Today I saw a typically disheveled looking homeless (probably) man spend at least 2 minutes adjusting his beanie in the mirror of a public bathroom. (It lasted longer than I witnessed, because he was adjusting when I came in and when I left {after having blasted a piss])



I finally saw inception. The top rated sci-fi movie on Imdb. It was an enjoyable movie to watch, but I found myself not able to get past the notion of a 'dream within a dream'. I try not to let things like that bother me, especially in science fiction movies (because if I did, it would be hard to enjoy almost any Sci-Fi film), but the idea of a dream within a dream seemed so dumb.
Close your eyes (don't really, keep reading!) and imagine yourself sitting in a chair. Then imagine that your imagination self is imagining a train and on that train in your imagined self's imagination there is you, sitting in one of the seats, imaging a buffalo.
Imagining yourself imagining is the same thing as a dream within a dream. It isn't an actual THING distinct from a regular dream. It isn't as if there is an actual dream happening in your dream. A dream within a dream is just a dream about yourself dreaming. Or a dream about a dream. A dream within a dream is the same thing as a dream. (i'm a little tipsy right now. had a few 'key lime' cocktails (which are delicious) at the Chupacabra')


Terms I have seen in comment sections of news sites by conservatives to refer to Obama: Obummer, Obumma, Nobama, Omama, Obamination. The two I have seen most often are 'Obummer' and 'Nobama'
I don't recall any other politician having this many nicknames.



I'm not sure if this is a (relatively) recent trend or not, but I feel as if I notice it more than I used to, and that is people who reject the use of labels, particularly in reference to people and even more particularly in reference to themselves. I notice this label rejection most often by people who fancy themselves as 'Freethinkers' or 'Nonconformists', but it seems to have spread amongst the broader population as well. (but then again, seeing oneself as a 'freethinker' and 'non-comformist' seems to have become pretty popular in it's own right. Even car commercials are trying to appeal to a person's sense of non-conformity. Car commercials! It is hard for me to see how buying a mass produced automobile could be an act of rebellion).

I suppose I can understand, somewhat, why a person might feel resistance to the use of labels. After all, labels are reductionistic. Describing someone as a 'surfer' or 'new yorker' doesn't capture the complexity of the individual. It may lead to incorrect assumptions about that person, that because they may fit within a certain category, people might incorrectly conclude they share other common attributes with people in that category.

However, this is a problem with almost all words! All nouns are essentially labels. To say anything about anything we must use labels. And yes, it will be reductionistic and yes it will lead to assumptions some of which are incorrect, but that is the nature of language, it is imperfect.

To deny the use of labels in describing people seems like an unnecessary obstacle, that, if anything, is more inconvenient than helpful.
Of course some descriptive words will conjure biases in people, but most people are able to realize that while a person may be a _____ they also have other attributes as well or that not everyone who is ____ is also _____. (but maybe a lot of them are) And while labels might lead to incorrect assumptions, they can also communicate a lot of information succinctly.
Plus, when people respond to a question by saying they don't like labels, they almost always go one to describe themselves using some other sort of label, albeit one slightly longer and perhaps something they made up. For example you might ask someone 'are you a skater?' to which they would reply 'I don't label myself. I like to think of myself as a person who has fun riding on a skate board'. This is still a label, it just uses more words.

These label rejecters seem to have an unnecessarily large concern with how others perceive them, going so far as to choose the words with which they can be described and thought about. I guess my general feeling about the subject is, lighten up, labels have their drawbacks but are useful as well.



If mild blows to the head were as fatal as depicted in Tv and movies, I think most people would die before they turned 20.


Existence of God

In my opinion, the strongest argument for the existence of God is similar to the common argument for the existence of extra-terrestrial life, ie. even if the probabibility of life emerging at any given time on any given planet is infinitesimal, because there are billions of galaxies with billions of planets that have existed for billions years, the odds of life developing many times over are high.
(I don't think this argument is entirely solid, but it serves it's purpose)
By the same sort of thinking, if life is probably appearing in various places throughout the cosmos, it is likely some beings have evolved, either organically or through their own bio-engineering to have a strong enough understanding and control over the properties of the Universe to be what we might consider a 'God'.
Of course this wouldn't be like the standard conception of God that many religions hold: a being which has existed forever and created the universe. (although if the multi-verse theory is true, perhaps this being, or group of beings come to be in another universe and created our particular one). However, it would would be a God familiar to Latter Day Saints, ie. a being (or group of beings) that through time and work progressed to 'deification', and for whatever reason has taken an interest in our well being, either as creator, or merely observer.
Perhaps these beings would have an interest in helping other creatures become like they are. They may have learned to extend life and capture 'souls' and when we die would take us to a wonderful place where we continue to grow.
Or if we are something like a simulation running on their computers, so that as far as we are concerned, they created us and our Universe, when our virtual selves die we could go to a virtual heaven and exist for as long as they kept their programs running.

Even if such beings did exist, there is no saying what their nature would be like. They might be empathetic and loving, malicious and brutal, or indifferent.
Of course, perhaps the ways our universe can be manipulated are far more limited and no being, even in theory could ever achieve enough power to be anything close to what we would consider a God.


Seasonal brain fog.

I've noticed that I seem to have a yearly cycle in terms of mental states. My mind seems to go through regular phases that correlate with the seasons. Each fall I find my mind getting foggy. I find it more difficult to think and speak clearly. It is not that it is a symptom of seasonal depression, because I really enjoy the fall and find that I am generally happier during this time. But a haze seems to cover my mind. Perhaps it is the lack of sunlight. Perhaps it is just part of a natural rhythm my body follows and it happens to occur as the days get shorter. Perhaps something else entirely.
I've begun numerous blog entries that I quite after only a few lines because I have trouble clearly thinking about and articulating what I have in mind.

I seem to experience this every year around the same time and it usually lasts a couple months.

I make a great deal of effort to communicate clearly. Clear communication is something I value a great deal. When the fog descends on my brain I can sometimes struggle with expressing even simple ideas. Because clear thinking and communication something important to me, it can be frustrating when it becomes a struggle. Even now as I am writing this I am struggling to find the correct words to explain myself and feel i am falling short. Hopefully my seasonal brain fog doesn't last too long this year or I can figure a way out of it.


an overheard conversation.

Marissa and I went to a cafe for lunch today and sitting beside us were two guys who seemed like they might be on a second 'date'. The reason it did not seem like a first date is because while they didn't seem to know each other well, they weren't asking first date sort of questions.

The cafe was fairly crowded, so although we were sitting about 1 foot away, i only heard occasional excerpts of their conversation.

Shortly after their sandwiches were brought out I heard guy A say, seemingly in response to something I didn't hear 'Well, I'm going to be drunk all weekend so don't bother contacting me'
to which guy B replied 'then maybe you shouldn't have made out with me then.'
Causing Guy A to defensively respond 'I get really friendly when I'm drunk.'

This was then followed by a very long, uncomfortable silence.
Since this happened at about the same time their food was brought out, I imagine their meal together was fairly painful. Marissa and I left shortly after, so I didn't get to see how it turned out.


follow up

To follow up with my last post.
I do think conservatism, within limits, does have value. While it is often what keeps societies from progressing, it can also serve to keep progress in check. If there is not a group which fights change, a culture may progress too rapidly. And by too rapidly I mean seeking change that is untested and may be harmful.
If everyone in the USA had been ultra liberal, perhaps we would have embraced Communism at some point last century, which history has shown can be a disaster.


The Universal Application of Conservatism

I think one good measure of an ideology is how well it can be universally applied.
If an ideology can't easily be universally applied, then that is likely to merely be self serving to those who advocate it.

I think this is one problem with conservative ideology (by conservative, I mean, wanting to preserve traditional values), is that it can't easily be universally applied. A conservative from one culture, wouldn't want people from other cultures to be conservative, that is, to try and preserve their traditional beliefs. Conservatives often wish for individuals from other cultures to adopt their values, which would make those people progressives or liberals.

People who are the conservative within one culture are often those most at odds with conservative individuals from other cultures. Members of the Taliban are considered extremely conservative and their greatest enemies are conservatives of western culture. I would imagine that many of those who most oppose the Taliban in the US are those who would most likely be among it's ranks had they been raised in an Arab country.

Progressive/Liberal ideology doesn't have this problem. It can easily be Universally applied. Progressives from one culture will often relate most to progressives from other cultures.

(this entry used the word 'most' 4 times. 5 counting the last sentence. I tried to think of another word to use, so I would sound repetitive, but didn't think of one quickly so gave up)


Other people's opinions.

One attribute I admire in other people is the ability to be comfortable with other people's beliefs/opinions/values, particularly those with which they disagree. Plus being comfortable with those beliefs/opinions/values being expressed. This is a surprisingly rare attribute. For some reason most of us have a need for others to share our thoughts and opinions.
If I get the motivation I will flesh out more of my thinking on this subject.


A question for people who say Obama is a Socialist.

If holding traditional Democratic Party beliefs makes Obama a socialist, does that mean George W. Bush is a Libertarian or an Anarchist? (no, of course not. Obama isn't a Socialist)


Boyd K Packer

As unfortunate as the Boyd K Packer talk was, I think the situation surrounding it contains a hopefully element.

It is significant that his talk caused an uproar and was national news. This is the same guy who once advised people to punch their mission companion if they were gay. That was far more offensive than his recent talk and it didn't receive any sort of negative publicity in the mainstream media, that I am aware of.
As few as 5 years ago, I would be surprised if Boyd K packers talk would have received any media attention at all, but now, in 2010, it is a huge news story.
The backlash to his talk illustrated how far our culture as come in just the past decade in not only accepting homosexuality, but also in understanding it's biological origins.



Our neighborhood has an unusually large amount of people who live in campers or RVS.
At first I thought it was weird so many old RVs were parked in the area, and gradually I have come to realize they are all being lived in. Sometimes I will catch a glimpse of someone through a window, or they will say something to me as I am walking the dog. One lady and her male companion were doing lines of coke in their trailer as she told me how cute she thought my dog is.

The homeless people in this neighborhood are also unusually friendly, in a pleasant, non over-bearing way i'm not used to expecting from the homeless.. Because of this I end up buying one of those newspapers homeless people sell for a dollar almost every day. If anyone needs any back issues, I have several copies of each one published laying around. Not actually. I usually throw them away when I get home. I used to read them, but now I only read papers sold by people with homes.


Having a stat counter on my website is addicting. I can see what pages people look at and for how long. I can even see what pictures they look at or download. I check it every time I check my email. It has been surprising to see what images people look at most. It has also been surprising to realize how much a person can look at in under 3 minutes.


I guess my neighbors have moved out. But they didn't take their dog, which spends most of it's waking hours barking. Fortunately it's barking isn't super loud and our walls are reasonably sound proofed. We can hear the barking, but it is quite enough that it melts into the background. Actually, now that I am paying attention, I notice the barking has stopped. I guess I got so used to it, it stopped becoming a thing I noticed. Occasionally someone that looks like my neighbor, but younger and female, who I guess is his daughter, comes by to feed it. At least, I figure that is what she is doing because one time she borrowed a can opener and had some dog food in one hand.



Almost every creative medium I have encountered has piqued my interest to the point where I've wanted to learn it myself. Some things like music or print making, I realized I either wasn't naturally gifted, or enjoyed the process enough to keep at it. Others, like ceramics, writing or painting, I obviously enjoy very much and continue directing my time and effort in those directions.
One area that has never really grabbed my attention at all is digital media. Unlike other media, I can appreciate what others do with it yet have no desire to try it myself.
Because of this, I know almost nothing when it comes to graphic design or web developing.
While I've wanted a website for a long time and even had a particular design in mind, my lack of interest and ability has stood in the way.
Now that I have graduated college and more or less committed myself to pursuing a career as an artist, I've wanted to make more of a focused effort on marketing myself and having gallery shows. I felt it was important to have a website, so I could have something to show those I approached.

Over the past couple weeks, in the moments I could catch in between caring for our new puppy, ( I am still amazed at how much work it is! I had thought people were exaggerating when they said it was like taking care of a baby), I finally buckled down, did my research and learned how to make a fairly simple site. While it is nothing like my dream idea and nothing fancy, it is clean, simple and gets the job done. Perhaps one day, my dream site will happen, but until then I have this:


I am still working on a few elements, but it is complete enough to be unveiled.



Nature Loving

While I appreciate the natural world, with it's wonder and beauty, I also marvel at the amazing ways we've been able to manipulate the natural world and take advantage of it's often astonishing properties.

I'm awed not only at the fact that things we find in the earth like copper and silicon, when arranged in certain ways and charged with electricity can be something like a computer or a radio, but that we have figured it out.

By figuring out how to arrange dirt in different ways we've been able to do remarkable things, like fly and shoot lasers. Whenever it seems like we've figured out the basics of how particles behave, someone discovers a new aspect of reality allowing us to manipulate the universe even further.
And for all we know, this trend might continue forever.

In one sense, none of this is really that amazing or weird. The fact that anything exists at all is weird and mysterious enough that there is no reason we should have any expectations of it's properties. Suppose one day we discover that a certain musical note causes all the atoms in the universe to suddenly arrange themselves in a straight line, while that would be shocking based on our current experience, it seems no more weird than the fact that the inherent properties of matter causes it to self-assemble into galaxies, planets, plants, animals and people.

Who knows what sort of yet unknown properties nature has. I would be surprised if we have come close to discovering them all. Or if the current human mind even has the capability to comprehending them. Since we have evolved to only perceive a tiny fraction what we have already figured out exists. How much more might we never even have the ability to conceive of looking for?

In one sense valuing science and technology is a high form of nature loving. It's appreciating the hidden aspects of nature. The aspects which don't reveal themselves unless asked. By evolving into intelligent life, nature not only is able to experience itself, but also to express herself.



My new neighbors, who are an Italian brother and sister in their 60's are real characters. It has only been a couple weeks, but I already have several stories I hope to write here.
As one appetizer I will say this: Cosimo*, the brother, who is short, bald and very unattractive is not fat all over his body, but does have a huge belly. His upper body is extremely hairy in the way we imagine older Italian upper bodies to be. I don't mention these attributes to make a criticism (I may very well look the same one day), but to help paint a mental picture.

I know about his copious body hair because it isn't uncommon for him to be shirtless during the 2-10 times a day he comes by to use my cell phone. (he doesn't have a phone, but makes over 10 calls a day on average. Many, but not all, on my phone) His shirtlessness isn't a big deal for me. Our building only has three units(one of which is unoccupied,), whose doors are closely spaced within a small hallway which contains the shared washer and dryer, so their is a certain degree built-in intimacy. Plus, he has a casualness about him that helps his shirtlessness not feel inappropriate.

There is a big difference in terms of feeling to being shirtless in public versus shirtless in private or semi-private.

Being shirtless in public generally feels okay within a much smaller criteria than in private. One factor is the appearance of the shirtless person, another is the function of the public space. One of the least acceptable places to be shirtless is a place used for eating.

Marissa is a waitress at a fancy Italian restaurant less than 150 feet from our apartment where Carlos eats on occasion.

Imagine yourself eating in this nice Italian restaurant. The sort whose food is supplied locally and has vegetarian/vegan and gluten free options. Now imagine seeing this man Cosimo, 60-ish,A+ short, bald, unattractive, bulging belly and covered in hair, coming into the restaurant with no shirt! (I want you to imagine this because it really happened). Knowing what I do of Cosimo, he probably didn't think anything of it and if asked, would probably have found the event too unremarkable for it to have penetrated his memory.

*I changed his name. Other names I considered were, Luigi, Calzone, Jeff, Sigmund Freud, Totino, Rodolfo

Deseret News

I made 6 unsuccessful attempts to comment on this Desret News Article about a Seminary teacher who had a months long affair with one of his 16 year old students.
I wanted to point out that while the commenters felt this man was despicable and his behavior inexcusable, (an example comment: "Good people don't do what he did. People who do what he did is the very definition of a bad person".) many of them hold in the highest esteem, a man who had done nearly the same thing. ( While married to Emma, before having introduced the notion of polygamy, Joseph Smith had a sexual relationship with their 14 year old house keeper, Fanny Alger Apologists explain this by claiming he had actually married her.)

Knowing the Deseret News comment monitors can be more strict than their posting rules suggest, I made every effort to phrase my comment without judgment and within their guidelines. Five, increasingly milder comments were rejected before I was able to get "This case has interesting parallels to the Fanny Alger situation" approved. I felt my comment was fairly innocuous, since most readers of the Deseret News are probably unfamiliar with her name. Perhaps the monitor was unfamiliar her as well, so accidentally let my comment through.

Whatever the case, discovering my comment had been removed within the next few hours was disappointing.



Having a dog is kind of fun. Sometimes I love her and sometimes I honestly hate her. I don't generally feel hatred towards things, so it is unsettling for me. Especially to feel it towards something so small and cute. But 95% of the time I don't hate her. Only in the mornings when she keeps biting (sometimes my nose, which is so painful, especially when I'm half or fully asleep) and being wild despite letting her out to use the bathroom and feeding her.
Our apartment opens up onto a roof area with walls just high enough Margaret (our dog) can't fall off. Except one part on the far end, the roof walls dip down just enough Margaret could jump over them if she tried. Every time margaret goes anywhere near it, we yell 'NO!' which seems to have instilled a strong enough fear of that part of the roof in her that she doesn't go near it very often.

The roof area is fairly large and has some piles of dirt so we let her use it as a bathroom. Mostly the rain clears her mess away, but if not we clean it up.

Beside our bed is a window that opens up onto the roof, so I can let her out to go to the bathroom without getting out of bed.

During those 5% times when I hate margaret I think, 'I really wouldn't care if she died right now.' But I still make sure she doesn't go towards the far end of the roof and I will jump out of bed and run onto the roof to grab her if she does.


Satisfied Life.

Something dawned on me recently. I realized, that perhaps for the first time, I am fully satisfied with my life.

Not that there haven't been times where I felt satisfied and content, there have been many, but never before had I felt that there wasn't anything that would significantly improve the quality of my life. Never before had I felt 'if the rest of my life stayed just how it is right now, I would be happy with that'.

Not that there aren't things which would be nice to have. A few things come to mind: I wish we had a back yard with trees, bees, a green house and a garden. I would like a kiln and a large outside studio filled with windows and a potters wheel where I could work with clay and not have to clean it up.

However, as desirable as these things seem, I don't feel that my life would be significantly better with them. They would be like icing on the cake or bonuses.

The only things I can think of which I feel would add significantly to the quality of my life would be children (but not yet) and being able to teach at a University. Since graduating I miss academia. I love much about it and a feel my life is enriched by that type of environment. But even without that, my life is fulfilled.

In terms of money and possessions I feel like we are rich. Compared to much of the country we aren't(compared to much of the world we are. Average income worldwide is $7000, but the super rich throw the number off. Most people make much less).

Although Marissa and I live well below the poverty line, we are prosperous. As little as we make, we can easily stay within our means. We have enough money to pay our bills, go out to eat every now and again, occasionally see a show or a movie. Occasionally we travel. (usually within a few hundred miles). Because of food stamps we are able to eat well. We even have some left over for savings.

We can afford to support our hobbies and passions. Books are cheap or free from the library. Art supplies are relatively cheap, especially compared to the amount of use one can get from them. Walks are free. Bike riding is close to free. Having a garden costs a bit to get started but is then free. Knitting is cheap. Swimming in lakes is free. Hanging out with friends is free.

We are both have laptop computers which connects us to most of the information and media in the entire world. Because we live above a coffee shop with unlocked wireless it costs us nothing to access.

Because I have gone through time periods where I didn't have enough money to pay all my bills and eat well, the fact that I am now able to feels that much better. I honestly feel rich. Because I am. Everyone I know is. We all have so many possessions and so much food.

(I recently finished a book on North Korea and came away from it feeling how extraordinarily prosperous we are. Even our homeless are more prosperous than many North Koreans.)

I live in a beautiful part of the country around creative, interesting people who inspire me.

Because I am not Mormon I never feel guilt or moral inadequacy. Which isn't to say that I never feel regret or that I could be better person, because I do, but it doesn't carry the same weight. It isn't guilt. It isn't a sense that I am offending God and that no matter how much I do it will never be good enough.

Being older helps. Experience has taught me what things actually make me happy and what things I only wish would. Maturity has helped me be less impulsive and more responsible to take advantage of that knowledge.

That I am in a healthy and committed relationship is key to all of this. No matter how good things were before I couldn't be entirely satisfied because I longed for a companion I could feel entirely devoted to as I am now.


What do we want from Prophets? Or What should be the role of prophets.

A common element of religious apologetics is to explain away certain uncomfortable statements from history by pointing out that said idea wasn't unusual in its day. For example, when it is mentioned that Brigham Young wrote:
"Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so."
An apologist might point out that interracial marriage was illegal in the United States until well into the 20th century. (on a similar note, I recently learned that it was common for religious people in the 1800's to believe the sun and the moon was inhabited, something I had previously thought was unique to early Mormonism)

While pointing out that a certain teaching may not have been unusual for its time does help illustrate that whoever put forth the teaching wasn't a monster but rather a product of his time, it does little to help demonstrate that person or the Church they represent is true or inspired. In fact, it does the exact opposite. By illustrating that an individual was a product of their time it does just that, shows that, like all of us, their beliefs and values came from their time and culture.

Which exactly what we don't want from Prophets, for them to be mere products of their time and culture.

The measure of a prophet is often how well they are able to predict future events. But how much value does that have? Having a heads up on a handful of world events doesn't seem like it would be significant enough reason for God to disrupt the normal order of things. Besides, that is not even the primary function a prophet plays. People look to prophets for spiritual guidance, instruction on how to live life and how to interact with the divine, so that should also be how they are measured: how well do their ethical teachings hold up against time.

If a prophet's teachings on how to live one's life are shown to have merely been an artifact of their cultural context, by definition it demonstrates that they were not inspired. Which makes it ironic that apologists use this reasoning so often.

But what if a Prophet were able to rise above the values of their time and place to teach ethics which the world may not value for decades or centuries to come? That would be an indicator of their prophetic value more so than an ability to predict future events.

After I left Mormonism I became a Baha'i for about a year or two. What attracted me most, (aside from the overwhelming spiritual experience I had when first encountering the writings of Bahá'u'lláh) were the advanced ethical teachings, Bahá'u'lláh, the faith's co-founder.

He lived in approximately the same era as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, yet in a culture that was more oppressive and what we would see as backwards, the Middle East, specifically Persia (modern day Iran).

However from the beginning, Bahá'u'lláh placed emphasis on the values: religious tolerance, gender and racial equality (to the point of encouraging interracial marriage. Stark Contrast to the Brigham Young quote above) and many others with a similar flavor. These are values even the western world didn't come to appreciate for at least 100 years and in some ways continue struggling with.

Mormonism teaches that we should have low expectations of earlier prophets. Even after I left the Church I generally accepted the apologist explanation for various racist, sexist or simply unenlightened statements of earlier Church leaders. After all, these people were merely men who lived in a certain time and place and it felt unfair for me to expect them to reflect otherwise. However, having been a Baha'i raised that bar and I learned that I not only CAN but I SHOULD expect more from those who claim to be prophets in regard to moral teachings.

Having been a Baha'i taught me that I can expect Prophets to actually behave like a prophet. Prophets should be at the forefront of culture, raising their heads above their time and place to teach radical values that push and stretch people in ways that the secular world may not recognize until later decades or centuries, rather than being dragged kicking and screaming like most religions.

I sometimes say, if you want to know what things religious people will be teaching in 50-100 years, look at what liberal/progressives are teachings now. Liberal/Progressive teachings from the 50's or 60's which were seen as dangerous or radical the time are being taught over pulpits today. In a sense religions are inspired, not by God, but by the secular, progressive groups they often demonize, but delayed by a few decades.

Imagine if things were different. Imagine if instead of playing catch-up to cultural values, prophetic figures and religious leaders were the vanguard, challenging us to think in new, progressive ways. If this were the case, I might be able to believe religion is inspired. If their were a God, why is it that secular thinkers drive our moral direction?


Our weird relationship with self esteem.

One thing people dislike in others more than almost anything else is boastfulness, ie. expressing satisfaction in one's own achievements. Yet we also value those who have good self esteem.

How weird is that? We can't stand other people expressing satisfaction in their own achievements. We all know how good it feels to do something well or to be good at something, yet to express it openly is taboo.

(I am not excluding myself from this observation. I am put off by boastfulness as much as anyone else.)

A person doesn't even need to actually express their sense of self-satisfaction, they can just act like they are self satisfied and it is still repulsive. We have all probably heard the criticism: 'that person acts like they think they are cool'.

But most of us don't feel their is something wrong with feeling that we are cool. A key part of happiness is viewing oneself positively. Most of us want others to have a positive sense of self, we just don't like it to be expressed by them, even non-verbally. Even if that person is obviously very good at something, their articulating it is distasteful.

Why is humility such an admirable trait? Why do we love those who don't express their self satisfaction? Is it so hard for us to take pleasure in other people's sense of achievement?

When people are boastful, it feels draining. Most of us are okay with giving others compliments, but not when that person has already complimented themselves. When people boast it is as if they are taking something that feels as if it can only be given freely. As if someone boasting takes something from us.

Maybe it does. Maybe some part of us feels threatened by other people's achievements. Maybe it is because as much as we might not want to admit it, we are all deeply concerned about our status relative to those around us and when a person is boastful it is an attempt to take status upon themselves. While it would be nice if their were equal status to go around for everyone, because of how we evolved their usually isn't. We have evolved to fit within hierarchies and they develop quickly within most groups. When one person has higher status another will then have lower status. Perhaps when a person boasts it is felt as their trying to get status they do not have, thereby challenging the status of those around them. Since the greater our perceived status relative to those around us, the more serotonin we have, it is understandable would feel threatened when it is challenged.
It is no wonder former Mormons tend to be a bit more outspoken about their lost faith than those of other traditions. Our entire lives we are taught that it is a value to try convince others that our beliefs are true and should be believed by all. Most of us even went on missions, spending every waking hour trying to convince other people that we have interesting and valuable information that other people should hear.
So it is no wonder that this same mentality remains after one loses their faith.
So, in this regard, the Church is training their strongest critics.



Sometimes my need to qualify my statements overwhelms me. I often began writing about an idea, which on it's own can be explained succinctly, but end up not finishing because I'm not motivated enough to include every qualification running through my mind and have a difficult time expressing an idea without including them.

Especially since one thing I have learned from keeping a blog or even just as a person who speaks to other people is that any possible way a statement can be misinterpreted it almost inevitably will be.
Qualifications help reduce (but by no means eliminate) those misinterpretations.

Plus, since nearly every belief or idea I have is full of qualifications, I feel I am not accurately representing the idea or myself by not including them.


Hate Speech.

I wonder if talking positively about the Second Coming will ever be considered 'hate speech'. I personally do not find it at all offensive and would not like to see speech limited in that way, but I can see how, as a non-Christian, it might be offensive to hear someone eagerly wish for the day when you and everyone who thinks like you will be killed. (ie. holocaust)


Marissa and I have been moving into our new place in Seattle the past few days. Urban moving is a lot more work than other moving. We had to park the U-haul about a block away from our place plus carry everything up a flight of stairs. My feet have been aching for three days now and their is still a lot more work to do. Not that we own that much stuff or anything. However, there is a certain pleasure that comes from physical labor, making it not so bad.
Right now I am sitting in our new kitchen on a our new stool from Ikea.
Our first day here someone stole a suitcase out of our car.
But just a suitcase. Things they did not take:
Marissa's Macbook,(which was touching the suitcase) our Ipod(exposed in the front seat), the contents of the suitcase(clothes).

Not only did they not take the clothes in the suitcase, but they kindly put them in one of the garbage bags we had on the front seat. They did however take the rest of the garbage bags. (I guess it wasn't just the suitcase they took. Suitcase and about 5 garbage bags.)
I don't know what to make of this robbery. Because it is so unusual and doesn't have a significantly negative effect on our life I feel more amused than anything else. However, having been robbed in our first 3 hours here, I do feel a bit more cautious about my possessions than anywhere else I have lived.

There was nothing remarkable about the suitcase and it isn't as if we have any great need for one. I like to imagine that this person somehow was in desperate need of a suitcase and this was their only option. Probably not the case, but that is what I like to imagine.



I have started a new blog of just pictures.

One thing that is cool about the internet is it makes discovering new things so much easier. I have discovered so much good art that I probably wouldn't have seen otherwise.

However, the downside is that these discoveries are often transitory and hard to keep track of. Were I to have come across certain images in a magazine or newspaper, I might cut them out and put them in this box I have for that sort of thing. But with the internet, I may see something cool, but I will quickly forget about it or if I do remember it I will have no idea how to find it again.

Only somewhat recently did it dawn on me to start saving images I like. I now have several hundred images saved in various files on my computer. Which is much better than before, but still not very convenient and I rarely look at them. Lately I have wanted to somehow bring these images together to one place that I could easily refer. It occurred to me that I could put them on a blog, that way it would not only be easy for me, but other people could enjoy them as well. There are SO many art blogs out there, and I think that is great, I have discovered so much because of them. I'm not necessarily wanting to throw my hat into that ring because it feels like a drop in the ocean. This site is primarily for my own sake, but with the added bonus that those who share a similar visual sensibility can enjoy it too.

Internet and context.

One significant role I think the internet has played is to help us better place ourselves in context. It seems that we, as individuals, now have a better understanding of how we fit into the world.

Pre-internet we basically had our immediate friends/family classmates and co-workers plus television and movies. Two extremely different groups that often reflect a tiny percentage of what the world is actually like.
With the internet we can see far better where we fit within a larger context.
Which can be both affirming and humbling.
Affirming in the sense that there are far more people like us than we may have otherwise been able to realize.
Humbling in the sense that very few of us will ever do or think something entirely original and the internet makes that more apparent.
(there are many more ways understanding our context can be affirming or humbling, but those are two which come immediately to mind)


Art making

Art making is such a weird thing(when I refer to art in this entry I am referring to visual art). I have conflicted feelings about art making, but less so than before.

My biggest qualm with art is that I don't see it as particularly 'important'.
Which isn't to say that I do not value or love it, because I wouldn't dedicate so much time to it if I did not.

I often compare art making to writing. Books and writing have literally changed my life. So much of how I view the world comes from books I have read. Books have influenced my life more than anything I can think of. My entire perception of reality is largely based on what I have learned from them. Were it not for books I might have a similar personality, but I would otherwise be a different person. In this regard I consider books and writing to be very 'important'.

Art on the other hand has hardly influenced me at all. I can't think of a single piece of art that has changed my perception of the world in a way I could identify.(though perhaps in ways I could not identify)

Visual art can explore ideas and emotions in interesting ways that other media cannot. However, when it comes to expressing an idea in clear and accessible ways, visual art may be one of the least effective of all formats.

In this sense I see art as not particularly 'important'.

However, I still feel it has value. But that value is secondary to other things. Art, in a sense, is like icing on cake. Like icing, it is nice to have and makes things more enjoyable, but in and of itself isn't particularly valuable. Art is total luxury.(but so much of modern life)

If I were given the choice right now to forever give up reading or experiencing art, without hesitation I would choose to never experience art again.

So why did I choose to pursue a career in art? Because I enjoy the process of making art enough that I would be willing to do it even if I did not make money. (art is kind of like masturbation.)

I cannot say the same for my other big interest, writing. I enjoy writing, and still dream of being able to be published, but writing is a chore in a way art making is not. If I knew for certain I would never be published, I doubt I could find the motivation to write a book.

However, if I knew I would never sell a piece of art or display it in a gallery, I would still make it because I enjoy doing it so much.

Of course it does feel good when I sell something. Every piece I have sold is exciting for me. (though I have a difficult time parting with things I have made). But selling things I have made is exciting not because of the money but because it means my work has effected someone enough that they would be willing to spend their money on it. It is an ego boost. It is a pat on the back that says 'you are good at something'.(but that can also come in the form of words) If it were just about the money I wouldn't sell anything, because I value things I have made far more than the money I sell them for.

If I were told right now that I would never sell a piece again in my life, but could show my work in galleries, I would still pursue art as a career and support myself with teaching.
I can't think of anything else I feel that way about.

Because of this, I feel I have already achieved one of my dreams. I get to live the life of an artist. Even if I made hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars doing so, my daily routine would be pretty similar to how it is now. I would just be doing it in a nicer house surrounded by nicer things. And if science is any guide, those nicer things wouldn't make my life any better. If anything, it might decrease my ability to enjoy things. (but I would like to afford a nice studio space with a kiln)


Covering my bases.

Although I have already posted this several places, i figured I might as well post it here as well. Here are a couple photos and link to many more from the art show I currently have up at The Northern.

See all the photos here.

Photos from art show at The Northern.

The depths of hell.

Close up of one half of the depths of hell

Another Close-up

Caribou and squirrel

Bird and fox

Fox and bird. I don't have a very good photo of it,  so I ask you this : enjoy this photo as if it were good.

Close up of the bird.

Close-up of the fox

See all the photos here.


Satisfied Life.

Something dawned on me recently. I realized, that perhaps for the first time, I am fully satisfied with my life.

Not that there haven't been times where I felt satisfied and content, there have been many, but never before had I felt that there wasn't anything that would significantly improve the quality of my life. Never before had I felt 'if the rest of my life stayed just how it is right now, I would be happy with that'.

Not that there aren't things which would be nice to have. A few things come to mind: I wish we had a back yard with trees, bees a green house and a garden. I would like a kiln and a large outside studio filled with windows and a potters wheel where I could work with clay and not have to clean it up.

However, as desirable as these things seem, I don't feel that my life would be significantly better with them. They would be like icing on the cake or bonuses.

The only thing I can think of which I feel would add significantly to the quality of my life would be if I had a job teaching at a University. Since graduating I miss academia. I love so much about it and a feel my life is enriched by regularly being in that environment.

In terms of money and possessions I feel like we are rich. Compared to much of the country we aren't(compared to much of the world we are. Average income worldwide is $7000, but the super rich throw the number off. Most people make much less).

Although Marissa and I live well below the poverty line, we are prosperous. As little as we make, we can easily stay within our means. We have enough money to pay our bills, go out to eat every now and again, occasionally see a show or a movie. Occasionally we travel. (usually within a few hundred miles). Because of food stamps we are able to eat well. We even have some left over for savings.

We can afford to support our hobbies and passions. Books are cheap or free from the library. Art supplies are relatively cheap, especially compared to the amount of use one can get from them. Walks are free. Bike riding is close to free. Having a garden costs a bit to get started but is then free. Knitting is cheap. Swimming in lakes is free. Hanging out with friends is free.

We are both have laptop computers which connects us to most of the information and media in the entire world. Because we live above a coffee shop with unlocked wireless it costs us nothing to access.

Because I have gone through time periods where I didn't have enough money to pay all my bills and eat well, the fact that I am now able to feels that much better. I honestly feel rich. Because I am. Everyone I know is. We all have so many possessions and so much food.

(I recently finished a book on North Korea and came away from it feeling how extraordinarily prosperous we are. Even our homeless are more prosperous than many North Koreans.)

I live in a beautiful part of the country around creative interesting people who inspire me.

Because I am not Mormon I never feel guilt or moral inadequacy. Which isn't to say that I never feel regret or that I could be better person, because I do, but it doesn't carry the same weight. It isn't guilt. It isn't a sense that I am offending God and that no matter how much I do it will never be good enough.

That I am in a healthy and committed relationship is key to all of this. No matter how good things were before I couldn't be entirely satisfied because I longed for a companion I could feel entirely devoted to as I am now.



Finding God.

Sometimes I imagine if I found out in a way I could not deny that God was real.
Not only real, but has all the attributes normally ascribed to him by Christianity.

An all powerful being who chose to use his power to create billions of other individuals for the sole purpose of submitting them to an excruciating and arbitrary test of his own design whose punishment for failure is eternal suffering and the reward for passing is the mildly better having to spend an eternity worshiping at his feet because he apparently enjoys extraordinary amounts attention. (in these regards I find the Mormon God more likable than the standard Christian God)

The reason this 'reward' is better is because one apparently feels really good the entire time, even though an eternity worshiping another being sounds unbearable tedious.

As if this fellow didn't seem unpleasant enough, he is apparently homophobic, sometimes a racist and may or may not be a misogynist.

So I wonder, what would I do if I had certain knowledge that such a being existed?

I would not want to express any positive feelings towards an individual I felt was so devoid of decency and morality let alone worship him, yet I also wouldn't want to spend an eternity suffering. Would it be worth my while to serve a bad master just to spend an eternity feeling high? If the alternative is endless pain, then it probably would be.

But could I fake it? Would God let me into heaven if he knew I was just going through the motions and didn't really think he was a great guy? I don't know. Probably not.

What if God's intentions were actually the opposite of what people think. What if he laid down unusual rules to see who would have the gumption to think for themselves and value reason, independent though and compassion over obedience and reward. Even if that were the case, it would still seem cruel. Why bother testing people in such a weird way?

Why punish or reward beings who you made? Whatever failings they may have would be your fault, since it was you who made them lacking in sufficient knowledge, endurance or ability to successfully complete the test, so why hold them responsible?

Were the Lds conception of the pre-mortal life real, I think I would have taken Lucifer's side. I would much rather give up my free will, (which I don't know if I believe in anyway) then risk the possibility that me, or anyone I know would spend an eternity suffering.


Scriptures and Non-Violent Communication.

After I left Mormonism, I still held strongly to the Mormon worldview of God's interactions with humanity.
Namely: God calls prophets and gives them information to spread to help people live better lives.
One thing which caused me to give up this view, was realizing that I (and probably most people, even the very religious) have benefited far more from non-scriptural or even entirely secular books than anything in any scriptures, even one's I adore, like the Bhagavad gita. Even books that are written as commentaries on scripture tend to be more clear and insightful than the Scriptures themselves. It seemed that if God was working through prophets, his ideas were somehow inadequate to those of his creation, which seemed unlikely.

(I think even people who do not read books are still very much influenced by them. Most great ideas are first presented in books, which then spread to the general consciousness)

One book I have found particularly enlightening is 'Non-Violent Communication' If I were somehow in a position where I had to choose one book and make it required scripture for the entire world, this would be it. Since obtaining my copy, I have read through it many many times. (not straight through, but I pick it up and read a chapter here or there).
I have been reading through it again lately and reminded of how great it is. I guess what I am saying is: I recommend this book.
It is about so much more than mere communication. It can transform how one approaches the world, others and themselves in positive ways. Few things I can think of would have such a dramatic effect on positively changing the world than the ideas presented in this book. If I were rich I would buy a copy for every one I know.

Although I think everyone should buy a copy, it can also be read online.


Why we like art

Listening to a 'Science Friday' podcast today, one of the guests spoke about why we like certain things. (he wrote a book) The essence of his theory is that what we like is often based on the context of a thing, rather than the thing in and of itself. I think this idea is something that most people have an intuitive sense of being true and it certainly resonated with my own way of thinking.
Listening to him, I was reminded of something I once wrote about aesthetics. Similar to his idea, but applied specifically to art. Four years ago when I put it in writing, the idea was still kind of new to me and I have since fleshed it out more thoroughly in my mind, however, I don't feel enough motivation right now to write it out, instead I will copy and past the original:

when visiting my brother he made a comment to my sister and I about how we may not even like his art if it was not made by him. i realized it is probably impossible to tell, but even if it is so i don't think it means my like for his art is any less real. isn't that all art is anyway? associations? i know i have numerous times grown to like a certain piece or certain type of art because i grow to associate it with a certain person or idea.
i think we can have conditioned associations: our bodies relating a piece to a certain experience, person or idea and also inherent associations like images that evoke nature or sex, things most people have evolved to be naturally drawn to.
our bodies might see certain shapes, lines or colors and associate them with things it knows might make them feel good or pleasant experiences or people from the past, or conversly if the artist is attempted to create a negative association. so it is my opinion that art is merely creating associations for people allowing others to transcend the world we normally associate with into one more purely based on the emotion trying to be expressed. transcending the body and creating a more pure emotional communication. more pure because it is less confined than words have a tendency to be, which can express an idea but often not the emotion behind the idea.
so an important relationship can exist between art and words. you can explain to someone a concept, then if a piece of art is accurately executed, it can then convey the emotion of that concept. i think this is what is called art.


Human inertia

One thing about myself which isn't necessarily a new observation, but has become increasingly more apparent to me is my short-term addictive personality.
I have noticed this trait stand out more as I get older, which may be because I have inherited this trait from my father and genes become more manifest as we age. (which may be one part of why we recognize more of our parents in ourselves as we age.)

Similar to my father, this attribute can be good and bad. I remember my dad becoming addicted to Ms. Pacman when it was a recent arcade game. I don't remember how long this lasted, maybe a few months or less, but after that he never played again (as far as I know). But that non-stop passion could be directed positively as well, like when he would begin a home project, such as building a deck, once he started, he would use all of his free time until the project was finished.

This is similar to how I operate. I tend to be really into one thing at a time, and will spend much or all of my free time working on it. Often times this is to my advantage. If I am working on an art or writing project, I become deeply wrapped up in it, to the point where I honestly feel I can't stop. If I am in painting zone, I may not even read a book during this time because I crave painting too much.

Because a considerable degree about creative pursuits is just having the motivation to actually do and complete the project, and I am trying to have a career in the arts, I generally find this to be advantageous. Because it is generally beneficial, I wouldn't consider it to be a true addiction in these particular circumstances, but I think it comes from a similar place.

However, I also I find myself being totally drawn into things I would rather not be.
For example, a couple weeks ago, I was happy and surprised to find a copy of the computer game "Civilization 3" for a Mac at the Free Store.(It is kind of like a little Goodwill except everything is free. It is part of the Co-op)

I am not a gamer. At all.Other than a game-boy I haven't owned a gaming system since the Nintendo 64, in high school. The only computer game I can remember seriously playing was also in High School,(there were some other games I played casually at friends houses) and that was Civilization 2 and I loved it, which is why I was stoked to find a free copy of it's sequel compatible for a Mac! FREE!

I ended up spending every free moment of the next three days playing this game until I finished it. I had a lot of fun playing the first day and some fun the second day, but by the third day, I hardly even enjoyed myself, It had become a true addiction in the sense that I couldn't stop despite it having negative effects on my life. Fortunately this was only 3 days. Since finishing the game I haven't felt any desire to play it or any other video game.

One disadvantage to this is that if I am in one mode, for example writing, but need to be in a painting mode for an assignment or an upcoming gallery show, I can't always switch gears at will. In a sense it is the ability switch gears at will which is the problem.

The examples I have given refer to how I spend my free time, but it can apply to other things as well. Case in point, I was addicted to tobacco for about 2.5 months and then later for about one month. One time I got so into nachos that I spend a week eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Although I am unfortunate to have addictiveness within me, I suppose it is fortunate that when it is something unhealthy, it doesn't last long. And I am happy I am able to channel this attribute in positive ways. However, I wish that instead of spending one full month painting, then two weeks reading, then a week writing, then a week knitting, then a week watching some Tv show on Dvd from start to finish, then back to painting etc., I could spend some of each day doing a few or all of these things. I think I have gotten better at this with age. When I had a nice studio at Evergreen it really helped. I was able to set aside 4-10 hours each day to work in the studio, then come home and leave it behind me at the studio. At least I have conditioned myself to do chores daily (dishes, plant watering, etc) instead of waiting until it builds up then doing it all at once, like when I was younger.

I remember my father once described himself as having too much inertia, which I think is a good description of this attribute. Once the ball begins to roll in one direction, we have a difficult time stopping it until it reaches an end point. Sometimes that is good, sometimes it is bad, sometimes it is something in between. But at least the end point is never too far off. I would imagine many people have some variation of this characteristic.



I recently finished 'The Orchid Thief'.
An excellent book I recommend. One of my favorite movies 'Adaptation' is sort of based on this book.
One theme of both the book and movie, is how and why people develop deep passions for things in general and orchids in particular. Part of why she, the author, is interested in this is because she feels she has no deep passions but would like to.

Here are two passages from the book on this theme which I really enjoyed:

"Besides, I think the real reason (people are passionate about collecting orchids) is that life has no meaning. I mean, no obvious meaning. You wake up, you go to work, you do stuff. I think everybody's always looking for something a little unusual that can preoccupy them and help pass the time"

The world is so huge that people are always getting lost in it. There are too many ideas and things and people, too many directions to go. I was starting to believe that the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the worlds down to a more manageable size. It makes the worlds seem not huge and empty but full of possibility.

Planet of the Apes.

Two nights ago Marissa and I watched the original Planet of the Apes. We both really enjoyed it. Last night we watched the sequel, 'Beneath the Planet of the Apes'.
This was one of the more unusual and poorly written movies I've ever seen.
I've heard the third one is good, but I haven't yet found it online. But I didn't find the cartoon series made in the seventies and was surprised how much I like it.

Art and religion.

I find that the less I believe and engage in any sort religions or spiritual activity, the more I like art.
Of all the benefits to religious belief, what I enjoy most is transcendence. I find art helps fulfill this role. Both the making and the consuming.


I find myself being deeply influenced by how products look. Even products like soap, whose usefulness may not have any correlation to it's appearance.
Even after I have purchased the product. If it looks cool, I find myself wanting to use it more often.

God's lawyers.

There are obviously exceptions, but in general Lds Church leadership is composed of businessmen and lawyers.
While I always found it uncomfortable, it was easy to understand why so many leaders came from a business background. The leadership and organizational skills which allow a person to be good at running a business would translate into running a similarly arranged large organization such as the Church.

What was never clear to me is why lawyers? Aside from their tending to be wealthy and powerful, something which tends to be prized within the Church, I didn't see an obvious connection between being a lawyer and Church leadership.

Then it dawned on me, the role of a lawyer is to convince people of things which may not be obvious or even true, as well as understanding technicalities, and using these technicalities to their advantage.
Considering this, it seems obvious why a lawyer might seem like a good fit. Much of any religion is about trying to convince people of things which are not obviously true. People need to be persuaded of it through clever and often counter-intuitive ways, which lawyers are skilled at. Plus being able to handle the various technicalities which religions are composed of.

However, while it may be understandable why businessmen and lawyers would be good at running a large organization such as a religion, they strike me as being far from the ideal. Neither business or law is primarily concerned truth, sincerity, humility, wisdom, beauty, compassion or the other great human values, but rather making money, being perceived as right (versus being actually correct). (I do not wish to be overly critical of lawyers or even business people. I know several people who go into these field with noble intentions. I am just trying to say that what makes a good lawyer or business person seems to often be at odds with what one would expect of a religious organization).

Imagine how different the Church would be if it were run by Scientists, Artists, Philosophers, Social workers and Poets? People who chose to dedicate their lives to things like truth, beauty and charity. Maybe the day to day operations wouldn't be run quite as smoothly and they wouldn't have enough money to build billion dollar malls in downtown Salt Lake, but that would probably be a good thing.


One thing I love about Washington is that even in the summer time, for every bright sunny day, there tends to be a cloudy day.
Like most people, I love the activities that warm sunny days allow: Leisurely bike rides in the warm evening, picnics, Swimming etc. . However, I have a greater appreciation for the homebody, introvert activities which cloudy/rainy days enable such as reading books and drawing pictures.
When the weather is warm and sunny one often feels a sense of restless unease staying indoors. So, while appreciate many outdoor activities, I don't want to do them everyday, or even most days and Washington weather makes my homebody sensibility more enjoyable.

(my next door neighbors take this to the weird extreme and keep their windows covered up so they never have to have any encounter with the sun while indoors)


Yesterday, I was excited to receive this month's issue of the one magazine I subscribe to.

Inside, I came across these land art sculptures which I found very impressive:

I had turned into the article from the back, so I didn't see who had made the pieces.
While the photographs themselves are perhaps a bit over dramatic, I'm fond of this genre of work and enjoy it's somewhat recent growth in popularity. It also occurred to me this may be an artist from somewhere in Africa or South America following in some local tradition.

There is an indie-rock band called The Bowerbirds who I came across while looking up information about this artist. I rarely come across new music I enjoy, so was pleasantly surprised about this band.
The reason I came across this band while looking this artist is because these pieces are made by actual Bowerbirds:

That is right! Surprise! They are made by birds! Surprise! They are called Bowerbirds, in honor of the indie rock band!
I think this is so interesting! Birds! Making art!
The birds make the 'bower', which is the little structure, to mate inside. The attractiveness of the structure and the decoration outside are used to help lure a potential mate. If the female likes the males creation plus his dancing(seriously), they have sex for about 5 seconds in the Bower.
This one is my favorite:

While looking up the subject, I came across this npr piece talking about possible evolutionary sources of our aesthetic sensibilities, which draws parallels to Bowerbirds building bowers.. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4057069
The last fellow who speaks says something pretty similar to my view on aesthetics.

There are two basic types of structures built by these birds and this is the other one. It is referred to as a 'May Pole'

I tried to write this so you feel surprised, maybe even scared, and possibly even so angry you want to hurt someone when you learned it was made by birds. My head is feeling rather foggy right now. Fog like an eagle.



I think of all the various books of scripture I have read my favorite is The Bhagavad Gita. A couple years ago I purchased a really good translation by George Thompson . I haven't necessarily compared many different translations of this book, but of the 4 or 5 I have looked at, this one I find most impressive.

I don't necessarily believe this book to be inspired or sacred, but I find it enlightening.



One bit of political argument often used by the left or libertarians that I don't really agree with is the notion that we can't or shouldn't legislate morality.
I feel that a significant reason to have government is for the regulation is of morality.
Even our most basic laws such as not killing people are regulations of morality.

However, I think I understand what people mean when they say we should not regulate Morality. They are probably trying to say that some issues are strictly moral in nature and have no other practical value. While murder may be a moral issue, it is also a practical issue. It is difficult to have a well functioning society if people can kill whoever they want.

Nonetheless, I think a great deal of our is about issues which are almost entirely moral and have little practical value to the state. Things like the civil liberties act or the American with Disabilities Act etc. are essentially moral moral issues. I imagine all but the most hard lined libertarians are okay with these legislation on morality.


Freedom of choice

In the debates I have with some friends and acquaintances regarding the new health care bill a common theme amongst arguments against the bill is that of freedom, which I gather also forms the basis for many of their political beliefs..

Their argument goes something like this: "I'm not opposed to helping people and I want others to receive health care, I just don't want to be forced. I want the freedom to help people get health care at my own discretion.'

While I can understand a persons displeasure at feeling compelled towards a certain action, particularly if the group doing the compelling is perceived as untrustworthy, I have a difficult time with this argument.

Aside from that fact that it is unlikely those making this claim have or will ever actually do anything of their own free will to help others get health care, and even if they wanted to, how would they go about it? Aside from the fact that it may be unreasonable for people to feel their freedom of slightly more money is of greater valuable than other people's freedom for life and good health, it seems to me these people are not genuinely interested in other people health, as they may claim.

It reminds of when people claim to have nothing against gays, yet they are opposed to gay marriage. If you truly have nothing against them, why would you want them to have the lesser rights allowed by civil unions?

It seems we only complain of being forced to do something, if it is something we didn't already want.
When the weather is nice, we don't complain about being forced to experience a pleasant day.
When people use roads they don't complain about how even though they want something to drive their car on, they wish the government wouldn't build roads because they want the freedom to do it themselves, instead they appreciate it, because it is a service they value.
Same with schools and parks etc.

When we are are provided something we value, we typically don't think of it as a limitation to our freedoms but as something to be appreciated.


Institional Secrecy.

One thing which had often surprised me is when people would express that learning of Joseph Smith's multiple wives caused them to doubt the Church.

I couldn't, until very recently, understand why this would be an issue. Didn't we all know all along the Lds Church practiced polygamy and it was initiated by Joseph Smith?

Not until recently did I realize that no, most people believe it began with Brigham Young.

Learning this confused me, because I had known Joseph Smith was a polygamist as long as I could remember. Since it wasn't until I was 18 or 19 that I became aware of any of the uncomfortable historical issues, I assumed it was something I had been taught in Church and so everyone else would have been also.
I know my mother wasn't aware of Joseph Smith's wives until I mentioned it to her, so it was unlikely I would have learned it from home.
Then I remembered a book I had read when I was about 13 or 14. It was a work of historical fiction whose lead character was one of Joseph Smith's wives. From this historically accurate book I not only learned of his initiating polygamy and taking numerous wives but I even learned of Joseph's having married a 14 year old girl. Because I learned of this early in my life, it became part of my fundamental understanding of the Church.

One issue that seems to come up often in regards to the weird issues Lds history is how should the institution deal with this? Should it be more open so people don't feel betrayed when they learn a different history than what was taught in Church, or should it maintain it's secretive approach in concern that if these issues were more widely known it would cause an even greater loss of members. From this perspective the Church leaders are seen as being in a bind. If they want to maintain their organization, they have little choice but to sweep certain elements under the rug.

Aside from the issue that deliberately withholding relevant information is dishonest and a religious organization which expects honesty out of it's members should be held to those same high standards, my personal experience shows me that openness would be also be practical to the Church.

Since I knew from early on Joseph was a polygamist, it was never caused me any concern. It was never something I had to reconcile or work through as many people do. Only after leaving the Church do I look back on it and see how unusual it is. But that applies to almost all of Mormon teachings.

In many ways, people seem less disturbed by actually learning weird historical facts as they are by their feelings that the Church had deceived them. Their sense of hurt and betrayal is what affects them most.

However, why should I care if the Church is more open about its history? I don't believe in the Church, why should I care whether or not they retain members?

I guess I just remember how painful it was for me to learn of these things and how my friends and family looked down upon me for learning and discussing facts that while accurate, were not in harmony with the Church's official position. I also sometimes felt as I were doing something wrong, simply by learning particular facts. I know many other people have had similar experiences. Many people are even punished by the Church for disclosing this information. So, while it may not really care about the Church's ability to maintain it's members, I do care about it fostering a more healthy environment for it's members. And if doing so wouldn't compromise their retention efforts, then it is a win win situation.


One lot south of the duplex Marissa and I live in is a very large complex of duplexes/fourplexes. I would guess there are at least 30-50 buildings arranged in clusters of 3-5.
When I am in our two foot back yard I catch glimpses sounds of the people who inhabit them.

The tenet of one building spends almost all day every day loudly listening to what sounds like loud General Conference. I first noticed this the last time General Conference was broadcast in April and thought to myself, 'Guess we have some Mormon neighbors'. Since that time the sound hasn't stopped except at night which makes me wonder if they are listening to something which happens to sounds like General Conference that coincidentally began or I first notice when General Conference actually aired. Or maybe they liked the last episode of Conference so much it inspired them go back and watch all the others. Or maybe something else altogether.

I can even hear that distinct General Conference sound coming from their place right now. If it isn't general conference, I am interested to know what it is that sounds so similar.

But all of that was just an aside. The reason I began writing this is about another tenet of the duplex kingdom.
I see this fellow quite a bit. What I think is the back of his place opens up to a direct view from my place.

Every time I do see this small Asian man, he is doing something unusual. I am guessing he either has a serious mental illness, is going balls out with drugs, or is extraordinarily quirky.

A little bit ago I was standing outside, shaking a bag of treats calling Glen back home when I noticed him standing with a portable Cd player in one hand and his other at a 30 degree angle from his body, keeping his entire body perfectly still.

I can't say for certain, he might have been looking past me, but I'm pretty sure our eyes locked. Curious what he was doing and how long he would hold my gaze, I stared back at him while continuing to shake the treat back and call for Glen. After a few minutes I felt as if he probably wasn't going to move or look away and I wasn't getting much out of continuing to look into his eyes, so I broke our staring contest and came inside. I kept checking outside to see if he was still holding still and for about 10 minutes he was. Just checked again and he was gone.


Religion and ethics

Because I have been listening to the Mormon Stories Podcast (which I highly recommend to anyone with a connection to Mormonism. Whether you are devout, doubting or entirely left the Church, it is supre interesting.) recently, religion has been on my mind quite a bit more than normal.
The issue I raised in the previous few entries about how morality should be based on what sort of consequences emerge is related to my primary beef with religion.
(I am not like Richard Dawkins, where I think religion is a bad thing. I like a great deal about most religions and feel they are often beneficial. More so for individuals than society in general. However, there are some aspects I do not care for and this entry is about the primary one.)

My primary beef with Religion is that it frequently takes the pragmatism out of ethics. In a religious context, something may be seen as good, in and of itself, even if it has negative consequences.

Within Mormonism a good example is the Word of Wisdom.

I think even a Latter Day Saint would acknowledge that the few, relatively minor drawbacks of Green Tea are far outweighed by the numerous health benefits, while soda pop has many negative health effects and none positive(at least that I could find).

Yet only one of these is considered sinful and it isn't the one which is harmful.

While drink preferences are a minor thing, this arbitrary approach towards ethics can have devastating effects on people's lives. The best example right now is homosexuality. Unless you are religious, you will be hard pressed to have a good rational for believing homosexuality is 'wrong', and we have seen many times over the suffering that comes to queers who have been indoctrinated to belief their desires are wrong and should or even could be 'overcome'.

Granted, this isn't entirely unique to religion. We all have things which we consider to be values in and of themselves. For example, I still think being honest with ourselves is inherently valuable, even though I've read studies about how in some instances moderate self deception can have positive effects.

I guess the difference is that if I were shown to be completely wrong, that self-honesty has zero benefits while self deception was always advantageous, I would probably change my mind. Or at least, I could consider changing my mind without feeling as if I were doing something wrong. But if that value was based on religion, it is possible that no amount of reasoning could convince me.

I recently read an interesting quote that said (i'm repeating from memory so I may not be getting it exactly right. And I don't know who said it): 'Whenever a religious explanation is given for doing something, it means there are no other reasons, otherwise those would be given.'

One of the primary benefits I have found from leaving religion and something I have heard from others as well, is I am now able to take life as it is. If something seems good, I can appreciate it as good and if something seems harmful to me, I can recognize it has harmful and the millions of things which lay somewhere in between I can recognize as somewhere in between. There isn't an arbitrary moral coating over everything deciding for me.

Granted, this approach requires more out of people. One has to consider everything on it's own merits. But the work is a pleasure and ultimately is more moral. Doing things for their own sake, rather than out of obedience to another being for a reward.


Legally blind

I think the term 'legally blind' is funny. I understand what the term means, but when I hear it I always imagine it refers to someone who will be arrested if they look at something.


Explaining my Moral Relativism

I got a message regarding my previous entry. There were a few parts in the beginning and this was the second:
My big question is where or what is your ethos? I see your good attempts to logically explain your position, but what about ethos? How do you know your view point trumps all others? Or are we all merely authorities unto ourselves?

If we are all to be considered moral relativists, then how do you explain the following? Our culture finds the oppression of women to be abhorrent, right? However, the oppression of women half way around the world is considered to be morally appropriate. If morality is relative, then how do you go about resolving this ambivalence? They think you and I are just about as screwed up for our stance as you and I think they are for theirs. If you’re resolved that societies are governed by the reflection of their individual mores and that rightness and wrongness is determined respectively, then what the hell is the point of anything?

I think this is a reasonable question based on what I had written. And since other people may have had the same question in their minds, I am re-posting my reply here(with a few edits).

I don't believe what is 'right' or 'wrong', is entirely based on our personal, or cultural perspective, rather, more often than not, our biological one.

Consider the example you gave above of women being oppressed. If human's were truly blank slates as some people believe, (but I strongly don't,) then perhaps all that would matter in terms of ethics is a person's personal or cultural perspective.

However, we have our underlying biology, which creates a certain degree of absolutism towards ethics.
Even though some culture's may teach it good to oppress women, because of our biology, people do not like being oppressed.

If female biology were so different than males that oppression gave them immense pleasure and being treated as equals caused deep suffering then oppression of women would probably be a good . However, male and female biology happen to be similar enough that it is beneficial to treat women as the equals they are.

In real life we have cultural standards telling us abuse is bad, that isn't what makes it 'bad'. What makes it 'bad' is our biology which makes physical suffering extremely unpleasant.

Because our biology is flexible in many ways, it allows room for various cultures to impose certain values that, while biologically arbitrary, may still be significant for those individuals and cultures. For us, it may be inappropriate to show up to work wearing robes, but in another country it might be expected.
You could even say it would be 'bad' for me to show up to work wearing robes because in that context it...causes a scene or ..shows a disrespectful attitude or whatever. You wouldn't feel that robe wearing is inherently bad. Or even wearing robes to work is inherently bad. But in THAT context it wasn't a good thing to do.

When I say morality is based on context, the context I am referring to is our biology and to a lesser degree our culture.

( I think there is an entirely different point to be made when it comes to judging the actions of an individual within another culture. If a person has been raised their entire life to believe something is right and they carry that action through to it's reasonable consequence, it may be unfair to see that individual as immoral, even if their particular action are. In addition, because it is difficult to distinguish which of our believes are valid and which are nothing more than cultural artifacts, we should all maintain a certain degree of skepticism towards any of our beliefs or values)

I am unable to imagine something that is 'wrong' regardless of circumstance, or what that would even mean. This would require something to be 'good' even if it had negative consequences. If it had negative consequences, what would make it 'good'?

I believe that what we think of as 'good' or 'bad' could have been otherwise were our biology otherwise.
If we had evolved from dogs, licking strangers butts would probably be a friendly gesture rather than something deeply frowned upon.

I am NOT saying that because we feel biologically inclined towards something it is good. We may feel biologically inclined to... for example, shoot heroin every day once we've tried it, but other negative consequences will arise from this abuse, and these negative consequences will also be based on our biology.
Had we evolved to live full productive, happy, healthy lives while shooting heroin everyday, I'm sure most people would see daily heroin use as a good thing, probably even a holy, sacred and sent from god.

This perspective allows me to see certain things as good or bad based on context without getting caught in the conundrum you propose.


Moral relativism and religion.

I think it would be fair to say that many or most religious people have a strong disbelieve in moral relativism. They believe moral laws defined by God and are absolute. (or are absolute, exist eternally and God is God by knowing and following all those laws). I think many religious people would even go so far as to agree with the statement 'right is right and wrong is wrong and there are no two ways about it.'

I wanted to find a quote decrying Moral relativism so I did a Google for "moral relativism Falwell" and found this interesting bit of data:
Abortion, moral relativism and mistreatment of others almost came in a three-way tie as the top concerns among America's evangelical leaders, according to the survey released Monday by the National Association of Evangelicals.

What I find interesting and ironic about this is that in practice religious people tend towards a far more relativistic view of morality than the non-religious.

Most non-religious people would agree that the death, torture, destruction of property of millions even billions of people is a bad thing no matter who is doing it.

If you are religious, (particularly Christian, but several other faiths as well), you probably believe it is bad thing most of the time, but sometimes is a very very good thing. Even something to look forward to and pray for. It is called the apocalypse, Second Coming etc. (God's holocaust).

Most non-believers people would feel that a person who deliberately causes another immense suffering over a minor grievance like using their name in a disrespectful way without apologizing or even just not believing certain things, would be doing a very bad thing. Even if this torture they caused was only for one year. Or even one day or one hour.

If you are a Christian you likely feel this is usually a bad thing thing, but if God does it is good, even if that suffering lasts forever.

If you are a Mormon there is a decent chance you see Socialism as an evil.

Unless it is has been instituted and directed by a prophet, then it is a very good thing.

This approach to morality is far more relativistic than any non-believer I know and I think it is unfair.

I do believe that morality is relative. (how could it be otherwise? How could morality even exist without context? What would that even mean?)

That being said, when your moral relativism takes the form of: 'Abc is bad when everyone else does it, except it is good when I do it.'
It is unfair to make rules and judgments that apply to everyone but yourself.

I know this approach is rife within Mormonism. There are many examples similar to the one about socialism where it is taught that a principal is very bad, except when done within the context of Mormonism. (one more example: The Church often praises those who question and doubt their religious leaders or traditions. Martin Luther is portrayed as a hero for his railing against Catholicism. Joseph Smith is admired for his questioning doubting approach to his religious upbringing. Yet the Church strongly frowns upon and sometimes excommunicates those who do this same towards them.)

It is weird to me how it is often taught in Mormonism that something which might be seen as good, like Socialism, if done in a slightly different way, is seen as totally evil rather than just somewhat less good. What if they took that stance about other issues as well? Since 'loving your parents' is seen as a commandment by God, if it is done by a non-believer it becomes evil, so they should actively try and hurt their parents.

I acknowledge that the goodness or badness of a principal is based on context but if you claim otherwise then go on to teach that something otherwise bad is good only when your team does it, there is a problem.(not to mention it being really unfair/unjust)


Emotional expression.

One area where I have had a shift in my thinking over the past year is the subject of emotional expression.

I've long felt it is important for us express our emotions, even if they are negative. I felt that if we keep emotions bottled they will ultimately express themselves in other, less healthy ways. In addition I felt that expressing felt emotions is the more honest thing to do.

Two experiences within a week of each other caused me to re-think this notion.

First: I read a book about 'Destructive Emotions' as explored through both Buddhism and science. This book briefly mentioned that the expression of emotions enhances them.

Second: Driving to pick up Marissa from work hearing a piece on Npr about how expressing anger, rather than relieving it leads to more feelings of anger.

I found this information surprising. I suppose it shouldn't be. We know that when it comes to everything else, the more we do something the more ingrained it becomes. WE know our brains rely heavily upon association (if we were in a certain place with a certain odor, smelling that smell will evoke a memory of that place. Or if we felt a certain feeling doing a certain activity, that thing can evoke that feeling) and so the more expressions of anger we have, the more associations we will have to trigger it.

Now, I don't know if I ever believed that unfettered wallowing was healthy and I've always felt expressions of anger seem to be a bad thing, but realizing that expressing emotions often enhances and leads to more of that emotion has caused me to approach both my own dealings with negative emotions and my dealings with others negative emotions differently. And I think I have found it beneficial.

Granted it probably isn't a good thing to walk around with pent up anger or sadness and not try to dissipate it in some way, but perhaps expressing those feelings isn't actually going to resolves them.

I still feel their is value to acknowledging our real feelings. I find it unpleasant when people won't even concede to feeling anything other than good, but perhaps it needn't go much further than just that, acknowledgment.

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