When Did Men Stop Being Men?

It was written a year ago, so I’m late to the party. Also, to be fair, it’s kind of an easy target. However, I just saw a post tagged with ‘Masculinity’ that positively linked to this post by David Goetsch entitled ‘Neutering the Male of the Species: The Feminization of American Society,’ and it prompted me to respond. In his post, Goetsch asks: “[W]hy do so many men in America feel compelled to apologize for…for what…for being men?” This may come as no surprise considering the title of his post, but Goetsch says, “The answer to this question is simple: Feminists are neutering the American male and the American male is letting it happen.” During my undergraduate years, I minored in Gender and Women’s Studies. Apparently, I was at risk daily, as it meant I was surrounded by feminists. But let me tell you, not once did a feminist attempt to neuter me.

Goetsch’s article is an unpleasant little piece of fantasy and conspiracy that still finds a way to squeeze in some anti-Muslim bile as well. It never ceases to amaze me how some people can cram so much hatred into so few words. Goetsch’s argument can be summed up in this passage: “Bowing to the strident sniping of radical feminists, men have allowed themselves to be transformed into a bunch of wimpy eunuchs who, rather than stand their ground, have ceded their manhood to women who want to be men.” What is lost when men are “transformed into a bunch of wimpy eunuchs”? Goetsch doesn’t expressly give a response, but you get the idea when he says, “In fact, there are lots of things women do better than men, but things that require physical strength and native aggression are not among them.” In fact, most of the post is about how men’s aggressive and violent nature is key to protecting and preserving the good.

This is what prompts me to ask, when did men stop being men? Following Goetsch’s logic, the sniping of radical feminists has caused us to make a radical shift in our society toward one that undermines the masculine. This indoctrination is claimed to happen as early as kindergarten and continues throughout the 12 years of the American education system. Well, Feminism has been around for awhile, and Goetsch certainly talks as though this social restructuring isn’t new. So, when did men stop being men? Well, Goetsch helps us answer this question in his first paragraph. In his opening, Goetsch praises men being men. He praises the men who fought the American Revolution. He praises the men who fought against the Axis in World War II. He praises the men who rebuilt the NYC skyline after the terrorist attacks on 9-11. Well, the One World Trade Center building was completed in July 2013. Remember, our question is: when did men stop being men. According to Goetsch’s first paragraph, the answer is “sometime in the last two years.” Of course, men did win the most recent Super Bowl, so it all probably fell apart in February or March of this year.

See, this is what makes Goetsch’s argument so mind-bogglingly dumb. He laments the feminization of men, yet he praises contemporary men for their manliness. You can’t have it both ways, dude. When did men stop being men? They didn’t. More importantly, he is completely blind to the ways his words demonstrate the need for Feminism. The American Revolution was inspired by the resistance to tyranny set up by men. The evils of Nazi Germany were wrought by men. The attackers on 9-11 were men. Perhaps a little feminizing of that “native aggression” would prevent some of these tragedies brought about by men. Furthermore, Goetsch completely acknowledges that women have been successful and important participants in society. As he puts it, “I take nothing away from women who also played significant roles in all of these examples.” In a sense, this is the point of Feminism. 1. Setting masculinity as socially primary diminishes the value and place of women to the detriment of everyone. 2. Allowing women place and participation does not bring about our downfall. 3. Therefore, we should end our masculine-centered social structure in favor of one that is egalitarian. For all his delusional ranting and raving, Goetsch makes a pretty good case for feminism.

A common theme among people like Goetsch is the claim that Feminism destroys men. As someone who is prone to pedantic diatribes, you’d think I’d have noticed this in my years of connection to Feminism. Heck, I was even embedded in the place Feminism is most supposed to flourish – a socially-liberal, liberal arts college. I’ve never felt personally destroyed as a man, nor have I ever felt my manhood under threat. Frankly, I don’t understand the claim at all. But if I had to guess at it, I think this comes down to the fact that I don’t consider my being a man as much of a status of personal identification. I tend to think more broadly. I will write about this in a different post, but what it boils down to is the fact that my concerns aren’t with ‘being a man.’ I’m not really sure how to not be a man. What is a man? Someone who self-identifies as a man. What is manly? That which is done by someone who self-identifies as a man. My concerns are with being a good person, and these are more broad and variable in expression. At bottom, I see no intrinsic status in being a man, so I have no problem with ridding ourselves of the social privilege I am afforded by virtue of being a man. I am still free to be myself, even in ways that are traditionally masculine. My masculinity is just no longer privileged nor a guarantor of anything beyond what would be afforded to anyone. I’m not sure if that all makes sense, so I’ll have to flesh it out in a future post.

Just remember, men stopped being men on Sunday, February 1, 2015 when Malcolm Butler intercepted that pass. Us men have been neutered ever sense. Nice call, Pete Carroll.

***Other Thoughts***

I will credit Goetsch for this: “strident sniping” is a fantastic oxymoronic phrase.

Yes, I like Women’s Soccer because it is so Feminine

In case you missed it, Marco Aurelio Cunha, the co-coordinator for women’s soccer in Brazil, credited increased feminization for the growth of the women’s game. Here is a portion from his interview with the Globe and Mail:

“Now the women are getting more beautiful, putting on make-up. They go in the field in an elegant manner,” he said in a telephone interview from Montreal, where he is accompanying the Brazilian side. “Women’s football used to copy men’s football. Even the jersey model, it was more masculine. We used to dress the girls as boys. So the team lacked a spirit of elegance, femininity. Now the shorts are a bit shorter, the hair styles are more done up. It’s not a woman dressed as a man.”

I have a confession to make. Cunha is totally correct. Though I’ve long been a fan of women’s soccer, my interest has grown as the game has gotten more feminine. I guess it just appeals to my heterosexual manness. Since I know you’re doubting me, please allow me to submit a few pieces of evidence in defense of Mr. Cunha from his very own country’s lady players:

1. They embody submissiveness. So passive.

2. They exemplify female intuition.

3. The women are graceful and elegant.

4. Beautiful. They’re just so beautiful.

Of course, ever the pedant, I have to disagree with Cunha on one point. When women’s soccer is this feminine, it needs no make-up:

Go support your local women’s soccer team and bask in the gentle elegance of their femininity.

Ex Machina…ex taedium?

It got a 92% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s right up my alley – gorgeous, heady, well-acted, interesting topic, sparse. Yet, I just didn’t like this film. It was meh – at times laughably meh, even.

My five word review: Pretty, but I read Frankenstein.

As always, there may be spoilers.

Here’s the thing, the more I think about the movie, the more I want to like it. It’s just…I don’t. It was boring. At bottom, I think this is a snoozer of a plot buttressed by gorgeous film making. Let me be clear, I like slow, cerebral films. I just didn’t like this one.

Where the movie is supposed to shine is in its commentary on humanity. Quoting a review from Amber Wilkinson: “The pleasure of Garland’s film lies more in the deeper questions of what makes us ‘human’… than in the plot, which suffers from predictability.” Yes, the film is very predictable. However, the ‘deeper questions’ are also predictable, and this is because we all had to read this film in high school: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.

Don’t get me wrong, Ex Machina is not a retelling of Frankenstein. The set up of Ex Machina is quite different to that of Shelley’s novel. The moral of the story, however, is kinda the same. I didn’t know much about this movie before I saw it. I had no expectations going in, and I saw it on a whim. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d known more about the film. I think that would have helped. The minimalism of the film puts the content front and center, but the content fell flat for me.

Above, I mentioned that this film is buttressed by gorgeous film making. I can’t say this enough. The cinematography was stunning. There is this nice blending of the organic with the inorganic throughout the film. The acting was superb. Hat’s off to Oscar Isaac. I hated his character. I mean it. I genuinely disliked him. However, he never felt pantomime. He never felt clichéd. He was real, genuine assholery.

On another day, under different circumstances, I think I could have enjoyed this film. I even suggest you go see it. It doesn’t need to be seen in a theater, but the visuals are worthy of the big screen. Unfortunately, if I’m being honest, I’m just not convinced you’re missing anything if you miss this film.



We Don’t Need Another Hero’s Pointless Girlfriend – A Mad Max Review

I saw Mad Max: Fury Road this weekend. My five word review: This movie is fucking awesome!

There may be spoilers below. There may not be. I haven’t fully planned this post. However, there’s not much to spoil. ***Spoiler Alert*** Mad Max movie has car-based action sequences. See what I mean?

Here’s how I would describe this movie: Start with the long take that opens Touch of Evil and combine it with the chase scene in Bullitt. Next, sprinkle in countless explosions, guns, pole vaults, chained-together nipple rings, a baddie named Immortan Joe, and post-apocalyptic cars. There you have it – Mad Max: Fury Road. The movie leaves you exhausted and in need of a tetanus shot – which is the desired outcome of seeing an over-the-top action film.

There was some minor “controversy” among the Men’s Rights Movement because this film has a woman as a main character. I know. I nearly man-fainted when I heard the news, too. In all fairness to the guy who posted the initial anti-Furiosa rant, he hadn’t actually seen the movie when he was ranting, so his points were just made up out of misogynistic hatred. He can’t really be faulted for being inaccurate about the film.

Here’s the thing, this movie isn’t radically feminist. It isn’t regressive, per se, but there’s no feminist manifesto here. This film is upsetting MRAs because it actually has a reason to have a woman in the cast.

Hell, the roles played by women are mostly traditional. They are “breeders,” custodians of “the green place”, and the givers of compassion. In other words, they’re all mothers of one sort or another. However, when push comes to shove, one woman can beat a motherfucker (with the help of a bunch of other women and a mechanical arm). Consider this line from the MRA rant: “This is the Trojan Horse feminists and Hollywood leftists will use to (vainly) insist on the trope women are equal to men in all things, including physique, strength, and logic.” For all that is over-the-top in this film, this line is inaccurate. The women in the film do not equal the men in physique and strength. Not even close. They are equal in logic and driving skills. So, when we boil down the actual movie, the feminist “trope” is that women can be decent drivers. This puts the film on par with the radical feminism of NASCAR.

Anyway, this film is non-stop action. I mean it. It is relentless. Go see it, in 3D, on the biggest screen you can find. I’m not a big action film guy. I’m not a Mad Max fan boy (though I will admit to watching Beyond Thunderdome a bunch when I was young). I am just a guy who can enjoy a good film, even when it is an action film with icky girls in it.

[Edit] Here are two more reviews of the film that more explicitly call the film feminist. They do a better job of explaining what I mean by “It isn’t regressive, per se, but there’s no feminist manifesto here.”

1. From fearless.frivolous.feminist

2. From The Filmology I want to single out this quote from the Filmology’s review:

‘This film isn’t “feminist propaganda” as some people might accuse it to be. We as a film-viewing society have just forgotten that women can be leading action ladies and kick ass and be awesome, without any superfluous romantic subplots or gratuitous nudity moments. These women are portrayed as humans, saviours, sisters, mothers, friends and heroes, and they never have their femininity under threat because that isn’t an issue. The fact that they are women is just an uncompromisable fact that doesn’t deter their pursue of justice and freedom, and for that I salute George Miller because in the midst of all the pumped up, overly masculinised, masturbatory action films of the past many years, it is fantastic to see that this kind of story can still be get majorly released and be a success.’

An Apology

I want to write a formal apology to my first, long-term, serious, romantic relationship. We met in college. We’d met our first year at school, but we started dating our sophomore year. I was immediately attracted to her. My current partner says she was the prettiest girl on campus. I’m saying that to brag, but, really, who’s counting? She was funny and interesting. We had common interests, common political leanings. She taught me to appreciate the depth of the Beatles’ oeuvre, and I introduced her to the magnificence that is David Bowie.

She studied Chemistry. That was her passion. She was wicked smart, but she was also dedicated. She would spend hours in the lab pushing herself to understand the material more. The thing is, she also took courses in sociology, political science, and literature. Sorry, she excelled in such classes. Like I said, she was wicked smart.

Finally, she had a sparkling personality. I’ve already mentioned that she was funny, but she was also kind and exuberant. It’s not quite right to call her active – she was book worm, but she had a joie de vivre.

Let me be clear, I am purposefully giving a positive portrayal of her. I am not trying to make her seem perfect. I just want to give a thorough impression of the positive and admirable character traits that she possessed. Our relationship did not last our undergraduate careers, but I feel safe in saying it was a relationship we can both look back upon and conclude that it produced some very fond memories.

Or, that’s what I thought. You see, I recently learned that I messed up. Look at this flyer:

This flyer was posted at a Wisconsin public high school. It is telling the boys in the school that they should not have premarital sex with their dates on prom night. Instead, these boys should protect the character of their dates.

You see, I left a very important part of our relationship out of my recap above. We never got married, but we had sex. Feel free to pause and compose yourself, dear reader. Trust me, my self-hatred is stronger than any shock, disgust, or disappointment you’re feeling toward me right now.

Go back and read about that wonderful girl that I dated in college. Go back and read about all of her positive traits. After college, she went on to complete a PhD in Chemistry, and she is currently a research associate at King’s College in London.

None of that matters, though. Does it? She’s broken. She’s ruined. I know that she is a separate human being from myself, and that she has gone on to live her own life since we broke up, but she’s a woman. I am the man. It was MY responsibility to protect her character, and I failed. She used to be bright and funny and exuberant. No longer. I ruined her. I’m not quite sure what she is now. I just know it is not good.

Arun, I am sorry.

To make up for my mistake, I promise to be a better person – no, a better man. You’re a woman, so you can’t be fixed. You are broken forever. I broke you. That is something I have to live with for the rest of my life. But I promise you that I will never do that again. Well, starting now, I promise that I will never do that again. I will never let my actions ruin the character of another woman again. I know I can accomplish this because I can rely upon the strength, courage, and determination that you used to possess – that I took away from you. This is my payment for my past offenses. This is the new me – the penitent man.

Death and Rihanna

Two very different topics for this post. The first topic is, I think, cool and important. The second is an otherwise pointless rant I need to get out of my mind by committing it to this blog. No, seriously, it is an incredibly pointless rant.

1. There is a project (with Kickstarter), called the Urban Death Project, about using our bodies after we die. I think it is a neat idea, and I wanted to share.

2. There is a post at HuffPo exploring if Rihanna’s new song Bitch Better Have My Money (aka #BBHMM) is a song about Reparations. You can find the lyrics to the song here.

Although my taste in music is relatively broad, it is mostly stuck in the 80’s and 90’s. As such, I will readily admit that I may be under-informed on the possible meanings of various lines in the song. However, I am baffled as to how someone could consider this a song about reparations.

If you read the piece at HuffPo, the author offers not a single line or quote from Rihanna making such a connection. The only people quoted actually talking about reparations are Azealia Banks and Ta-Nehisi Coates, neither of whom have any connection to the song. The connection #BBHMM has to reparations appears to be as tenuous as having a similar tone to the one Azealia Banks had in her recent interview with Playboy Magazine in which she discusses reparations.

If I prime you with a suggestion of reparations, lines like “Bitch better have my money” and “Pay me what you owe me, don’t act like you forgot” could be seen as connected to reparations. However, if you just read the lyrics without prompt, it is hard to find such a commentary. Again, I am open to being corrected, but the song seems pretty straightforwardly about Rihanna asserting her position as a top female performer, demanding her money (respect and recognition) and warning other artists hoping to displace her in the pantheon of top female artists that they need to check themselves.

Such a reading of her song makes much more sense and seemingly better accommodates lines like “Ballin’ bigger than LaBron” and “Louis XIII and it’s all on me, n***a you just bought a shot/ Kamikaze if you think that you gon’ knock me off the top.” Or consider this line: “Every time I drive by, I’m the only thing you’re playin'”. Again, please correct me/inform me if I am missing something, but I do not see how these lines have anything to do with reparations.

Why has this article been bugging me so much today? Because the author sets the stage with these lines:

“I also think this song is a powerful and politically charged anthem calling for reparations owed by white America for the wrongs and the legacy of slavery. …I haven’t been able to listen to the track without considering the powerful implications it has for this particular moment in popular culture. We are living in a time where it is impossible to dismiss the legacies of colonialism, slavery and violence, which shape lives and worlds in the present.”

That’s some pretty highfalutin talk. I agree that the legacies of colonialism, slavery, and violence have shaped the world in ways that justify considering radical forms of reparation. I agree that popular culture can have an important role in larger social discussion of such topics. I just don’t see how #BBHMM fits this billing. To describe the song as “powerful” and “politically charged” does a disservice to songs that are actually, you know, “powerful” and “politically charged.” And let me be clear, I’m not trying to pass judgment on the quality of the song nor Rihanna’s ability as a singer. I’m just passing judgment on the author of the post for suggesting that this song is about reparations.

You know, as I’ve typed this, I’ve been thinking about the text the author received from her “close friend and hip hop scholar”: “Can we think of bbhmm as a reparations song?” Perhaps the author of the text has something completely different in mind. For example, if I got myself worked up while giving an impassioned defense of reparations, I could see how this song may be a bit cathartic, even if it didn’t quite capture my feelings. Perhaps this is what the author of the text meant by it being a “reparations song”. But, is this song “about” reparation? I just don’t see it. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

What the Atheist Might Say Back

From Noel Oyango’s blog, I came across a couple posts [first, second] from the blog of Dr. Robert Gullberg suggesting what a Christian might say to an atheist to demonstrate the fact of God’s existence. The two suggestions are arguments by analogy. Noel responds to the second argument in his post. It is the classic argument from design. Responses can be found throughout the internet. Instead, I want to focus on the argument in his first post.

First, a Clarification

The post starts by attempting to show the difference between an agnostic and an atheist. Unfortunately, Gullberg simply says the same thing twice. Here are the quotes:

The agnostic says, “I don’t think there is a God.”
The atheist says, “I don’t believe that God exists.”

There has been a lot of digital ink spilled about the proper definition of an atheist versus an agnostic, and it will likely never be resolved. Gullberg appears to be referring to a difference between the weak atheistic claim (which some people call agnostic) and the strong atheistic claim. However, his two statements say the exact same thing. They are both the weak atheistic claim.

In short, the weak claim is simply a personal claim: I lack belief in a god or gods. So long as you are being truthful, this claim is irrefutable. It doesn’t rely on there being no gods. It simply relies on you truthfully not believing/not thinking that one exists.

Alternatively, one could make a strong claim, something like: I believe no gods exist. Whereas the weaker claim simply denotes a belief you do not possess, the stronger claim reflects a belief you do, actually, hold. Namely, you believe there are no gods. The truthfulness of this claim requires more than your being honest about holding it. It requires you to support it with evidence.

So, if I am understanding Gullberg correctly, the beginning of his post should read something like:

The agnostic/weak atheist says, “I lack belief in gods.”
The (strong) atheist says, “I believe no gods exist.”

With that out of the way, let’s move to the meat of his post.

What DO You Say to an Atheist?

Gullberg begins his post by suggesting that an atheist may ask a Christian (or any theist) what evidence they have for God’s existence. Gullberg’s two posts are the answer. However, he first notes that you could ask the question back to the atheist.

You might ask the atheist, “What evidence have you found that proves to you that there isn’t a God? Good question. They won’t be able to answer it. (emphasis in original)

First, I will assume he is asking this question of the strong atheist, as the weak atheist/agnostic isn’t really compelled to answer it. They can simply reply that they have not been shown evidence to believe a god exists; hence, they lack belief that one exists.

Now then, whether or not an atheist can answer the question depends on what Gullberg means by “evidence you have found.” Take a globyippy, for example. What evidence can be found that demonstrates globyippies do not exist? You cannot answer the question because you do not know what a globyippy is. If they don’t exist, you can’t find evidence of their nonexistence. ‘Find’ seems to be the wrong verb to use.

The evidence an atheist would “find” proving there isn’t a god would necessarily rely on how God is defined and conceptualized. For example, it would have to start from how God is being defined and show that (1) God’s qualities are self-refuting – e.g., can God create a burrito so hot even he cannot eat it?, or (2) that what follows from God’s qualities is incompatible with the actual world – e.g., the argument from evil or (3) argue that the definition of God is incoherent – e.g., Ignosticism. This may not exhaust all categories, but you get the idea.

It should come as no surprise that theists have offered responses to these kinds of arguments, and it is very likely that being convinced – one way or the other – depends on your prior commitments. To be completely honest, I suspect there just cannot be a slam dunk argument for/against God’s existence. Personally, I find that a strike against God, but I take my own point about prior commitments.

My point is, because of the kind of being God is (at least based on traditional definitions), any “evidence” an atheist can provide will be in the form of an argument. Although Gullberg may not be convinced by the arguments, it is quite the overstatement to suggest that an atheist would be unable to provide an argument. If you want to find some of these arguments, again, the internet is full of them.

You Should Tell Your Facts it is not Polite to Point

Gullberg moves into his discussion of what you should tell the atheist with a rather provocative statement: “All the facts point to a Supreme Being of infinite intelligence.” It is a statement that begs for further elucidation. There is none forthcoming from Gullberg. Instead, he quotes the following passage from the Bible: “Prove all things, hold fast that which is good.” Per this collection of commentaries on the passage in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, the passage is conveying a call to put claims to the test, either spiritual claims or claims in general. Keep those which are true and abandon those which are false. So, I should expect Gullberg to provide true facts that truly point to a Supreme Being of infinite intelligence. If the facts don’t point there, we should, presumably, abandon it.

What Does Gullberg Tell Me, the Atheist?

Gullberg suggests the Christian should tell the atheist two things. He may suggest other things can be told, but these are the two he has listed. I assume he considers them important or convincing.

The first thing he wants to say to the atheist is a sort of argument from artistry:

“Similarly, when you look around at a sunrise, or some incredible part of nature, what do you see? You see amazing art and imagery. Tell me, if art and beautiful photographs are created by mere human artists and photographers, would you not think that there is a Magnificent Designer or Grand Intelligent Artist of the universe around us who is behind the production of Nature? Of course!” (emphasis in original)

First, let me try to attack some of the intuitive pull this argument might have for a believer. Let’s start with the intuitive desire to consider beauty as evidence of God. Ask yourself, if the world wasn’t beautiful, would you consider that evidence against God’s existence? I don’t know why you would.

You might also suggest that a beautiful thing cannot arise by accident. However, I think that is quite easily falsified. Consider this exploration of flight paths as an example. The flight paths were not designed to be beautiful, but they turned out to have a beauty to them by chance. So, my first point is that God does not have to create a beautiful universe to maintain a reason to believe in God. Two, a beautiful thing can arise by accident.

Why do I make these points? Gullberg asks if an artistic but natural landscape should cause us to suggest a Supreme Being of infinite intelligence, and his answer is “Of course!” My two points don’t demonstrate he is wrong, but they should demonstrate that the answer is not that obvious. God is not required to make things beautiful, and beautiful things could arise without intending them to arise.

Finally, before I directly address Gullberg’s argument, I want to mention something that could be brought up here. Gullberg could suggest that beauty is a sort of thing that requires God to exist. But he hasn’t. His argument isn’t that beauty requires God. His argument is that natural beauty is akin to art, and art requires an artist. As such, trying to suddenly bring in some argument about whether or not beauty can exist without a God would be changing the argument completely. He can write another blog post and make the argument, but he can’t slide it in here.

Two Responses to Gullberg

I want to provide two responses to Gullberg. The first will be pedantic but further undercut Gullberg’s claim. The second, I think, is more defeating.

To begin, I want to summarize Gullberg’s argument from artistry.

P1. Natural beauty inspires art.
P2. Natural beauty inspires art because art is copying the art of natural beauty.
P3. Art requires an artist.
P4. The only artist capable of creating the art of natural beauty is God.

Conclusion: God exists.

I said my first point is pedantic, and it truly is. However, it serves a purpose. Remember, Gullberg suggests the facts point to the existence of a Supreme Being of infinite intelligence. However, nothing about Gullberg’s argument suggests the existence of a Supreme Being of infinite intelligence. For example, if I grant the first three premises, we only need a being capable of creating natural beauty. This doesn’t seem to require being supreme nor infinite intelligence. These “facts” merely point to a good enough being with some artistic prowess. Per 1 Thessalonians, we are called to only hold the good. His argument isn’t good. At least, it is not good yet. He needs more facts. If they aren’t forthcoming, we can safely abandon his claims.

Now, I want to offer a more substantive response to his argument. At bottom, his argument makes a false analogy. I would even suggest it makes a category error. The issue arises in Premise 2. Gullberg argues that natural beauty is like pedestrian art, and art requires an artist. However, beauty is not art.

I don’t think it radical to suggest that the definition of art is contentious, but I feel safe in suggesting that art may be characterized in terms of …its representation of reality…, expression, communication of emotion, or other qualities.” At bottom, art attempts to do something. It is a creative activity in which humans engage toward some end. It attempts to represent reality. It attempts to communicate an emotion or retell an experience. It attempts to make a political or moral statement.

A beach, no matter how beautiful it my be, does not do these things. It was not made beautiful toward some end. At the very least, this end is far from self-evident. You might want to suggest the beach communicates emotion, but it would be more accurate to say it elicits emotion. You may feel emotions when you see the beach; however, child abuse likely makes you feel emotion too, and I suspect you don’t think child abuse is art. It isn’t enough for something to make you feel emotion for something to qualify as art.

Gullberg is already on weak ground in suggesting that natural beauty is like art. However, this false analogy can be made more striking. The real meat of Gullberg’s argument is found in this passage:

“You look at a Renoir, and you’d think you were there in the picture. Amazing. Looking at a painting, you’d know that there was a brilliant creator of the painting. We humans elevate the level of a famous painter to incredible levels. And really all the painter is doing is copying the nature around them. …[B]ut let’s be honest, pictures and paintings don’t do being there any justice. Ansel Adams did phenomenal black and white pictures in his day, but sorry, no comparison to the actual nature, right?” (emphasis in original)

Gullberg wants to emphasize that art is simply a copy of nature, and nature is better to look at. Nature is the true source of art, according to Gullberg. However, since art requires an artist, nature similarly requires an artist. The issue in Gullberg’s argument is that he is confusing beauty with art.

In the quote above, Gullberg references Ansel Adams. His post includes Adams’s famous photograph of Half Dome. When Gullberg suggests that Adams’s photograph of Half Dome cannot compare to seeing Half Dome in person, he may be correct about the beauty of Half Dome, but he is not obviously correct about Half Dome as art.

Consider the following two pictures. The first is Adams’s photograph, the second is a satellite photograph of Half Dome.

Ansel Adams’s Moon and Half Dome

GE Half Dome

Satellite photo from Google Earth. Half Dome at marker.

The latter picture is a more accurate representation of Half Dome. It provides a more complete picture of the rock structure; it situates it in more of its setting; it uses the correct colors. In short, the latter is a more accurate copy of the reality. Truthfully, even from such a high vantage point, the beauty of the region is clear. However, we would not call the satellite photo more artistic than Adams’s photograph. Quite the opposite.

What makes Adams’s photo ‘art’ is the ways in which he has deviated from the natural beauty. He has taken reality and composed it into art. Adams de-saturated the color to black and white. He cut out most of the context of the rock structure. He processed the photograph such that it would emphasize the contrast of hues. None of this would be present to the naked eye.

Yes, Adams captures the beauty of Half Dome. However, he makes no attempt to accurately recreate that natural beauty. He deviates from it and adjusts that natural beauty to compose a piece of art. This is the fundamental difference between beauty and art. Beauty is a quality something possesses. Art is an activity and the product of that activity. Art may be beautiful, but it is not a requirement of art.

Gullberg’s analogy doesn’t follow. A naturally beautiful scene is not analogous to a piece of art, even a piece of art recreating that naturally beautiful scene. There is an intention to art that is not present in natural beauty. As I noted above, beauty can arise without intention. As such, whereas a work of art requires an artist, a naturally beautiful scene does not. The “facts” just don’t point to that Supreme Being of infinite intelligence.

Taking Off the Gloves for a Moment

Thus far, I have tried to treat this argument with respect. Having responded to it, I want to be a little more blunt about my feelings toward it. Frankly, it is infantile and borderline demeaning.  I’ve tried to construct a credible argument from his post, but Gullberg does little more then assert his point and use exclamation points as evidence.

In his second post, Gullberg recaps his argument from artistry as follows:

“The painter paints a landscape. The observer “oohs and aahs” about the beauty of the painting, complimenting the painter on his or her creativity. The landscape itself should be the center of the adulation. After all, an incredibly intelligent and inventive Creator allows the painter to be able to copy His work.  A fool would say that there is no Creator of the actual landscape (nature or human) that the gifted painter paints!” (emphasis in original)

This is obviously false. We can “ooh and aah” about the craft of painting without having to praise the source of what was painted. Consider fruit in a bowl. An artist could paint that fruit in the bowl, and we could praise the artist for their work. However, Gullberg’s argument would suggest that the fruit in the bowl truly deserves the praise because it is the source of the art. Really? Am I supposed to believe that? Furthermore, if someone else set up the fruit in the bowl, would we suggest that the person doing the setting up is the person who actually deserves the praise? This would be the conclusion of Gullberg’s argument. Personally, I find that silly, but remember, according to Gullberg, I am the fool.

Thoughts on Living in a Godless Universe

My existence is a gift.

I have been given my existence in the most literal way possible. My parents gave of themselves, physically, that I may grow. They gave of their bodies that I may have a body of my own. In this same way am I indebted to my grandparents, as they gave of themselves so my parents may exist. Back and back I must go, through ancestors human and not, until I reach that moment when whatever we qualify as life became living. All of them have literally given of themselves that I may exist. I am, in parts great and small, all of them. It is of their bodies that I am composed–patchwork.

Let me not forget those who have nourished me. While developing in my mother’s womb, she ate of animals, fruits, vegetables. It was from this nourishment that I found the energy necessary to become the body I am today. Furthermore, now born, I continue to nourish my body. I consume. Again, I receive a gift of the bodies of the animals and plants that feed me. I receive a gift of the labor of those who tend my food and take part in it being available for my consumption. This gift goes back to the plants that feed my food and to the minerals that fertilize those plants. It goes back to the chemicals that give structure to the world and to the stars in which those chemicals form. It goes back to the supernovae that spread those chemicals across the vastness of this universe. Just as my ancestors have given a little of themselves that I may have the material needed to have a body, so has the entire universe given a little of itself that I may have the energy to open my eyes, breathe in the morning air, and begin the day.

My life is indebted.

This gift that is my existence, it does not come free. Payment comes due when my life ends. I must give my body back to the universe that it may nourish others. My composition will be repurposed. It will be broken down and used to form new structures. I will be consumed. Just as I have fed, on me will others feed. With the decomposition of my body, my debt is repaid.

I leave the ranks of the indebted and become a giver. I cannot see where my body will go. I cannot know what will become of me. Though I secretly hope that my parts will find themselves spread to the far corners of this universe, I know that I will never experience this. I will cease. That’s fine. I can content myself with the knowledge that I will give back.

My debt has value.

Close your eyes and imagine a penny. One hundred pennies equal one dollar. These dollars can be used to buy a potted plant and a desk on which that plant can rest. Similarly, that desk and potted plant can be sold for dollars. Those dollars can be converted to pennies. Imagine everything in the universe expressed as a monetary value. Convert that to dollars and convert those dollars to pennies. Now lay those pennies out on a flat surface such that they form a square. Try to envision all of these pennies. If you’re like me, you cannot. What you envision is an approximation, only. Such is the limit of our imagination. But the collection of pennies is not infinite. It has an end. Its shape is defined. Our universe is vast beyond our imagination, but it is not infinite. It is contained.

Reach out and grab the nearest penny. This is you. You are but one penny in a collection so large it is unimaginable. How worthless you must be, and yet, without you the whole becomes less valuable. Without you, the whole becomes impoverished. I am composed of matter and energy. This is nothing special. Much is composed of matter and energy. But matter and energy are finite. Though I am one of an unimaginable number of pennies, there can still only be so many pennies, and I am one of them. The value isn’t found in the fact that I am composed of matter and energy, but that matter and energy are finite resources that have come to compose me. The value is found in the fact that I exist at all. This is my debt. Moreover, this invites a question: how should I spend my debt? Considering I am spending a finite resource, my purchases matter.

I spend my debt virtuously.

Just as my body is a patchwork composition of my ancestors, so is my character similarly constructed. I am the lessons they’ve learned and the stories they’ve told. I am their hopes and dreams and aspirations. Within me, they clash with each other. They clash with my neighbors and friends. They clash with the thinkers of my time and times past. They clash with me, with my hopes and dreams and aspirations.

In all of this, wisdom is gained. Insight is drawn from the rational and the experiential. Truths are uncovered. In these clashes of ideas and aspirations we find the virtues, the qualities to which we align our characters. It is here that we find our right and wrong, our good and bad. These clashes have long existed, and they will likely persist forever more.

If I sound like I am tarnishing the good name of the ethical, let me be clear, I intend no such thing. My point is merely this: though I strive to be the best person I can be and to leave the world as best a place as I can, I both expect and hope that my progeny can be better people and leave the world an even better place than upon my end. It is a simple acknowledgement that I do not have all of the answers, even to the ethical questions.

The meaning is found in my debt.

So what? It is a fair question. All of this talk about pennies and patchworks seems meaningless in light of the fact that it ends. It all ends. It is a realization that troubles many; however, it is a point that should arise no concern. What worry is to be found in the fact that it all ends? None. It all ends.

But what of meaning? It is to give. I give my time and energy to doing good work. I give it to being kind and spreading love. I give it producing material wealth, intellectual wealth, creative wealth, and emotional wealth. Then, I give that wealth. When it is all done, of course, I give my physical body. I repay my debt.

Do not be mistaken, this giving is not selflessness. It requires a lot of personal attention to how I live and what I do. It is the task of cultivating myself into a virtuous person that I may lead a good life. It is far from a lack of concern for oneself. Quite the opposite, I am diligent in considering my actions. I reflect on what I have done and why. I meditate on the person I want to be in order to prepare myself for when I have to be that person. It is the selfish task of dedication to being a good person.

Why dedicate myself to being good? That is the best way to spend my debt. There is no better way I can honor and thank those to whom I am indebted than to use the gift of my existence to be a source of good in the world. As far as we can tell, much of what exists is indifferent. It is neither good nor bad. However, the nature of my existence is not indifferent. I have moral agency.

Through our actions, collectively, we write our story. Yes, the story will end. The universe will end. Humanity will end. I will end. But in my time and with the funds of my debt, I told a good story. There lies the meaning of life. In the vastness of the universe, no matter my relative insignificance, I still took the debt of my existence and purchased a life worth living. May those who nourish upon me live similarly well.

On ‘Gone Girl’ the Movie

First, this will have spoilers about Gone Girl.

Second, I have not read the book. I don’t know anything about the book. I honestly didn’t really know anything about the story except that it involved the disappearance of a woman. I knew this because I had seen a trailer for the movie. This is an unspoiled review of the film, only.

I am going to defer my five word review to the woman who was sitting in front me in the theater. Her five word review as the credits began to roll sums up my feelings about the film: “What? Nah. Fuck this shit.”

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On Yesterday’s Tears

Yesterday, somewhere in the world, a mother and father cried tears of joy, love, and happiness while watching their daughter get married. Just the same, yesterday, there were parents crying tears of sorrow, pain, and loss because their daughter died of cancer before her 16th birthday. Something else happened yesterday. My favorite soccer team gave up a two-goal lead in an important game. They lost 3-2 and, as a result, are sitting outside the playoff positions with only a small number of games remaining. There were no tears, but it was a punch to the gut.

Ask a group of people in what order would they wish these events upon another person, and the answer would likely be unanimous: daughter’s marriage, soccer team’s loss, then daughter’s death. Each option seems genuinely better than the one that follows it. If we’re being particularly callous, we may well wish these events upon our greatest enemy, just in reverse. Likewise, each option seems genuinely worse than its predecessor.

Today, we wake up to news that it has been unquestionably determined that there are no gods. What are we to make of yesterday’s events? Were yesterday’s tears cried for nothing? What of the order in which we’d wish yesterday’s events upon others?

The answer, according to many theists, is that those tears become meaningless. What we would or would not wish upon others becomes arbitrary. Consider Rick Henderson’s comment from his HuffPost piece I discussed previously:

“Anything and everything that happens in …a [godless] universe is meaningless. A tree falls. A young girl is rescued from sexual slavery. A dog barks. A man is killed for not espousing the national religion. These are all actions that can be known and explained but never given any meaning or value.”

Henderson insists, in no uncertain terms, that goodness, meaning, and value cannot exist if there is no god. This is an interesting situation. In a godless universe, we have wildly different reactions and responses to different events, and we hold strong views about which events we prefer, but we don’t do this by referencing goodness, meaning, or value.

Well, obviously Henderson isn’t entirely correct. If we can assign a preference to things, then those things have value. Of course, noting this doesn’t establish much for a godless universe, as this value may be of a purely arbitrary sort. Love may only be more valuable than an untimely death because I think so or because the culture in which I live holds it to be so. There may be value, but Henderson would be within his rights to argue that it is not a meaningful value.

In his piece, Henderson contends that “[a]ny atheist who recognizes objective meaning and morality defies the atheism that he contends is true.” This leads straightforwardly to Henderson’s conclusion: “If your worldview can’t makes [sic] sense of the things that make most sense to you (like objective morality), then it’s not worth your allegiance.” In other words, we should accept that there is a god. We know there are goodness, meaning, and value. Atheism cannot account for these. Therefore, theism. Well, there is a question we can ask: how does God account for goodness, meaning, and value?

God’s Omnipotence

For God to account for goodness, meaning, and value, he must be sovereign over them; otherwise, God is not that which accounts for them. Well, that’s easy. God is omnipotent. God can just make it such that something is good, meaningful, or valuable. So, God can make love good. That is why parents cry joyful tears when their daughter celebrates love in the form of a wedding. Similarly, God can make an untimely death bad. This is why parents cry sorrowful tears when their young daughter succumbs to cancer.

But God could also reverse the above. Untimely death could be good and love could be bad. The reason for yesterday’s tears would swap. The parents who lost their teenage daughter to cancer would be crying tears of joy, and those parents seeing their daughter get married for love would cry tears of sorrow. Moreover, God could deem a Portland Timbers victory the greatest good and a Timbers loss the greatest evil. None of yesterday’s tears would matter in comparison to the evil brought upon the world by Toronto FC’s comeback win over the Timbers. If goodness, meaning, and value come from God’s omnipotence, then that which is good or meaningful or valuable is so simply because God made it so. There is no reason God should make love good. Likewise, there is no reason God should make love bad. This is clearly not correct, as it is just as arbitrary as something being valuable because a culture says it is. As such, it is not God’s omnipotence that accounts for goodness, meaning, and value.

In fact, this basic recognition eliminates a lot of the ways we might think God could account for goodness, meaning, and value. God’s will, desires, passions, and beliefs all suffer from the same concern of arbitrariness. God may will for, desire, be passionate for, and believe in the goodness of love. However, it is not clear why he should. For God to account for goodness, meaning, and value, he must be sovereign over them without being able to actively choose which things are ultimately good, meaningful, and valuable. This appears paradoxical, but there may be an explanation: God’s nature.

God’s Nature

If God is to account for goodness, meaning, and value, he cannot have a say over those things which are good, meaningful, and valuable. Presumably, we cry tears of happiness at a wedding because love is good. God is loving. Perhaps love’s goodness has to do with it being a part of God’s nature. Let us presume that God’s ultimate nature is good. We may argue that God’s good nature makes love good. At bottom, God is good. God has other qualities: loving, merciful, and so on. God’s at-bottom good nature can cause goodness to supervene on his other qualities, making those qualities good.

This frees us from arbitrariness. Love isn’t good because God chooses love to be good. Likewise, love isn’t good because God is loving. Love is good because goodness supervenes on love via God’s ultimate nature. Moreover, love cannot cease to be good, for God’s nature is eternal and non-contingent. Lastly, this makes God’s commands reliable, for God does not choose his good nature, but his good nature will always inform his commands. It appears that God can account for goodness. We are left with one last question: Considering goodness is God’s at-bottom nature, what is goodness?

Yes, those are crickets you hear. To maintain God’s non-arbitrary sovereignty over goodness, we have to strip goodness of all its content. However, in doing so, we’ve rendered goodness a completely vacuous concept. Anything you say is the content of goodness will strip God of his sovereignty over goodness, as it would be a constraint on God’s nature that is external to God. That concept must get its goodness via God’s at-bottom nature supervening upon that concept. So, the theist can claim that God’s existence accounts for goodness, but this has added nothing to the universe for God’s sovereign accounting of goodness means goodness is a vacuous term. That’s a Pyrrhic victory if ever there was one.

In the Wake of Yesterday’s Tears

Henderson asks an important question:

“How do we explain objective meaning and morality that we know are true?” 

He insists that such things cannot robustly exist in an atheistic universe. However, as we’ve just seen, they cannot exist in a theistic universe; at least, they cannot exist without being completely vacuous and unintelligible. Henderson informs us that “[i]f a worldview can’t answer this question, it doesn’t deserve you.” Hence, Henderson wants us to abandon atheism. Well, we must now abandon theism as well. But this is impossible. Atheism is the logical opposite of theism. Atheism and theism account for 100% of the options. What are we to do?

One thing we can do is acknowledge that robust, objective versions of goodness, meaning, and value do not exist. If we’re following Henderson’s suggestion, this is not an option. As he says, robust, objective versions of goodness, meaning, and value are things “that we know are true[.]” All we’re left with is to acknowledge that, whatever accounts for the existence of goodness, meaning, and value, it has nothing to do with God. Thankfully, this is untroubling for everyone. We get goodness, meaning, and value in a godless universe as well as a universe with god. We may not know what accounts for their existence. We may have to admit that goodness, meaning, and value just exist. But we can rest assured that yesterday’s tears were not cried for nothing.