On Christmas

Christmas is that weird time of the year where everyone suddenly becomes super focused on family despite ignoring them. To this point, so few people are traveling outside of the US, most sites will recommend going abroad (http://www.priceoftravel.com/1702/18-cheap-destinations-with-great-weather-in-december/).

It’s no wonder that Christmas is a stressful time. While a persistent myth exists that suicides are more common during the holidays, it cannot be denied that stress it at an all time high as people figure out gifts, end their year of work, work on trips, and deal with family (http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/holiday.html). So, what is a secular person with no material desire to do? The simple answer is to live.

In the past few years, we have seen an interesting trend towards minimalistic living. Single-use devices are on the rise, like the Kindle, which allows you just to read a book. The franchises are failing in favor of local businesses. Even McDonald’s, a megalithic fast food giant, is starting to see a downturn where dozens of restaurants are closing. This is in contrast to the stark rise in local businesses booming.

So, what is the correlation between Christmas and this minimalized living? Consumerism is on the decline. For me, I learn that I am less about getting gifts for various holidays, and more about spending that time to do stuff I couldn’t with the stuff I already have. It helps too that many of products today are moving towards a digital layout. Books are readily available for cheap or free. What use to take some time to figure out where to go next, can literally be “Oh, this sounds nice,” and it is added to your device, and you can start reading. Thanks to sites like reddit.com/r/freeebooks and Amazon sales, I have over 100 books on my Kindle, not even including library books for which I am in queue. Even if each book took me only a week to read (and I read slow), I am looking at nearly two years of straight reading, and it is all contained on one device. That’s awesome!

I’m sure this mentality all comes from my growing age. As I exit my twenties, possessions are less valuable. However, it cannot be ignored that this is culturally growing trend. We have unlimited content for low prices. We can watch thousands of hours of movies and TV shows, as we want, for about $10 a month on Netflix. We can listen to really high quality content via podcasts for free. All this creates a devaluation of buying new things.

I don’t mean to dismiss the needs for gift-giving and receiving. A lot of people like to pretend they don’t care about that and just want family time for Christmas, but everyone who isn’t lying to themselves know that to be untrue.

For the holidays, enjoy yourself however feels natural, but most importantly, try to enjoy life. Your kids will love whatever they get, and if you use it with them, they’ll love it more. You’ll appreciate whatever you get but only if you use it. Scale down your lists, and try to just find time to enjoy other people.

And, grab a Starbucks, because while they are a corporation I don’t feel much for, their stance of showing no holiday imagery, while probably just a benign cost saving thing, is kinda cool because you can do whatever you want with the blank canvas.

And that’s a really cool gift.

Mental Illness Plague

Another week and another mass shooting. This one, however, seems to be far, far more political than a lone gunman at a Planned Parenthood facility.

It’s all over the news, and details are becoming more and more sad. The point of interest for me is how many people were hoping the shooter was a group of white Christian males. A lot of people have sort of whitewashed this as some workplace violence rather than a potential act of domestic Islamic terrorism. While it can’t be ruled out that this could be a random act of workplace violence, there is the troubling detail that the shooter left the party to get his wife, arm up, get bombs, and don body armor. That doesn’t seem like a spur of the moment rage attack. Especially, when you consider the FBI found his IED Factory.

And that’s ultimately the problem. Rather than evaluating these shootings as a great part of a whole, we are looking for the exploitable story in each of them, in and of themselves. The guy in South Carolina who murdered some black folks was a racist. The guy who shot three people at Planned Parenthood was a right-wing fanatic who believed he was untouchable because he believed in God. This couple is actually just people who happen to Muslim, and there was a workplace dispute. That’s all!

The problem is this isn’t fitting the evidence. In the case of the shooting in San Bernardino, the primary shooter had recently visited Saudi Arabia to marry a woman he met online. Another suspect was allegedly from Qatar, but he was deemed a hoax, as the media grabs for straws. The narrative being portrayed is that the man, who is a US citizen and was at the job for five years was radicalized after traveling to Saudi Arabia, maybe via his arranged marriage.

This creates a commonality with mass shootings: radical fanaticism.

Beliefs are fine. People should believe in something be it atheism, Christianity, or whatever, so long as it doesn’t infringe on someone else’s right to do so. However, fanaticism is a mental disorder. It allows a person to completely disregard logic and the well being of others for the sake of pushing their own agenda. With mentally ill, the frustrations they feel through their untreated delusions will quickly be filled with a fanatical focus. It doesn’t matter what that focus is, but it allows them to grasp at something with their entire self, invest in it, and die for it.

That’s where I get frustrated with mass shootings. If the shooters are right-winged and white, the narrative becomes that we should disarm everyone, that political rhetoric is killing, and that Christians are hypocrites. If the shooter is Muslim or foreign, we get A LOT of vaguely racist talk, isolationism against refugees, and talk of one religion being more violent than another. It all creates a very tense conversation where extreme sides are chosen, while moderates are left to their own devices. Then, it passes, and we move on.

This all adds static to the real problem that, even in 2015, we refuse to address: mass, widespread mental illness. Until we are ready to address the fact that adjusted people don’t think of killing others, so that means these outliers are actually mentally ill and not just “evil” we will be stuck in this cycle of violence.

But that part about evil is critical. As mentally healthy individuals, we have to believe the idea that people who can act with great violence aren’t like us. They are evil monsters who are nothing like us.

The far scarier truth is that they are like us, but they are pushed to the fringes without any treatment for their unsaid conditions. Banning guns won’t stop them nor will arming everyone. We must, holistically, look at the mental health crisis in this country, and drop the bullshit illusion that there’s us and there are them. Otherwise, we will see these happen again and again, like they have.

And, in the end, all we get is more death and pain.

The Terror of Others

By now, you may have heard of Josh Feuerstein’s inflammatory death sentence of Planned Parenthood doctors. This guy is a “Christian Warrior” who considers all against his version of religion to be wrong. It was posted in July, but it’s now reddit famous.

Let’s be clear: this guy is a religious fanatical terrorist. By calling on the death of women’s heath doctors, coupled with his emotional language of cutting into a woman and crushing the skull of a baby, he is doing exactly what other terrorist do: sewing seeds of anger, faith, and passion onto any grounds it may take root.

With the attack on Planned Parenthood, less than a week ago, it shows that Feuerstein isn’t talking to some hat wrangling audience that is so fed up, but won’t do anything about it. No, he is talking to Eric Rudolph who bombed a bunch of abortion clinics in the 90s. He wants to bring the target on the doctors who perform abortions because he values the lives of unborn fetuses as more valuable than the lives of adults because Religion.

Regardless your stance on abortion, I find it implausible to believe that someone who is a by-the-book religious person would not only condone outright murder but would actually advocate it. This is not how to change ideas—that is by the end of a barrel with screams demanding you change or die—this is just creating terror, chaos, and hatred.

The problem with this guy is he is a really vocal, young Christian preacher, and he is pushing the agenda of violence in the name of beliefs. If you spend the time to watch any of his videos, his narrative is very puzzling and a little scary. He tries to take every chance he can to play the victim, namely being one of the people who decided that Starbucks created a religious war against Christians. What’s weird about this video is he is upset that Starbucks removed Merry Christmas from Starbucks, which it didn’t have Merry Christmas even back in 2011. And possibly further. For a guy who is big on carrying his gun and stuff wherever he wants based on the Second Amendment, but he seems to ignore that the First Amendment doesn’t require any business to celebrate any religion. The fact he is openly duplicitous shows his desire, first and foremost, to incite people towards his cause rather than bring them to believe on their own.

Josh Feuerstein will likely be arrested after that post, as he should. My respect for your right to practice your beliefs end when you say “Tonight, we punish Planned Parenthood… It’s time we make doctors run and hide for their lives.” This is going to create death threats, and it will cause a lot of collateral damage just as it did at the last Planned Parenthood attack – which happened from a fanatical religious guy. No doctors were killed, just cops and people at the clinic who may not have even been going for an abortion. Not saying Feuerstein influenced this guy, and he probably didn’t, but it is creating noise for these crazy loons.

You cannot have a debate where someone’s argument is “we attack them physically.” Josh Feuerstein may, honestly, have not meant to call for the death of other Americans, but the intent isn’t the point; he put it out there, and we’ll see where this goes, but the fact is he is providing fodder for the actual lunatics who will kill in the name of religion, even if their victims are also religious.