The Sexual Revolution and History

Well, I'll be damned!  It's nigh time to write a new blog post.  And all I can think of at the moment for a post is to advance a history of the sexual revolution that  is so improbable, so wild, so remarkably inane that only my long term readers will absolutely expect it of me.   Worse, I aim to write about the sexual revolution only as a way of introducing a shocking series of questions at the end of this post.  And this -- all this! -- is my way of repaying those three people who kindly emailed me last week with their warm encouragement for me to start blogging again.  It might seem to you arguable that the world "shameless" doesn't even begin to describe me.

So, please allow me then to now set the stage for my revelations about the sexual revolution: I went through both middle-school and high-school while the revolution was gradually insinuating its way into my life and the life of my classmates.  So it seems to me quite possible that my take on it was heavily colored by the natural changes in behavior and expectations that nearly everyone goes through during those years.  Basically, I and my classmates began those years with a very reserved attitude towards sex  and ended them with a much more open attitude.   And I think we would have done that to some large extent even without the sexual revolution seeping into our consciousness, and doing much to shape our behavior and expectations.

Now at this point, I could list all the various ways in which the sexual revolution was made felt in my hometown.  But the thought occurs to me that all of those ways have been dealt with at length by competent sociologists and historians.  Because, even though the revolution came a bit later to my hometown than it did to the East and West coasts of America, it had much the same effects.  Or so far as I can see, it did.  So, what I am going to do instead is propose the most ridiculous, the most ludicrous, the most implausible way in which the sexual revolution ever arrived anywhere.  That's to say, it arrived in my hometown as a hotly contested debate over whether middle-school girls could decide for themselves whether to wear pants to school.

It might seem strange today that there was ever an age in which girls were prohibited from wearing pants to school, but that's the world I grew up in.  One day, though, a girl named Debbie decided to show up for classes in pants.  They were slacks, rather than jeans, but soon afterwards -- within a week or two -- a handful of my female classmates were also wearing slacks.  Perhaps five or six girls.  And that started a lively debate that took place over a period of a few days.  The principal first allowed them.   Then he changed his mind and disallowed them.  Then he changed his mind one more time and made slacks -- but not jeans -- allowable girl's wear.

Before we dismiss the significance of this incident for what it must certainly appear to be -- that is, for the typically wild speculations of an admittedly lunatic blogger -- consider the messages that the prohibition against girl's wearing pants might have been meant to send.  In the first place, the prohibition seems to have been intended to impose gender differences on the sexes.  Boys wear pants, girls wear dresses.

But it is also at least arguable that it had the effect -- and perhaps was even intended to have the effect -- of sending the message that how a girl expressed herself through her clothing was subject to societal approval.  Put negatively, she had no absolute right to express herself in other than socially approved ways, even if those ways harmed no one but herself.

Now, perhaps oddly enough, that latter issue -- whether a girl had a right to behave as she saw fit when her behavior harmed no one but herself -- was core to the still yet-to-come issue of sexual liberation.  In other words, the subject of the debate would change from pants to sex, but that one issue would be core to both.

There were a couple more battles over girl's dress.   First, a few months after the battle over girl's slacks came the battle over girl's jeans.  The girls won that one.  Then, a year or two later came the battle over mini-skirts.  In the end, a minimum permitted length was established on the grounds that anything shorter than that distracted the boys from their schoolwork.  So, you could say the girls only half-won that battle.  But if you read between the lines, they actually won a complete victory, for they had succeeded in establishing that they had a right to wear pretty much whatever they wanted to wear so long as it caused no harm to anyone else.   And that, at least in my hometown, was how sexual liberation was argued for:  If it causes no one else any harm, what right has anyone to say Jane and Joe can't mess around with each other?

To be clear, that right was an ideal before the pants war.  So far as I know, Americans have always held to the notion that you are free to do as you please so long as it harms no one else.  At least, we've held to that notion in some situations.  And perhaps a good chunk of American history is the expansion of that notion to more and more situations.  But the principle's application to the girl's dress code at that place and time was perhaps locally significant for this reason: It taught myself and at least some of my classmates the lesson that the principle came first, and that it negated any rule in conflict with it.  So, while even I am not crazy enough to say the sexual revolution everywhere came about because of a challenge to girl's dress codes, I would quite cheerfully, and quite annoyingly, argue that in one particular place and time, the way to the sexual revolution was most likely paved by a change in school dress codes.

But would the sexual revolution have come anyway?  I'm sure it would have.  It was just made easier because of the challenges.

But imagine if all of that is actually true!  Imagine that the sexual revolution in one small Midwestern community was aided and abetted by a challenge to girl's dress codes.  What a nightmare that could be for sociologists and social historians. Indeed, a nightmare easily the equal to reading one of my blog posts.

Consider the implications.  It seems to me that our best model of history follows this pattern: Some movement, technology, idea, cultural development, or social change starts at a certain time and place, say point w, and then spreads outward from that point to points x, y, and z.  But, as a refinement, the thing alters as it spreads.  That is, it arrives at point x, for instance, somewhat different than it began at point w.  And, perhaps, it is even adopted at point x for reasons that are in some respects crucially different from the reasons for which it was adopted at its point of origin.  I am under the impression that good histories take all of the above into account -- and more.  But, if so, what might that imply?

For instance, is the whole truth of such things as social movements, technological spreads, idea propagation, and so forth even possible?  Would not the whole truth be so extensive, so detailed, so various as to be incomprehensible?  And if so, what is the duty of an historian or social scientist towards giving an account of such things?  Are they obliged to tell as much of the truth as they can, even if amounts to detailing every last mushroom in the forest?  Or are they only obliged to tell what they deem is of greatest significance or relevance?  But if so, significant to what?  Relevant to what?

Although I have never heard this said before, I am sure someone has said this before me: Promises to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth are in many cases impossible to realize idealism.  Here, then, is a modest proposal:  The most useful histories are not those which merely reveal truths, but those histories which reveal the truths that may be most useful in predicting the future.  Thus, a history that points to the Pill as a major cause of the sexual revolution would most likely be far more useful than a history that pointed to a challenge to the girl's dress code as having once aided and abetted a local coming of the sexual revolution, albeit both histories might be equally accurate.

But what do you think?  In what ways must a history be truthful to be useful?  In what ways, if any, can a history be false and yet still useful in predicting the future?  Last, is its usefulness in predicting the future the most important value of a history?

A Most Likely Misguided Guide to McElwee's Misguided Take on the New Atheists, Religion, and Science

Do the most prominent New Atheists really believe that atheism will bring about a world utopia?  Sean McElwee seems to think they do.  In a piece published today in Salon.com, McElwee writes:
"The fundamental error in the 'New Atheist' dogma is one of logic. The basic premise is something like this:
1. The cause of all human suffering is irrationality
2. Religion is irrational
3. Religion is the cause of all human suffering"
McElwee's assertion interests me, although I am not well enough read in Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennet, and Harris -- the most prominent New Atheists -- to say whether his assertion is substantially true.

I have, however, read enough comments from much less prominent New Atheists -- average joes, as it were -- to know that quite a few do indeed seem to blame religion for most or all human suffering.  And I can agree with McElwee that the notion is ludicrous.

Even if all religions disappeared tomorrow, I am convinced that our impressive species of stick-chucking super-ape would find the means and justifications to inflict suffering upon each other.  We just happen to be that kind of animal.  It's our tragedy.

But beyond agreeing with McElwee in that limited way, I find myself in disagreement with much else that he says in his piece.

To be sure, McElwee strikes me as a decent, empathetic, and intelligent person who is probably not given to any more follies than most of us.  Yet, as I was reading his article, I was taken aback by his notion of religion and its role in human affairs.  His notion struck me as simplistic.  And I wondered whether that was because McElwee really sees religion and its role in such simplistic terms, or rather because he felt a more nuanced view of those things would take up too much space for a short Salon post.

Yet, regardless of the reason, the view of religion and its role that he presents is indeed simplistic.  At least to my admittedly twisted way of thinking.

McElwee seems to believe that religion will never go away because humans will always rely on religion for meaning and purpose in their lives.  And to make that notion work, he defines as "secular religions" such alternatives to religion proper as philosophy and literature.  So, religion, philosophy, and literature will never go away primarily because humans need them to provide meaning and purpose.  And he contrasts the crucial role of these "religions" with science, which will never be able to tell folks the meaning and purpose of their lives.

In that context, McElwee quotes Martin Luther King, jr:
“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.”
 All of that sounds good, but it strikes me as a little bit simplistic.

For instance: In the years since King spoke those words, there has arisen two new lines of scientific investigation.  The first is an investigation into the psychological and evolutionary origins of moralities.  The second is an investigation into the psychological and evolutionary origins of religions.

The first investigation seems to provide evidence that some aspects of morality are universal, and therefore, most likely based in our genes.  The implication is that at least some of our values -- such as reciprocity, compassion, and a sense of fairness -- did not at some point in the distant past originate with religions, and they do not need religious, philosophical, or theological justifications for us to express them or hold them dear.   

The second investigation seems to provide evidence that religion itself might have its roots in traits that evolved in us during the course of our development as an impressive species of advanced poo-flingers.  Traits such as agent detection, respect for elders, a predilection for etiology, and a tendency to ascribe minds to other persons or things.  An implication of this line of investigation is that religion -- at least, religion proper -- does not depend on providing us with wisdom, or with meaning and purpose in life, but would most likely be with us in one form or another even if it had nothing to say on those scores.

Put differently, there might well be little or no link between whether a religion grips and moves us, and whatever measure of wisdom, meaning and purpose it contains.  It's true that most of us derive at least some measure of wisdom, meaning and purpose in life from our religions, but is that the most fundamental reason we humans are usually religious?  It seems at least possible that the above mentioned traits, along with other inherent human traits, would predispose most of us to some sort of religiosity even if the measure of wisdom, meaning, and purpose that religion provided us with were lacking or unsatisfactory.  Some deists, for instance, claim to derive no wisdom, meaning or purpose from their deeply held belief in deity.

At any rate, I find myself first in disagreement with McElwee in so far as he thinks religions won't die out because they provide us with wisdom, meaning and purpose, while I think religions won't die out because they are, so to speak, rooted in our genes.

I further disagree with McElwee in so far as he thinks religions are primarily about, "...both a personal search for truth as well as a communal attempt to discern where we fit in the order of things."  To me, religions are primarily a consequence of the traits I've alluded to. 

In the third place, I disagree with both McElwee and King on their notion that religion and science are not rivals.  To be precise, I do not think of religion and science as always rivaling each other.  I've found much in the major, as well as in some of the minor, religions that jives with science.  But much else doesn't.

To me, the notion that science and religion are two "non-overlapping magisteria" is simplistic.  Typically, religions make claims about what is or isn't the case, just as does science.  Most famously, perhaps, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all at least originally claimed the universe was brought into existence in six days.  These days, that claim has been reinterpreted by many people to be merely a metaphor for, say, humanity's place in the cosmos and our relation to deity.  But originally, it was most likely a literal claim.  As such the claim was mainly in conflict with what we have since discovered, or think we have discovered, about the physical origins of the universe.

 Science, at the very least, qualifies religion.  At the very least, it puts a footnote on the Genesis story saying, "For there to be some truth in this, it must first be taken as metaphor because to the best of our current understanding it didn't literally happen that way." So, the two "non-overlapping magisteria" are really over-lapping after all.

My last Grand Bitch with McElwee and with King, too, is with their notion that science is not a source of values.  In fact, science is not a source of categorical imperatives.  It is not a source of "Do this!", or of, "Do that!", without any reason given as to why one should do this or do that.  But I think you can argue that it can be a source of hypothetical imperatives.  That is, a source of, "If you do this, then you will get that."  e.g. If you cause global warming, then you will get flooded coastal cities.

Now, it can be argued that a hypothetical imperative, unlike a categorical one, merely delays or puts off the ultimate question, "Why should I value (disvalue) that?"  Because in the case of a hypothetical, you can always ask a follow up question.  For instance, "Why should I value having dry coastal cities?"

But the same criticism can be made of so many religiously espoused values.  "If I am kind to widows, orphans, fatherless children, and strangers, the Lord will be pleased with me.  But why should I be concerned with whether the Lord is pleased with me?"  Science and religion both can be -- and often are -- a source of hypothetical imperatives.  If something being a hypothetical imperative does not stop religion from claiming its hypotheticals as a source of values, then what should stop science from claiming its own hypotheticals as a source of values, also?

Well, those are my most notable complaints with McElwee's article.  Doubtless, all my complaints are trenchant, meaningful, enlightening, and useful to every human on earth.  But if you happen -- just happen -- to spot anything questionable about them, please speak freely!  I would appreciate your comments.

______________________________________

Sean McElwee has responded to this post on his blog.  You can find his response here.

Problems with Disqus

For several days now I have been unable to leave comments on sites using Disqus.  Is it just me, or is anyone else experiencing this problem?

The Knockout Game

By the way, I think anyone who wishes to put "The Knockout Game" in perspective could do a whole lot worse than check-out this excellent post by Chauncey DeVega over at his blog, We Are Respectable Negros.

World's Least Cool Uncle

My young nephews are currently blissfully unaware of the fact that I have firmly set myself on a course of becoming, in their eyes, the World's Least Cool Uncle for Christmas. 

That's to say, I have purchased for each of my three nephews two age-appropriate science books.

Not computer games.  Not fast and sleek bicycles.  Not even a whiff of electronics this year.  But science books.

I have already begun to wonder how I will ever make it up to them.  If they were six or eight years older than they are, I could always make it up to them by slipping them some wine at the Christmas party.  But at their ages, wine is still something not even an uncle would dare corrupt them with.

So, I have been pondering the idea of doing paintings of them in the style of comic book heroes.  You know, paint them as if they were characters from, say, a DC comic book.

I'm not saying my skill as a painter is up to that chore yet.  But I think I might -- with considerable practice -- pull off something by the time school lets out for the summer.  Hopefully, they'll be over the trauma of having received science books for Christmas by then.

On the other hand, I'm not going to feel too guilty about giving them science books.   After all, doing so might not make me the coolest uncle in their eyes, but it could just make me the most eccentric.  I can live with eccentric.

The Commercialization of Christmas

"There are many people who haven't merely lost, misplaced, or forgotten the true meaning of Christmas, they're trying to actively target it to destroy it. And these true Scrooges have a frightening amount of power."

-- Sarah Palin, from Good Tidings and Great Joy.

"Well, I hope you read the book ’cause I’m not saying its way too commercialized. I love the commercialization of Christmas because it spreads the Christmas cheer."

-- Sarah Palin, on The Today Show, November 11, 2013.

I am told that, in her new book, Good Tidings and Great Joy,. Sarah accuses "liberals and atheists" of scheming to destroy the true meaning of Christmas.

 As both a liberal and an atheist, I myself am greatly shocked to hear the news that I have been hell bent on destroying Christmas all these years.  Why was I not informed of this?

But I really don't wish to bash Sarah here.  Instead, I would like to simply point out that her notion Christmas is being helped along by commercialization is rather peculiar. Peculiar because so many of us -- even including at least some of us damnable liberals and atheists -- feel that the commercialization of Christmas is a somewhat greater danger to the holiday's religious and familial meanings than, say, whatever danger there might lurk in some Wal-Mart employee greeting us with "Happy Holidays", rather than with "Merry Christmas".

Of course, a lot can be said in favor of the commercialization of Christmas.  It is certainly good for the economy.  And back in the olden days, when "good for the economy" meant "good for employment", commercialization help lift the standard of living for a whole lot of families.  Then again, perhaps Sarah is right that commercialization "spreads the Christmas cheer" -- although, as I understand it, there are several studies that indicate the number of people suffering from depression peaks during the holiday season.  And, last, what child doesn't love the commercialization of Christmas, in so far as it means the gifts are piled up higher than his or her little waist?

On the other hand, if I were a Christian, I myself would be concerned with how the commercialization of Christmas might distract folks from the religious meaning of the holiday.

I've heard it said that Christians give gifts to folks on Christmas in order to imitate the gift God has given to humanity in the form of Jesus Christ.  But I suspect that bit of spin was thought up by a public relations professional tasked with justifying the commercialization of Christmas.  And even if it didn't originate as a bit of corporate propaganda, commercialization arguably distracts from the meaning of God's gift.  For God's gift is salvation.  And to think of Christmas gifts as salvation is actually to mock salvation.

Another -- and it seems to me more likely -- source for the custom of gift giving on Christmas might be the story of the Three Wise Men who brought gifts to Jesus while he was an infant.  But there is nothing in that story that suggests to me folks should go into debt in order to shower material gifts on each other.  It seems the Wise Men, being wise, did not bring Jesus more than they could afford.

The familial meanings of Christmas, as distinct from the religious meanings, arguably trace back to Charles Dickens, who -- in his story, A Christmas Carol -- reinvented Christmas as "a family-centered festival of generosity".

Yet, I think it is arguable that the commercialization of Christmas has made a shambles of that festival of generosity.  For it seems commercialization has nowadays obliged us to be generous -- even too generous -- on Christmas Day. And obligatory generosity is to simple generosity what pornography is to nudity.

For the reasons I've given -- as well as for other reasons -- I do not think of the commercialization of Christmas as nearly so compatible with its religious and familiar values as does, apparently, Sarah Palin.

But what I personally find most interesting about the commercialization of Christmas is that it is part of a larger picture.  For it seems to me the commercialization is but one aspect of -- and, at that, perhaps only a minor aspect -- of the much larger issue of consumerism. 

I suspect consumerism can be understood as a form of hedonism in which a person psychologically self-identifies with what they consume: "I am my toys", and, "The more toys I have, the more that I am".   If that's so, then it would seem to be at odds with the religious message of Christmas as a celebration of God's gift to the world -- that is, salvation through Christ.

For, at the very least, "I am my toys", has nothing at all to do with salvation.  Rather, it would seem a distraction from recognizing any need for salvation -- to put it mildly by calling it a mere "distraction".  The "distraction" of consumerism should concern anyone who wishes well the Christian faith.  Atheism does not, and cannot provide a meaning to life.  Consumerism can and does: i.e. "He or she with the most toys wins".  So, consumerism is much more in competition with Christianity on that level than even atheism is.

In short, the commercialization of Christmas can be seen as a part of a larger picture -- consumerism.  And consumerism would seem to compete with Christianity in at least one rather important way -- as a grounds for meaning in life.  It would be interesting to see how this competition plays out over the next 50 or so years.

"What is True Love?"

I sometimes wonder whether the notion of "true love" is something everyone on earth is now familiar with.

Or, might there still exist a people so remote, so removed from the rest of us, so incredibly isolated from our rapidly globalizing world, that they themselves would even today -- even nowadays -- be absolutely astonished to hear spoken the preposterous and outlandish meme of true love?

But if there does indeed exist such a remote people, I can only imagine how utterly simplistic the meme might seem to them, should anyone tell them of it.

For it is true that most of us are taught the concept of true love when we are yet young children -- naive, uncritical, vulnerable to the wholesale swallowing of absurdities, children. And anything we uncritically learn as children is quite often likely to remain unexamined by us forever.

Or at least, such things will remain unexamined until some life event comes along with sufficient gale force to shake even our most unshakeable childhood "truths".

Just so you can be sure, I am by no means one of those angst-ridden adolescents who doubts the very existence of love.  That's not where I'm going with this.

Instead, I beg to propose the slightly radical notion that the meme of true love is, at best, confused.  For I think the meme might have its roots in the commonplace observation that there are many different things many different people call "love".  And, once you have observed that much about "love", you are perhaps quite likely to ask which of those things are false, and which are true.

At least, you would seem quite likely to ask such a question if you first assume they can't all be true.

But is that assumption warranted?  Is it really the case that the love one has for one's child cannot be just as true as the love one has for one's friends?  Or is it really the case that the initial, fleeting stages of romantic love cannot be just as true as a spousal love that lasts a lifetime?

Of course, how one answers those and similar questions depends almost entirely on the test one creates for determining what is (or is not) "true".  For instance, I think most of us are taught that the crucial test for whether love is true is, basically, how long it lasts.  We might have been taught other tests and measures for true love, too, but -- unless love endures -- it cannot be true love.

When measuring loves by how long they last, several things that many of us routinely call "love" fail to pass the test.  For instance, our first non-familial love becomes "a mere childhood crush".  The passing loves of middle school or high school become "mere infatuations".  And, if we are so unlucky as to marry and divorce, we might then conclude that we never "really loved" our ex at all, no matter how deeply felt our initial commitment to them actually was.  All such judgments might easily slight the authenticity of our feelings at the time we felt them.

Yet, we might ask a simple question: Is endurance a necessary property of something being "true"?  That is, is it a necessary property of something being real, genuine, or authentic?

I think it is easy to see that endurance, in this case, is not a necessary property.  An ice cube does not long endure a glass of warm water, but does that mean the ice cube is not genuine?  A squirrel in the wild lives only for about two or three years, but does that mean the squirrel is not a true squirrel or a real squirrel?  No kind of love lasts beyond the death of the one who loves, but does that mean no kind of love is authentic?   

It seems to me there are no legitimate grounds for saying that the crucial test of true love is how long it lasts, for if even the brief life of an ice cube can be genuine, cannot a brief love also be genuine?

But to my mind, that raises an interesting question: Why do so many of us accept endurance as the crucial test of true love?  Beyond that we have usually been taught from childhood to do so, I think another reason might have to do with the fact love is generally pleasurable while it lasts, and quite painful (at least for a while) when it ends.

Put differently, we might be highly motivated to value enduring love as a means of maximizing our pleasures and minimizing our pains.  And it can be a short step from valuing something to pronouncing it the only genuine thing in its category.

Now, despite all possible appearances to the contrary, there is something that I would call "a false love".  That is, I do not think everything that anyone calls love is genuine, real, authentic, or true love.  But unlike so many of us, my personal test for what is true or false love has nothing to do with endurance.

To put it in a ridiculously simple manner, there is a key difference between loving someone for who they are, and loving them for something they are not.

Our love for who they are might be platonic.  It might be altruistic. It might be purely sexual (such as when we don't know much else about them but that they seem sexy to us).  It might be deeply, but fleetingly romantic.  It might involve a lifetime of profound attachment to them.  Or it might be some other kind of love.  But it is in all cases genuine in the sense it is in all cases a love for them -- or what we know of them -- even if we don't know everything there is to know about them.

On the other hand,  an inauthentic or false love -- to my thinking -- occurs when we do not love them, but love something other than them, something they are not.  Perhaps that something other is their money, or their possessions, or their power and position in society. For those things are not intrinsic to a person. But, in my experience, what we falsely love is often enough our idea of them.  I myself would call such false loves, "infatuations".

I will offer a brief example.  When I was in high school, I was infatuated with Janet, who was in real life quite unlike my idea of her.  I thought of her, for instance, as an intellectual.  And that was fine with me, because I myself was something of a high school intellectual, too.  In reality, she was quite smart, but in a non-intellectual way.  Nevertheless, I was in love with the notion I had of her.

I might be very wrong about this, but I think that -- much more often than when we falsely love people for superficial things, such as their possessions or positions -- we falsely love them for our own ideas of them.

In sum, true love -- as true love is most often conceived of -- appears to me a deeply confused idea, for it rests on the seemingly silly notion that the crucial test of it is how long it endures.  But endurance has nothing necessarily to do with whether a thing is real, genuine, authentic, or true.  Nevertheless, I think that we can be mistaken about whether or not we love someone, and that these false loves are characterized by our loving something that is not them, but which we might believe is them.  True love, on the other hand, is any love -- any kind of love -- that is love for someone as they really are.

That, at least, is my take on the issue.  What am I over-looking?  Your turn.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'll be out of town for Thanksgiving, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to wish everyone who celebrates it a Happy Stuffings Day!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year -- largely because of getting together with family and friends.  I'm curious what your favorite holiday(s) are?

How to Make Abusing Others Easier to Do

"I deal with being the most hated person in school daily because my glass eye is a 'slap in the face to God'." -- Emily Moore.
Emily Moore is a 17 year-old high school student in Florida who, because of childhood retinal cancer, lost an eye.  The other day, she posted a photo of herself on Tumblr with a brief account of her story:


"This is my all-time favorite picture. I’m so proud of myself. I have no depth perception and I’ve taught myself to play volleyball. I take so much pride in my team and all the hard work I put into it. No one truly understands how cancer [works] unless you yourself [have] it. You can’t imagine how I feel on a daily basis. Vomiting, weak, tired, groggy, grumpy, hormonal…every fucking day. 6 days out of 7, I’m sick. I push through though because I can’t let my team down. I still go to school and manage to maintain a 4.6 GPA. I still work to contribute to paying for my radiation. I volunteer at the shelter to make my life mean something if/when I go. I deal with being the most hated person in school daily because my glass eye is a 'slap in the face to God'."

"I don’t care what anyone says. I’m proud of myself."
Christina Stephens, a blogger, read Emily's Tumblr story and then contacted her, asking her to elaborate.  According to Emily (via Stephens), most of the people in her school are supportive of her, but a group of about two dozen students have, over the past two years, physically and verbally abused her.

"They said god wanted me dead and that’s why I’ve gotten cancer (now) three times.", Emily reported.  At one point, she was also pushed down a stairs and fractured her heel.  And, according to her, "the school isn't helping."

As you might imagine, Emily's story is generating much controversy at sites like The Friendly Atheist and other blogs.  Many of the comments seem focused on the notion that god cannot be too great if he's tried to kill Emily three times and has failed all three times.  But, beyond that, there have been some predictable comments about the cruelty, hypocrisy, etc., of the two dozen or so Christian Students, whose religion seems to many people so at odds with the student's treatment of Emily.

Now, I suppose volumes could be written about the psychology of the two dozen or so Christian students -- volumes that might reach beyond the students themselves to shed light on all of us, on human nature itself.  I will, however, spare my beloved readers the agony of listening to me lamely attempt a comprehensive review of all that might be said here.

Instead, I wish to focus on just one aspect of this: How we humans seem able to use any ideology -- regardless of whether it is a religious ideology like Christianity, a political ideology like Marxism, or any other kind of ideology -- to encourage, justify, and facilitate our many sickening abuses of each other.

Among other things, the story of Emily put me in mind of an anecdote that Jiddu Krishnamurti somewhere relates.  As a young man, Krishnamurti left his native India to study in England.  While in England, he tasted beef.  His father somehow heard of it, and -- when Krishnamurti returned to India after several years abroad -- his father refused all physical contact with Krishnamurti.  He would not even hug him at the airport on his return home.  The reason: According to his father's religious beliefs, the meat had made Krishnamurti impure. 

I think the reason Emily's and Krishnamurti's stories should be important to us is because they reveal how we humans use ideologies to justify our abuses of each other -- in small, day-to-day ways.  We are all familiar with the use of ideologies to justify abuse in monstrous ways.  The genocides of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and others were all crucially inflamed by ideological justifications.  Without those justifications, it might have been impossible to mobilize so many people to kill so many other people. 

But perhaps we really don't understand just how easy it is to fall into abusing someone because of an ideology if we do not see that process playing out on a small scale, as well as a grand, for there is something weird about the psychology of ideological thinking.  People would doubtless abuse others even without ideological justifications for doing so, but ideological justifications can all too often be like dumping gasoline on a fire.  They can accelerate and enlarge the abuse.

The twenty-four or so students who torment Emily might torment her even without their apparent conviction that god is with them and against her.  But their belief that god is on their side surely facilitates their abuse of her.  It would seem only commonsense to suppose it makes any doubts they hold that they might not be doing the right thing -- makes those doubts much easier to dismiss.  And it would seem only commonsense to also suppose that their beliefs can encourage them to go further than they might otherwise go.

I sometimes wish the human brain came with an owner's manual.  At birth, we should be handed a rather extensive book on how to deal with all the myriad ways our brains can mess us up.  And a prominent chapter in that manual should deal with how ideological thinking can so easily cross over into abusing each other in ways both great and small.

That's my two cents on Emily's story.  But what do you yourself make of her story?

Will the Battle for Gay Rights Ever be Finally Over?

"The anti-gay folks remind me of that Japanese soldier found on a deserted island decades after WWII and still thinks the war is on. It has been fought and won."  -- Shannyn Moore, Anchorage talk show host.
I think Moore has a point of sorts.  But I wouldn't go so far as to say the war has actually been won.  If we're going to use the metaphor of the War in the Pacific, then perhaps today's "war" for gay rights is analogous to final months of the Pacific war -- when Japan was losing, but still capable of mounting its desperate and fanatical kamikaze attacks.

Of course, in politics, conflicts are seldom truly decisive.  The gains of one generation can be set back by the next generation.  Take abortion as an example.  For a time after Roe v. Wade it looked like that right was firmly established, but today, not so much.  There is no reason to believe that gay rights, once won, will not need to be won again and again.

At least, that's how I see it.  But what am I missing?