Monday, October 22, 2012

Parenting in the 21st Century

Yesterday, I took my kids and went with my mother and grandmother to the pumpkin patch.  It was an alright time, even though those sort of things don't really amuse me anymore.  I was happy to see my kiddoes having a good time, but I didn't want to necessarily dilly-dally.

Well, the time came for us to make our way out of the place, and my mom wanted to stop at the gift shop.  My grandmother told the kids they could have two things each.  My son, who is seven, immediately found two things that he wanted.  Actually, he had difficulty deciding which two things he wanted out of the myriad of crap that caught his eye.  Naturally, he asked if he could have more than two things.

My mother almost said yes, but I looked at him rather sternly and told him to stop being so greedy.  My mom shot me a look of disaproval, to which I answered with my own furled brows, finally just waving her off with my hand.

Then it came down to my daughter.  All she wanted was a little bear.  She's only four, but she's like me in a lot of ways.  She's not too flashy, and she doesn't really want a whole lot of stuff.  She just wanted this one little bear, but my grandmother and mom kept asking her, "are you sure you only want one thing?"  When they asked her a third time--after already answering "no" both times--I finally stepped in and said "she doesn't want two things, she doesn't need two things.  Stop trying to make her buy some junk that she doesn't even want."

That's a key difference between my mother and me.  For whatever reason, she's all about excess.  To see her house at Christmas time is to see why the Christmas decoration business thrives so well.  She wants to have tons of stuff, and she wants my kids to have tons of stuff.

On birthdays, I have to specifically tell everyone "one. toy. only."  And when I do, I always get groans of complaint.  If those idiots could only see the ridiculous mound of toys we've accumulated over the years--toys that they hardly ever play with--then perhaps they would understand.  My children want for nothing.  They're supply seriously outweighs their demand.  My mother apparently thinks that happiness and contentment lies in quanity, whereas I want my kids to learn that it's all about quality.

That's why I limit how many gifts they get for holidays.  That's why going to the toy store is something that only happens less than once in a blue moon.  In fact, I almost never take them to the toy store unless they have gift cards to spend from their birthdays.

I found myself feeling rather disgusted that they were pushing the kids to get more shit that they didn't even want or need.  The word that kept popping into my head was "decadence."  Then I started thinking about an episode of American Dad, specifically the one in which Stan Smith squares off against a former Soviet national.  He was a commie, of course, and all he talked about was "the decadent west."  I sort of chuckled to myself, but it got me thinking.

I think that American parents should teach their children about the value of frugality and rejecting an opulent lifestyle.  American society anymore is all about more stuff--not better stuff, just more stuff.  I don't want my kids turning out like that.  I don't want them buying into this obscene consumer culture that constantly bombards them.

Parenting in the 21st century means that you have to instill the values of much earlier centuries--those tried and true values that transform children into healthy, well adjusted adults of good virtue.  I want to say that the general value should be moderation, but also to teach children that although it's not necessarily wrong to want more stuff, they should learn to be happy with what they have.  And they should learn to be happy with only having a little bit.

I have the few things that make me happy.  I'm all about electronics and gaming: my PC is a pretty good gaming rig, I've got a nice 32 inch LCD TV, and I've got a PS3.  Other than that, though, I really don't want much else.  I'm fine with my books, my games, and my interwebs.

Be happy with less, because less makes your life less complicated.  Less material possessions makes one's life more meaningful, because that means we have to focus on the life of the mind rather than the life of hacing four cars and a summer home.

Am I alone on this?

Monday, October 15, 2012

What Would You Do If God Didn't Exist?

The question itself is not mean to presuppose God'e existence, it was just the shortest way to ask the question.  Here is the fullest version of the thought experiment I am asking all of my readers to try out.

If tomorrow, humanity discovered definitive evidence that disproved the existence of God and the afterlife, how would that alter your life?  What would you do with yourself knowing that there is no afterlife, and that we are all here by a one-in-a-dillion chance?

This question applies to believers, non-believers, and agnostics alike.  I am willing to bet that even people who say they are atheist still have some glimmer of hope in them, some nagging desire for there to be existence beyond this physical realm.  I don't think any human particularly enjoys the notion of the void--of a state of no consciousness.  So what would it do to you to know, with certainty (because I don't care who you are: you can never know for certain what lies beyond the veil of life) that this life is all there is?

This question may be hard to answer for theists.  I get the sense that they don't often entertain the notion of a Godless universe, because such a thought is frightening to them.  I admit, the thought of such a thing is disturbing to me as well, but I am guessing that my fears are different than that of, say, a Christian or a Muslim.

For me, the non-existence of God would not mean much.  In fact, it would actually make me feel even more special.  To think that somehow this entire existence we know today is the product of sheer chance is pretty damn amazing in my opinion.  To think, that out of all the billions of stars and the maelstrom of unorganized matter in the universe, this thing we call life happened here on Earth is sort of overwhelming, especially when you know how utterly inhospitable much of the universe is.

I already have a sense of insignificance, because even if there is a God who thinks I'm special, that doesn't take away from the fact that when I die, an imperceivable fraction of the universe will care.  My life means nothing to Mars, or to Alpha Centauri.  The Vega system will never hear about the mediochre Jack Camwell dying, as all humans must, in relative obscurity.

The words I am writing at this moment will have no greater impact on the whole of existence than a single drop of water bears significance to the ocean.  And you know what?  I'm pretty okay with that.  I don't need to believe that some mystical force loves me and cherishes me, because I know there are other human beings to whom I mean the world.  I understand and accept my insignificance, but my children sure as hell don't.  I'm more important to them than anything they even know of (except maybe for Spongebob and Adventure time--haha).

And I know that the people I care about certainly are not insignificant to me.  My children, my family and friends--they all mean something to me.  They're special to me from my mother to the Anonymous Howard Beale, as I like to call him.

So why would I need God to feel like my life still bears meaning in the face of insignificance?  Should not the prospect of facing the eternal void, the uncompromising abyss, only spur me to seek further meaning and greatness to this thing we call life?

Perhaps I would be liberated if I knew that God did not exist.  Perhaps that would allow my mind to explore further possibilities of what exists beyond existence.  Maybe, just maybe, I would find more satisfaction in life knowing that this is all I have.  If God does not give my life meaning and purpose, then it would befall my shoulders to do so.

That's what I'm asking my readers to do.  Imagine that there is no God, and that the only meaning we have is what we make of it.  It sounds bleak at first, because there are those who would make humanity out to be nothing but piles of flesh and bone--resources to be used up.  But there are those, like myself, who do not consign ourselves to our physicality simply because God may not exist.  Life is special whether it is by complete chance or if it is the design of a higher intelligence.

This week's experiment is to find meaning in life without God.  Try it, if you dare.  You may be surprised what you come up with.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Evolve or Die

First, a little background about my education might give some context on where I'm coming from.  I double majored in history and political science in college.  There's several areas that historians focus on beyond period and place.  Some are cultural historians, some social, others military.  My focus was intellectual history, also called the history of ideas.

On the political science side, my focus was on American government for most of my education, but towards the end I started to focus on totalitarianism.  I was very interested in how a democratic society could transform into a totalitarian regime (i.e. the Weimar Republic Germany transforming into Nazi Germany).

So combining what I learned in college, and what I've learned since, from these disciplines, I think I've come up with a theory for the intellectual evolution of the human species.  Bear with me.

I see human intellectual evolution as a maze.  The goal, as in any maze, is to get to the end point, but this maze is different in that there are two endpoints.  I sincerely believe that a Type 1 society is the final stage of human intellectual evolution (in terms of how society is organized), but there are two possible outcomes.  The first is a sort of advanced, democratic type 1 society, the alternative being a totalitarian type 1 society.

It might take a minute for that to be clear.  A type 1 society can exist either as a free society or a totalitarian society.  For those who might not know what I mean by "Type 1 society," I'm referring to something akin to Star Trek.  The idea is that the world is organized as one body of people with one specific purpose: the perpetual survival of the human species.  It would be like how the United States is organized in terms of Federal => State => Local government, except a type 1 society would be organized as World => National => State/Local/Whatever government.

Just as state goals are held as important but at once subborned to national goals--i.e. a state goal cannot interfere with a national, federal goal--a type 1 society would function in a similar way: national goals are subborned to world goals.

Back to the main point, we're in a maze.  Sometimes we hit dead ends and we have to go back and find a new path.  Those dead ends are points in history where we as a species arrived at a bad place intellectually, and a change in course was required if we were to endure.  Well, we hit a similar point with the rise of totalitarianism.  It wasn't a dead end though: it was a fork in the maze.  Instead of the maze being horizontal, the fork went virtical.  Upwards leads to an advanced democratic society--what that looks like, I don't know--and down leads to a totalitarian world, much like Orwell's 1984.

The problem, though, is that we didn't take a fork.  When we got there, we were so insistent on making horizontal progress that we refused to make virtical evolutions.  We were scared.  We saw what fruits totalitarianism would bear, but we also feared what any advanced form of democracy might look like.  We were convinced that what we had previously discovered--America's current form of democratic-republican government--was it.  We thought we had reached the pinnacle, so there was no need for further evolution.

So instead of choosing a direction, we set out to break through the divide and barrel through the wall.  We continue breaking through the wall to this day, only the problem is that we don't have the tools to do so.  We're breaking through with our hands and stone, bloody and beaten.  Because of the horrible toll it's taking on us, we're becoming deformed as a species, and eventually we won't even look human.

We will break through the wall and get to the end, to be sure.  But we'll come out of it as monsters.  And once we break through, and all that's left is the end, gravity will kick in, and we'll fall straight to the bottom.  On our current course, we will end up as one totalitarian world, and we will have lost our human will to fight it.

So what do we do?  Well, the only thing we can do is go back.  We have to go back to the fork in the road and figure out how we can take the path up.  We cannot continue on our current intellectual path, because it's only making this country--and the world--worse.  We have to evolve.  Democracy, republican government, are not the final solution.  There is something beyond American government that will take us to where we need to be.

We will be one world no matter what.  A day will come when the human species finally becomes cognizant of the need for togetherness and singularity of purpose.  If we continue to stifle our intellectual evolution, if we remain stubborn in our assertion that 21st century America is as good as it gets, we will end up as a totalitarian world.  That world is death: death of the human spirit and character.

Evolve or die.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Dumbass Idea of the Week: Me Edition

What was my dumbass idea for the week?  Thinking that I could have an actual discussion with people who don't even have the slightest clue about anything that has to do with history, cultural anthropology, or anything that even remotely resembles social science.

You can't explain cultural evolution to a person when the person doesn't even acknowledge the fact that the Middle East is in Asia.

You also can't argue with someone who completely ignores just about every distinction you make, and then tells you that you failed to make that very distinction.

You also can't have a discussion with someone that poses a question, or makes a point, and then completely ignores every single refutation you offered in response.

You can't debate with someone whose only answer to your refutations is "you're wrong."

You can't talk about religion with a person who tries to prove that the fringe wackoes of a particular religion somehow represent the true nature of the religion.

You can't talk about religious violence with someone who refuses to acknowledge the brutal history of Christianity.

So I'm a dumbass for arguing about the evolution of the various human cultures with a person whose understanding of culture goes only so far as to know that there's a difference between Arabs and Persians, and then subsequently tries to use such a distinction to "dismantle" my argument.  Nevermind the fact that I was speaking about "Far Eastern Asian" cutlures in comparison.

You can't argue with someone that blatantly ignores just about everything you say.