Life IS fair.

I don’t think I am saying what I think you think I am. What I am saying is this:

Yes, the world is full of suffering. Yes, that sucks, and we humans can choose to try to make it less sucky for us all. I embrace that choice myself.

But I think people are mixing up fairness and goodness, and conflating what is deserved with what we desire.

All reality owes us is what it gives us. If a meteor falls out of the sky and kills me, the world wasn’t unfair in the slightest. That meteor went on a long journey to get to me, and at every turn it did nothing but obey the laws of physics.

Do I want a meteor to kill me? Absolutely not. Do I desire to live in a world where a meteor can randomly kill me? No, I would strongly prefer the world worked differently. Does the universe have an obligation to acknowledge and bend to my preferences? Not at all. Does it suck that the universe is such a pit of unhappiness? 100%. But is the world unfair?

All the world does is the same thing it has always done: follow the rules of reality. By definition. For us to call that unfair would be for us to claim the universe owes us more than it gives us, and it manifestly does not. Obviously.

This world IS fair – we just wish that it weren’t. We GOT a world that is fair. But what we REALLY wanted was one that was KIND.

Make sense?

Now, I’m of the opinion that yes, the world IS fair, but no, that’s insufficient. So we must strive to make the world better than merely fair. Fair is not enough. We need a world better than that. But it’s up to us to make that happen – if we choose to do what it will take to MAKE that happen.

So far, I see a whole lot of people giving lip service to doing what it takes, and most people doing little but complaining how unfair the universe is.

The thing is, if we EARN a better world, the universe is fair enough to give it to us – by definition. Because until we get a better world, we (again by definition) will not have done what it takes to earn it.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

A huge number of people have dedicated their support to stopping any attempt to practically address America’s weird gun problem. Instead, they adamantly refuse to entertain any practical and rational ideas for trying to fix it.

Anyone who is engaged with reality can see that America is different from other countries, that we have many problems (including but not limited to guns) that just don’t tend to happen in other developed nations. So, we have, among other problems, a gun problem.

But the biggest gun problem we have are the people blocking everyone else from trying to work on it, using a host of fake arguments based on insincere thinking. Here are the worst ones:

“If we pass stronger gun safety laws, the criminals will just ignore them anyways, so why bother?”

Reason why this is a stupid, hypocritical argument:

The reason we pass laws is to create a line which if anyone steps over, they will be stopped and rendered incapable of continuing to break it. A person who is caught driving drunk often will lose their license. A person who is caught driving without a license goes to jail.

Do gun owners REALLY think that we should not have drunk driving laws because drunk people will just ignore them? Of course they don’t think we should refrain from passing laws to stop drunk drivers! The idea that we should have no laws that people would choose to break is, on the face of it, a deeply stupid idea. But so many Americans have such a weird pathological need for guns they say this idiocy with a straight face. We really need to get all these gun nuts into therapy so they can explore what is so wrong with their brains!

The purpose of laws is twofold: to disincentivize people from doing certain things, and to have grounds on which to charge them if they do it anyways. Unless the person using the above argument thinks we should have no compulsory laws at all, they are being a hypocrite.

“If we pass laws limiting the freedom of people in any way to have guns, we are in violation of the second amendment, don’t we have to defer to our Constitution?”

Reason why this is a stupid, hypocritical argument:

Part one: all it takes is ONE instance where we can all agree that a person does not get to have a gun, to make it obvious that whatever rights the second amendment gives to people to own guns ISN’T absolute. So how about this:

Most people would agree that “bad guys” should be locked up when they do “bad things”. I don’t know of anyone, even the most gun-addicted nut, who thinks that prisoners serving sentences in jail should be armed while they do.

If the second amendment of the Constitution does not forbid us from denying prisoners in jail from being armed during their sentence, then that demonstrates that we ARE allowed to set the conditions under which Americans are or are not allowed to have guns. The second amendment is NOT a blank check. If it was, there would be literally NO situation in which we would be permitted to relieve someone of their weapon, including as they are in the middle of killing children.

The idea that the second amendment legally blocks us from deciding who should be allowed guns and under what conditions is another facetious lie served up by people who need their guns so badly that they will say or do anything to fight their crippling fear of a gun-less life.

Unless a person thinks that even a murderer in the middle of killing more people still should not ever have their guns taken from them, they are lying when they say the second amendment prevents us from being able to decide when and where guns should be permitted.

Part two: but let’s say, for sake of argument, that there was a common-sense gun law that, if we passed, would save lots of lives while not limiting reasonable people from owning a gun. Let’s further say that somehow, despite everyone in the country agreeing that this law would actually be a great one, constitutional scholars warned us that it would be against the second amendment. (I know that sounds stupid, given what I just explained above, but go along with me for a bit.)

What could we possibly do? If everyone wanted this new gun law, but it really did conflict with the second amendment, would that mean we simply couldn’t have it?

It’s fricking called an AMENDMENT people! The second AMENDMENT to the Constitution is ITSELF a change to the original Constitution. We’ve changed the Constitution TWENTY-SEVEN times, people! And some of those changes WERE to OTHER amendments!

Amendment 18 prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of liquor. After realizing what a mistake that amendment was, Amendment 21 repealed Amendment 18. There you have it.

Thus, people bringing up the second amendment as a reason we can’t pass gun laws are wrong in not just one way, but two: even if somehow that DID get in the way of reasonable and desirable gun legislation, we have the power to fix it anyways!

People who bring up the second amendment to deflect others from trying to fix America’s gun problem are trying to game us. There is a reason that the NRA has only the fragment of the second amendment that they like on the wall of their office instead of the whole thing, even though the whole thing is but a single sentence. Because the NRA is not interested being reasonable. Nor are their people.

By the way, Donald Trump spoke at the NRA’s annual leadership forum, but audience members at the group’s meeting, which was held in Texas, weren’t allowed to carry guns during his address. How’s that for hypocrisy? Rules are for thee, not for me…

“If we pass laws limiting in any way the freedom of people to have guns, won’t only the criminals have guns?”

Reason why this is a stupid, hypocritical argument:

Most people hopelessly and helplessly addicted to firearms like to pretend that anyone who wants to pass any gun-related legislation at ALL is trying to ban all guns. It’s a deceitful argument tactic called strawmanning: because the gun nuts can’t argue against the positions of reasonable people with good ideas, nor defend their own unreasonable stances, they instead pretend that everyone who wants to limit (again, in any way) gun ownership or possession is someone who wants to ban all people from having any guns.

It’s a bald-faced lie, of course. I don’t want to ban all people from having any guns. I am not sure that I know a single person that does. Guns are serious and deadly, and people who understand that and treat guns accordingly, in my opinion, deserve access to this tool for its legitimate uses.

I can’t fight a bear. I can’t fight a wildcat. If I am in the countryside and have proven myself to be a serious and responsible rational human being, I should be allowed to be armed with a gun so that if an unfriendly animal attacks me, I have options. The same is true for responsible, reasonable people who want to be able to defend themselves against unfriendly human aggressors. Just because someone is bigger than me, shouldn’t I be allowed to use a tool to make up for that? That’s what human beings are all ABOUT, developing and implementing tools to counter our frail human weaknesses and shortcomings.

We can however pass laws that differentiate between a serious person who needs a tool for self-protection and those for whom a gun isn’t merely a tool but a statement of ideology, fashion, or worse, ego – a mental compulsion.

No one is trying to ban guns. We just want to try to make sure fewer crazy people get them. If you are worried that might include you, I think that says a LOT more about you than it does about anyone else!

“But if we pass laws limiting in any way the freedom of people to have guns, isn’t that the thin end of the wedge, the first domino that will end with all guns getting banned?”

Reason why this is a stupid, hypocritical argument:

You could use the same stupid argument to attack ANYTHING, even the existence of laws itself! Consider: It is undoubtedly true that there exist in this country bad laws that don’t do what they were supposed to do. Perhaps some laws are ineffective and pointless, or actively harm people that they shouldn’t. Is this an argument to not have ANY laws? No, that would be stupid.

Bad laws are an argument to FIX them, not to abandon the rule of law entirely. To refuse to pass GOOD laws because someone may someday pass a bad one is cutting of your nose to spite your face. No wait, it’s cutting off your head!

If there is a good gun law, that deserves to be enacted, that will do what it should and help people out, we should PASS it. We can’t let an imagined future specter of the bogeyman of unintended consequences completely paralyze us from trying to fix the problems we are actually having RIGHT NOW. That would be ridiculous. “Thin end of the wedge” arguments are generally used against good ideas that could fix problems now, to scare people into inaction with the fear of the unknowable future, and are transparently bogus.

“The suggested action isn’t perfect and won’t save everyone. So why bother trying it?”

Reason why this is a stupid, hypocritical argument:

This fallacy can be known as letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Consider:

Imagine a world that’s just around the corner, in which we all have self-driving cars. Many people who support self-driving cars say that many, many lives will be saved. An opponent of self-driving cars might use this fallacy to attack them, asking “Are you saying there will be no accidents? Won’t self-driving cars wind up in some circumstances killing people that no human driver ever would have? And isn’t there a possibility of someone hacking into a self-driving car to kill the rider or a pedestrian? Can you guarantee that could never happen in this world of cyber criminals?”

What makes the questioner a hypocrite acting in bad faith is this: we had 42,915 people die in motor vehicle traffic crashes last year, not to even mention the injured. If widespread adoption of self-driving cars still winds up killing 10,000 people a year, isn’t that nevertheless a VAST improvement? And won’t we be able to year after year keep lowering that number with further improvements?

It is the technique of a cheat and a liar (or at least the mentally broken) to reject a proposed action merely because it has the supposed “flaw” of not being a perfect solution, without considering whether it’s nevertheless a significant IMPROVEMENT over what we have now.

A new proposed gun law doesn’t HAVE to be perfect, it just has to leave us better off than we were before. People using the “it’s not perfect” argument have no interest in truly considering the actual benefits of any proposed changes, because they are mentally unable to get out from under their fears of the future of a change they can’t mentally handle, despite how good it might be.

That’s really the only reasonable metric when considering our actions: which choices do we have good reason to think have the greatest likelihood to lead to a better tomorrow – or at least, comparatively speaking, a less-worse one than the alternatives.

So where does this leave us with respect to guns?

If we didn’t have so many Americans pathologically terrified of being separated from their metal death phalluses, we could embrace a rational approach to guns, which might look something like this:

Serious people who don’t f*&k around, who are trained in the use and handling of guns, and who we have no credible reason to think might misuse or mishandle them should be allowed a weapon for the purpose of self-protection. They should be allowed to practice at a designated firing range.

But evidence-based analysis of the reality must also happen. If there is, for example, a clear link in the data between a person who abuses their spouse or partner and the commitment of gun violence, then we should consider spousal abuse a red flag when it comes to losing access to guns, at least temporarily.

If we are being serious about guns, we also must finally admit that there is no such thing as a gun “accident”. There is instead gun misuse and mishandling. If you own a gun and lose possession of it, that’s on you. That should be a crime equally serious as drunk driving, if not more so. How many people realize that they “forgot” their gun somewhere? How many kids gain access to their parents’ weapons without their permission? How many people have had their gun discharge while they were cleaning it or because they dropped it? These should all be CRIMES, with more than just fines, and serious consideration should be given to whether these people are responsible enough to own guns.

Gun owners needs to be held completely responsible for what happens with their weapons. And that needs to be a factor in considering whether they should continue to be allowed to own guns.

And equally obviously, if there are legitimate reasons why someone shouldn’t have a gun (such as severe mental issues that would be likely to get other people killed), then we need to pass laws to try to limit their ability to do so.

Of course, these new laws would need teeth. There could be no gun-show loopholes that legally permit a person to evade the desired checks. All guns would have to be tracked just like we track cars. Bullets too. And anyone caught breaking these laws needs to face unavoidable serious consequences – jail time and the removal of the ability to legally own guns in the future.

By the way, I heard that a $1,000 American assault rifle in Australia (where they are banned) costs $30,000 on the black market. Sure, that won’t stop *everyone* from getting one, but it will sure stop a whole lot of people!

The gun problem in America is actually completely solvable. It’s not some kind of weird parallel dimension issue that only a combined oracle and genius could try to unravel. It’s a simple problem of access. We largely solved this with many other lethal but necessary tools, like explosives. And every other developed country on earth seems to have already solved this problem, so why couldn’t we?

Like with all these sorts of things – like healthcare, another issue solved by all the other developed countries on the earth except the US – the true obstacle is NOT a lack of good solutions, it is the people who don’t actually want the problem solved. The gun nuts who are so mentally broken that no matter how many little kids die, they will always be more scared of losing their guns than of more children being murdered – or more drive-by shootings, or anything.

These people are so terrified and need their guns so badly that something is profoundly wrong with them. So unless we can fix them, or at least show them for the broken thinkers that they are, they will keep spewing all the moronic arguments above. Maybe they need guns so desperately because they need to believe that they could become the hero, they could be Rambo. Or maybe they are riddled with anxieties, convinced people want to murder them. Maybe they feel unimportant or insignificant, and cuddling with their gun makes them feel more powerful.

Whatever it is, these gun nuts are being held hostage in their own mind by fear and delusion. Until that changes, the gun problem will never be fixed.

Which is the exact same truth about ALL our human problems, actually. Unreasonable, electively delusional people prevent us from solving all the problems we could. War. Intolerance. (And too much tolerance.) Lack of affordable healthcare. Disease. Global warming. Social conflict. All of it.

99% of all people, based on my five decades of experience, refuse to be rational about their own sacred cows, their own dogma, whether that’s guns, vaccines, gender, religion, god, crystals, woo, etc, etc, etc.

Then there’s the one percent of us who always prioritize trying to seeing reality clearly, as it really is, without bias. Who commit to intellectual honesty. Who embrace reason in ALL things, not just some.

We’re doing all we can. Perhaps our efforts will eventually pay off, in the far distant future, one I will never see.

Either way, I have to try. It’s who I am.

My starting point: Reason IS truth. (Note: I am not saying that reason is true, but that it is inherent to truth itself.)

TLDR: It makes no sense to engage with people unless they have Committed to Making Sense, which cannot be done without reason.

Definition: I am using the word “reason” to mean “the endeavor of ferreting out and removing inconsistencies and contradictions from our thinking”. In other words, continually making sure our embraced thoughts are all consistent with each other.

Why I say this: Not embracing reason means not rejecting inconsistency. This results in admitting two thoughts can’t both be true at the same time and in the same way (or else they would not be contradictory) but accepting them both as true anyways.

But as soon as you do that, as soon as you permit yourself to embrace truly contradictory thoughts, you simultaneously embrace incoherence – literal nonsense.

And as soon as you do that, you lose the standing to criticize anyone else for doing the same. And since you can’t call on anyone else to use reason or make sense, you lose the grounds from which to ask anyone else to consider any of your proofs or justifications either.

It may be obvious to some, but perhaps not to others: The only people who can non-hypocritically offer to engage with other people rationally are those who have fully embraced reason. Reason must therefore be accepted as inherent to making sense of anything, because without reason all you have is inconsistency and nonsense.

So the question is: is a particular person interested in having a rational exchange of views – a rational conversation? Are they interested in hearing the justifications others give for their thoughts, and demonstrating the justifications they themselves give for theirs? Are they interested in being perceived as valuing “making sense” of things as their ultimate goal?

Any person who elects to turn their back on reason in any circumstance cannot do any of this.

There are thus two kinds of conversations to be had: rational conversations and irrational conversations. I am only interested in the former, because irrational conversations are self-defeating rubbish.

This all demonstrates to me that reason is a necessary first axiom to any conversation about anything, let alone truth. Otherwise, I can tell you that I am a fish and you can’t prove me wrong – because if you don’t have to use reason, neither do I.

Reason doesn’t happen to be true – far from it. Reason is a necessary and unavoidable first principle or axiom that must be fully embraced before you can even begin to consider what is true.

This is in my view the difference between a Sleeper and one of the Awakened – the Sleeper doesn’t understand (or refuses to embrace) the compulsory nature of what I wrote above.

So if you object to any of this, we probably will need to resolve your objection(s) – either by you demonstrating my errors, or by me demonstrating that I have not made any – before we can move forward to finding any agreement. Until then we will simply have to continue to agree to disagree.

It’s a little outrageous that something so basic and so obvious has to be spelled out, but this is the world we live in, and these are the people that share the world with us.

Thus far, our most effective form of communication is language, either spoken or written. (For the sake of simplicity, sign language will be considered as “spoken” and braille will be considered as “written”.) Both spoken and written languages use “words”, written as a string of symbols (like letters), or spoken as a string of sounds (like phonemes). It is which words that get assigned which meanings that largely differentiates one language from another. (But also grammar, pronunciation, and other elements.)

For example, in the United States, telling someone to put their stuff in the trunk usually means to put it in the rear storage compartment of a car. But in England the rear storage compartment of a car is called a “boot” – a trunk in England is a piece of furniture for storing linens. On the other hand, a boot in the US is something worn on your feet. Thus, if an American and an Englishman are trying to communicate where to stow their gear and they aren’t aware of the differences in how they each use these words, miscommunication and confusion will likely be the result, resulting in a failure to communicate.

You don’t even have to leave the US to find different people using the same words in different ways.  In the Midwest and West, people refer to a soft drink like Coke or Pepsi as “pop”. In the South, many people use the word “coke” instead, even if it’s not Coca-Cola brand. Most other places uses the word “soda”. So if you show up in New England and ask someone for a “pop”, who knows what you might get!

Then there’s a whole other problem of both homonyms and ambiguity. Homonyms are words with the same spelling or pronunciation, but different meanings – which can easily result in accidental miscommunications, such as the (real) headline that read “Woman loses 50 pounds – a third of her left behind!”

As amusing as homonym-based misunderstandings may be, the real threat to effective communication is an overabundance of ambiguity. While simple words like “dog” and “cat” may not leave too much room for misinterpretation, more abstract words like “freedom” and “life” tend to have very individualized meaning to each speaker – meaning that two people might easily imagine that the way one of them is using one of these abstract words is the same way the other one is using it – when that has a decent chance of being utterly untrue!

For example, most self-described atheists would define the word “atheism” to mean nothing more than LACKING a belief in any gods. However, many people who describe themselves as agnostics would likely use the word atheism differently to mean a positive assertion that no gods can or do exist. So according to the atheist, the word “atheist” covers anyone who doesn’t have any particular belief in any gods – which likely includes most of the aforementioned agnostics. On the other hand, agnostics may be surprised to find that very few of the people who call themselves “atheists” would make the claim to know that no gods exist, because most of them don’t assert that.

And so, a self-identified atheist and a self-identified agnostic may have a conversation about atheism only to find that they are constantly confusing each other and miscommunicating – all because the word “atheism” has several subtly different meanings used in different ways by different people. Almost all of the “big concept” words have multiple related definitions: god, love, truth, reality, knowledge, freedom, right, wrong, and on and on.

Which brings us to the central point I’m making. One of the most common human endeavors is conversing and/or communicating about the search for truth and meaning, knowledge and wisdom, facts and feelings. At the center of these exchanges are all the “big-concept” words referred to above – all the words with countless differently shaded meanings depending on who is speaking and equally, who is listening.

If we want to make a fair and reasonable effort at communication, we will want to do our best to communicate effectively – that is, to speak or write in such a way to ensure that our communications are as clear as possible and minimize the likelihood of anyone either not understanding us, or worse, misunderstanding us.

Likewise, when hearing or reading the words of another, we need to do our due diligence to be constantly aware that what we *think* they are saying may not be actually what they are saying at all – and anytime when we are uncertain, it is on us to bring that up, in order to help the speaker or writer ensure that their attempt to communicate their thoughts to us as intended is successful.

These are the Fundamental Requirements for Intelligent Conversation(FRIC).

  • A recognition that words have no intrinsic meaning of their own, just the meaning that we have assigned to them,
  • And thus, a recognition that any two people may for whatever reason be using certain words significantly differently,
  • Also, a desire for sincere, authentic, and fair communication, and thus a willingness not only to make the effort to help others understand what WE are trying to convey, but to also make OUR sincere best effort to understand what the person we are communicating with is trying to convey as well. Both ways.
  • Thus, when someone gives us their definitions for how they use their words, we owe it to them to take that knowledge on board – not to start using OUR words in the same way, no,but to hear THEIR words using THEIR definitions, not OURS.
  • Likewise, when someone asks us for OUR definitions for words we are using, we happily share that information, knowing that they are asking because they need it to be able to successfully understand what we have said to them. After all, how can we be unhappy or upset if they are sincerely trying to help us get our ideas across to them?
  • And pervading all of this, an appreciation and pursuit of greater and greater clarity – for the obvious purpose of more effective communication in both directions, with fewer missteps.

Any sensible person sincerely trying to communicate with another person would have no reason to find any of the above requirements unreasonable.

But if that sounds too burdensome for you, then you may not be interested in reasonable intelligent conversation. Unfortunately, there can be no reliable intelligent conversation without embracing the above Fundamental Requirements for Intelligent Conversation.

So before engaging in conversation with me, I would humbly ask you first go FRIC yourself. Then we can talk. 🙂

Some people, like myself, believe the root of almost all humanity’s problems is our Unreason. Others think the root issue is the lack of empathy. However, I think I finally get that it’s the same thing! Let me tell why I think so.

As I understand it, only the few people who have severe mental issues, like psychopaths, don’t have the capacity to feel empathy. Most humans, via evolution, were born with that capacity. So why are so many people seemingly devoid of it, cruel, and heartless?

There are many human impulses we have to contend with – fear, desire, anger, and more. Let’s say a Caucasian male in the US has a job that’s hanging by a thread, and he’s already struggling to get by. He may be predisposed to fear an influx of people that could increase competition for jobs – not to mention the primal fear of the “other” – people who are different than us. These fears add up to a desire to spurn needy immigrants – but that makes trouble, because it conflicts with his natural empathic response to help them. How does his brain resolve this?

Simple: by emotionally redefining those he wants to close his heart to as not-people.

I’m not saying anyone is doing this consciously – it’s all subconscious really – but this is how it happens. However redefining a group as non-people isn’t so easily done – at least not without evidence that this group doesn’t deserve our consideration or our empathy.

But what if no such evidence can be found? Again, the brain has a simple solution, it simply agrees to believe the most plausible lie that delivers the perspective it needs to get the job done – the job in this case being to answer its emotions’ needs. Confirmation bias is one name for this.

But if a person strictly embraces Reason, including critical thinking, rational skepticism, and a requirement for truly defensible evidence, then one will see reality more and more as it truly is, which will force our brains to drop any previous “fake evidence”, re-opening our empathy circuits to all people as we turn to do the more difficult job of facing our true fears instead of deflecting them onto others.

Politicians and the greedy rich work the same way: They each want money and power for themselves, but that usually comes with a cost to those they are turning their backs on, but they *really* want that money and power, so their brains become exceedingly and unreasonably open to even the flimsiest case that there’s nothing morally wrong with denying the needy their help – like the conservative idea that the reason that poor people exist is that they obviously aren’t willing to work hard.

But again, if true reason is reintroduced, that fake proof pops like a balloon, leaving the brain no choice but to feel empathy again for the needy.

We DO need people to be more empathic, but the only way to get them there is to get them to give up their Unreason so that the empathic blocks they have subconsciously placed can fall.

The promotion and embrace of reason is therefore literally the promotion and embrace of empathy too. The only reason so many can’t see this is because they don’t want to – because they are happy limiting their empathy to the very few they currently allow themselves to feel for. Or to put another way, embracing reason means putting every sacred thought at risk, and most just want to believe what they want to believe.

But if we want to give more than lip service towards growing compassion globally, we have to lead by example, by being willing to embrace reason fully ourselves, and then by promoting the idea that others should do the same.

Because Reason is the road to Empathy.

Humans disagree with each often. Ideally, we try to resolve our disagreements through intellectually honest rational discourse, but sometimes our views are irreconcilable. What do we do then?

Let’s set down some premises to frame this exploration. You don’t have to share them, but the exploration I am pursuing here is when given those premises, what shall we do when true fundamental moral disagreement occurs between us humans – so please take them on board “for the sake of argument”, if nothing else.

Premise 1: We have two example people having a sincere and strong fundamental moral disagreement. And since each has fully embraced their own moral position, giving ground on it is not an option – the two positions are instead diametrically opposed.

Premise 2: For our purposes, let’s presume the best case scenario that both of these people are intellectually honest and rational, where intellectually honest means “wanting to know the actual truth of all things” and rational means “wanting to eliminate all hypocrisies, contradictions, and inconsistencies from one’s own thinking”.

Premise 3: There is no such thing as an objectively true morality that reason alone can demonstrate. Instead, all morality is subjective, with right and wrong describing our feelings about what to strive for and against. Reason can sometimes demonstrate that two moral positions are in conflict, and when that truly occurs a rational person must choose which moral position has priority, but that’s about all the influence reason has in the realm of morality.

So given these three things, how do two rational people resolve a fundamental moral disagreement, despite morality being subjective?

First we should note that many positions seem like moral ones, but are instead actually claims of fact, and like all claims of fact they are either justified or not.

If someone says “God wants women to serve men”, that’s making an objective claim that not only does God exist, but we have reason to know how god wants women to relate to men. It does not say whether we agree, however – one could theoretically think the above was true, and yet disagree with God’s purported position. (Which, by the way, is why even if god or gods do exist it does not “rescue” morality from being subjective. Just because a god may feel one way about a moral issue doesn’t mean anyone else has to agree.)

But if someone says “I feel that women ought to serve men”, now they are taking a moral position on how they feel people should be. (Of course, this is still a statement of fact about what they believe, but just because it is objectively and demonstrably true that they do feel this way does not mean that one necessarily should. This is the is/ought problem that Hume’s guillotine acknowledges, and why morality can never be objective.)

There are many ways in which two people can find sincere and fundamental disagreement in what they each feel ought to be. The “proper” role of women and men as shown above is of course one of them, but there are countless others, including:

° Is all compulsory taxation theft, or do we have a moral duty to contribute materially to the needs of others, even if we don’t want to?

° Is it always wrong to lie? What if a lie is necessary to prevent a greater tragedy, such as lying to enemy soldiers to misdirect them and lead them away from harming others?

° Can the ends justify the means, for that matter – or are we supposed to follow rigid behavioral rules regardless of the outcome?

° Should all people be treated equally, or are there acceptable circumstances to treat some better or worse than others?

° Is punishment moral if it does nothing to prevent future injustice, but is instead merely an act of vengeance? Is it morally acceptable to have society kill people for what they have done, even if it happens to be objectively true that killing them does not make us safer than simply imprisoning them?

° Or to put it another way, should society be in the business of vengeance, even when such an act produces no future benefits for society?

° Do individuals have the right to flout social norms in the name of individual freedom, when that causes distress to others? Or ought we to constrain our behavior around others to avoid causing upset or offense?

…and many more. The numbers and scope of our sincere moral disagreements with one another is vast.

So let’s say two rational people who happen to agree on all the objective facts still have such an absolute moral disagreement between them. (Our three premises from above.)

I have seen three options for resolution mentioned: confrontation, tolerance, and engagement. Unfortunately, I don’t see how any of these three accomplish anything, in the circumstances of our premises.

A popular option is confrontation, that one person confronts the other. But while this may work with a disagreement of fact, a disagreement of pure value has nowhere to go. If a conservative Christian (who still happens to be sincere and rational as per the premises above) says “God wants women to serve men, and we should do what God wants”, confronting the Christian about whether the evidence actually supports concluding that God indeed wants that (or that God even exists), can be quite fruitful. If you can convince them that they are objectively misreading God’s intent, you and they can come into moral harmony, since their true moral goal above is to “do what God says”, which isn’t necessarily in opposition to “men and women should treat each other equally”.

But if the person instead says “I want women to serve men, I feel it is the right thing for them to do”, then confronting them is not going to change their mind. A confrontation on a true moral disagreement is intractable, as it is based on unshared values, not objective facts. So confrontation will not work to resolve the difference of purpose.

Tolerance, or live and let live, is similarly a non-starter. Most of our moral values are concerned with the ways we “ought” to treat each other. If one person thinks we have a moral obligation to materially help the unfortunate whether we want to or not, and someone else thinks that it is an unacceptable breach of personal freedom to compel donations to anyone regardless of that person’s need, then these two people will never agree on the moral value of taxation. And yet, at the end of the day, taxes will either be collected or not. In my view, if we could be “tolerant” of someone else’s moral choices, we would not be having such a moral disagreement with them now. Thus, tolerance as a useful option to resolve moral differences is no help either.

A middle path called “engagement” has been described by some as a way to neither turn one’s back on one’s own morals nor attack those who disagree, but as far as I can see it has all the flaws of both confrontation and tolerance, and no virtues to speak of that I can discern.

Ultimately, the root issue with sincere moral disagreements is that (as in the taxation dispute above) ultimately actions will either conform to them or they won’t. One of the moral positions ultimately has to be embraced practically. Either abortion is available, or it isn’t. Either we are permitted to draw Mohammed, or we aren’t. Either taxes are assessed and collected compulsorily, or they aren’t.

In practical terms, a moral dispute will be resolved, one way or the other, because things will either go the way one person wants or the way the other person wants.

Thus I think the only resolution that exists is what I call the Zeroth Option: we each try to get our way and see who succeeds.

While this admittedly does sound at first blush to be primitive and unevolved, it really isn’t. It’s an acknowledgement that sincere moral disagreements represent irreconcilable goals, by definition. That what we each want is (at least on this matter and in this moment) diametrically opposed to what the other one wants – and yet, being rooted in subjective values and feelings, each of our moral positions are equally valid.

The only way forward that I can see from such a place is that the person who can eventually get their way, will get their way. Morality therefore is an unavoidable and irreducible struggle between competing and disparate goals for society and humanity.

If two people have the same ultimate goal – the reduction of human suffering, for example – then they can have fruitful rational discourse about which approaches lower suffering more than others. This is a fact-based question, and so a meeting of the minds can eventually be reached, once the reality of the circumstances is understood well enough by both.

But if two people have truly mutually contradicting goals arising from mutually contradicting values, what else can be done except for the people on each side to struggle to have their way?

Fundamentally, moral values are the things we feel strongly enough about to engage in struggle with others over. Sometimes our fights happen socially, through campaigns of influence and coercion, sometimes they happen politically through voting and using the tools of government to our best advantage, and if worse comes to worse and we feel we have to take a stand, sometimes the struggle can be much more direct, or even violent.

But as far as I can see, when it comes to humans having opposing moralities and irreconcilable values, all we can do is fight for what we feel is right. Moral differences demand struggle. There simply is no other solution.

Is there?

Been thinking about the challenges of life recently, and it seems to me that mostly they boil down to two things: a certain universal problem and the universal mistake humans make in handling it.

Living in the world is often a challenge. And while some have it a lot worse than others, no one has it easy. I was looking for a common pattern in the universe’s seeming hostility to human happiness, and I think I have largely found it: time itself.

We suffer when we experience loss: loss of our friends and family, loss of our health, loss of our safety, and loss of that which brings us joy, to be sure. But we suffer equally the less tangible losses as well. Loss of access to the past, represented by the feeling of nostalgia. Loss of security and predictability, represented by anxiety and/or anger. Loss of opportunity, represented by regret. Loss of belonging and connection, represented by loneliness and isolation.

Time means change, and while time seduces us with the idea that change can be for the better and sometimes is, very often change is for the worse, for there are many more way for things to get worse than to get better, and the universe as a whole is indifferent to which happens. And every negative change as far as I can see is a type of loss. This ultimately becomes the challenge of living as a human in this world we find ourselves in: acknowledging and dealing with loss.

But then we compound the problem with our ill-chosen reaction to time and loss: the elective blindness I sometimes call fictionalism. When we don’t like the world around us, we simply choose to pretend the world is different. There is a tiny percentage of people struggling to clearly see the world as it really is, no bias and no bullshit, trying to achieve maximum clarity using logic and rationality, but the vast majority of “you humans” are buying stock in bullshit by the metric ton.

Death a bummer? No problem, we’ll pretend to know that death is not the end. Bad people getting away with murder? I’ve got your fix right here: let’s pretend that bad people get justice in the next life. Life feeling out of control, like you can’t get ahead? Let’s pretend it’s all the fault of foreigners. Feeling bad about doing alright while others can barely get by? Let’s pretend that everyone who doesn’t succeed is lazy, so that you can ignore them without the guilt!

The list is never-ending: for every problem someone has with life as a human, there are usually several patch-job fictions humanity has invented to hide each unwelcome truth from our sight.

Fictionalism at its core, whether embraced consciously or subconsciously, has this single message: if you don’t like a truth, just deny it. Pretend it away.

Republicans do it. Democrats do it. Religions do it. Cis people do it. Trans people do it. Capitalists do it. Socialists do it. White people do it. People of color do it. Nearly everybody does it; inserts a desirable lie into their minds to hide from a painful truth.

And then they all fight each other. Since each person chooses a lie about a different piece of reality, they each can see truths that the others cannot. Republicans, for example, can see the truths that the Democrats hide from, and call them on it. Meanwhile, the Democrats are seeing the truths the Republicans are hiding from and attack them for that. Each human can see truths that others deny, and so each person can legitimately criticize every other. And yet, since each person is unwilling to examine or confront their own fictions, no progress ever gets made, with anyone.

Thus we have societies where each group is justifiably trying to get each other group to admit where they are wrong, but where each group is also fundamentally unwilling to look to their own equal transgressions. And so, instead of trying to unite humanity to take on the real problem of time and loss, humanity is in a perpetual state of conflict, trying to tear the blindfolds off from one another while trying to keep their own blindfolds firmly in place.

Which, so far as I can see, has always been the state of the human race. Almost all our issues as a human race stem from our enemy: time, and our own desperate embrace of various fictions to deny it, with every problem this denial adds to the mix.

I don’t know if we can ever conquer time, but we certainly won’t while we as a race embrace fictionalism. There is a cure for fictionalism available to all of course: embrace accepting logic and reason for discovering truth instead of believing whatever fictions promise what you wish were true. The solution is not really all that complex. But does the human race at large have the capacity to choose to stop lying to themselves? At this time, I am highly doubtful. I see no force strong enough to make them, even as they die because of their embraced fictions.

Since I am of the teensy slice of human beings that don’t seek comfort by choosing self-deception, I will have to take my comfort in this: to fix a problem, you first have to identify it. Perhaps with sharing my realization that time and fictionalism are the root problems of humanity, I’ve contributed what I can.

Note: this is reprint from Facebook’s now defunct Notes feature. It was first published on July 20th, 2013. It has been edited for concision.

Introduction, Terminology, and Set-up

This article is intended as a simple and blunt look at the above three things and how they interact. It is intended to be rational, objective, and unflinchingly honest. It is not my intent to upset, anger, depress, demoralize, or sadden anyone. It is also very much not my intent to coddle, pander, or in any way soften any basic truths.

I, the author, am fat. Oh, I am not “obese”, but I would be lying (to myself and to you) if I claimed to be merely stout. Since most of this fat is in my belly, the right clothes can minimize the effect, but make no mistake, I am fat. As are so very many of us.

The final note is that while many things can attract a person to another – kindness, financial security, shared values – this article will be focusing on physical and visual attraction. This focus is not any repudiation of the potential of non-physical attraction, non-physical attraction is simply beyond the scope of what we will be examining herein.

I think that makes the necessary things clear, and we will now move on to the twin truths of beauty, as applied especially to those of us who are fat.

The Twin Truths: The First One.

There are two truths that apply to all aesthetics. We cannot pick and choose among them, both are required by logic and reason. One most people like, and the other most people deny – but they are both equally true.

The one most people like is that beauty is subjective. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What does this mean for us fat people?

It means that we aren’t ipso facto ugly, per se. That there may exist people who find us beautiful or attractive not just in spite of the aesthetics of our excess weight, but because of it. Whether a skinny person, a fat person, a short person, a tall person, a young person, an old person – none of these are attractive because they have that quality alone. What makes them attractive to another is how a person reacts to that quality.

While I have been attracted to some stout and even fat women, usually the type I find most attractive is just the opposite – lean, thin, skinny. It’s what I generally happen to find beautiful. I am not saying that, for example, obese people are ugly – because if beauty is subjective (which it is) then such a statement makes no sense. The correct statement is obese people are ugly to me. In fact, if someone is using the language correctly, even when people say “people with quality X are beautiful” or “people with quality Y are ugly” and they leave out the “to me” part, it should be understood to be there despite its omission. Unless the person is actually trying to make an incorrect statement about nonexistent universal aesthetics, that is.

So if someone tell us “curves are beautiful” they are either lying about some fake universal beauty, or what they are really trying to communicate is “curves are beautiful to me.” Assuming of course that they are being honest, and not just trying to say what someone else wants to hear.

The same thing happens when you turn that around. If someone says “fat people are ugly” they are either wrongly making a statement about an absolute sense of “ugliness”, or more likely (assuming that the speaker is rational) they are really saying “fat people are ugly to me” with actually saying those two words at the end.

If it’s OK to omit those words and say “curvy people are beautiful” then it must be equally OK to omit those words and say “fat people are ugly”. If instead the phrase “to me” is required for the second statement, then it is equally required for the first. To treat these two statements differently is to embrace dishonesty for the sake of stroking our egos, fears, or needs.

Now, just because beauty is truthfully subjective, that does not imply that if you grab a random number of people off the street, that their preferences will be all over the map. Societies tend to develop standards of beauty that many within it share. In medieval times, overweight men and women were considered fairly attractive by society as a whole, although surely there were some individuals who nevertheless went against the trend and preferred the underweight.

Nowadays, many modern cultures seem to prefer the underweight, though again there are still many who buck the trend and instead find themselves attracted to the overweight.

(Parenthetical note: some personal aspects that have nothing necessarily to do with weight are generally, almost universally found to be attractive or repulsive. Bad hygiene, for example, tend to be a near universal repellant, probably because of the evolutionary truths of what bad hygiene leads to or represents. However, even here, there remains a rare few individuals contrarily attracted to what is near universally a repellant.)

So, all utterances of personal aesthetic – attractiveness, beauty, repulsiveness, ugliness – are all as valid and as subjective as is whether one likes vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate ice cream. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – and this is as true for statements of what we are attracted to as equally as what we are not. Not a single one of us is made beautiful or ugly by our amount of weight, however high or low that is – but instead by what each person’s preferences and proclivities for other’s weight are.

And there’s nothing wrong with finding either a skinny or fat person either attractive or repellant. If I gaze upon a fat woman and am repulsed, that does not make me a bad person – and neither does it make the women lesser either. I am under no obligation to change what I find attractive – which may not even be possible. The fat woman is likewise under no obligation to change how she looks to please me or anyone else. She cannot rationally be offended by either me describing her as fat (which is factually true) or by me finding her utterly unattractive – so long as I am not trying to either be intentionally hurtful nor trying coerce her to change to suit my purposes, both of which are wrong.

Neither would it be my place to take any issue with someone else finding this fat women attractive, and acting on it. It is generally not any of our places to be dishonest about how we truly feel aesthetically, nor to have any expectation that our aesthetic feeling, whether positive or negative, should have any bearing on the choices that other people make.

Whether skinny, fat, or somewhere in between, people get to like what they like, and vice versa. To be asked to ignore or lie about it is stupid. To push one’s own preferences as an obligation onto to others to pursue is also very wrong. That’s what it means to says that beauty is subjective.

(Second parenthetical note: I was surprised to find recently some women who are certainly fat, but to whom I am very much attracted, one in particular. I don’t know how that happened, but it just goes to show you that even one’s own proclivities are probably not absolute. Also, it should be noted that another quality that many are very narrow on – age – I am not. While most people are attracted to so-called age-appropriate partners, I am attracted (and not just lustfully) to certain women of all ages from 18 to 65. My current partner is, for example, significantly older than I. (I am 45 as of writing this.) So while I tend to be pickier weight-wise, I am very all-embracing age-wise – for what it’s worth.)

The Twin Truths: The Second One.

And now to the truth that most people hate and pretend quietly (or loudly) isn’t true. You know how they say that everyone is beautiful, how everyone is special. Yeah, that can’t possibly be true.

The idea that everyone is above average is a lie. Therefore, not everyone is necessarily attractive.

We could be talking about ability, we could be taking about intelligence, we could be talking about physical prowess, we could be talking about capacity for empathy, reflexes, kindness, willpower, whatever. Half of all people would be above average – and half of all people would be below average – that is what average MEANS.

The idea that everyone is special is especially moronic. Special means “surpassing what is common or usual; exceptional; distinct” – this is just a fancier way of saying that everyone is above average.

To apply this same line of thinking to the standards of beauty is even more slippery. Even if there were some standard of beauty we were to accept AS a standard in the first place (an utterly dubious prospect), half of all people would be above average with respect to that standard, and half would be below. A standard that everyone meets is simply NOT a standard.

To say that someone is beautiful regardless of how they look or appear is to violently shred the very definition of beauty of al meaning in order to avoid the pain of having someone come up short.

“But what about the people with a beautiful soul?” a desperate person might ask, struggling to find some way of still calling another beautiful despite their appearance and how it makes them honestly feel. To them I say, are you trying to trick the person you are talking to? Are you trying to find a way to say one thing and make them hear another? Are you trying to lie to them to make them feel better?

If they have a beautiful soul in your opinion, tell them that, but do not mislead them into thinking that you find them physically attractive. That is just cruel.

If you tell someone that you find them beautiful, with no qualifiers, they will think you are telling them that you find them physically attractive – because that is in fact what you would be saying. If instead you mean to communicate to them that you find their sense of honor beautiful, or that you find their kindness beautiful, then make sure that you do not give them any other impression than that.

Being honest can often be uncomfortable. And there is always a way to be tactful and to avoid being cruel. But do NOT lie to people just to tell them what they want to hear or to avoid an uncomfortable exchange. Do not tell them one thing hoping they hear something else.

The thought that “everyone is beautiful” is therefore meaningless in two ways. One, the idea of what is beautiful changes significantly from person to person – so much that in terms of the statement “everyone is beautiful” the only sensible response is, “according to whom?”

Two, even if we have some frame of reference assigned – like overall societal standards, or perhaps “according to Fred” or whatever, beauty indicates an attractiveness of more than some level, and setting that level so low as to permit everyone to pass it renders the quality we are trying to use a distinction as simply meaningless.

What if we defined the word “warm” as anything with a temperature above absolute zero. Sure, we would be justified in calling anything warm. We could use that word on anything and pretty much be “right” – but in so doing, we would have rendered the word essentially meaningless and useless. If a Siberian night is considered warm, and so is midday in the Gobi desert, then calling something warm doesn’t really give us any useful information about the thing we are talking about, does it? I mean, we could have refrained from saying anything about it being “warm” and still know as much about it as we do now.

Likewise, if the word “beautiful” can be used to describe anyone regardless of their appearance, then what information do you convey to someone by using that word? None at all.

Think instead of beauty as a visual equivalent for how we treat “deliciousness”. Whether you are a picky eater (like me) or have a more wide ranging flavor palette, odds are that you have at some time had food that was either misprepared or that you simply did not care for. For example, I do not care for licorice, to me it is certainly not delicious.

In order for the word delicious to have any meaning, even in a subjective sense, there have to be foods that I do not find delicious as well as others that I do. The same is true of beauty – in order to have true meaning, there must be some that we find beautiful and attractive, while others not so much.

Not everyone is attractive just like not every food is delicious. And while people can rightfully disagree which ones are the delicious ones, no one disagrees with the fact that not all food is delicious.

Similarly, while people can have different standards of beauty and different types they are attracted to, no one can honestly say that they find all people attractive. So let’s stop insulting our intelligence by pretending that we can be considered attractive for just showing up. Maybe some people find us attractive, maybe others don’t. But the honest truth is we don’t get to claim beauty just because we want to.

Or to put another way, just because we want something to be true doesn’t mean it is. Instead, wanting something badly to be true usually means the opposite – that our need stems from the fact that, at our core, we do not believe it. We therefore not only lie to ourselves, but try to manipulate or coerce others to support the lie.

Let’s not do that. Let’s just face reality as it really is.

Fat and Beauty

So we have two co-equal truths: beauty (and attractiveness) is subjective; and that even when an aesthetic perspective is chosen, some people will be found attractive with regard to that perspective and others not, because not everyone is attractive or beautiful.

What does this have to do with being fat?

All people tend to be sensitive about their attractiveness, as it plays into most social interactions, not the least being friendship, companionship, and sex. In our current society, being underweight has for some time been held up as one of the standards of attractiveness. This predictably leads the overweight amongst us directly to self-esteem issues and for some, rebellion against this standard.

So fat people start out judged in today’s society as have their weight and appearance used as a measure of their unattractiveness. So when it comes to speaking of beauty, we fat people start with a major chip on our shoulder.

The objective truth is, being skinny doesn’t make someone beautiful. Neither does being fat. Because beauty is subjective, the only thing that makes us beautiful or attractive is someone else happening to have preferences for the qualities of appearance that we happen to possess.

However, since today’s society tends to embrace a sense of beauty that does not include being fat, this tends to make people hear the term “fat” as synonymous with “unattractive”. But this is not any more true than if (the spice) curry fell out of favor, would curry become synonymous with “bad tasting”? Would people be judged for still preparing and eating curry flavored meals? Not likely.

But because the word “fat” has become so associated with a lack of beauty, people go far out of their way to avoid using that word, or worse, bend over backwards to hastily convince the overweight people in their circle that they are just as attractive (to them) as anyone else – even when that may not be honestly true.

People who are fat are more than a little overweight, but we are neither fragile nor outcasts. We do not have to be treated like children. I would rather hear someone be honest with me about how attractive they do or don’t find me, than have them tie themselves in knots trying to spare my feelings – or worse, outright lying to me.

So let’s make a deal. Let’s call people who are fat, fat. Let’s be honest about whatever level of attraction or repulsion we feel when we are called upon to comment – tactfully, but truthfully and without hemming and hawing, or treating the overweight as if we can’t handle how others truly feel.

And above all, let us fat folk stop trying so hard, stop giving in to our desperation to find someone, anyone to tell us what we desperately want to hear – that we are attractive. It’s unseemly to act from such sheer panic and utter need. Let’s buy a frickin’ helmet and say, “we are what we are”. If we want to control our weight badly enough, we will. Otherwise, we’ll say “screw it” and take the lumps along the way, even if some of those include admitting that fewer people may be finding us attractive these days.

Reality is what it is. Running from it doesn’t help. Let’s face it, deal with it, and move on. We’re fat people. That may make us unattractive to more people in today’s society, although not necessarily to all – in fact, a select few may even become more attracted to us as a result. And perhaps eventually the pendulum may swing back and the overweight may once again be the standard of beauty like before.

In the meanwhile, I’ll take the truth, straight up, no chaser.

Fat and Well Being

It is common knowledge that being overweight can be a negative health factor, all anecdotal stories aside. Just like smoking, carrying extra weight brings extra risk, and generally speaking, the more extra weight, the higher the risk. (Having too little weight has its own risks as well.)

Let me be CRYSTAL clear that this topic has almost nothing to do with the previous one. I am not claiming that people who are unhealthy deserve to be thought of as unattractive, or that healthy people ought to be our standard of beauty. After all, there are plenty of anorexically thin women who’ve died from lack of eating and malnourishment who many thought were beautiful until the end. And there are also plenty of the heavier-set stout folk who may not be thought of as all that attractive, but who are quite healthy. Beauty and health frequently do not walk hand in hand – I am not here to condemn or support it.

But another burden we fat folk have to bear, utterly apart from concerns of beauty, are concerns of well-being. The fatter we are, the more likely that we will have problems. How fat to do have to be to have it be a health issue? That’s a question for a doctor, and the answer may vary somewhat depending on genetics, climate, exercise, diet, etc.

I am not going to claim that everyone with more than 15 or 20 pounds extra on them is at high risk, but I am also not going to ignore the truth that many people with even just 20 extra pounds are now quite possibly facing greater health risks. And lots of people aren’t looking at just 20 extra, but 35, 50, even 100.

Although not all fat is dangerous, the more fat you have/are, the more you should be speaking with a doctor about it. And while doing something about it is certainly your call, it would be extremely irrational and short sighted to ignore the issue just because it’s scary or difficult.

A smoker, for example, isn’t necessarily stupid for choosing to smoke, if they are truly aware of the risks and chooses the “pleasure” of smoking over avoiding the health issues that go with it. The same can be said for us fat folk. We could reduce our weight if we had to. If we don’t, it’s either because we choose not to see the truth of the tradeoff, or it’s because we choose to make the trade. Refusing to confront the truth is not something I respect, but once the truth is confronted, no one can make that choice but you.

And just like quitting smoking, changing one’s life to lose weight via diet and exercise is HARD. Some now say that certain foods can be as addictive as nicotine. So I do not want to minimize the challenge in making a change.

The only thing I insist on is facing the truth. It doesn’t matter whether or not we like the idea that being fat may very well have health costs, it’s still up to us to confront that possibility and handle it. Fat – especially a lot of it – is not good for the body. Let’s be adult and stop pretending otherwise.


I know even edited down, this was a lot of words, but I look around at the ever expanding people – especially Americans – and it seems to me that as the numbers of fat and obese folk go up, there is a corresponding push from these folk to both find a way of talking about beauty so as not to upset or dishearten then, and to simultaneously and steadfastly ignore the very real health risks that increase as our weight does.

I’m not into shaming anyone, and fat folk certainly should not be made victims on account of their weight – being one of them myself, I certainly can agree with that.

However, let’s not victimize ourselves. Let’s not agree tacitly to have all of us put on blinders. Let’s not pretend that fat is beautiful just because we’re fat and we demand to have people want us – because that’s not how it works. Either folks will be attracted to us or they won’t, but our anxiety over the situation won’t help that happen. Fat isn’t beautiful. It isn’t ugly. Fat is just fat.

It often is unhealthy though – and that’s something that each of us fat folk should face and deal with – whether than means to work with professionals like doctors and trainers to alter our weight, or whether that means we sadly shrug and say “oh well” and go back to the cake and cookies. (My approach, so far.)

Let’s frickin’ face reality, whatever the truth is, and simply deal. I’m fat. I may not be fat always, but right now, I am. I do not find my fat self attractive. Nor do I find other fat folk in general attractive – nor do I have to. But if some waify slip of a thing tells me that my bulk (such as it is) is a major turn on for her, I won’t be contradicting her – I’ll be too busy kissing her.

In the meanwhile, I suggest we all just face facts, and accept things for how they really are. Doing anything else cannot work out well.

Note: this is reprint from Facebook’s now defunct Notes feature. It was first published on November 11th, 2018

So, as many of you are aware I’ve been ruminating on the concept of thankfulness and gratitude. Thankfulness is one of those concepts that tend to get automatically praised and embraced without any critical reflection on whether it merits that – so let’s examine it.

I’m going to bring forward two items that will inform our examinations: The impersonal nature of the world, and the goal of accuracy.

Item one: the world is impersonal. We have no reason to think that there is an agency or force behind what happens in the world that cares about what happens to us. The world is little more than a machine that we find ourselves in; it may be a quantum mechanical machine instead of a clockwork one, but it is nevertheless not playing favorites and does what it does with precisely zero regard for our druthers or our well-being. It is neither hostile nor friendly, it just is.

Item two: we want to see the world as accurately as possible. Although this is normally assumed, I am explicating the idea that our overriding goal is to better know and understand the world around us as it is, so that we have more options and are better prepared. Understanding optics gives us glasses, to correct imperfect sight, understanding biology gives us medicine to cure much of what ails us, and so on. Refusing to see a negative truth such as a dangerous wild animal in our path doesn’t stop it from eating us, quite the opposite.

One more thing: the gratitude I’ll be discussing in this essay is not the gratitude we feel towards each other, which I already understand. It’s instead the gratitude we are told we ought to feel when we catch a lucky break or avoid calamity. It’s what we are told we are supposed to feel when things go well, or at least don’t go badly. That we should be grateful, for example, that we have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies, unlike many in the world who don’t. And that we should embrace the so-called “attitude of gratitude”. (Personally, I enjoy embracing the attitude of catitude instead, grin. Meow.)

Let’s construct an example. We apply for a new job that we really want. After going through several rounds, there are just three of the initial applicants left, us and two others. Then the final decision comes down: we did not get the job. So we feel understandably bummed, not just for losing out, but in the knowledge we are going to have to start the laborious cycle all over again with a new attempt at a new job elsewhere.

“But,” says the positivity believer, “think of all that is still going RIGHT in your life! You have no major medical issues! You still have your old job and can pay the bills! You have so much possibility for joy in your life! And today is such a wonderful sunny day! How can we feel bad in the light of all that? Embrace an attitude of gratitude and you will reside in joy even when things seem to go awry! You have so much to be thankful for!”

But do we? Does gratitude in this context make sense? Is it a rational choice here?

That depends on what you mean by “gratitude”. See, “gratitude” is one of those slippery words that can be all things to everyone. To some, it means always appreciating what the Christian Creator of the Universe has given you. To others, it means choosing to see everything through rose-colored glasses. To yet others, it means being accurately aware of all the good things in life that we may take for granted – while turning a mostly blind eye to the reverse.

And that is the fundamental problem with gratitude and thankfulness – everyone uncritically stuffs into that concept their entire chosen worldview – a kind of positivity narcissism, in fact. But what happens to the concept when we explicitly unpack it and remove those extraneous elements?

Item one: the world is impersonal. We therefore owe no debt of gratitude to any cosmic force or deity for any lucky break we catch (nor do we need to bitch them out for our misfortunes.) The world isn’t on our side, nor is it against us, it just is. This amputates from the concept of gratitude all improper feeling of personal gratitude for what’s working in our lives to any fictional anthropomorphic universal force or entity.

Item two: we want to see the world as accurately as possible. This means that we do want to appreciate all that is going right with our lives, but we don’t want to elevate it over simultaneously appreciating all that could be better and isn’t. In other words, we aren’t trying to “spin” our perceptions; we’re not trying to talk ourselves into a less accurate view of the world. We will not, for example, praise and laud not experiencing certain misfortunes without given the same attention to detail and value for all the misfortunes we are experiencing. And vice versa; we won’t wax rhapsodic over all that could be going wrong but isn’t, without giving the same due to all that could be going right but isn’t! Instead, we want to see the world as it really is, and value it accordingly!

So, given these items, there is only one definition left for the slippery concept of gratitude and thankfulness: unbiased appreciation.

Appreciation of the truth of our current reality, both positive and negative. Appreciation of all that we have and all that we lack.

And having defanged thankfulness so, we are left with one of two conclusions:

Either thankfulness is merely a reminder to us not to forget to count the good with the bad – a reminder that seeing the world accurately requires seeing all sides, not just the negative.

OR, thankfulness is a covert and insidious way to try to get us to focus disproportionately on the presence of good in our life – an attempt to get us to put on rose-colored glasses and see the world incorrectly on purpose. I hope it is obvious how irrational this is.

So, how do you use the concept of thankfulness? To embrace your relationship with your chosen deity? To cherry-pick your perceptions of the world in order to see it as better than it really is?

Or just to see the world accurately, good and bad? And if the latter, then why use a word that has such an upbeat connotation instead of a more accurately neutral one like “appreciation”? Or maybe that accurate understanding of the world is not really what you are going for, hmm?

I always embrace reason. I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible. So I will always try to embrace an accurate and unbiased appreciation of reality over the slanted “thankfulness” every day. I hope you do too.

Perhaps, at least with regard to the impersonal universe, it’s time for the concept of “gratitude” to go.

Note: this was originally published under Facebook Notes, but as FB has discontinued everyone’s Notes, it has been rehomed here.

As online culture continues to develop, I become aware of neologisms that appear. I had heard of “sealioning” before in passing, and knew it had something to do with scurrilous and nasty debate tactics.

Then, when I questioned the veracity of a post from Bill Gilman, a fellow thinker and Facebook friend of mine, he replied, “Don’t sealion me Benn, you’re a better person than that (I think…?)

Now, if you know me, you know I take enormous pain to engage in discourse honestly and with great sincerity, so I thought I better figure out exactly what he was accusing me of! So I went looking for a precise definition.

Dr. Pete Akers, a scientist at Géosciences de l’Environnement, Grenoble, explains sealioning as “people who troll online by pretending to ask sincere questions, but just keep feigning ignorance and repeating ‘polite’ follow ups until someone gets fed up. That way, they can cast their opponents as attacking them and being unreasonable.

The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University has published a collection of essays entitled Perspectives on Harmful Speech Online. In the essay “The Multiple Harms of Sea Lions,” Amy Johnson writes, “Rhetorically, sealioning fuses persistent questioning—often about basic information, information on easily found elsewhere, or unrelated or tangential points—with a loudly-insisted-upon commitment to reasonable debate. It disguises itself as a sincere attempt to learn and communicate. Sealioning thus works both to exhaust a target’s patience, attention, and communicative effort, and to portray the target as unreasonable. While the questions of the “sea lion” may seem innocent, they’re intended maliciously and have harmful consequences.

So, all in all, it appears that sealioning is a dishonest rhetorical strategy that consists of feigning aggressive cluelessness as a sincere desire to understand.

So, how in the world could a friend imagine I would engage in such a practice?

Well, perhaps he didn’t know me as well as I thought. Maybe he didn’t understand that I take both rational discourse and epistemological ethics very seriously. Perhaps, despite my openness on the topic, he was unaware how committed I truly am to reason and rational thinking, to the point I don’t engage in any elective inconsistent thinking. Maybe he thought my focus was on trying to win arguments, when all I really ever want to do is pursue truth, no matter where it may be found.

If so, I hope he knows me better now.

It’s true that I do sometimes ask questions that may seem overly basic, but I do that sincerely for one of two good reasons. Firstly, because sometimes so-called “common knowledge” positions hide ignorance or ill-defined ideas. For example, it would be pointless to engage in productive rational conversation about “god” without first getting the specific definition my discourse partner is using for that word. Secondly, by taking the conversation down to the basics, hidden or implicit mistakes in rational thinking can be more easily uncovered, rather than wading into it only to find out later that my interlocutor began with an unstated logical fallacy. Failing to address either problem is no good for finding truth.

Another possibility is perhaps Bill meant something different by sealioning. I have seen some others falsely accused of sealioning when their questions were sincere, just because their accusers felt upset that their dogma was being critically examined.

Picture a flat earther, shall we say. (Bill is no flat earther, this is just an example.) Ask them to defend their assertion and they may well accuse you of being a sealion, unwilling to accept their position. But a sealion isn’t merely someone who disagrees with you, its someone who asks insincere questions.

People who can’t easily justify their claims and positions might get upset when someone comes along who asks for the reasoning behind their thinking. I can easily imagine flat-earthers, antivaxxers, climate change deniers, and a host of others (not to mention the religious) who might feel quite beleaguered when leaving their enclave of like-minded folks and being suddenly faced with some difficult questions.

But asking difficult questions sincerely doesn’t make anyone a sealion. And neither does asking why people believe what they believe.

The only other reason I can imagine for being falsely accused of being a sealion is worse. Just as a true sealion is insincerely playing word tricks to harass or attack, someone falsely claiming that someone is sealioning them could be well aware that they cannot back up what they have said, and is hoping that throwing the epithet of sealion at their questioner might make their questioner go away or at least prevent themselves from looking foolish for being unable or unwilling to defend their positions.

Especially when you have a community bound by dogma that is not to be challenged, asking questions can be interpreted as an attack on the community itself, not just on its dogma. Witness how people mistakenly accuse those who dislike Islam as racists – when Islam is not a race, but a set of beliefs.

Especially in these days, when it seems that most people refuse to acknowledge evidence, facts, and objective reality, questioning incorrect dogma results in a very strong, thoughtless, and kneejerk reaction from the culture that embraces the dogma.

I find faith detestable – and no wonder when most dogma rests on mere articles of faith. When one questions such a basic thing, the believer may react with disbelief that anyone could not agree with them – and then accusations of sealioning would come next, as if to imply that the article of faith is obviously true and anyone who questions it can’t possibly be sincere.

This is my greatest concern with the concept of sealioning – that people will simply use this handy accusation to excuse themselves from ever having to justify bad thinking and incorrect conclusions – an ultimate shield against ever having to think critically or admit when one is wrong.

I suppose this is my attempt to educate people what true sealioning is: an insincere tactic to troll people you never had an intention of having an honest conversation with.

And for what it’s worth, if I respect you enough to have a real conversation with you, I will never engage in this practice.

So do me a favor, and don’t throw this particular accusation in my face just because you don’t like being asked why you believe what you believe. Otherwise, you will not keep my respect for long.

Thank you.