On Being a Janitor

Well, I quit the Owl. Poorly managed and literally rotting in its foundations, the clientele became less and less frequent and more and more frightening. I jumped that drunken ship, with no regrets–except for the loss of discount beer.

Now, I spend my night cleaning a new off-campus student housing building (I won’t name names, because a full-fledged bitch fest is about to ensue and I don’t want to get fired quite yet). This particular set of student housing features absolutely nothing that makes it stand out from the rest, except for granite counter-tops. The promised hot-tub and pool have not arrived, and the exercise room is a sad huddle of one treadmill, one elliptical, and a weight set.

But to share a bed in this place with someone is $400 a month. To have your own room, apart from three others, is $550. To have your very own apartment, you’re shoveling out a whopping $750. Or wait–no–I should say, your parents are shoveling out that money, because no college kid can afford that kind of ridiculous rent in Logan.

Perhaps if one lived in Chicago, San Francisco, or even Denver, student housing rates like these would be more acceptable. But this is Logan, Utah. The price of living is supremely inexpensive, a reason many come to school here. I pay less than $200 a month in rent–granted, I live in a shithole–but isn’t that part of the college experience?

My living room

Wait, though; that’s not all. Did I mention that these kids can pay me, and my fellow janitors, to do their laundry? That’s right. They can hire us to do their fucking laundry–and clean their bedrooms should they not feel up to the task.

You can probably guess the kind of students this dazzling new institution attracts. Society’s finest athletes, cheerleaders, and southern belles wreak havoc on my clean floors and windows on a nightly basis. When the football team won the WAC tournament this weekend, madness ensued. I spend five hours on Sunday scrubbing blood off of the stairs because of a fight, and throwing away half-empty beer cans chucked aimlessly into the garbage bins. Another lucky co-worker got to scrub copious amounts of chunky orange and white puke off of the concrete and stairs in front of the lobby.

Bare, used condoms regularly litter the bottom of the trash cans. Soda lids are ripped up, and mingle with neon candy wrappers just dropped all over the floor. Trash bags are left out in the hall to fester because their owners can’t walk down the hall to the garbage deposit., where boxes and bags from uber-expensive retail shops are laying willy-nilly on top of moldy hamburger buns and rotting bananas.

“I teach these kids everything they know.” –Coach Anderson

These kids aren’t just college students having a good time. They’re behaving like sexually deprived animals in an alcohol-soaked sponge of a zoo, with absolutely no rhyme or reason dictating their behavior. Why should they act decently? They’re the cream of the popularity crop, the best and brightest, and they represent our college, goddammit! We’re lucky to have them.

Except for the select few, like me and my co-workers, who are left slogging through their disgusting shit on a daily basis. The worst part? They’re totally oblivious that someone is cleaning up after them.

I was taking out the garbage and bumped into a cute little brunette on the first floor, getting into the elevator. She said something to me, but over the din of my righteous dub-step, I couldn’t hear her. I popped out an earphone and asked her to repeat her statement.

“I saw you taking out the garbage a couple of days ago!” she said, and seemed very surprised.

I looked at her. Resisting a strong urge to say, “Yes, and it’s your turn tomorrow,” I just said, “That’s because it’s my job.”

“Huh,” she said, knotting her eyebrows and thinking carefully. Then, her face brightened and she smiled cheerily. “Well, at least it’s a job!” Her fuzzy boots and PINK jacket disappeared into the elevator. As soon as the door closed, a nasty string of expletives practically leaped from my mouth, cursing her cute little unemployed butt and the indulgent parents that allowed her to mix right in with all the other privileged ignoramuses that reside there.

The bottom line: three cheers if your parents can pay for your education and housing. Honestly, I wish mine could so I could focus more on school and less on finances. But paying inner-big-city rent dues, hiring someone to do your laundry, fucking football players in the hallway, and shopping at Tiffany’s & Co. is not part of a wholesome college experience… and from a self-admitted alcoholic who’s about to graduate, that’s saying a lot.

Arguments against a physical, material Deity

Although I don’t believe in God, I am fascinated by the various concepts of His existence, particularly of the Christian sects. One concept that has always bothered me, and now bothers me even more because of the arguments we’ve discussed in class and in readings, is the Mormon belief that God has a literal, material, and eternal body. Mormons preach this tenet as a main part of their religion, basing it off of the Genesis 1:26, which states that God created man in His own image. Mormons use this scripture to justify their belief that God not only has a physical, tangible body but also as evidence that mankind may eventually become Gods themselves.

If I were to assume that there is a God, I would have to agree with many of the fundamental philosophers of western religious tradition, who argue repeatedly that God is immutable, unchangeable, eternal, and because of these traits must also be immaterial. The irony in the Mormon belief of God’s physical existence lies in that they consider themselves Christians along with Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, or any other branch-off sect, and yet their belief in God’s material body directly contradicts the teachings of other Christian philosophers. So, assuming that there is a God, and that He is the Christian concept of God, I will now argue why the Mormons must be wrong and why God cannot have a physical body.

How could Jesus hold this dinosaur if he DIDN’T have a body? 

The first reason why God must be immaterial lies in His inability to be changed. God cannot change because, in order to be God, He must be the end-all of any purpose—that is to say, He must exist in pure actuality. He cannot move, act, change, or fall apart—all of which things the human body can, and must, do. For God to have a literal physical body, even a perfect one, His heart would have to pump, His blood flow, His arms and legs have potential to dance, his intestines be capable of creating dookie, and His entire being rot if He were to die. Since He would be made of parts, He would have potential to come apart. However, this instigates the idea that God can change, which He cannot—therefore He cannot have a body.

Mormons believe God is eternal, and therefore has always existed, does now exist, and always will exist. However, this means that God existed “before” the big bang (I say before, but since God exists outside the constraints of time, this isn’t really the appropriate word). Matter and physical laws, as we know them, did not exist before the big bang, being created only after the process of physical events began—how, then, could a God manage to be eternal and still exist with a material body before the Big Bang? I think that He could not.  Even if matter did exist before the big bang, scientific knowledge to date indicates it probably would have to have been inside other universes; so did God’s physical body move from one universe to another when the big bang occurred, thus abandoning the previous universe? This idea is also highly improbable.

Another issue with the idea of God having a physical body is that God’s knowledge and impressions would have to pass through the filters that come along with physical existence. Kant originally posed this argument, presenting the difference between noumena and phenomena. Noumena is an object that is “known” outside the senses—that means an apple, in its noumenal state, is exactly an apple. Our physical filters, such as sight, smell, and taste will affect how we perceive an apple and cause it to enter into phenomenal existence—thus making the apple red, sweet, starchy, etc. Because of our limitations from our physical bodies, we are familiar only with the world of phenomena. There is no human way to perceive noumenon. This makes it impossible for a physical God to be completely perfect and yet also omniscient—His perception of all things would be influenced by his physical body. Instead of perceiving His children as noumenal creatures, knowing our whole being perfectly, God would be limited in His perception of us depending on which direction He looked at us from, how skin color is perceived through His eyes, what His brain perceives as “good”, and a myriad of other things. How can a finite being, such as a body, act with infinite potential? How could God use his physical brain to obtain knowledge of my physical brain? I think that He could not. And if God existed in a physical body similar to ours, the size of His brain would be enormous in order to contain knowledge of everything—thus either making him look like an extreme macrocephalite, or giant in overall proportion, neither of which conforms with the idea that He looks like us.

Then there are just the simple complications that come along with a human body that make the idea of God having one illogical. If human bodies are susceptible to viruses, but God cannot change, does He have a perfect immune system? Is His body just chock-full of white blood cells whose memory is perfectly aware of every disease ever to exist? Or does God remain aloof from these diseases because He does not live on Earth? In any case, if God’s body is truly like ours, then He is susceptible to the failings that our bodies are as well. Additionally, physical bodies are not self-sufficient—they are continually in need of nourishment. Does God eat some sort of heavenly sustenance—angel food cake, perhaps—and then, does He sit on a golden toilet to take a divine shit while reading the latest issue of Good Universekeeping? I’m mostly kidding, but in order for Mormons to believe that God’s physical body is just a perfected version of their own, these are the kinds of questions they have to answer.

Finally, if we were literally created in God’s image, that begs the question of whether God is both male and female. It seems a little prejudiced to assume that God has only the male genitalia, although I suppose this would make the not-so-immaculate conception a little easier to understand; but Mormon women, too, believe that they are created in God’s image. Is God, then, a physical hermaphrodite? Answering this question requires yet another Mormon underivative to explain this existence of a “Heavenly Mother,” who does not exist in any other Christian sect.

After hearing all this, a Mormon might argue that God became a God only after enduring the trials that they believe we, as God’s children, must also endure in order to achieve God-status. This is why He has a body, and this is why we will be Gods someday, too, if we eat our vegetables and listen to our mothers. This seems to contradict their idea that God is eternal, though—if God was, at some point,not God, then how could He have always existed? And if He did not always exist, He cannot be eternal, causing the entire Mormon doctrine about God’s to contradict itself.

As I said earlier, although I’m not on board with any particular religion, the fundamental Christian arguments about God’s existence totally make ridiculous the Mormon belief about God having a material body. It just isn’t possible for God to be eternal, omniscience, omnipresent, and yet still have a physical body. However, based on the class discussions we’ve had, I think it’s a safe to make the assumption that even if Mormons could defend their belief about God’s existence, they wouldn’t because they just don’t care—all they need to have is faith, and the rest of us can make our way merrily to hell, where Satan eagerly awaits our arrival.

Bullying Campaign: Find a new poster child

Amanda Todd was a fifteen year old high-school girl who took her own life earlier this month. Although the exact cause of her death has not been released, foul play has been ruled out at this point, and the focus of the situation has turned primarily to the problem of school bullying.

 

The basic story (according to Amanda) is this: As a seventh-grader, Amanda chatted online with people, making “friends,” at least one of which was an older man. This man pressured Amanda to show him her breasts, which she did. The man took a picture and later blackmailed Amanda, saying that if she did not expose herself further, he would disseminate the picture among her friends and classmates.

 

When the picture got out (the man’s identity and means of finding Amanda’s information is still unclear), Amanda’s peers began to hassle her. Amanda then had sex with a boy in her school who had a girlfriend, and when this behavior came to light, Amanda was further bullied and even physically assaulted with no retributive consequences on her tormenters.

 

The man continued to harass her, even after she changed schools more than once, and Amanda attempted suicide twice before she was finally successful. We know her story because several weeks before her death, she posted a YouTube video where she tells her narrative on flashcards, without speaking, over background music.

 

Her death is a tragedy. But any person so young who feels like taking their own life is their last option clearly has more issues at stake than just bullying, and that leads me to ask the question: Is Amanda the appropriate poster child for the fight against school bullying?

 

I don’t think so. In fact, I think idolizing Amanda has potential to do more harm than good among other teens.

 

In seventh grade, Amanda Todd was probably twelve or thirteen. The fact that she exposed herself to a man on the internet has less to do with a teenager’s dumb decision than the fact that Amanda’s internet use was so unmonitored by her parents that she was frequently chatting with someone who convinced her to flash him. This, to me, is a huger issue than bullying: where were her parents, and why, after being pursued by a pervert from school to school, were no charges pressed on this man?

 

I understand that I’m treading sensitive water here, but I think that Amanda had issues of her own as well. She wrote in her video of having anxiety, depression, and other disorders; as she got older, she engaged in dangerous drug and alcohol behavior and careless sex with a boy who she thought “really liked” her, but whom she knew had a girlfriend in her same school.

 

And despite complaining about the bullying and stalking, Amanda had enough information public, on Facebook or otherwise, to allow herself to be stalked. Her Facebook profile wasn’t private enough to stop much of her peer’s cyber-bullying; and when Amanda decided to post her problems in a dramatic YouTube video rather than talking to her parents, therapist, or friends, she seemed to be primarily soliciting attention.

 

Making Amanda the unfettered victim in this whole business seems, to me, to reinforce several bad behaviors. The last appropriate course of action is to take one’s own life—and since teens are usually looking to be heard, focusing so much attention on Amanda sends a loud and clear message that committing suicide can get teens the attention they crave.

 

This is especially dangerous because suicides, particularly with teens, tend to happen in clusters—when three or more teens take their lives in a row, influenced by the previous suicides of others.

 

Boston Children’s Hospital blog writes, “Although many factors account for suicide in teenagers, social modeling is an important one. Social modeling refers to the way an individual may conform their behavior to what they observe in others. This is particularly important in adolescent development.”

 

The danger of Amanda’s behavior being validated increases when she reveals that she cut herself. Cutting as means of self-mutilation works via social modeling, as well—in 2010, Psychology Today called cutting a “trend,” and writes that “some adolescents report that [cutting] elicits a desired response from others in the social environment (e.g., support or an emotional reaction).”

 

Amanda surely is a victim—a victim of absentee parents, a pervert stalker, bullying at school, and her own destructive self-behavior. But while Amanda’s death is nothing less than awful, it warrants a much bigger discussion than school bullying. Because of this, the anti-bullying campaign would be better served finding a less complicated circumstance—one where school bullying is the problem, but where self-harm and suicide don’t create a heroine.

 

Sounds about right.

Voter fraud fraud.

I spent last weekend in lovely Berkeley, CA, visiting my dear Aunt and Uncle. Despite the launch into an astronomically higher cost of living, my outlook in the area is capitol; I’m hoping to move there post-graduation, and therefore spent a good amount of time looking at potential jobs, cozy nooks under bridges, and cardboard boxes that are at least six feet long.

 

My Aunt and Uncle are quite liberal on the political spectrum. And believe it or not, outside of our socially cushioned valley, I am rather conservative; so going to visit them always provides me with copious opportunities for a fresh outlook on things, particularly social issues and politics.

 

This trip, however, the enlightenment I received disturbed rather than pleased me. We sat chatting around the dinner table when Uncle Erik brought up a video on YouTube from Sarah Silverman called Let My People Vote. It was only four minutes long and full of scandalously funny material, but the deeper subject it addressed is anything but a cause for hilarity. The video is calling attention to new laws which are, or are in the process of, being passed by several states that require voters to have a valid photo ID in order to prevent voting fraud.

 

Well, that’s not so bad, right? The Supreme Court did rule that requiring photo ID to vote was constitutional in Indiana, so it probably is in all other states. There are a few problems with these laws, though, the first being that only certain types of photo IDs are available. In some states, you need a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license, identification card, or a government employee badge. Some will let you use a student ID, but only from a government-accredited school.

 

In Tennessee, student IDs aren’t valid identification to vote; but you can use your gun permit. Seriously? They won’t let youngsters getting an education use their school IDs, but any illiterate dick with a shotgun can show up and vote? Right on, TN. Right on.

 

These laws are clearly intended to eliminate certain populations from casting their vote; it’s liberal-trending minorities who always fall into the statistics of those least likely to have the correct ID. African Americans, Latinos, poor people, young people, and students have less income, and therefore less access to restrictive documents and IDs.

 

For example: Who is likely to have a driver’s license? Someone who can afford a car and insurance. Who’s likely to have a government issued picture ID? Someone who has documentation to prove citizenship (and it’s surprisingly easy to be a citizen without the expensive documentation required to prove it). Someone who’s also not working all day during the DMV’s open hours. Someone who has a means of transportation there and back. And someone who has the time to sit through the long lines without young kids of their own to watch after.

 

And really, a gun permit? When Gallup polls show than almost twice as many Republicans own a gun as Democrats, we can see the obvious direction these laws are going.

 

In Pennsylvania, where debate over the ID laws is raging particularly fiercely, the state House Republican leader Mike Turzai settled any qualms about who wants these laws passed when he said in a State Committee meeting, “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: Done.” To quote Sarah Silverman’s reaction: WTF?!

 

And are there actually any voter fraud to justify these laws? Well, after spending some serious time researching the problem, I have to conclude, no. Not really. In fact, not at all. Do a Google search on successfully prosecuted voter fraud cases if you aren’t sure. Instances where voter fraud was suspected were typically just clerical error or honest mistakes by voters—not somebody risking serious financial and legal consequences to create one extra vote for Obama.

Unfortunately, though, I have to concur that it’s not unconstitutional to ask citizens to provide proper photo ID when voting. So the smart, effective thing to do is to make people aware these laws are taking place. Utah isn’t one of the voter ID states (yet), and I had never even heard about them before my visit to California.

 

I think regardless of our political orientation, we can all agree that the equal civil right of casting a vote is indispensable. Help make sure it really is just that this voting term. And if these voter ID laws come to Utah, get ready to spend some serious time at the DMV. Suckaaaaaaaa…….

 

Bizarre Utah Phenomenon: Psuedo-Swearing

I was sitting in class at the beginning of my first semester at USU when a conversation occurred behind me that I could hardly ignore. “Are you going to that fetching party on Wednesday?” said one clever young man. “Fetch yeah I am,” came the reply. Said the first speaker, “I wonder if there will be any new motherfetchers this time.” “Who the fetch knows,” said his cohort.

 

I congratulated myself heartily the rest of the day for not turning around and bee-otch slapping both of those dumb motherfetchers right out of their seats. Little did I know that this would be a precursor for far too many conversations on campus over the next few years.

 

The idea that pseudo-swearing—substituting one or two vowels or consonants for another and thereby somehow switching the offensiveness of a word—is about as bullcrappy as shiz can get.

 

Seriously—I understand that religious or social inhibitions may prevent one from employing classic swear words, particularly when invoking the name of the lord. But, according to the Journal of Politeness Research, “The main purpose of swearing is to express emotions, especially anger and frustration. Swear words are well suited to express emotion as their primary meanings are connotative.”

 

You might be thinking, “Just what the heck is that supposed to mean?” In layman’s terms, it’s basically saying that we swear because it tells other people how we feel. The expression of emotion doesn’t change a bit when you switch the letters to make the word not technically the “bad” one. Sure, you still say what you meant to say, but you come off sounding like a gosh dang idiot.

 

Just for shoots and giggles, I Googled “Why is swearing bad?” A website called “Cuss Control Academy” popped up that was so funny I laughed my asterisk off. Among other things, it suggested that swearing increased violence; it’s abrasive and lazy; it has lost its effectiveness; it discloses a lack of character; and it contributes to the decline of civility.

 

Predictably, this site had no research to back its claims. But it makes some of the most stereotypical, albeit completely unsound, arguments against using swear words. If swearing really indicates laziness and lack of character, which it abso-flipping-lutely does not, we could expect those who use pseudo-swear words to be as lackadaisical as those who use the legitimate curse words. In reality, some of the most educated and intellectual individuals you’ll ever meet will throw in a choice cuss when conversing.

 

That being said, I’m not suggesting you should swear all the freaking time. It’s true that some consider explicit swear words offensive, and I can certainly see that one should employ hesitation when using the “F-word” in front of a three year old. Certain words are appropriate at certain times and in certain situations. You wouldn’t want to say even a derivative of a swear word in a job interview.

 

I can also understand that some feel the connotation of a word is what makes it inappropriate. But if that’s the case, doesn’t it follow that changing a “shit” to a “shoot” doesn’t mean a dang thing? If avoiding the usage of strong, offensive expression is your intention, then it doesn’t matter what nouns or verbs you use. Your sentence should perhaps sound something more like, “I’m so frustrated that my roommate ate all my cheese. It was a rather expensive novelty for a broke college student such as I,” rather than, “I’m so flipping pissed that my roommate ate all my effing swell cheese! I don’t have any gosh dang money to buy more!”

 

Often, swear words can even be a good thing. Free speech laws protect profanity. Newspapers can’t pick up flack for publishing swear words; neither can blogs, Facebook pages, or public protest signs. An article published by Time even indicates that swearing can help increase resistance to pain (really, if you think about it, letting out a good loud cuss makes a toe stub more bearable).

 

The bottom line with swear words is essentially this: If you’re in college, you’re a flipping adult, so talk like one. You’re a big kid and you’re allowed to use big kid words.  If substituting the letters in a nasty word really makes that much of a difference to you, and you refuse to say the real words that indicate what you truly mean, may I suggest you shut the heck up and find another way to express yourself (and then return to high school).

 

And for the love of gosh, don’t take it upon yourself to chastise those of us who actually swear. Because, as Eric Cartman once said, “What’s the big deal? It doesn’t hurt anybody. Fuck, fuckity, fuck-fuck-fuck.”

Swear, and be uplifted.

Bizarre Utah Phenomenon: Teen Marriage

Welcome to the 2012 school year, and with it another semester of Lizzen Up. I’d like to send a very personal thank-you to my kind and thoughtful supporters; and to the rest of you the assurance that you only have to suffer skipping over my section till December when I graduate.

 

I hope you had a wonderful summer. Not that you care, but I certainly did. I got a very cute (and now very large) Newfoundland puppy, bought a new car as an almost-graduation gift to myself, and, perhaps most importantly, made the leap of moving in with my boyfriend.

 

Since we’ve moved in, the word “marriage” has cropped up from family and friends incessantly. Each time, I answer the inquiry with a very firm No. That’s always followed with a shocked, “Do you not like him enough?” and I can’t help but laugh.

 

I’m not very old, but I like to consider myself at least a little wise; and at the risk of coming off as an expository bag of hot air, I want to say a word or two concerning dating and marriage. Rest assured, I like my boyfriend plenty; but we’re not going to get married, and there are several reasons why.

 

College is probably the most singular opportunity in which to date. You are literally surrounded on all sides by members of whichever sex you find yourself attracted to; you are unrestricted by parental boundaries; there is an endless supply of fun things to do; and you are guaranteed to find someone who thinks like you do.

 

That being said, my number one piece of advice is this: Slow down. You have at least four years of this environment at your disposal, and campus will never run out of potential datees. Use this time as a precious opportunity to observe what you like and dislike, both about yourself and others around you.

 

Then, get out and do something. Or several things. We all know boys and girls who sit around and mope about the fact that they aren’t in a relationship. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, because nobody gives a four letter word about people like that. They’re obnoxious and pathetic. Find something you really love to do, and get good at it; then seek someone who’s done the same.

 

Next: If you think more about the wedding than you do about life after the wedding, don’t get married. A graduate dissertation published by Pacific University indicated that event-driven relationships were far less likely to succeed. Your wedding day is just that: a day. That’s it. You go home that night with sore feet, a stained dress, and some cake in the freezer for next year.

 

Girls in particular, finish your education. Women are much more likely to drop out of college once they get married. Considering the fact that 50% of marriages end in divorce, is not having a college degree a risk you want to take?

Once you find that someone, wait longer. If he or she is right for you after six months of dating, they’ll be right in another year and a half. The most successful marriages tend to follow an average of twenty-five months of courtship. Second-guessing your partner is not something you want to do, but we all know that couple who probably should not have gotten married.

 

Part of this is realizing that you might be in love, but you also might just be horny. Many people want to rush their wedding because controlling sexual urges is difficult. I won’t argue with that. But there’s bad news: for most people, wedding night sex is uncomfortable and awkward. It takes a long time to figure out the nuances of another person’s mind and body. Rushing into a long-term commitment because it’s too hard to refrain from the hanky-panky is certain to end in disappointment.

 

And remember that world is not over if you’re not married by the end of college. The average person in the nation is married at twenty-six, and often as late as thirty. Don’t stay in a bad relationship, or even a mediocre one, out of fear that someone better won’t come along. They will. It’s hard to be lonely, but it’s well worth the patience.

 

Finally, enjoy whatever time you choose to spend with someone. Chad and I aren’t getting married because, among other reasons, we both graduate in December. He’s going to med school somewhere, and I’m going to take a lowly job as an unpaid intern somewhere else. Living with your partner may not be the best option for you; but undercutting the value of a relationship simply because it doesn’t lead to marriage may prevent you from some of the most meaningful relationships you’ll ever have.

And remember kids, have lots of sex!

Is life worth it?

My genetic heritage is comprised of habitual worriers, and this gene did not bypass me. Prone to intense anxiety, I worry most about the health of my parents, the safety of my younger brothers learning to drive, my partner working in Alaska, my own financial security—and these are just the tip of my Mt. Sinai of concerns.

 

When you think about life, there really are innumerable things to worry about. If nothing else, we’re all eventually going to die, and so are the people we love. Car accidents happen. Cholesterol clogs arteries. Identity theft occurs regularly. I don’t believe in an afterlife, or an all-knowing god who compels all of us to live eternally under the conditions we justly brought upon ourselves while on earth; so, when there’s so many things that make life painful and difficult, one of the biggest questions arises. Is this experience really worth it?

 

Well, for people who commit suicide, apparently it is not. I would say for the thousands of children born with HIV in their bloodstream, whose mothers are too sick and tired to shoo the flies from their faces, who starve and die in a matter of months, the answer is also no. The same could be argued of inner-city Americans who are hooked on drugs from their preteen years, who escape death by gang violence only to spend a lifetime in jail or prostitution. If you view mankind as I do—a product of an incredible evolutionary chance—then senseless suffering is in no way alleviated by promises of a paradisiacal afterlife. It just doesn’t make sense.

 

Even those who are lucky enough to be born into an affluent, educated household, have no guarantee of happiness. Depression affects a surprising number of well-to-do individuals, and everyone knows stories of corporate giants blowing their brains after years of material success.

 

So what gives, even for secular humanists, who rightly hold human life in highest priority? And why, when we are aware of the miseries that will surely cleave our future and already accompany our past, are most of us able to live despite our difficulties, even if we never overcome them?

 

I think the answer lies in the quality of the relationships we build with those around us. When you don’t believe in an afterlife, the most rational choice is to focus on the here and now; and for all of us, that includes friends and family. Time magazine shared an interesting study that said even religion’s secret to happiness isn’t faith-based; it’s friend-based. Having a sense of family and community makes us much happier, healthier, and ups our longevity significantly.

 

Or you could believe in the afterlife, only to be met by this asshole.

If you want to answer the question, “Is life worth it?” with a yes, then the solution to your problems lies in your connection with others. Making your life happier, and therefore easier, consequently does the same for them. No matter what your worries, you’ll have a constant support system to buffer you against the inevitable difficulties that are headed your way, and you can congratulate yourself on accomplishing a goal that all sensible-minded secularists strive for: making a heaven right here, right now, rather than waiting for a nonexistent afterlife.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go worry about making the deadline for publication.

College is not for everyone

This year, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown announced his intention to sponsor a bill that would compel all high school students in Washington, D.C. to take either the SAT or the ACT, and apply to at least one college, before they could graduate. ‘The idea,” said Brown, “is to increase graduation rates and get more young folks who want to go college, college-ready.”

 

While preparing high school students to go to college is a good and even necessary idea, there are problems inherent in Brown’s legislation. The first, and most obvious, is that college is just not for everybody. A four-year university degree is intended to give a rounded experience, and graduates are expected to know about not just their selected field of study, but the arts, sciences, and cultures that exist in the world. And frankly, we all know people in college who couldn’t care less about any of that.

 

The Chronicle of Higher Education states that not even high school education is for everyone, and cites the shocking statistic that twenty five percent of American men do not graduate high school. In an article concerning college dropouts, Alex Tabarrok wrote for the Chronicle, “A big part of the problem is that the United States has paved a single road to knowledge, the road through the classroom. ‘Sit down, stay quiet, and absorb. Do this for 12 to 16 years,’ we tell the students, ‘and all will be well.’ Lots of students, however, crash before they reach the end of the road. Who can blame them? Sit-down learning is not for everyone, perhaps not even for most people.’

 

Typically, those who did not perform well in high school do not perform well in college. This is evidenced by the surprising statistics even at our own university, where gaining admission requires only a 2.5 GPA in high school and an ACT score of 18. Between 2000 and 2010, not even twenty five percent of USU students graduated within four years. The average six-year graduation rate is only just above fifty two percent.

 

Meanwhile, those who don’t graduate are less likely to have had the high school grades and test scores to receive scholarships. Therefore, they end up with the same amount or more of debt as their peers who graduate college, and no degree to show for it.

 

The story isn’t much better for many of those who do graduate, either. The marketplace is currently flooded with college graduates who end up taking jobs that are more suited to high school graduates, simply because the supply of college degrees is exceeding the current demand.

According to Businessweek, there are currently one hundred thousand college graduates who hold janitor jobs and sixteen thousand who are parking lot attendants.

 

Patricia McGuire warned in the Huffington post of another issue inherent in universal college degrees: College becomes a right rather than a privilege that is earned. “We already see too many students who believe that they deserve a degree simply for showing up — that’s how some got their high school diplomas,” she wrote.

 

While the privilege of attaining higher education should be extended to everyone, a four year university degree should not be given without an intense amount of scholarly effort on the part of the student. And the national statistic that sixty percent of college attendees drop out shows that most people are just not willing or able to compete at a college level.

 

For those to whom this applies, vocational training is a much better option; it sets up an individual for short-term skills for rapid workplace entry. They’ll bypass spending thousands of dollars on liberal education classes that they’ll end up not caring about anyway, and they’ll forego the years spent not working during college.

 

Harrison Ford never went to college, and is now the richest badass ever known to wookie-kind.

The bottom line is that some people just don’t need college to be successful. My younger brother is an entrepreneurial genius, but I’ll be amazed if he manages to graduate high school. He’ll always make good money because he’s smart and resourceful, but he’d be wasting his time and money if he tried to sit through four years of college. A college diploma has never been a one-way ticket towards financial success, and it never will be, but it is almost always a financial risk that needs to be considered much more carefully than it currently is.

 

All these things considered, it seems Chairman Brown would be better off spending less money making his college program readily available to those who want it, rather than spending much more compelling those who don’t.

Dealing with death for non-believers

When I was sixteen, a very good friend’s young mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer and died four months later. This was the first time I really had to confront the idea of death—until that point, dying had been something that happened to unlucky pets, great grandparents, and strangers on the news. At the time, my religion was a great source of comfort for me and gave me the answers I needed to justify a tragedy that was otherwise unjustifiable.

 

Just a few weeks ago, another good friend’s even younger mother was diagnosed with the same disease. This time, neither I nor my friend have a religion to buffer the ugly reality of death. This drove me to ask the question: How do you comfort a nonbeliever who’s grieving?

 

Although everyone deals with loss in their own way, there are some guidelines to remember and respect when you’re comforting someone you love who does not believe in an afterlife.

 

The most important is that, even though a religious worldview may bring you consolation, it can come off as arrogant and insulting. This may sound strange, but if you’re religious, imagine a nonbeliever trying to comfort you by saying, “I know you’ll never see them again.” You’d feel awful, right? The same idea works conversely by saying, “I know you’ll see them again,” to a nonbelieving person.

 

A woman named Torrie shared with me her reaction when her brother committed suicide and a congregation member trying to comfort her told her, “He is not in a happy place right now. He is still suffering.”

 

“I wanted to slap the woman,” Torrie told me, even though she knew the woman meant well. “But you know what? I didn’t, because I knew my brother was dead. He was gone. And he wasn’t sad; he wasn’t happy. He wasn’t in a better place; he wasn’t in a worse place. The matter that made my brother was no longer functioning in the form that I knew as Dave.”

 

I couldn’t have said it better myself; and when this is what you believe—that death in its finality is not to be assuaged by ideas of afterlife— there are clearly much better things to say than the woman in Torrie’s example.

 

A wonderful article on alternet.org called “When it’s not God’s plan: 8 Things to say to Grieving Nonbelievers,” has some great ideas, the most popular simply being, “I am so sorry.” No wordiness, no creativity, just plain and simple human empathy.

 

Another suggestion is to just say, “This sucks,” because it does suck; no matter how you deal with death, it’s hard to avoid the cold, hard fact that we suffer when someone we love dies. Rather than offering cliché platitudes that really don’t mean much, let them know you’re suffering right along with them.

 

Share stories of good times about the deceased; ask how you can help, with the sincere intent to do dishes for a week if that’s what it takes. Or better yet, don’t say anything and just listen. Companionship goes a long way when alleviating the stark loneliness of grief.

 

When it really comes down to it, none of us know what happens when we die. We believe, we hope, we resign ourselves to reality; and in the end, we all deal with it in the way we know best.

 

Atheists, agnostics, and others who may not believe in the afterlife still get angry about death; but when I asked atheist and agnostic students at Utah State concerning the matter, the overwhelming sentiment was not of sadness but of hope and happiness. Rather than waiting for an afterlife to provide the comforts of paradise, they all focused on creating a piece of heaven on earth and leaving the world a better place.

 

Ann Druyan, the wife of the late astronomer and agnostic Carl Sagan, said it best after her husband died. “Carl faced his death with unflagging courage and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again… But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief and precious life is. We never trivialized the meaning of death by pretending it was anything other than a final parting…the way he treated me and the way I treated him, the way we took care of each other and our family, while he lived. That is so much more important than the idea I will see him someday. I don’t think I’ll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.”

 

 

This is an excellent page for support:

http://www.facebook.com/faithfreegriefsupport

Orthodox Jewish Circumcision’s Tryst with Herpetic Priests

Last year in September, a two week old baby boy unnecessarily died. The cause of death: Disseminated Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1, complicating ritual circumcision with oral suction. The Orthodox Jewish circumcision process, called “metzitzah b’peh,” is otherwise known as “oral suction,” or the suctioning of blood from the circumcision wound directly by mouth.

Unfortunately, last year isn’t the first time that this particular rabbi, Yitzchok Fischer, has killed a child this way. The same thing happened in 2004, and that same year three other babies were determined to have contracted herpes from Fischer. While Human Simplex Virus 1 is usually harmless in adults and manifests itself only as uncomfortable cold sores, because of the virus’ association with the nervous system, it poses significant threat of complications in newborns and can result in brain damage and even death.

The practice of circumcision is condoned in the Bible and believed by several religious denominations to be one of the most important rituals performed during an individual’s lifetime. But outside of a religious context, oral-penile contact from an older man to a young boy is considered pedophilia and punishable by law.

Because the contact in question occurred within a religious context, Fischer has not been held accountable for the death of the baby boys. Jerry Schmetterer, the spokesman for Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes, told The Jewish Week Monday, “Our Crimes Against Children Bureau is looking into this situation. I would not assume what any possible charges would be.”

I can think of a few possible charges, Mr. Hynes. How about two counts of criminal homicide? Several counts of child molestation? Tortious transmission of an STD by intentional neglect? The behavior of this priest is abominable to any right-minded person, but according to The Jewish Week, the city only filed a legal complaint against Fischer to compel him to stop engaging in the practice after the death of the first baby. Clearly he did not comply; but, instead of being legally prosecuted, the matter was ultimately referred by the city to a beit din, or religious tribunal, for review.

In his book God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens writes of circumcision in connection to religion, “Full excision… is now exposed for what it is — a mutilation of a powerless infant… And who can bear to read the medical textbooks and histories which calmly record the number of boy babies who died from infection after their eighth day…  The record of syphilitic and other infection, from rotting rabbinical teeth or other rabbinical indiscretions…is simply dreadful.”

The alteration of an individual’s body without informed consent is dreadful. And it is interesting to note that in third world countries the circumcision or genital mutilation of young females is viewed as an abhorrent attack on  human rights and informed consent; but in America, before 2006, still over half of young males were being circumcised.

Oh, hell no!

Fortunately, the practice of circumcision has plummeted in popularity in the last few years. A study by the Control for Disease Center in 2010 found that from 2006 to 2009, the rate of circumcision dropped from 56 percent to 32.4 percent. There are groups, called “intactivists,” who promote legislation that prohibits the practice of circumcision altogether.

Some modern proponents of male circumcision claim that the removal of the foreskin reduces infants’ chances of incurring urinary tract infections and aids in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases later in life. However, according to Kidshealth.org, less than one percent of non-circumcised males will contract a UTI, making this concern negligible.

I don’t know any sentient men who would willingly submit to significant changes in that area of their body; wouldn’t it be better, then, to let mature men make the decision to mutilate their genitalia once they actually understand what is going on? If the health benefits are significant enough that circumcision still seems beneficial later in life, men will seek the surgery on their own.

As it now stands, infant circumcision is just as unethical whether it is male or female, religious or secular. Yitzchok Fischer should be held legally accountable for the deaths of two infants, rather than being deferred to a religious council who will, in effect, do nothing to prevent this tragedy from happening again.

Lastly, religious and non-religious parents alike who are about to make the decision regarding whether their children ought to be circumcised need to seriously reflect on whether the mutilation of an infant’s genitalia is ethically justifiable. I think to any honest individual, the answer is a resounding no. Too bad the New York’s DA doesn’t agree.

P.S. It happened again, although the babies’ health is still undetermined: