Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Veto Vote

Continuing on the subject of voting, since it's election day: I know a lot of people, including me, feel kind of disillusioned with the whole process of democracy in America. I was thinking about this because, although I don't like the idea of voting for a main party candidate unless I'm really behind them, I did anyway because I didn't want the opponent to win. And then I had an idea: What if we could use our votes to veto? As in, for each position we have one vote, and we can either use it to vote for someone, or against someone. I would bet other people have thought of this before, and at first it seemed kind of negative to me, but then I thought about how it might actually change the democratic process:

  • People could directly lower the chances of a main candidate they didn't like without contributing to polarization.
  • People could vote without voting for someone whose values and policies they disagree with.
  • People could use voting as an avenue to express political negativity and dissatisfaction.
  • There wouldn't be as much of an incentive for smear campaigning. If a main party focuses on making the other party look bad, it might only cause people to vote against either party. To get positive votes, a party may have to advertise its own positive features.
  • The candidates who attract the least antagonization would have a better chance.

Obviously it wouldn't be a perfect system, and I don't really know how it would turn out, but to me it seems like an improvement. What do you think?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Why Are You Voting?

Often around election time I feel surrounded by a mentality that voting in the election is very important, and I don't understand why. When I was in college, I recoiled from the idea, and published an article in the school paper called "I Don't Want to Be Pressured to Vote." Years later, and after having voted, I find that I still agree with the mentality I presented then.

I think the "everyone should vote" mentality seems overwhelming and over-generalized. I think what's more important than whether you vote is why you're voting. Are you voting because everyone else does? Because you think you should? Because if you tell people you voted, they'll say "Good for you. You are a good American citizen." Or are you voting because you think you know something about the political system, and you think you have an opinion about which option would be best for everyone? If that last statement is true, then yes, I think it would be a good idea for you to vote, if you want to.

I still don't want anyone to feel pressured to vote. Especially people who feel that their political knowledge and understanding are inadequate in order for them to make a decision. Some people say that it's important to be politically informed anyway. I think it's good to be, if possible, but I also think that it's really hard to get an accurate perspective on just simple political facts. I get the sense that there are a lot of factors behind the scenes that just aren't presented to the public at all, at least not very accessibly. I like the idea that political decisions are made by people who have adequate knowledge of how the system works and care about it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why I Think Celebrity Fandom, Even to Some Extremes, Can Be Healthy

This is a tricky topic for me to write about, because I think there's something about celebrity fandom that a lot of people just don't experience and don't understand, and it's hard to communicate what exactly the appeal is. Celebrities are just people. I believe that wholeheartedly. I believe in treating them with respect, just like everyone else. I don't believe that they're any more valuable than anyone else. So how does it make sense that I get so crazy-excited over one little interaction with my favorite band?

When I say I think fandom can be healthy to some extremes, I do mean some. There are definitely fine lines that lead from what I consider healthy fandom, to unheathy, even destructive obsession. When have you crossed those lines? Here are just a few characteristics that I would consider to be unhealthy:

  • If your obsession with celebrities interferes with or damages your relationships with friends, or if it interferes with your ability to do what you want to do in your life.
  • If you do things that you wouldn't otherwise do because it would go against your values, for the sake of your obsession with celebrities.
  • If you don't have the celebrities' best interests in mind, and start doing things to them in the direction of stalking them, stealing from them, or intruding in their lives in some unwanted way.
  • If you gossip about things that are very personal to them.
  • If you have an inaccurate perspective about your closeness with the celebrity. For instance, if you think you have a relationship with them that you don't actually have, or if you think you know more about them than you actually do.
  • If you are continuously frustrated that you can't be closer to them.

A lot of these things have to do with the idea that celebrities are just people, so I like to treat them with the same kind of respect that I treat my friends with, and not treat them like objects.

Now I want to get into why I think celebrity fandom can be a good thing. And part of it just has to do with my observations about my mentality about life when I am in awe of a celebrity or group of them. For one thing, it sparks my creativity more intensely than anything else, to the point where I can barely keep from expressing it. The kind of creativity that it inspires is different from other kinds. It feels more driven, less aimless, and less self-centered.

The whole experience of fandom feels both humbling and awesome at the same time. It's like being in love sometimes, but it's different from being in love with someone in your own peer group, in that there is a different dynamic and set of expectations. If my friend from school found out that I had posters of him all over my wall, it would be a little weird, wouldn't it? But maybe it's just a cultural difference. With celebrities, it's more socially acceptable to be crazy about them.

I've expressed this to people before, but I think (especially since I'm single, probably) I have a lot of unfocused admiration, and there are a lot of situations where I don't feel like it's appropriate to express it to people. I actually sometimes think that I wish people were more openly affectionate and appreciative of one another without having as much stigma about jealousy and perceived romantic intentions. And I feel like the kinds of things that I want to express to people who I really appreciate are more accepted, and not taken too seriously, when the targets of admiration are celebrities.

So why do I think it's healthy? Because I think expressing appreciation in excessive volumes if we feel like it is good for us. I think it exercises our overall capacity for loving each other, especially if we don't want or expect anything in return. I like the idea that someone can allow themselves to get extremely excited over a simple interaction with someone.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

What Is a Pedophile, Exactly?

I know pedophilia is a very sensitive topic. I think people tend to recoil from the very idea and think of pedophiles as being bad and dangerous to society, but I don't think that's an accurate perspective. I'm not advocating for the acceptability of sex with children. I don't think children are capable of consenting to that. But I think society's view of pedophilia is somewhat blurry and over-emotionally charged due to the misuse of definitions, among other things.

The term "pedophile" is often defined as someone who is sexually attracted to young children, but society often views pedophiles as people who are at risk of molesting children. I think there's a problem here, because the two definitions don't seem to be distinguished from each other, and society lumps all "podophiles" into the second category and labels them as dangerous and bad for society.

I think it's important to distinguish between the idea of attraction and sex. If a person is attracted to a certain group of people, it doesn't mean they're necessarily seeking out sex with those people. I get the impression that there's a certain view in society that underestimates people's self-control. I watch a lot of TV dramas, and there seems to be a general rule that if you're attracted to someone, you're going to inevitably have sex with them if you can, even if you know it's wrong. I don't find that to be true among the people I know in real life. I think people have control over what they do, but I don't think people have the same kind of control over their feelings of attraction, and that's why I think society's view on pedophilia probably causes more harm than good.

I think people tend to feel a lot of shame if they think their attraction to someone is wrong. But I don't think that shame is necessary. You're not responsible for things that you don't have control over, and I don't think people can generally control their attraction. Maybe some people can. But also, I don't think feelings are anything to be ashamed of. We're not held accountable for our feelings, we're held accountable for our actions. Feelings are important, though, according to how they affect our actions and state of mind, and I think feelings that lead to harmful actions and negative states of mind might be better prevented, if possible.

I think it's a misconception that if someone is attracted to children, that feeling will be more likely to cause them to seek out children for sex, and that feeling itself is bad. I don't really know how it works though, because I don't feel attracted to children and no one has ever talked to me about feeling that way. But the way I experience my own feelings of attraction is different from that. If I feel attracted to someone, it makes me want to appreciate them, treat them with respect, and try to impress them. I often feel that way about people who I would never want to pursue a relationship with, such as men who are married.
Those feelings don't make me likely at all to have affairs with people or try to break up marriages. In fact, I care more about their marriages because I care more about every aspect of their lives.

That's just me, but I've heard similar perspectives about attraction, and I don't think it's a bad thing to feel. I know that for some people it can cause conflicted feelings and frustration when they're attracted to someone that they can't be with. Maybe if people could channel their feelings of attraction in more positive ways, we would be better off as a society. I don't think making people feel ashamed of their attraction is a good way to do that. Suppose there are people who feel attracted to children, and their feelings of attraction make them want to protect them from harm and treat them with respect. I think people like that would contribute positively to society, rather than making it more dangerous.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

We Are Building A Religion

Within the last year I became involved in starting a new religion, Why This Way. I was hesitant to call it a religion for a few reasons. One of them is that it isn't what I think of as a religion: it isn't a theology. But it is a system of beliefs about other things. Another reason was that I think saying that we're starting a new religion might raise red flags for people that I know in my church. Like, if you start your own religion, you'll be worshiping yourselves. But it's just a matter of definition. If I said we're starting a new organization to promote health in every aspect of life, I don't think it would sound bad.

What's the point of Why This Way? It's always hard for me to sum up, because it is about every aspect of life. It started with Alex's vision, and It's not something I would have thought up on my own. Why? Because it seems too obvious. Just looking at our page of core beliefs, I would have thought that some of these things aren't even worth mentioning. But I think that's because they were already so ingrained into the way that I think, and I interact with a community of people who I perceive to think that way too. I guess it sometimes doesn't occur to me that it's not like that everywhere, and the more I've been involved in this, the more I've been able to identify things that don't fit with these beliefs, and don't seem right. Especially in the media.

We established (and are still establishing) our beliefs by coming to a consensus about what we think is important for a healthy and functional society. I've been asked before whether the idea that we don't mention God means that we're humanist or naturalist, but it doesn't mean that. We don't mention God because we know that people have different beliefs about God and we only deal with things that we can have a consensus about within our belief system. We're not here to replace other religions, but to exist along with them, and maybe influence them in positive ways. We also want to create an environment of respect for each other's personal beliefs about God.

One thing that's unique about Why This Way is that the first things we established were about the organization's decision-making process. This is because we often see organizations doing things in their governments that don't seem to make sense according to their values, and we want to avoid that as much as possible. We establish things by consensus, and we have rules of communication to encourage respectful dialog and minimize escalation of conflict. Although we have our set of core beliefs, the rules of communication are the first things we established, and our beliefs sort of grew from them. So although we are about health and holism in general, I guess our religion is very focused on respectful communication, and the idea that a lot more can be accomplished by people actually listening to each other and attempting to build a consensus than people might think. We want to bring that idea into as many areas of life as possible, like political debates, advertising, and education.

The Issue of Homosexuality

I've observed that the issue of homosexuality is a subject that holds a lot of hostility on both sides. I've been thinking about it a lot, and I think a lot of that hostility is based on over-generalizations and the ambiguity of labels assigned to the people involved. For instance, term "homophobic" tends to be used generally to refer to people and organizations that don't believe homosexuality is a good thing. What does homophobic actually mean? It's not very clear, but the technical definition is fear of homosexuals or homosexuality. It is generally used to refer to discrimination against gay people. I think using the term to refer to anyone who believes that homosexuality is bad implies that they only believe that because they're afraid of it, and thus ignorant of it, and I don't think that's true. In my experience, people who believe it's bad usually believe it for doctrinal reasons. But that's only among people I know personally - I know there are also people who are less clear about the foundation of their aversion to it, and are more likely to harass gay people and/or people (especially males) who exhibit any gender-deviant qualities. I think this kind of harassment is extremely inappropriate and damaging not only to the targets of the harassment, but to the reputation of people in general who believe that homosexuality is bad and who act respectfully towards everyone.

The next ambiguous label that I want to question is the term "homosexual." Specifically, what exactly is it that people who oppose homosexuality are against? I know there are different levels to it - sometimes it's an issue of gay marriage, because they don't consider same-sex marriage to count as marriage, but that's an issue in itself. I think when people say they believe homosexuality is wrong from a doctrinal basis, they usually refer to the act of same-gender sex. It's not the people themselves. It's not even the tendency to only be attracted to people of the same gender, which is often how homosexuality is defined. I think if people, as a society, are closed off from the very nature of homosexuality, the tendency to be attracted to people of the same sex, then it's oppressive. I watch those shows on TV where a boy tells his dad that he's gay, and the dad says, "No you're not." How is that helpful? It doesn't accomplish anything. But you never see the dad saying "Well, as long as you're not having sex," which might be an equally valid response to a teen announcing that he was in a heterosexual relationship. I think anything reinforcing the idea that people are less valuable or less deserving of love because they are gay is destructive. There's no reason to discourage homosexuality unless you believe that discouraging it will lead someone to greater happiness.

Another ambiguous thing that anti-gay people often say is "homosexuality is a choice," which I've heard other people adamantly disagree with. I think the whole point was muddled, though, by the fact that that phrase can mean different things: it can either mean that people can change what gender they're attracted to, or that people can choose who they have sex with. I definitely believe that the second point is true (except in non-consensual cases, or course), but I've heard enough disagreement with the first point that I don't believe it's always true. It may be true for some people and not others. I think when people hear "homosexuality is a choice," they often take that to mean that you can change your orientation. I think that idea can come across as offensive, and it can make people sound ignorant, because so many people who are attracted to the same gender have found that to be so untrue.

I want to go back to the issue of gay marriage. I understand the perspective that marriage is a sacred institution defined as being between a man and a woman, and that people don't want to mess with that. However, there is a problem in that legal marriage gives couples many government benefits, and I believe that nationally enforcing the man-woman model actually discriminates against gay people by keeping those benefits from people who want to be in gay relationships. I think it also infringes on the idea of religious freedom by forcing everyone to abide by a certain religious principle. I don't believe in the idea of forcing religious ideals on anyone. In my religion, freedom is an ideal, and religion is something that can only be followed by choice.