Sam Harris: A Chance to Elaborate

In my last post I reference the debate that unfolded on Real Time with Bill Maher. In the video, you will notice Sam Harris being interrupted several times, while he and Maher were simply not listened to. I have argued that the attacks they have received have come from a place of emotion rather than reason, and most would find that they actually agree with them more than they realize. As is pointed out in the video above, we all are on the same side on this topic, and it’s time to be honest. I like that this interview does a very good job of clearing up a lot of misunderstanding so I think that it is worth watching. Enjoy and feel free to share your thoughts.

Politically Incorrect: Islamophobia

The correlation between Islam and the terrorism we are witnessing progress at an alarming rate does not seem to hold a middle ground in the debate forum. People either fervently believe this is an unbreakable relationship while others believe that this is a war of politics and madmen, tugging on the strings of Islam and creating an irrelevant connection. Those who side with the latter appear to condemn those that even consider Islam may be at the epicenter of this problem. They become quite offended, hardly allow the debate or discussion to even occur as they batter their “opponent” with the slander of calling them a racist, Islamophobic, bigot, etc.

As a big fan of Sam Harris’ work to this point, I was motivated to write this when I first became aware of the scrutiny he had faced over his stance on this subject. I, without needing his persuasion to begin with, hold similar views as he does on this topic. However, I am no large voice in this society, and I had been very busy, so I refrained. I have been motivated once more however after seeing the video above as even Bill Maher has faced similar heat as Sam.

The biggest problem I have with the side opposing Maher and Harris are the common arguments that I have heard, they either appear to be invalid and full of emotion rather than reason, or hold some truth but still miss the point that the likes of Maher and Harris are trying to make. With that said, I don’t intend to make this a massive blog post. I don’t think I need to. But in hearing these debates for some time now, I think I have identified three main points that are misunderstood or not completely correct.

Being Critical of Islam is not Racist

The first thing to realize is that Islam is not a race, it is a religion. Yet somehow, being critical of this religion or correlating them to terrorism borders on journalist suicide and one is almost guaranteed to be labeled racist within the day of their publication. But to argue that this is racism is to fail to set emotions aside and look at the facts. This is a debate about ideas and the consequences of those ideas, and in no way does race play a role. Never have I or any of the people I follow that have been criticized for this said “beware of the race x Muslims, but if the Muslims are white you’re golden”. Need I define racism? I find it too cliche.

What about those who are doing good?

Muslims that are out promoting a moderate interpretation of Islam really do help  in the fight against the extremists and we who are critical of Islam will admit that at this point they are a necessary piece to a better tomorrow in ridding ISIS and other jihadist groups. The path to a world rid of belief in various faiths is beyond my life, and most on my side that want a secular society would agree. The most visible path to this ultimate destination is through the growth of religious moderation, but this does not mean that I support religious moderation. I stand for reason and what is, and as long as faith exists, the potential for these cancerous expansions exists. So while I support religious moderation in this moment, it is worth admitting that it comes with a heavy caveat. So while we will concede that those who are working to reform Islam are beneficial to society currently, this is a point that shows you are missing the point.

We aren’t concerned about the moderates. We are concerned about the obvious consequences of not being able to criticize bad ideas. These consequences should not be taken lightly. Not only do we have good reason to fear another attack of the 9/11 scale, but even as you read this, women are facing gross inequality, gays are still in silence or being persecuted, and far too many are under a constant and very real threat of Islamist extremism. All this because we are trying to be accepting of other people’s culture. All of this because we are trying to be politically correct. Under no circumstances should any of these consequences be tolerated to the degree that the mainstream liberals have. To do this is to ignore the true reality of the suffering that is occurring right now to innocent victims. To be sensitive to what is going on in the middle east, not wanting to be critical of Islam, is to fail to care sufficiently about the true victims of in this tragedy unfolding in front of our eyes.

This isn’t about the religion, this is about politics

Politics plays a role without a doubt for many involved, but those on my side would argue that it is not at the center of this conflict. To play along, let’s suppose that the leaders are brainwashing their followers for their own political agenda, but how is this being done? It is being done through the filter of a belief in Islam. The ones who are willingly doing these evil acts are not psychopaths, but merely devout believers in the literal word of the Koran. If not for this, the leaders would have little to sell its followers but for the chance to be a psychopath with no reward. At bottom, politics is not what is driving the masses of the conflict.

Conclusion

As I have continually said, this is a conflict of ideas and what is. Trying to simply be politically correct will not get us far when we truly understand the magnitude of suffering that is being caused by this very real problem of Muslim extremism. This cannot be taken lightly, and those of you who are fighting us for being critical of Islam are not looking at the grand picture for what it is. We need to stop trying to bolster our ego by supposedly satisfying the masses by being politically correct and for once have an honest and open discussion about this problem. If you disagree, or agree, I give you the floor in the comments section.

The Golden Rule

In case you thought I quit writing on this blog, you are wrong. I have merely let my creative juices rebuild as I look over topics I have thought about in the past while considering some new. I hope to have a post up in a couple of days and we will see if things ramp back up here soon. Not sure though, I’m a busy person outside of this blog. To bring myself back into the fold, here’s a video I really enjoy. Talk to you soon.

The I of the Storm: The Misconceptions of Free Will

free will

Photo Credit: http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2013/01/case-against-one-way-streets/4549/

We are continually faced with choice in our day to day lives. From the mundane to the critical, choice rears its head every step of the way. We quickly discover that it is the choices we make and the actions we take that mold who we are. It is this role that choice plays in our day to day lives in determining who we are that makes the idea of free will most appealing. But do we really have free will? This is what I want to look at today.

In my experience, there seems to be three different positions on this topic. The first position is the belief in ultimate free will. Typically held by the religious, while the degree to which we have free will is more so as you move closer towards religious fundamentalism. In the middle there is a strong second position, typically held by intellectuals with a passion for philosophy, which is compatibilism. As the name suggests, compatibilists believe that we can live in a deterministic universe while still maintaining wiggle room for the freedom to choose. Simply put, compatibilists believe that free will and determinism are compatible ideas, that is, it is possible to believe both while maintaining logical consistency. I currently reject these first two positions and find myself in the third position which is determinism, sometimes called hard determinism. As a determinist, I, in short, hold the belief that everything we do is determined. Looking at the laws of physics, I claim that in principle, we could calculate, and therefore determine, every single thing you do, from when you will take your next breath, to what you will decide to have for lunch in two weeks. I will go deeper into this later in the post, but first I would like to look at the first two positions. My goal is to first disprove these positions and then conclude by explaining why I believe the third position, my position, is the most reasonable to believe.

Ultimate Free Will

The first problem that I think many will find when analyzing the idea of free will for the first time is that free will isn’t very well defined. What does it actually mean to have fee will? When asked to define it immediately, most will say something to the extent of, the ability to choose. This is empty in my opinion and doesn’t really grant anyone the power that they believe free will gives. Choice exists, that is the first thing to understand. We are constantly faced with choices, whether it be what to watch on TV or where to go out to eat. We are constantly presented with choices, and thus we must make a choice. Therefore, regardless of whether or not we have free will, choices must be made. But this means nothing with regards to your freedom with the choice itself.

So we now realize that what makes free will so appealing is that it appears to give us real control or some kind of power over our lives. So to have true free will, everything must be of one’s own doing. Hence, to have free will, one must be the author of their own thoughts and the ultimate decider of every choice they make and every action they take. To claim to have ultimate free will, I do not know how it is possible to not hold these attributes. Because these attributes are so rigid, as they must be to truly define free will, it acts as the weak stability that makes it so easy to bring the idea of ultimate free will down.

There are a few thought experiments one can do to easily bring down the idea of ultimate free will. My favorite experiment is to ask you to think of a city (feel free to actually try this while you are reading). Now when you read this, surely a few cities began to emerge into your mind. And you can just kind of observe this experience, just cities coming into consciousness, Orlando… New York… Portland… etc. They almost came into mind in the same manner to which you read the cities I listed a moment ago. Now choose a city, you can take as much time as you’d like. This whole experience immediately begins to expose potential weaknesses in the idea of ultimate free will. The feeling of cities simply coming into consciousness, without authorship. Granted there was still that point when you chose amongst the list of cities that were in your mind, this may appear to be the moment where free will kicked in, you might say. Well if you are to be the author of your thoughts, how could you be when you didn’t author the cities that merely came to mind. Now you might argue that you did author the cities that came to mind. To this, I meet you with a counter; surely you are aware that, for example, Atlanta is a city. For many of you, Atlanta probably didn’t come to mind and thus Atlanta was off the table in terms of cities that you would choose. I propose this question then; how were you free to choose cities which did not occur to you? To someone who believes in ultimate free will, this is a question which demands an answer.

Another shot in the leg to those who believe in ultimate free will comes from the mouth of science. In scientific experiments it has been shown that your mind has determined what you will choose, sometimes as many as seven seconds before you are consciously aware. In this link here, it acts as many similar experiments, a person is asked to select something, typically as simple as a left button or right button. They are told to go back and forth on their decision making but as soon as they make their decision to press the button. What studies have found is that your mind had already made the decision several seconds before you were consciously aware. As they point out in the video, this shows that conscious decision making is secondary to brain activity.

The most significant point which I believe buries completely the idea of ultimate free will is the fact that we are not perfect. The fact that we make mistakes, we become addicted to bad things, or in the mind of the religious, we sin. The idea of mistakes, sin, or temptation does not fit in a reality where people have ultimate free will. I like how Sam Harris puts it in his short book Free Will  where he states,

To say that someone freely chose to squander his life’s savings at the poker table is to say that he had every opportunity to do otherwise and that nothing about what he did was inadvertent. He played poker not by accident or while in the grip of delusion but because he wanted to, intended to, and decided to, moment after moment.

These sort of things do not make sense in a world with ultimate free will. Why would someone do such a thing? It is absolutely illogical. Someone might claim that the person is evil or easily tempted. But how can these bad attributes exist when you can simply will them away? If you can not will them away, you are proclaiming that you are at the mercy of thoughts or desires that are not truly yours, therefore eliminating ultimate free will. If you say, maybe he was aware of this and yet still wanted to do the wrong thing. This still does not fit in a world with ultimate free will. What does it mean to want something when you have free will? To want something while having free will, you must choose to want something. To choose to want to do something bad before truly desiring to want something bad is illogical again. We can continue this argument for days but you will always find that to do something bad begins at an illogical, dare I say impossible, starting point.

Temptation is perhaps the biggest point here. Especially when speaking to the religious. Temptation should either not exist or be irrelevant in a reality with ultimate free will. Temptation should probably not exist because if we are the conscious authors of our thoughts and intentions, we would have to, from an illogical starting point, choose to think of something tempting (and we can assume bad or wrong or sinful). But suppose “the devil” could plant thoughts that lead to temptation in your mind. With free will, one could simply will those thoughts away. Thus to proclaim that someone was tempted to sin and therefore did, should in fact not be held responsible by God as their actions were the result of a mental hijacking, therefore eliminating sin. And to claim that someone could not easily will the temptation away is admitting defeat. If you can not will temptation, or any bad desire away effortlessly, you admit to not having ultimate free will. You then must concede that you are subject to thoughts and desires that are in fact not your own.

Compatibilism

I find compatibilism to be much like mainstream religion is today when debating atheists. Typically, if an atheist quotes scripture and interprets it literally, the religious person will turn up their nose and explain how scripture is much more nuanced and intricate and cannot be interpreted literally. Though they may be right in some cases, ultimately they are missing the point. The same goes for determinists in speaking with compatibilists. Perhaps as a compatibilist was reading my arguments above they were saying the same things; “free will is much more nuanced and intricate. One cannot look at its bones bare and interpret it fully.” I am here to argue that with free will, yes you can.

We humans tend to like free will so much because of what it implies. There is an idea that we have evolved to a degree greater than any other creature on the planet. This ability to pass by the laws of physics because our thoughts are beyond the constraints of natural laws. It can almost make someone feel special. I had not, until recently, heard arguments from a compatibilist. I had always been confused as to how they believe that a person could possibly blend determinism with free will. What I came to find was that compatibilists appear to be redefining free will. What I want to argue is that how they define free will is not only wrong, but it’s not even a free will worth desiring. I claim that the compatibilist is searching to hold on to that feeling that we are special, along with a concern of losing moral responsibility, and doing this through mental gymnastics that tangle in ways that even they cannot find their missteps in logic.

Daniel Dennet is one of the leading names on the side of compatibilism, and it was in reading his critique of Sam Harris’ book on free will that I was able to peer inside the logic behind compatibilism. For the sake of not taking too much time commenting on every passage to which I believe Dennet errors, I will try and choose the most pertinent to the point that I am trying to get across. I do not want to cheat, I do plan to take on what I believe to be his strongest argument as well.

The first problem that arises when reading Dennet’s critique is his claim that what Sam Harris is a compatibilist more than he realizes. As far as I have learned, Harris and I share congruent interpretations of free will, thus I would argue that if Harris is a compatibilist, he is right in wanting to remove the term free will, as it is flagrantly misleading and absolutely antagonistic to reality. This will become more evident soon.

Dennet then displays the arrogance of a compatibilist by continually not answering to points made, but rather disregarding them as pointless. For example, in response to an excerpt from Harris’ book; “We do not know what we intend to do until the intention itself arises. To understand this is to realize that we are not the authors of our thoughts and actions.” Dennet rebuttals as follows,

We do not know what we intend to do until the intention itself arises.  [True, but so what?]  To understand this is to realize that we are not the authors of our thoughts and actions in the way that people generally suppose [my italics]. (p. 13)

Again, so what? Maybe we are authors of our thoughts and actions in a slightly different way.  Harris doesn’t even consider that possibility (since that would require taking compatibilist “theology” seriously).

So what?! This absolutely baffled me. This is a strong point to which a determinist leans on. To reply this way in a debate format, as a professional, is intellectually lazy and borders on unforgivable. It gets worse as he begins his excuse of an explanation with “maybe”. If you begin with maybe and do not lead to justified fact or incredibly solid reasoning, you have intellectually met the equivalent of pulling shit out of your ass.

While I find the majority of Dennet’s arguments rather tiresome, he does make a couple that are worth my comments. One of these arguments lies in the idea that we “could have” done something. This is logically flawed. Here is what Dennet presents however;

Consider the case where I miss a very short putt and kick myself because I could have holed it.  It is not that I should have holed it if I had tried: I did try, and missed. It is not that I should have holed it if conditions had been different: that might of course be so, but I am talking about conditions as they precisely were [Dennet's italics], and asserting that I could have holed it. There is the rub. Nor does ‘I can hole it this time’ mean that I shall hole it this time if I try or if anything else; for I may try and miss, and yet not be convinced that I could not have done it; indeed, further experiments may confirm my belief that I could have done it that time [Dennet's italics], although I did not. (Austin 1961: 166. [“Ifs and Cans,” in Austin, Philosophical Papers, edited by J. Urmson and G. Warnock, Oxford, Clarendon Press.])

This is wrong. Just wrong. Saying that I could’ve holed it after you didn’t is absolutely false. Why? Because if you could have then you would have. And if you make that same putt later, this does not mean that you were correct in saying that you could have, the correct statement would be saying you can make the putt. Say the putt was five feet away, if you believe that you have the ability to make putts from five feet away, it makes perfect sense to proclaim that you have the ability to potentially make the putt. Therefore you could say, “I can make this putt!” But if you miss the putt and proclaim, I could’ve made that putt under the very exact conditions, you are wrong, because you didn’t. And those conditions will never be met again (it is probabilistically proven, I have personally witnessed the mathematical proof involving continuous distribution functions), thus to say that you could have made the putt is so grotesquely wrong that my need for response is almost unnecessary. But to give one reason, is the ball in the hole? This shows, quite clearly, how compatibilist seek to grasp onto this idea of having more control, or being more special, than they truly are, using mental gymnastics that appear to have solved their fear at face value alone, while in depth, solve nothing.

Dennet does attempt to save himself from his very example, though, with what I believe is a better example, yet it still misses the point, and I still debate in my mind whether he is contradicting the point he attempted to make above. Dennet states;

Suppose I am driving along at 60 MPH and am asked if my car can also go 80 MPH. Yes, I reply, but not in precisely the same conditions; I have to press harder on the accelerator.  In fact, I add, it can also go 40 MPH, but not with conditions precisely as they are.

If you can say this, and still believe you have free will, I am at a loss. To say that you have the ability to do things does not imply free will at all. If you couldn’t do something different in precisely the same conditions, where does your freedom come in? Where is the free will? If you call being able to do only what the precise conditions allow, which is only that one thing, free will, you are intentionally misleading yourself. If you can find the freedom in this, please present it. This is the putting mishap all over again, mistaking abilities with actual freedoms moment to moment. A free will that is worth having should not be this difficult to find, and not require the mental gymnastics we are observing. This type of free will is as necessary as molding bread.

Dennet also shows that many believe that self-control is evidence of free will. He states;

We can improve our self-control, and this is a morally significant fact about the competence of normal adults—the only people whom we hold fully (but not “absolutely” or “deeply”) responsible.

This is common and I have seen this mistake before, even in myself. I recall one day inquiring about tourettes syndrome with a friend of mine who believes we do not have free will. I was still unsure at this point in time, so I had many questions. I thought I found it, I found free will! I thought about people with tourettes and how they cannot control what they say at times. I pointed this out to him and I said “You see! This is what not having free will looks like! This person has no will to prevent himself from cursing loudly in public, yet I do!” I was met, far too quickly for my prides sake, with, “You are simply wired differently, you couldn’t not control yourself in public. That is who you are (I should note here that this is not exactly the explanation given, I am of course paraphrasing).” Fast-forward to the future and I have discussed this fact to a friend who at one time had an eating disorder. Her response to me as we talked about her eating disorder was that she was drawn to it, partly because she felt like the only thing she could control in her life was what she ate. She could control whether or not, typically not, she was going to eat food. Now, as she was leaning towards determinism, I pointed out that in that time, or whenever she would feel like she could use self-control with food, if, say, she chose not to eat food, she was bound by that choice. She believes that she is in control of the food she chooses to eat when in reality she had no choice but to deny herself food. She had no more choice either way.

This is so often used as evidence of free will, but self-control does not mean free choice. We are as bound to choosing “Yes” as we are to choosing “No”, and there is no reason that should be otherwise.

As a quick note before I move on, this is used as a manner of looking at the thought process of a compatibilist and not a critique of Dennet’s critique of Harris, if you read Dennet’s critique (linked above) and wish for me to argue a point of his which I ignored here, comment and I would be more than happy to. I believe the above is sufficient to making my point however.

Determinism and its Implications

I would prefer, personally, not to attach myself to the belief that I am a hard determinist. I personally do not know all that it entails. What I will say is that I simply do not believe that we have free will, or at least any definition of free will worth my time. The idea of not having free will is scary for many people. They come to the conclusion that this implies that we are hostages in our own bodies. This is untrue. All this means is that we are not truly the authors of our thoughts and actions, but we are no less us than we have ever been. We need not worry that we will do something that we vehemently oppose by the minds so choosing, because we are our mind. Sam Harris puts it best in his book (and it was the inspiration to the title of this post) when he says,

You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm.

One of the most common misconceptions of determinism is when people confuse determinism with fatalism. Even the compatibilist will be next to me to help correct the misinformed. Determinism does not mean that we can simply lay in bed and everything that we were “supposed” to accomplish in life will be accomplished. If you want to eat, if you want a job, you need to get out of bed and make those things happen. But suppose you simply stayed in bed, this does not mean that you have “beat” determinism and therefore have free will. This gets back to what I was saying about self-control; just because you stayed in bed doesn’t mean you beat the system, I could look (in principle) at the data and determine that you had no choice but to stay in bed when you did, and I would be right, because you wouldn’t have done anything differently (how could you have?).

Many incompatibilists believe that without free will, we are not responsible for our actions. This is simply misguided, but this is in fact a fear shared by a majority (if not all) of those who fear free will is an illusion. But to believe this is to be intellectually lazy. You may not be the author of your actions, but no one else is responsible for your actions. Remember, you are the storm. Therefore, if you intend to harm people, you are dangerous to society and you are to be held accountable for your actions. This is why prisons would still be necessary. Rather than being used as a means of justice, they would be used as a means of protection. And even if we want to eliminate responsibility, that does not take away from what we know about conscious experience. If you enjoy life, not having free will wouldn’t change that, and we would in fact have a responsibility to our society to protect others from those who are “unlucky” in the sense that they are dangerous to us. And to not be able to take responsibility for our accomplishments is to make the error I stated above which is to confuse determinism with fatalism. If you won a Nobel prize, you had to put the work in, and thus everything that truly is “you” is responsible for what led you to earning the Nobel prize. It wasn’t going to fall on your lap had you not put in the work.

A large reason that many people fear that free will is an illusion is this sense of losing responsibility. But this concern does not imply free will exists. It is the same when a Christian proclaims that moral responsibility would be lost if there was no God. Just because you need (in your mind) X to have moral responsibility does not mean that X actually exists. Simply put, free will does not exist simply because you feel we need it to be held morally responsible. With or without free will, you desire peace and the well-being of conscious creatures. Losing free will would not erase this desire, thus some new kind of responsibility could represent this. At the end, what really falls to the ground is the logic of wanting revenge. We would be more compassionate towards those who have been wired to be psychopaths. We would still have to lock them away for safety, but the idea for revenge should dissolve with a full belief in determinism. But it is important to remember that wanting free will so that you can feel morally accountable in no way proves that we have free will.

One of the biggest pieces of this puzzle that left me unsure in the past was the idea of choice. Because I knew that I was constantly faced with choice, I could not see how there couldn’t be free will. I had to make a choice. What I realized however, was that choice exists. We are constantly presented with choices and we are left to make this choice. We must. But while choice exists, my actual freedom in making the choice that I inevitably make is void of freedom. Now I don’t wander through my day consistently reminding myself of this. I don’t wake up and decide to make oatmeal but utter “like I had a choice” in the back of my mind. It is merely something that I am aware of and need concern myself with it only when it matters. I find personally that this understanding allows me to much more easily have compassion for those who have not had the same “luck” as I have had. And because I don’t have free will, it has become much clearer to me why this in fact makes life as enjoyable as it really is. I talked more about this in a previous post here.

When we truly investigate free will, it becomes clear that it is an illusion. And when people try to argue that there is a more complex and convoluted version of free will that we don’t yet understand, we can quickly see that they are grasping at straws, holding on to something that they are too afraid to admit just isn’t a free will worth fighting for. But we just need to remember that everything is ultimately okay. Not having free will is the reason why life brings us so much genuine joy. It is why we have emotions that are so beautiful and yet so unexplainable at the same time (again, I go deeper into this in my earlier post linked above). We need not fear it. We will always behave consistently with who we are and how we desire to be. We are simply aware that at the heart, we are not the author, but merely witnessing another beautiful miracle of nature. Remember, we are not lost in the storm. So in the mean time, I recommend you do as I do, and enjoy your time in the I of the storm.

My Generation

Malala      Miley Twerk

I am part of one of the greatest, and perhaps one of the worst generations in history. Technological and scientific advancement has been extraordinary. Progressive minds are in the process of eliminating racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. I am seeing secularism widdle away religion, not allowing an unjustified power to oppress the lives of others. I come from a generation that witnessed the true rise of technology, and I am capable of making the most of a world that has been brought to my fingertips.

There are two sides to this shiny coin, however. If we flip this coin, we see a dull, rusted, and unappealing side to this generation that leaves me in utter embarrassment of the group I am lassoed into. I look closely at this portion of the generation and see all of the wrong things; people fixated on the wrong ideals, looking to poor things for pleasure. And even in a time of such progression, hatred is still alive – with ferocity. The dichotomy of my generation may be more apparent than any other, and the scariest part is, I don’t know if what makes my generation good, is on the winning side of this.

The Good

During Thanksgiving dinner, I am with a large group of people, all family, and we have (what appears to be) a tradition that I rather enjoy which is the common, go around the table and say what you are thankful for. My family is very diverse, intellectually and ethically. From masters degrees in physics to medical doctors, down the line to high school (barely) graduates. From Mormons to agnostics and atheists, it is all there. With this, we have a wide range of things that people are thankful for. From the Christians, I heard of thanks to their God for all of their blessings, a little cliché for my taste. From an agnostic physicist, he spoke of his honest thankfulness of the growing legalization of marijuana. Many thanks lied in between this spectrum. Mostly cliché as well; the man thanking openly for the love of his wife and children, to the thanks of the wonderful food which they are now excited to pass while using the restroom for hours.

It was two years ago that I did not fall into the line (in my opinion). And perhaps to the rest it appeared to, but it was the honesty with which I presented my thanks and my genuine emotions that I believe made what I had to say… Real, I guess you could say. I have many family members that fall on the side of conservative Christian, and hence, they did not support Obama, social change, and many had a lingering doomsday belief connected to the direction society appeared to be heading. It was because of this doomsday belief that I was inspired to give a provoking thanks which looked at the direction society was headed (and is heading) in a positive, rather than the consistently grim (which too many held), light. But this wasn’t to be the liberal in the field of red, it was an honest belief that I wanted to talk about. And I was straight-forward. I pointed out that while there are many things still wrong in society, there was a lot about this society that was worth being thankful for and excited about. I concluded my thanks by saying something to the tune of, while there are many that present reasons to be scared of the future to come, what I see is a future to be excited about, and I believe that things will only get better (speaking mostly in general, of course).

I believe that I had, and still have, many reasons to think this. As I said earlier, technology is at an exponential increase that I am just waiting to hit a vertical asymptote. I am seeing true progress in the fight to cure AIDS and cancer, along with many others. If you want to find it, it is not hard to see people performing selfless acts and even utilizing their success to pick up those who are in the mud off the ground so they can begin walking again.

The minds that have been brought to the social mainstream says something about my generation as well. We live in a time where the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennet, Lawrence Krauss and many of the like can speak out against ignorance without facing much real danger. There popularity and acceptance in society says something about our people. It speaks to what this generation supports.

When I speak with people in my generation, or watch programs that represent the values of many in my generation, I am relieved to observe that they want things to improve for the greater good. We want to know what is true and we want to take full advantage of the many opportunities that being alive at this time gives us. We are a generation that wants to be kind, wants to be selfless, wants to succeed. We are a generation that really appears to want the right things. With that being the case, how could I not be excited about what’s to come? How could I not be happy to be part of this generation? There are plenty of reasons to be excited.

The Bad

Like the idea of a drug addict finding a million dollars on the side of the road, my generation has stumbled, by sheer luck, into the potential for more power than anyone could have ever imagined. It is what allows me to put my voice out for all to hear. While some utilize these opportunities to the fullest, there are many who don’t. Like I said above, it has been two years since I gave my family my heartfelt speech promoting the good things to come and the reasons why we should not fear the future, or my generation. But as time has passed, I have looked more closely at the mainstream. The true mainstream. That is, the things that sell, what is popular on T.V. or on the radio (I guess iTunes, that would be, now). When I look to the mainstream, I begin to wonder; with all of the things that I see my generation doing right, why does it seem like there is more that we are doing wrong?

Looking to the mainstream, my generation may be stuck in high school. Simply put, it appears that my generation is taking part in the biggest popularity contest in history. Our values are shamefully misplaced when I look here. People are fixated on the wrong ideals, looking to the simple, immediate pleasures for instant gratification rather than seeking true peace and working towards improving our well-being. We are in a society soon to be ruled by a popular majority that believes self-worth is measured by the number of followers one has on Twitter or Instagram, or what rating they get on a “Hot or Not” app, rather than who they genuinely are.

This didn’t become more clear to me until I heard about an interview with Miley Cyrus after her performance with Robin Thicke at the VMA’s. She discussed how she wanted to get a reaction, saying that her and Thicke were telling each other that they knew that they were about to make history. How did she justify her behavior? She bragged about getting more tweets during her performance than tweets during the Super Bowl. How does this truly measure the kind of person you are? To merely want to feel some level of worship by others and to do whatever it takes to satisfy this desire borders on narcissism in its purest state. Now let me shortly tangent here. I am not here to say that Miley Cyrus shouldn’t have done what she did. People are free to behave as they wish, given that no one is truly harmed, but it is deeper than this point that drives my emotion on this topic. People like to believe that she needs to be a role model to the children, but I say that is completely incorrect. Miley Cyrus should not be held to some expected standard so that parents can lazily parent their children. If children take upon the values of a celebrity before the one’s which you instill, the problem lies with the parent. But none of this is the point, and none of this saves Miley from the kind of person that she truly appears to be. When you care about “twerking” so much that you feel the need to constantly advertise it, when you believe that the number of tweets you receive determines your self worth, when you believe that life is about fame, fortune, and similar immediate and poor pleasures, your life is destined for less happiness. And you are clearly not what is necessary in this world.

Now this isn’t just a Miley rant here. I look to social media, up and down the popularity chain, and find nothing but the same ideals. People willing to be obnoxious, dangerous and disrespectful towards others just to be recognized as “cool”. Perhaps the most damning of all, they believe that this will work, because it does work. It is the disrespectful, simple-minded, and obnoxious on YouTube or Vine that is constantly supported by my generation. People have been trained to allow these selfish desires to overcome who they are so that they can be worshiped by a society that will buy their product. So not only is their popularity make clear the shameful values of the “celebrity”, it acts as a mirror which shows what we want to see and how we wish to be, and the values that we wish to promote.

The Ugly

Living in the North West in the U.S. I am pretty well shielded from the racism that still exists today, or so I thought. Up until a few weeks ago, I had never truly witnessed racism. While working through college, I have a typical job as a sales associate, which means that I am talking with many new people every day that I work. Well as the Super Bowl was fast approaching, I came across two friends, about my age, discussing the game to come. Being friendly, and wanting to easily kill some time at work, I thought I’d discuss the game with them. Both of them picked the Broncos to win. I myself had a hard time betting against Peyton Manning, but I knew that Seattle’s defense was tough to argue against as well. One of these boys proclaimed with absolute certainty, and a conviction I thought too strong for a friendly conversation, that there is no way Seattle will win. Being not a great follower of the Seahawks, given that I am an Atlanta Falcons fan and our season did not go well, thus I wasn’t paying too much attention to football this season, I was aware that Seattle’s QB was a scrambling QB. Now many in the past were run first, pass second, which I don’t believe is a true winning formula. Not certain whether Russel Wilson fit this category, I said in response that I hold the theory that a scrambling QB will never win a Super Bowl. I thought that this may be the point that this person was trying to drive home, but it wasn’t. He looked at me, eyes wide to appear more serious, wearing his camo hat, jacket, and pants (I feel this actually allows what I am about to say make a little bit more sense), said with just as much conviction, “That’s not why they won’t win. It’s because he’s black.”

After I heard this, I was almost certain that he just said a horrendously offensive joke. My jaw dropped in awkward amazement and trying to laugh it off, waiting for him to smile and exclaim a reassuring “JK!” But that never came. He actually continued to try and explain to me why black people aren’t as smart as white people and why black people are too stupid to win a Super Bowl if they are the QB. Not sure what to do in this situation, I made sure I pushed the conversation towards them leaving, which they shortly did. Afterwards however, I was left stunned that someone my age, living where I live, could still hold such ignorant and hateful views. What this conversation did do was cause me to look at this country, and my generation as a whole, and I began to see much more things like this which left me even more unsettled about where I stand with my generation.

While I still hold the belief that the hatred and ignorance within my generation isn’t as explicit, and I would also assert not as strong as it has been in past generations, it still holds a strong presence in today’s society. The difference lies in its packaging.

In today’s society, everyone appears to be more progressive. Religions are becoming more accepting of gays, equality among race and sex appears to be closing in, but that is just on the cover. Open this book we call progression and we find a lot of the same issues still lingering under the veil of political correctness. Yes, many religions appear to be in support of homosexuals, but ask them more and you still find that the majority are against same-sex marriage. The emotions are more vehement when asked whether two people of the same gender should have sex. You cannot say that you are accepting of the way someone is while being against everything that makes them who they are.

Not only have I seen it first hand, but we know that racism still exists today. Most recently, we witness this when reading about the response that Coca-Cola received with its Super Bowl commercial. Outraged citizens threatening to boycott the soda company because ‘Merican’s speak English. This may not be evident racism, but it is racism, packaged a little differently. Thankfully, racism is typically not as apparent in the mainstream, but that may still be a veil over my eyes. There are still those who live in pockets of society where ignorance and oppression is a mountain that they face daily. Add to this, the fact that we have things in place to (attempt to) guarantee equality among race. The very fact that we still need these programs proves that racism is merely caged, but not dead.

The ugly doesn’t get any prettier when we turn to the oppression women still face today. I could state some of the obvious facts about what a woman makes to the man’s dollar, I could show you the bad connotation we place on driven women (HERE), but to drive home how upside down a society can be, I refer you to this bit of news from my generations history, here. What occurred here was simply unforgivable. On August 11th, 2012, a 16 year old girl was raped by two athletes from Steubenville High School. This is horrible, but it gets worse. Due to these teens not being smart (or clever? I feel that this is the wrong connotation either way), their acts were recorded. Being that these athletes were quite popular within the school, several people attempted to tamper with evidence and other school employees refused to report the abuse that they knew about. After this story got out, many were blaming the girl for putting herself in the situation, calling her a slut, whore, and so on. Luckily, the worst of the offenders have been isolated and are either serving sentences or awaiting judgement. But this is just one example of a struggle that is still very prominent in society today. And for anyone to believe for even a moment that they could point the finger at the girl… Well I yield the rest of the time for you to pick your jaw off the floor.

Conclusion

I think that many generations are easy to put a pin in. This generation was incredibly racist, or, this generation was striving for the right things. I liked this generation, but I didn’t like that one. My generation is quite difficult to choose a side on. There is so much to be proud of, and yet, so much to be disgusted of. I look to the scientists, the free thinkers, and the well-intentioned progressives of my generation and I smile. I am filled with confidence and joy with what my generation is bringing to the table. But I can also look to the Miley Cyrus pocket of my generation. Those who are stuck with their eyes tunneled on their phones, looking to see what stranger will follow them next. Vanity, narcissism, arrogance, and I feel my stomach turn. If I look to the dark corners of my generation, I see a group that looks too much like our horrid past. Racism, sexism, homophobia, scientific illiteracy and worse not only dwell, but thrive with a power that in some cases appear unpenetrable  by any good that society could have to offer. By this point, my hope is all but lost.

I can only hope that it is what I find good about this generation that rises to the top. I think that there are many reasons to believe this. The hate we experience in this world is dwindling. Society is pressuring the ignorant to move, and many have. Progress has been undeniable, and it is thanks to what makes my generation good. The only area to which I draw concern is within the Miley Cyrus pocket. Those who believe that the beauty and joy in the world is found at the touch of a phone or in the lights of fame, rather than in experiencing the pure majesty of nature and all that our conscious existence has to explore, learn, and grow from. But my realism can rest easy with them as I can see us letting them ride the ship without them wrecking it as we push forward to greater states of well-being.

So in the end, I think everything will get better. I guess you could say that I still stand by that Thanksgiving speech I gave two years ago. When I look at my generation with a microscope, there are a lot of disgusting things, but when I stand back and look at what we have to work with as a whole, I think I can take a breath and say that I am happy that this is my generation.