Monday, February 20, 2012

But I'm Just One Man...

What could I do, really? It's the idea I've wrestled with much of my life. It seems I'm constantly up against it. It started in high school with friends that refused to register to vote, when I'd have killed to register, though I was too young even my senior year. I volunteered my time, I spoke on behalf of my chosen candidate, and dammit I made a difference, but I was pissed that I couldn't vote. It turns out my vote wouldn't have been a game-changer in my ward, my district, my state, my country, but I'm pretty sure that my words and actions touched hearts and minds. It didn't change the election though.

Moving forward, my jaded, embittered self still didn't cause my candidate to win in 2004 either, even though I voted, I caused many to register, and even threatened bodily harm towards those too apathetic to vote on their own and caused them to turn out. Twice my motivation turned real local results, small though quantifiable, but failed to achieve my overreaching goal.

It's been years since then. I've grown intellectually and emotionally since then, but what have I learned? There have been plenty of other failures despite my best efforts and plenty of successes despite my apathy. It's enough to make one wonder about his own impact on the world. I joined Klout to measure my social media impact and was quite surprised with the result, then I realized people regurgitating pilfered racist/sexist/horrible jokes were making a bigger theoretical impact than me. That wasn't really a setback, but it was disheartening nonetheless. Looking at real people working their asses off to make a difference, they're not making an impact in numbers like Carlos Mencia Parody Account #4.

Then I remembered the metrics used by [Faceless Big Box Electronics Chain] I used to have to memorize when I was in management training in a former life. We measured all the metrics for our store - close rate, items per transaction, average selling price, and attachment percentage, not just for the whole store but for each individual salesperson. Some people did great, some not so great. In theory, people who did poorly in these metrics were phased out. Some didn't, though, because they consistently got glowing personal reviews from customers who obviously would come back. For years, [Big Box] didn't know what to do with these people they obviously couldn't fire. Fast forward several years, and the nameless company has now destroyed all its direct competitors. They've created high-paid, high-profile, highly competitive Personal Shopper positions where metrics are largely thrown out in favor of exit interviews.

Possibly a poor analogy, but it gives me heart in this real-world test run of baring myself to the world. In the last two years, I've gone from having a few fractured ideas to pulsating with a need to share my ambition. I've gone from non-work schedules consisting of sleeping, video games, and bad movies to purposefully signing myself up for ambitious projects I can't possibly conquer without first bettering myself. Two years ago my longest-term goal was to be rid of my run-down car (a noble goal, trust me, but short-sighted). Now, for better or worse, I'm pretty much booked through April and making plans for beyond. Much is work, but among that is AOK events, my talk, Reason Rally, and on one insane weekend in April - two lectures for work at our huge OKC user conference, Ask An Atheist Day with whatever group will have me (up in the air), and possibly emceeing a huge regional beard contest at a beer festival (assuming timing works out). I've also tentatively signed to a couple other events in 2012 and 2013.

Yeah, that's all great for me. I love being part of it and I'll surely reap benefits. After all, what worthwhile project doesn't come with reward? Well, I'm not being paid for any of it, and last time I checked it's going to cost me a fortune all told; and really, I'm doing it mostly for me, because I want to *feel* like I'm part of something bigger. See, a lot of religious folk get to feel that without accomplishing anything, but it costs them part of their rationality and causes unreasonable guilt. Me, I've got to do something with my time here in order to achieve impact beyond my mortality. The human need for the eternal is not limited to spiritualists, it's natural to want a legacy. Some just live vicariously through children, some hide from it, some seek solace in the immortality allegedly promised by Christ. For those of us who take no stock in forever, we are left with doing something real and tangible in our lives.

I didn't originally intend for this to be an admission of my self-serving nature. In fact, my larger goals are selfless and far-reaching - the end of second-class citizenship, true freedom of conscience, and the triumph of reason over fear. The problem is that we all suffer from that fear, and that fear is what's behind oppressive acts from petty to horrific. And in the end, there's no shortage of fear, but there's a great shortage of champions. I'm just beginning to sharpen my sword and haven't stepped to the front lines, but I'm walking forward and I'll do my damnedest.


Conversation topic - what makes a champion for you? Is it Jessica Ahlquist for standing up against threat of violence, or more like my dad the Vietnam Vet who raised 3 rational kids with no criminal record?  Does the motivation play into it, or merely the outcome? Am I just a self-centered jerk, or am I saying what everyone thinks?


  1. Assuming that anyone who does not see existence as you do is 'irrational and feels guilt' is naive and arrogant. You are obviously not a scientist, a philosopher, an author, a teacher, a scholar, or even a failed politician. You have less credentials than just about everyone you insult. Yet you believe that coercing small pockets of people into voting as you do or speaking at events where like minded people will hear your words is making a difference? If you really want to make a difference, try raising money or volunteering for a social cause instead of demoralizing and belittling those that already do. Be a good selfless person instead of talking about how atheists can be good selfless people. I don't see atheists going to 3rd world countries to help rebuild, or doing food drives, or sponsoring/participating in fundraising, doing anything for the community, or even becoming / aiding non-profits. And until you do, you're a blowhard who supports a group of people that meet regularly, belittle others who don't feel the same, tries to convert non-believers, and whines about being a minority. Doesn't that sound like a religion to you?

  2. I never waved any credentials, only shared thoughts. The great thing about skepticism is that ideas must stand on their own, and the authority offering an argument doesn't grant much inherent weight.

    Regarding local influence: "And after him was Shamgar the son of Anath, which slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad: and he also delivered Israel." Judges 3:31, one of my favorite verses. Barbarism aside, it speaks plainly of the importance of the small contributions of many towards a larger purpose. This is a big part of what makes our society go round, but you may discount it if you like.

    You challenge me to be a good person instead of talking about it? False dichotomy. I don't pretend to be perfect, far from it in fact. I am an imperfect human, though not wretched like I was taught my diety made me to be.

    I have no problem with others having religion. Freedom of conscience is very important to me, in fact, but it doesn't mean I have to respect or believe what others think. I will applaud the flat earth society for participating in a cancer walk and raising money, but it doesn't mean I have to concede that they may have a point. Similarly, if you believe you were created by an almighty being that's all well and good, but the moment you try to put that in public schools I have a very serious problem.

    If you don't see atheists rebuilding, doing food drives, or fundraising, you're not looking. See Foundation Beyond Belief, Doctors Without Borders, the work Brad Pitt is doing in New Orleans, or locally look at what Oklahoma Atheists do. Aside from providing community, it also provides a convenient way to do community service.

    My objection to religion, organized and otherwise is not that they do good works. Anyone can do so. My objection is that they're wrong. I don't knock on your door, though, asking if you've heard the good news that there is no such thing as hellfire and that you won't be punished forever in return for one earthly action. My writing is primarily for myself, and second for others who are somewhat like-minded and interested in others' experiences.

    I've been called much worse and much better than a blowhard in my day. I'm not working to convert anyone against their will - I won't put you to the question, I won't force you to swear fealty to my lack of gods. Most of your reply is predicated on a lot of assumptions I'm not certain you should be making.

    Do not conflate religion and community. Yes, religion has been a central driving force of American community for some years, but they are not mutually inclusive. At least partly through AOK, I have had the privelege of surrounding myself with like-minded individuals who encourage and support my endeavors, and challenge me to greater things. If your religion does that for you, I'm glad. That benefit doesn't inherently make you correct about Jesus, though, and the fact is that avowed atheists involved in good works by definition will not do so from threat of damnation. The act is the same, but which is the more righteous motivation?

  3. Congratulations, jamesg722, for being completely off-topic and somewhat ignorant. Travis commented on pretty much every point I would make, but I will make the tired old joke about how Christians in this country claim others complain about being minorities when they, themselves, like to complain about how they are under threat (as if the 70% of americans who identify as Christians are suddenly going to deconvert overnight).

    Back to the original question, what makes a champion, in my opinion, is doing what you think is right. No doubt jamesb722 felt he was doing the right thing, and I respect him for doing it. I may disagree with his position, but I can respect his bravery, for lack of a better word, in posting. Champions don't need physical strength, or superhuman abilities, or anything special; they simply need a mental determination to get things done and to speak their mind. Honestly, Travis, you are a good example of this: you speak your mind, despite having opinions contrary to the norm; you are socially active and do things many people would shy away from; you are always ready with counter-arguments; you always seem to do what you think is right and strive to better yourself.