Can anyone justify theism? I just can’t…

Take one recent example. In my home state of Kentucky, in the eastern part, there were devastating floods. It happened very quickly and in the middle of the night when people were sleeping. Houses and people were swept away. People were killed. Parents watched their children violently taken from them and killed by the water. Just take this one example.

How can anyone reconcile this example with a god? How? Can anyone really explain this? It boggles my mind.

Let’s unpack this if you don’t mind. There’s supposed to be this god, known as God (among other names) who created the universe and is all powerful and good. Many consider us this god’s “children.”

What kind of parent would allow that kind of flooding event to happen to their children? If parents have the power to keep their children from something dangerous, they would do it, right? And yet, devastating event after event, disease after disease, keeps on happening. Over and over and over again. Can you reconcile this?

I’ve even heard people who survive a devastating event thank God. Yet, many of their peers did not survive. Why did they make it and not others? What kind of all powerful god would save one person and not another? What kind of parent, if at all possible, would save one of their children and not another? Can you reconcile this?

I’ve heard “New Age” ideas that when something bad happens, it’s a “lesson” to learn. Is death a “lesson” to learn? Or just lesser things? How does someone deserve having all their worldly possessions taken away? Can you reconcile this?

And then there is the common idea of prayer. So… there is this all powerful god who allows a devastating event to happen. No one can explain this, but it happened. So, now, everyone prays for the situation. If this god is all powerful (implying he/she/it knows what they’re doing), why would we (the “children”) need to pray to it? Does he/she/it somehow not know that people (those who survived) are devastated and need help? That’s news? Of course, we know that some people make it and some don’t. Yet all were prayed for. One could do just as well predicting coin flips. Can you reconcile this?

I totally get why gods have been invented. For eons, humans and their evolutionary descendants didn’t know where the sun went at night. We didn’t know how lightning happens. We didn’t know about germs. Or chemistry, or biology, or physics. And on and on and on. But this is the 21st Century, and after these eons, we do know a lot about these things, and more. Any examination of this world and its happenings with any reasonable degree of fairness and objectivity would have to come to the conclusion that there is no god or anything at all out there or up there. Or at the very least, if there is a god out there or up there, said god has amply demonstrated untold billions of times that it does not give one bit of jack shit about what happens to anything living on this planet. Can you show me otherwise?

I’m all ears. Go ahead.

I think it’s time for humanity to grow up. There is no reason to think there is any sort of god, and certainly no reason to think there is a god that cares. Pointing out that someone survived a very difficult situation, given all the horror experienced by others, does not show or prove anything. With a hugely large number of events that happen, some are bound to be really good and some are bound to be really bad, with lots of outcomes at all gradations in between. That’s exactly as one would expect with the factors of luck, probability, and we’re in this all on our own. Exactly.

Give up on god/God and accept reality. Living outside of theism may seem insecure and scary. But this is the reality; and accepting reality and living accordingly is what mature adults do.

Is there a right to own guns for private individuals? Only in the 21st Century

It seems like everyone, whether for or against more gun control, is okay with the Second Amendment. I am not okay with it.

Read the exact wording of the second amendment:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

A big point that should be made is that before the 21st Century, all courts at all levels, including the US Supreme Court, interpreted the Second Amendment with a collective, militia interpretation. The court rulings consistently agreed that it did NOT confer an absolute, individual right.

And then in 2000, George W. Bush was “elected” President. One of the biggest things he “accomplished” was appointing a lot of very conservative judges. That’s when things began to change with regard to the interpretation of the Second Amendment, including a major, about-face ruling by the Supreme Court in 2008 (DC v. Heller).

But, first, let’s look at some of the interpretations from before the turn of this century.

L. Stanley Chauvin, past president of the American Bar Association, put it this way in 1990:

The US Supreme Court [has] had several occasions to review state regulation of firearms in the context of the second amendment. A review of these cases reveals that the courts have uniformly held that the second amendment relates merely, solely, totally, and only to the unhampered regulation of a state militia. It does not confer an individual right.”

Six former attorneys general of the United States — Nicholas Katzenbach, Ramsey Clark, Elliot Richardson, Edward Levi, Griffin Bell, Benjamin Civilletti — some from conservative Republican administrations, made this joint statement published in the Washington Post on October 3, 1992:

For more than 200 years, the federal courts have unanimously determined that the second amendment concerns only the arming of people in service to an organized state militia; it does not guarantee immediate access to guns for private purposes. The nation can no longer afford to let the gun lobby’s distortion of the constitution cripple every reasonable attempt to implement an effective national policy towards guns and crime.”

Warren E. Burger, former Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court agreed:

The real purpose of the second amendment was to ensure that the ‘state armies’ — ‘the militia’ — would be maintained for the defense of the state. The very language of the second amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires.”

And here is (or was) the official policy statement of the ACLU, an organization which champions individual liberty:

The ACLU agrees with the Supreme Court’s long-standing interpretation of the second amendment that the individual right to bear arms applies only to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia. Except for lawful police and military purposes, the possession of weapons by individuals is not constitutionally protected. Therefore, there is no constitutional impediment to the regulation of firearms.”

Remember the town of Morton Grove, Illinois? This small community passed in 1981 a ban on the possession and sale of handguns within the Morton Grove city limits. It was, of course, appealed by the pro-gun people. The result? The seventh circuit court of appeals in Illinois stated flatly:

Possession of handguns by individuals is not part of the right to keep and bear arms.”

More appeal attempts followed. Finally, the appeals died as the US Supreme Court refused to review the decision because it simply had no leg to stand on.

Enter the 21st Century with much more conservative judges (including on the US Supreme Court), a new ruling by the Supreme Court (DC v. Heller, 2008), and one of the two political parties moving more radically to the right. Now it’s as though that first dependent clause (a well-regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free state) does not exist.

But, I for one wish to say: No. I am NOT a supporter of the Second Amendment. It’s an archaic, obsolete, long outdated statement from a bygone century that has no relevance to the world we live in today. In the contemporary context, loyalty to this 18th Century relic about securing the state with a well-regulated militia is total nonsense at best, and a catalyst for horrendous, and unnecessary, death and misery at worst. Our nation would be better off without it completely. If we aren’t going to get rid of it, the least we could do is clearly see how utterly irrelevant and outdated it is for these times, and then do what needs to be done to stop this gun madness.

My top 7 principles I wish everyone understood

1. Food is not medicine. Medicine is medicine. Food is food. The purpose of food is to provide nutrition and fuel for your body and its activities. There is no superfood. There is no food that cures any disease. There are no magic vitamins or supplements that will bring about super health. Eating good food is very important. Humans need sufficient macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals); and that’s done with eating healthy, good foods in variety and moderation. And that’s it. A good diet is good for your health, but it will not be of medical help with any pathological disease.

2. “Alternative Medicine” is not medicine. Medicine that works is called medicine. Medicine that doesn’t work is called “alternative.” Alternative medicine, by definition (look it up in Wikipedia), has not passed the proper rigorous scientific process to garner sufficient agreement among the medical community for effectiveness and efficacy. Much of it directly contradicts known scientific principles. If these things were not the case, it wouldn’t be alternative, it would be part of medicine. There’s a reason that hospitals don’t have acupuncture departments, for example. It doesn’t work. If you think the medical field is deliberately obstructing something like acupuncture from helping the public get well from diseases, then you are being a conspiracy theorist. As a whole, the medical profession sincerely wants to heal people. If something really works for a given situation, they use it. If it does not work, it’s “alternative” or “complimentary” or “integrative” or “holistic” — and ineffective.

3. Age is not just a number. Make no mistake, aging is a real thing. While it’s a great idea to work on physical fitness to keep yourself in as good a shape as possible, a 70-year-old in good shape will not be able to match what a 35-year-old in good shape can do. Plain and simple. People over 40 do not win grand slam tennis tournaments, and they are not professional basketball all-stars. There is a reason for that: aging is a real thing. Yes, keep moving and doing fitness activities, and you can be in good shape for your age. You can even be in better shape than some younger people. But aging and physical decline are a fact and can only be slowed. It cannot be stopped — or ignored.

4. Regarding whether something is true or not, think in terms of probability and very low uncertainty, not perfection and 100% certainty. The latter is virtually impossible. General agreement about whether something is true or not is accomplished by seeing that there is an extremely low degree of uncertainty from sufficient proper scientific investigation. If there isn’t an extremely low degree of uncertainty about something, the responsible thing to do is to consider it not true. Conversely, if you are considering something true without an extremely low degree of uncertainty according to field-specific experts then, in my opinion, you are being irresponsible, and living according to something that is very likely not true. You are also perpetuating something that is very likely false to other people who in turn spread the falsehoods around. This is not good for humanity, individually or collectively. In addition, there can be an extremely low degree of uncertainty that something is more likely or more probable to help a situation than not. An example would be the covid vaccines. They are not 100% perfect, but there is very little doubt (uncertainty) that getting vaccinated will increase the probability of not getting seriously ill or dying. Increasing the probability of a desired outcome is often the best option. In that case, go for it.

5. Nothing is or was “meant” to be. There is no cosmic coordination going on. None. Humans can’t seem to handle the idea that they find themselves in a hugely complex world that is largely uncontrollable, a world with random, chance events, which impartially and strictly follow the principles of science. So they make up, in hindsight, stories which are appealing. But, the minute you interpret events beyond the behavior dictated by science, you enter the land of make believe. It can sound good and feel good, but it’s totally made up and without evidence. I won’t use the term “the Universe” (some kind of cosmic, coordinating consciousness that cares in any way) when talking about things that have happened. Forget that. Stuff happens. Science rules. That’s all.

6. Science rules – exclusively. Segueing from the above, to put this directly: There is no supernatural anything. Over and over again this is shown, often ruthlessly shown. This is why thoughts and prayers are actually worse than “not enough.” They are nothing! The principles and laws of physics, chemistry, and biology do not have exceptions, and exceptions would be the only way that anything supernatural could exist.

7. Everything is temporary, including me and you. This is hard. Can you imagine yourself not existing? That’s practically impossible for any conscious being that exists. But, everything we know points to the demise of everything we know. The time scales for things that exist to become nonexistent vary greatly. But eventually, nonexistence happens for everything. Theoretical physicists have even extrapolated a few possibilities for the eventual demise of the entire universe itself! Little old you and me? — we’re flat out goners! This also applies to skills and capabilities that you have within your temporary existence. They are also temporary. Enjoy what you can do now and enjoy that you exist. At some point, it all ends.

We should teach children about actual reality — NOT made-up fairy tales

“All the atoms of our bodies will be blown into space in the disintegration of the Solar System, to live on forever as mass or energy. That’s what we should be teaching our children, not fairy tales about angels or seeing grandma in heaven.” — Carolyn Porco

“Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will … imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible for life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return.” — James Baldwin

“We have two lives and the second begins when you realize you only have one.” — Confucius

Think about something that you really love to do, and for some reason, today is the last time you will ever be able to do it. Given that, how will you now treat that experience? Hopefully, for the most part, your whole life is something that you really love. And, THIS LIFE, is the ONE AND ONLY time it will be. Just like that activity that your really love and today is the last time you will ever be able to do it, regarding your ENTIRE life: this is the last (and only) time it will ever be.

So think: how will you navigate through your life as the one and only shot? When you’re a small child, it is the ONLY TIME you will be a small child. When you’re an adolescent, it is the ONLY TIME you will be an adolescent. When you are rearing children, it is the ONLY TIME for that. Etc. Etc. Etc.

How differently would you have lived through everything you have lived through if, while you were living through it, you had a keen awareness that this was the one and only time you would be doing it? Wouldn’t it be a great service to children growing up if they knew and understood this all along? That from the time they could understand these concepts, adults would be teaching them the finiteness, the fleetingness, and the accidental freakish piece of luck that is their lives? And, that when something, be it a minute or a life, is gone, it really is gone?

When I was a child, I had NO CONCEPT of this perspective. None. My parents and teachers did not get this across at all. When I struggled about something, I honestly thought that God was doing nasty things to me. My parents would say it’s no big deal, you’ll have plenty more chances for _________. Well, not really. Maybe something similar. Maybe. But, I didn’t have the wisdom shared with me that any given moment should be relished, as THAT moment, will never be again. And the totality of MY moments are ticking off like a finite clock winding down, ALL of which will never be again, including ME, the individual and the life that I am.

It was decades later, starting in my late 50s, after learning about the history of the cosmos, the history of planet Earth, and the principles and history of evolutionary biology on Earth — and taking in those things seriously — that I started to have this perspective.

Imagine going through each of your life’s passages and chapters AWARE that each of those (and all the moments that comprise them) is its one and only time. And then, the sun, for a given individual, WILL SET for that last, last time. Oh, how I wish I had had this perspective, long, long ago. The difference that would have made, so many, many times, would have been incredible!

If children had this perspective, how would they go about their growing up? If adults in their work lives had this perspective, how would they go about navigating through that? If the people who served in governments had this perspective, how might they establish the laws and services they provide for the citizens?

“Life is but a momentary glimpse of the wonder of this astonishing universe and it is sad to see so many dreaming it away on spiritual fantasy.” — Carl Sagan

No one is “blessed”

A few years ago, I did a post about some words or terms that I no longer care to use. See here. Now I’m adding another one: blessed.

I’m so tired of that word. Millions of young children die every year from disease or malnutrition. The people of Ukraine are being bombed, made homeless, or killed. People, many of whom are not elderly, die in accidents and from horrible diseases every day. But, you. You are alive with a job, a house intact, and only some minor annoyances. So you are “blessed.”

Nonsense. You are lucky, maybe fortunate. But you are not blessed. To be “blessed” you have to ask, who blessed you? God? Well, what about all the misery I described above. Why are you picked to be “blessed” and they aren’t or weren’t? Why? Are they less deserving? Of course the answer to the last question is no.

There is so much due to random chance in this existence. The minute one starts even to imply ANY sort of pattern or plan or coordination, then we’re in the territory of made up nonsense. Only if one stays in this fairy tale bubble and turns away from all the other horrors happening constantly all over the world, can one do this kind of pretending.

And pretending it is. By all means, be glad about how lucky you are! (if that is the case) But know, that to a great extent, you just HAPPEN to be in a certain situation that is good. There are all sorts of situations happening all the time, from the terribly horrible to the amazingly wonderful and everything in between. What you are experiencing is a combination of your choices and luck, which is totally out of your control.

The word “blessed” is fairy tale nonsense, and we should stop using it.

Separating the really true and good things from the religious nonsense.

I don’t like the main features of any flavor of religion: a deity, the supernatural, superstition, magic. All of those things are nonsense for which there is a total lack of evidence. What’s screwing up humankind is that the nonsense is laced with truth: be kind, love one another, don’t harm or cheat others, etc.

The problem then becomes that the nonsense and the truth are so intertwined that it seems to be like an all or nothing package. It’s easy to understand that being kind is the good and right thing to do. So if that’s so true, all the other stuff must be true, too. Right?

No. Dead wrong.

We must distinguish between the two. We know from real data that people cooperating and banding together (being kind and helpful in small and in very large, organized ways) actually improves the lives of human beings. We know this. And we also know that it is totally grounded in the real world. There is nothing supernatural or magical about it.

We also know, as much as anything can be known, that help for humankind does not come from outside of the real world. Both good and bad things happen, from the exhilaratingly wonderful to the horribly tragic, and everything in between. No amount of praying, sending energy, or any sort of ritualizing has ever prevented bad things or helped in the recovery from bad things. Nor have any of those things ever brought about good things. People who think so are being fooled by mere coincidental correlation. Any sort of careful, objective, proper investigations have borne this out.

And yet, overwhelmingly, the majority of people put stock into the magic. After all, it’s part of those great belief systems that tell you the true things like being kind and helpful.

I’ve often said that all religion is cherry picking. There are thousands of flavors of religion. People cherry pick which deity they believe in, and what said deity wants from them. They cherry pick which supernatural phenomenon “works.” It’s a no win debate over which brand of nonsense to defend.

But, maybe it’s time to cherry pick further. Discard altogether the magic – throw it away – and keep the good stuff, the stuff grounded in actual reality. DON’T talk about the good stuff as PART OF a religion or a doctrine. JUST talk about the good stuff. Period. Say no to the prayers and rituals. Say yes to action and working together. Understand that our plight is subject ONLY to the totally impartial laws of science combined with what we choose to DO, not say. Or think. Or imagine.

It seems like humankind behaves like an adolescent. It’s old enough to see real things, but still too immature to really let go of the (false) hope of magic. I wonder if one day our species will actually grow up. I wonder.

Humanity can’t learn to work together

It’s such a shame that humanity as a whole can’t seem to learn how collectively helping one another out, especially on a grand scale, brings about significant improvements in people’s lives. Instead, the mode of operation is warring factions with a base of individualism. As if lying, cheating, and irresponsibility weren’t enough, one of the worst things that Trump did was deliberately and strongly promote division, a kind of crass tribalism. This kind of thing was already there, but Trump gave it a big boost.

Case in point now is the process in Congress that is considering Biden’s proposals for infrastructure and a stronger social safety net. Even by its own standards this “sausage making” has been unusually bad. And yet, every single proposal, on its own, is wanted by most people. Why wouldn’t we, using our collective power, make child care less expensive, make prescription drugs less expensive, provide for better, more affordable health care for everyone especially seniors, improve our physical infrastructure, make the internet faster, cheaper, and more accessible to everyone, do some serious actions (creating employment) that addresses an issue threatening the life of our species on this planet? Why wouldn’t we?

Apparently one side of the war, for the principle of winning, is willing to sacrifice completely, or at least greatly water down, all of those things. The propaganda has been so extensive that when people are asked if they’re in favor of the complete bills in Congress that would do those things, more people say no. Yet, when asked about each proposal individually, they say yes. The degree of our willingness to shoot ourselves in the foot for the principle of one side defeating another is staggering. Even the lessons of the pandemic haven’t changed us enough.

I suppose we can hold on to some optimism. History shows that all progress of a civilization seems to eventually happen in spite of the fact that every time, every single component has been strongly opposed by some (causing delay). “Eventually,” though, seems like it should be too long to wait. When the clock is ticking on climate change, and 7.6 billion people on the inhabitable parts of the planet have needs that could very plausibly be addressed, here we are dilly-dallying around with tribal immaturity, instead of putting our collective power to work for the good of all.


The crime of people who think they know better than experts #pandemic

There is an effect of this ongoing pandemic that has really hit me lately. We all know the background story of all the waves that have happened. It’s important to note that experts have said each time before the next wave hit, that we had the power to stop it. Before the vaccines it was strict mitigation measures that would do it. If done by a high percentage of people for enough time, we really could have brought this to an end. This was highly sacrificial, but the reward would be that we would really end it. Short of that, the experts said, as soon as we get good vaccines, then that will be our way to end it. Now we have the good vaccines, and we aren’t ending it.

Not only are we not ending it, we’re prolonging it, which allows it to keep mutating, risking more and more contagious, life-threatening variants to emerge. And now, we’re at the point where most experts are saying that it’s just not going to end. It’s becoming endemic. Like common cold coronaviruses and the various flu viruses, covid variants are just going to be around every year. Only these variants of coronaviruses can lead to long-term health difficulties and deaths on a much grander scale than the flu viruses.

And how have we allowed every next wave to happen? I’m sorry if I offend, but honestly this is on the people who “do their own research” and “think for themselves” and claim their “freedom to choose” and somehow can judge that it’s plausible for career scientists, like the ones at the CDC, the FDA, the NIH, and countless hospitals and medical centers around the world would somehow benefit by lying to us. Imagine spending your entire adult life studying a particular, very complicated subject (after many years of training and education), and collaborating, consulting, and peer reviewing with colleagues all around the world, and doing this work all day long, day in and day out for years and decades, and then a substantial number of people distrust you to such an extent that they think they can, in their own spare time using their own instinct and Google, figure this out better.

And now I’m getting to what is at the heart of the crime of novice, everyday people who think they know better than field-specific career scientists. This pandemic-turning-endemic has robbed people unnecessarily. It’s robbed a lot of people of their health. It’s robbed a lot of people of their existence. And it’s robbed the rest of us of a significant degree of our quality of life. There are things we haven’t been able to do, and going back to that pre-pandemic life now seems like a sentimental dream. The distrust-the-pertinent-experts crowd is an accessory to this robbery. They are a key reason this robbery carries on.

I’m currently 67 years old. Maybe I’m feeling this more than those of you who are 10 or 20 or more years younger. But, the truth is, while that pre-pandemic life is in the past and might not return, the process of aging in a human being is not on hold. It carries on. Each of us has a clock ticking and we don’t know how many ticks remain. It is a good bet that I have far fewer ticks of my clock ahead of me than behind me.

Time is of the essence and time is a one-way path. It’s really sad that so many people’s actions have amounted to the wasting of our lives’ time. There will be no shortage of opportunities for humanity to learn the lesson of heeding the recommendations of field-specific experts – think climate change as a huge, species-threatening example. For the sake of the grandchildren, I hope this significantly improves.

The current #BigLie is nothing new. There have always been Big Lies

If you’ve been following the news during that past several months, a lot has been said about the “Big Lie,” the idea spread by former President Trump that the 2020 US election had widespread fraud to the extent that he should have been the winner. Anyone with a modicum of reasoning ability and honesty has been able to ascertain that it is, indeed, a lie. But, it’s become very big, bought into by millions of people. Other people are rightly appalled.

But this kind of Big Lie is nothing new. Big Lies have been around probably throughout the time that humans have had language to communicate.

The list of Big Lies in history include major topics:

  • God. Ouch — this one will sting a lot of people. But, honestly, the amount of evidence for God is the same as the amount of evidence for widespread fraud in the 2020 US election: pretty much zero. Yet somehow, this is far more widely accepted among the masses of people. It’s basically a huge example of presuppositionalism.
  • Astrology. Again, zero evidence. It’s totally made up. The wobble in the Earth’s rotation has even changed where the constellations are on a given date from where they were a couple of thousand years ago. Yet, the same stuff continues to be passed along. Astrology should be laughed at as nonsense, but millions of people take it seriously with no proven basis in fact.
  • Special effects from Full Moons. Kind of related to the above, but again there’s no evidence. It’s a Big Lie that keeps on going. No, there are not more babies born during full moons. No, there is not more crazy behavior or crimes during full moons. Any time people objectively look at actual data, it’s not there. But that doesn’t stop the Big Lie to continue to have a lot of believers.
  • The After Life. This is so hard for people in spite of complete lack of solid evidence. We identify so strongly with our egos that to imagine that ego completely gone is too much for most people to bear. Our insecurities literally blind us from understanding clearly the situation in which we find ourselves. Honestly, a belief in a soul or a spirit or anything about us that outlasts our bodies cannot be squared with a basic understanding of evolutionary biology. In spite of that being like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, people pretend that it fits, because they are too scared/insecure to admit that it doesn’t.
  • Prayer. This is so easy to dismiss! If prayer worked, why would we have such horrors in the world? We could either fix things consistently or we could simply pray to prevent anything bad from happening in the first place. Obviously it’s not working! And it’s certainly not for a lack of trying! There have even been double blind randomized control trials with four groups: 1) Ill people were told they were being prayed for and they were. 2) Ill people were told they were being prayed for but they weren’t. 3) Ill people were told they were not being prayed for but they were. And 4) ill people were told they were not being prayed for and they weren’t. And guess what? Outcomes were all the same. Zero effect, one way or another for any of the 4 groups. And just think of all the people who pray or “send energy.” The truth is, it flat out has no effect. Zilch.

Do you notice a theme here? Indeed, religion/religiosity is it. Religiosty, is basically religious like beliefs not necessarily as part of a formal religion. All New Age and any other “spiritual” sets of ideas are included here. Religion and its cousin, religiosity, is the Big, Big Lie. Even beliefs about special powers of certain foods (there is no such thing as a “superfood”) or effectiveness of “alternative medicine” have a religious like basis behind them.

Invariably, the people who buy into the current, Trump-incited Big Lie are religious. And, yes, I know, many religious people don’t buy it. But, the ones who do are virtually all religious. The uptick in anti-Semitism is carried out by people who are strongly religious. And, yes, there are strong adherents to other religions who aren’t anti-Semitic. But, all the ones who are anti-Semitic, are virtually all strongly religious. Basically, people fight each other and hate each other over beliefs about contradictory Big Lies. Never mind that one Big Lie is just as false as another Big Lie.

The point is that the human capacity to buy into a Big Lie is quite impressive and seems to be ingrained in all of us. Humans even have the capacity of seeing clearly one Big Lie while simultaneously and blindly buying into another Big Lie. It’s amazing. Perhaps some people who start Big Lies are aware of it being a Big Lie and just exploit it for their own aggrandizement, while others aren’t aware and actually believe it. It’s hard to tell sometimes; but at the end of the day, a Big Lie is still a Big Lie and people will buy it.

I wish this weren’t so pessimistic. But, as I’ve said in previous posts, an accurate picture of reality may not be rosy or feel-good. However, what is actually true is actually true, whether anyone believes it or not or how much we may or may not like it. What is a Big Lie is false, no matter how many believe it or want it to be true. To me, a very high ideal is to understand the world and universe as accurately as possible. A full 100% accuracy will never be possible. But we can pursue closer and closer successive approximations of the truth.

Elder Wisdom on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of my high school graduation

This year marks the 50th anniversary of my high school graduation. To mark the occasion, I now share this essay I’m calling my “Elder Wisdom.” You’re not obligated to read this, of course. And if you do, you might very well take issue with some or all of it. That’s okay. Feel free to skip it completely, or take in parts that resonate and disregard parts that don’t. (Isn’t that what we all do?) It’s what I’d like to say; and now I’m going to say it.

1) PAY ATTENTION! Each of us has a finite number of minutes to live. How many minutes a person has is unknown and varies widely. What I do know is that each minute that passes is one more subtracted off of one’s unknown, finite total. I also know that each minute that passes is gone forever and cannot be brought back. So, pay attention! If you are young, one day way down the road you are likely to look back and ask yourself: “where has the time gone?”. When you do ask yourself that question, my wish for you is that you will have a good answer: I made the most of my minutes, consciously aware that any minute might be my last one.

2) IT IS NOT TRUE THAT YOU CAN ACHIEVE ANYTHING YOU PUT YOUR MIND TO. As someone who has always had ambitious goals toward which I have worked hard to reach, I say this with emotional scars in my heart. It’s easy for someone who did achieve something big they went after, to think that any person always can. (“If I can do it, you can too!”) But the truth is: that proclamation does not hold up consistently in reality.

I’m definitely not saying don’t put your mind to things. If you want something, go for it! But… I can’t tell you how many times I hit the wall with this belief: If I do A – long enough and hard enough, continually improving on it – I will eventually achieve B; and then (often, many times) I don’t, or ever, get B. It can or it might happen, but that equation is certainly not reliably true every time; and I doubt it’s true even most of the time. Believing this is true absolutely is a setup for frustration and emotional pain. Why? There are too many factors beyond a person’s control.

Each person’s brain has inherent skills and talents at all sorts of levels. Each person’s physical body has inherent pros and cons. To a significant degree, a person gets what they’re born with, physically and mentally, the “cards” that they are dealt. Yes, you can work hard and expand your skills quite a lot (that’s the going for it part!); but that path is not infinite. And then there is luck and chance, which are enormous factors, always present, which might help or hurt a cause, and which are completely beyond a person’s control. In addition, in many cases, what a person is going for also depends on decisions made by other people, decisions over which there is zero control. All anyone can do is increase the probability of getting what they want by doing what is in their control to the best of their ability.

So… I cringe when I hear people say that you can achieve anything you put your mind to, or that your only limit is you (meaning your only limit is the amount of effort you choose to do). Nonsense! There are multiple, multiple limits and constraints that have nothing to do with you, and some that do have to do with you but are still beyond your control. For example, if you’re a chess player, you very well might not have the mind of a Bobby Fischer. Most people simply are not going to become chess Grand Masters no matter what their efforts. There are limits concerning you, the luck of (usually complex and unique) circumstances, and others’ free choices. If you try to pretend otherwise, it is likely you will experience emotional pain when, at some point, inevitably, the disappointment hits. (“I tried sohard! I did everything I could! Why didn’t this happen???”)

Denying reality might help you by motivating you to make efforts toward your quest (and as I said, please go for it!), but it won’t change the facts about limits (within and without). For people trying to achieve something big, I say: Cheer them on for going after their goals. Support them in the pursuit. Tell them how proud they should be for the hard work they are doing. But don’t tell them they can achieve anything they put their mind to. Practically everyone can do diligent work. Only some who have done their due diligence (and even some who haven’t!) will get the prize they want in the end. Maybe that old expression “A for effort” really is the most important thing.

To me, this is the bottom line to keep in mind: one person’s achievement story, while it probably contains some potentially helpful advice, is a not a blanket strategy that “works” for everyone else. There are too many variables. Anecdotes are not data. Correlation is not necessarily causation. Nothing is 100%. Each person is different and each situation is different. Understand this so you can save yourself or others some misery and grief. I can tell you that I have suffered embarrassingly way too much heartache over this very thing.

3) THERE IS NOT A “REASON” FOR EVERYTHING, unless the reason is luck and chance combined with the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. We humans are absolutely a part of the universe, but what doesn’t exist is “The Universe” that cares in any way (good or bad) about little old you or me. If you’ve been generally fortunate (as many of us have), it’s easy to think the occasional misfortune or setback has some sort of cosmic “reason.” But what about, to give just one of countless more dire examples, the millions of young children who die of starvation or diseases every year? What would be the “reason”?

No. The so-called “Universe” does not care or take sides, whether you are kind or evil, innocent or guilty. There is no Cosmic Coordination going on of any sort that is leading things in any purposeful or organized way (other than following laws of science), or leading things toward a “higher good.” What we humans think of as progress and improvement, individually or collectively, is neither inevitable nor going to happen by cosmic design. “The Universe” is as impartial and neutral and completely lacking in concerns about humanity as it possibly can be. This is ruthlessly and constantly shown day in and day out; and the science of our universe’s 13.8 billion years of history amply shows it, too. That old expression is true: (all kinds of) shit happens. And as 19th century writer and orator Robert Ingersoll said: “In nature, there are no rewards or punishments, there are only consequences.” This also means that the popular idea of karma (in either direction) is a myth.

I tried for decades to see some sort of cosmic, guided, rhyme-or-reason for this occurrence or that occurrence, and anything I came up with (or someone else came up with) usually drove me into a terrible state of cognitive dissonance. Outcomes, for me and for others I observed, were way too inconsistent as they matched up with efforts made and what seemed “deserved” or fair and just. Finally, after decades of banging my head against that wall of the mysterious “reason” for everything, I decided to try the flip of that: There is not a “reason” for everything. What a relief! It’s not necessarily rosy or feel-good. But – the world/universe that is finally makes sense!

There is nothing cosmic out there that is out to get me, or that’s out to help me, or that’s listening to or caring one way or another about my desires (for myself or for others), or that’s out to teach me “lessons.” (Which is not to say that I can’t choose to learn a lesson from an experience. But the lesson to learn is my choosing, my interpretation, my deriving meaning, not a cosmically-delivered “reason” from “The Universe” for the occurrence.) And, for me, there is much more peace of mind in clearly understanding the actual reality rather than fooling myself.

I know a lot of people will not agree with this or might consider this pessimistic. To me, whether it’s pessimistic or optimistic is really beside the point. It’s simply what actually is. It’s reality. Inherently speaking, there is no fairness, justice, score keeping, balancing, teaching you something until you get it, or anything that was “meant” to be in any particular way. There is only what happens to happen. What happens to happen is a mix of people’s actions (yours and others within the defined limits) combined with luck, chance, and the absolute, inviolable laws of physics, chemistry and biology. Any further interpretation is simply made up! Understanding this brings peace. (Although even with understanding, a disappointment can still hurt.) Refusing to accept this or using your own lacking in evidence, made up cosmic explanation – if you’re really honest – brings cognitive dissonance. And for the big picture, this means…

4) SCIENCE RULES (to borrow from Bill Nye), AND THERE IS NO MAGIC. The existence of magic (e.g. the supernatural, superstition) would mean science principles have exceptions. And science principles demonstrably and relentlessly show no exceptions. Science exclusively rules. In the big picture, including and beyond our little personal lives, the laws of science are strictly carried out with no anthropocentric regard for how something turns out. (A perfectly good example: the Covid-19 pandemic.)

From a human point of view this makes things seem rather crazy, random, and aimless – not to mention, difficult. Everything is just following scientific laws, from the birth of stars and planets to (here on Earth) the weather, microbial activity, consequences of human activity and choices, and so on. As an example, one thing happens like a sudden change in a genetic code. Then that “accident” starts a whole chain of events (strictly following the laws of science) for new things and new events to happen over inconceivably long time scales. Study cosmology, the 4.5 billion year planetary history of Earth, and evolutionary biology, and this understanding is clear.

Our planet we live on and its moon might not have happened in the way they did – or at all. The same is true for the homo sapiens species to which we belong. (Check out changes that happened because of the impact from the major asteroid that hit the Earth about 65 million years ago.) The window of time on Earth in which conditions are possible for humans even to exist is strictly governed by the laws of science. That window suitable for humans wasn’t open for eons. Now it is, and at some point, it will begin to close.

Many happenings really are just meaninglessly coincidental. Again, this comes from the fact that the interplay of physics, chemistry, and biology is relentlessly doing its law-abiding, utterly impartial thing in response to countless situations that previously were following scientific principles; and these things have zero concern in any way about individuals like you or me or anyone else. I know I’m in controversial territory here. However, there really isn’t any solid evidence to the contrary; and those fields of study I mentioned above have mountains of compelling evidence to back up what I’m saying here. If you haven’t delved into cosmology and evolutionary biology, I highly recommend it! Perspective gained from that is literally life changing.

5) Now – this is perhaps my most important point: this perspective greatly magnifies the realization of how INCREDIBLY LUCKY OUR LIVES ARE. By that, I don’t mean how lucky you’ve been during your life. That’s going to vary greatly because of chance nature of luck, your actions and actions of others, and how all that mixes with the laws of science. What I mean is how lucky you are THAT YOU EVEN EXIST!

Being born as a human on this Earth is far less likely than the odds of winning the lottery. Humanity’s scientific investigations conclude that you and I exist against truly and literally astronomical odds. For you and I to be here today, it took billions of years with inconceivably countless occurrences of scientific principles in cosmological history and the process of evolution. And after all of those inconceivably countless moments through the billions of years – that could have gone differently at any number of points in time – here we are. We are sentient, conscious beings alive and here now. We are individual members of a species on one tiny planet in a remote part of one galaxy among billions, a species which might not have come about at all, but which has evolved with enough brainpower to piece together a pretty good picture about how all this happened. We are the ones here now, who are able to experience being alive in the sunshine for a minuscule cosmological moment.

Our lives are incredible, mind-boggling, freakishly lucky events. And furthermore, scientific observations indicate that all things/objects that do come into existence (animate or inanimate) have a certain window of time and then die or cease to exist. This is what has been objectively observed: Molecules (and the atoms that comprise them) continue and recirculate. (For example, atoms/molecules within our bodies were once part of stars!) Sentience and consciousness, as well as the physical forms of animate and inanimate things always end. That means that we are not in any sort of waiting room or dress rehearsal for something else. No “transition” to a “better place” has been credibly shown to exist. This is it!

Why else are people sad when a loved one dies? My hunch is that deep down we all get that “pass away” is not the accurate term. In reality, the term that’s accurate is death. There is no solid indication to conclude otherwise, and that’s with all of humanity searching for thousands upon thousands of years. Unless you’re a molecule, endings happen. Therefore, in light of all of the above, my message is this: Cherish the amazing phenomenon that is life and that is your life. It’s a damn lucky gift, there are no “do overs,” and whenever the end comes – it’s final.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. If some of it resonates and helps you, I’m thrilled. If that isn’t the case, I still love you, and we can connect in our common areas of harmony. I’ll end this elder wisdom essay with a quote again from Robert Ingersoll. “Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so.” I only have to remind myself of this several times a day. But it’s true: when I do something that another person likes, it makes me happy, too.

Be well. Be happy. Pay attention! This experience of being alive is rare and precious; and your unknown amount of daylight is burning.