28 December 2007

Fears of the Presidential Race

To demonstrate my youth I must say that the presidential elections of 2008 will be my first. I'm still a little unsure about where my vote goes, though my only question is which candidate truly represents the left, and which are faking to get votes. In any event, my thoughts about the election are (no surprise here) largely negative. I have several very real fears about what this next year will bring. I'll outline them here in order from what I think least likely to most likely.

First, and perhaps most crazy sounding, is that come January 2009 democracy in the United States will end. Though I'm told by many that Cheney is more likely to be the offending, I perhaps gives Bush more credit than he deserves. When people say, "well, finally we'll be rid of Bush," I answer, "if he accepts the election." This man and his cronies (Loyal Bushies?) may or may not have stolen elections already, throwing our ideas of election into chaos. Is it not conceivable, then, that after elections have taken place and a winner has been announced that Bush or Cheney or whoever declare a state of marshall law and hold office indefinitely? The executive branch will have no problem keeping the armed forces on their side, to strike fear into the hearts of those who cry foul. Is it not possible that Bush might, after some glorified democrats triumphs, declare (with backing from the DOJ) that the elections were corrupt or defunct and put off re-counts pending an internal investigation that the legislative branch and US people should not worry their feeble little minds about? Most people seem to think that revolution will follow and no doubt attempts will occur, but depending on the immediate reaction of the military these rebellions would be little more than brief bloody skirmeshes, uprisings of the power-hungry liberals to subvert true "American" values with their rigged elections and messages of change. This situation I consider least likely, but nonetheless a very real possibility.

Second, and most frightening perhaps, would be the assassination of the leading opposition candidate, indeed the one that offers hope to many and would seem to have the election in the bag. Many of the great people of the world have been cut down in their prime before their true dreams were lived. Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy in the 60s, Salvador Allende in Chile, Mahatma Ghandi and Benazir Bhutto (for a modern and recent inspirational flair) are but a few. Close-mindedness, indoctrination and misunderstanding create real feelings of fear in some brought on by progressive change. There are plenty of people in the United States today, indeed significant unified percentages, to whom the idea of a black or woman as president of "America" would be unacceptable in the extreme. Despite his low approval ratings Bush still has loyal followers and many republicans don't veer from the "Bush America;" conservative, religious ideas of morality and values. For 6 years there has been a relative peace in the United States. But now, in a time that many are expecting and waiting on drastic change, nothing could be more devastating than the assassination of the leading democrats who seem to offer the most hope to many. I do not wish to see this one, of all three, come true, but there are many similarities of my generation now and the hippies of the sixties, and I think between our current democratic front-runners and the young Bobby Kennedy. Let us hope these similarities are largely superficial.

Finally, and most likely I think, is that despite the overwhelming likelihood that one, if not two, of the democratic front-runners will win the office, that the majority voter turnout will be republicans and conservatives who I believe care more to protect their nation, than do the liberals who are riding on a wave of assumption. Come November I wonder if a great number of people will see their vote as pointless, that the Iowa primaries decided the election nearly a year before. I don't think though that conservative republicans and the religious right will consider their votes lost, but instead work much harder to counter the rise of liberalism. The outcome might be a fearful upset and the continuation of the political path towards the right that this country is on.

Whatever the case, two things are certain, two things that should not be forgotten. One is that voting, however futile it may be, is the only chance that the public has to weigh in on the future of the nation and that we should never take the future as granted. Second is that Georgie still has an entire year to continue to screw things up beyond recognition, another year to start another war, another year to waste money on the military, another year to utter idiotic mumblings that have made the US the laughing-stock of the world.

26 December 2007

Holiday Ponderings

Who would of thought that a full week of doing absolutely nothing could be so rewarding? Over the recent years I've come to figure out myself, my philosophy and my place in the world more and more. I am at such a point now that I feel I can cope with and conquer anything that life has in store, truly something comforting in a world that appears as dismal as it does to me at time. Nonetheless, this holiday season has caused me some mental unrest. I have been uncomfortable saying "Merry Christmas" and as I am surrounded by a largely Catholic family this produces some awkward moments. I've been bombarded by multitudes of messages: "traditional" Christmas, alternate holidays, consumerism, hope, despair, family, secular Christmas. Here is a time of year when for weeks the world over is almost completely engulfed in preparation and consideration of a Christian holiday (which is perhaps just derivative of more ancient Pagan celebrations of the winter solstice) that is celebrated in a true capitalist style that drains nearly every last drop of reverence from the celebration. What is a Humanihilsocialist to do?

I found myself celebrating what can be considered a secular Christmas, that is, gift-giving and receiving largely spurred by consumerist urges and family ritual derived from Christian associations. I was truly, and oddly, uncomfortable with this. Why is it that I am hesitant and uncomfortable with associating language and reciprocity with Christian ideas? Yet, at the same time I won a war this year, a war I've been fighting for nearly 10 years, the war with my mother over church. For the first year she didn't make me attend Christmas Eve mass. Having already escaped the Easter required mass due to school I think I can finally say that my association with Catholicism, Christianity and religion has finally been severed. Any lack of comfort with this situation is due almost totally to obligations I have to my mother and the sad thought of her attending mass alone with no successful, world-traveling son to sport on her arm.

Christmas has certainly changed for me, indeed I shun that word. For the first year I've used Holidays and holiday season to reciprocate wishes of merry Christmas. The holidays have, for me, become more a session of guilt than anything. I come along for the Christmas celebrations of my family and partake in ruthless consumerism, two aspects of US life that my opposition to is the cornerstone of my college-angsty identity. I think, to a large extent (hopefully without becoming too high-and-mighty) once we look through the bullshit, Christmas isn't all it's hyped up to be. This is perhaps one reason for my odd feelings this season. Then again, perhaps my position of perspective, refusal to accept hegemony and best attempts to live a life of total reflexivity has finally caught up with me. Maybe I found myself, as a result of analysis, questioning and separation, alone, for the first time unable to connect with my family in the ways that I used to. Have I taken it too far? Here I have come to questions I cannot fully answer, maybe in the Holidays to come.

Sacrifices are a part of life, are they not? Perhaps making my mother and grandmothers and aunt happy is enough cause to become a hypocrite, if only for a few weeks.

Try this on for size. What if my analysis and questions above are as much bullshit as the consumerism and questionable Christianity? What if, to truly see through the bullshit, we must look further, through the opposition and criticisms of Christmas. In the end, spoken like a true humanist, it comes down to people and the human condition. Family, celebrations of new beginings, giving the best gift and receiving the perfect thought, culminations of long years and a chance for people to see their religion crest in ritual resplendence, these create undeniable happiness for many. Even for those who suffer the full onslaught and domination of capitalism and consumerism, there is the "true" holiday spirit of love and closeness and religion that makes the world bearable for at least one day.

My jury is still not in on Christmas. I leave this entry perhaps more confused than when I left. Its probably a good thing, a mental exercise for these remaining days of my winter break. Ah, the holidays!

14 December 2007

Human Terrain System

I feel a pressing need to weigh in. This is by no means new news to anthropologists, but it is starting to come to light in popular media in a worrisome way.

The United States military has allocated some 40 million dollars to fund what they term, "Human Terrain Systems." Simply put (though it is not a simple thing) the military is using Ph.D level cultural anthropologists to acquire military intelligence at home and abroad in the Iraqi and Afghani fields. This ranges from field research, to translation and to cultural mediation and education. In two recent articles from the New York Times and US News and World Report, this program as been addressed in a way that seems to celebrate is effectiveness. In both these articles they mention, if briefly, the debate that is surrounding this program within University and professional anthropological organizations. However, the program is addressed mostly with regards to its conception, implementation and successes in the field. I feel that the NY Times article does a better job at balancing the two sides, but speaking as an aspiring anthropologist, I can say that for many this program shakes anthropologists and our discipline to the very core.

The benefits of this program are very real and in many cases offer benefits to all parties involved (research for the anthropologists, an alternative to armed force for the military and some cultural understanding for the Iraqis or Afghanis). The problems, unfortunately, are not so easy to see and the benefits will easily overshadow them. Anthropology, for the most part, has come to terms with its history and fundamental association to colonialism. As a result the field walks on a very thin and nebulous ethical boundary. I believe that by applying anthropological techniques to military operations we tread far from an acceptable level of ethical deviance. Regardless of the non-violent success stories told and the military's claims that all information will be public, the ethical use and disclosure of research in the field cannot be assured. The military is using anthropologists to disassemble the enemy so that they might more efficiently establish authority and achieve victory. I am wary of saying that anthropologists are being used, for any well-trained anthropologist will see the dangers of such work, yet they do so anyway. Whatever the case, anthropologists in the combat field are part of a larger cultural domination and overrunning. It is clear that we meant not simply to liberate Iraq from a dictator but to instill US notions of government and lifestyle within Iraqi life. The connections to colonial anthropology which, simply put, meant to understand the savage, not for the sake of the savage or the scholar but for the empire. I personally agree with Professor Gonzales that anthropologists who are involved are naively interpreting the military's goals and unethically applying the discipline to violent armed struggle.

An official American Anthropological Association (AAA) statement takes no definite stance, stating that the situation offers benefits and dangers, and that instead of being absolute in a stance we should instead assure that the most ethical practices triumph and that much much care be taken. However, this seems to come across (in the media, for what its worth) as another example of scholars keeping their discipline sacred and in the ivory tower.

Personally, I think that anthropology has come a long way from its colonial legacy and that modern anthropological thought has absolutely no place in a realm where social science can be subverted, indeed perverted, by military powers. This is a very dangerous line to tread and anthropologists ought not to go there. Here I see that the military is so close to seeing that its run out of options and is not as powerful as it thinks. But manages to find a way to ride to victory on the backs of cultural anthropologists who can provide an easily abused link for resolving conflict; cultural understanding. Perhaps in arrogance I say that anthropology has a lot of power, especially in an increasingly global world. Ought we to associate this power with military force? No.

10 December 2007

"Saved" By Mother Nature

I'm debating whether or not this space and the writing that fills it can be considered "constructive." Whatever the case may be, this evening I turn to it in lieu of certain large papers that are bearing down.

Of late my encounters with Christianity have been many. From the encounter with a friend about an early blog, to an unsuccessful conversion attempt to, to a recent viewing of "Jesus Camp" and culminating this evening with news about killings in a missionary training facility and televangelists on late-night TV. Maybe someone is trying to send me a message?

Perhaps without taste I asked a different friend (whom I knew to detest missionary work) if she had been in Colorado recently. Such is the reality of humor many times. Still it provoked a brief conversation where she asked if anti-religious sentiments might be the motive. While I'm sure that the perpetrators of this crime in Colorado will be accused as hating god and religion and once again sully the name of atheists, the irony of the situation is that those who are "against" religion are not the ones that have tendency towards violence. Some might call us peace-nicks. Indeed, still another friend (for isn't through others and the world around us that we truly perceive and realize ourselves?) jokes at my being walked over or avoiding conflict due to my pacifist ideologies. Why is it that without god the world suddenly becomes a much more reasonable, happy and peaceful place? It must be that pesky devil seducing my mind with such temptations.

Religions are interesting in that they tend to accuse sects within their cosmologies more of being, say, not Christian, than they do competing religions. This comes to light in Christianity the most, although I know Muslims are won't to criticize Suni or Shia Islam. The evangelical movement in the United States is an interesting case, then, for they say that they are saved and that other forms of Christianity, say Catholicism, got it wrong. The reverse is true when "true" Christians condemn the often militaristic message and practices of extreme evangelicals. Still other Christians might speak out against all church organization period, claiming that finding Jesus can only happen on an individual message (yet they still try and tell others to find Jesus in the same way). With all this bickering within the Christian faith, what are we to make? It is not necessary for me to add other religions like Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism into the mix to further complicate the message of true salvation that all sects of Christianity offer for one or another.

I am glad, then, to have been "saved" by Mother Earth, Darwin, Marx, Vonnegut, Einstein (and the like); indeed saved by my own logic and critical nature. For atheists have an opportunity to experience such religious bickering from a different perspective. What I see is that many many different, often irreconcilable, cosmologies are stubbornly preaching that it is their way and their alone that will offer the individual salvation and make one's life complete. Individuals within each cosmology, then, feel the right and NEED to say that others are incorrect and (drawing of my own experience) imply that their lives are forfeit (pointless?) and that they are too arrogant to accept the "truth." Who has the right to make such statements? Not I, not the Christian faith, not anyone. Truth is not an absolute concept, it is individual, fluid and dynamic. Nothing incites more disrespect within me than when someone has the nerve to tell me that my way is wrong, their's is right and that I need to see that or accept my fate as a hopeless soul. My ideology is not for other's to judge just as other's are not mine to judge. Clearly I have opinions of Christianity and am not afraid to point out discontinuities, but have I said explicitly in this blog that Christianity is wrong? That Christians are denying the Secular Humanist truth? That they are too proud to humble themselves to reality? No, because no one, be they a deity incarnate or not, has the place, experience or cognitive ability to say that one way is right and the other wrong.

Is it an atheist who likely killed those missionaries in Colorado? Is it someone like me, who by seeing beyond god, allows (indeed, humbles) his mind to the fact that it is not all-knowing? Was it someone who respects not only all human life, but all forms of human thinking (without feeling high and mighty enough to PITY the helpless ignoramus)? No. Likely this perpetrator has put faith in some sort of concrete ideology that offers no questioning, only comfort in not asking questions, a false certainty. Is this perpetrator likely to be Christian? I don't believe so. Muslim? Even less likely than Christian. This was probably purely random. Perhaps for that reason it has little connect to this rant.

I am an atheist. I have concluded, through what I conceive to be logical thought, that the physical realm that we inhabit is the only one we can fully experience during our cognitive biological life. When we die, our organic remains are recycled by nature and we travel into the same nothingness that we spawned from. There is an equilibrium of energy in the universe and always has been. Seeing that this life is all that we have, we might as well make the most of it, without shrugging off the problems and turmoils as tools of the devil and illusory. I'm not perfect. I'm not saved, I'm not loved. I'm responsible, to myself and to humanity. All who wish to prove me wrong and tell me that I am blind to the "real" truth. To all those people: Kiss My Heretical Demonic Ass!