The Simple Life?

It’s 2016, and I still encounter people who yearn, and call, for what they consider a ‘simple life,’ like the lives our ancestors lived. Now, I have no problem with people making their own clothes, growing their own fruits and vegetables, etc. What I do have a problem with is people decrying those aspects of modern development and progress which, among other things, keep us alive, and make our lives easier.

These are the folks who protest things like genetically modified (GM) or genetically engineered (GE) crops, demanding instead an all-organic-all-the-time-regardless-of-the-circumstances lifestyle, call for everyone to ‘get off the grid,’ and protest development of any kind, even in underdeveloped, or Third World, nations, going so far as to romanticize the ‘traditional’ ways of those nations. (Tradition for tradition’s sake is, in my humble opinion, foolish.) And these folks say they protest these things because they’re concerned about, among other things, the environment; the claimed concern about the environment has gotten to the point where the desire for the ‘simple life’ has been confused, and conflated, with environmentalism. But are these people really concerned about the environment? I actually don’t doubt they are, but I also believe they’re trying to have it both ways, in that they fight any kind of development anywhere in the world, while themselves enjoying the fruits of that development at home. Never mind that people who don’t have access to these developments–for instance, farming technology and medicine–die because they don’t have these developments or access thereto. It seems, to me, that the anti-development, anti-GM, all-organic-all-the-time crowd is made up mainly of middle- to upper-class people who were bred, if not born, in more or less sheltered ivory towers, who apparently can’t be bothered checking their privilege at the door.

I don’t support science for the sake of supporting science; I support science because it has a proven track record of actually working. For instance, genetically engineered crops such as golden rice have the potential to feed people all over the world, including those who have no other options, whereas crop yields of organic farming, by itself, are 25% less than those of conventional farming. The folks who oppose GE crops of any kind and cry ‘organic is the only way,’ and oppose any other kind of development and progress, claim they have scientific evidence to back up their claims, but, if they ever present any, it’s bogus, as the anti-progress crowd actively misrepresents science,  and/or use scare tactics and appeals to emotion to get the public to listen to them, and to get what they want. If this crowd has science on its side, why do the people therein feel the need to use such tactics? And let’s not forget that, as often happens when this crowd gets what it wants, people die. I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t consider any ‘solution’ that results in genocide on a scale that would make Pol Pot and Augusto Pinochet look like humanitarians to be any kind of solution at all.

The truth is, the world is much different place now, in 2016, than it was even one hundred years ago. We’ve come too far, in terms of scientific, technological, social, and other forms of progress and development, to ‘get off the grid,’ turn the clock back and live the lives our ancestors lived. But, because of the scientific and technological advancements we have in this day and age, we in developed societies live longer and better lives than our ancestors did. I realize the planet we live on is the only one we know we’ve got, and I want to protect what we’ve got for the sake of future generations, but I’m not about to give up the advancements I’ve spent my life taking for granted and go back to the Dark Ages, or earlier. Also, what’s deemed the ‘simple life’ is actually anything but–our ancestors didn’t have the machines or other advancements that we have, so they actually had to perform hours of (literally as well as figuratively) backbreaking work to feed, house, and clothe themselves, and their life expectancies were shorter than ours are–hell, children have been known to die, sometimes before their fifth birthdays, mostly because of diseases which, in our era, are fully preventable, by way of hygiene and medicine. And yet those who live among us now who call for the world to give up the advances we have and our current quality of life and return to the ways of our ancestors don’t seem to realize that the vast majority of people who would do so wouldn’t last very long. Also, the vast majority of us, especially in developed, industrialized societies, after years of taking things like running water/indoor plumbing, refrigeration, central heating, medicine, and other scientific and technological advancements for granted, are too soft to stick this sort of thing out for very long.

That’s what angers me most about these people who decry the advancements we have now and call for a return to the ways of those who came before us: They ignore reality, cherry-pick the past (much like folks like David Barton), and use sensationalism, and even doomsday rhetoric, in an attempt to get the rest of us on board with their program(s). Alarmism sells ideas, but Chicken Little rhetoric is not what we need right now. Progress is not only a good thing, it’s necessary. But the world needs progress that benefits everyone, and doesn’t just make someone a buck.

Cultural Appropriation

It’s finally time for me to address an issue I’ve been hearing a lot about lately, and which has occupied my thoughts for quite some time now (and may make me seem like a bandwagoner here): the issue of cultural appropriation. I’ll sum up my thoughts here: While context is important in regards to cultural exchange of any kind, and I acknowledge white people especially have to take history and social reality into account when we adopt aspects of non-white cultures (since we’re the ones with the most privilege), there is such a thing as taking things too far.

Take, for instance, the idea that white people shouldn’t wear clothing, jewellery, or body decor (such as mendhi) from cultures not our own, especially of our own accord, as doing so can be considered cultural appropriation. Clothing, objects, and symbols of any kind have no meaning in and of themselves; people give these things meanings. And cultures–past and present–are made up of people. Granted (as an example), a non-Native wearing a war bonnet is the equivalent of someone who never served in the Canadian Forces wearing a Victoria Cross–that I can agree with, especially considering the war bonnet, as an object and as a symbol, hasn’t been adopted into the non-Native mainstream to date. But is it really cultural appropriation if anyone, regardless of ethnicity, adopts something, or a few things, from one or more different cultures which have been not only adopted, but absorbed, into the Western mainstream?

Now, let’s look at the hypocrisy of those on the lunatic fringe (let’s be fair here) of those who complain about what they consider ‘cultural appropriation’–more specifically, disciples of the New Age movement who subscribe to the belief that what they consider cultural appropriation is wrong. For instance, Jeffrey Armstrong, Heather Lounsbury, and Jordan Pearce (of ‘Spirit Science’ fame) peddle products, services, and rhetoric modeled on some version of ancient Eastern philosophy, such as Ayurveda (in the case of Armstrong) and traditional Chinese medicine (Lounsbury). The thing is, these folks are white. Will those New Agers who whinge about cultural appropriation go after them for actually misappropriating other cultures–and for their own personal gain–or will they resort to special pleading? Especially when one considers that New Age products, services, and rhetoric are geared towards middle-class people, the vast majority of whom are white…

Because of globalization (a topic I’ll cover another time), the world has become more interconnected, and thus there is more cultural exchange and cross-pollination than ever before, so, except for a few situations, it’s ridiculous to talk about cultural appropriation, especially when originating cultures can access aspects of their own cultures, especially once those aspects have been adopted and absorbed into the mainstream. As John McWhorter once wrote, “With gay white men and black women, for example, it’s not as if the black women are being left without their culture after the “theft,” … The idea that when we imitate something we are seeking to replace it rather than join it is weak. … Every language in the world is shot through with words and grammatical patterns from other languages—that is, signs of people in the past doing what we would call ‘appropriating.'”

All of that said, I agree it’s not unreasonable to ask that we show respect for other cultures, and to ensure all cultural exchanges and borrowings are done on a level playing field. That is, everyone, regardless of ethnicity, gets credit for what they create; we not misrepresent, nor perpetuate stereotypes of, other cultures (Katy Perry, here’s looking at you); there’s enough for everyone (think yoga and what we in the West think of as ethnic food); and there are no double standards (think Kylie Jenner’s cornrows and Miley Cyrus’s dreadlocks).

In conclusion, like with everything else, it’s important to keep the subject of cultural appropriation in perspective.

An Open Letter to Progressives on International Blasphemy Rights Day

Today–September 30–marks International Blasphemy Rights Day. While the majority of the nonreligious are posting comic posts on social-media outlets today to mark this day as a day to criticize religion and say doing so is OK, I’m going to use today as an opportunity to address the left in the developed world, in regards to its stance on religion.

To all of you progressives:

I believe your minds are in the right place in regards to wanting to make the world a better place for everyone, and not just a privileged few. But giving a free-hall pass to people who commit heinous acts in the name of religion is not the way to go, nor is making excuses for them, nor attempting to shift the blame onto other entities, such as the governments of industrialized nations such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, etc.–though I will be among the last people to say these nations don’t have shitty policies, which effect the world beyond their borders.

Now on to the topic at hand: Islam. Islam is a religion, not a race–let’s at least try to distinguish between the two terms. Also, why are you sending us the message that Islam is beyond criticism, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is the enemy of humanity, is Islamophobic, bigoted, racist, pro-war, pro-occupation, pro-imperialism, etc.? Islam is not special, and does not warrant, nor should it be given, special consideration or treatment. There is a line between defending people who happen to be Muslims and demanding Islam be considered above reproach, critique, and even mockery, and treated as such. For instance, you’ll have to make like everyone else and live with it when people call out Islamic apologists like Hamza Tzortzis and Reza Aslan whenever they talk crap. And, lastly for this topic, stop it with the promiscuous use of the term ‘Islamophobia’–it doesn’t do anyone any favours, and we need to keep this discussion moving if we want to solve problems. If we want to end religious privilege–everywhere–we have to bring Islam to the same level as all religious and superstitious belief systems.

I would also like to take this chance to point out that criticizing, satirizing, and parodying religion, as opposed to giving it privileged status, does not infringe on people’s right to be religious. In societies such as Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, European nations, etc., people have the right to believe whatever the hell we want; what we don’t have the right to do is impose our beliefs on other people, in any way, or use our beliefs to infringe on the rights of others. If you want a better world, you should acknowledge the damage religion–and yes, that includes Islam–does, and help ensure it does not have a privileged place in society, but instead is kept in check like any other ideology is, and should be.

Words Are Not Enough

I recently got wind of news that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to find the killers of Palestinian-born infant Ali Sa’ad Dawabsheh, calling his killing a terror attack, “a reprehensible act of terrorism in every respect,” in the wake of an arson attack in the West Bank that killed Ali and wounded three of his family members, two of whom–his brother and mother–Prime Minister Netanyahu allegedly visited at Sheba Hospital, where they’re being treated for serious injuries.

I must admit it sounds nice to hear these words from Prime Minister Netanyahu, and to hear them essentially echoed by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, but, given the history of the Israeli government’s attitude towards, and treatment of, Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as Arab citizens of Israel, and given the impunity the international community has allowed Israel over the years, everyone in the Israeli government–Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Rivlin included– and beyond will have to forgive me for withholding judgment and keeping an eye on the situation, and waiting to see if Prime Minister Netanyahu acts upon what he says.

The article I printed off the Internet recently and read claims Prime Minister Netanyahu has already taken some action, having spoken with representatives of the defense establishment, including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, and “ordered them to use all means at their disposal to apprehend the murderers and bring them to justice forthwith.” I’ll admit, after reading this and the rest of the article, I want to believe that the Israeli and Palestinian governments can come to an understanding and take steps to end the hostilities between them–even if it took the death of an infant to get them to think about it in the first place. But it’s going to take more than words to bring about this end. The Israeli and Palestinian governments will have to actually work together to end the hostilities, and bring peace between them. They can begin by taking all the religious clerics (rabbis, imams, mullahs, ayatollahs, etc,) and religiously-inspired groups such as Hamas out of the equation.

As for Prime Minister Netanyahu and his promises to bring Ali Sa’ad Dawabsheh’s killers to justice, and to fight terrorism from the Israeli Jewish end of the spectrum: I’m still skeptical he actually means it. But time will tell. But, as far as I’m concerned, actions speak louder than words, and I hope Prime Minister Netanyahu and the rest of the Israeli government keeps this in mind.

Hamza Tzortzis and Imran Hussein (Global Dawah Movement/Mission Dawah)

It recently came to my attention that these fellows had a very public temper tantrum, which passed for a response to a vlogger named Peter–who hosts a YouTube channel called EssenceofThought–which started with Tzortzis accusing Peter of slander because Peter dared to call him out on his lies and (continuing) hypocrisy…while himself slandering Peter, in an attempt to demonstrate to the Global Dawah Movement/Mission Dawah‘s audience–and these are his words here–“that you shouldn’t take online atheists seriously,” and proceeds to accuse them of misrepresentation and slander, and not having “the right type of ethic, especially when it involves dialogue and discussion.” Pot calling the kettle black, Hamza.

In the second part of his two-part response to Tzortzis, Peter draws his viewers’ attention to a comment from Mission Dawah which–long story short–stated their demand that Peter contact them prior to posting his video responses to them–essentially, to allow them to control his content. There is a word for this: censorship. Peter pointed out, in his response to Tzortzis, that the Internet is not a criticism-free, nor is it a shariah, zone, and that he won’t stop critiquing the Global Dawah Movement/Mission Dawah–by the way, formerly known as the London Dawah Movement. (Quick tip, guys: No matter how many times you polish a turd, it’s still a turd.)

In Peter’s response to Tzortzis’ partner in crime, Imran Hussein (in which he includes Hussein’s footage), Hussein merely whines that Peter called Tzortzis a liar, and about comments and posts on Peter’s personal–yes, personal–Facebook page, and repeats Tzortzis’ whine(s) about discussion and dialogue–something Hussein, like Tzortzis, apparently knows nothing, and cares even less, about.

The truth is, the Global Dawah Movement/Mission Dawah, much like Eric Hovind and Sye Ten Bruggencate at the dedication of the American Atheists’ atheist monument, want to talk, but not listen. Even Peter stated, in his response to Hussein, that these Dawah guys don’t want discussion, but a monologue. Because no one beyond them and their fellow believers behaves as if the Internet is a shariah zone, the gents who call themselves the Global Dawah Movement/Mission Dawah act like spoiled brats, especially when they’re critiqued. I’d have to say Peter handled the situation admirably, and responded beautifully, by refusing to cave in to these guys, and continuing to call them out on their lies, hypocrisy, and individual whinefests, whose only apparent purposes were to poison the well against outsiders to keep the faithful so and to curry sympathy with, and loyalty from, said faithful. In short, as far as I’m concerned, in trying to save face–especially in the face of Peter’s criticisms–the Global Dawah Movement/Mission Dawah have shot themselves in the collective foot.

Oh, and to the Global Dawah Movement/Mission Dawah: Lying through your teeth doesn’t count as flossing.


The videos (and a Facebook link) in question:





I know this is now long overdue, but I have a confession to make: There was a time–about a decade ago–when I was at my most gullible. Ten years ago, I became a member of a group in Vancouver, which is ostensibly anti-war, known as Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO for short). I joined this particular group because I thought doing so would allow me to make a difference. I got out of that a few years ago (when I was roughly 33 years old), after realizing I was wrong about what is now a major point of contention between myself and MAWO: That is, religion. In particular, Islam.

MAWO’s take on religion is that it’s merely a smokescreen, obscuring what they consider to be the real issues, all of them surrounding war and occupation. While it’s true that the only time the mainstream media says anything critical about religion is when it discusses Islam (while giving Christianity a pass for just about everything–or trying to, anyhow), I’ve come to the conclusion that the majority of MAWO’s members–including those in positions of leadership within that group–as Sam Harris once put it, have no clue what it’s like to truly believe in God–of any type or stripe. For instance, when the Danish newspaper Jyllens-Posten published some cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, MAWO staged a rally, in conjunction with local representatives of the Muslim community, to decry the cartoons (this was before I joined, by the way), claiming the cartoons helped spread Islamophobia, and thus supported war and occupation in what they deemed oppressed nations, such as Afghanistan and Iraq. No mention was made of the more violent reactions on the part of Islamists to the cartoons, or of Islamic religious leaders in Denmark including pictures that weren’t a part of the collection published by Jyllens-Posten; the point was to decry the cartoons as part of an alleged attempt to separate ordinary people in developed nations from their counterparts in the Muslim communities in those nations and in the Middle East and Afghanistan (which is, for those who don’t know, in Central Asia). Afterwards, when Somalia substituted its Union of Islamic Courts government with a transitional government, and the United Nations talked about stepping into Sudan, MAWO formed a group dealing with issues regarding possible interventions in African nations (which I was–albeit a small–part of), to protest any interventions in any African nations from developed nations; MAWO and this group (whose name escapes me) even went so far as to accuse Doctors Without Borders of paving the way towards war and occupation in Sudan. In short, MAWO ignores, either by negligence, design, or a combination, the heinous crimes and threats that Islamists make in the name of Islam, while giving Islam and its most hardcore adherents a pass for everything–hell, in the world according to MAWO, 9-11 was the fault of imperialism, and had nothing to do with Islamism or Islam. Also, they tout George Galloway as something akin to a hero, as he echoes what they believe. On top of all of this, they, as well as companion groups Iranian Community Against War (ICAW) and Indigenous Rights and Action Project (IRAP) liken the actions of groups such as the Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other Islamist groups to struggles of students and working people in developed nations, and those of Indigenous people in the Americas. And I fell for all of this, and more, hook, line, and sinker. Given their history, I think I know their take on the situation regarding Charlie Hebdo, though I don’t know if they’ve ever talked about it.

Now, I know better. I realize, in participating in MAWO’s mental masturbation, both in public and private, I’ve actually done more harm than good–especially in convincing people to ignore the heinous acts committed in the name of Islam–and I can only hope that whatever work I do to promote secular humanism, and any and all other work I do to truly make the world a better place, will make even a tiny dent in the damage I’ve done during my time with MAWO and its companion groups.

Please understand I have nothing against people who happen to have been raised to believe in Islam, and still identify as Muslim, especially out of fear of what will happen to them if they leave the faith. I do have a problem with promoting the idea that Islam is special and should thus be above criticism, satire, parody, and ridicule; Islamists and the most hardcore Muslims will just, like all religious people of all degrees of devotion, have to grow up and realize the world doesn’t revolve around them, and try to tolerate us infidels doing things they don’t like, as long as we don’t break any laws of the lands we happen to live in, or harm or inconvenience anyone else. I don’t condone inflicting any harm on, or actually discriminating against, people just because of things such as religious beliefs, but no one should receive special consideration and preferential treatment–and that includes Muslims. And I realize that entities such as ISIS, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Islamist groups do what they do out of a sense of, not injustice or inequality, but entitlement.

To all victims of Islam and the heinous acts carried out in its name–Muslim, ex-Muslim, and beyond–I offer my sincerest apologies for my thoughtlessness from a decade ago, and the last few years–simply because I didn’t follow my Grade Nine history teacher’s admonishment to do my bloody homework.

The Duggars: It’s Not Over Yet

Within the last week, I’ve gotten wind of news that Josh Duggar, eldest son to Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and a father himself, sexually abused a number of girls in his early teens–some of them his own sisters–and that Jim Bob and Michelle covered it up for years and bent over backwards to prevent him from being prosecuted for it, even going so far as to convince the courts to compound Josh’s crimes.

I must admit, I’m not surprised to hear this news. I knew something like this would come out of the Duggar camp–it’s always been a question of when.

What Jim Bob and Michelle apparently don’t realize is that they’ve done much more damage to their own, and their family’s, image and reputation by covering up Josh’s crimes than they would have if they had let him go through the system. The interesting thing about this situation is that, mere months ago, Michelle made a robocall to the citizens of Fayetteville, Arkansas in an attempt to convince them to vote to allow members of the LGBT community to be overtly discriminated against–and she and Jim Bob actively campaigned, and donated a generous amount of money (over $100, 000) to the campaign, to deny the LGBT community basic human rights–claiming concern about women and girls being traumatized by men, yet a few of their own daughters were traumatized by their eldest son, and they’ve covered that up, while ensuring the law never dealt with the son. Talk about double standards. The act, and cover-up, are one hell of a way to pay back the girls Josh attacked for their trust.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m scared for Josh’s kids, given what those of us with functioning mental faculties know about how sex offenders operate (hint: they rarely reform). Ergo, any statements about Jim Bob’s claims that Josh was ‘disciplined’ for abusing his sisters and some other girls, claims the sisters ‘forgave’ Josh (as if they had any choice), and Josh’s statement, “I acted inexcusably,”are worthless–the simple fact is that Josh Duggar is an unindicted criminal. The comments Josh and his parents have made on this subject translate to: “We’re sorry we got caught and now the world knows about this.” The truth is, if Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar actually cared about their children’s well-being, they wouldn’t raise them the way they are, and they would never have placed their family in the public eye in the first place.

But the worst is yet to come. Apparently, despite calls to do so, The Learning Channel, which airs the Duggars’ show, 19 Kids and Counting, has no plans to cancel the show or even take the Duggars off the air, but, if Freethought Blogs is to be believed, may make a show featuring the ‘newlywed and newly-mom girls.’ I understand the Duggars, and 19 Kids, have proven to be a real cash cow for TLC, and TLC clearly want to milk it for all it’s worth, even at the expense of the kids. But when the cash cow becomes a public-relations disaster, that’s when it’s time to cut ties. A fair number of advertisers have withdrawn commercial support from 19 Kids, but obviously not enough for TLC to get the message. I hold out hope that some in TLC’s upper echelons have something resembling common human decency (or, at least, some understanding of public relations and business ethics) and will–oh, I don’t know…do the right thing and cut ties with the Duggars for good? There’s more to being in business than just making money, and as for the fans…well, if TLC does cancel 19 Kids and end any and all business relationships with the Duggar family, they’ll just have to suck it up and move on–the world, after all, does not revolve around them, just like the Duggars don’t deserve special consideration or preferential treatment.

This is the last time I want to deal with this low-hanging fruit, but, as an adult, I realize I can’t always get what I want. After all, as Lenny Kravitz once sang, it ain’t over ’til it’s over.