Saturday, August 30, 2014

Lessons from Feminism for Atheism (A Bob's Burgers Story)

There are very few examples of young women who are clearly focused on in popular media. Teenaged sexuality is largely a taboo subject, but an unflinching view of female puberty? I've seen it twice. Both interestingly in cartoons. Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: The Clone Wars the other, and more interesting on is Tina Belcher from Bob's Burgers. 

Tina's depiction is unflinching when it comes to the awkward mess that everyone is during puberty. She isn't the object of ridicule, her budding sexuality isn't there to serve as a moral lesson about how bad female sexuality is. She is a (for a cartoon) a very honest presentation of a character who happens to be a crushingly awkward teenager with crushes that don't make sense and feelings she doesn't know what to do with.  

Her presentation is a powerful feminist act, and the show never, ever mentions it. And that fact is the point of this essay. Bob's Burgers is one of the most feminist shows I've ever seen but all of the feminism is implicit, none of it is explicit.  Social criticism has an important place in any struggle, we need people to state the problem and to create a cohesive theory about the dynamics at work. But we need to internalize those statements and theories and act.

So much of what I see of atheism is all social critique and meta-discussion. "Why don't we have a voice?" "Why aren't we treated equally?" But I have to date seen very little action taken as atheists. What would an atheist say? What would an equally treated atheist act like? 

One of the best answers I've seen to these kinds of questions is Sunday Assembly. It is an unapologetic action without any self referential hangups. It's motto is "Live better, help often and wonder more". A perfectly secular sentiment, but without the shrill handwaving that would drive away everyone but the choir. But is an honest presentation of what a secular community would value. It humanizes it's members by engaging them at the level of what people need out of a community.

Recently the President of the Boston Chapter of Sunday Assembly asked me, as I'm on the Board of Trustee's, to think of "categories of services that a person might need (counseling, addiction recovery) etc. that could potentially come in a secular variety." And it made me think of writing this essay. It is very challenging for me to make the transition from thinking about the nature of the problem to thinking about acting past the problem. Sunday Assembly should provide the services that its congregants need in a secular way. We would do well to internalize our values and act on them, irrespective of the struggle for equal footing with religions. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

There are Two Edens

We have two Edens, neither exist.

The first Eden is the obvious one, the low hanging fruit of hedonism one. Where you only eat cake, have sex all the time and are drunk everyday. (or whatever your preferences are) Everyone can describe this place all you have to do is ask them "What would you do, if you could do anything without consequences?"

The other Eden is more complicated to describe. It is the lifestyle that would optimize your physical and psychological health. It is the world where you slept just enough, ate exactly what your body needed, spent enough time connected with loved ones. You'd wake up happy, healthy, body buzzing with natural endorphin's. A perfect balance of stress and relaxation, fulfilling activities during the day. But all the simple pleasures in the first one would be denied you.

Look at how different these two places are. One is easily described by anyone in an instant, the other would be a matter of some great debate among all kinds of health professionals. Not to mention all the spiritual and psychological opinions you could collect on the subject on the perfect life balance and proper kinds of relationships. But there is in principle an accurate description of that second Eden. Its just that we don't know what it would be like, or how to get there.

Furthermore both are impossible in their own ways. The simple Eden leads to immediate trouble. Embracing your Id's demands like that would be a disaster. You'd all but instantly have ruined health and relationships, even in a magical world where you could do anything you wanted the physical and emotional reality would crush you. And the enlightened Eden would be ruined by the constant temptation of small deviations from the ideal. Surely one drink, or beer couldn't pull you away from the idea, but that you could not longer stay up late or eat badly would drive you crazy.

But consider the purpose of each ideal, from an evolutionary perspective. The easy Eden is a collection of drives and desires that is available to introspection. This collection of instincts got us from our evolutionary home to where we are now. There is a context in which these desires mesh with our ideal state. The second Eden isn't knowable to each person, because it wouldn't have been necessary to our forebears. In a world with no technology, processed food and mass media, all those desires that we currently count as unhealthy, or prurient, or sinful, would have lead (and in fact did lead) to evolutionary success.

Your Id isn't an insane force for destruction, it is a compass on the wrong map. These two Edens were the same place in our evolutionary past, it is only the contemporary context that has split them. We still have the drives and instincts that made sense 40,000 years ago.

The story that we are fallen and sinful is a destructive and misleading myth. We are not bad, or weak or morally corrupted, we simply are no longer where we grew up. Cut yourself some slack and know that you are not mislead by some inner darkness, but guided by instincts that are out of date.