Category Archives: philosophy

Conflict is Essential

The case has been made in an article by John Welford (https://owlcation.com/humanities/Did-King-Henry-VIII-Have-A-Genetic-Abnormality) that English King Henry the VIII may have suffered from a genetic disorder commonly known as “having Kell blood” which may have made having a living male heir almost impossible with his first two wives. The disorder causes frequent miscarriages in the children sired, something that happened to Henry seven times in the quest for a living male heir. If you think about it, if Henry did not have this particular physical conflict at the root of his dynasty, he might’ve fathered a male heir with his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Then there would’ve been no opening for the machinations of Anne Boleyn. It follows that Elizabeth would not have been born. Then no Elizabethan Age; no sir Francis Drake, Spain might’ve landed their armada, no Church of England, possibly no William Shakespeare, and then Mickey would never have gotten castigated by scholars of English literature for daring to state in this blog that the actor who came from Stratford on Avon and misspelled his own name numerous times was not the author of Shakespeare’s plays.

History would’ve been very different. One might even say “sucky”. Especially if one is the clown who thinks Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare.

Conflict and struggle is necessary to the grand procession of History. If things are too easy and conflict is not necessary, lots of what we call “invention” and “progress” will not happen. Society is not advanced by its quiet dignity and static graces. It is advanced and transformed by its revolutions, its wars, its seemingly unconquerable problems… its conflicts.

My Dick and Jane book,
1962

Similarly, a novel, a story, a piece of fiction is no earthly good if it is static and without conflict. A happy story about a puppy and the children who love him eating healthy snacks and hugging each other and taking naps is NOT A STORY. It is the plot of a sappy greeting card that never leaves the shelf in the Walmart stationary-and-office-supplies section. Dick and Jane stories had a lot of seeing in them. But they never taught me anything about reading until the alligator ate Spot, and Dick drowned while trying to pry the gator’s jaws apart and get the dog back. And Jane killed the alligator with her bare hands and teeth at the start of what would become a lifelong obsession with alligator wrestling. And yes, I know that never actually happened in a Dick and Jane book, except in the evil imagination of a bored child who was learning to be a story-teller himself in Ms. Ketchum’s 1st Grade Class in 1962.

Yes, I admit to drawing in Ms. Ketchum’s set of first-grade reading books. I was a bad kid in some ways.

But the point is, no story, even if it happens to have a “live happily ever after” at the end of it, can be only about happiness. There must be conflict to overcome.

There are no heroes in stories that have no villains whom the heroes can shoot the guns out of the hands of. Luke Skywalker wouldn’t exist without Darth Vader, even though we didn’t learn that until the second movie… or is it the fifth movie? I forget. And James Bond needs a disposable villain that he can kill at the end of the movie, preferably a stupid one who monologues about his evil plan of writing in Ms. Ketchum’s textbooks, before allowing Bond to escape from the table he is tied down to while surrounded by pencil-drawn alligators in the margins of the page.

We actually learn by failing at things, by getting hurt by the biplanes of an angry difficult life. If we could just get away with eating all the Faye Wrays we wanted and never have a conflict, never have to pay a price, how would we ever learn the life-lesson that you can’t eat Faye Wray, even if you go to the top of the Empire State Building to be alone with her. Of course, that lesson didn’t last for Kong much beyond hitting the Manhattan pavement. But life is like that. Not all stories have a happy ending. Conflicts are not always resolved in a satisfying manner. A life with no challenges is not a life worth living.

So, my title today is “Conflict is Essential“. And that is an inescapable truth. Those who boldly face each new conflict the day brings will probably end up saying bad words quite a lot, and fail at things a lot, and even get in trouble for drawing in their textbooks, but they will fare far better than those who are afraid and hang back. (I do not know for sure that this is true. I really just wanted to say “fare far” in a sentence because it is a palindrome. But I accept that such a sentence may cause far more criticism and backlash than it is worth. But that is conflict and sorta proves my point too.)

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Take the Midnight Train to Anywhere

 

Journey back with me to the 1980’s, and hear once again the music of escape.

There was a time when I was young when I did not know where I would be when the next new dawn came.  Yes, I once took the midnight train (except it was a bus) and I arrived in a teaching career in deep South Texas.  I crossed borders into another culture, another way of life, another journey made of words and pictures that hasn’t reached the final station yet.

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At the outset, we all take a risk.  Born and raised in South Detroit (although it was really North Central Iowa) I passed through established procedures, rules, and regulations to do things that desperately needed doing for people who could only help themselves in very limited ways.

Some spoke mostly Spanish.  Some lived in broken homes.  One boy lived for a while under the bridge of the Nueces River, but attended school every day because he was hungry to learn, and because free school lunch was the majority of the food he got to eat.  He got on a midnight train, and I never saw him or heard from him again.  His sister, though, lived with a tia who treated her like a daughter, and grew up to be a school teacher.  I let her teach the lesson for me during one class period, as part of an educational experiment, and it put her on her own midnight train.

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It was a train going on the same track I followed.  Not because of me and what I did for her.  But because she came to realize it was the right journey to take for her.  It was the perfect anywhere for her.

But there is danger inherent in getting on a midnight train going anywhere.  You don’t know who is waiting for you down the line, or what your circumstances will be at the next station along the way.  There may be strangers waiting up and down the boulevard, their shadows searching in the night.  I befriended other teachers, mentored some, learned from many,  even married one.  I had a run in or two with people who sell drugs to kids.  I had all four of my car tires slashed one night.  I had a car window broken out.  I had a boy once tell me he would kill me with a knife.  I later had that boy tell me he had a good job and a girlfriend and he was grateful that I talked him out of it and never turned him in to the police.

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And we end up paying anything to roll the dice just one more time…  At one time or another we have all been there, aboard that midnight train to anywhere.  There is a moment in everyone’s life when… well, some will win, and some will lose.  Some were born to sing the blues.  I have been there.  I have done that.  And it occurs to me, that song plays on in my head still.  I am still on that journey.  And I won’t stop believing.  Because it goes on and on and on and on…

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Try Again, Mickey, Get it Right

Trying and making mistakes is how we learn. Trial and error built empires, created revolutions, and changed the very nature of reality. How do I know this? I tried. I failed. I tried again.

If I am not satisfied with the way things are, I must take steps to change the way things are.

Small steps at first.

But bigger things come along in time.

For today, I try again to get the tall grass cut in the yard. I walk the dog. I plan what I am going to do about the sorry state of air conditioning in the house. Every problem has a solution if only you can find it.

Right now, the world around me is direly concerned with mass shootings and how to control them. Especially after Uvalde lost 19 kids and two teachers to bullets from an AR-15.

Gun laws would help. But a Republican-controlled government refuses to regulate them sensibly.

Voting the morons and the evil, corrupt bastards out of office would be a good start. Men like Representative Louie Gohmert, Senator Ted Cruz, Governor Greg Abbot, and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, one moron and three bastards, have to no longer be in control. And voting in good, capable people like Beto O’Rourke would help. But too many idiots, fools, racists, and evil people have the privilege of voting, while minorities and people of good conscience face increased barriers to voting.

My privileged white friends and relatives I knew well in my school years long ago, have developed powerfully potent hate glands from listening to racist fears and hate-filled propaganda from FOX News and various elected leaders who’ve duped them into buying the bull-puckie.

So, what do I do about it?

Remind them who they used to be. Remind them they don’t want school children to die from bullets in their classroom on the next-to-last day of school anymore than I do. Remind them that I am a friend and a relative of some of them who will continue to listen, continue to care, and continue to point out where they are allowing their preferences to become prejudices and their fears to foster cruelty to certain groups of “others.”

Even though I have been retired for eight years now, I am still a teacher. I believe every kid and every adult who was once a kid has value and needs to be treated as an equal and worthy individual. I also believe in responsibility, and holding people responsible, but not in punishing someone for failing to live up to a responsibility… rather, letting them pick themselves up to try again to do it better.

We are not without hope for the future.

We trust that a leap of faith is worth taking.

And though we may fall…

We will live to get up and try again.

Until we don’t.

But at least we are trying to do it better.

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Notes From the Archangel Michael

I was born and raised a Methodist.  But I married into the Jehovah’s Witness faith.  Yes, those annoying little people who come knocking at your door offering free Bible studies and wanting to talk to you about the “good news from God’s Word the Bible”.  I was one of them for the better part of 20 years.  And I want to tell you from the outset that I have been guilty of knocking on doors.  I have been threatened to have the dogs sicked on me.  I have been threatened with guns by Winchuks, Hickenloopers, and other rednecks.  Laughingboy Larry, a seventh and eighth grade former student of mine even begged me to come to his door so he could throw a pie in my face.  I requested lemon meringue pie because… mmm, lemon meringue!  Jehovah’s Witnesses are not bad people.  They are real honest-to-God Christians who believe and teach the essential lessons of Christianity, Love and Forgiveness.  Some of the finest people I have ever met are self-sacrificing, hard-working Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I would never speak against them.  But this post has to explain why I no longer am one of them.

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I have always been a reader of the Bible.  I began seriously reading it in my youth when I was a victim of sexual assault and the life-threatening depression that can cause.  A very thoughtful and loving Methodist minister, the father of my best friend, taught me how to use the Bible to seek answers and find comfort.  As a Jehovah’s Witness, I have read the entire Bible cover to cover twice.

But I have also always been a Christian Existentialist, even before I knew what that was.  I believe that existence precedes essence.  There has to be a real, observable rock in front of me before I grant faith in the existence of a rock.  I don’t accept “rock-ness” as something that is real because other people tell me that “rock” exists.  If God is going to be the rock upon which I build my faith, then I have to observe that God is real.  I need proof.  Superstition is acceptance of something without proof.  As far as I can tell, almost all religions… organized religions… are based on superstitions.  “How do you know that Jesus loves me?”  “Because the Bible tells me so.”  “Why must I believe I go to Heaven when I die?”   “Because your father and his father before him believed it.”  “Can I accept these as real reasons… as evidence?”  “Of course not.  These things follow the patterns of superstition.”

“Kill the infidel! Die a hero’s death, and you will be granted 99 virgins in paradise.”  “How do you know this to be true?”  “Allah has told me in a dream.”

 

So, if you follow any of this (undoubtedly due to the same curse of relentless intelligence that plagues me), you are probably wondering why I don’t just come out and claim to be an atheist like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens?  Well, because I believe in God.  I have seen the proof.  When I talk to God, he answers me.  When I ask him to guide me, he sends signs and leads me to the answers I seek.  He comforts me, even though it is only by helping me to find comfort in my own mind… my own self.  He helps me find the power within me to do what is right and overcome what is wrong.  Why, then, am I not still a Jehovah’s Witness?  Why am I not still knocking on doors?

The truth, as I see it, is… each of us must find God for ourselves.  Each of us must obtain the certainty we seek with our own efforts, or be satisfied with a perpetual state of not knowing all the answers.  Either result is perfectly acceptable.  Jehovah’s Witnesses will tell you that you can’t obtain eternal life unless you believe what they believe, do what they do, and accept everything just as they interpret it from their magic book.  Personally, I believe there is no eternal life.  I am made of star stuff (as Carl Sagan used to say, because science has mathematically proven it is true).  When I die, the configuration of star stuff that is me will simply be no more.  But I have existed.  And my atoms will go through a large number of processes that disperse them and turn them into something else.  My individual consciousness will be disbanded, but the overall consciousness of the universe will remain.  The universe is greater than I am.  In fact, the whole human race could wink out of existence in a massive fireball that consumes planet Earth, and the whole still remains.  I don’t have to worry about any of it.  I am the author of my own story.  I am responsible for its content, both good and bad.  And I am not sorry for any of it.

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Most of the angels used in this post are by William-Adolphe Bouguereau…and one is by me.

Now you know the awful truth.  Mickey is a humanist.  He thinks for himself about everything… even matters of religion.  How horrible!

“Tell me, oh great and powerful, Vishnu, will I be offered 99 virgins in paradise if I kill him for you?”

“No, Singh-Rama O’Malley.  You are simply being stupid and superstitious.  And besides, that particular superstition doesn’t belong to my religion.  You are mixing things up.”

“Oh, sorry, Lord Vishnu.  But is it okay if I don’t kill myself for my error?”

“Singh-Rama, you are a child of the universe… no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here.  And whether or not it is clear to you, the universe is unfolding… as it should.”  (Note; These last words are the words of the poet Max Ehrmann in his wise poem, Desiderata.)

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My Brother’s Keeper

It is a Biblical question. After Cain killed Abel, God came asking for Abel’s whereabouts. And Cain stupidly answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Stupid Cain! Did he not know that God already knew the answer?

And stupid God. Why did he ask a question to which he already knew the answer? And why did he ask stupid Cain whom he must’ve already known was stupid?

But the answer to the question in this bit of Biblical moral mythology is supposed to be, “Yes, Cain. You are your brother’s keeper.”

So, why am I, a confirmed Christian Existentialist (an atheist who believes in God), trying to tell you something from a Biblical story?

Well, the matter is simple. As I will very likely die soon from Coronavirus (which I am not yet infected with, but, you know, the kindness of fate…), I am trying like heck to impart what little wisdom I have gathered in my life so that I may leave something behind me that has worth.

This current pandemic is itself a demonstration of the truth behind the claim that I am my brother’s keeper.

I wear a mask everywhere I go now because a mask protects not only me but it also protects others from me. After all, I have no access to testing. I may have the virus and just not know it. Then my exhalations would contain droplets of water that have viruses swimming in it. The mask, combined with six feet of distance, keeps my exhalations from reaching the lungs of uninfected others, and potentially slaying them as Cain did to Abel.

It is because of Texan prejudices against mask-wearing and social distancing that I know I will probably be infected before this pandemic is over. And my diabetes, blood pressure problems, and previous difficulty with bronchitis and COPD insure that I am not part of the 80 percent of people who will survive the virus. I will get pneumonia and die.

When I suggest, however, that we should each take on the responsibility for the safety and well-being of others, I do not mean that we should become a zoo-keeper, and keep them all safely in cages (the Senator Cruz method of keeping Mexican immigrants safe). You cannot presume to control the thoughts and behaviors of others. You must only adopt the way of love and brotherhood. You put the interests and needs of others before your own. You lead by example, not by decree.

Before you start complaining in the comments about how stupid I am in this essay because I blaspheme against God, and at the same time don’t see people for how they really are, remember that I used to be a school teacher. You don’t do that job because you want to be rich and powerful. You do that job for love of others… specifically, other people’s children. And it is true that everybody has their bad points. Everybody is thoughtless, or wicked, or deeply troubled at times. But everyone also has qualities about them that make them beautiful, or kind, or noble, or selfless, or… well, the list of good things I have seen and nurtured in other people’s children is far longer and more profound than the bad things. No matter who they are, no matter what color or culture or religion they are, my brothers and sisters and their children have worth.

So, here I am, declaring that I am, most definitely, my brother’s keeper. (And unlike Cain, I did not kill him. He and his wife live along the Texas coast, near Houston. And they are not in a cage.)

And here is the question most critical to my survival…

Are you your brother’s keeper too?

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Why Do You Think That? (Part Two)

In my short, sweet sixty years of life, I have probably seen more than my share of movies.  I have seen classic movies, black-and-white movies, cartoon movies, Humphrey Bogart movies, epic movies, science fiction movies, PeeWee Herman movies, Disney movies, Oscar-winning movies, and endless box-office stinkers.  But in all of that, one of the most undeniable threads of all is that movies make me cry.  In fact they make me cry so often it is a miracle that even a drop of moisture remains in my body.   I should be a dried-out husk by now.

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I wept horribly during this scene.  Did you?

And the thing is, people make fun of you when you cry at movies.  Especially cartoon movies like Scooby Doo on Zombie Island.  (But I claim I was laughing so hard it brought tears to my eyes.  That’s the truth, dear sister.  So stop laughing at me.)  But I would like to put forth another “Why do you think that?” notion.  People who cry while watching a movie are stronger and more powerful than the people who laugh at them for crying.  A self-serving thesis if ever there was one.

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Movies can make you cry if you have the ability to feel empathy.  We all know this.  Old Yeller is the story of a dog who endears himself to a prairie farm family, saves Travis’s life at one point, and then gets infected with rabies and has to be put down.  Dang! No dry eyes at the end of that one.  Because everyone has encountered a dog and loyal dog-love somewhere along the line.  And a ten-year-old dog is an old dog.  The dogs you knew as a child helped you deal with mortality because invariably, no matter how much you loved them, dogs demonstrate what it means to die.  Trixie and Scamper were both hit by cars.  Queenie, Grampa’s collie, died of old age.  Jiggs the Boston Terrier died of heat stroke one summer.  You remember the pain of loss, and the story brings it all back.

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Only psychopaths don’t feel empathy to some degree.  Think about how you would feel if you were watching Old Yeller and somebody you were watching with started laughing when Travis pulls the trigger on the shotgun.  Now, there’s a Stephen King sort of character.

But I think I can defend having lots of empathy as a reason for crying a river of tears during Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  You see, identifying with Quasimodo as the main character, hoping for what he hopes for, feeling like a monster and completely unloved, and fearing what he fears connect you to the story in ways that completely immerses you in the experience.  This is basically a monster movie.Original-Hunchback_of_Notre_Dame

But the film puts you inside the head of the malformed man, and you realize that he is not the monster.  Righteous Judge Frollo and the people who mistreat Quasimodo for his deformity of outward appearance are the real monsters.  If you don’t cry a river of tears because of this story, then you have not learned the essential truth of Quasimodo.  When we judge others harshly, we are really judging ourselves. In order to stop being monstrous, and be truly human, you must look inside the ugliness as Esmeralda does to see the heroic beauty inside others.  Sometimes the ideas themselves are so powerful they make me weep.  That’s when my sister and my wife look at me and shake their heads because tears are shooting out of me like a fountain, raining wetness two or three seats in every direction.  But I believe I am a wiser man, a more resolved man, and ultimately a better man because I was not afraid to let a movie make me cry.

The music also helps to tell the story in ways that move my very soul to tears.  Notice how the heroine walks the opposite way to the rest of the crowd.  As they sing of what they desire, what they ask God to grant, she asks for nothing for herself.  She shows empathy in every verse, asking only for help for others.  And she alone walks to the light from the stained glass window.  She alone is talking to God.

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Yes, I am not embarrassed by the fact that movies make me cry.   In fact, I should probably be proud that movies and stories and connections to other people, which they bring me, makes me feel it so deeply I cry.  Maybe I am a sissy and a wimp.  Maybe I deserved to be laughed at all those times for crying during the movie.  But, hey, I’ll take the laughter.  I am not above it.  I am trying to be a humorist after all.

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The Insufferable Superiority of Dead Guys

I may have stupidly revealed this secret before, but since it is already probably out there, here it is again; I have been on a lifelong quest to find and learn wisdom.

Yep, that’s right.  I have been doing a lot of fishing in the well of understanding to try and find the ultimate rainbow trout of truth.  Of course, it is only incredibly stupid people who actually believe that trout can survive living in a well.

So I have been looking at a lot of what passes for wisdom in this world, and find that for the most part, it consists of a bunch of words written by dead guys.

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Boris Pasternak qualifies.  He is a dead guy.  At least, he has been since 1960.  Pasternak is a Russian.  His novel Doctor Zhivago is about the period in Russian history between the beginnings of the revolution in 1905 and the First World War.  He won the Nobel Prize for Literature for it in 1958, but the Soviet government, embarrassed by it, forced him to turn down the prize.

Nobel novelist is probably something that qualifies a dead guy as wise.

I am led to believe that he knew where to fish for the trout of truth.

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I like the idea that the real value in literature, as in the life it portrays, is found in the ordinary.  And yet, Boris speaks of it oxymoronically as extraordinary.  Wisdom is apparently found in contradicting yourself.

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I like the idea of a world infused with compassion.  But is he saying love may lead to misperceptions of how the objects of our love are mistreated?

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This man saw Leo Tolstoy on his deathbed when he was himself but a boy.  Like Tolstoy he questioned everything.  And like Tolstoy, when the end came, he believed in hope for the future.

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The worst part of getting wisdom from dead guys, guys you never met in real life but only came to know from books, is that you cannot argue with them.  You can’t question them about what they meant, or ask them if they ever considered one of your own insights.  You never get to tell them if you happen to fall in love with their ideas.

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Richard Feynman is a physicist, scientist, and writer of science-based wisdom.

Richard Feynman is also dead since 1988.

He is considered a brainiac superhero by science nerds everywhere, and not only do his words still live in his writings, but so does his math.

But what he is actually saying is, that in truth, we really never “know” anything.  It can never be fully understood and maybe the questions that we ask are more important than the answers.

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Wait a minute!  Feynman, are you calling me a fool?  

Of course, I can’t get an answer out of him.  Richard Feynman is dead.

But he does suggest what I can do about it.

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I had or worked with a large number of teachers in my life who would be absolutely horrified by that advice.

So, what conclusion can I reach other than that Richard Feynman thinks I’m a fool even though he never met me?

I don’t really know.  Maybe I should learn the lesson that you must be careful when you listen to dead guys talking.  But I do like what some of them say.  Perhaps that is my trout of truth.

 

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Things I Hate

Greg Abbott wagging his finger at me because I like the novels of Walter Dean Myers.

I don’t very often write about hatred. It is not my focus. I prefer to write about love. But the world I live in doesn’t very often acknowledge my preferences.

You may have already deduced from the picture of the current pontificating Emperor of Texas that I don’t really love him, but it is not the braying hate-cannon that keeps attacking the things that I love which I hate. It is his idea that he can retain his immense power by telling his minions that they are being hurt by something called “Critical Race Theory.” It is the idea… the lie that I hate. It is a lie designed to cut back on education that touches on black history, black literature, and the memory of what injustices institutionalized racism has created.

I hate excuses for bad behavior that punish the victims instead of the perpetrators.

Rich and powerful bigots claim that white children are being unfairly made to feel guilty about being racists by curriculum in schools that is actually cultural and historical awareness that can be demonized by the misapplied label of “Critical Race Theory.”

Many of my favorite students of all time were children of color.

I love the book The Glory Field by Walter Dean Myers. It is a book I taught in gifted classes at least seven times. It tells a story of several generations of a black family in the South It covers a time period from slavery through the Civil War and Reconstruction up to the Civil Rights Era. It is full of scenes of violence, death, racism, surviving racism, personal courage, victory, defeat, and most of all, Love. Unfortunately, it may make white kids feel guilty, especially if they have any empathy at all in their make-up. I know the book makes me cry at several points for that very reason. And so, the Emperor of Texas is against it. CRT! The book banning continues.

I hate lies that deprive black people, especially black school children, of knowledge of our own history. (And I should point out that Hispanics, Jews, and other minorities are hurt by this too, but the CRT purging does not actually touch on their history… yet.) There will never be a solution to racial hatreds until all of us confront this country’s actual history of race relations and things to be ashamed of.

I hate being told what is ultimately true… especially by people who will persecute you if you don’t accept whole-souled what they believe. It infuriates me that people who have power over my life, and have accepted an unexamined belief system instead of something that they have invested in a lifetime of searching for, tell me what I must believe in to avoid their manipulative onslaught. In truth, the average evangelical Christian has invested less than a tenth of the time wrestling with eternal truths that I have spent. I read and write philosophy. I have constantly gone back and revisited my choices and examined my personal morality inside and out. I will even carefully evaluate every hate-spewing comment I get here or on Twitter with a mind open to the possibility that they might have a good point, whether I actually block them or not.

Governor Ron DeSaniflush telling people what they are not allowed to think or teach.

I hate corruption. I hate hypocrisy. I hate lies and manipulation. So, obviously, I had considerable stomach troubles all during the Trump administration. But I believe in concentrating on positive things. Love not hate. Rewards not punishment. Looking for the good in people and encouraging that. Ignoring the bad in people when it is possible, and discouraging that.

But don’t think you have to accept anything I have said today. I am only suggesting. Because I hate being told that what I believe is not just wrong but evil. And I hate being told I have to accept toxic beliefs or be punished by society. And I would never do the same thing I hate to somebody else. I don’t wish to start hating myself.

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What Good Does Philosophy Do?

I am often told that I think too much. I spout quotes from philosophers too often. And sometimes, while contemplating my navel, I have seen the abyss gazing back.

So, you are probably fine with tossing all philosophy books in your possession into the nearest trash bin. You don’t need to worry about why evil exists in the world. Or what the purpose of life is. Or how you can benefit your fellow man. Stupid people live perfectly happy lives more often than gifted intellectuals do. Of course they also punish themselves by electing Donald Trump and thinking Bernie Sanders is a Communist, because they don’t know how much that hurts their own interests, and they are happy as long as the people they hate are being punished more than they themselves are.

It is possible to be perfectly happy by letting someone else do all the thinking, choosing, and planning for you. Let someone else define who and what you are, what you need to be happy, and how your life is to be lived. Then, when things go totally wrong and you are severely punished by life in general, they will probably tell you who to blame and hate for it too.

Fotografi efter blyantstegning udført ca. 1840 af N. C. Kierkegaard

Nobody ever told you that Kierkegaard once thought that every man makes his own meaning in life, and you don’t have to accept every daft thing that some smarty know-it-all says is the best thing for you. You can learn to think for yourself. You can learn to test and verify the important points laid out before you. You are not too dumb to follow what Mickey is saying right now. After all, aren’t you smarter than him? Surely you are. That fool thinks he doesn’t really know anything at all. Well, maybe one thing. He thinks he knows he exists, like Descartes says.

And once you know the important thing is realizing you do exist, then maybe you are beginning to grasp what Existentialism means. Existence comes before everything else. You know you exist, so now you can begin thinking about what things are good for you to think about, choose to explore, choose to do, and… hopefully… choose to preserve your own existence in the best way possible.

Philosophy is merely thinking. There are many stupid philosophies. Some are even deadly. But there is good thinking out there too. Look at who Caesar Marcus Aurelius says you should rely on when thinking about what is good for you. He was apparently a smart guy. Not all the Caesars of Rome were, by the way. But you don’t have to rely on a Stoic thinker like him. You are the only one who can effectively think for you. You need to create your own philosophy. But everyone who wants to build a wagon does not have to reinvent the wheel for himself. You can find old, dead smart-guys who have invented philosophical wheels that you can put on your own philosophical wagon. And why settle for a Radio Flyer when your philosophical vehicle can be a Rolls Royce or a Porsche? Thinkers have come up with philosophical engines in the past too. And it is not that hard to understand some of the best ones. After all, Mickey can do it. And aren’t you smarter than him?

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Irreverence

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It is a difficult thing to be an atheist who believes in God.  Sometimes it takes an oxymoron to find the Truth.  And you often have to go heavily on the “moron” portion of the word.

The thing I find most distressing about faith is the fact that those who have it are absolutely convinced that if you don’t agree with them and whatever book of fairy tales they believe in and interpret for you, then you are not a True Believer and you do not have real Faith.

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I remember being told by a Mormon girl in one of my classes that I was her all-time favorite teacher, but she was deeply distressed that, because of my religion (I professed to be a Jehovah’s Witness at the time) I was doomed to burn in Hell forever.

Hey, I was raised in Iowa.  I have experienced minus 100 degree Fahrenheit windchill.  I am among those who think a nice warm afterlife wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

But I am no longer actually a Jehovah’s Witness.  So I guess that helps with the whole Hell-burning thing.  The Witnesses are a religion that claims to understand the Bible is full of metaphorical truth, and yet insist that it is literally true.  They don’t believe in Hell, which, honestly, is not actually mentioned or explained in the Bible as we have it now.  But they do believe your prospects for eternal life on a paradise Earth are totally contingent on knocking on doors and telling other people that they must believe what you believe or experience eternal destruction.  I have stopped being an active Witness and knocking on doors because I got old and sick, and all the caring brothers and sisters in the congregation stopped coming around to visit because number one son joined the Marines, and the military is somehow evil hoodoo that cancels out any good you have done in the past.  Being a Jehovah’s Witness was really hard work with all the meetings (5 per week), Bible reading (I have read the entire Bible two and a half times), door-knocking, and praying, and you apparently can lose it all for saying, thinking, or doing one wrong thing.

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According to the Baptist preachers, Jehovah’s Witness elders, religious zealots, and other opinionated religious people I have known and dealt with in my life, if I do not believe what they believe and agree with them in every detail, then I do not know God and am therefore an atheist.  So, okay, I guess I am.   If I have to be an atheist to believe whole-heartedly that everyone is entitled to sincerely believe whatever the hell they want to believe, then I’ll wear that label.

On a personal note, my favorite verse of the Bible has always been 1 John 4:8,  “He that does not love has not come to know God, because God is love.”  That is why I claim to be an atheist who believes in God.  I know love.  I love all men, women, children, animals, sunrises, artwork, paintings of angels by Bouguereau… everything that is.  And I even love you if you exercise your freedom to tell me, “Your ideas are totally wrong, and you are going to burn in Hell, Mickey, you bad guy, you!”  Mark Twain always said, “I would choose Heaven for climate, but I would prefer Hell for company.”  I am not going to worry about it.  I will be in good company.  Some things are just bigger than me.  And trying to control things like that is nonsense. Sorta like this post.

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