Goodbye Patheos—Hank Fox Bows Out

I’m leaving Patheos in the near future. I’m working on a book and a separate large project (Senior Adventure Quest)—not to mention my full-time JOB—and though I have no shortage of ideas for posts, I’m having real trouble finding time to devote to blogging.

Many other bloggers have made the jump to blogging as a business, and can afford to do it. If you have enough posts—several a day—and you get enough reader hits, you can actually get paid for blogging. I don’t fault them for taking that path, but I have seen the clear effect of a commercial motivation, and it’s not for me.

There is a philosophy behind atheism, something … quite different and larger than anything we’re doing now, and we really need to winkle that out and explore it rather than writing the same >>OMG Police Dept. Bumper Stickers!!<< story.

Not saying that stuff isn’t important. It’s just that there’s this OTHER stuff that needs to be thought about and covered too. That has been one of my main goals in blogging. And, for me at least, figuring that stuff out is time consuming.

Thinking about those things, mulling over ideas and teasing out new conclusions, new viewpoints, new realizations, takes hours and days and month and years, but pays literally nothing. If I’ve made twenty dollars from atheist-blogging over the 15 or so years I’ve been doing it, I’d be surprised. It’s a labor of love, sure enough, and I DO get to explore and tease at these ideas. In addition, I have really loved the reactions of readers, telling me I got them to think, that I gave them new ideas and new arguments.

But sometimes, the money really matters. So I need to pull back a bit and refocus on some of this other stuff.

(Here’s yet another of my time-consuming activities that pays literally nothing. But I love doing it, so there’s that.)

I will be transferring the entirety of my blog over to a new site — A Citizen of Earth — in the near future, and posting when the mood and the time coincide, but probably not very often.

Also, for near-future reference, the book I’m working on is called (tentatively):

BrainDrops: The One & Only Ungodly Bathroom Reader—An Astounding Compendium of Wit, Wisdom and Complete Goddam Nonsense from a Complete Goddam Atheist (for Hellbound Mockers of Every Heinous Persuasion).

In case you didn’t know about it, my first book, Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist: Simple Thoughts About Reason, Gods & Faith, is still up on Amazon.

—And yes, you want to buy BOTH 😉

Somewhen—end of March, early April—you’ll see BrainDrops on Amazon, and wherever else I can manage to get it distributed.

There are a couple of other books in the works, Saying Goodbye to Dad: An Atheist Deals With Death, and a so-far unnamed book on Beta Culture.

Anyway, it’s been cool, being here. Thank you to the nice folks at Patheos for giving me this chance, as Ed Brayton at Freethought Blogs gave me a podium and a microphone before them. When I get the Beta Culture book written, expect to see me out there at atheist conferences, promoting the book and the ideas in a big way.

Until then …

Trump’s Latest and The Mob Response

Trump3I’m interested in this latest development in the Trump saga. Some part of me appears convinced this is the end for Trump, because I’m actually feeling a little bit sorry for him.

I mean, what’s happening is well-deserved and all, but … there’s something of the hapless, coddled child in him. I don’t think he’s bright enough to have known that one of the possible outcomes of all this — saying and doing the things he’s saying and doing, out in the blowtorch of public view — was his utter destruction. Meaning: Not just the loss of this political race, but the loss of his fortune and, potentially, even the loss of his freedom via a prison sentence. Not to mention the complete evaporation of respect for him, such that he becomes a living joke, so nobody will ever again do large-scale business with him. I have to doubt even Fox News would hire him after this; his brand is that damaged.

There’s another element I find slightly disturbing, though, and it’s the same thing Hillary’s faced for so many years — The Mob. In this case I don’t refer to any criminal organization, but to a mass of people acting in unison while consumed by blindingly powerful emotions — spitting visceral hate in both these cases — which overturn reason and produce instead an undiluted rage when the hated person prospers and a sort of furious glee when anything bad happens to him/her.

The Mob scares me. Not only do I never want to be part of it, it disturbs me when I see OTHERS caught up in it.

I’ve watched The Mob hate and lie about President Obama these past 7 years or so. I’ve watched it attack and attack and attack Hillary Clinton.

I got to see it up close and personal when I got sideways with a bunch of feminist bloggers a year or so back. I was completely flummoxed at watching people I knew personally — women and men I had formerly considered extremely rational — turn on each other with a viciousness I’d never witnessed. They would come after you in a screaming mass for using a single WORD they considered inappropriate. Thanks to them, I will never call myself a feminist — despite being completely in agreement on the subjects of women’s rights, equality, safety, health and choice.

Now I’m watching The Mob savage Donald Trump.

Don’t get me wrong — Trump is a nut who would pose an immense danger in the White House, and he has to be stopped.

But I don’t like that THIS is one of the prime tools by which it is being accomplished.

It makes me feel like I’m watching some very dangerous children at work, blindly wrecking things. Today they’re wrecking something I might want wrecked, but they will still be here tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, their need to wreck something perpetually unsatisfied, always looking for some new target.

Lefty Pet Peeve

mass hangingThis picture was shared on Facebook with the caption, “Americas (sic) largest mass hanging of Indians.”

Hey, I’m in. I’m on board. The LEAST you can say about the alleged incident is that it deserves to echo through history as one of our most shameful moments. It deserves to be remembered, reflected upon, regretted.

As a compassionate, reasoning being — or so I like to think of myself — my first impulse is to find out more. This is something that needs to be a part of my thinking, right?

But … no further information is attached. No link. No explanation. No date. No location. Nothing.

I can’t tell whether this incident was perpetrated by forces of the newly-minted United States, by the pre-Revolutionary British, by Mexico, France, Texas, some pre-1776 state, or just generic “white people” acting on their own. I can’t tell whether it was even on this continent.  Might it have been India? Australia? Feudal Japan? China?

We don’t know. Not only do we not know, we can’t even guess. (Okay, from the architecture, I’m going to wager it’s probably not Japan or China.)

I’d think it would be obvious why this pisses me off, but I’ll tell you anyway:

In my mind, there’s a stark difference between INFORMING and MANIPULATING.

Informing is when you introduce a subject and tell me the full details. Or at least give me a start and then point me to somewhere I can (without, say, flying to England and digging around in historical accounts) find out the whole story.

Manipulating is when you project a knee-jerk emotional appeal with NO FURTHER INFORMATION.

Here’s the pisser: I’M ALREADY SYMPATHETIC TO THE MESSAGE. I’m on the “this is truly terrible” team. I don’t need to be manipulated, I need to be informed. He who informs me is on my team, he who manipulates me is not.

I’m willing to do a little research to find things out for myself, but it would be peachy if the original assertion contained SOME sort of clue as to where or when to start looking.

But whoever posted the thing didn’t do that. Is it that they couldn’t be bothered? That it was enough to rile people up in righteous anger? Was this aimed at evoking pure emotion, with no action or understanding necessary?

Was it meant only to inspire the lame-ass conclusion that White People Are Evil? Because THAT conclusion I’m  not on board with. It’s as racist as any other race-related generalization.

Actually, I have no trouble believing this act happened, and was carried out by “Americans.” But I can’t AUTOMATICALLY place that blame any more than I can automatically blame fresh graffiti on my fence on the first random teenager who walks by.

In both cases, you have to KNOW.

Projecting an emotional message at me, a message which I am already inclined to sympathetically consider, but which contains zero facts, is either the act of a careless idiot, or someone deliberately manipulating his/her audience — me. Either way, it’s a betrayal of the faculty of careful thought and reason I like to think sets me apart — sets US apart — from those people who make up the crazy, excitable rabble who so vividly fill the ranks of the teabagger movement.

Two conclusions:

  1. The person who would do this is no friend. He/she is, in fact, my enemy.
  2. I have no need to look any further into the claim. The bullshit level is high enough that I can ignore the thing entirely, and suffer no loss.



Musings on the Nature of Mind

CONSCIOUSNESS copyAnyone paying attention in the last few decades of life on Earth can’t help but think there’s something wrong in the human world. It’s something that doesn’t and, I suspect, can’t work.

I’ve thought many times this unworkable bit is our own understanding of ourselves. As in: We think we are one way, we expect ourselves and our fellows to be this one way, and yet we are very different from it. Which means a great deal of what we think of as the “should be” of human life is wrong. We get right answers about ourselves – about how we should live, how we should treat each other or the natural world – only by accident. In the main, things continue to go wrong, progressively worsening over and over through the cycles of history until we suffer each new catastrophic, civilization-wide disaster.

I wonder …

We think of ourselves, when we think of ourselves, as conscious beings. And yet most of us is UNconscious. Meaning that the real essence of what we are is, in the main, invisible to us.

We talk about our “subconscious” as if it’s some minor apparatus that does these mysterious and not-very-important things off in the darkness, but in truth, this subconscious is the largest part of us. It’s consciousness that’s the sideshow, the also-ran, the comical sidekick, the small spotlighted area of a vast, dark stage. Consciousness is an app that runs on a much larger, much more complex underlying brainframe. It does certain things very well, but only those things.

It’s also a sort of distraction. We wallow in the attraction of consciousness and ignore this huge other part. Because consciousness is what it is – the self-referential noticing and knowing of one’s conscious self – it almost by definition must exclude notice of the unknowable parts. Even understanding that we are NOT conscious for some large part of our day – in sleep, in the sort of muzzy reverie that accompanies “automatic” actions such as driving or eating, and even in the machinations that go on all the time below conscious notice – we can still fail to credit our unconscious selves. Yet because we are conscious – because we position our apparent Selfness in our small conscious zone rather than this much larger unconscious part – we are necessarily unable to imagine anything different.

Most of the endeavors of Earth life are done without anything we think of when we think of conscious mind. I observe animals doing their specific things out there in the wilds – beavers that build dams, birds that build complex woven nests, all sorts of wonderful and complex creative endeavors – and the only thing I can compare them to in the human sphere is those rare and near-unbelievable savant talents in autistics. Most animals live without consciousness, and we tend to see them as lesser and limited because of it, yet they do these amazing things – not just with mundane regularity, but with brains in some cases hundreds of times smaller. What looks out of their eyes is not a “me” in the way we have a “me,” but a silent sort of machine, beastly in nature and yet marvelously capable of conducting its survival in the unimaginably complex surround of wild nature.

I wonder if civilization itself isn’t an artifact of consciousness, a perpetually conscio-centric socio-cultural structure that could only be possible to beings who have this add-on “Me” app.

I wonder too if we haven’t made a very basic mistake in creating this sort of civilization. If, as I suspect, we’ve built civilization according to conscious needs, conscious mandates, largely ignoring our larger, quieter, apparently more secret selves, we have, in a way, built something that isn’t quite human – worse, something that can’t work for humans as a whole.

To us here in civilization, the subconscious is “other,” something separate from and subordinate to – or rebellious from – the real you, the real me. The relationship is one of separation rather than of solidarity, cooperation, or wholeness.

Given the nature of consciousness, I doubt we could have done any different, here in our infancy. But I imagine that if we recognize the subconscious as the main “us” – if we built entertainments and accommodations meant to nurture and comfort our larger selves, and societal understandings that recognized and accepted this Self-Other in our fellow men – a lot of things would become possible, both within our individual selves and in the larger world.

Such as this bit that isn’t looking good at the moment – the survival of the lot of us.

Race and Culture Again: Bessie and Lois

Jim CrowHere’s a chunk of memory that bubbled up when Facebook friend Dre Morell posted on The Old Jim Crow Etiquette.

In 1950s Texas, when and where I was born, pretty much all of the Jim Crow stuff was in effect. Of course what you’ll read in the linked article was in addition to the separate white and colored drinking fountains, separate white and colored restrooms, the No Negroes policies at “white” swimming pools and schools. I remember several conversations among adults where a black teenager was shot and killed for crossing the corner of a white person’s lawn. This action was widely admired and the story passed back and forth for weeks. One visitor remarked that in Alabama, to shoot someone legally they had to actually be in your house, or at least fall inside the doorsill. The conclusion was that if you shot someone in Alabama, you’d better drag him into the house to make it legitimate.

This section here reminded me of a local black woman, Bessie, who took in ironing:

Never assert or even intimate that a White person is lying.
Never impute dishonorable intentions to a White person.
Never suggest that a White person is from an inferior class.
Never lay claim to, or overly demonstrate, superior knowledge or intelligence.
Never curse a White person.
Never laugh derisively at a White person.
Never comment upon the appearance of a White female.

None of that stuff applies directly to Bessie, but when she came to the house, she would not step up onto our porch, or knock on the door, but would stand on the front walkway and call out — not too loud — “Miz Fox! I’m heah with th’ ironin’!” My mother would step out onto the porch to pay her — 10 cents per shirt — and hand over a bag with a new bunch of laundered, wrinkled shirts.

Standing at the foot of the stairs was considered respectful, and I heard Bessie referred to many times as “a good nigger.” Carrying a load of shirts, she walked at least six blocks to our house, which was just over the dividing street in the “white” part of town. On the other side of that street was a section referred to as “them Messcans,”  with the more distant area where Bessie lived casually called “Niggertown.”

It’s interesting looking back on that part of my life, I can’t remember a single actively racist act on the part of either of my parents. I played with “them Messcans” — in their yards and ours — with full approval of my parents, and nobody in my family went out of their way to hurt any black or brown person. One of my father’s favorite places to eat was a deep-pit barbecue shack — the stone pit in the middle featuring meats grilling over glowing coals and surrounded by tables and folding chairs, with a broad roof over it but no walls —  where black and white people mingled somewhat casually.

Yet we lived in that time and that place, and we accepted the race rules — rules of language and behavior — without thought or complaint.

Bessie was, as near as I can make out from the few memories I have of her, serious, hard-working, honest and prompt. In her small way, she was a good businesswoman. The few times we drove over to drop off shirts, I remember her kids being clean and well-dressed, and her house and yard immaculate. In values and lifestyle, she was more like my own family than we could have ever thought about admitting.

On the other hand …

My mother had a friend named Lois that lived a few miles away, and we often went to visit her. Lois and her husband Smitty lived in a house that had a TV repair shop on the front of it, and there was a tomboyish daughter about my age (Dorothy? Dotty?) to play with. Their house was right next to railroad tracks, and trains came through often enough that I never went there without taking a nail or a penny to put on the tracks for flattening.

Their back yard was a clutter of rusted autos and hulking piles of random junk that must have been dangerous as hell, but that we ran and played in without a care.

As to the house … I hated going inside Lois’s house because it STANK. The back door opened into the kitchen, and the first thing to catch your eye if you went through that door was a sink full of filthy dishes that might have been, for all I know, weeks old. A reeking garbage can stood nearby, and sink and garbage both were attended by flies and roaches — in plain sight, in the daylight, and completely outside the notice or care of Lois, Smitty or Dotty. The floor was sometimes so nasty your feet would stick to it, or grind on it with a sandy crunch.  The few times I was offered food or drink at Lois’s, I quickly said “No, thank you.” (I have a weirdly vivid remembrance of being handed a glass of water there, but then not drinking it because of greasy fingerprints on the supposedly “clean” glass; after that, I drank out of the hose.)

Lois was huge and shapeless and sometimes came to the door with casual smudges of dirt on her face or arms. She wore tentlike dresses with bra straps showing, and was never without a hand-rolled cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth. She had a face like a bulldog and a braying voice that would have pricked up donkeys’ ears.

I remember Smitty slouched in a rump-sprung couch somewhere deeper in the house, just inside the doorway that led into the TV repair shop. Both Smitty and couch were shiny with dirt, and the smell of the place was a wall-like solid to my sensitive nose.

I hear all the time “You shouldn’t judge people” but I would disagree emphatically in this case.  Living in filth and comfortable with it, Smitty and Lois were the worst sort of White Trash. Even at the age of 5 or so, I thought they were repulsive. I liked playing with Dotty on the railroad tracks, but her family, and their house … yuck.

The point of all this is that the Skin Color Line that determined who associated with who placed gross-as-hell Lois, who was white, on the near side of the line and hard-working, self-respecting Bessie, who was black, on the far side.


I understand the historical dependence on race — after all, skin color is an easy feature to see and react to — but damn, I would really like for us to get the heck over it, to understand that, if anything, we’re separate by culture, by values and aspirations, and not by color.

At the same time — right this second, I’m thinking mainly of the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in France by Islamists, but the point is a broad one — I would like for us to HOLD each other to those values and aspirations, whatever we choose as the signature values and aspirations of decent people, and understand that it’s possible to not measure up. Coexistence makes us neighbors, yes, but only shared values and aspirations — things that take some effort — can make us fellows.

Off-Topic Musings #1

off topicI’m often moved to post things on Facebook that are far beyond the short-subject stuff that plays most well over there, and I’ve thought many times that that stuff should be HERE instead of there. After all, assuming a limit to writerly energy, every long piece I post on Facebook is a piece that cheats my might-be readers here.

And yet a lot of that stuff doesn’t exactly fit here. My main writing these days is on Beta Culture, and I want it to be.

On the other hand … I want to be VISIBLE to the people who read this blog. I say things here that I believe in deeply, but there are things worth saying off my main subjects, things that catch my interest or impress me with their profundity. And I’m not exactly a single-facet monolith. There are things I disagree with, or think about in different ways, compared to typical atheist/freethinker allies.

Meaning: I like to hope there are plenty of things to like about me, and I hope I can convey some of them. But I’m also pretty sure there are some things you should DISLIKE about me. In some ways, I sort of consider it necessary. I don’t want to be roundly loved …

First, because the only way to do that is to either think just like you — in which case there’s no reason for me to exist — or to monitor everything I say in an attempt to be liked by you, and I don’t want to do that either. I want to be wrong about stuff sometimes, both so I can learn better from the input I receive here, but also so that I know I’m taking chances with my thoughts and ideas. If I’m not wrong sometimes, it’s probably because I’m fencing myself in and declining to say certain things that I actually believe.

But second because I expect there will be times when people will dislike me for expressing an opinion because THEY are wrong about it, and I’m right. I want to be disliked, disagreed with, in that case. Hopefully so they will think about it, but also so that I’ll know I was true to my own ideals, and had the courage to express the unpopular thought.

For instance, as you may know about me, I’m an immense fan of science but not a big fan of GMOs. The subject annoys me every time it comes up on Facebook, when I hear even professional scientists repeat the misleading “Why, humans have been genetically modifying plants and animals for thousands of years.” Argh.

I’ve gotten into spitting fights with people who insist that eating horses and dogs is exactly equivalent to eating any other type of meat. I hate hearing that so much, I’ve said more than once that I wouldn’t sit in the same room with (or keep as Facebook friends) people who’d advocate eating a horse or a dog. “It’s their culture!” I hear. And I think, “Yes, well, fuck their culture. I have a culture too, and in my culture, dogs and horses are off the menu. You don’t eat things you love.”

(Fair warning: If you do believe the eating of horses and dogs is exactly the same as eating any other type of meat, kindly go elsewhere and read some other blog. I seriously don’t want to hear your opinion, and will delete it.)

I’ve gotten into fairly heated arguments with those who insist you should never use words that hurt the feelings of certain demographic groups (I’m NOT talking about the N-word, which I never use and which I think white people have no right to use). I hate the very idea of attempting to take words away from language. There’s a much longer discussion — and maybe I’ll even get into it someday soon — about why I feel so strongly about it, and what I think the effects would be if we gave in and just all agreed to be polite and sensitive to every single delicate-feelinged person out there.

Anyway, I’ve decided to throw in this post heading, “Off-Topic Musings,” a sort of catch-all I’ll use on occasion to express some of that iffy “me” stuff. And here’s the first. See what you think.


No Man’s Land

Was thinking today about something I decided to call a “compressed dialogue.” That’s where one issue in the subject before you is so all-consuming of attention that no other aspect of the thing can be spoken of. In the context of the compressed dialogue discussion, to speak of those things would brand you as a hater, or crazy.

For instance, for the longest time, you couldn’t say ANYTHING, not one approving word, about the rights of Palestinians, without being branded an anti-Semite and perceived as attacking Israel’s right to exist. The dialogue was compressed in a way so as to exclude any discussion of the lives or well-being of Palestinians, and if you broached the subject AT ALL, you somehow automatically approved of the Holocaust, and wanted Jews worldwide to be murdered in their beds.

Likewise, there seem to be compressed dialogue conditions in many of the ardent issues my side of the political aisle supports.

For instance, I’m pretty well convinced George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin. But I had people tell me privately they don’t actually like or trust people wearing hoodies. They don’t like not being able to see people’s faces, and lamented that one side-effect of the incident was this insistence that we should all wear hoodies to show solidarity with the murdered man.

Yet if they were to make such comments in public, they would have been branded as approving Martin’s murder, or of being virulent racists. Any possibility of a more complex discussion that included this side issue was shadowed out of existence by the sun-bright focus on racism and murder. You simply couldn’t talk about hoodies in any terms but gushingly positive.

I’m absolutely certain compressed dialogue conditions exist on the other side of the aisle. I have a hard time believing every Republican legislator is an ardent Tea Party supporter, or thinks global warming is a hoax. In fact, I’d suspect compressed dialogue conditions exist MORE on that side of the aisle, and that the penalties over there are even stiffer. But I sort of expect that; some part of me insists right-wingers are fearful idiots.

It’s the stuff on my side of the line that bothers me most. We live in an era where apparently even the best and brightest of us think the way to conduct a discussion is to scream with rage if the slightest off-script comment escapes the lips of our fellows.

Aside from the specifics of any issue, I think it’s important to know that compressed dialogues exist, that even our oh-so-rational selves will occasionally fall into them, and that there SHOULD be a better way to talk about things.