September 24, 2010 § 7 Comments
Atheist Climber Blog is turning One year old on October 10! Yay! And I remember like yesterday thinking “Do I have anything to write about? Will anyone care? Will anyone read it?” I just wish I had taken more baby photos!
Well you have all spoken to me by visiting and commenting on my blog. My measure of success has been reflected in the blog stats with over 60,000 page hits, over 100 subscribers, and more than 1500 comments for the 100+ articles and videos I have posted. This far surpasses my expectations and for that I thank you all.
To celebrate, I am in the process of interviewing a selection of prominent figures in humanism, atheism, science and critical thinking. Most of these will be in the form of written interviews, but who knows? I might, down the track, do some video or audio interviews too. This will be dependent on how these interviews are received by my readers.
I don’t want to say too much at this stage, but suffice to say, I already have confirmation from a few very prominent and important people who I’m sure you’d recognise. More information to come. So stay tuned!
The first interview will be published on Atheist Climber Blog’s first birthday, October 10, 2010. So come celebrate with me, and feed your brain with the words of some great thinkers.
September 23, 2010 § Leave a comment
One thing I didn’t mention in the last article was one of the other negative side-effects of negative thinking. When people think negatively, and believe negatively, they tend to become more insular. The tendency can be to protect ones own family and immediate kin (culture or religious group), and everyone else can fend for themselves. This tendency to fall back into our own ranks doesn’t help anyone except those immediately surrounding us. But this is not the time to be completely selfish. In fact, if anything, selfishness and self interest is going to be our undoing.
It just so happens that today I was sent this TED talk link below. From the page: “Statistician Nic Marks asks why we measure a nation’s success by its productivity — instead of by the happiness and well-being of its people.” In this talk, Nic talks of the psychological dangers of negativity in a time when positivity is sorely needed. From the Video:
“For too long, we have peddled a nightmarish visionof what’s going to happen. We have focused on the worst-case scenario. We have focused on the problems. And we have not thought enough about the solutions. We’ve used fear, if you like, to grab people’s attention. And any psychologist will tell you that fear in the organism is linked to flight mechanism. It’s part of the fight and flight mechanism, that when an animal is frightened –think of a deer. A deer freezes very, very still,poised to run away. And I think that’s what we’re doing when we’re asking people to engage with our agenda around environmental degradation and climate change. People are freezing and running away because we’re using fear. And I think the environmental movement has to grow up and start to think about what progress is.”
September 22, 2010 § 2 Comments
The world is in some real strife at the moment. We are approaching a point where experts believe that we will live in an unsustainable way within the next few years, and the population of Earth will reach 9 billion by the middle of this century. While it is true that, for the majority of people living on Earth today, our lives have improved in health and longevity, many of the poorest people are poorer than ever. Some countries like the USA are using on average up to 5 times the amount of resources than is viably sustainable on this planet, and in countries like India, population growth is out of control. The earth is unwell, and we are the cause of this illness.
I recently posted the RSA Animate video “Smile Or Die” on my blog, in which Barbara Ehrenreich talks about the darker side of positive thinking. She talks about “The Secret” and how it is misleading people into thinking that if you think positively enough about something, it will happen. If it doesn’t happen it’s because you weren’t thinking positively enough, or you were never meant to have it.
I totally agree with her in this sense, that positive thinking by itself is useless, except in that it may make you have a better outlook in general. But if you never act on these positive thoughts, all you are doing is effectively throwing your money into a wishing well and hoping for things to get better. I see the idea of The Secret and the idea of prayer in the same light. So many people put their hopes into the “hands of the divine” rather than actively doing something about their situation. Be it Oprah or The Bible, hoping for good things passively is not very helpful for anyone.
I can understand that when people are in times of extreme distress, where a bad situation is out of their hands, like after a natural disaster, in wartime, during times of illness and death, that one might feel less helpless if they at least hope or pray for better times, or to be delivered from a bad situation. This action alone, however, is as useless as masturbation. It might make you feel good for a while, but it won’t achieve much.
What has all this got to do with the state of the world? Well, with the world being in such a state as it is, and with dire warnings from the likes of Stephen Hawking, telling us we “abandon Earth or face extinction”, it’s easy to fall back into an attitude that everything is hopeless. And I see increasingly an attitude among people who know of the plight of the planet which is “We are all doomed, nothing we do matters, why bother trying?” And this is further exacerbated by the media and its constant portrayal of all the bad things which are happening on and to the Earth. Apart from the aforementioned population and climate problems, we constantly see terrorist warnings, financial warnings, product recall warnings, disease outbreak scares, apparent increases of violence on our streets and the like. These constant warnings compound people’s tendency to fall back on the negativity that we all feel at times. It all seems hopeless.
These two ideas, the hoping helplessly for betterment and negativity toward the future are linked, and sometimes one can lead to the other. If one fails, why not try the other? People in hopeless situations can feel a bit better if they feel like things are out of their hands, and there is nothing easier than just giving up responsibility.
But is it actually hopeless?
Recently I read an article on Discovery Blogs entitled “Ozone Layer No Longer Thinning” which explains that after 20 years of concerted effort by the world’s populations to stop pouring CFCs into the atmosphere, we have actually halted the depletion of the ozone layer. This is great news! and the implications go far further than just making sure New Zealanders don’t get sunburnt all the time. What this means is twofold; that we can effect change in the atmosphere; and that we have effected change in the atmosphere (take that climate change deniers). What I mean by this is, it is accepted as fact that the emission of CFCs into the atmosphere cause ozone depletion, and that we by our actions as a global community have taken positive steps to rectify this situation.So why is it different these days? Why do people still claim that there is no link between climate change and human activity?
I propose there are a couple of reasons. Part of it to do with the apparently hopelessness of the situation, and partly because people are unwilling to change the way they live, especially in the USA, Europe and Australia (yes we are very bad too). We love our stuff, and we love it so much that it seems we would rather watch the world around us destroy itself and have a flat screen TV than try to employ more environmentally sustainable practices. Sad, really, but this really seems to be the case.
Let me, at this point say this about negativity. Negativity is worse than false positivity, because not only does it not achieve anything, but it also makes the person thinking negatively feel bad too. The likelihood of being antisocial is increased and may lead to a depressed state. At least people who think positively, whether well-founded positivity or not can be seen as positive people.
I’d like to propose something different.
Firstly, rather than being negative about the future, why not find some thing that are positive in the world. Technology is making leaps and bounds toward the betterment of society. People like Michio Kaku, Carl Sagan and even Ray Kurzweil to a certain extent talks of things that are worthwhile us striving for. The idea that we can strive for all people to be fed, to live longer, to reduce human population, save the rainforests, using the planets resources for ourselves instead of squandering them, all of these ideas are real and if not achievable now, will be soon. Space travel, solar and geothermal energy, green cities and the end to fossil fuels are all within our grasp, or just outside it, a few small steps away.
The key here is education. We need to be educated about our current situation, the way it’s headed now, the possible futures and the futures we want. It is not hard to learn, all of the basic information is on the internet, or in books. Learn what must be done, and learn what can be done.Start with the simple things and then make decisions based on ecology, economy and society.
There is one major hurdle here, and it comes in the form of global mega-corporations, who seem from the outset, to be against everything that we need to do as a planet. Remember however that these corporations are at the mercy of every human who uses their products. If we stop buying products from a company, they go broke. Humans are the ones who drive the market, regardless of what people may tell you. I’m not saying we need to boycott products by all corporations, but we do need to choose wisely what we buy, and what we see as necessary in our lives. Pressure on governments and corporations does work, but it is a slow process.
And don’t just hope for it. We need to actively participate in this discussion.
I do not have all the answers here. How could I? I’m not a scientist, philosopher, or an economist, but a person with a layman’s understanding of what’s going on here. And one thing is very clear to me; with a negative or even a passive positive attitude we are treading water and will soon lose steam.
September 13, 2010 § 2 Comments
This is great. I feel that one of the greatest ways for us to go further as a species, and to save this planet from a multitude of possible dystopian futures is through education. To see that children are able to do this research on their own is very refreshing. Education is key, because through ignorance the only decisions we can make are ill-informed and ignorant ones.
In this TED talk, Sugata Mitra is very funny and seems to really enjoy the work he does with children, and seems honestly surprised by the children all the time.
September 7, 2010 § 3 Comments
I have been accused in comments on this blog, by theists, of being overly optimistic about the future for humanity. This is simply not true. If anything I post my positive thoughts about humanity on my blog, while I harbour a deep fear that we simply do not have what it takes to make it, not with the world population doing what it’s doing right now. I have hope for humanity, but there is no way known I think the idea of “positive thinking” will help anyone. I am a realist.
This video below from the RSA Animate series is a talk by “Acclaimed journalist, author and political activist Barbara Ehrenreich [which] explores the darker side of positive thinking.”
EDIT: This was my 100th post. Woohoo!
September 6, 2010 § Leave a comment
“Matthew Taylor explores the meaning of 21st century enlightenment, how the idea might help us meet the challenges we face today, and the role that can be played by organisations such as the RSA.”
August 28, 2010 § 5 Comments
When a life altering event happens in a person’s life, we can sometime be left asking questions, or feeling alone and confused. When things like death and catastrophe happen, we will often reach outward to others to try to makes sense of our situation, or simply to banish this feeling of aloneness. And being the social animals that we are, being alone when we don’t want to be is scary.
Likewise, when an event of great joy occurs, we also find ourselves reaching out to others, to share this. The birth of a child, the marriage of two people who are in love, the harvest of crops, etc. make us want to share in our good fortune. We are social, and part of this is the fact that we share our joy and pain with others.
Humans also like predictability in their lives. We use a calendar to tell us what day of what month of what year it is, and by this have some expectation of what the weather conditions will be like. Clocks tell us what time of day it is, we all follow the arbitrary numbering system to know when we’ve worked long enough, or whether our food is cooked. This repetitive cycle we use every day feeds our need for predictability.
For as long as humans have been able to recognise that we all feel the same way about the great events in our lives, and we feel the need to share these event. We celebrate achievements in our lives, and collectively commiserate anniversaries of momentous dates in human history. And a way to make these celebrations and commiserations more powerful, we ritualise them, using props, objects, movements and phrases, collectively, which binds us together in a shared experience.
Humans have ritualised every big occasion in our lives. A graduation ceremony celebrates the end of a learning journey and the transition to another part of life. A funeral celebrates the file of a person who has died, and helps us remember who that person was. A birthday marks the anniversary of the birth of a person, and celebrates looking forward to achievements and potential in a person’s life. A wedding celebrates the joining of two people, and the intense emotion of love that humans can feel for one another. At harvest festivals we gather in joy of having enough food to last us through winter, and in spring we celebrate the end of winter and the potential for new life in our families and communities, as well as in our livestock. These vary from culture to culture, and even within individual societies.
And some of these rituals are outdated, hardly any of us in the western world even have crops, or have to worry about food for the coming winter. As societies change the way they do things, many of the old rites seem to lose their initial meanings, and become so ritualised that we just do them because that’s what we do. But most rituals serve a purpose, even if that purpose is blurred under the veil of dogma or time.
Some of our rituals, which once served a purpose of celebration or commiseration have become loaded with ideas outside of their intended meanings. Religions have loaded our rituals with their own agendas, making our special occasions a way to pander to their beliefs. Religions have hijacked our human rituals and used them as a way to reinforce their ideals, to make the person see them as an integral part of their lives. Prayer, communion, christenings, bar mitzvahs and attending worship ceremonies all lend to this feeling that these religious rituals are necessary. The greatest example of this would be the idea that Muslims need to pray to the east (an arbitrary idea for the location of Mecca) five times a day, or risk being thrown into hell when they die.
Where once people would sing to communicate ideas to their children and others, people now sing hymns to their god figure to reinforce his magnificence. Where we once celebrated the time when the days was the same length as the night in preparation for winter, the Christians celebrate the supposed birth of their man-god. Where we once celebrated the coming of summer, Christians now commiserate the death (and supposed rebirth) of their man-god.
And apart from these obvious usurping of ritual from humanity into the hands of religion, the very structure of our weeks in the west harken to the biblical account of creation, seven days with rest on the sabbath.
I suggest that ritual is a very important part of being alive. We need to feel as though we are part of a community, a society and a culture. And we can still have our rituals, but we should not forget why we are having these celebrations or commiseration. We celebrate being alive, not the glory of a god-head. We celebrate our lives, because each of us has only one, and it is fragile and special. We celebrate our continuance in life, and remember those who came before us, not because they are in heaven, but because they represent the shoulders of greatness upon which we stand now. Atheism does not mean throwing away what we have learned from the past, rather the opposite. And don’t forget that just because religions have hijacked the great moments in our lives and imbued them with their dogma and agenda doesn’t mean they are useless to us in humanity.