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Right Is Another Word For Privilege

There is no such thing as a universal right, in any inherent sense. There is no right to anything in the workings of the universe. It is simply cause and effect. Every right we have is a mutually agreed upon (I use that loosely) privilege. We define rights. We define a right as a contrast against a wrong which we seek to prevent by establishing tenets. While Thomas Jefferson was well-intentioned in the Declaration of Independence when he wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” he was inherently incorrect on one point: people are not endowed by any natural force (which I think is a rather good secular interpretation of a loaded religious term like “Creator” in a public document) with any unalienable rights. We, the people, bestow those privileges which we have decided are ethically affordable to each person.

In our western society, we progress toward a certain set of rights. Despite regressive opposition, the direction in which these established rights progress is clear. Throughout recorded history, the questions over each right have been debated and discussed as ethical points.

To me, the key seems to be in limited individualism. Each person should have afforded them a basic set of individual freedoms, but not to stretch so far as to cause harm or significant hindrance to the whole. Through this, an objective end of advancing our societies and species can be facilitated. Rights are deeply subjective, but I think this is the closest we can bring an objective standard into play.

I do not think that cultural traditions, while in many respects are beautiful and key to necessary identity diversity, can trump a logical basic set of individual freedom. Any cultural protocol, tenet, or tradition which oppresses an individual (with exception to where the individual is seeking freedom which would harm or significantly hinder the whole, as in a freedom to discriminate on basis of ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation and/or identification, &c.) cannot stand on its own and must be cast aside. I’ve said it many times before, and it is distinctly relevant now, that ideas neither have nor should receive rights. Ideas are to be challenged and questioned. Cultural traditions are analogous to ideas in this regard. When Abraham Lincoln spoke his Gettysburg Address, and he said, “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure,” he was directly referencing the clash of these very cultural harms against an ideal of human rights that the US Civil War represented. On the flip side of this, if a cultural tradition does not intrude on the basic individual rights of anyone, then there is no reason to hinder or do away with it. Those benign traditions are healthy for humanity to preserve.

How Do I Know?

The scientific method, for those who understand this paradigm, has been a fundamental force in how we know what we know, and how we continue to further our understanding of the universe. There is a strong and pervasive, faith-based opposition to this paradigm in The United States. Despite this, thanks to modern information technology, scientific understanding continues to grow.

In The United States, we have a reputation for being science-ignorant. However, as the proliferation of scientific information and publicly available research continues, as well as through the increasing influence of the skepticism and rational thought cultural movement, the line between anti-science and pro-science is shifting us closer to the entrance of Plato’s cave. If you look at the Pew findings on evolution broken down by demographic, you see that acceptance of evolution increases significantly the younger the demographic. At 65 and older, 49% accept evolution, ages 50-64 is 59%, ages 30-49 is 60%, and ages 18-29 is 68%[1]. That is a percentage jump of nearly one fifth between two generations.

photo by Scott Frank   Darwin’s theory of evolution, a refining of a long-standing concept, hit deep into the heart of the ego of the divine man and woman. I speculate that many who were initially repulsed by the notion of humans having evolved from primate ancestors were heavily influenced by the notion they were raised on that man was higher than the so-called beasts of the field. I still hear this reaction echoed in evolution deniers today. Others, I presume, simply resist anything that could refute their holy scriptures. This is why, as Asimov said, Darwin worked, “fourteen years gathering evidence for a theory he himself must have been convinced was correct from the beginning.”[2] Thankfully, the number given by Pew for adults who deny evolution is a minority 33%. It can be safely predicted that this figure will continue to shrink, when we look again at the age demographic breakdown. Still, the number is large enough to be statistically significant, and therefore how Darwin’s work and the scientific method presently shape America is split. To some of us, it is a cornerstone work which fundamentally underlines our view of ourselves and our origins. To the others, it is anathema.

Charles Darwin   Just as Darwin’s On The Origin of Species and Newton’s Opticks lit the fuses of monumental paradigm shifts in the science world, so now has the skeptic community, with the help of the internet, begun a cultural shift into the science world. Kuhn said, “Acquisition of a paradigm and of the more esoteric type of research it permits is a sign of maturity in the development of any given scientific field,”[3] and it is true as well in cultural movements as firmer grasps of scientific concepts become more and more accessible to the layman.

My own objectivity was something I learned, not a trait I was born with. I was not raised too religiously, but in my teens I was very attracted to it. I grew superstitious, biased, ideologically convicted, and fantasy-oriented escapist. In my mid-twenties, I began questioning everything I had adapted into my world view in my teens. I discovered Aristotle, Plato, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and the “New Atheist” movement. This fundamentally changed how I sought out and assessed information. As I entered my thirties, I began reading about neurology and how the brain processes sensory information and creates the simulation we experience as reality. This birthed in me a new hunger.

photo by Scott Frank   The more I learn, the more fascinated I become. I have trained myself to avoid cognitive dissonance and evidence denialism. I regularly debate to keep my ideas in check, fresh, and defensible. The last monument to fall in my knowledge base was the organic-Genetically modified organism (GMO) topic. I used to be a very vocal proponent of organic produce, as well as the obligatory opponent of GMO, despite evidence to the contrary of my ideology. When challenged on this topic, I spent hours revisiting the research, the peer reviews to the research, and meta-analyses. I had no base for that belief and I had to accept it. A very well-known science advocate, Bill Nye, recently underwent that very same transition of idea, prompted by a debate on an open interview (an “Ask Me Anything,” or AMA, session) on the web community Reddit[4]. It is intellectually painful to tear down a long held belief, but if the belief is proven to be wrong, one would be doing oneself a disservice to maintain it.

It is crucial to not let the concrete of ideas dry. It must remain wet and able to be reshaped. It needs creativity. It needs to have, as Asimov wrote, “and attitude that creativity is a permissible activity”[2]; but more than permissible, it must sit just shy of compulsory! Once the concrete dries, the mind lies still and unyielding, and nothing shy of a jackhammer will break it. We all know that is not fun.

1. Pew. “Public’s Views on Human Evolution.” Pew Research Center. 30 Dec. 2013. Web. 1 Mar. 2015. <http://www.pewforum.org/2013/12/30/publics-views-on-human-evolution/>.

2. Asimov, Isaac. “Those Crazy Ideas.” Inquiry: Questioning, Reading, Writing, Second Edition. Ed. Lynn Z. Bloom, Edward M. White, with Shane Borrowman. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004. 142-51. Print.

3. Kuhn, Thomas S. “How Can We Explain What We Know?” Inquiry: Questioning, Reading, Writing, Second Edition. Ed. Lynn Z. Bloom, Edward M. White, with Shane Borrowman.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004. 35-47. Print.

4. Kloor, Keith. “Bill Nye Had a Fixed View on GMOs. Then Something Happened.” CollideaScape. Discovery, 1 Mar. 2015. Web. 1 Mar. 2015. <http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2015/03/02/bill-nye-fixed-view-gmos-something-happened/>.

Lord, Give Me A Sine

   I seek a stillness only found in death, but is it to be dead? I certainly love life. Life is motion. I desire a balance only found in life, but wherein lies this equilibrium? I definitely lust tumult. Instability is the ebb to a harmonious flux. This push and pull is the structure of nature. We swell and contract within a larger wave. Lord, give me a sine. This pulse I give myself unto, through my desires I do your will. And such desires they are; such a will it is!

   Through allegory and metaphor, we find the keys to ourselves and our world. The true gods are within us. Divinity is nothing more than a state of mind. I am no prophet, nor savior; I am both of these things. I am no god nor demigod; I am all of these things. From my heart is borne the flame; from my cup does the water pour. I am the source of all life and the consummate abyss to which death’s current carries it. I am of the source and result, thus I am. I am simply a man, flesh and bone, born of my mother. I am nothing; I am everything. I am within and without. I am you; you are me. We are not one.

   I am. I will be. I was. I am not. I will not be. I was not. I am knot. I will knot being. I was naught but manifest. Abstracts consume my thoughts. My dreams, they’ve gone; stripped of their potency, bled of their vibrance and seared of their sight, they are gone from me. I used to dream strong. I loved dreaming. I would dream mighty epics and dark tales of unspeakable beauty. Who took this from me? Who reached into the depths of my soul and silenced my spark; muted my flame? I will it to return! I refuse nothing less than renewed dreamforms! I am.

   Lucifer is Jesus. Satan is a state of mind. Jesus of Nazareth is not Jesus Christ; the mythology of Jesus Christ is far older than any historical Jesus of Nazareth. The gods are simply astronomical concepts and naturally occurring elements personified so as to easily teach their attributes and interactions. Buddha is awake. I am the buddha. I am the christ. I am the lucifer. I am the satan. I am the enlightened. I am the anointed. I am the enlightener. I am the adversary. I am this and not. The universe is alive and so are we.