One Year in Pittsburgh

I like it here.

I didn’t really expect to.

But I really like how downtown looks from the highway.

I like the bridges, in all their shapes and forms.

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I like the constant Christian rock on the radio.

I like the Moth and City of Asylum

I like the politics, whether or not I always agree with them

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I love the neighborhoods: Italian Bloomfield, hip Lawrenceville, bar-filled South Side

I like how green it is, how close national parks are

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I like the flowers

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I like the east coast parts – diners, things happening every night, the city-feel, a good bit of economic and racial diversity

I like the midwest parts – the casual dress code and short buildings and helpful strangers and the fact that people never seem to want to leave

I like how nice everyone is. The number of conversations I’ve had with strangers in coffeeshops is unreal, and it has made my life so much better.

I like the Indian and Thai restaurants all over

I like that it gets cold, but not as cold as Chicago

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I like that it gets hot and humid, but not as hot and humid as Miami

I like that I can drive to Detroit and DC and New York if I want to

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I like the bookstores and cafes all over the place.

I like the bars, even! (Some)

I like the beautiful, beautiful parks

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I like that there’s vegan and vegetarian food everywhere

I like the murals you can find all around the city

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I like the thrift stores where I shop for clothes and apartment things

I like my apartment, a lot

I like that my landlord speaks Italian

I like the little treasures – a cafe with a crawl space for children, a dessert place with an in-home library, dog-walking parks near my school that double as low-key hiking trails, a vegan-friendly wings and pizza place that’s most frequented by punks, a diner that’s 24/7, but only between Wednesday and Sunday

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I like the Saturday morning farmer’s markets.

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I like the natural history museum, and the fact that it’s in the same building as the art museum. Who says such things have to be separate?

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And I like all the things I haven’t done yet – visit the Frick, played trivia in a bar, taken pictures at the Phipps Conservatory

I didn’t think I’d end up here, but I can’t say I’m disappointed.

Lasagna and Cake: Or, the joy in doing needlessly complicated things

It’s summer vacation, and while I’ve just started one internship and am about to start another, I don’t have too much to do all day. Besides reading, catching up on The (newest) Conversation about sexism in the atheist movement, and going swimming in Lake Michigan, one of the most fun things to do with a lot of time is take on ridiculous projects. It lets us try new things, challenge ourselves, have fun and hopefully come out the other side having learned something, or being a person who does slightly cooler things than they did yesterday. Hence, Blogathon. And it was wonderful. We’ve raised $82,304.00 so far, and I think I met a lot of my other goals as well, like having fun and writing short posts (that I hope were fun to read), although I really didn’t drink enough coffee.

But when that ended, I needed something else to do. There was only one choice: mushroom lasagna.

Which I’ve been wanting to make for forever. It’s somewhat more complicated than pizza: you have to cook the noodles, make a béchamel, sautée mushrooms, grate cheese, and then layer it all and cook it for 45 minutes. It took me about three and a half hours total, but was totally and absolutely worth it.

Step 1: Go shopping.

Step 2: Get home. Open package of lasagna noodles.

Ha! Nope! I didn’t buy any stinkin’ lasagna noodles. I made them.

Real Step 2: Start making pasta dough according to this recipe. Realize it calls for a food processor, which you don’t have. Frantically google. Find out there are a million different recipes for pasta dough, some of which have oil, some have more flour, some fewer eggs, etc. Freak out a little bit. Get yourself together and just use your stand mixer.

Combine ingredients with paddle attachment, knead with dough hook. Have everything work out. Calm down. Let the dough sit for an hour to allow ‘gluten formation’ which is probably some food science hoax buzzword designed to make the whole process take longer. Take a nap in the meantime.

Step 3a: Take out and assemble your mother’s absurdly old fashioned pasta roller. Isn’t it awesome? It has a hand crank!

Step 3b: Insert dough.

Step 3c: Roll by hand. Feel like a superstar.

Step 3d: Repeat.

Step 3e: Lay out on all available clean flat surfaces. Proceed to run out of clean flat surfaces.

Step 4: Cook them in boiling water with salt. Be astonished at how fast fresh pasta cooks (like 45 seconds, it’s crazy). Protip: Add oil to the water. It stops the pasta from sticking together.

Step 5: Make béchamel by adding flour to butter to make a roux. Then add milk simmered with garlic (not shown). Hope that the recipe accounted for a sixth of the milk spilling on the oven top before making it to the saucepan.

Step 6: Cut and sautée a ridiculous amount of mushrooms (a full pound and a half).

Step 7: Assemble ALL the ingredients!

Step 8: Layer in a pan. Realize you didn’t buy Parmesan cheese. Decide all cheese is delicious so it doesn’t matter. Use the motley mix of colby, muenster and cheddar you have in the fridge.

(No picture, I know you’re all very disappointed).

Step 9: Place in oven.

Step 10: Take out.

Step 11: Ignore instructions to let cool and try to eat immediately.

Step 12: Realize that maybe the instruction has a point. Let cool.

Step 13: Serve to friends. Eat. Have fun. Unfortunately, no pictures of the food.

This is my friend. Don’t worry, I won at Bananagrams 🙂

Also at some point in the evening I made a cake. It was delicious.

Friends, games and absurd cooking projects. What else do you need on a lovely summer day?

P.S. The lasagna freezes and reheats very well.

Wrap-Up: Honoring Things that Are Way More Difficult From the Inside

When I took a break earlier today, Jay suggested that when I come back I write a post about “the inside vs. the outside view of how difficult things are?  Like, say, writingblog posts? 🙂

It’s certainly true that “easy reading is damn hard writing” but I’ve really enjoyed writing all of this, working at writing short, fun pieces and getting to interact with all of you who commented or lurked. For my final piece (yes I’m doing 20 posts instead of 25), I’m going to show three videos of things that we consume in just minutes but no doubt took hours. Let it remind all of us to appreciate those things that other humans put so much effort into for our joy and amusement. It’s been quite a ride!

For reference, here are all the posts I wrote for Blogathon:
The Beginning: In which I list my goals and what I’m willing to do to achieve them.
Maybe you aren’t actually an atheist? And other stories: In which I relate stories of being accused of being secretly religious.
Nuance: It’s What’s for Dinner: In which I discuss when nuance is more and less useful in personal and professional interactions.
Why the UChicago SA is awesome: Dropping eggs off of Rockefeller Chapel: In which the University of Chicago Secular Alliance is indeed awesome.
Are liberal, queer-loving, feminist religious people our allies?: In which I define ‘allies’ in five different ways and then get to answering the question.
Religious Atheism: The Great Contradiction: Part 1: In which I discuss the word ‘religious’ and why I think it applies to me.
Religious Atheism: The Great Contradiction: What I get out of it: In which I talk about why I like religion, or at least my religious practice.
Fun Facts about Me: In which I talk about myself and have a lot of fun links.
Is there an Is/Ought Distinction?: In which I say “no.”
Could Reparative Therapy be a Choice to Protect?: In which I try to grapple with individual choice and social oppression.
Puppies! We found one at the cafe: In which puppies are cute.
Teleportation or Death?: In which we become multiple people and then possibly kill ourselves.
The Prisoner’s Dilemma: In which you are kidnapped and then asked to do game theory.
What is reductionism?: In which I am very snarky about philosophy.
Depictions of Love: Call Me Maybe: In which “Call Me Maybe”‘s music video is somewhat revolutionary.
Love as Understood through Image/Text Combinations on Pinterest: In which I try to analyze Pinterest’s view of love.
Polyamory: I made a video!: In which I yammer at a camera about dating multiple people.
Because Real Men Wear Only the Things We Tell Them to: In which masculinity is policed and femininity is degraded.
Why I Don’t Care About Authorial Intent: In which readers own the books they read.
Aren’t Muffins Just Cupcakes Without Frosting? Blogathon, the Food Science Edition: In which fat and flour ratios are very important.

Thanks for reading!

Look out for posts by me and here and on the Friendly Atheist. Since I still owe you all five posts, I’ll take suggestions here that I’ll try to do in the next couple of weeks, and they don’t have to be secular/atheistic/rationalist.

Thanks so much for supporting the SSA!

This has been Post the Twentieth for Blogathon

Identity Confusion

This is kind of about subcultures, kind of about narratives, kind of about self-deception, and mostly about me just trying to sort through a few things. I’m still not satisfied with this. It might be the kind of thing that arises from a wrongly asked question, and so all I need to do is yell about it for a while and it will cease to trouble me, but for now, this is what I have.

I’ve written about stories a few times, now. I think of them differently than I used to, giving them less inherent value but maintaining my belief that they are a deeply important element of a certain kind of affective human existence. Both from the perspective of wanting to understand humans better and to participate in that type of existence, I find that their critical role as a nexus of much of what humans do and are pops up again and again in my thinking.

I also wrote about subcultures once or twice, and in looking back, I find it frankly astounding that I didn’t connect the two. Because I can’t think of anything more predicated on the telling, imbibing and engendering of stories than subcultures. I’m not even sure that’s the word I want anymore. What I really mean, I suppose, and this word choice makes the connections much clearer, is identities. Identity is this strange beast of notion that grips us, consciously and subconsciously, that feeds itself on our every thought and action, and in doing so becomes powerful enough to effect those of our future.

So what is identity? Not sociologically, historically, politically, academically, religiously. The thought-catalysts for this piece have come from all of those sources, and those are important, too of course, but because I’ve never heard a rationalist account, I have to assume that much of the less rigorous writing about this topic has come out of unacknowledged intuition manifesting itself in all sorts of ways.

Let’s see, then, if I can’t create a mental image of what an identity is. Small town white man. What does that make you think of? It doesn’t matter, really, except that I bet it wasn’t just a small town white man. You knew maybe what a set of possible names could be, hair color, political and religious affiliation. And that’s all fine, given that there are good statistical, rational reasons to expect all of those things to map onto each other. But the power of that image is such that it may override other rational considerations. Because this image of small-town America may be, if such is your image, a god-fearing Christian, a loving husband, maybe several kids, probably right-of-center politics. You could construct a whole story, narrative, existence out of so little information. Maybe Bobby Hunter was the varsity football player in college but his dad died so he never got to fulfill his dreams. How does he feel about his wife? Does he vote Republican? You know him as well as I do, and I bet you’d feel pretty comfortable answering those questions. You not only know him, you have feelings, positive or negative about him. You can think of songs written about him. That’s crazy. Almost as crazy as if I offered you an alternate narrative, forcing you into a gestalt shift. So maybe instead of small town white man, say, from Kansas who has a blond wife and hates immigrants, it’s small town white union man. Now, Bobby might still have xenophobic tendencies, but I’d be willing to bet your feelings about him just changed. Now he’s running with a whole different crowd, and he represents an entirely different facet of America. More than that, a different narrative, a different tone, and a different trajectory. Now you’re thinking Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs. And all sorts of other identities come popping up. The first Bobby Hunter was considered perhaps on his own, or maybe in contradistinction to the urbanite Jew, an indigenous peasant farmer, a young black family. The second, existing with the help of the contrasting image of evil capitalists with aquiline features and a healthy sense of greed. And that’s not even the half of it.

I’m not talking about stereotypes and the harm they do. That’s too simple. Stereotypes aren’t just problematic because they’re untrue, but also because they’re incomplete, and moreover, have devastating power over our brains, as illustrated above. We are each composed of uncountable threads of existing archetypes. A better way to put it, perhaps, is that we all are simply ourselves (as distressingly cliche as that sounds), and archetypes, stereotypes, identities are built out of statistically relevant and/or psychologically salient facets given a life of their own and rent-free lives in our heads.

And these identities, these little nuggets of intuition generation with all their emotional power, they give us a deeply misguided sense of being whole, coherent selves. It’s actually probably more accurate to say that we create our sense of archetypal identity because our psychologies tell us we are in fact, these consistent beings, but the causality is irrelevant. The point is that we enjoy these psychological ticks so much, we derive such meaning from them, but they feel to me so arbitrary and based on such an incorrect conception of human identity.

People on twitter, tumblr and other blogging platforms have the chance to write a very short autobiography, and what many, myself included, write, is a series of identifying labels, descriptors meant not only to evoke an activity, lifestyle or set of beliefs, but an overarching sense of the ‘kind’ of person your friendly neighborhood blogger is, to be all of these things in one. People talk that way, too, and it’s at once easy to understand and empathize and on the other hugely irritating, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit that those dual reactions map all too well onto how much I already like someone. But the point remains that we seem to act as if we were composed only of identities, rather than the other way around, and so to feel or feign surprise at their clashes within us is unimaginative and uninsightful at best, and actively harmful at worst, priming us to again and again think of ourselves as entirely consistent wholes.

This is where cognitive dissonance comes from, and also fashion and styles. We have senses of who we are, of these one things that we are, and we do not want to give them up. So we talk about them, and act like them, dress like them and see them in each other. When we say we want to be like some badass movie character, let’s take Trinity as an example, is that true? Is it true in any sense? Do we want her characteristics, her moves, her life? Or do we want to feel about ourselves the way we are made to feel by the entire contextual reality evoked in our brains by the limited and carefully calculated information given to us by a movie? We go shopping and buy the things we buy because they feel right, because they fit into our senses of who we’re supposed to be, according to ourselves.

I’m not saying it doesn’t matter. But these considerations have begun to make the feelings of identity ring false in my ears. especially when such grave importance is placed on tradition, on birth, in religion, in identity politics, at rock shows, I question these consistent wholes. It’s one thing to respond to power with resistance. It’s another to not change your mind in the face of evidence because what would that mean to the kind of person you imagine yourself to be. It’s one thing to spend time with those most like you and come up with a language, hand signals, an understanding of each others’ behavior. It’s another to use the immensely meaningful sensation of the weight of millenia to justify certain actions.

Far be it from me to judge or deny the power of meaning, the deep wells of happiness and intensity that can arise from an objective consideration that one’s life fits a desirable or undesirable mold, however much I may question the provenance of the mold. I think the notion that it is irrational to derive joy from things that are arbitrary is a misunderstanding both of rationality and human happiness. But I do want to problematize the questions: “Who am I?” and “What sort of person am I?” and think about what we might replace them with.

Sources of thought: Blu Greenberg’s On Women and Judaism, Michel Foucault, Wendy Brown, friends, people, the world.

I have so much more to say. What do we tell ourselves everyday? How and when do we rationalize? How much do most people define themselves out loud? How does that affect things? Does it make it better or worse? Can we have an identity, a history, without narrative? Does ideology always accompany narrative? When are these things beneficial and when not? How does this work at the group level, with collective memory? I am so confused.

All We Can Ask from Death

Unless you’ve been living in a cave mansion outside of Islamabad hiding from the US government, you’ve probably heard that Osama bin Laden was killed last night in a firefight. For many, the most appropriate response was obvious: unadulterated joy with a robust helping of national unity and patriotism on top. And who can blame them? Osama bin Laden was a hateful, opportunistic murderer, a terrorist mastermind who took advantage of anti-American sentiment in Saudi Arabia and whipped it into a lethal boil. He is personally responsible for the death of thousands of Arabs, Americans, Muslims, atheists…people. If anyone deserved to die, he did.

Even so, there were those of us who did not have quite that reaction, for whom bloodlust and triumph did not immediately course through our veins. Some of us were quiet, thinking of the significance of the event. Some of us were grim, feeling vindicated in that there was one fewer murderer on earth, but not feeling exactly exultant, either. My response was some mix of these, but it was altered because I heard the news during a House Meeting, in a room full of people, many of whom took the first tack. Instead of having the time to sit and think and digest, I was immediately thrust into a party-like atmosphere in which Team America had won once again, and all would be right in the world if only our testosterone-soaked heroes could be allowed free reign. Good news had come at last from the unending wars! Let us rally around it in an orgy of patriotism and victory.

At least, that’s how it felt to me. In contrast, I felt hesitant, that something was not quite right about the reveling in death that was going on. I expressed these sentiments on facebook and twitter, letting it be known that I felt there was much more to Osama’s death than a simple check for America’s win column. To start, the death was more symbolic than anything else. It’s possible that his death will weaken the various Al-Qaeda affiliates, hamper their ability to communicate, and undermine their capacity to recruit. It’s also possible that they will become highly angered and the Middle East will be less safe for a while. Either way, Osama had been doing very little of the on-the-ground planning of late, and it seemed frankly silly to count such a psychologically significant yet geopolitically unsubstantive victory as meaningful.

It also seemed to disrespect the vast complexities of which Osama was a symbol: the two unending wars, the changes wrought in the American psyche, the culture of fear created, here and abroad, increases in Islamophobia and hate-crimes, the still unfinished Ground Zero Monument, anti-American sentiment the world over, the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in Iraq and Afganistan, the controversial drone attacks. But for the night, none of it seemed to matter. In a way, it was a tacit acknowledgement. Americans were so hungry for a victory that they leaped on the action-movie-like story of a Special Ops force, a firefight, a mansion, an exotic South Asian country and dead target. When I expressed this idea, I was told in no uncertain terms that “Its not anymore complex than 3000 innocent Americans, your fellow countrymen.” But there was still something farcical about letting the droplet of success wash over us as the waves of the uncertain path forward continued to churn. That’s why, I suppose, I was so bothered by Obama calling for national unity because we’d killed Osama bin Laden. It’s not that there’s so much wrong with that on its own, but rather that Osama is part of something so much larger, and the call for national unity just serves as a veneer. I wish so deeply, I suppose, that there had been a call for national unity when the Iraqis had their first election, or on the day Obama announced we were exiting Iraq. There wasn’t, because those were not unequivocally good happenings, and there were a lot of mixed feelings. People may have been upset if it were implied that those were things everyone had a duty to support. That’s how I feel about this, because bin Laden himself was just a man, and the tip of an enormous iceberg.
Then there’s how we react to the death itself. Frankly, I was a little disgusted by the streamers and the celebration. I understood it, certainly, and how profoundly human of a response that was, but I wish we’d had the wherewithal to overcome those particular instincts and instead acknowledge the importance and significance of the death, to reflect on his life and the destruction he cause, to think of the 9/11 victims and their families, to ponder the aftermath of 9/11 and how the world was forever changed, and not, perhaps, to throw America-themed frat parties, sing Queen’s We Are the Champions and begin dancing in the streets. Americans celebrated death last night. 
I know there was a lot going on, I’ve had the conversations, and I know there were legitimate causes for celebration. But there was a blatant current of outright self-satisfied, self-aggrandized, smug gratification in our accomplishment. And it just seems like death, especially one I felt wasn’t quite as important as everyone was making it out to be, isn’t something we ought to glorify. It’s a tad unseemly, yes, a tad grotesque, yes, but more importantly, it runs counter to very important values.

As Americans, we value, supposedly, due process, which Osama (for very good reason) never had. We do not relish the meting out of justice. As a humanist, I value life. I reject wholeheartedly these all-too-religious overtones of good and evil, black and white, that human lives are valuable until we deem them irredeemable, at which point they become worthless. Osama was evil, so the story goes, and so his life no longer mattered. He may have deserved to die, but I reject the narrative that says that there exist pure good and evil in the world, and that we eradicate evil by whatever means necessary, as if morality itself were not a natural phenomenon, and as if the cultivation of moral excellence were not the task of a lifetime. James Croft did an excellent job of pointing out the history of this line of thinking in the humanist movement:

Humanism and its Aspirations declares that “Humanists are concerned for the well being of all”, and makes no distinction between the wicked and the just, the good and the evil. The Humanist Manifesto II is abundantly clear: “The preciousness and dignity of the individual person is a central humanist value.” So is the first Humanist Manifesto, saying “humanism will affirm life rather than deny it”.

The humanist perspective shows us that while we may have to kill, we simply do not have to revel in it. We should despair at every human life lost, to death, to destruction, to monstrous beliefs and behavior.

And if that plea to a shared humanity does not move you, a much more analytic approach exists. I subscribe to the ethical theory called desirism. If you don’t want to read about it, what you basically need to know is that it relies on desires as reasons for action, and modulation of those desires as ways of ensuring that more desires are fulfilled rather than thwarted. I find it clear, then, that we have many and strong reasons to condemn the desire to kill and be joyful in the killing, because humans are not so good at containing those emotions and applying them only in the appropriate circumstances. Humans are not so good at overcoming violent tribalist jingoistic instincts, and using patriotism to come together over shared values instead of policing self-identification boundaries by a country border. Humans are not so good at erring on the side of not killing rather than killing. Humans are not so good at affirming life, a value we have many and strong reasons to strengthen, as it is, and I will have nothing be a setback to reminding us everyday that the enemies we see around us are protagonists in their own narrative, are doing what they think best, are human just like us.

In my thinking about this issue, I’ve been taking inspiration from some interesting sources.

In Leviticus, 18:18, in the midst of many reactionary and troubling decrees, the Hebrew god tells the Israelites, that they must, 

“not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.”

“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.”

A more recent source gave us,

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, 
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.  
The deal is that this quote was said by MLK, except for the first line that was here previous, which goes something like: “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” I think that’s a beautiful sentiment too, but I don’t know how to attribute it, so I’ll just leave it here. 

On facebook, someone said, 

See, regardless he was still a person. Start dehumanizing someone, even someone like him, and you forget your own values. We are better than that, or we hope to be.”

My friend Sandra wrote a beautiful piece on the same issue here.
The movies Munich and Inglorious Basterds stylized and hyperbolized our trusted protagonists, forcing the audience to be revolted at the bleak humanity present even in our heroes.

And Orson Scott Card, that brilliant author who has changed my life more than once, penned some incredibly beautiful thoughts that he threaded effortlessly into his narratives:

In Ender’s Game, Ender says to Valentine, the sister who cannot understand that he has become a killer, a monster in his own right, 

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.”

Bean learns this message, and many books later, has an encounter with an incredibly evil enemy, with a pathological disregard for human life. And this is what transpires:

Achilles laughed nervously. “Come on now, Bean. We’ve known each other a long time.” He had backed up against a wall. He tried to lean against it. But his legs were a little wobbly and he started to slide down the wall. “I know you, Bean,” he said. “You can’t just kill a man in cold blood, no matter how much you hate him. It’s not in you to do that.” 

“Yes it is,” said Bean. 

He aimed the pistol down at Achilles’s right eye and pulled the trigger. The eye snapped shut from the wind of the bullet passing between the eyelids and from the obliteration of the eye itself. His head rocked just a little from the force of the little bullet entering, but not leaving. Then he slumped over and sprawled out on the floor. Dead. 

It didn’t bring back Poke, or Sister Carlotta, or any of the other people he had killed. It didn’t change the nations of the world back to the way they were before Achilles started making them his building blocks, to break apart and put together however he wanted. It didn’t end the wars Achilles had started. It didn’t make Bean feel any better. There was no joy in vengeance, and precious little in justice, either. 

But there was this: Achilles would never kill again.  

That was all Bean could ask of a little .22.

That Osama bin Laden will never kill again may indeed be all we can ask. Not that the wars end, or that freedom triumphs, but that we have taken a small step in a protracted campaign, and that all we can do is hope, and keep trying.


Updates from the blogosphere:

A more appropriate response to his killing would be to mourn the many tragedies that led up to his violent death, as well as the violent deaths of thousands in the attempt to eliminate him from the face of the Earth; to feel compassion for anyone who, because of their role in the military or government, American or otherwise, has had to play any role in killing another.”

“American citizens often like to think of themselves as good Christians—decent, kind God-fearing people who defend what’s right even when that’s difficult, just as Jesus would have. Last night was an opportunity to live up to that ideal, to let the world know that we are powerful but we’re not drunk with power. Instead, we got wasted and said we wanted to rub our balls on Osama’s dead face, belying American exceptionalism by not acting exceptional, but entirely common.”

Anger About the Ambiance of Alcohol

So I wrote about drugs before, but if I’m going to be honest, that’s not everything. That’s the intellectual analysis, certainly, but as it pertains to my life, alcohol and drugs (pretty much just pot) manifest themselves in a very specific way, one that I don’t want to have anything to do with.

People drink for all sorts of reasons. Given how many times I’ve had this particular conversation, I think I have a good idea of what the major ones are. As far as I can tell, it is: it tastes good, it’s a social lubricant, it’s what college kids/20-somethings/high school students/whatever broad community someone considers themselves a part of does, to get drunk, to relax, to forget, to not be sad.

And I think these are almost all terrible reasons. Drinking because you like the taste is fine, within moderation. I happen to hate the taste of alcohol, so that’s one reason for me. Doing something because your community expects you too is stupid unless there’s something fun or meaningful or important about it that underlies the social pressure, and to me, that’s all pretty obvious. Getting drunk is dangerous, painful and unhealthy.

Every other reason has something to do with emotion and comfort, with yourself or in a social situation. If you are trying to make something in your life go better, that’s great. Bettering yourself is almost always a worthwhile endeavor. The problem is that none of those problems are caused by lack of alcohol. They’re caused by something entirely different, and if you never bother to find out what those underlying causes are, your betterment will be artificial, short-lived and you’ll be missing out on a chance to understand yourself better. If you’re unhappy or socially awkward, those are things about your life you should acknowledge and do something about in a healthy and positive way. Alcohol seems like a pretty poor choice for that kind of thing. Again, I’m taking a consequentialism tack, here. A drink that calms you down, to extend the analogy, a hit off a bong – probably not awful things. Not something I want to partake in, but fine. But this is a general habit that people have of not understanding the causes of their problems, and that’s not the kind of person I want to be.

Finally, and possibly most relevantly, there’s a culture that alcohol creates. It’s a culture in which anything goes, in which you can be your stupidest, worst self and have a bullet-proof excuse for doing so. It’s a way to do all the things you’re ashamed of, be the person you wish you were (or weren’t) without shame or guilt. I guess to some people, that sounds fantastic, but I’m not ashamed of myself, and the parts of myself I don’t like are not shoved down into the depths of my consciousness only to be lured out by the presence of ethanol. If there’s a way I want or need to become a better person, I will work at it, day in and day out, until I’ve achieved it. Alcohol is an easy way out. People always tell me it lowers inhibitions. And if I happen to like my inhibitions? What then?

That’s just the personal part, too. In general, parties are, how shall I say, gross. Drunk/high people are often clumsy and irritating. They revel in the profundity of a conversation that would feel stupid to have sober. They almost never want to talk about anything important or interesting or novel in a sophisticated, meaningful way. There are certainly enjoyable aspects, but when everyone I know comes back saying how disgusting it was, I really want to know why they go back. The parties I’ve most liked are those in which I got to be…exactly who I always am. I got to talk to interesting people, have fantastic conversations, be loud and personable, dance and frolic, meet and hug. I do those things all the time, and I’m proud of who I am. Other people, on the other hand, do things they don’t appreciate or respect. They do things they wouldn’t normally do. If alcohol pushes you to do things you lose respect for yourself for, you need to change your priorities or your drinking habits. If it makes you have more respect for yourself, why don’t you bring that into the rest of your life?

And then there’s this arrogance. I’ll never know what it’s like and how amazing it is if I don’t try it. I’m uptight. More like, I have enough respect for myself to not want to do things I would disapprove of, and enough respect to cull all the best parts of some experience into the life I lead every day. This is a statement for me, a life-affirming idea that my life can be something I never want to escape from. I stumble home drunk, collapsing with laughter and exhaustion after a well-lived day. I dance on tables, jamming to great music and kinesthetically expressing myself with friends. I stay up too late having great conversations. I look up at the sky wondering what the meaning of life is. I meditate calmly. And I never wake up with a hangover and dozens of pictures to un-tag.


Also, this is a good read: click