the quality of life of our own species, as well as that of all other species on earth.

My first point is that morality is a survival tactic we received from evolution. We have the ability to empathize with other memberz of mankind, and their survival becomes a part of our survival. The most basic example of this in nature would be the tendency for almost all life to either sacrifice its own safety or its own food source for its offspring. Animals especially (as opposed to plants, fungus, or microscopic life) tend to be aggressively defensive of their young, putting themselves in much more dangerous situation than they would normally when a threat is imminent for their children. I think this is the root for our connection, and our behavior. At some deep subconscious level we instinctively understand that our survival is linked to every other member of our species. Humans are the most socially linked species on the planet, as far as I know, and so our social survival instinct would rationally be stronger than in other creatures. This survival link can be show even better when you examine other social or hive type creatures. Most species of cats and dogs work together in groups, and the group will work together for food and safety, and give up a portion of their own supplies to help feed other members of the group, say the sick and injured, or the young who can’t hunt for themselves. Hive creatures like ants or bees split the work up, so each member has its own purpose, but they all collectively reap the benefits. And so their own survival depends on the survival of their hive members, causing them to toil for the greater good and to sacrifice to protect the greater good.

And so for the most basic and fundamental aspects of morality, religion is totally unnecessary, since the ideas of not killing, stealing, or inflicting harm on members of one’s own social group, to the point of self-sacrifice for the well-being of others, are demonstrated by creatures far inferior to us. These attributes help us survive off of each other in a sort of symbiotic relationship, and are so simple and obvious to us that they don’t really need to be carved on stone tablets to be understood by all societies.

My second point was that we humans have a unique mental ability. We are by far the smartest creature in existence, at least as far as we know, and I would have to imagine that any other creature as smart as us would be capable of figuring out a way to communicate their intelligence. Anyway, that’s an irrelevant tangent, or at least a totally different debate about the possibility of higher beings. Our higher brain function allows us to grasp intangible concepts in a way that we don’t believe other life here can do. This is what gives us morally grey areas and allows us the ability to deal with them; the issues that can both harm and help life, such as how to define human rights, or how much speech should be allowed for whom, and what aspects of society should be mandated for the benefit of all, and which should be left to the individual.

This is where my idea (and I use the term “my” loosely, since most of the ideas I’m presenting here aren’t really my own, and the few that are have undoubtedly been argued better by someone else already) that religion is actually a hindrance to morality comes into play. If you assert that morality comes from your god and not from mankind and the laws that govern nature, then you will have a hard time excusing the teachings of the bible. And this is actually an issue that has bugged me from an early age, long, long before I rebelled and then eventually dismissed the idea of believing in a god. The bible has in it, especially in the old testament, but there are plenty of good examples of evil in the new as well, a plethora of commands to do things that we today consider extremely reprehensible. Abraham was made the father of all believers for his willingness to murder his own child when he heard a voice commanding him to. No normal Christian today would defend a parent who murdered their child and said God told them to do it. It’s right there in the ten commandments, thou shalt not murder. And yet Abraham inspired three completely different religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Not only did god reward Abraham for his willingness to murder his son, he also endorses and supports outright genocide and imperialistic warfare as a norm, in multiple situations. Believers in other faiths are routinely wiped off the face of the planet, and even for followers of gods teachings, fairly normal “wrongs” are responded to with outright bigotry and violence. For instance, a woman who was raped is commanded to either be stoned to death or to marry her rapist, as long as she was raped outside the city, if she were raped inside the city then she just has to die. The term sodomy even comes from the story of God wiping out an entire city of homosexuals, who he calls an abomination, a term poorly translated that breeds bigotry, but one supported by a story of merciless hatred. (I really don’t feel like looking up these verses, but I assure you they are in there, as I predict you will already know, and if you don’t think so I will gladly take the time to look up verses to prove my point)

And so I contend that most of what we consider to be moral, at least the moral parts I agree with, have stemmed from a secular viewpoint rather than a religious one. One common argument made by believers is that many aspects of moral improvement have been championed by religious people, and inspired by religious text. I do not argue that religious people have been instrumental in the positive changes we have made in society, especially in the last couple of hundred years, or that your bible may have inspired them to be better people. There are many passages in the bible that agree with secular humanism. Do unto others … Let him without sin cast the first stone … judgement is mine sayeth the lord; they all rehash the golden rule. Actually the first one is the golden rule now that I think about it, and I am not sure if that is in the bible or not. But it’s also the basis for all morality, which I already argued, and for example the first rule of Wiccan is, “Do what you will, so long as it harms no one.” My issue is that the rest of the bible isn’t so humanist. A famous example of morality being forwarded by a religious icon would be the civil rights movement and MLK Jr. Sure his faith was part of his passive campaign for equality, but the bible not only condones slavery, but sets out elaborate rules for how it should be done. Nowadays I doubt you can find many Christians who would admit slavery is a good idea, worthy of public support, but it’s still right there in your holy text. Likewise, few Christians would openly support a war with another religion without an excuse for it besides the opposing side being of a different faith. But again, plenty of examples of your god waging such jihads. And I don’t think I need to point out the obvious paradox of chauvinism versus female empowerment in your bible, since you and Mom have had, to my knowledge, some butting of heads with your church leaders in the past over what is and is not allowed for women by your bible.

So if we look at these things like civil rights, women’s equality, and the push for equal treatment of everyone, and you can point out examples of religious people, and the church in general, adjusting your morality to contradict your own divine scripture, then where have these ideas of right and wrong come from? I think that they are not natural to us. The simple forms of morality key to survival are natural to us, and this is what you have titled a conscience. But the grey areas of morality that we have worked out as a species are inarguably important, and the solutions to these problems, although sometimes accepted by the religious community, fly in the face of religious literature and teachings. So the question then becomes, where do we get and how do we define our system of morality. My answer, which is secular humanism, is that we should use our most successful techniques, those being skepticism, rational thought and reason, and the scientific method to constantly test our morality and determine where morality is working for our species and where it is hindering our progress. As we have seen with all areas of life with which we have applied the scientific process, I think morality will be best determined for our species when we put our greatest attribute in charge, that being our ability to think and use reason.

Unfortunately for your side of the argument, religion by its nature denies both reason and the scientific process. Any religion requires its believers to use faith in their lives, and faith by its very nature is the suspension of rational thought to accept an extraordinary claim without conclusive evidence, and often without using any logic at all. And when religion accepts faith, and claims that it’s scripture is the inspired word of god, it denies any application of the scientific method. Once you claim god said something, you aren’t allowed to challenge it until secular society comes along and forces you to adapt, and adaptation is the one evolutionary factor that is even stronger than our intelligence. By contrast, any theory or point of view on morality put forth by a secular humanist is open for rebuttal and debate by every other person on earth, and through this process of intellectual self inspection as a species, we can choose the strongest and most beneficial ideas for our future. I think any idea worth following should withstand scrutiny by the smartest minds available, and religion neither teaches this concept, nor demonstrates it, as evident by the extreme majority of scientists who are atheist.

One quote I hear a lot from the believers is that “atheists don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything.” This is exactly why we are offended and annoyed. The entire premise that we are incapable of, or have never considered morality is ridiculous. Most atheists find the ideas of religion and morality almost all-encompassingly important, and have spent years or possibly all their life learning and thinking about it. Study after study shows that atheists are on average, more educated on matters of religion and philosophy than are the people who profess to believe in ancient scrolls. So it’s a valid question to ask where we nonbelievers get our morality, but in asking it you shine a light on the overwhelming cultural bias towards freethinkers and skeptics and atheists, and at the same time highlight your own ignorance of alternative beliefs while requiring us to have a deep knowledge of your beliefs. I’m not offended by you asking me this Dad. It was one of the first questions I went after when I realized there was no god, and so I can empathize with never having considered any other option. In fact I am glad that I get to answer it for you instead of some other atheist who may be less friendly with their world views. I hope this gives you some food for thought as far as moral alternatives, and if you have any questions for me, and I hope you do, hit me up. Remember, no idea worth following should be above scrutiny, even mine and especially mine.

Later gator,
Josh.


The Cure

Writers note: This is a short story I wrote that started out as a zombie horror story, and ended up as more of a religious family feud. Once again everything I try to write ends up writing itself. I try to explore the seemingly endless clash between Christianity and science, an argument which has certainly taken place in my own home more than once. And I try to show how both sides can be wrong at the same time, and how mindlessly devoting yourself to something without considering the bigger picture almost always leads to corruption and evil. I guess you could say it is a metaphor for my own search for spirituality and an understanding of the world around me. (except I haven’t died … yet)

This is my first attempt at any kind of fiction writing, at least for many, many years, and certainly the first attempt I’ve ever made on this blog. So don’t expect too much out of it, and of course feel free to offer any advice or criticism you have about the story. But most of all don’t take it seriously, it’s just a story I wrote so I could get the damn thing out of my head and maybe stop thinking about it and get some sleep.

The sun’s fading golden light was filtering gently in the window as I stuck yet another needle into Benjamin’s arm. He didn’t even wince any more, so used to the jabs of pain he’d endured for the last five years. I put this blood sample in with the rest to be taken back to my lab and lit a cigarette.

“You know those things are going to kill you one day Pete. For heaven’s sake, what kind of doctor smokes anyway?” he said.

“Everyone needs a vice Ben,” I said, “even you. Besides I research cures, I don’t treat hypochondriac housewives and sick children who need FDA approved air. I smoke to calm down, and you believe in fairy tales to feel better about being sick.”

Benjamin raised an eyebrow, shooting me a look I had seen a thousand times before. “The Lord has a place for everyone in His kingdom brother, if you would just be willing to look past your proven facts and scientific limitations. Surely you can look at the world around you and see endless miracles that cannot be explained by science. He has a plan for everyone, and in my case He has given me the peace of understanding, that I will live forever in His glory. Nobody lives in this world forever Peter, but I believe that my life is meant to serve as an example of the love and forgiveness He can offer to even the worst sinners, and the most hopeless in life.”

“You aren’t hopeless Ben, you’re just sick. I’ve been working on your cure for a long time now, but it hasn’t been long enough, I need more time, so don’t go resigning to a death by AIDS. And you and I both know that you never deserved the punishment they gave you. You’ve paid a thousand times over for your alleged “crimes”. You aren’t even close to the worst sinner, hell, you’ve never even been a little bad. You’re practically a god damned saint. Can’t you see that the drug laws in our country are remnants of the control your own religion still has on our unjust law system? You never needed forgiveness, you needed a just world, which your faith can never and will never give you. Your only hope is through science and it’s ability to cure sickness, so for Christ’s sake, give me a break with the holy roller bull shit. Let’s just focus on what you’re here for Ben, how have you been feeling?”

“Despite my ongoing worry about your salvation Pete, I’ve been doing just fine. I keep telling you, the Lord will save me if it fits into his plan. But for now, he’s giving me the grace I need to get through this. I only feel the slightest bit sick from time to time, and even you tell me I have years left to live. Now let’s quit arguing and go get some pizza, unless you hate that too. I haven’t really seen you much since you got out of college. If I hadn’t grown up in the same room as you I wouldn’t even believe we’re brothers some times. Let’s catch up on everything, tell me about that DNA thing you were working on last time I saw you.”

We kept on talking as I cleaned up the office. Sometimes I felt bad for how our relationship had turned since his contraction of the virus. It seemed like a huge rift had grown between us, and I missed the close bond we had shared growing up as much as he did, even if I was less prone to admit it. All I wanted in life was to find a way, a real way to save him from his certain death. But no matter how hard I tried, or how much I focused on my goal, he seemed to be steadily letting go of his will to live. His insistence on believing in these foolish fantasies of God and an afterlife excused him in his mind from needing to hold on. And as much as I loved him and wanted him to be happy no matter what, I couldn’t help but feel a stab of anger and resentment that he would so willingly give up on my chance at saving him. That he would choose his invisible friend over his brother, me, who had dedicated my life to curing him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Two years had passed since the last time I had seen Benjamin. His fellow believers had convinced him he should put his trust in “the lord” and that placating me and my godless tampering with the holy plan was not only a sign of weak faith, but a defiance of his god. And in that time his fellow believers had become his followers. His faith had become his obsession. I had kept up with him though, tracking his moves in my spare time, and making do without his blood samples. I had to bend a few laws perhaps, but it would all be worth it for me, for everyone. I knew. I knew I could do this. This master plan. This ultimate breakthrough in medicine. I never wanted the accolades, or the money. I never wanted anything but to save him, that ungrateful, deluded brother of mine.

The time had flown past as I assume it does for all those who completely immerse themselves in their studies. Society had ceased to have a hold on me. What did I need them for anyway, those idiots. They were the ones who allowed all this to happen. They were the ones who put these ideas in his head, and tried at every turn to stop my work. My perfect work. If only they knew, but they couldn’t. I never let them in anymore.

Lindsay had been the last. She was a nice enough girl, but too foolish for my tastes. Too preoccupied with the unimportant things in the world. The fashion. The trends. All she seemed to want was to talk, to interact with no goal in her life. She had tried just like the rest to take me away from my studies. But it wasn’t her fault, she could never understand what I was accomplishing here. She could never fully grasp the full scale of what I was doing. So I had to make her leave. Too bad for her she was just like the others, she was a nice enough girl. She could never understand. I was so close, so close to doing what nobody thought was possible. Now it was just my work and me.

I could do it though, if I worked hard enough. Who needed a god when you could cure death itself. Who needed to cure one disease when you could cure them all. No, Lindsay was wrong about me. I have never lost sight of the good things in life. In fact, I’m the only one left who still sees what good can be done. Ben has his obsession and I have mine.

I am so close. So close. And that’s why I came here today. To this church Ben built. I kept up with him, I know what he’s been doing. He’s been busy too, but unfortunately he’s been busy trying to kill himself.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Hello Peter, I have missed you dearly. The Lord has put you on my heart these last few weeks, please come sit with me. Would you like to see our Temple?”

“No Ben, I would not like to see your temple, which by the way is clearly unhealthy for you. Much like the things I’ve been hearing from your doctor. You know you should be taking your pills. You know I had your doctor prescribe them so you could stay stable Ben. Your PTSD needs to be addressed, not to mention the fact that without those pills you don’t take the ones keeping you alive. You need this medicine! You have to see you aren’t thinking clearly anymore!”

“I’m sorry Pete, but it’s been a long time since I stopped listening to the doctors. And I say this with love, but you are the one who is not thinking clearly. The Lord has blessed me many times over, my cup runneth over Peter, but you dear brother have lost the way. My Children tell me that you hardly leave your lab. They tell me that you are unstable. I know you’ve been watching me, because I have been watching you too. I love you Peter, but your obsession with this disease is driving you mad. You need social interaction. You need the never ending love and understanding of our Lord. You need to let go of your fear for this mortal life and give yourself to the salvation of your eternal soul. Why can’t you see this? Can’t you see the love and brotherhood that I have built here with the Children of the Lord?”

“What I see is a bunch of whacked out psychos Ben. You talk about social interaction, but you’ve isolated yourself with these religious fanatics! How exactly did you persuade all these people to follow you anyway? These beliefs in the unprovable are getting ridiculous, even dangerous. It was bad enough when you just believed that some invisible Rabi was going to save you when you died, but now … Look at what your’ doing! Your so called “children” picket through town protesting every other belief. You terrorize people with your barrage of hate and bigotry. Look Ben, I can understand why you would hate homosexuals. I can only imagine what you went through … back then. But I don’t think …”

“YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING!” He screamed. His jaw clenched so hard I could see the pulse in his neck. Then slowly he looked around at his followers, seeing their reaction, and calmed himself down. “You could never understand what I went through, and you may never understand what it is like to find the forgiveness and salvation of our Lord. I love you Peter, but you’ve given your life to godlessness and evil. You spit in the face of the Almighty with you defiance of his plan for mankind. You not only defend the sinners who are clearly an abomination to the Lord, but you go so far as to set yourself up as a false God yourself. You can not understand what you have done, but we know all about it. Your unholy experiments, sacrificing animals and human organs to your God of science. You will see us again Peter, and you will have to come to judgment in front of the holy Lord for the sins you have committed in the name of science.”

I felt my pulse quicken as the anger built up inside of me. The tick. The damn tick I had tried so hard to get rid of was nipping again on the edge of my eye. This idiot, this damn fool couldn’t see the truth. I exploded, “There is no god! Everything you believe is lies Ben! Your so called god has done nothing for you but deceive you and turn you against your fellow man. He’s condemned you to death and offered no hope of healing. So fuck your god, and fuck your cult! I’m bigger than any god you’ve ever believed in. I’m creating life from death, I’m mastering the very principals of consciousness as you understand them. I can give you eternal life Ben! And only I can do it it. That’s why I came here to see you again.” I was breathing heavily, angry and passionate, trying to get through to him. “Give me two more weeks Ben, and I can save your life. I only have a few more problems to fix and I can save you forever, save everyone! Just two more weeks, and then I’ll show them all. They will all have to understand.”

But I saw then in Benjamin’s eyes that he had no interest in my cure. His eyes saw through me in his religious fog of faith and misconceptions. He seemed to stare at the wall behind me, pausing for a long moment before at last he spoke so quietly it was almost a whisper. “Judgment day is soon brother. Sooner than you think.” And he turned his back to me and walked slowly out of the room.

As he went I saw for the first time how feeble he looked. His body had become frail and he appeared to be no more than a skeleton, a walking corpse. How had I not seen it before. Ben was dieing. My brother was succumbing to his sickness, and I may have taken too long to save him. Ashamed and angry I watched him exit, holding back my sudden tears. I hardly noticed the men escorting me out of his church, my mind far away, already thinking of what I could do to speed up the research for the cure. I had no time to lose if I was going to defeat death and save Ben.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I was asleep at my computer when they broke into the lab. Twelve men wearing all black, unarmed, but too many to fight off. Before I had time to try and defend myself they had me cuffed to my chair, and pushed against a wall.

I felt the pain first in my face, and second in my body. The cuts stung as the cold water splashed me. I could tell I had been beaten, and as more water splashed me I heard Ben’s voice yelling at them to wake me up. The darkness turned to dim light, cleared slightly as I began to see what they were doing around me. It all happened so fast, too fast for me to process. They had my serum out, and had filled a number of syringes when I tried to tell them. I tried to explain that it wasn’t ready. It’s all so confusing now, getting hard to remember.

He kept saying something about judgment. His lord required judgment on the sinners who defied him. I was a sinner, all sinners. A land of heathens, deserving only of god’s wrath. But I tried to explain it to him. There was no eternal life serum. No cure yet. I hadn’t finished. He didn’t care.

I had worked out almost everything. I had made a marvel of science, a virus that altered human DNA. I made everything work better, every organ last longer, every muscle stronger, every reaction faster. I would have cured his AIDS, making the immune system hundreds, possibly thousands of time more resistant to disease. But I hadn’t finished. I made every instinct stronger. Every base instinct to hunt, to defend, to kill. I made the brain fire faster, so fast that it destroyed higher cognitive thought, burnt it out leaving only an animal mind behind. An animal mind in a body that healed instantly, that was faster and stronger than any normal human on earth. A predator that felt no pain or cold or heat, only hunger and rage. I hadn’t finished.

I tried to tell them it would kill them all, that it was contagious, but they didn’t care. Benjamin didn’t care. He wanted judgment. He got it.

None of them would listen. They all injected themselves. And soon, just as I had said, they attacked and infected me. their teeth ripping chunks from my bleeding body as I strained to fight back, strained to survive. They were screaming so loud. Maybe I was screaming. I remember choking on blood, biting back at the thrashing bodies around me, feeling a new strength coursing through my injured body. An impossible strength. At least that’s how I think it went.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It seemed like a lifetime had passed since I had a human thought. On second thought, maybe it was only a moment. The screams and growls were coming through in the distance, although the blows and movement still seemed very close, probably all around what was left of my body. I could feel the darkness closing in on my mind, numbing my body, erasing my feeling, my soul. I felt death taking me, even as my body revived itself. I could feel some dark fire kindling in the corners of my mind, unleashing itself. After a lifetime of arguing with benjamin I wondered which of our truths would await me on the other side of death. I could be right and there’s nothing. Or even worse, he could be right, and his god could be pissed. Although, something tells me God would get a sick laugh out of the irony in my final moments. Benjamin had worshiped a creator, and then twisted his creator into a perverse mockery of itself. Had turned it into a force for hate and suffering in the world. In the end I had become a divine creator myself, birthing a creature both terrible and perfect, subhuman and superhuman. And now it was destroying me and turning me into a force of suffering and evil. Both of us had been wrong. I wondered if there had even been a right path to choose in the first place. But it doesn’t matter now. None of it matters. The only thing that matters now is my hunger. The unending hunger.

Much Adieu About Nothing

I feel drained. Not in that fun masturbatory way either. I feel as if somehow I’m stuck in some boring rut and have lost all ability to be creative or offer any kind of insight into the world. For weeks I’ve been thinking about a blog post, and for weeks, I’ve come up with jack shit. What’s new in my life? Nothing, and nobody really enjoys update posts about people they don’t know anyway. What’s new with work? Not shit, we’re simultaneously slow and fast, and I still hate that cocksucker from New Jersey. Nothing to write about. The summer is here, but so what, that’s boring. Pollen season came and went, but writing about tree sperm is boring.

Blah

And on and on it goes, repeating in my head like some sick whirlpool of boredom. I feel like the narrator from Fight Club, or possibly Wanted. I have felt this way in almost every aspect of my life, not just this blog either. Do I want to make a chicken and egg bagel, toasted with garlic, cheddar, and bacon bits? Fuck it, I’ll just pour some cereal. In fact, fuck that, I’ll just skip a meal, I can always eat a mug of coffee tomorrow morning. Would I like to kill zombies on Wii? Nah, I’ll just sit it out and pet the dog. Should I go wild with some bondage and crazy machines, or keep it clean with some good old fashioned girl on girl fisting? Screw porn, I’ll just go to bed.

Can you see my predicament here? My dick never gets bored. NEVER! When I start feeling so complacent about every day life that my reproductive system gets bored, I could be in serious trouble. What next? My circulatory system? Could my asshole get tired and just stop taking craps one day? If I don’t do something quick I could wake up dead tomorrow, some mindless corpse wandering the planet, boring the living shit out of people like Ben Stein, or Frasier.

I’ve been in desperate need of some motivation defribulation. I need a fat rail of (metaphorical) coke to get my interest in life and my creativity back in the game drinking booze and sniffing while it plays spades. (or whatever you people do when you snort coke)

I tried watching movies to get me excited again. Trailer Park of Terror was basically awesome, as long as you like hookers, demolition derbies, electric guitar, and zombie gore, but there weren’t enough titties. Poor White Trash was funny as hell, and nailed the whole white trash atmosphere, but the characters were such terrible criminals that I was worried they would go to prison the entire movie long, and my vicarious paranoia for their safety from the pigs half way ruined the experience. Zombie Strippers was amazing, and had more tits than any non-pornographic movie I’ve ever seen, but I never really dug Jenna Jameson cause porn stars wear their make up in an annoying barbie-like fashion. (I like lots of make up, but not porn star make up) Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter was looking to be craptastic in the best kind of way, but the damn movie link crapped out on me fifteen minutes in. I haven’t been able to find One Eyed Monster, a comedy/horror flick about Ron Jeremy being struck by an alien comet, getting killed, and having his possessed cock jump off his body and run around killing everyone else in town. And believe it or not, despite having amazing titles, both Cheerleader Ninjas and Inbred Redneck Alien Abductions were terrible movies. How can you mess up a combination of cheerleaders and ninjas? That would almost take effort, the movie practically writes itself.

FUCK!

But then it happened. I was sitting at my computer, reading about other peoples crappy lives on Fmylife.com, and I happened to stumble across one of my old school web favorites.

DOCTOR McNINJA

DOCTOR McNINJA

There was a ton of new material for me to read, one page at a time, and I eagerly sucked it up, like he was spit and I was one of those weird tiny shop-vacs they stick in your mouth at the dentist. (side note: am I the only person who constantly plays with those things, opening and closing your mouth so it makes that weird sound like clearing a bong, and pulls your cheeks in?) I had forgotten how much I loved Dr. McNinja.

The story line basically goes that Dr. McNinja is an Irish-American ninja who lives in Maryland. His father is a ninja who’s only discerning feature is his mustache which through ninja tricks is able to grow directly through his mask. His brother is a wigger ninja, and his mother is the typical overbearing ninja matron, who tries to kill him every time he comes home to keep him on his feet. His sidekick, Gordito, is a young Mexican boy who grew a gigantic mustache when a social worker tried to take his fathers guns, after he died in a tragic trapeze accident where he was torn to pieces by a pack of coyotes, pumas, and wolves that were shot out of a canon. Gordito rides a raptor named Yoshi around shooting people, and watching Dr. McNinjas back. The Doc’s family is none too pleased that he somewhat deserted his ninja upbringing to become a doctor and save lives when he could be killing people full time, but never the less, he has a thriving practice assisted by his gorilla receptionist and butler.

After a few run in’s with Ronald McDonald’s evil franchise, and a cartel of drug dealers that were selling ninja drugs that gave everyday people ninja powers, and an ongoing war with the pirate race, the story arc pretty much settles into a kinder gentler McNinja love story. His love of killing everything. Benjamin Franklin’s clone gets tricked by Dracula into taking an eternal life serum, which backfires and accidentally awakens a plague of ninja zombies. (Ben Franklin II was buried in the same section of the cemetery as all the ninjas that the Doc had slain) So he has to track Count Dracula to his moon base, where he’s tricked into fighting Dracula’s robot double, in an effort to kill McNinja so he can sneak his way out of hell and teach Dracula about the secrets of the afterlife. But the Doc is sneakier than the Count, and after training for a few moments with Bruce Lee, he jumps from the moon back to Maryland, surfing robot Dracula, after his wigger ninja brother helps him reprogram the feet rockets installed in all robot doubles.

As the story line ends (at least for now) Dr. McNinja is back on earth working with to reverse Draculas spell which turned Ben Franklin II into one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and Gordito, whom the Doc has left to train with his family, had just helped them defeat a ghost wizard who shot flying sharks out of his wand.

I’m not sure my mind is capable of absorbing any more awesome than has already been presented at the mind-fuck buffet that is the Dr. McNinja webcomic, but I sure plan on staying tuned to see if it’s possible for anything to get any cooler than this already is.

Long story short, if you feel a little depressed and bored with life, you can slit your wrists, get baked on prescription meds, or read a webcomic about a ninja who rides rocket powered vampires from outer space to save Benjamin Franklin’s clone. Your choice.

I wanted this for my next tattoo for a long time until I found out it was from Dr. McNinja. Now I need it.

I wanted this for my next tattoo for a long time until I found out it was from Dr. McNinja. Now I need it.

For those about to rock (fire)

I shit you not, my job is full of completely insane people. I guess it shouldn’t really continue to surprise me after a year and a half working in the trailer industry, but still these lunatics find ways to amaze me with their own bizarre flavor of indecent behavior.

I can’t recall whether I told you all or not, but our last boss was fired under incredibly risque circumstances. He was audited by our corporate office, aka big brother, and during an eight hour day (which by the way was an amazing feat in and of itself seeing as how he only worked maybe twenty hours a week) he spent seven hours and fifteen minutes looking at porn on his computer. Well, to be fair he was only looking at porn for part of that time, the rest he spent surfing swinger sites, communicating with women he met online, and soliciting hookers on Craigslist.com. I’m assuming the other forty five minutes of the day were spent in our bathroom jacking off. Needless to say, he was fired.

The boss we had before that was a huge bitch. And I mean a literally huge bitch. And she was an angry bull dyke. And to make matters worse she was a UNC Tarheel fan, which is despicable. (Go State!) The very first time I met her she kicked me off the lot, in the middle of an interview with one of her subcontractors, because I didn’t have contractors liability insurance. She was infamous for flipping her wig over the tiniest flaw in a trailer, but expected everything to be fixed like new with a scrooge tight budget. She once tried to fire one of her employees for not picking up their feet enough when they walk. (although Joe is an annoying foot scuffling bastard, but still) She was so horrible to work with that the first question I asked when the company called me up to hire me was whether she was still working there, because I refuse to ever work for another boss like that ever again. She was fired for punching a hole through a wall in a trailer that was just finished because there was a small stain near the floor that nobody could get out.

From what I hear the boss before her was fired for embezzling from the company, and the one before that was fired for not bothering to show up ever cause they were rich and didn’t really give a fuck. So at this point we’ve had a pretty good record of corporate picking out complete douchebags to run our joint. Enter their latest Mona Lisa of management.

About eight months ago we got a new boss named Steve. Steve was fat as shit. He was arrogant and swaggered with that cock sure machismo synonymous with all those post college used-to-be-cool-jocks who still think they are cooler than your face, and your moms face, and probably never got the long series of merciless beatdowns they deserve which might have snapped them back into reality. He stunk. Literally, he smelled bad. His shit was so stanktastic that the other people in the office refused to let him crap there. So instead of using one of the other two bathrooms available in our shop, he would climb up in our stored trailers and drop a deuce or two in the toilets, leaving them there for us to deal with when we pulled them up to fix. He left corn filled landmines all over the lot behind trailers and bushes, marked for the wary passerby with spare toilet paper. He spat frequently with little or no regard to wind direction. His dog was ugly. He sucked at his job. Everything about him sucked. I thought we might have hit rock bottom with this one.

That was until the day his neighbor’s car got repossessed. For some reason he felt this was a sign from the powers that be that he should take half a day off, snag one of our salesmen, and go out shopping for guns. Now he was a Yankee, and I assume he was from a larger city. Not a country boy like most of the other guys who work there. So he had never owned a gun before in his life, nor had he shot one. His total fire arm experience was limited to what he had seen in movies, and this apparently did not bother him because he made absolutely no effort to learn anything about the legal aspects of shooting guns, or any of the finer points of gun safety.

Now we have shooting ranges around the area in which it is legal to practice shooting your shiny brand new shotguns. We have expansive stretches of woods and farmland in which one could safely and secretly test out your aim. In fact, there is a veritable plethora of options for the novice gun enthusiast. We are after all in dixie land. But rather than take advantage of any one of these convenient options, Steve decided it would be cooler to bring his guns to work. He came in on a Saturday, while a contractor was working, printed of a bunch of pictures of our district managers face, and headed to the back of our lot to climb up in a trailer we have marked for demolition.

This trailer is beyond repair, and we’ve been cannibalizing it for at least a year now. It’s worthless. But it is still the property of our company, not Steve. It is also adjacent to the next lot which has a 24/7 security guard that patrols it to guard their supplies. And it is also basically around the block from the Highway Patrol and Policeman’s training facilities, meaning that there are always a shit ton of pigs cruising around. The following pictures were taken by yours truly to show you what I couldn’t

One wall, with maybe thirty shells of birdshot stuck in it.

Fuck that wall.

Fuck that wall.

Blown out the other side of the wall.

Blown out the other side of the wall.

This would be the view from inside to out, aiming towards the property with the 24/7 guard on duty.

This would be the view from inside to out, aiming towards the property with the 24/7 guard on duty.

So long story short, my boss is gone and our branch is living in heaven, once again functioning how they should. Tell me how your boss got fired.

Deep thoughts from the darkside: individuality vs. conformity

This is going to be a heavier post than what I normally try, but I read some really interesting psychological articles recently, and they spawned a conversation with Emerald that really stuck in my head and got my rusty wheels turning, and I suspect that the incessant squeaking they’ve been causing will continue until I textually vomit out all my inquisitive mental energy upon you kindly e-friends. And by the way, it’s a really long argument about whether human individuality is good or bad, how conformity effects society, and how the two should balance out for the survival of mankind, so if psychology doesn’t interest you, go ahead and check out the funniest site ever, but if you like deep psychological musings, read through it, cause I would love some feedback.

It all started with an article I stumbled across about five psychological experiments in history that have revealed a dark and terrible side to human kind. A side that has long interested me and driven me to explore, mostly through my own musings, what causes people to be so persistently stupid and cruel. Topics like cowardice, sadism, and blind conformity. Especially blind conformity. That topic alone has absolutely fascinated and frustrated me since I was in elementary school, and forced to attend and conform to a dogmatic church festering in the abuse of “spiritual authority” which I now realize was much more of a cult than anything else.

My bitterness towards religion aside, or rather emphasized, this article caught my eye because it addressed many of the things I experienced while attending that church as a child. Stay with me, because it’s kind of a long thought process. It starts out with something called the Asch Conformity Experiment, in which extremely simple eye tests are performed on groups, All but one of the participants are told to lie about their answers as a unanimous front, and the reaction of the one real participant is then observed. When the participants are alone and opposed by the group, despite being obviously wrong, just over thirty percent of the subjects would go along with the group.

This means that one third of mankind is so pressured to conform by a vast majority that even when they are 100%, without a doubt wrong, they will conform.

Now there are various reasons for conformity, for the sake of this particular line of thought, we’ll stick to informational influence and normative influence. With normative influence people conform to a group to be liked or accepted by the group, while with informative influence they turn to the group for information, and conform their actions or opinions because the group convinces them they are correct.

Another series of tests was conducted with an eyewitness identification task, participants were shown a suspect individually and then in a lineup of other suspects. In the tests the participant groups were shown an individual, and then had to identify him together in a lineup. One test gave the participants only one second to look at the lineup, and another made it easier. In both tests two groups were formed, and one was fed a story that would make them believe their answers were very important for the legal field, and the other knew they were merely in a clinical trial.

When the task was made easy, those who most wanted to be accurate conformed less of the time (16%) than those who didn’t feel their answers were important (33%). This would suggest that for non core beliefs, apathy promotes conformity 33% of the time. However when the task was made more difficult, Those who wanted to be most accurate conformed 51% of the time as opposed to 35% in the other group. This would suggest (to me at least, this is where I start extrapolating my own ideas) that for core beliefs, and important issues that fall somewhere in the grey zone of life, for times when an issue matters to someone, but they aren’t sure exactly what to think themselves, that 51% will go along with the public opinion in their group. It suggests that when we are confronted with complicated moral issues, we are most succeptable to informational influence.

Now a group can be any size, whether it be a particular demograph, or a culture, a country, religion, or political group. It could just be your friends, or family. Let’s use politics for an example, because it’s easy to see in society. If a political group can popularize their cause or opinions, then half of everyone who believes their cause matters will go along with whatever the majority says, and one third of everyone who doesn’t think the cause matters will go along with the majority too. You can see how this could quickly spiral out of control, with a very small minority of core believers highly influencing what soon becomes the vast majority of the whole society, turning an issue that could easily be completely incorrect (coughglobalwarmingcough) into majority supported law, merely on the basis of fancy words and the highly submissive and easily influenced subconscious mind of what (in my assessment) boils down to the majority of human kind.

The next study that fascinated me was the Milgram Experiment, where the subject was told he was a “teacher” and that his job was to give a memory test to another subject, located in another room. The whole thing was fake and the other subject was an actor. The subject was told that whenever the other guy gave an incorrect answer, he was to press a button that would give him an electric shock. A guy in a lab coat was there to make sure he did it, but of course the other subject was not really being shocked. The subject was told that the shocks started at 45 volts and would increase with every wrong answer. Each time they pushed the button, the actor on the other end would scream and beg for the subject to stop. Eventually the actor would stop his screams and only silence would come from the other room, but the test subject would be told to continue his shocks.

Between 61 and 66 percent of subjects would continue the experiment until it reached the maximum voltage of 450. (by the way, for those of you not blue collar types who may go through life without getting shocked much, that’s a fuck ton more electricity than it takes to kill someone) In another test the training procedure was repeated with a puppy, and real shocks. 20 out of 26 people took it to the highest setting.

As funny as that mental image may be, the implication of the test was that when told by a person in a position of authority, in this case the scientist in the lab coat, almost 80 percent of people would gladly kill a puppy, and 61-65 percent would kill a stranger. Let that sink in for a second, 65 percent of people are willing to kill a stranger if “the man” tells them to. For a scientific test, not even a holy war. This explains a lot of the psychology behind the third Reich, and religious extremism. Not just terrorists all you Jerry Falwell loving, rock and roll hating, gay protesting, bible thumping bitches. I mean you and your stupid ass church-state aspirations too. Your pastor could be “the man” for you, and we’ll get to you pastor with my next experiment.

The last experiment was the Stanford Prison Experiment. In this students from Standford were set up with the role of prisoners and guards. The basement of a building was built into a prison, and the guards were instructed not to use physical violence, but to make sure they kept law and order in the prison. It was supposed to last two weeks.

After the first day the prisoners, in retaliation towards the guard highly abusive behavior, staged a revolt and barricaded themselves in their cells. In the following days the guards punished the prisoners by stripping them naked, denying them access to a bathroom, waking them at all hours for forced exercise, degrading verbal abuse, and humiliating physical mockery. After four days four of the prisoners had broken down from stress and had to be released. By the sixth day everyone involved in the experiment, including the professor who ran it, had completely lost contact with reality, and had assumed the roles they were playing. Other staff objected to the point that the experiment had to be shut down.

I found a half hour documentary on the tests, and I highly recommend that anyone interested in psychology, human morality, or the prison system watch it. The three videos on YouTube are located here:

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Anyway, these series of experiments into human behavior got me thinking. If a small majority can use the subconscious tendencies of the majority to gain power, (Asch conformity test) and the overwhelming majority of people will willingly obey those in power even when strongly in conflict with their own morals, (Milgram Experiment) and being in a position of power has such a corrupting and evil influence when put in the context of volatile or stressful situations, like prison, (Stanford Prison Experiment) or for the sake of argument, any similar situation where the people not in power are perceived as being dangerous, rebellious, or in some way in need of firm control, what does that say about mankind and our history, or our current social and political state of affairs? In test after test after test I ran across, most people were not only unwilling to stand up to tyranny and unethical behavior, but not even willing to help out their fellow man when it would take little or no effort. Are we inherently evil? Is all power on our planet simply decided by which extreme minority is capable of convincing the people too stupid or submissive to think for themselves? Can I even be sure that my own views are something I really believe in, or merely just me conforming to various beliefs held by other people?

Or is this dark, sometimes destructive behavior something more. What good thing could come from having a human species consisting of 90% sheep and 10% sheep dogs? After thinking this over and over, I am filled with a desire to behave out of my own individualism. I’ve always had anti establishment, and nonconformist tendencies, but at the same time I can look at my own life and observe conformity from my own beliefs in clear bold type throughout my life. I’ve worn stupid clothes to try and fit in. I’ve done things I don’t enjoy doing to make friends and impress women. I’ve even found myself occasionally swayed by clearly retarded political and religious philosophies. I won’t lie, I have been a sheep more often than I would like. And the numbers are not on my side. So what good thing could possibly come from most everyone living a life that isn’t theirs?

Well what if this conformist to individualist ratio we find in humans is part of a greater purpose? What if it is a subconscious self protection mechanism that has been instilled in mankind to benefit our species as a whole, a form of swarm intelligence that allows our species to survive?

Maybe if everyone was prone to think for themselves, and act on their own beliefs and desires all the time without a high level of conformity, then mankind would not be capable of forming functioning societies of any size. We could be thrown into anarchy, tribalism, or driven to extinction by unchecked vigilantism and violence. Perhaps the majority of people conform to other peoples values and ideas instinctively so that mankind is capable of forming cooperative groups: countries, companies, religions, maybe even ultimately a global union. Maybe on a primitive survival level it doesn’t matter if blind conformity leads to war, turmoil, and genocide. Maybe it’s better for our overall survival to have anyone in control of everyone, than to have everyone in control of no one.

So the question then comes, how important is individuality. I highly value mine, I’m assuming you value yours. Most everyone feels unique and to some degree wants to establish a firm self image and not be some worker drone. I would say that most of the really good things in history and human advancement, along with the really bad, have been born out of the individual thinkers. Those who had an idea and refused to listen to anyone else till it had become a reality. But if everyone was a free thinker, could society function? Without being a bunch of mindless followers, would we be spear chucking cave people? Screw that.

I don’t know. I have no answer for that question. I want to be individual, but at the same time I can respect some societies and organizations that are bigger than me and require my subordination to achieve something I alone could not. I don’t know if it’s better to be a follower and think you are individual, or be a freethinker and know everyone else is retarded.

I have a headache now. That was way, way, way too deep to be thinking on a Tuesday night. Now it’s your turn. If you actually made it all the way through that, what’s your take on conformity, authority, leadership, and the role we all play as an alleged individual? Does it matter? Am I completely wrong in my analysis? Are you individual despite what the numbers science has come up with say? Are you unknowingly just a tool for someone else? Hit me back, I want feedback.

Err ….. uh ….. informational influence? DAMMIT!!! Ignorance was bliss after all.