Mere Subjectivity

I was raised Catholic, dallied with hip, evangelicalism-for-teens in high school, and gradually slipped from believer, to agnostic, to atheist in my young adulthood.

Nearly all my friends are non-believers of various stripes. I think that one’s social circle matters a LOT more than study, deliberation, and ratiocination in terms of where one lands on a wide array of categories of belief and behavior.

I believe that rationalization is a much more powerful force in human minds than reason.

That all said, I have a lot of thoughts about what I think Christianity is, what it’s for, what good it does, and why it and people who believe it are wrong. At the moment, the most important idea I’m wrestling with is the subjectivity of belief.

It goes like this: There’s an episode of Community where the characters play a game of D&D. Abed is DMing and Troy asks “shouldn’t there be a board, or some pieces, or something to … Jenga?” Abed explains, “No no, this is a role-playing game. It takes place entirely in our collective imagination.” (video here as of publish date.)

I’ve played a fair bit of D&D, but for some reason the shared subjective reality of the game was something that had never occurred to me before hearing that exchange. I sit down to play the game with five friends, one of whom is the DM. We all share descriptions of what we see and what actions we perform. Only the DM has final authority on the reality of the game, but even though they are responsible for the world in a significant sense in terms of setup and gameplay, the way they describe a room or an object will certainly lead different players to picture the thing differently in their mind’s eye.

This subjective experience inside of an assumed shared reality is how I think of Christianity, except there is no DM (no human with final authority on what’s true). There is no one true faith, because no two Christians will agree on every tenet of belief or history. Every religion is ultimately personal, though it may share a LOT with the next fellow’s faith. Descriptions of reality in terms of spiritual law or divine order assume away this sticky element of subjectivity. If something is universal and we can check it, it’s not an aspect of religion, it’s part of scientific description. If we can’t check it, we have no way of confirming universality.

But my father in law really wants me to be a Christian. He tells me that he sees much of himself in me from a time in his life when he had similar doubts or worldviews to my own. He wants me to read Mere Christianity and I promised him over a year ago that I would. So here we go. I’ll be reading it and posting my thoughts here on the ol’ blogarino. I’ve tried reading it before and found Lewis’ self-assurance misplaced and his sanctimony off-putting. But I must keep my word. Here we go.

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Eric D. Dixon, greatest person to ever live, you are mist

Eric is gone. Like my father, he was taken by a sudden heart attack before age 50. He wasn’t family and we never lived together, but I felt closer to him than most people who are in those categories. His friendship meant more to me than I can ever say.
I learned so much from him and thought I would keep doing so forever. The depth and breadth of conversations we had were unmatched by anyone else I’ve ever known. Every time I see art that strikes me as strange, I think of him first and always will. Yesterday my nieces showed me an odd movie they’d made and I was telling Mary this morning how much I thought Eric would appreciate it. That was a few hours before I got the news.
I first heard the quote “every time someone dies, we lose a library” from Penn Jillette. It’s hard to imagine anyone exemplifying the magnitude of loss embodied in that quote more than Eric.
Eric was a repository of an unbelievable amount of knowledge about economics, history, religion, grammar, music, movies, art, and countless other categories that I could never hope to enumerate. But Eric could, and he’d do it with a big grin. He knew the details off the top of his head and when he didn’t, he knew where to find it. He was the best internet researcher I’ve ever even heard of, and he was himself an archivist: collecting and retaining the information and memories from his life and upon request the lives of his friends, families, and other relations for the sake of posterity and nostalgia. Both my and Mary’s blogs were hosted by Eric.
I could always count on Eric when I had a question. Even though we’d lived far away from one another for years, we stayed in touch over gchat. My last conversation with him on there was asking for help with a question of language, and him immediately having an abundance of useful information. He was a world-class editor and grammarian. I learned more useful information from him on the topic (with sources!) than in all of my formal education.
I’m grateful he met my children and that Scarlett might carry forward some memories of him. I guess I figured that every year or two he’d keep coming to town for a concert and getting together with us or crashing on our couch. I wish I’d known this April would be the last time that would happen.
I think the thing I’ll miss most about Eric is that we didn’t always agree, but we did always enjoy talking to each other. Smart people who stay honest and kind while disagreeing are the rarest and best people.
Eric was smart, kind, contagiously enthusiastic, and impressively skilled at the things he cared about. He could play the accordion, get top scores on Rockband, type 130 wpm with 100% accuracy, and cite sources for seemingly every idea he put forth.
They say we should always try our best. I believe Eric did. I’m really gonna miss him.

“n.f. f. n.s. n.c.” When spelled out it stands for “non fui; fui; non sum; non curo,” which means “I was not; I was; I am not; I care not.”

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“Useless and necessary”: thoughts on Reflections on the Guillotine

I’m reading Reflections on the Guillotine by Camus. It’s phenomenal and disturbing, as I should have expected. This part really got to me:

The State cannot
escape the dilemma Beccaria described when he
wrote: “If it is important to give the people proofs of
power often, then executions must be frequent; but
crimes will have to be frequent too, and this will prove
that the death penalty does not make the complete impression
that it should, whence it results that it is both
useless and necessary.” What can the State do with a
penalty that is useless and necessary, except to hide it
without abolishing it? The State will keep it then, a little
out of the way, not without embarrassment, in the
blind hope that one man at least, one day at least, will
be stopped from his murderous gesture by thought of
the punishment and, without anyone’s ever knowing it,
will justify a law that has neither reason nor experience
in its favor.

There are other things that the US government does today besides the death penalty that are useless and necessary (for proving power). Here’s a short list of some examples:
1. excessive police force
2. TSA
3. guantanamo and related detention for enemies of the state
4. drone strikes
5. other military adventurism

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Thoughts on another arbitrary Simpsons anniversary

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Simpsons episode The Last Temptation of Krust.

That’s the episode where Krusty realized he’s completely out of touch and no longer the behemoth showbiz success he used to be. He has a moment of panicked clarity when he sees Bart’s room, overflowing with his merchandise.

View post on imgur.com

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge fan of The Simpsons. I consider the first 8 seasons to be among the best TV ever made, and I maintain that most of the episodes from that period hold up over 20 years later, even in the current TV renaissance of the last ten years or so.

Fewer people who know me know that my feelings about the rest of The Simpsons is much more tepid. I thought the movie was good the first time I saw it, but I’ve cooled on it. There are a few OK episodes from after season 8, but the decline in quality was rapid and consistent. Other people on the internet have detailed and chronicled this phenomenon much better than I can here.

In the episode, faced with his inability to freshen up his act, Krusty announces his retirement at a press conference. He opens with an excerpt from the poem “To an Athlete Dying Young” and is interrupted by one of the journalists.

View post on imgur.com

I watched The Last Temptation of Krust a few nights ago with Mary. It was OK. It has the legendary “Canyonero” sequence as a closing bit, which stands on its own as a great musical segment from around the golden era of The Simpsons. The rest of the episode really was just OK. Right after watching that we watched Who Shot Mr. Burns Part 1. It’s a bit unfair to compare, considering that’s one of the best Simpsons episodes ever, but the difference in quality was stunning.

I think The Last Temptation of Krust was a high point for season 9, but that season was part of the steady decline that the show never recovered from.

I don’t mind that The Simpsons isn’t as good as it was, I know there are plenty of people who still enjoy it. I just can’t because it’s so inferior to what it was before.

The next question Krusty gets from the press is

View post on imgur.com

Someone on Reddit mentioned that this anniversary would be a great time for The Simpsons to announce retirement. I don’t think that’s going to happen for the same reason it didn’t happen 20 years ago.

I don’t begrudge the enjoyment of folks who like current Simpsons. I just know that re-watching the early episodes is more than enough for me.

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My top ten tv shows

Originally posted here.

30 rock
arrested development
bojack horseman
community
it’s always sunny
parks and rec
rick and morty
simpsons
the wire
venture bros

 

preference order added on 8-21 for crybaby Eric:

simpsons
arrested development
bojack horseman
it’s always sunny
rick and morty
the wire
venture bros
parks and rec
30 rock
community

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Scarlett milestones for the day 2015-05-22

  • ambiturner: learned how to roll to the left (could already roll right)
  • began to occasionally yell for the fun of it
  • better at reaching for her toys
  • moved up to size two diapers
  • was very well behaved at the fitness center
  • had fun throwing toys out of her stroller while mom worked out
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My Star Wars ABCs

Mary found this article and thought it apropos to us right now, considering we’re expecting and we love Star Wars.

My response was more along the lines of “what’s he reading? Star Wars ABCs … maybe I should get that book to read to our kid. No wait! I’ll make my own!”

Some pondering, an online rhyming dictionary, a little wookieepedia surfing, and several minutes later — I present to you: Star Wars ABCs, by Josh Smith. Read more »

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My answers to Tim Aten’s quiz

The quiz is at the end of this delightful article, and my answers are below.
Read more »

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Pebble saved my phone today

Left phone on roof of car when I left work tonight.

Onramp: took curve a little fast and heard a noise on the roof and then off to my left on the ground. Spider sense tingling.

Seconds later, Pebble buzzed with lost bluetooth connection (the same thing that happens when I leave home without my phone, eg). Immediately pulled over.

Ran back up the onramp on foot, terrified that phone would have already been run over.

Find phone behind tiny shrub on shoulder. No damage to phone, scratches on after-market cover.

That could’ve been a lot worse.

I posted this to reddit.

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Good News! More Maria Bamford!

Obviously her work on the Comedians of Comedy and The Maria Bamford Show is totally classic, but apparently there is yet more MB to come. Check out the first episode in her new series (and yes, she does look like my fiancée’s sister):

 

 

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