death-penalty
I’ve noticed a common theme after the capture of the Boston Bombing suspect; that is, people wishing all types of violence and death upon him — and they’re painfully creative too, or “artistically cruel,” to borrow a phrase from Dostoyevsky. And the rabid fervor; the glee and excitement, the mindlessness with which they concoct these punishments, is nothing if not horribly unsettling.

But I’m not here to condemn them — I understand the myriad passions and emotions that follow any tragedy, as well as the compulsion to exact a satisfactory vengeance upon the culprit. But this blood-lust — this incredible desire to inflict pain on another human being — can only ever betray our animalistic beginnings. It is an entirely primitive response to a given series of events; no more sophisticated than the ethical maxim of “an eye for an eye” — which, lest we forget, was dreamt up in the infancy of our species; a time before philosophical or rational ideas of justice could even be conceived. Violence begets violence — this much, to the reasonable mind, has always been known — and the world I wish to live in is one in which humanity has transcended this barbaric condition; where no one desires to answer suffering, cruelty, and hatred with more of the same. It is a fruitless and inhumane solution that only exacerbates the problem; or as Gandhi and Martin Luther King — those champions of pacifism — both once famously said: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” We gain nothing from killing — and I think it’s safe to say that nobody ever has (indeed, it seems that the continual and historical application of horrific violence has done precisely nothing to stem the tide of further horrific violence).

It’s a tall order — impossible, you might say — but I have hope. Norway, 2011: Anders Breivik kills 77 children after shooting up a summer camp. Months later, in the midst of an incredibly intense and emotional trial, a mother of one of the victims is interviewed — she’s barely able to speak through her tears. Even though the punishment does not exist in Scandinavia, the reporter asks: “do you wish Breivik could get the death penalty?” She pauses. “Absolutely not,” she says, still crying. “He is still a man.”

Norway is a country that identifies as nearly 77% atheist; their government is entirely secular, and they have some of the highest living standards in the world; the highest literacy rates; the lowest poverty rates; highest income rates; lowest crime rates (specifically, incredibly low rates of repeat-offenses); highest standardized testing scores; etc… But most importantly, they are, to American eyes, unfathomably humane and caring; compassionate and empathetic. The maximum sentence you can get in Norway for any crime is 21 years; and the jails are verifiable rehabilitation centers — comfortable, clean, and working under the principle that there is no human life not worth saving. Americans scoff at the notion; rebuttals flow forth from their frothing mouths — the death-penalty as a “deterrent,” rehabilitation as “naive” and “ignorant” — but then again, only Americans would dismiss and mock a system that is empirically more successful than their own.

We must work towards this. We must push towards a future where the answer to violence is not more violence; where people don’t look so eagerly towards the suffering of others. You should never want to see someone suffer, no matter how horrific their crimes. It accomplishes nothing; and the attitude of blood-vengeance merely serves to perpetuate our society’s belief that violence is the solution to every problem. In all of the West’s foundational literature we see this belief; from the Iliad, to the Odyssey, to the blood-soaked pages of The Bible. We see it in our ancient cultural practices; from the gladiatorial arena, to slavery, to genocide. It’s time to step out of the past and into the future; to shed the remnants of barbarism that so plague us; to suppress the primitive zealotry with which we clamor for more and more violence and less for compassion, empathy, and rationality.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying you have to empathize with a mass murderer, or a terrorist (though, empathy never hurts). I’m not saying you have to feel sorry for him or even care about him. But if you wish violence upon him — another living, breathing, human being — if you desire his torture and his pain and his eventual death, take pleasure in the potential destruction of life, then I fail to see how, in principle, you are any different than he is.

The humanist abhors violence in all of its forms. And in instances where violence is inevitable, or necessary in the rarest of cases — we must continue to abhor it, to despise it, to dread it; we must never want it, or encourage it, desire it or demand it. We must never resign ourselves to it; must never accept it as a permanent state of being — the natural order of humanity from which there is no escape. Change comes first from believing in the potential for change. Violence is obsolete; detrimental; destructive. There is always — always — a better, more rational, more enlightened response. And we would do well to remember it.

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Boston Bomb Conspiracy
Photo Credit: The Skeptical Libertarian

It’s one thing for a conspiracy theorist to ignore the pain and suffering of other human beings; to use tragedy as a vehicle for the perpetuation of his own sick delusions; to dismiss logic and reason in order to concoct insane fairy tales; to irrevocably pollute public discourse with irrational nonsense, hysteria and baseless speculation; to proclaim a monopoly on all political information and opinion, to declare a position of moral and intellectual high-ground, and to incessantly criticize and belittle those who they would consider “sheeple” — all of which, no doubt, are infinitely infuriating things.

But there is nothing — and I mean nothing — that infuriates me more than when these people claim to be “true skeptics”; when they claim to be properly utilizing the scientific method; when they conflate the blind and hysterical questioning of everything with genuine investigative inquiry — and then have the audacity to laugh, condescendingly, into the faces of those not prone to wild speculation and radical postulation. Here’s a secret: what these people do, and the “methods” they use, could not possibly be, in any sense of the word, further away from actual science — they don’t even exist in the same universe as actual skepticism. They know absolutely nothing about the actual process of the discovery of information.

Here’s an example: Alex Jones, who we’ll use as the poster-boy for and champion of the Tin Foil Hat Brigade, was the first person to declare the Boston Bombings a “false flag attack.” The catch, of course, is that he declared this, quite literally, twenty minutes after the attacks occurred — when the actual people at the scene still hadn’t the slightest clue of what was happening; when it was genuinely impossible for any person to have any information whatsoever. Magnificent self-parody aside, this is “The Opposite of the Scientific Method 101”: ascribing a theory to an event before you have any facts. Alex Jones and his ilk have a built-in prejudice towards the American government, and therefore, go into every experiment and every event with the conclusion already decided — this is, for all intents and purposes, the absolute worst thing a real scientist could ever do.

But that doesn’t stop these people — no, of course not. They continually link me to Alex Jones’ website — the noble protector of objective truth, of course, but they conveniently ignore the fact that it is plastered with self-advertisements, DVD deals, merchandise sales, subscription fees, donation buttons and the like. Thieves and con-men, the lot of them. No different than any mega-church or religious institution. He makes money off the gullible. He sells his fringe theories to people who don’t give it a second thought; every event in his mind is by default a false flag, and he doesn’t care about evidence or facts (like most conspiracy theorists). Case-in-point: The Family Guy hoax video. Alex Jones is responsible for making this go viral, he re-tweeted it and plastered it across his website screaming false flag to high-heaven. It took fans of the show all of 5 minutes to realize the video was a hoax, but here Alex Jones and tens of millions of other conspiracy theorists, without a moments hesitation or investigation, disseminated the video as if it were factual. I don’t think I need to say any more about the conspiracy movements investigative process or intellectual integrity.

Alex Jones is a great, perhaps the best, example of what not to do — but what is the proper method? What does a real scientist do? Scientists create a theory only after they have collected every available piece of information, and attempted to disprove all of it, multiple times — they most certainly do not go into an experiment trying to prove a pre-established theory or conclusion. They go into an experiment to discover facts, and then proceed to build the theory around whatever they have discovered. The endless regurgitation of open-ended  “what if” questions: “what does this mean?” “Is this a coincidence?” “Look at that, weird isn’t it?” “Suspicious, right?” is not skepticism, or scientific method. It is mindless pandering; it is the twisting and manipulation of absurd factoids and general circumstance; it is a collection of blogs, editorials, youtube videos, pictures with red circles drawn on them, suspicious coincidences, irrelevant facts, unanswerable and untestable questions, baseless speculation, meaningless connections, and absolutely nothing else.

Do I think all conspiracy theorists are like Alex Jones? Not at all. He’s obviously on the fringe, and generally out of his mind — but I think that many, if not all of them, use essentially the same methods, tactics, and tricks to build a case for their claims; all of which are methods that I find to be completely ludicrous and unscientific. I’ve yet to be shown otherwise. It also doesn’t help that nearly every political conspiracy theory of the last ten years has originated on his page — but that’s besides the point. I consider conspiracy theories to be in the same category as religion, the supernatural, the paranormal, etc.. etc… they are all believed for the same reasons, they all appeal to certain aspects of the human mind, and they all use the same rhetoric and investigative processes to bolster and protect their claims.

To that point — conspiracy theorists have no problem when I bash on religious people daily (they often encourage it), but they’re then unbelievably quick to lose their minds when I proceed to call-out their particular brand of delusion. Irrational thinking is irrational thinking; whether it leads you to believe in unicorns, ghosts, gods, or secret government world domination plots. There’s literally no difference between a conspiracy theorist branding a skeptic as a “sheeple” and a religious person branding a skeptic as a “sinner” — both are methods by which to deflect questions, protect baseless claims, and discourage criticism and independent thought. The easiest way to elude the demand for evidence is to immediately make an enemy out of those who demand it.

For those willing to provide real evidence — there is the scientific method. The first step to the scientific method is “ask a question.” It is not “determine the conclusion, then try to prove it.” This is no different than religious thinking. Here’s how the method works: you ask a question — and, this is important, one that you are not personally invested in. If you’re hell-bent on discovering a certain answer to your question, the experiment is already destroyed and riddled with bias. It is invalid. You’ll read into your results and contort the facts to fit with whatever conclusion you desire (which, to prevent this, is also the point of peer-review). After the question, you do research into all areas relevant to that question. You begin to acquire data — it points in a certain direction. You formulate a hypothesis (and this hypothesis must be falsifiable. You must be trying to disprove it at the same time you’re trying to prove it). If it survives this stage, you do more research, and, if you’re confident enough, you make a prediction; something that will be proven true, or something that would logically follow IF your hypothesis was true. Then you test, and test, and experiment, and attempt to replicate, and submit your findings to peer-review, and ultimately try to determine the validity of your own research.

This, of course, is an unbelievably cursory explanation of the scientific method. The process is ineffably rigorous — it takes years of research, a multitude of revisions, an incredible amount of brain-power; and, in a testament to the beauty of the process, most scientists discover things that they never even set out to prove. Which is an example of allowing the facts to take you where they will, personal bias aside.

But I want to stress this: the scientific method is a negative process; hundreds of experts try actively to disprove a hypothesis. If they can’t, they concede it might be true. They approach their question from every single possible angle; the only explanation left is, by default, the correct or most correct one. And if more than one explanation exists, Occam’s Razor is your friend: the simpler, more elegant theory is usually correct. If you have a theory that can adequately explain all the facts in one step, and another theory that takes four steps — the more simple theory is the one you want to use.

Conspiracy theorists don’t do this; even worse, they dismiss anyone with contradictory information as “part of the conspiracy.” To them I say: How do you know that? What are your sources? Where is the evidence? How did you arrive at that conclusion? Do you know the specific circumstances of everyone involved? Have you given consideration to any of the explanations other than the ones you cling to? Have you considered the obvious bias of the people you listen to? A blog post is not a source. An editorial is not a source. A Facebook meme is not a source. What you have are theories, coincidences, misinformation and fabrications and you conveniently filter out anything that contradicts your point.

Of course, the talented theorists often like to trot out the names and lists of “experts” who have dissented from the majority opinion, but, as usual, they fail entirely to take into account the context of their reports. Yes, absolutely, there are a handful (and I stress, *handful*) of people with real credentials who have spoken out against things like the 9/11 FEMA reports, or the non-existence of the vaccine/autism connection — but every single one of them, literally every one, falls into one of these categories:

a) disgraced experts. They have credentials yes, but somewhere in their career they did work incompetent enough to get them laughed out of their own communities.

b) they self-publish their work, without ever attempting to submit to peer-review. In the scientific world, this is the equivalent of admitting openly that your research is fallacious.

c) they’ve submitted their work to real academic journals and peer-review, and they got rejected. The journals refused to publish them because the science they contained is obscene and explicitly wrong and/or biased/flawed — this is common also when paranormal researchers try to submit their works. Every paper must undergo a series of rigorous preliminary readings before it can even be published. After rejection, they then self-publish.

d) A few of them did indeed get accepted into real academic journals; do you know what happened then? They were absolutely ripped to shreds by hundreds of other experts across the global scientific community.

The difference here, of course, is that when an actual scientist has his work proven wrong by hundreds of other experts, he returns to the drawing board and starts his research over. The conspiracy theorist, in contrast, persists in his work and paints all the nay-sayers as enemies and “part of the conspiracy.”

So now you, as the conspiracy theorist — what do you do with all of this contradictory evidence? You can go right now and find hundreds of papers by people with equal or better credentials debunking and disproving the claims of all the 9/11 truthers, the anti-vaxxers, the Sandy Hook theorists, the moon-landing hoaxers, the crop circlers, the Aurora theorists, the Bohemian Grove nutcases, the Reptilian government dissenters, etc.. etc… ad infinitum; pointing out how badly their research is flawed. Now you have a choice: you ignore the overwhelming contradictory evidence, and persist in belief after its been proven wrong, or you claim conspiracy, and now everyone who doesn’t believe what you believe is a sheeple, part of the conspiracy, paid off by the government etc… and this effectively implicates 99% of the global scientific community, along with hundreds of thousands of other people across the globe who remain in a state of perfect silence. Explain to me how this is rational, skeptical, or scientific any in any sense of the word.

But what gets me most of all, is that conspiracy theorists accuse others of “believing whatever they’re told” — and yet, they’ll turn around and do the exact same thing. Sure, they don’t believe what they’re told by mainstream media, but they have no problem believing whatever they’re told by Alex Jones, Infowars.com, a blogger, a YouTube video, etc… These must be correct, right? Because you can sure as shit bet that not a single one of these theorists have ever done any actual investigative work in their entire lives; they wouldn’t know the definition of investigative journalism if it was implanted in their brains by Obama’s secret terror squads. They are literally believing whatever they hear — but somehow, because it comes from a “non-mainstream” source — the process of blindly adhering to someone else’s words becomes acceptable.

Here’s another example: some of you may have seen the picture of the man who had his entire leg blown off. That man is now accused, by these fucking lunatics, of being an actor — and his father, like some of the people involved at Newtown, is now being harassed by theorists. And how do they know? Because someone made a picture, or a video, or a blog, and these worthless assholes eat it up without a second thought. Because do you know what actual investigative journalism would entail? Actual skepticism? Going to Boston, finding the hospital, gaining entrance to the man’s room, and interviewing him face-to-face. He is the primary source. Go ahead then, conspiracy theorists, go to this man’s room where he is likely writhing in pain, surrounded by devastated family, mourning the loss of his limbs, and tell him, to his face, that he’s an actor.

Or, here’s an idea — if you truly, honestly believe that your government ritually murders its own people for petty political gains, then get out of country. Stop paying taxes. Stop using government services. Retreat entirely from modern life and stop supporting the system. Surely, the act of massacring civilians demands of you, the upstanding moral American — the valiant skeptic who refuses to be a sheep and slave — a more radical protest than Facebook memes and YouTube videos (which, strangely, the omnipotent and tyrannical lets you post without punishment). Yes? What are you still doing here? That’s the beauty of America — you are free to leave whenever you so desire. And since you know, definitively, that the American government is constantly blowing up its own people, stripping away your freedoms, and ever-expanding its totalitarian reach (but not stopping you from exposing the truth on YouTube) — I find it hard to believe that you’re still here. Get the fuck out while you still can; there are other places in the world as equally free as we are. They welcome you with open arms.

Because, let’s not forget what it’s like to actually live under a murderous regime; where, instead of clandestine operations, conspiracies, and false flag attacks, the government will openly and explicitly murder its own people without hesitation. Where, if you say anything about it, express doubt anywhere — on Facebook, YouTube, television — your house is raided, your wife is raped, your children are killed and you are beheaded. Where there is only ever one story, about everything; information is government controlled. Where, if you attempt to leave, in any way, shape, or form, you’re gunned down from behind and dumped into a ditch without second thought. Where your only hope of freedom lies not in exposing media “inconsistencies,” but in a loaded gun and an armed revolution.

But yes, you noble keyboard warrior, I can see how the situation in America is ever-so-similar; the country where you continue to pay taxes (which, I assure you, went into building the bombs), vote in elections, use the postal service, drive on roads, call the police — where, instead of leaving, as you are free to do, and which would be common sense given the monstrous and murderous nature of your government, you choose instead to stick around, utilize everything the system gives to you, whine on social media, and generally just be an uneducated, uninformed, ignorant, vile, worthless piece of human trash.

It makes me sick. It’s sociopathy and willful ignorance on a grand scale; a complete detachment from human emotion, logic, and morality. My contempt for you “people” — if you are even worthy of the title — is infinite; and, truly, the desire to immediately politicize every tragedy says more about the state of this country than the tragedy itself. Regardless, you’re absolutely free to believe what you want, but how dare you — how dare you disgrace the name of science and skepticism; how dare you try to pass off your delusional, backwards, baseless, hysterical, thought process as worthy of scientific merit. You could not be further away from any such thing. And none of this will phase you, of course, just as every other insane theory has been debunked 100 times over, so has your particular one — but that never phases the followers. We are all mindless “sheeple,” I know. Believe what you want. Just don’t ever come to my page and tell me that what you do is “science.”

The Cosmic Atheist

Boston Marathon1
Early reports indicate that the “religion of peace” may, once again, be behind the terrorist attacks in the United States. This is not confirmed, of course, but that hasn’t stopped the media-accusation-machine; libertarians blame the U.S. government (Alex Jones is screaming “false flag”), Republicans blame the Muslims (Erik Rush, FOX news correspondent, said that we should “kill them all”), liberals are blaming white supremacists, theists are blaming atheists (Westboro Baptist Church says “God sent the bombs”), and people all across Facebook are laughing, making memes, war-mongering, being generally racist, “readying their guns,” speculating wildly and believing every word they hear from everybody.

Meanwhile, and in addition to these events, a politically motivated bombing occurred in Iraq, killing 55 civilians who were waiting to vote. This is not an attempt to quantify human life, or to appear self-righteous — merely an observation on the amount of suffering and chaos we inflict on one another daily. Unquestionably, hundreds and thousands of others have died today also at the hands of human cruelty, and we will never know their names.

As humanists, we seek to express a message of hope, of enlightenment, of peace and unity, of love and respect for human life, of non-violence towards any living being; of equality for all. We urge others to embrace a cosmic perspective — to realize the folly of their conceits, to understand just how trivial are their disagreements. We believe, truly, in our hearts, that through empathy and education, humanity can change. That we can learn to love one another; to live and let live.

But for me, personally, there are days — today being one of them — where my disgust for humanity is simply overwhelming. Where the deliberate destruction of human life, and the primitive, tribalistic outrage that follows, serve as a catalyst to change my hope into hopelessness; where the horrors I see and read about every single day become more than just singular incidents — they morph into a collective, inescapable lens of cynicism, through which, where I once saw humanity, I now see an immovable wall of hatred, prejudice, irrationality and violence. I start to embrace the nihilism of my younger self, and I ask: “can we really change?”

Our society now is one of immediate sensation, constant stimulation — we are perpetually on a hair-pin trigger sensitivity, ready to explode at any given moment, over even the most insignificant of events. There is no longer any thought, feeling, contemplation, empathy, emotion — people just do. Reacting by default. Today I saw a reporter on television, a hint of giddy excitement in her voice, badger a Bostonian doctor with the question: “how many legs have you amputated?” I had to look away. This, to me, was infinitely more disturbing than the event itself.

Of course, we should never dismiss the heroes. There are many of them, especially today, and in the event of any tragedy. Incredible people sacrificing everything to help others — offering solace and comfort in any way they can. As comedian Patton Oswalt has pointed out in his now viral address: the good people outweigh the bad people. This is true. But human history dictates two things: that good people are reactionary — arriving only when provoked, and after the damage is done, and that beneath the veneer of the courageous heroes of every movement and every tragedy lies still that hulking, uneducated, insidious, and volatile mass of humanity, waiting to rear its monstrous head yet again. And it will. It always has.

These musings are worthless, ultimately, and I am ashamed to say that I’m sitting behind a keyboard, safe, and criticizing, while others are currently in a state of unimaginable pain and sorrow — and while others still, better people than I, are doing whatever they can to help. Understandably, some will be annoyed by this post. Forgive me. We all have to vent, I suppose, and it just so happens that I have a Facebook page with which to do it.

I still believe in this movement; in humanism, education, and activism — but I would be lying if I said that my confidence does not waiver daily.

What do you think? Can humanity ever change? Can we transcend our natural condition? Or will we be forever a slave to the violence, prejudice, and irrationality that is inherent in our DNA?

http://www.facebook.com/TheCosmicAtheist

Asimov-Meme

Welcome to The Cosmic Atheist!

To introduce myself: my name is Matthew Cerami — a 22-year-old student from Long Island, New York; a film/music/literature enthusiast and a life-long lover of the arts. I enjoy expressing myself through a variety of colorful mediums — as a heavy metal musician, a fiction writer, and a music journalist; a graphic designer, a score composer, and occasionally as a poet (when the mood is right). I’ve recently graduated from Stony Brook University with a dual B.A. in English Literature and Philosophy, and am currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Religious Studies at the University of Missouri.

My goal here is a simple one: to take a more contemplative, critical, and open-ended approach to anti-theism, humanism, and skepticism — one that will hopefully foster a community of ideas, discussion, and education. This is a page for those of you who recognize the issues that stem from religious and superstitious harm, who value logic and reason and knowledge as things for their own sake, who want to vent but have nowhere else, who are looking for an alternative to religion or dying for an escape; a page for those of you who dream about space, science, and the future of humanity; who cherish secular values and turn cosmic insignificance into a virtue.

But I won’t take anything off the table. The Cosmic Atheist will also be a bit of a renaissance page — vitriolic anti-theism will be cut with discussions about art, culture, and politics; about film, literature, music and anything else that inspires you, drives you, or challenges you. That being said:

Embrace the stars, expand your mind, and enjoy the page!

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