1000 words on religion

Articles,Philosophy — Sean Bonner @ 10:22 pm

[this post is also available on Medium & Tumblr for ease of sharing]

Yesterday I watched this video of Pastor Eric Dammann of New Jersey’s Bible Baptist Church recount his interaction with a kid named Ben. Go ahead and watch it, it’s short:

It’s disgusting for a whole all-you-can-eat-buffet of reasons but let’s go ahead and address a few of them. The most obvious is that he’s talking about punching a child. But not just talking about it, bragging. He underlines that he “crumpled” the kid. This full grown man, unprovoked, punched a child in the chest and crumpled him. And he’s proud of this. But just before that happens he mentions that this kid Ben was really bright which “didn’t help things” and “made him dangerous”. Reading between the lines anyone can assume Ben was a smart kid who perhaps didn’t take this guys word as law and asked some questions that the good pastor found annoying to have to answer, or not answer as the case my be. Dangerous because he didn’t just submit? Pastor Dammann then essentially lays out that through the use of physical violence he made a child succumb to his religious beliefs. Beliefs we can only assume Ben didn’t buy into prior to this altercation.

To recap: Smart people are dangerous, violence is the solution. This is the message here.

This video has sparked enough outrage that Bible Baptist Church posted a self serving, half ass, revisionist apology on their website which implores the community, and by extension the world, to be as understanding and forgiving as Ben who has already made peace with the pastor for his actions years ago. One has to wonder if this forgiveness came under threat of more violence. Forgive me or else! Of course this story is not making headlines the world over because unfortunately this kind of thing isn’t news. Religious people have been using violence to suppress dissenters for a very long time, and this week has some horrifically ugly examples. 12 people killed at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and another 5 in Paris because the magazine printed cartoons unflattering to the Prophet Muhammad. In Nigeria the militant Islamist movement Boko Haram has killed close to 2000 including strapping a bomb to a 10 year old girl and sending her into a market where the bomb was detonated remotely. And yes, killing people is different from punching them, but the motivations are the same. You haven’t blindly accepted this mythology that I believe is real so I’m going to hurt you.

This has been happening as long as religion has existed and no faith is free from blame.

Coincidentally this is exactly the motivation behind the creation of something else happening in the US this week: National Religious Freedom Day. Did you know there was a religious freedom day? Created in 1992 and based on Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom which dates back to 1777. This is important because it clearly states a legal and natural freedom of and from all religions. Here’s a snip:

“…no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”

If you think sounds familiar you are right, as it was the primary influence for the First Amendment of the US which assures freedom of religion and speech to all people. Here’s that:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Speech and religion are intricately related as we’re seeing in every news report coming out of Paris. People were killed because of what they said about someone else’s religion. And this sparked massive freedom of speech rallies attended by millions – the biggest such rallies in France since liberation from the Nazis. The people are obviously in support of free speech and politicians from the world over rushed to Paris to stand side by side with these people. Of course, many of politicians are barely paying lip service to the ideals represented, and it took mere hours for this to be apparent as a French comedian was arrested for making a joke on Facebook (plus 54 other cases opened for people expressing opinions) and for Turkey to ban the newest issue of Charlie Hebdo.

But that’s over there and here we’ve just got pastors punching kids, so big deal, right? Well with a 92% Christian Congress and a Supreme Court ruling that businesses can discriminate based on of religion we’re already seeing where someone’s religious beliefs could prevent people from receiving health care because of their sexual orientation. This isn’t far away hypothetical thought experiments, this is actually happening right now. Religious massacres are low hanging fruit – easy to condemn, but I feel just as strongly that kids shouldn’t fear or risk being punched by an adult for not sharing the same imaginary friends. And it’s important to recognize that there is some structure, and some basis for the idea that we should all be allowed to decide what we do or don’t believe in, and shouldn’t fear institutional backlash from those decisions.

That’s the world I want to live in, that’s the world I’m trying to shape.

Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others

Philosophy — Sean Bonner @ 5:31 pm

Growing up in a fairly religious family the notion that you should always consider other people before yourself was pretty well hammered into me. Of course we all know what most religious people say and what they do are two very different things but that’s a topic for another time. But regardless, as a kid I always had the adults in my life repeating this to me. This manifested itself in different ways in different situations. I remember from a very early age sitting on an airplane listening to the safety instructions and thinking it was rude and selfish that the flight attendants were suggesting that people should put on their oxygen masks before helping anyone else. I’d listen and ask myself what kind of terrible people would help themselves before helping others. 

 

It took me years to understand the importance of this disconnect. It’s shockingly obvious: You can’t help others if you are dead – then you both die. Putting on your oxygen mask first ensures you live and can then help other people.

 

Abstract that back a bit, two people, two problems. One person tries to fix the other persons problem and it’s a very real possibility that both people will still have problems. End result, two people, two problems. But if one person fixes their problem right away, then tries to help the other person with their problem at worst you’ll have one person with no problems and one person with one problem, and at best two people with no problems.

 

At some point I realized this wisdom extends far beyond the tarmac, and well into normal everyday life. You shouldn’t try to fix other people’s problems before fixing your own. And beyond problems into happiness, you can’t expect to make other people happy if you aren’t happy yourself. (Secretly miserable comedians excluded apparently). I don’t think the importance of this can be underestimated and for something that is so obvious – put your oxygen mask on first – not a lot of people follow the logic elsewhere.

 

How often in a disagreement, business or personal, where two parties want different things is compromise proposed as the solution? That’s not actually a solution, it might be an agreement, but at the end of the process neither party gets what they want. It’s not “we’re both kind of happy” it’s “at least the other guy isn’t happy either.” A better solution is to work with people who want the same outcome as you. To spend time with people who are happy because you are happy, not people who want you to be unhappy. Even if on the short term that seems reasonable, big picture – it’s not. Think about it. Long term nothing good can come from investing in people who don’t value your happiness. 

 

This isn’t just a lesson about who to spend time with, but also about the importance of knowing what actually makes you happy. If you don’t know what you want, then you can’t make it a priority. You can’t find people with similar goals. You can’t be happy to begin with. So, if you don’t know, figure it out. It’s important. Put on your own oxygen mask first.

It’s a new year, what will you do with it?

Me, Myself, and this blog — Sean Bonner @ 1:01 pm

While I’m far too jaded to put any stake in new years resolutions I do find value in reassessing life and direction and trajectory from time to time and the new year is an easy marker to remember to do that once and a while. Looking back over the last 12 months I think I too often let the little critical voices inside my head shape my actions. If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while you know I wrestle with this and sometimes I’m awesome at ignore them and other times I give them more weight than I should. It’s a creep and easily addressed once I realize it and while I might not see it day to day, looking at months at a time makes it more obvious. And just like how turning on a light gets rid of the darkness, taking notice of the inner critics often shuts them up. It make them easier to ignore at least, for a while anyway. That’s why these occasional assessments are good.

 

For me, the inner critics aren’t of the “you suck!” flavor that others sometime fight with. Mine are more subtle and a constant “no one will care about this, why bother?” I also overthink reactions and if I can convince myself that a single person might read whatever I’ve written and might take it the wrong way and might react negatively then before I realize it changed course. I self censor. And that’s bad for my head. I’ve talked a lot about how writing is my therapy. I work though whatever is rattling around in my brain by writing it and have come to some amazing revelations this way. So when I don’t write, when I don’t hash this stuff out, it piles up. And that sucks. And it spills into other parts of my life. I tell myself not to send that email because the person probably won’t reply. I tell myself not to take that photo because it’ll probably be lame. I tell myself not to put whatever it is out there into the world because no one will care. So I’m identifying that right now and casting it out.

 

Right now I’m giving myself permission, and encouragement to push forward. I’m renewing my license to do it. What will I do with that license?

  • Take the shot
  • Hit publish
  • Don’t worry about potential critics
  • Say yes
  • Just fucking do it

I know this approach might result in making some things that are less than awesome, and might result in making some things that get me in trouble. But I also know that making things trumps not making things. And trouble from making things trumps no trouble from not making things.

 

So that’s where I’m at today. Thanks for being there with me.

Bookish

Uncategorized — Sean Bonner @ 1:29 pm

I’ve been progressivly making the move from physical books to kindle versions, I’ve talked about this in the past just from a physical space standpoint but the convenience of having all my books with me at any given moment is hard to downplay as well. And yes it has it’s setbacks as well but for me there’s more on the win side so my physical bookshelf is being whittled down to mostly hardback first editions of books I love and or books my friends have written – with some books even fitting into both those categories. 

 

The ease of buying books for the kindle is great too, but maybe too great. I often hear a friend talk about a book they are enjoying and quickly buy it so that I have it in my library and can read it later on. This has resulted in way too many books sitting unread in my kindle library, which is almost as bad as the way too many books sitting 20-30% read in my kindle library. To the point when I look back I forget why I have a book, or what is going on with it in the part I’ve read. It’s getting to be a problem. I think I’m going to put a moratorium on buying new books for a while to try and get through the ones I have. I know I’m not the only one who has this issue but I’m also not really sure I’m looking for advice on how to deal with it – I just need to focus on finishing books rather than jumping around to new ones all the time. I know some friends have told me they force themselves to finish a non-fiction book and then reward themselves with fiction and still others have moved entirely to audiobooks. Audible is a piece of shit on every level which pretty much rules out the audiobooks for me because of the strangle hold they have on that entire industry. Bastards.

30 days of fiction

Writing & Stories — Sean Bonner @ 12:07 am

My friend Susannah just finihed up a 30 day project challenging herself to write fiction every day. I followed this as she was doing it and the results she experienced are similar to ones I’ve gotten myself in previous “make sure to write something everyday” experiments. I’ve written before about my struggle to write fiction, non-fiction and philosophy I can spew all day, but fiction is much harder for me. Even though I’ve actually published that was kind of a joke, though a fun one for sure. The thing is, writing fiction is something I really want to do more of and it kind of drives me a little crazy that I have such a hard time with it.

 

Recently, when talking to my friend Clayton I mentioned that no matter what crazy impossible story I tell about growing up in Florida it’s instantly belivable because it happened in Florida, and that got me thinking about Susannah’s project and I thought maybe these things might go together nicely. So I think for January, and using “This happened in Florida” as a springboard, I’m going to try it out – one short piece of fiction every day. I’m not going to restrict myself to the Florida thing but I think it’ll be good inspiration to get the ball rolling. I need to think a little about the other restrictions – Susannah’s were 100 words in 15 minutes. I plan to post these as I go on my secret blog and if something manifests itself that I’m especially happy with perhaps I’ll post that elsewhere as well.

Crowd Source My Life

Uncategorized — Sean Bonner @ 2:05 am

If you are on my mailing list then you just learned about this because I just came up with it while I was writing up the latest edition of it. I turn 40 in February so I’m asking people to help me come up with a list of things I should before that date. Here’s the doc where you can add your ideas. Go for it.

Generation

Uncategorized — Sean Bonner @ 6:10 pm

(originally posted on my secret blog, and then sent to my mailing list, been getting some great feedback on it so posting more widely here too)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the balance between creation and curation recently, or maybe the imbalance between the two. And how rewarding each are for different reasons. For better or worse I’ve spent a lot of my time and life in the curation category – finding cool things and pointing others to them. Be it bands, artists, news stories, whatever. I’ve also had my share of creation of course too – I put designing record covers in that category, and of course writing as well. Photography, music, art are firmly in creation. I’m much more confident about the curation – I know when something is awesome or interesting and I don’t second guess the urge or need to point other people to it. I love doing it – but in the end I’m still pointing to other people’s work and I’m only valuable tomorrow if I find more things to point at. I’m less comfortable with the creation but I find it infinitely more fulfilling. From now for the rest of time I made that, and I can look back on it and people can discover it years later and it still came from me. It’s just as awesome, maybe more so, today when I see someone wearing a t-shirt with a band logo I drew or quoting something I wrote many years ago. These things have a life of their own.

Making music and art now is similarly exciting and I’m looking forward to where that ends up. But it keeps making me think about opportunities I passed up that I didn’t even recognize as opportunities at the time. I was lucky to find punk rock in the mid-80’s and those influences changed my life. I felt like I contributed to the scene by putting out records and booking tours, but looking back now I shouldn’t have passed on the many chances I had to actually be in bands and create things that might have lasted. I don’t feel like I missed out so much as I didn’t get all I could out of it. I love the experiences I had, but I can’t help but recognize that there could have been more. I try to keep this in mind going forward with new ideas.

I have books that I wrote 10 years ago and never published, it feels too late now but I know I shouldn’t have talked myself out of it then. When it’s mine, I want things to be great and perfect. And I’m good at convincing myself that things need more work to be great, work that never gets finished. Real artists ship right? I need to ship more often.

I think a lot about the world right now and my place in it. I still do a lot of curation. I find things and point people to them. A lot of things I’m reading or things that sparked my interest. In turn, people point to me as a filter. But I don’t know that I really want to be a filter. I mean, I am so there’s that, but that’s not my aspiration, and at the end of the day thinking about and saying “Man, I linked to some great stuff today, so proud of that!” isn’t really something that happens. Ever.

And on top of that, the world is fucking depressing right now. The news is all bad all the time. And I think that’s influencing my mood in ways I don’t like. I wake up next to my beautiful wife to the sounds of our amazing kid causing some awesome chaos somewhere in our great house filled with wonderfully handpicked stuff and I smile. And then I see the news and I think we’re fucked. And then I pass that on to everyone else. I don’t want to ruin people’s days anymore.

I don’t know where I’m getting with this line of thought, just that I’m thinking. And I want to make more things. I want to make more music. I want to write more. I want to create more. So that’s what I’m going to do. Said. Done. Stay tuned.

Body Cameras And Law Enforcement

Articles — Sean Bonner @ 11:02 am

The Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, MO has brought a number of worthwhile discussion topics to national attention – not the least of which is countering widespread public distrust of law enforcement with technology. In the above mentioned case there are several conflicting reports of what happened, and that’s just taking into account the ever changing official statements from the police department. Add in eyewitness reports and it’s possible we’ll never know exactly what happened. Many people are suggesting that if police officers were required to wear body cameras this kind of problem would disappear into thin air.

In truth the argument that compelling police to wear body cameras is the one stop simple solution to ensure accountability is laughable. We know this because we can look at direct track records. In Los Angeles the LAPD (which has been trying to overcome an unfortunate reputation the department earned very publicly in 1991 with the Rodney King beating and the Rampart scandal a few years later) are required to wear voice recorders which switch on automatically when their cruiser sirens are activated and record voice audio within a certain range of the car once the officer steps outside. The benefit here is obvious and the argument was made that this would ensure accountability. Which it would if they worked, but mysteriously the recorders stopped working and this kept happening until the department was forced to admit that theirinternal investigations showed that officers were purposefully breaking off the antennas on their recorders to disable them. Perhaps unsurprisingly the majority of the sabotaged recorders were in the Southeast division – a low income, high minority area with a long history of excessive force complaints. One can imagine mandatory body cameras might suffer similar “technical problems.”

In fact, Los Angeles has been rolling out body cameras on a trial basis already equipping officers who volunteer for the trial program with lapel cameras to compliment the ubiquitous dash cams already deployed on police cruisers everywhere. But again, these things need to be used in order to be useful – in the recent shooting of Ezell Ford, the officers were not wearing the lapel cameras and the dash cam in their car is missing.

Here’s the thing – regardless of what anyone would like to believe or would like you to believe cops are just people doing their jobs, and we know from the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Milgram Experiment that ordinary people, when put in positions of authority over other people will abuse it and can easily disassociate and justify that their position requires such actions. Officer Sunil Dutta’s recent Washington Post oped is dripping with this and there isn’t a technological solution to it. Law Enforcement should be first and foremost public servants, as long as police officers and the system that supports and enables them continues to act as if their job is authoritarian in nature and they are out on the streets to keep people in line rather than to protect them, as long as they look at people as the potential threats rather than those they are charged to look after, nothing will change and everything – including body cameras – will just be a temporary bandaid.

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