Monday, February 16, 2015

"I'm not perfect, and so aren't you"

A pastiche of excerpts (slightly remodeled) from online personal ads, 2014.

Hey. So what's up? Unicorn here. I haven't been on a date in ten years. Why do men lie? I meet men, and then I find out they have girlfriends or wives. I’m a very hungry caterpillar, and the majority of men here give me a stomachache. I’m tired of online dating so I thought I’d post to the Internet instead. If you are charming, I will eat you and turn myself into a beautiful butterfly. I live in another state; if that is a problem, I understand.

I do not want to date a man who is old. One other thing: It hurts my feelings when people ask me to send a picture of myself and then they make fun of it and tell me it’s not my real photo. Knock it off.

I’m a pretty girl, age 40, who lost weight in the wrong places. I am a saggy mess with no boobs. I need a “face guy” who’ll think I’m sexy when I’m hiding behind nice clothes. I need a man over six feet tall because otherwise I’ll feel like I’m bending over to hug a child. Please do not try to convince me that I secretly want to date someone shorter, and I'm not interested in your classy comments about how you make up for it in other ways. Someone trim and active, too, who will inspire me to shred the rest of my weight off – not another couch potato like me. A little thug appeal would be the icing on the cake. I listen to Miley Cyrus. You must love pit bulls and hamsters. Let’s harvest the honey bud of life.

I’m a Native American girl. We dance to make the weather, and we are fascinated by boys with white skin and blond hair. You know, Pocahontas John Whatever Quetzlcoatl type shit. I need a forever boyfriend before I make it snow.

I’m 30 years old, and I have no one to stand by me. I could use a strong support system behind these walls. I can use all the love and help I can get in here. I prefer people who have their lives in order. Send your address so I can get in touch.

I was born with a syndrome. I hope it does not scare anyone off. I have brown hair and green eyes. I really want to be married at some point. I know the importance of a physical relationship between a woman and a man, but I don't want to focus on sex all the time, so I’m looking for a sexless relationship.

My ethnicity: white and pretty. Where is my punky-looking sweetie? Can you be my knight in shining armor as well as my homie lover-friend? I promise to accept you for who you are and to love you all the more for your flaws that make you unique. (Unless you smoke cigarettes – sorry.)

I am beautiful in every way. I seek an American husband with the objective of immigration. My brother, a former Marine, will screen out the losers. I hope to hear from the right man. Please include your GPS location.

I’m different, not like other women, by the way. Convince me why I should be with you. If I have to tell you what “blow my mind” means, don’t bother responding.

Looking for a guy who wants to be friends and loves dark meat. Hit me up if you’re serious. Be a real man. Successful and classy. Blue-collar and down-to-earth. No one stuffy or prissy. No erectile dysfunction, please. I’m feminine with a touch of tomboy on the weekends. I'm looking for a good-looking, laid-back guy who's fun to be around. That may be asking for too much on this retarded site. I’m job searching. I’m crazy but harmless. I just want an uncut guy for a long-term relationship.

I’m a junior in college looking for an actually relationship. Someone who lives alone, smokes, and likes snakes, and is walking distance from me. I will walk over to your place and we can smoke and play video games. If it’s not too much to ask, I was wondering if my two pet snakes can live at your place for a little while. Also, I need to rearrange my apartment, and my girlfriends and I can’t do it ourselves because we're too short. If you’re interested, feel free to respond.

Once again, someone has flagged my ad for removal, and it has pissed me off. Someone out there is trying to ruin my chances of finding love. Whoever you are, knock it off. You should be ashamed of yourself! For those of you who like my ads, thank you. I miss date nights and I’m looking for a soulmate. If you are interested in me, please respond, and whoever is flagging my posts, stop reading them. This ad is for people who are interested in me.

I honestly don't know what to ask anymore. Or what to even write. I guess what I'm looking for is a guy best friend with whom I can hang out and can text/call constantly even when we just finished doing something together. Actually, I’m just looking for someone to chat with, not a relationship – I am too unstable for that. I've been trying to get help, but no one wants to help me, and they wonder why there are mass shootings.

Remember the days when you had to call a girl to hear her voice? It’s all gone now. Everything is so f–ed up. I’m bored and lonely. I need a guy who is loyal, respectful, not into head games. White only. This Sunday, we could go to the beach or just sit around. We could make dinner and build a relationship that leads to marriage and kids.

Tough divorced executive seeking a f–toy college jock houseboy with passion, stamina, and great equipment. I'm not the slow and tender type. The whole 'I'll please you before I please myself, baby' thing just makes me laugh. Sorry, guys. Nothing excites me more than having command of a well dressed masculine guy. I find myself imagining what type of underwear he's wearing or how well equipped he is. We all have a type. Mine is young, strong, and has an ass that’s real easy to look at. I want it no-strings attached in the hot tub, the car, and the balcony. Get back to me with your most convincing pics.

Whatever happened to chivalry? “Yes, ma’am,” “No, sir,” and the like? I am a Southern belle. Whatever happened to husbands bringing their wives flowers, and children respecting their parents? Whatever happened to Christian values and human decency? There must be at least one God-fearing man who isn't married, locked-up, cheating, gay, or on the down-low who is interested in meeting me. If I wanted a bitch, I’d date broads. If you’d like to take my pain away tonight, send me a selfie.

I’m in an emotional and physical transition right now. I need grounding. Are you up for the task? I work second shift. I’m not looking for a “texter”. Please be patient with my replies. I'm not perfect, and so aren't you. Please don't bring up my past when we’re fighting.

I can’t walk around with a sign on me. My computer won’t allow me to send pics out, but I am attractive. I will “giggle” my hips for you! Don’t send a dick pic, please.

I like blond guys, mulattos, and light-skinned black guys. I like Jews – or guys who might be Jewish, LOL – with names like Jacob. I like guys who smoke pot. I like Chris Brown.

If you’re trolling these messages while eating popcorn and laughing your ass off, hi! I do the same thing! I have always associated this website with sexually transmitted diseases and serial killers, so, before anything sexual can happen between us, you must get tested for disease.

There's more to life than masturbating over fictional characters. At least, I think there is. Not that it can't be fun. But, now that it's a new year, maybe I should try giving my vibrator a rest.

I want a tall man to call my beast. I prefer long hair and a waxed chest. Are you career-orientated? Are you caring like a dolphin? Can you read between the dotted line of love?

I think I am really pretty. I rarely drink. There’s so much more to tell. If you’re not opiate-friendly, there’s no point in talking. We won’t get along.

Here’s the catch – I’m in Rhode Island.


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Image credit: Silhouette defining a female body shape. Public domain, from Open Clip Art Library on Wikimedia Commons. Superimposed on the background of a peacock tail at Kuala Lumpur Bird Park by Loke Seng Hon, Creative Commons 3.0, on Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Being morally accountable while being uncertain

George Cunningham wrote that, "if you think about it, most things you know about the universe are really just beliefs justified by a sufficient quantity and quality of evidence." Some beliefs are not even especially well justified, in which case what we have isn't knowledge but merely prejudice. William James: “A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

We refer to ourselves as having knowledge, but we can never attain absolute assurance of our correctness, and to pretend that we have done so or to delude ourselves into believing that we have done so leads us astray from our own humanity, which is inherently limited. "Every judgement teeters on the brink of error. To claim absolute knowledge is to become monstrous. Knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty," wrote that author of Dune.

Of course, we have a feeling that we refer to as certainty. People feel more or less certain about all kinds of things. At the extreme of either end of the "certainty spectrum," humans are unable to function successfully. "Psychologists have recently begun to consider," Robert A. Burton wrote in On Being Certain, "the role of pathological certainty and pathological uncertainty as they relate to schizophrenia and OCD [respectively]." That is, a person with schizophrenia might feel certain that the government is spying on them based on no evidence whatsoever, while a person with obsessive compulsive disorder might feel uncertain that the table is really clean even after they have washed it twenty times. So, it's important to our lives that we experience the feeling of certainty in a balanced way.

The feeling of certainty is separate from attaining grounds for assurance of our correctness. Those grounds may be rational, emotive, sensory, or any way in which we normally gain information, but they are not the same as whether we feel certain about what we have learned.

Nikki Stern sees a kind of beauty and power in maintaining uncertainty as it relates to moral judgements:

Moral authority is anathema to thinking, questioning, examining, reasoning, or wondering – the talents with which we humans have been gifted and which we Americans in particular are fortunate to be able to freely employ. The whole notion of moral authority contradicts everything we know about how our brains work, how our consciences should work, and maybe even how our souls might work.

Uncertainty, on the other hand, presents all sorts of possibilities: what about, what if, why not? We could fear uncertainty, but I'd much rather we all accepted it or, better yet, embraced it. After all, what we don't know absolutely is what we can imagine, invent, dream, or dare to hope.

J. B. MacKinnon acknowledges, in a different way, that we can take actions that we believe will produce positive change without necessarily feeling certainty that we are correct. If we are aware that our beliefs have some kind of grounding, then we are accountable to ourselves and can be accountable to others.

When people make lifestyle choices based on their concerns about the environment, they are often seen as – accused of – being "good." That label never sat well with me, though it took me a long time to find a better word. That word is accountable, and I can't define it any more plainly than the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur did: "Those who can account for actions to themselves are 'accountable.'" I prefer accountability to goodness because it embraces the imperfection of change as a process. If I can explain and defend my actions, it doesn't necessarily mean that I believe that my choices are without a doubt the right ones. Accountability is not certainty; it is attempted certainty.

James Hollis says that the process of arriving at this kind of accountability, all the while in the face of uncertainty, is what it means to live the examined life.

Nothing really important will prove simple. Denial and shallowness never prove worthy of what Socrates called "the examined life." The examined life will oblige us to consider that all issues, all issues, have more than one facet to consider, that our capacity for self-delusion is very strong, that we are always at least part of the problem, and that we will ultimately walk right into what we have fled, sooner or later. What is wrong with saying, "I do not know; I do not possess certainty; I think this is a fascinating journey and I am open to discovery?" Why should this simple confession require so much courage?


George C. Cunningham. Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer? Prometheus Books, 2009. p. 38.

William James, quoted in the Associated Press, quoted in The Week, April 25, 2014. p. 17.

Frank Herbert, Dune, 1965

Robert A. Burton. On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2008. p. 39.

Nikki Stern. Because I Say So: The Dangerous Appeal of Moral Authority. Bascom Hill Books, 2010. p. 127.

"In an Age of Eco-Uncertainty." J. B. MacKinnon. Reprinted from Explore (May 2010). UTNE Reader, Sept-Oct 2010, p. 71.

James Hollis, Ph.D. Why Good People Do Bad Things: Understanding Our Darker Selves. New York: Gotham Books, 2007. p. 201.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Humility on the home front while criticizing violence abroad

At the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 5, 2015, President Obama said:
But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge -- or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon. From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism...

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ...

And, first, we should start with some basic humility. I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt -- not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.

Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth -- our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments. And we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards Him, and have some humility in that process. And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty. No God condones terror. No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number.

Obama outlines the tension – a near paradox – inherent in this idea of humility. On the one hand, we must admit that we "don't always know what we're doing," and on the other hand, we "have to speak up against those who would misuse [God's] name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty. No God condones terror." This humility means being certain that we can't have certainty. It is an attitude that we must profess uncertainty about our own righteousness. It is a conviction that we must not allow anyone else to commit violence in the name of their own misguided assumption of self-righteousness.

More specifically, in identifying the errors committed by others, we must remember the transgressions of our own groups and traditions. The "high horse" that is not to be ridden is the idea that barbaric violence is "unique to some other place". Obama clearly had a negative judgment of the Islamic State terrorist group, which he called ISIL. The United States military had been fighting it for six months, and less than a week after Obama gave his prayer breakfast speech, he presented Congress with a resolution to formally authorize the use of force.

Michael Felsen wrote for Haaretz that Obama was
modeling behavior that ought to be emulated. By acknowledging regrettable chapters in his own religion’s both distant and recent past, he implicitly calls on leaders and followers of other faiths to do the same: face and confront those who appropriate religious doctrines and beliefs to serve a brutal quest for power and control. Today – in the face of ISIS and Boko Haram and Al-Qaida – Muslim leaders, and the many millions of Muslim faithful, must do this. But they’re not alone in that obligation.

Stephen Marche wrote in 2009: "The reality we can't bear to look at, however, isn't hidden groups of powerful men controlling everything but the more terrifying truth that there are no hidden groups of powerful men controlling everything. It's our deepest form of escapism to imagine a world in which we are powerless, because it excuses our selfishness. The real nightmare is that no one is to blame for the state of the world but ourselves."

In this statement, Marche provides one explanation for why people avoid humility. Some people's rage at expressions of humility – for example, former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, who called Obama's remarks at the prayer breakfast "the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime" – may come from a place of fear of having to acknowledge our own crimes. Some disorder and ugliness is caused by other people, but some we also caused ourselves. As we acknowledge the former, we cannot lose sight of the latter, or we, too, will likely come to embody the very self-righteousness that we are challenging in others.

Andrew Bacevich wrote that humility supports realism, since humility is nothing more than seeing ourselves as we really are.
Realism in this sense implies an obligation to see the world as it actually is, not as we might like it to be. The enemy of realism is hubris, which in Niebuhr's day, and in our own, finds expression in an outsized confidence in the efficacy of American power as an instrument to reshape the global order.

Humility imposes an obligation of a different sort. It summons Americans to see themselves without blinders. The enemy of humility is sanctimony, which gives rise to the conviction that American values and beliefs are universal and that the nation itself serves providentially assigned purposes. This conviction finds expression in a determination to remark the world in what we imagine to be America's image.


Transcript of Obama's National Prayer Breakfast speech, Feb. 5, 2015.

"Obama ISIS fight request sent to Congress," Jim Acosta and Jeremy Diamond, CNN, Feb. 12, 2015.

"Get real: Obama's prayer breakfast speech never really trampled on Christian or American values," Michael Felsen, Haaretz, Feb. 10, 2015.

"Why People Who Love Conspiracy Theories Are Part of the Problem," Stephen Marche, Esquire April 21, 2009.

Andrew J. Bacevich. The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008. p. 7.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Kentucky creationism theme park is not to get $18 million in tax breaks

The “Ark Encounter” creationist theme park was revealed in late 2010 as a proposed joint venture between Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) and the Christian organization Answers in Genesis. It was expected to cost $150 million and was supposed to open for business in the Spring of 2014, but, as of early 2015, workers are still pouring the concrete. Kentucky ultimately declined to award $18 million in tax incentives because Answers in Genesis insists on the right to hire only Christian employees. Answers in Genesis is suing the state. “You can almost always get a state to throw money your way to build a new state attraction, but it's another thing to propose that the state give you $18 million in free money and carve out a special exception for you so that you don't have to follow anti-discrimination laws when you're doing it,” said Hunter on the Daily Kos staff.

Biblical literalism about the creation story is widespread in the United States. The Week Magazine (Dec. 7, 2012) reported that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio dodged a GQ reporter's question about how old he thought the Earth is. Rubio said that the age of the Earth is "one of the great mysteries." The Week noted that Rubio had just "made his first appearance in Iowa, where 68 percent of Republican caucus-goers are Christian conservatives who believe God created the universe in six days just a few thousand years ago." Paul Krugman wrote of the incident for the New York Times, saying that Rubio had previously, in his role as Florida state legislator, "compared the teaching of evolution to communist indoctrination" (as The Week paraphrased it).

Some people see something of dismal metaphorical import in the idea that life evolved, as illustrated by the theologian Nicolas Berdyaev, who wrote:

Evolutionism is, in fact, a conservative theory and it denies creativeness in the world. It recognizes merely a redistribution of the parts of the world. Change takes place as the effect of impulses from outside, and no change is ever detected which happens within, from interior activity, from freedom. The external influences, the jolts form outside go on for ever, the inward is never reached, there is no core of any sort which possesses creative energy.
The meaning of this seems rather inscrutable. There is undoubtedly creativity in the world. The question is, who or what is a creative agent, who or what do they have influence over, how is the change effected, and how long does it take?

If the theme park in Kentucky were able to tackle these questions, it might be a good use of $18 million, but somehow I doubt it is in their business plan.

Painting by Dorin Coltofeanu. Wikimedia Commons.

Quote from Nicolas Berdyaev, The Divine and the Human. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1949. p 50.