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Growing up in Christian subculture, I have seen some odd combinations of what I once heard called “the protestant stallion and the Enlightenment jackass.” One of these philosophical mules is the popular theory that the soul and the mind or personality are the same. Rather than recognizing that the brain governs what a person does and that the brain is subject to what happens in the physical world, many Christians believe that the mind is entirely separate from the body and cannot be affected physically. This pervasive dualism (that is, the belief that the mind is separate from the body in substance) seeks mystical answers to natural questions, particularly in the realm of human behavior and how to respond to it. This denial of the natural, physical origins of the mind are dangerous to those Christians that would adhere to it, those with mental disorders that they try to help, and the reputation of the entire Christian religion.
Allow me to cross the streams of neuroscience, philosophy of mind, and theology so that I might pull a Bill Murray and try to bust the ghost in the machine.
I once had a conversation with a friend that held such a dualistic view. They expressed their belief that someone’s personality comes from their soul, that supernatural part of a person that is supposed to exist after physical death. It is not a product of the physical brain or even the mind, they asserted; it is a feature entirely detached from the natural world, and consequently all of psychology is pseudoscience. If that were true, that would imply that no physical injury could affect the personality. But as anyone who has finished an introductory level psychology class can tell you, it has long been known that personality is a product of the frontal lobe of the brain.
As has been demonstrated by the now infamous account of the life of Phineas Gage, a railroad worker who survived his head being impaled by an iron bar, damage to the front of the brain can cause drastic changes in someone’s personality. Rather than just impairing motor or sensory functions, Gage’s injury caused him to act differently than he did prior - to such an extent that his friends said that he was “no longer Gage.” What this simple example shows us is that the personality is bound to the physical body and not to some untouchable soul, and maybe the personality can be studied like the rest of the body.
A former classmate of mine who was particularly vocal about their faith once tried to convince me that community service and praying more often could cure depression. Rather than acknowledging that depression is a chemical disorder in the brain, they asserted that it is merely a lack of faith or weakness of character. This kind of idea is belittling to those who actually have depression; it marginalizes a real physiological issue that they have, and they are accused of not doing enough to fix an already debilitating problem. The prescription to do more good deeds to cure depression is almost insulting and shows a lack of concern for the depressed person. Rituals and rites are about as likely to cure depression as they are to bring an amputee’s missing limb back. The Almighty would not be incapable of healing such wounds, but why would he reward someone who prays more often with healing when he has already provided the ability for such mental disorders to be understood and the means by which they can be treated? That is like cutting yourself on sheet metal and then begging your mother for a kiss to make it better after she already offered to take you to get stitches.
During a conversation with an elder of the church I belong to, a man who also happens to be a certified counselor, he mentioned that he has also seen how dualism has invaded Christianity. He recounted a story about how a church had dealt with a man who was espousing seemingly blasphemous beliefs. Initially, that church treated that man as one who had a “rebellious spirit,” praying for him and continually evangelizing to him with the hopes that they might win him over, but to no avail. Eventually, a psychologist caught wind of this man’s situation and suggested that maybe there was something neurologically wrong with him as his “blasphemies” were more peculiar than just doctrinal disagreements. Sure enough, an fMRI revealed that there was a physiological problem with his brain. After undergoing treatment, the man was able to reason properly and no longer claimed such odd beliefs. His was not a conscious disagreement with his church nor was he overcome with any kind of possession; he was merely a man with a physiological problem that could be treated.
I do not categorically accuse all Christians of adhering to the ghost in the machine, nor do I think that it is an essential tenet of the Christian religion.
In fact, three of the four gospels seem to assert that the mind is separate from the soul. Christians need to understand how the mind works before they can talk of renewing it.
One of the biggest fallacies of the American political system is the idea of rule by majority. Both the ideas that the majority does in fact rule and that it is right for the majority to rule are untrue.
Democracy is one of the most dangerous and irrational methods by which to govern. One of the biggest misconceptions of modern political thought is that the United States was a nation founded on the ideal of democracy.
Fortunately it wasn’t, but unfortunately popular opinion is pushing it in that direction.
Majority rule does not occur in the United States simply because of how the first-past-the-post election system works.
Consider a scenario in which there are five candidates running for a position. Say the GOP nomination to run for president.
Assume that four of the candidates each win 15 percent of the votes cast for them, while the fifth one wins 40 percent. He may have won more than the other individual candidates, but that means that 60 percent of the people voting did not want him to win.
The minority trumped the majority, and now the nominee for the Republicans is someone like John McCain, and nobody really wants to be represented by John McCain.
Democracy is based on the principle that if most of the people want it, it has to be right. This idea is an example of the logical fallacy of appealing to popularity.
Just because lots of people support something does not prove that it is what is right.
An example of how democratic rule does not lead to moral decisions is the United States prior to the Civil Rights movement.
Segregation was enforced through local and state laws because the majority desired this.
The minority was taken advantage of despite that what the majority was doing was blatantly wrong.
To use an analogy to illustrate this further, democracy is like two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.
Those who founded this country and drafted our Constitution knew of the dangers of democracy. This is why they formed two houses of Congress.
Originally, Senators were elected by state legislatures and were to serve as the voice of experience in the national government.
Representatives in the House were selected by popular vote in each state, and they were meant to serve as the voice of the common man at the federal level.
Both houses had seemingly equal power, so both those who were experienced and those who represented the opinions of the people had equal clout, hopefully avoiding the dangers of both oligarchy and democracy.
Unfortunately, the 17th Amendment changed the way in which the Senate is elected.
This amendment made it so that senators were chosen through direct election, just like House Representatives.
This effectively defeated the purpose of having two different houses.
Two houses existed and were selected in different ways in order to slow down the law-making process, as those who drafted our Constitution were aware that laws only limit personal freedom and allow for governing officials to take advantage of the powerless, the minority.
In order to truly defend minorities and preserve individual liberty, it would be wise of our leaders to call for a repeal of the 17th Amendment, lest we suffer the tragedy that is democracy.
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As a Christian, I find the celebration of Christmas abhorrent. When considering the holiday’s pagan roots and practices it can hardly be considered Christian.
The modern celebration of the holiday encourages greed and a sense of entitlement to material goods, both of which are antithetical to Christian teaching.
The obligation to try and experience joy at this time of year causes it to be the most stressful season and consequently has more suicide incidents than any other part of the year. For some people, Christmas is the only day they attend church, debasing the practice of church attendance to ritual status, which strips it of its value and purpose.
Consider the trappings that are associated with Christmas: putting an evergreen tree in one’s house, the holiday’s association with the Santa Claus icon, even the date on which Christmas is set. There is no obvious connection between these and the birth of Christ.
Still, those who assert that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the Messiah seem attached to these traditions. Ironically, they are non-Christian in origin.
Pagans used to, and in some cases still, take trees into their homes and decorate them during the time of the winter solstice, which falls approximately between the 21st and 23rd of December. Similarly, ancient Romans used to bring clippings of evergreens into their homes for the celebration of Saturnalia, the holiday that honored the god Saturn, which ran from December 17th to the 23rd.
Recognizing these origins, many early American Puritans actually banned the practice of bringing a tree into one’s home as part of the celebration of Christ’s birth.
Though St. Nicholas’ origins are not heathen in nature, the bastardization of his name and image for commercial purposes, particularly by Coca-Cola, detract from his message of charitable giving.
The iconography of Christmas, though purported as a holiday that celebrates the birth of Christ, seems to focus on St. Nicholas.
The very date that Christmas is set upon is a reaction to heathen traditions. The Roman Catholic Church decided to add two more days to the celebration of Saturnalia under the guise of celebrating Christ’s birth.
In reality, they were just trying to attract those who celebrated the Saturnalia into the church.
It should be noted that the weeklong Saturnalia was comprised of lewd acts and debauchery; something the church should have distanced itself from rather than embracing.
Apart from the moral issues associated with the origins of Christmas, the obligation to give gifts puts unnecessary stress on people who may be financially strained. This is made worse if they have kids who feel entitled to gifts during the holiday season.
Entitlement is not easily shaken, and it breeds a prolonged attitude of being malcontent. It is my belief that gifts should not be expected, but given either out of affection or because the recipient has earned them.
Christmas teaches children that regardless of their conduct, they will receive presents. Maybe it would do them some good if they actually received lumps of coal.
For many, December 25th is the only day of the year, with the possible exception of Easter that they attend church. Personally, I don’t even like the phrase “attend church.” Church isn’t a spectacle to be observed so much as it is a group with which to be actively involved.
Only going to church one day a year is the complete opposite of active involvement. If the purpose of a church is for instruction and moral accountability, how can that possibly be achieved without regular attendance?
I think it would be wise of churches to forego Christmas services so as to discourage the ritualization of church involvement.
Comments, questions and criticisms of this column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A recent contender for the Republican Party’s nomination as a presidential candidate made a remark about how he believes that people choose their sexual orientation.
Why someone’s view on where sexual orientation comes from is relevant to running for president, I don’t know.
Regardless, his ignorance was made apparent and I hope that the American people have enough sense to not vote for him.
The opinion expressed by this candidate seems to echo the view of most, if not all, social conservatives.
It would seem, then, that social conservatives need a lesson in metaphysics, specifically in the area of determinism.
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that asks the question “what is real?” and the topic of determinism deals with whether or not there are certain conditions that determine the way in which events transpire.
Simply put, determinism asserts that we are slaves to our circumstances.
Related to determinism is the issue of free will, or rather whether or not we are completely bound to our conditions with regards to our ability to make choices.
There are different schools of thought regarding determinism and free will.
Some believe that our circumstances have been predetermined, but that that does not necessarily rob us of our free will.
This view is called compatibilism because it asserts that free will is compatible with determinism.
Contrarily, incompatibilism holds that free will and determinism cannot coexist.
This can mean that either determinism is true and free will doesn’t exist, determinism is false and free will does exist, or the more farfetched idea that determinism is false and that free will still doesn’t exist.
Concerning sexual orientation, a compatibilist would believe that one doesn’t choose his orientation but he does choose whether or not to act on it.
One doesn’t have control over his conditions, which in this case would be the sex to which is he is attracted.
He does, however, have the choice whether or not to pursue a partner.
Analogously, one doesn’t choose what his favorite flavor of ice cream is, but he is certain of what he likes.
One does have the choice whether he will go to the ice cream parlor to get some of his favorite flavor or if he will just stay in his house and mope because he has no ice cream.
An incompatibilist, like the aforementioned political candidate, would believe that one is not inherently attracted to one sex but that he chooses which he wants to pursue.
Taking this theory to its logical conclusion means that this candidate wakes up every morning and decides to be heterosexual.
An incompatibilist would believe that one chooses which flavor of ice cream he likes best rather than letting his taste buds tell him which tastes best.
If incompatibilism were true, one could arguably choose that sewage-flavored ice cream tastes good.
A man who holds a view as asinine as believing people can choose their sexual orientation should be considered intellectually unfit for political office.
What is worse is that the only reason he would hold such a belief is that he is homophobic, and the only reason this belief would come up in conversations preceding his potential nomination is if he intends to legislate morality from Washington.
This type of gross disregard for the 10th Amendment to the Constitution as well as the American ideal of freedom of conscience paints this candidate as anti-American and borderline fascist.
It is my hope that he will drop out of the race and just stick to running mediocre pizza restaurants.
Comments and questions about this column can be sent to email@example.com.
We are currently living in a state of hyperreality, or we are very close to it.
Things that are representative of reality are just as, if not more, important than that which they represent.
It will eventually come to pass that our symbol of what we once thought reality looked like will become more appealing than what remains of the real world: a proverbial desert that resulted from our social negligence.
The cause of this is what has been deemed Web 2.0, particularly social media.
Philosopher Jean Baudrillard wrote in his work The Precession of the Simulacra, a parable about cartographers that made for their empire a map that was so detailed and precise that it was the actual size of the land that it represented and touched each location that it symbolized.
Eventually, the people of this empire became so enamored with the exquisite map that they paid more attention to it than the land that it charted.
The real empire fell into disrepair and eventually ceased to exist, giving rise to what Baudrillard termed the Desert of the Real.
Baudrillard wrote during the twentieth century about what we now call the postmodern era.
He assumed that mass media and globalization would lead to the conditions that he predicted, a phenomenon he called Second-Order Simulacra.
Second-Order Simulacra occurs when symbols exist without referring to anything, when the copy becomes the authentic item.
It was not until the advent of the Internet that Baudrillard’s theories could be fully realized.
As the Internet evolved and eventually allowed for user-created content, referred to as Web 2.0, it seemed to become a sort of reality of its own.
When Facebook first came along, it served as a convenient medium to share photographs that we might have taken at a party or picnic.
Over time, social networking became the reason we take photographs at social events or in some cases of our reflections in bathroom mirrors or lying in our backyards or positioned like a plank across the sidewalk.
Twitter was a fast way to share things that are currently happening, which proved useful during events like the Iranian election crisis.
But for asocial Americans the prospect of getting in on a trending topic is just as good as being involved in an inside joke or political discussion.
Social networking ceased to be a method of communication and became the impetus for it.
It caused a sort of devolution of interpersonal relations where interactions take place via simulated experiences.
This brings to mind the superstition that a photograph steals part of the soul.
It would seem as if a large collection of photographs shared with everyone online replaces the soul.
Social networking creates relational stagnancy and laziness.
The only solution that seems to exist is to exercise the first two rules of Fight Club with regards to social media: don’t talk about social media.
The moment that we talk about Facebook conversations in real conversation, we forget the purpose of social networking was to talk about events in real life and not the other way around.
That, and it just seems awkward to talk about Internet conversations offline.
The importance of Internet experiences needs to be kept beneath that of real experiences.
If the former becomes more enjoyable then the latter, then we are living in Baudrillard’s Desert of the Real.
Questions, comments or criticisms on this column may be sent to Rosstripi@gmail.com
It's awfully easy to treat the issue of immigration reform as secondary, something that can be dealt with after more "pressing" issues are resolved. Such notions are quickly abandoned when the issue is made personal and the urgency made apparent.
The issue of immigration reform is moot because citizenship is an archaic practice.
It is the last vestige of medieval governance where the individual is property of the state.
It promotes unnecessary rivalries and discrimination between people groups and forces employers to make irrational decisions with regards to hiring practices.
Citizenship is the way by which the state keeps tabs on who exists, how much they have and how much can be taken.
The state identifies the number of citizens and their income by means of a census.
It then uses this data to conduct an income tax under the auspices of paying for programs that, albeit poorly, improve the lives of the under-privileged.
In actuality, these social programs create a sort of black hole for money by hiring people to do work that ultimately produces nothing.
Similarly, when citizens reach the age of eighteen years they are required to sign up for selective service, a practice that exists solely to allow for a draft should the government ever decide to reinstate it.
And what is the draft but a way of the government telling the citizen, “You are not your own person, and you do not own your life.
Your life is ours and there is nothing you can say about it.”
Even if someone is morally opposed to conflict, they are forced to act against their conscience and fight according to the whims of those in power.
Citizenship is, then, a sacrifice of one’s ethics in favor of the state’s desires.
Governments that practice citizenship ultimately deny the belief that rights are given to people as individuals and exist apart from the state.
Q.E.D., when a government will allow a citizen the right to a fair trial by his peers, but denies to give a prisoner of war the same option, they are disregarding their allegedly-held principles that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights.
It can be said that citizenship creates a sort of arbitrary favoritism for one group over another, basically denying the humanity of the latter.
It is possible to reform our current system that implements citizenship.
The first step is to eliminate the income tax and replace it with a national sales tax.
Then, at the same time, eliminate the minimum wage system.
The reason why it is currently preferable for employers to hire non-citizens is because they do not have to report what they make to the government for the sake of withholding taxes.
This, then, makes their employees invisible to the state and can then be paid below minimum wage.
If the income tax is eliminated, everyone, resident and alien alike, will all have to pay taxes with no way to dodge them.
With the minimum wage gone, all potential employees are placed on an equal playing field and their job qualifications will determine if they are hired, not how easily their boss can evade the law by hiring them.
The second step to burying the policy of citizenship is to end selective service.
People should not be subject to the whims of the government, especially if those whims require them to sacrifice their life.
The government should return to a policy of volunteering for military service. Only those whose consciences allow it should have to fight.
The replacement for citizenship should be a system of residency-based programs.
If someone wants a driver’s license, it should be designated to them based on where they live.
When voting, each resident should be issued a voter ID relative to where they live.
A nation is made up of the people who choose to live there.
There should be no unnecessary hoops to jump through simply to gain the right to work and vote in a country where one already resides.
Many people desire to live in the United States because of the freedoms and opportunities we purportedly have.
They should not be turned away because they don’t want to be made property of the state.
In a truly free society, there is no citizenship. Everyone is his own man.
Comments and questions about this column can be emailed to Rosstripi@gmail.com.
What is it that makes a good politician? Rather, what character traits make it possible for someone to be elected?
It would be nice to think that integrity is what impresses voters.
However, one does not need to look too far in the past to see how easily and quickly elected officials forget about the promises they make, such as promising not to engage in nation-building, or that they plan on immediately leaving any unnecessary wars the military is currently involved in and not to start any new ones.
Integrity is not requisite for being a successful politician.
More generally, what does it take to be accepted by other people?
People come from such varying ideological, cultural, and social backgrounds that it is impossible to ever truly share commonalities with every person at all times.
One can either choose to recognize his personal desires, ideals and interests and befriend those who share in them, or he can be a social chameleon and merely adapt to those around him, eventually proving himself to be an annoyance.
The trait that allows politicians to be successful is the same that causes these chameleons to appear devoid of personality: the willingness to compromise.
Compromise is a sign of weakness.
It is a way of someone admitting “given the right circumstances, I will renege on what I once claimed to hold dear”.
Compromise is the act of prostituting one’s moral self. It is when a politician alters his stance on the abortion issue in order to accrue more support.
If he is so readily able to change his opinions, how can we know what his beliefs truly are? Or does he have no standards and merely wants power by any means necessary?
In a more trite context, compromise is when someone lies about their tastes in order to be liked or when they disregard their prior choice to abstain from substance use in order to be accepted.
There can be no compromise between two things that are diametrically opposed.
If someone threatens you with death, you cannot compromise a halfway deal between being allowed to live and being made to die.
More practically, it is impossible to compromise between the two opinions that people should have personal responsibility and that the government should cater to their every purported need or desire.
There can be no compromise between sobriety and inebriety. You are either not drunk or you are drunk.
Compromise is only acceptable in situations where both parties have a sort of mutual understanding already and aren’t sacrificing any of their values in agreeing.
For the sake of semantics, let us call this “resolution” and differentiate between this and compromise.
An example of resolution is when a buyer and a seller mutually agree on a certain price for a good for the benefit of both parties.
Contrarily, a compromise would be handing over one’s wallet to a mugger so as not to be physically harmed.
This is the key difference between resolution and compromise: in resolution, both parties benefit while in compromise only one party at the most appears to win but truly neither benefit.
There is something to be said about being malleable, to an extent.
wwwwwRecognizing when one is wrong or has wronged someone and expressing the willingness to fix it is an admirable and desirable trait.
This is not compromise, however. This is self-awareness. This is being rational.
What is the opposite of compromise? Integrity. Consider this allegory: when speaking of a castle, it would probably be surrounded by a stone wall. The stone wall has integrity so long as it has not been damaged.
During a war, enemies of those in the castle would try to breech the wall. If they succeed, the wall has been compromised.
Integrity is choosing not to act on fervor and invade a country that had nothing to do with a terrorist attack carried out by a rogue group.
Integrity is sticking to one’s personal code of ethics despite his circumstances.
Integrity is defending one’s right to his property by resisting a mugging, even if that means matching deadly force with deadly force.
Those who keep their integrity, despite whatever happens to them, prove that they are unconquerable. Those who compromise are forever slaves to the whims of others.
Comments, responses, and concerns can be emailed to Rosstripi@gmail.com
The Internet has destroyed our ability to value art, knowledge, and other people.
With the advent of online stores like iTunes, art in the form of music has become a product as opposed to a method of expression.
When once musicians were sponsored by proprietors, because they would otherwise be starving in the streets, and made money off performances, it is now record companies that are taking money for digitally recorded media.
Consider how that system works for a moment: iTunes thrives on users paying money—a rival, tangible commodity—for AAC files—an infinitely replicable, inherently worthless combination of 1s and 0s.
That kind of transaction is in no way equal. It takes no effort on the part of Apple or the record company to allow you to download an AAC file, which can be replicated completely free, while you pay a dollar for something that costs literally nothing. So not only has online music downloading bastardized the art form but also the way that money changes hands.
I once read a novel that depicted a dystopian future where the government had devolved into a corporatocracy, schools were merely outlets for advertisement, and most everyone had computers implanted into their brains that allowed them to access the internet all the time.
With access to all information that humanity has compiled, the protagonist and company saw no reason to commit anything they learned to memory. This affected their critical thinking, and by “affected their critical thinking” I mean “deprived them of the ability to think critically”.
They had not memorized any concepts or reasoned why they were or were not true. Similarly, they used a type of slang that sacrificed complexity of meaning for brevity of expression. Without a wide vocabulary, there was no depth to the messages they tried to convey. Their trite language evolved from the instantaneousness that they were trained to expect from the internet, and therefore expected and emulated in all forms of communication. I have this nagging feeling that we have already reached that point thanks in no small part to social media.
One doesn’t need to look far to see how unsympathetic people on the internet are. Look up any YouTube video. Read the comments. It’s always people arbitrarily tearing each other down because one didn’t agree with the other’s opinion.
Peruse your friends’ Facebook statuses. How many of them are tongue-in-cheek acts of defamation towards others or poorly masked emotions hidden behind song lyrics?
Ever notice how an online chat can have a very vulnerable flavor to it, but when talking to the same friend in person you are unable to be as open, or you maybe even act as if the previous conversation never happened?
Social networking turns people in to data. Novelties. Entertainment. It breeds a certain lack of empathy towards others, and maybe even serves as a sort of safety blanket for communicating thoughts that you otherwise wouldn’t. Why does this happen?
Because nobody is afraid of opening up to or insulting a computer, we become trained to forget that we are talking to people.