Thursday, May 28, 2009

Homo Sapiens and Rights

I'm a member of the animal kingdom, chordate phylum, vertebrate subphylum, mammal class, primate order, hominid family, genus homo, species sapiens. I am a living thing with a brain that is capable of pattern recognition, abstraction, reasoning, hypothesizing and speech. On this planet, at least, my species is the only one wherein these facilities are so highly developed.

I have a Randian view of our condition. Compared to other closely related species, we are physically weaker, our senses are duller, and our children take longer to mature. Our brains are what let us survive. We have the ability to act that is based more on the results of our thoughts, and less on instinct than do other life forms. We are independent from each other, but we interact, mostly by cooperation. Our survival as humans requires us to use our brains-- they are the only things that make us significantly different from other species. As individuals, we must be free to do what our brains tell us. But as we interact with each other, our freedom must be limited: we must not compel, coerce or deceive others, just as we would not want to be compelled, coerced or deceived by them. These considerations are the basis for our morals, which define the proper course of behavior. This leads to the concept of rights, which define our freedoms as thinking individuals, and our limits when dealing with others. The fundamental right is the right to life-- to be able to use our brains to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action. Without that ability, we would not be humans. If we are all equal, it follows that as individuals we must not act so as to deprive others of these same rights. In a social context, rights are negative, in the sense that they impose limits on what we can do. A right that would be positive would require others to do things for us. Since that would interfere with their rights to be left alone, the idea of a positive right is invalid.

I can't express myself as eloquently as some on these matters, but I hope that my concept of rights is clear enough. It will guide almost everything that I write about on this blog.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

In the Beginning Was the Word ...

The first independent thoughts that I can remember were about religion. By "independent thoughts," I mean things I came up with myself, not things told to me by others. I listened to what college classmates said in the coffee shop, and started down a long and lonely road. I thought, "There are lots of religions in the world, and they all disagree with one another to some degree or other. They can't all be right, unless you eliminate all of the conflicts and see what's left-- what they all agree on. When you do that, there's nothing left." Eventually, I concluded that the scientific method was the best way to figure the world out. Faith in something that was effectively unknowable was useless. I figured that even if I'm wrong about a supreme being, the one that really exists wouldn't have made the world as the Judeo-Christian one supposedly did. Why would a god create a world with apparent conflicts and unknowable mysteries in it? To entertain itself as we stumbled along, trying to solve the puzzles s/he created?

It took a long time to get to that place, months of having debates with myself. Since I was raised in a Catholic family, telling my family what I discovered would have upset everyone, so I didn't. I wasn't ready for that. If I had to go to church with family I went through the motions, and I found other things to do on Sunday morning when I "went" by myself. This lasted for years. After my father died, I started discussing things with my mother, and although she didn't disown me, she wasn't very happy. I'm not sure that all of my extended family knows yet what I don't believe. Right now, I live in a community that has a large number of fundamentalist (or nearly so) Christians, and few others. Many are my friends and acquaintances, and I wouldn't want to be ostracized (or worse) by them for my beliefs. So I'm still living the lie. I sure would like to have someone other than my wife and kids with whom I could discuss these things.

A by-product of my change of beliefs is the observation that indoctrinating a child with religious dogma at an early age produces attitudes and emotions that are extremely hard to change later in life. The RC church teaches that baptism places an indelible mark on one's soul. They're pretty close to right. Training by parents, clerics and nuns molded my thought processes more than I ever would have thought. I think that some of my immediate reactions to events and ideas are still attributable to the almost twenty years I spent steeping in Catholicism. I don't like that, but I'll probably never get over it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

About Me and This Blog

Well, here I am. I've never kept a diary, never blogged before. I'm not sure I'll be able to keep it going.


My life until eighteen or so was pretty ordinary. I was raised in a Catholic, Republican, middle class family, and I didn't think much about any of that. I liked Math and Science, and was a pretty good student. Everything started to change when I entered college. Much like the Caddy Who Hurt His head While Thinking, I listened to classmates in my new environment, and started pondering what I heard. The more I thought, the more my head hurt. I would lie awake nights having debates with myself. Eventually, I decided that belief in a Supreme Being didn't make sense, and that religion, especially organized religion, was bunkum. That created a vacuum that needed to be filled. I arrived at my own "philosophy," with a few axioms: The world is what we can observe with our senses and our brains, there must be an explanation for everything whether we know it yet or not, and the Scientific Method is the best tool that we have for finding it. Eventually, I discovered Ayn Rand, and then moved on to Libertarianism. I still have a lot of questions, and I hope to answer some of them through this journal. Sometimes I'm "in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike [or maybe all different]." It's very dark in here. Where's the light switch?