From Religion to Donald Trump

In my teen years I was an outspoken atheist. When debating people I would take the position that, not only are gods a silly idea, religion as a whole is bad for humanity.

Even when talking to other atheists I would often get this answer: “What if believing in God is helping these people lead happier lives? Why does it matter if it’s real or not? They’re not hurting you.”

A fair point. And one for which I did not have a good answer. It was offensive to me that we would simply accept that people were deluding themselves, and then indoctrinating their children to do the same. All in the name of happiness? It seemed dystopian, but I lacked the wit to explain why.

A few weeks ago I found the answer I’d been looking for, and I couldn’t be sadder about it.

They’re not hurting anybody, you say? These people who reject all evidence, all science, all reason, in favor of fictitious stories that validate their beliefs? These people that we’ve respectfully allowed to delude themselves gave us Trump.

But so what if people believe a rich cretinous demagogue is going to fix all their problems. They’re happy, and besides, who are they hurting?

Certainty is 99/100

“Agnosticism” is the view that God’s existence is unknown or unknowable. However, too many self-proclaimed agnostics are mislabeling themselves for lack of a clear definition of what knowledge means here. While it can’t be proven that God doesn’t exist, it can be known. Let me explain.

It can’t be proven that God doesn’t exist because God is a malleable concept. For example, at one time some people believed that God had created all life on Earth exactly as we known it today, including humans and all other animal species. Some of those same people have come to recognize the fact of evolution, which disproves their previously-held belief. Now, instead, they believe that God engineered evolution, or some other conveniently not-yet-disproved story.

No matter how much evidence we uncover that the universe functions without the help of a divine force, we’ll never be 100% sure that there isn’t a God. Maybe God started the Big Bang and hasn’t intervened since. Maybe he made it look like he doesn’t exist by planting fake evidence. However supremely unlikely that may be, there’s still a teeny-tiny chance it’s what happened. Likewise, maybe the evidence backing evolution was planted. Perhaps by God, perhaps by the Illuminati?

There’s a non-zero chance that unicorns, invisible to the human eye, are roaming our streets and skies as I write this. And yet, I don’t say I’m agnostic towards invisible unicorns. Same goes with evolution, gravity, and, of course, God.

As it turns out, technically, we can’t know anything with 100% confidence. And that’s OK, because the bar for knowledge and facts is lower than that. Not much lower, mind you. But if you’re 99% sure God doesn’t exist, do me a favor, call yourself an atheist.

Dear Conservatives

I’m a liberal, or, as you say, “libtard.” We don’t talk anymore, short of shouting at each other from a great distance.

I am mad about Trump, and for what your party is doing to our country. But I understand where you’re coming from, I think. And I believe we have more in common than is apparent.

For example, I wish for America and its citizens to prosper. To live happy, peaceful, fulfilling lives. I believe in freedom and democracy. I believe our government should work for the people.

None of this can be taken for granted, and we should recognize that we are united by this pursuit. Now let’s talk about our disagreements.

Yeah, I’m a socialist. I’m in favor of redistributing some wealth to those in need. It’s not that I’m lazy or entitled. In fact, last year I paid about 3 times what the average American pays in taxes. I hope to continue giving more than I receive for as long as possible. But why?

It’s not as obvious as a tax break, but I am getting something out of paying into social programs that benefit other people. These people, they live in the same country as I do, some in the same city even. They touch my life in various ways. Some prepare food that I eat, they write the books that I read, they teach children, or smile at me on the streets. Some are my friends, my family.

When they are healthy, when they get the education they want, when they’re not worried about food or housing, when they don’t live on the streets, then the quality of my life increases in more ways than money could buy.

But do they deserve my help, you ask? The first thing I’ll say is, on some level, it doesn’t matter. I’m doing what’s best for me.

But also, everyone is deserving of the basic necessities of life. Why? Good question. Seriously. This is at the heart of the Liberal vs Conservative debate, yet nobody cares to address it in a non-condescending way. Liberals act like it’s obvious we should help the less fortunate—it’s not. And Conservatives act like the less fortunate are capable but unwilling. Here’s what I would say.

“Will,” the willingness to work and do effortful things, is not a given. It is a fortunate thing to have, like health, inherited wealth, or various other predispositions. Are some people lazy and abusing the system? Sure. But I don’t believe they choose to be lazy. Hear me out on this.

It is unintuitive. We want to give credit to ourselves, and others, for our efforts and strength of character. And that means we should assign blame to those who achieve less. But this is misguided. While we should celebrate our success, it’s equally important to recognize that luck plays a big role in our lives. Bigger than we tend to imagine.

No-one decides where they’re born, or when, or to which parents. Yet those things, like so many others that are out of our control, are responsible for much of our fortune.

Don’t Worry About Your Productivity, Worry About You

After years of roaming the Internet, its video clips, its news aggregators (I’m looking at you Reddit and Hacker News), I’ve become very familiar with a feeling of restlessness. Like I want, or need, to constantly feed information to my mind.

Now I think I’m not alone when I say this frequent need to consume content has taken a toll on my productivity. At the very least, if it hasn’t been too detrimental to my work, it might not be the best use of my free time.

But, as with all things enjoyable (and Internet seems to be in good standing with the short-term pleasure centers of our brains), it’s a very tough habit to kick. Ultimately you’ll always wonder why abandon something you enjoy, and you’ll think about going back often.

Today, I’m happy to say I have kicked this particular habit, and I don’t think I’m going back, ever. And the reason is precisely the restlessness I mentioned earlier. I realized, in fact, I was no longer enjoying the moment. I couldn’t pause anymore. I felt averse to things that didn’t hold my attention like my computer screen can.

So I stopped. I stopped using Internet as a time-filler. I stopped time-filling altogether. My overarching philosophy now is to immerse myself completely in what I’m doing at any given moment, to do only what I’ll be glad I did later, when I look back, and to always take my time.

This for me means no more Reddit and Hacker News, no more casual Youtubing, no more games for gaming’s sake. I’ve stopped using my Rapidshare account aggressively. I’ve even cut back on listening to music while I work. I already didn’t Facebook or Tweet.

Instead I read carefully selected books. I write, I exercise, I spend time with the people I love. Sometimes I do nothing, because sometimes nothing needs to be done.

I don’t plan my next entertainment fix halfway through the present one. I don’t feel guilty for squandering my time. I’m not as stressed as I used to be. The realization that this was really having an impact came to me in my car, actually. It struck me that I wasn’t paying close attention to my speed anymore, because I didn’t care about going as fast as I could. I didn’t care about passing other cars, or getting to places quickly for no particular reasons. I didn’t mind red lights or small traffic jams. I could coexist with a population of idiot drivers.

As far as I can see, cutting back on constant content consumption has been the root cause for what feels like a very refreshing change of pace. This to me holds infinitely more value than the idea of “being more productive” and it goes to show that these habits can in fact be detrimental to our mental health and to our enjoyment of life in general.