Thursday, March 31, 2011

Reflections of a Househusband

The following is a fictional narration. It important to mention that I know very little about stay-at-home fathers and child-raising in general, so I take a great deal of freedom in imagining how it might be like. This in response to a comment I read on a online forum to my favorite anime Hourou Musuko: 
Japan is famous for being one of the most "male chauvinist" countries of the world, after mexico.

As far as i know gender stereotypes are something very important in japan.

Females are often expected to be housewifes and never try to be equal as males.

And of course, males have their pride. [Link]
I was not always a stay-at-home-dad. After college, I actually sustain a steady career in sales division of a retail store. One day, my manager assigned me to a joint with the lone female employee. Everybody else was uncomfortable working with her because they did not expect that she would actively compete against them in getting promotions. This was my first time I had ever worked with her, and the first thing she did was lay down the ground rules of working with her. Mostly, she demanded my respect in her ability to work and that flirtations of any kind were unwanted.

I did not care with whom I worked as long as the work got done. It was probably this indifference that made her enjoy working with me more than anyone else in the company. After the project, she requested from the manager that we have another project together. The manager was really surprised, and so was I. The manager agreed and after the first day on this new project, she invited me to go to a pub after work. Normally, I went with other employees, of course all male. It was kind of strange going with just her instead of a bunch of guys.

Well, needless to say, she became my wife. We continued to go to work for awhile after our engagement. When we told everyone at work about us getting married, some were in utter disbelief while others, like the manager, claimed to have known this already.

A year passed, a inner desire welled-up inside me. I longed to have children with her, but I had refrained from asking because she was making such progress in her career. I lacked her drive to succeed in the business world, but felt very afraid to take away her dreams by making her a mother. When I finally brought the subject up, she sympathized with me but was unwilling yet to become committed to having a pregnancy.

Finally we decided on adoption, but that was not all. After long discussion not just with my wife but my family, I decided to quit my job in order to raise our new child so that my wife could continue with her career. People at work again were surprised, for they were expecting her to become like there wives. My parents thought at first that something must be wrong with me since I lacked this drive take home the bacon. I think they believed it was the influence of my wife and her "unwomanly" obsession with her profession which led to my "unnatural" decision.

While visiting possible children to adopt, I discovered that my wife had actually wanted a child greatly too. I think the reason she did not want become a housewife was because she felt that would be denying part of herself, her dreams and aspirations.

We found a nice eight-year-girl, and all during the adoption process I struggled to adjust to housework. My mother-in-law proved an invaluable source of advice on cooking and child-raising. I join the PTA group to our new daughter's school and went shopping with her in order to buy her all that she might need in terms of clothes and toys. During the summer, we moved a new apartment since we felt our old one was just not big enough for us.

The one thing I most miss about work is all the friends I had. Now, the other mothers think of me as a curiosity or unmanly. They do not seem to be able to sympathize with my decision to become a stay-at-home dad. I cannot go to a bar like I used to after work now since I have a child to take care of. Despite all this, I feel like I made the right decision.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Arguments from Ignorance

I wrote this in response to a senior who argued that A) I ought to feel despair for not having a god for existential grounding, and B) that we cannot explain where poetry and the like come from through evolution by natural selection. Before I begin, I would like to say that I am only partly interested in A. Personally though, I do not think the lack of existential grounding should lead to any feeling what-so-ever. Perhaps thought this way: if I have no external reason to feel any particular way (a divine feeling-giver instead of a divine law-giver), I probably just choose to be happy rather than sad since sadness feels worse than happiness. Once I have some attachment to something, which attachment here suggests conviction emanating from the self, I will then have grounds for sensitivity to my surroundings. This leading to a more complex emotional reactions that the theist feels would be missing without a god. Now this essay is not really about me or how I deal with my emotions but rather, as the title suggests, the argument from ignorance.

There are difficult, sometimes unanswerable questions about the universe. The true test of one’s intellectual skill in critical thinking is in dealing with these kinds of questions. Two camps of thought particularly relevant to freethought exist in regards to how to respond to ignorance. One is the naturalist, the other the supernaturalist.

The naturalist responds to difficult questions like how did human language evolved by deferring to experts relevant to that field. The supernaturalist often tackles the difficult question from within his or her ignorance. For instance, since some supernaturalists cannot conceive of how beautiful art or music came about through evolution by natural selection, the supernaturalist relies of traditional answers like muses or deities.

This is called an argument from ignorance, which is to say: since we do not know the answer, my belief is true or better. It is not always the case that supernaturalist argue for strange phenomena via the argument from ignorance, for they sometimes attempt to prove their beliefs via some kind of experiment. However, for many supernaturalists, the purpose of the argument from ignorance approach is to undermine scientific and other critical methods as the golden standard of discovering truth. The goal for theistic supernaturalists is to replace empirical evidence with revelation as to give credence to their particular ecclesiastical tradition.

Theistic supernaturalists (as opposed to psychics and mystics) are particularly troubling in that feel compelled to search for difficult questions. This feeling comes from the coping mechanism rooted in dogma that major theistic religions use. The idea is that one is only happy if and only if he or she believes something, especially god. Many religions spend at great deal of effort teaching their practitioners what to feel, how to feel, and when to feel particular emotions. The most relevant in regards to the theist’s opposition to atheism is the existential despair that comes from removing the god crutch.

This belief basically means that a person is incomplete and incapable of true happiness before or without the rituals, religious community, and feeling of divine presences. Naturalists, particularly in the subgroup called atheists, have other beliefs about human existential completeness, but that is not the problem. The real problem with the theist position is that it assumes that belief is a coping mechanism. Some theists claim that they would go out and kill people if it was not for their beliefs. Why? Their religion has taught them that faith is extremely important for morality and personal well-being.

This is why I argue that non-religious people ought to make secular alternative more well-known as to combat this dogma. There are very important skills for dealing with situations which they can teach, and this will result in increased well-being for those who adopt critical thinking and scientifically-verified ways of coping with one’s emotions. Ignorance is no reason to jump to conclusions, and those conclusions can often be very risky. For instance, the dogma of faith only serves the religion as a way of controlling people, and often through fear, the dogma cuts people off from the rest of the world. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Making Room for Secular Alternatives

The following was written late at night, so the flow is off.
Religionists often argue that only through religion can a human being cope with existential issues. I believe that religionists believe this because the special place that society has preserved for religion. Generally, the institution to provide the general public a direction for their lives has been religious in nature resulting in the dogma that only religion can provide this. Those working outside the intellectual framework of religion have come to the sciences and philosophy for answers, yet privilege for most of human history has restricted for the most part these secular realms of human endeavor from the general public. Recently, with the advent of mass literacy and internet resources, people from lower and lower social circumstances have begun to break through the glass ceiling and separate from the social and intellectual support of the local ecclesiastical authority.

Globalization has brought with it growing awareness of other ways of coping with life, mostly in the form of other religions. The recognition of possibility of being born in another situation, I believe, is the first step in understanding epistemic issues in relying on local authority for the most difficult questions. This is not enough, however. Without access to a good education, especially in philosophy and the sciences, the recipient will have to go through great difficulties to reinvent methods for thinking clearly, which most people lack the time to do. This means that those who have left one religion can often find themselves in another one.

Access to information, especially via the internet, allows for these tools of understanding the world to have general access. Finding this information, thus, is the second step in coping with life without religion. The local ecclesiastical authority needs a replacement or the source of psychological and educational nourishment will lead a mental starvation. Internet access to a great deal serves that purpose; however, it also has a weakness: there is lots of competition between superstition and credible sources of information. Even those that seem to have journalistic integrity have fallen the way of entertainment or appealing to target groups. This means the universal standards of credibility for answering questions about the nature and society that exists strictly for the critical methods of sciences and philosophy must remain as a safeguard against the inexhaustible competitors for the public’s educational needs.

Finally, people around the world need access to professional help from counselors and psychiatrists in times of crisis. While secular existential theories can provide some of the foundations for understanding how to make sense of human purpose, depression is something that one cannot cured in the philosopher’s armchair alone. What some religions provide is someone to which to confess and an idea of forgiveness. While these of course are not optimal cures that medical practitioners seek, some religious practices do have a temporary benefit to the patient or victim (depending if the religion is the source of the ailment). In places where religious institutions are the sole provider of mental treatment, those seeking leave of religion suffer without aid or return to those institutions for some degree of comfort.

Secular organizations, specifically atheist and ex-religionist ones, have made great strides in all these areas, except perhaps educational reform. New community groups are spreading providing that which religion left behind. While I do not expect everyone to become scientists or philosophers, I do expect the use to critical thinking aided by knowledge gain by experts to guide our everyday life. There is always the chance of empirical evidence coming along and conflicting with one or more of my beliefs, so I expect an evolving debate in philosophy and science over those questions people find very important. In my opinion, philosophical theism is not a threat but an intellectual position in which humans ought to work together in discerning (though I fall strictly in the atheist camp). The debate is undermined, however, by the competition of religious institutions in presenting themselves and their methods as being as credible as or more credible than scientific method and critical thinking.

Author’s notes: There a few things I would like to include which may clarify my position on related topics connected to this paper. First, I do not reject all traditions.  Festivals and eating together are often to a great benefit for people. Second, I do not want to suggest that the state ought to coerce people into believing anything, whether religious or nationalistic or sexist or what have you. Freedom of consciousness allows individuals to self-actualize, while coercion of the mind can lead to destruction of the ego. Third, I am not arguing for the forced destruction of traditional institutions, but rather the best modern science and education also become available to everyone. People need to learn about sex, science, world religions, philosophy, and practical skills in order to function optimally. Fourth, I realize this paper is a bit distant from the emotional issues, but I have written about emotional things before and will again soon.