Belief systems are personal constructions and some are just wrong
Take a careful look at the two pictures at the top of this page. What do you think you are seeing? How do they make you feel? What do you think they communicate?
The two photographs are part of a set we shot for a now L.A.-based designer and local jewelry designer. It’s the accessories that likely get your attention in these photos. While the designer originally intended the cuffs and collars to be worn by the same person, she decided on set that it might be interesting to give each model an element, essentially linking them together. Her intention was to emphasize how we are all linked together, connected across numerous chains without realizing it. No one on set at the time objected, so we went with it.
However, once we first showed the photos back in 2012, opinions changed. While the designer’s point of view is still credible, once one superimposes their own belief system and personal history, they tend to see something different, something not very positive. Are we connected or are we enslaved? Sometimes the difference is difficult to distinguish. The set was dropped from any additional publication. This is the only place you are likely to ever see the photos.
Belief systems alter how we see the world. They influence everything from how we view art to how we view each other. Our opinions regarding what we eat, what we read, what is acceptable entertainment, and sometimes who should be allowed to even exist are all matters determined by our belief system.
A current theme running through social media is that we should neither judge nor shame people for what they believe. I disagree. We should not judge or shame people for who they are, but belief systems definitely need to be challenged, especially when those belief systems are based on inaccuracies and ignorance. Let me give you five good examples.
So, have you been paying attention to the weather lately? How ’bout those fires that consumed Gatlinburg, Tennessee and a large portion of the Smokey Mountains? Did you see that? What caused that? Long-term drought, ladies and gentlemen. Regardless of how the fire actually started, the fact that it spread is directly because the land was so incredibly dry that forests burned hotter and faster than was anticipated. Firefighters couldn’t move fast enough to get in front of the fire.
Or how about those tornadoes in Alabama and Tennessee this week? Folks in the South are having a rough time of it. Yet those, too, are the result of changes in global climate patterns. Taking a look at the current statement made by the U.S. Drought Monitor regarding Southern states sounds horrifying:
Severe drought impacts continued to mount in this region and included parched soils, record to near-record low stream flows, and drying stock ponds. Impacts from southern Alabama, as submitted to the Drought Impacts Reporter, include shrinking aquifers, dried-up stock ponds, failed crops, and stressed feed for stock. In Lowndes County, Alabama, ranchers have been feeding hay reserved for winter since early September, and, except in a few places, pastures were absolutely bare. Soybean growers statewide have reported that soybean pods were shattering. Soybean pod shattering occurs as a result of hot and windy conditions and low humidity combining to dry the pod walls until they become brittle and break. As of mid-November, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs’ Office of Water Resources had declared most of the state in emergency drought status.
Oh, but climate isn’t the only place we’re not too excited about science. NPR is reporting that “Americans Don’t Trust Scientists’ Take On Food Issues.” The article is based on a just-released paper from the Pew Research Center. Among the details are nauseating tidbits such as:
39 percent of the survey participants believe that genetically modified foods are worse for your health than non-GM food. However, there’s essentially no scientific evidence to support that belief — a conclusion confirmed most recently by a National Academy of Sciences report.
Americans believe that there’s no scientific consensus on GMOs. Just over 50 percent of respondents believe that “about half or fewer” of scientists agree that GM foods are safe to eat. Only 14 percent’s beliefs match the reality — that “almost all” scientists agree that GM foods are safe to eat.
Americans feel that research findings are influenced in equal measure by the following factors: the best available scientific evidence; desire to help their industries; and desire to advance their careers. In the view of the public, all of those factors are more important to scientists than concern for the public interest.
A distrust of science is a particularly dangerous thing because it leaves us open to myth, conjecture, and the overwhelming amount of false news permeating the Internet. The American public displays a particularly high ignorance regarding even the basic matters of science, such as the term “theory” and the stratification of “hypothesis.” Without even a basic understanding of science and a complete dismissal of its findings, we are left open to consequences we won’t see coming. The fires and tornadoes are just a start. The planet has no problems eliminating humans in order to reclaim itself.
Those who deny science on any level need to be challenged every time they open their mouths. There is no acceptable level of ignorance. Science is not only predictive, it also has the ability to provide remedies if we’ll just pay attention. The future of the entire human race depends on using whatever means necessary, whether through shaming or complete public humiliation or academic discretization of those who encourage the denial of science. Allowing such ignorance to grow dooms us all.
I was deeply disturbed when I saw a news story out of Virginia yesterday. Accomack County Public Schools have, at least temporarily, pulled To Kill A Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn from its shelves after one mother complained about the use of racial slurs in the books. The mother told the school board that her biracial son, who is in high school, “struggled” with getting through a page containing a racial slur.
Even more disturbing, however, might be the quote in the news story from a different mother of a 10-year-old: “It’s not right to put that in a book, let alone read that to a child,” she said.
Apparently, some of the folks in Virginia have forgotten the very purpose of literature. But then, such sentiments are not unusual anywhere across the United States. The American Library Association’s ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) compiles lists of challenged books as reported in the media and submitted by librarians and teachers across the country. Their most recent list from 2015 (because, in case you hadn’t noticed, 2016 isn’t over yet) includes the following books:
- Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group
- Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”)
- I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
Reasons: inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group
- Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
Reasons: anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”)
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
Reasons: offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”)
- The Holy Bible
Reasons: religious viewpoint
- Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
Reasons: violence and other (“graphic images”)
- Habibi, by Craig Thompson
Reasons: nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group
- Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
Reasons: religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence
- Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
Reasons: homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”)
Find some of those titles surprising, do you? Would any of those books challenge your personal belief system? I really like what the ALA’s website has to say about banning books:
A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. As such, they are a threat to freedom of speech and choice.
“A threat to freedom of speech and choice.” Those words should send a chill down your spine. Book challenging and banning is one of the most visible and most emotional methods of anti-intellectualism, but it certainly isn’t the only one. Even worse, the problem is growing.
We’ve been hearing about the “dumbing down of America” for years. The truth is that there has always been a certain amount of anti-intellectualism throughout the United States since its founding. Not all the founding fathers believed that everyone deserved an education, or needed to know how to read and write. What’s disturbing is how that this belief system has spread and might even be considered at least partially responsible for the surprising outcome of this year’s presidential election. Smart people scare those who are ignorant.
In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell,” where the chairman of a Senate environmental panel brought a snowball into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president, it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value. Our failure as a society to connect the dots, to see that such anti-intellectualism comes with a huge price, could eventually be our downfall.
I cannot disagree with Mr. Niose. The increase in our national inability to reason is terrifying. What makes it difficult to stop this line of thinking, however, is that it is impossible to reason with an unreasonable person. For those who are willfully ignorant, especially, there is no argument that can permeate that thick helmet of absolute wrongness. When that anti-intellectualism is even further entrenched by eccentric religious beliefs, it is even more dangerous and more difficult to fight.
Yet, fight we must. We cannot let gross and rampant anti-intellectualism go unchecked. I don’t care if it is a part of someone’s core belief system, it is still wrong. That’s correct, I have no problem stating that anti-intellectualism is wrong. We have to challenge those mindsets and use whatever methods are necessary to push it back into some form of social submission. Ignorance has no place in the public discourse.
Issac Asminov rather famously said:
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”
We have erroneously allowed anti-intellectualism to grow throughout American in the name of some manner of freedom to be stupid. No, you do not have a freedom to be stupid. Ignorance puts everyone in danger and is a threat to our way of life. I can think of no circumstance in which ignorance is to be tolerated. I can think of no circumstance in which ignorance should be protected. We should fight it at every juncture with all our might. While we certainly won’t see its end, we must see its diminishment.
How many of you just scrolled quickly to get the above image off your screen? I wish I could know what was your motivation. Why are people offended by this picture? Is it the nudity, the fact that both models are female, or the most obvious element that one is black and the other isn’t? Chances are, for far too many Americans, it’s the latter.
Racism in America has, like anti-intellectualism, been a part of the American reality since its inception. The very first Europeans to set foot on think continent enjoyed slaughtering indigenous people so much that after each such event they would have a feast and call it Thanksgiving. That’s just how incredibly deep racism flows through the American culture. As a belief system, racism has frequently been a core issue, backed up by religion, reinforced through oppression. America’s racist history is shameful and something of which we’ve yet to repent.
What is most bothersome, however, is the degree to which those who are most ardently racists have taken the election of a new president as reason to glory in their racism and demonstrate such deplorable ideology in a public manner. NBC News made public research from the Southern Poverty Law Center this week showing over 900 incidents of hate, most of which have involved racism or sexuality, since the November election. Specifically, “900 separate incidents of bias and violence against immigrants, Latinos, African-Americans, women, LGBT people, Muslims and Jews in the ten days after Trump captured the White House.”
Can we possibly make this any worse? Yes, yes we can. Most of those incidents occurred in schools. Quoting now from the NBC News article:
In a related SPLC online survey of 10,000 teachers and school officials, eighty percent of the respondents reported a “negative impact on students’ mood and behavior following the election,” and eight in ten said they detected “heightened anxiety on the part of marginalized students, including immigrants, Muslims, African Americans and LGBT students.”
Bigotry takes a lot of forms, and every one of them is deplorable. However, the worst of them all is racism and the speed at which racist events have accelerated should make everyone of a more reasonable mind a bit nervous. Just in case you haven’t seen any of the nastiness that’s been caught on camera, here’s a sample from earlier this week:
The young black woman toward whom this particular rant was directed has received a tremendous amount of support after the incident, but the fact remains that the incident shouldn’t have happened at all! Nothing like this should ever happen.
Hold on, there’s more. This isn’t the only recent incident. Consider some of the following headlines that have cropped up recently:
- Baltimore teacher fired after racist rant at students
- Trump Supporter Goes on Racist Rant Against Muslim Uber Driver
- Bank of America worker fired after posting racist rant
- Beaverton plumber fired after racist road rage rant
Here’s the thing: we know that racism is a problem, yet we continue to tolerate it from people we know. How often have I heard someone excuse the racist behavior of another by saying, “Well, they have a right to their opinion.” No! Racism is not an opinion! Whether or not you want fries with that is an opinion. Which color you should paint your living room wall is an opinion. You do NOT get an opinion about the color of someone else’s skin!
There is no such thing as a racial supremacy in any direction because, guess what, race is just something we made up to divide ourselves. We have known at least since 1998 that, from a genetic standpoint, there is no such thing as race within the human species. The pigmentation of one’s skin is wholly irrelevant as to one’s humanity.
Furthermore, as genetic research continues, there is increasing evidence that a considerable number of people who think of themselves as white actually have at least one black ancestor in their family tree. So much for the concept of racial purity.
Anyone who has racism as part of their belief system needs to be confronted, shamed, and socially outcast at every opportunity. This increasing trend is not something we can tolerate a second longer. We must address racism aggressively before we end up in yet another pointless domestic war.
Why the hell did I choose this specific picture? Because I have a challenge for you: Guess the gender of the two persons standing with their back to the camera. My guess is you’ll look at body curves and general physiology and try to make a guess. One male, one female? Both male? Both female?
Here’s the answer: it doesn’t matter.
Discrimination based on gender and sexuality is a belief system that is more than 6,000 years old. We see it in all the Abrahamic religions and the societies built on those traditions. Therefore, the belief system is deeply entrenched not only in those religions but through the societies around them. No matter how deeply entrenched those beliefs may be, however, they need to be challenged. Women are not property. Homosexuality is not wrong. Gender is more than physiology.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation didn’t begin investigating crimes based on gender identity until 2013. When they did, they listed crimes against a person because of “sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity” as hate crimes. Hate itself, the FBI insists, is not a crime. How one behaves in response to that hate, however, can be. So, with the FBI on the case, incidents of sexual-based crimes has gone down, right?
2016 has seen some of the most alarming incidents of hate specifically against the LGBT community. Most notable was the shooting at an Orlando gay club that left 41 dead. However, as the New York Times reports, even before that event, people within the LGBT community were more likely to be the victims of hate crimes. As incredible as it may seem, LGBT people are twice as likely to be the victims of hate crimes than are black people. The number of incidents has risen so dramatically that hate against the LGBT community now outpaces hate against Jews, which has historically taken the top spot for hate crimes.
Oh, but it gets worse. Numerous sources have ran with the story this week that the president-elect has pledged to sign the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA). The bill was first introduced in 2015 but languished in the House of Representatives knowing that there was no way it could ever receive a presidential signature nor override a veto. However, given vice-president-elect Mike Pence’s history with anti-LGBT legislation here in Indiana, and given the president-elect’s campaign rhetoric, supporters of the legislation feel certain that they can now get the bill through Congress.
We simply cannot let this kind of thinking continue. More than just an anti-LGBT law, such legislation further codifies hate into the American system, hate that inevitably spreads from the LGBT community on to any other group that finds itself out of favor with ignorant society.
Here again, we are dealing with belief systems that are based almost wholly on a religion-facilitated ignorance. When one speaks up against the hate and bigotry and discrimination, one is quickly told that their Bible or Quran or the Talmud prohibits such relationships. Yet, there are plenty of well-studied religious scholars who disagree. The portion of scripture that spans all three of the major Abrahamic religions, placed in the Christian Bible as Genisis chapter 27, has been widely misinterpreted to be preaching against homosexuality. Many preachers stand and fume against the “sin of Sodom,” but analysis reveals that Sodom’s sin had absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality! Consider (from the linked article):
The classic instance of this is in Ezekiel 16:49-50 which castigates the people of Jerusalem:
“This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”
Another, Isaiah chapter 1, also enumerates the sins of Jerusalem, whom he addresses directly as Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 10):
Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom!
Listen to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
Verse 17 implies what those sins are, by stating what the people should be doing:
… learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
Not a word about homosexuality. As in Ezekiel, the sin is the abuse of the vulnerable.
Furthermore, not only did the alleged Christ or Prophet not address the matter, apologetics attempts to excuse that fact with, “you weren’t there so you don’t’ know for sure,” is as weak as some of the same apologeticisms’ denial of evolution.
Gender and sexual discrimination and hate as a belief system have to be confronted. Those clinging desperately to those beliefs need to have those beliefs condemned in very harsh terms because they are wrong and endanger the lives of others. There is no level of tolerance for such ignorance and hate. Shame on anyone who still holds to such antiquated beliefs.
At this point, nearly 3,500 words into this missive, one might wonder exactly how bullying factors into the whole concept of challenging belief systems. The answer is that many beliefs, attitudes, and actions that we see demonstrated through society, regardless of their names, are nothing more than pure brutish bullying. Any attempt at intimidation in order to force the will of one onto the actions and behaviors of another is bullying, plain and simple. We see far too much of it, but perhaps it is difficult for you to recognize some issues as a matter of bullying. So, let me give you a few examples.
Abortion. Actually, this has very little to do with saving the life of a fetus and more to do with men, through their power in government, bullying women. Do men really care what women do with their bodies? No, not really. What men, in general with notable exceptions, care about is control. They like being bullies.
Unsurprisingly, we see this form of bullying in the results of this year’s presidential election. The president-elect has made it perfectly clear that he intends to use new legislation and judicial appointments in an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade. The president-elect’s choice for Health and Human Service secretary supports defunding Planned Parenthood, which would not reduce abortions but would significantly affect the healthcare of millions of women. Both are classic examples of bullying.
Or how about the president-elect’s threat to deport immigrants? Not only is the threat illogical and impractical, it is another case of bullying, using fear and intimidation against a specific group of people. While some are standing up and saying they will defy the president-elect’s orders, he has still been able to create an atmosphere of fear among the immigrant community at a time when the world needs us to be accepting more immigrants, not fewer.
That whole deal about a wall along the Mexican border? Bullying.
Wage discrimination? Bullying.
Threats against companies moving outside the US? More bullying.
In fact, there is a lot of what we see in this white-male dominated society that is nothing more than well-entrenched bullying. We’ve been doing it for so very long that we’ve come to expect it and think that it’s just the way things are done.
No, we refuse to accept that line of thinking. Bullying, no matter the form it takes or who is the target, is wrong. Forcing someone else to act upon your belief system rather than their own, is wrong. No matter how much power one thinks they have, resorting to intimidation factors and fear is always wrong. You do not have the right to be mean. You do not have the right to push others around.
What is most upsetting about these bullying tactics is that the bullies always think they’re in the right. The reason we’ve seen such a dramatic rise in the number of hate incidents across the US is because those who voted for the president-elect mistakenly believe that his election provides justification to their warped and improper belief systems. Since bullying is an underlying principle of their belief systems, they have joyously exercised that belief in some of the most frightening ways we’ve seen since the civil rights struggles of the 1960s.
Bullying is not just a crime against a given set of people, it is a crime against all humanity and it is not limited to those in the US. A young woman in Riyadh posted a picture to social media of her standing outside, in public, without her hijab. The response was calls for her execution.
The world has no choice but to confront such belief systems. We must take a stand against the bullying. We must fight against the implementation of legislation that codifies bullying. If there’s one thing of which I’m certain it is the fact that standing up to a bully almost always causes them to back down. Now is the time we need to make that stand.
Belief systems are not infallible. Even well-considered and carefully thought out belief systems need to be challenged in some form or fashion. Those elements that are necessary and true will hold. Those that are false and unjustified we have to change. Unfortunately, not everyone sees that. So, where we see belief systems that exercise hate, where we see belief systems that put others in danger, where we see belief systems that spread ignorance and lies, we must challenge them. We need not always be aggressive. We need not always be forceful. But we must always challenge.
To be silent is the greatest mistake one can ever make.