Thursday, July 10, 2014

Twenty-nine years ago today I started basic training as an artilleryman in the United States Army. That experience took me through twenty three years, eleven countries, two wars, three wives, five presidents, one alcohol addiction, and approximately three hundred and thirty-five thousand eight hundred cigarettes.
I am happy that I was able to expand my worldview past that of my immediate surroundings, so that I learned to see the similarities in people instead of the differences. There is no 'us' and 'them'. There is only 'us'.
I am happy that I eventually learned that violence solved nothing, and I am especially happy that I have, mostly, learned to forgive myself for the destruction I wrought upon the earth.
I am happy that I still have a good relationship with my son, though I was absent through so much of his youth. I am hopeful I can repair my relationship with my daughter. I love them both far more than I ever showed and much more than I will ever be able to express.
I am happy that my brother gave me a kick in the ass when it looked like I was going to wallow in grief and despair for the rest of my life. I am happier, still, that he showed an incredible amount of empathy (of which I was previously and completely unaware he possessed) during said ass kicking.
I am happy that his ass-kicking spurred a renewed interest in maximizing the time I have on earth, and prompted me to go to college. I am happy I chose computer engineering, even though it kicked my ass harder than a drill sergeant with PMS and nicotine withdrawal.
I am happy that choice of majors brought me to Huntsville, Alabama, the Silicone Valley of the Southeast. I am happy that I have found a vocation that satisfies my love of learning and puzzles and that I have such a great bunch of people with whom to work, and such a marvelous place at which to do so.
I am happy that that trip brought me to my best friend. I am deliriously happy she accepted my offer of coffee and cake one afternoon, and has shared all the days with me from then until forever.
I am most happy that I am still here, today, to have enjoyed this sunrise, and that I have learned that this is really all I need to be happy: just the chance to see another sunrise.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

On Morality

I don't like it when people ask me what my religion is, because I know they will not like my answer.

It's not that I don't believe in the possibility of a Higher Power.  I do.  Many things are possible.

It's not that I don't believe in your particular concept of what 'God' is.  I don't.  If there is a Higher Power, it is unlikely that your particular version is correct but EVERYONE else's is wrong.

It's not that I don't believe in anything.  I do. It's just that I don't think it matters much.

I don't worry about what will happen to me after I die, I worry about what I will do before I die.
I don't try to be a good person to get into Heaven or to avoid Hell.
I don't try to be a good person to receive some blessing or escape some catastrophe.
I don't believe in karma.  I don't believe that I will supernaturally be rewarded for being good nor punished for being bad.

Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.  It is not the result of trials or temptations or anything else.  It is because, though the Universe is incredibly large, it follows patterns that make the Universe predictable, but only if we know all the starting conditions.  Our ignorance of all the facts does not make coincidences, blessings, curses, or any other supernatural intervention a real thing.  It is not the hand of some God that spares one family from death in a natural disaster but took the lives of countless others.  It is not because those who were spared have some special 'purpose' and, really, anyone is kind of a dick who says there is.  They implicitly say that all those who died were singled out for destruction because they were not worthy of continued oxygen usage.

I try to be a good person so that I can make the world a better place before I leave.  Being a good person allows me to like myself, because I do not like people who do not try to be good.  I am always with me and it is a living hell to be stuck with someone you neither like nor respect.  That is enough reason for me, and the reason morality does not need a concept of Eternity to be important.  It is why I get out of bed in the morning, and it is enough.

If I die and just stop existing, I will be OK with that.  I will have made the most of this time as I had the wisdom to make, and I hope I at least enjoyed some of the time I wasted.

What matters is NOW.  What matters is how I use my life, not what some book says what will happen after I die.  Give me some non-anecdotal evidence, and I might start caring.  Currently, all the evidence points away from religion.  Science provides facts that are repeatable, predictable, and that can be built upon to learn more facts.  Religion is filled with contradictions that excuse themselves by claiming I cannot understand or asking me where I was at the creation of the universe.  To make the most of my time in this life, in order to best understand this marvelous Universe in which we find ourselves, I will use science.

So don't ask me about my religion, and especially do not assume I share yours simply because I share your geographic location.  Do you really think you would believe as you do if you were born in Palestine or Saudi Arabia?  Your choices are based on your worldview which was beginning to form long before you realized you had autonomy.  If you have never gone back and seriously questioned all those things which you just assume to be true because you have thought them all your life, you are wasting your brain power.

I'll try to be a good person for my own reasons, and that is all I ask of anyone else.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

On the Absurdity of Life

Assertion:  Life is absurd.
Abert Camus considered Sisyphus to be a great example of the absurd life

One might like to think there is cosmic justice, or karma, or an afterlife in which one is either punished or rewarded based on what one believes (and, one would imagine, who one persecutes) in this life. It is a comforting thought and, perhaps, it is true. But I don't think so and I have seen no evidence to prove it.

It is comforting because of a tendancy towards arrogance which makes humans want to think that, since we are here, we must be here for a purpose. If there is a purpose, then we can succeed or fail and, if we can succeed or fail, then there must be some reward or punishment for doing so.

A greater string of non sequitors has never been written, though.

There is nothing in the Universe that suggests a purpose for anything. Cause, yes. Purpose, no. The premise that I have a purpose does not follow from the fact that I am here. As for whether I am here is a fact or not, I shall side with Descarte. I Am. Simply. That is the starting point of all our knowledge and without making an enormous and blind leap of faith we cannot get from here to the assertion that there is a purpose for my being here.

Cause galore, of course, but no purpose.

It is comforting because bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people and it is nice to think that things will all even out in the end. Behave in accordance with whatever religion or creed in which you were indoctrinated and you will be rewarded or be punished for eternity, or at least with a future lifetime as a lesser life form.

But if I try to be good because I choose to be, and someone else tries to be good for hope of reward or threat of punishment who, then, is the moral one? And if there is no ultimate reward or punishment, then what is the basis and reason for morality?

Cogito ergo sum. That must be the start.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Where is the Justice?

I used to wonder what caused a woman to stay in an abusive relationship but then I came to understand the why: erosion.  I think that if some of the things that happened later in the relationship had happened early on then she would have had enough self esteem and personal energy to extricate herself.  But the really bad stuff doesn't happen early on.  It starts small and when she forgives him, against her better judgement, she loses a bit of the energy it takes to escape the gravity of the relationship.  She might make it into orbit but eventually falls back in.  As time goes on, and the injustice in the relationship increases, she becomes more and more powerless to escape.  The gravity of her situation crushes her.
In my adulthood I have seen an erosion of the justice system.  When Rodney King was beat and the police subsequently found not guilty of brutality I hung my head in shame.  I understand that he fled from the police.  I understand he may have endangered civilians.  But the police clearly acted with anger and, when you are beaten with anger, you are beaten far more than is necessary.
I was living in Alabama at the time of the trial.  I was only recently made aware that there was still active racism in America.  Growing up in the mid-west, I never noticed it.  I thought the racial sensitivity training we underwent periodically in the Army was a throwback from the fifties and sixties not unlike the haircuts and prohibition on blue jeans off post.  But what I saw in some areas made it clear that there was still a great deal of racial tension and bigotry alive and well.
Perhaps the ruling in the Rodney King case was a result of racism.  Perhaps letting OJ Simpson off for murder was a misguided attempt at racial atonement.  But, gun to my head, I'd say it was the first indicator at how bad the judicial disparity in this country would get.  OJ Simpson was both famous and wealthy, and he got away with murder.
Since that time I have watched a relentless parade of examples of how money and fame will let you get away with everything from drunk driving to possession of heroin to child molestation to destroying the financial security of America.  I have seen little to no justice.
Jerry Sandusky raped kids, and was caught by his staff.  But the staff just went to their bosses to find out what to do, not the police.  And the people at Penn state chose to cover it up, and they said nothing, because he was helping them win football games.  Just like the Catholic Church covering up the molestation of countless choir boys, their actions were not just sinful, they were also felonies.
But where are the criminal trials of the Catholic Church or the faculty at Penn State?  Unlikely to happen, based on history.  It has been over four years since the collapse of our economy and, aside from making them apologize to Congress for breaking our laws, little has been done to those who perpetrated that collapse.  Not that one can really compare the two primary acts in themselves, but the secondary acts are both example of many people knowing something wrong was happening and actively ignoring it.  They are both examples of people placing their own welfare far and away above the welfare of others.
I don't think people even expect justice any more, any more than they expect Congress to accomplish anything.  Our expectations have eroded to the point where we have almost lost faith in our ability to peacefully make changes to the way justice is served.  We have been captured in the gravity of the black hole of a corrupt and stratified system that displays such disparity that it seems impossible to change because we have to use that system to change it.
How much does must a woman endure before she breaks free from an unhealthy relationship?  How much must America endure before She says, "Enough!"