Bald is Not a Hair Color

Disbelief is not a claim. The particular argument that is pissing me off at the moment is the claim that atheism is a religious belief. This is absurd. Atheism is a religious belief in the same way bald is a hair color and hot water is a variety of tea.

Skepticism is the default position. The burden of proof is on the claimant. UFO abductees, astral projectors, snake oil salesmen and cult leaders all have the same responsibility to provide evidence for their claims as climate change scientists, biologists, quantum theorists and economists. (Well, maybe not the economists.)

Extraordinary claims with little or no proof should be treated as specious and/or unlikely. Telling someone that they have a ‘supernatural’ belief because they don’t accept your near death experience or a ‘religious’ belief because they don’t think Allah exists is to twist the meaning of the words beyond the breaking point. Not believing in invisible pink unicorns doesn’t mean you are a pink unicornian with a profoundly negative viewpoint.

Why does it matter? The danger in defining non-belief as a simply one viewpoint in that area is that the various believers in any foolish nonsense then feel justified in demanding equal stature and treatment with not only the default viewpoint, but any well proven scientific theory. The teaching of the baseless ideas of creationists in schools alongside Darwinian evolution is just one example of the damage this kind of thinking can do.

Gay Marriage

People seem to hear wildly different things when someone says ‘Gay Marriage’. The damned immoral liberals supporters hear equal treatment under the law; public recognition of a union and the end of oppression of a minority group. The soulless hate mongers conservative opponents hear a contradiction in terms; an impossibility; an absolute moral wrong. Sane people keep an eye out for projectiles and try to sneak off before it gets ugly. The problem isn’t gay marriage.

The problem is a failure to define terms. Marriage is basically two unrelated things:

  • The religious act of creating a divinely solemnized union
  • The secular act of entering into an enforceable social contract of pooled resources and shared responsibilities

The religious meaning of marriage is beyond any law. If a group’s faith demands that the only holy union that can exist is between three men, two women and a very nervous goat, neither legislative fiat nor popular vote is going to change their minds about it. Trying to legislate the religious idea of marriage is like trying to define the size and shape of raindrops in a bucket.

The secular meaning of marriage is just a legally enforceable partnership – a social contract. Governments can and should provide the legal framework for social contracts for the protection of all those involved.

When the ideas are separated, the solution becomes obvious. There is no reason that any number of persons of any gender cannot enter into an agreement to live together, pool their resources, and share their responsibilities. The age, race, gender, sexual orientation and number of participants is irrelevant. The simple fact is that people have formed such relationships informally throughout history and will continue to do so regardless of legal status. The only difference between this and marriage as it exists today is that members of an informal contract often have no legal recourse if the terms are violated or changed.

The way to get people to stop pissing and moaning about what marriage means is a good old-fashioned schism. Something like this:

  • The term marriage is solely religious.
  • Separation of church and state is needed so all governments are prohibited from using the word marriage in all forms of law. Current laws involving the word marriage must be rewritten or be struck down.
  • All religious institutions, congregations, groups and individuals retain the right to define and use the term marriage as they deem appropriate.
  • Equal treatment to any and all types of social contract, regardless of race, gender, creed, sexual orientation and number of participants, shall become legal and enforceable.
  • Laws will be created to provide a basic framework and default conditions for all social contracts including rules and procedures for forming, dissolving and breaking them.
  • Social contracts and all related laws shall be clear, concise and avoid legal jargon so they are easily understood.**
  • All participants must show that they fully understand and accept the content of their contract. Governments must ensure participants understand fully and appropriate fees should be charged for this service.
  • Existing marriages will be converted to social contracts using the default conditions in the law. Participants are free to reject this and have no contract or may choose to write their own contract and get it approved.
  • Right wing nut-jobs and commie liberals shall shut up about gay marriage and stop pissing the rest of us off all the time.

**This is possibly a deal breaker. Asking politicians to make laws that are clear and concise is tantamount to asking them to stop breathing. (Not a bad idea, but also not likely to yield results.)

(Late edit: Time has partly passed this post by. I still hold that my solution is better, but I am quite pleased that gay marriage is now the law of the land. Love is love.)

Kindness

You could easily get the impression that my last post is an encouragement for people to be unkind. That’s not my intent. I believe that a reasonable rule for life would be to err on the side of kindness. This belief is not based on dogma – it’s based on science.

Kindness is a good idea because it works. Most often, acts of kindness improve your life and the lives of those you come in contact with. This is partly because your acts of kindness signal to those around you that you are a person who cares about others and that you will help rather than hinder. It’s such a good idea that humans appear to have evolved to take pleasure helping others nearly as much as helping ourselves.

It is nearly instinctive for us to treat others as we would like to be treated. However, this is not a complete strategy. Altruism inevitably leads not to world peace and universal brotherhood, but freeloading, dependence and disappointment. Any idea can be taken to its illogical extreme and this one is no different. One of the best strategies is to cooperate first and then do unto others as they do unto you. Put another way, be kind without being a sucker. Still, it’s probably better to be a bit of a sucker than a bit of a dick.

Heaping disrespect on ideas that are incorrect is not the same thing as heaping disrespect on the person espousing such views. If you can’t smile and joke while you point out the flawed views of others, you probably shouldn’t. If you are name-calling and trading insults, you’re hurting; not helping. Making someone feel silly is fine. Making them sad is just mean.

My Lucky Day

It’s Friday the 13th. An ominous day to start a new blog. Well, it would be if luck was real.

It’s amazing how much the idea of luck infects our thinking. We’ve all seen a cheesy meme with a vague promise of ‘good things’ that will happen if you ‘like and share’ and bad things that happen to those who ignore its dire warning. Casinos are filled with people pulling slot machine handles. Sports fans and participants alike have been known to sport lucky underwear that helps their team come out on top.

If you look, you’ll find references to luck everywhere. Try your luck. Your lucky break. Down on your luck. No such luck. Serendipity. Wish me luck. Dree your weird. Fortune. Fate. Destiny. Our language is full of luck-based idioms. It permeates our literature, film, and even products from cigarettes to jeans.     

I’m guilty too. I’ve avoided stepping on cracks and tossed salt over my shoulder and crossed my fingers and any number of things that must seem completely silly to anyone not raised with similar rituals. I used to say ‘Good luck!’ so frequently that it was practically my catch phrase.

Why? I wasn’t superstitious. I didn’t think it really helped, so what was I doing it for? The answer was really another question. Why not? What does it hurt? If luck is real, then you’re doing yourself a favor and if not, you don’t really lose much by keeping your umbrella closed indoors, right? It’s Pascal’s Wager lite, if you will. You can hedge your bets at a low (but non-zero) cost.

This seems like a great plan until you raise the stakes. Buy a lottery ticket? No real impact. Buy ten? A hundred? A thousand? The math says you will generally lose, but a person who thinks they are lucky will take that bet. Fortunes, lives and whole empires have been gambled and sometimes lost because someone believed in their own luck.

Luck is pure slag – i.e. the exact opposite of useful. Countless scientific experiments have shown that luck simply doesn’t exist. Instead, we have found that random chance actually follows mathematical rules and that what we tend to think of as extremely unlikely events are actually inevitable and perfectly normal.  

Believing in luck is not just useless, it’s actually dangerous. The real cost of this kind of thinking is not just in the wasted time one person spends on them. Ideas move from person to person and spread like pinkeye to undefended minds – particularly those of the young and gullible. Accepting such wrong ideas leads to a general acceptance of actions that show a lack of critical thinking, not just regarding the laws of probability, but in all facets of life.

You can’t summon this post with a magic spell. It will never come to you though direct revelation. Technology is the only way. Technology is based on science and the basis of science is reason and logic. You can read this right now because science, logic and reason are our greatest tools.

I have a lack of patience for bad ideas. Apparently, frustration with stupidity is a good way to motivate me to write. This lack of patience shows up as unflattering treatment of those who keep blunt and useless tools in their mental arsenal. This is intentional. The surest way of changing a bad behavior is for society to heap disrespect on it.

Luck is an idea that deserves to be ridiculed. Displaying such a lack of critical thinking in public should be treated as the mental equivalent of picking your nose. It’s up to you. Point and laugh. Break their balls. Make them feel foolish. You’re doing them and everyone else a favor. Don’t let bad ideas spread to make someone else dumber. Luck has had a frighteningly long run and it’s time for it to go.