February 28, 2021

Not Everyone Who Disagrees with Me is Irrational

Most of us would probably acknowledge that not everyone who disagrees with us is necessarily irrational for doing so. At least, I think most of us would probably acknowledge this if we paused long enough to give it some thought.

Not only could we be wrong, but the person who disagrees with us could have reached a different position than ours through rational means. Thus, both of us could have been rational and still arrived at different positions. And depending on the specific issues involved, it is possible that both of us arrived at our positions through rational means and neither of us is wrong. Many political positions fall into this category because they reflect preferences about the sort of world we'd like to inhabit and are not the thing that can be true or false in any meaningful sense.

February 25, 2021

Visiting the DMV: American Efficiency in the Age of COVID-19

cars on the road

My driver's license was about to expire, and Mississippi's online renewal system requires that each online renewal is interspersed with an in-person renewal. Since I used the online renewal last time, I'd have no choice but to brave the DMV in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. I probably would have waited and let my license expire if I thought I had any chance of receiving two doses of COVID-19 vaccine in the next couple months, but I don't.

The ordeal began by attempting to navigate a poorly constructed website to determine where I was supposed to go. The main branch in town was listed as "closed due to COVID-19" on some pages but not others. I found a small branch much closer to me that looked like it might be open, but this was also inconsistent. Of course, there were no phone numbers. I finally found a page that encouraged me to schedule an appointment online. "Skip the line" was what it advertised. I scheduled an appointment and wrote down the address, noticing that the address seemed incomplete. I recognized the street address as being the street on which our town's main shopping mall is located. That told me I was likely to need extra time to find it.

February 20, 2021

What is a Shithole, and Is the United States Becoming One?

winter storm

When it comes to towns, cities, states, or even countries, what exactly qualifies as a "shithole?" I realize the term is most often used to refer to somewhere the speaker does not want to live. That's obviously not objective in any way and varies wildly depending on the speaker. Your shithole might be my paradise and vice-versa. But what if there was some more objective standard that might be applied? What might it be?

I'm just thinking aloud here, but I find myself wondering if a shithole town, city, state, or country might be one where many of the people living there do not have access to things they should be able to take for granted. Examples that come to mind include "luxuries" like the sort of healthy food one should expect to be able to reliably find at one's local grocery store, safe drinking water, adequate shelter, reliable electricity and whatever other fuel might be needed for heating and cooling systems to function properly, and access for affordable healthcare, just to name a few. Sadly, there are many parts of the United States where we cannot take these things for granted.

February 14, 2021

Owning My Atheist Tribalism and Trying to Move Past It


The older I get, the more convinced I have become that the nature of any particular tribe is less of a problem than tribalism itself. While the current version of some tribes are clearly worse than the current version of others and historic versions of many tribes are far worse than most current tribes, I cannot escape the conclusion that the core problem is tribalism itself. This has some important implications when it comes to atheism because we atheists tend to emphasize the problems associated with religious belief and religious tribes more than those associated with tribalism. I'm no longer sure this is good enough.

Before I can get into any of that, I need to do something I haven't done before and own my own atheist tribalism. I need to acknowledge that I spent at least a decade behaving in many of the same tribalistic ways I now criticize. I also need to acknowledge that this is not entirely behind me. I still screw up and fall back into my old ways every now and then.

When I think back to what I was like for the first several years I spent as an atheist, it is impossible to deny that I was the sort of irrational tribalistic atheist I now criticize. I was angry at the bigotry and poor treatment I experienced at the hands of Christians, and I pushed back. I was convinced that my tribe (i.e., atheists) was vastly superior to theirs, and I often experienced contempt for Christians merely because they were Christian. I felt justified in doing this. I took examples of how I had been mistreated by some Christians and applied them to all Christians, using this to justify my poor behavior. I was, in essence, the kind of atheist who made atheists look bad.