New Year, New Philosophical Views

Recently, I became an atheist. This happened after a very long time period where I searched for answers. As of this writing, my worldview has dramatically shifted. Not only did I become atheist, I became a utilitarian. This means that almost everything I have previously blogged about I now reject.

I was a virtue ethicist since my undergrad days. Becoming a utilitarian means that, when I wrote about virtues, I was usually wrong.

I became a utilitarian just because I became atheist. The two are intertwined for me. Without God–and everything that comes with a religious worldview–I found that all that existed were my fellow humans and their pleasure, happiness, pain and suffering. It made sense to maximize happiness.

I feel that I may have finally settled upon an outlook that suits me. I feel as though I am no longer searching. This makes me happy, and has given me new insights to think about and ponder.

The Importance of Thrift Stores

During the beginning of December, it started getting cooler outside here in Florida. I only had one pair of jeans that fit, so I decided to buy some clothes. At first, I thought about getting more jeans just like the ones I had been wearing because I liked them. However, with Christmas coming, I had a budget and, after seeing how much a new pair5 of jeans would cost, I decided to go to Goodwill for clothes.

I ended up spending $50 at Goodwill. But I got 2 bottoms, 2 shirts, a coat, and 2 dresses.

What a deal!

I felt good being able to buy my clothes from a thrift shop. Turns out, it’s not only good for your wallet, it’s also good for the environment.

Making a new garment uses water. It takes energy. It takes shipping. I was able to save these things by buying my clothes used.

I don’t have a big carbon footprint. However, I currently eat meat because people in my household have diabetes and have to eat meat. There’s no better way for them to get their needed protein. I eat what they eat. So, I eat meat. Being able to buy my clothes used means I can shop for what I need and have minimal effects on the environment.

When I went to Goodwill, I dropped off some clothes, too. I didn’t throw them away. Currently, a good portion of our old garments end up in landfills. I was able to give my old clothes a new life.

Shopping a thrift stores ought to be the latest trend. It’s good on your wallet and good for the environment.

Saving Face: Utilitarianism, Disability, and Chronic Illness

When I was an undergraduate thinking of graduate school over a decade ago, I was heavily immersed in ethics and political philosophy. As an undergraduate at Stetson University, I attended a talk by Peter Singer at the University of North Florida, where I would soon begin studying for my MA. I was sympathetic to virtue ethics and it would not be until recently that I moved toward utilitarianism.

When I attended Peter Singer’s lecture, there was protest by disabled people in the community and on campus due to Singer’s views on disability. In this post, I aim to defend utilitarianism and rebuke Singer.

I recently turned toward utilitarianism because I became an atheist and disavowed my metaethical presuppositions that made me a virtue ethicist. All that was left was me and fellow humans with pleasures and pains. Thus, in order to be ethical, I needed to maximize pleasures and minimize pains for myself and for others. So I found myself a utilitarian.

I am disabled and I follow various disability conversations online. Contrary to Singer, who has argued disabled lives are not worth living or are somehow less worth living that abled lives, I have found that often what makes disabled lives hard is the failure of accommodation. I have roundly decided that accommodation of disabled lives is a necessity of utilitarianism.

Most of the world is organized for able-bodied human beings. Yet, if we live long enough, all of us will get sick or become disabled. Contrary to Singer, who has argued disabled lives are not worth living, I argue that utilitarians ought to consider accommodation for various disabilities. It maximizes pleasure to do so.

Singer is wrong to think disabled lives are not worth living. I have met many disabled and chronically ill people who are only hindered by lack of accommodations. It’s winter right now, for example, and snow on the sidewalks hinders wheelchair users. I have been a caregiver for someone who was unable to walk. I wanted this person to have maximal happiness. Yet, simply getting around in stores, restaurants, and public parks was overly burdensome. This is because the design is for able-bodied people, which, again, most of us will not be if we live long enough.

Contrary to what I thought as an undergraduate, utilitarianism is not at odds with disability justice. Instead, a utilitarian should advocate for disability rights.

You’re Not Blessed. You’re Just White.

The prosperity gospel is common among evangelicals. It’s the basic belief that, through prayer and good works, one can be blessed with wealth. I see it in practice every time I go on social media and people I know post memes asking for God’s financial blessings. I see it in members of my own family who believe their good fortune is a blessing from God.

Most evangelical believers are white. Moreover, many of them are not astute when it comes to matters of race. However, Black Americans, for example, face wealth disparities and I’m sure it’s not because God didn’t favor them.

The prosperity gospel is racist. No, you’re not favored by God. You’re just white.

Unfortunately, white evangelicals often get financially rewarded in life and then praise God–without acknowledging that their wealth is the result of racism.

The prosperity gospel is harmful to society. It ignores the truth and is willfully ignorant of real inequities. It’s past time for it to go.

The Serenity Prayer as a Stoic Meditation

Most days, I believe in a deity. Some days, I don’t. When I do believe in a deity, that doesn’t mean I accept all the trappings of a specific religion.

I mostly align myself with Stoicism, an Ancient Greek philosophy that can help you be happy and well-adjusted no matter your station in life.

Today, I thought about the Serenity Prayer. I grew up knowing it because I was raised in a Christian household. But it struck me today that the Serenity Prayer could be used as a Stoic meditation.

The Serenity Prayer is as follows:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Previously, I blogged about how Stoicism does not entail quietism. Yet, according to Stoics, the are things called externals that are beyond our control. The wise person will not let things outside of their control affect them negatively. Thus, the Serenity Prayer is useful as a Stoic meditation because it focuses on what we can and cannot change and asks for the wisdom to know the difference.

It’s important to know that, according to both Stoics and the Serenity Prayer, there are things that can be changed. The Serenity Prayer asks for courage to change things.

When I was in counseling, I learned a western form of meditation in which you fill your mind with quotes, passages, and other important things. You take several minutes just to focus on the quote or passage. I think the Serenity Prayer could be a useful thing to meditate on. You can use it whether you believe in a deity or not.

Standing Bear: A Hero and Civil Rights Leader

Dehumanization of Native Americans is definitely a thing and, back in the 1870’s, Native Americans were literally considered wild animals. There is a persistent view, to this day, that Native Americans are closer to nature than Euro-American settlers. While it is true that many Native people care about the environment, there’s a difference between seeing them as individuals who care about nature and being lower beings who are more of a part of nature than white people.

In 1879, the Poncha Chief Standing Bear became a civil rights leader when he successfully argued in court that Native Americans are persons under the law.

Standing Bear, Ponca Chief. (wikipedia)

You can read about Standing Bear’s journey and victory in the book Standing Bear is a Person. Standing Bear had to actually argue for his own humanity, saying before the court, ‚ÄúThat hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain.”

In times like these, we need to weed out stereotypes and various forms of dehumanization. We can look to brave people like Standing Bear to be our guides.

Native American history is often sad. Standing Bear’s victory did some things for Native people, but bad policies and actions toward Native Americans continue to this day. During Native American Heritage Month, we can learn about Native American heroes like Standing Bear and share in their victories by seeing Native Americans as valuable, unique human beings who should be able to live freely and securely.

Native American Heritage Month: A Primer

November is Native American Heritage Month. I have been celebrating this month since 2003, when I first learned of it. Back then, I was an undergraduate at Stetson University doing research on indigenous justice. I was part of university-wide initiatives to read books, watch films, and bring in speakers for the celebration.

Unfortunately, not a lot has changed since then. That means I typically repeat the same things year after year.

I initially got into indigenous justice because my daughter is Choctaw and, in Kindergarten, for Thanksgiving, they learned about Native Americans. My daughter came home and told me that she didn’t want to be Indian anymore because “they aren’t smart and never did anything good.”

I will never forget those words.

No parent wants to hear their child say such a thing. I determined then and there to do research and engage in activism to make the world better for my daughter and kids like her. So, even though I often have to repeat myself on these things, I rarely mind doing it because, even if change is slow, it does happen and, when it does, it’s worth it. Here’s four points I say almost every year:

  1. Native Americans are different than other racial minorities. Most of them are citizens of their tribe and citizens of the United States. Being a citizen of a tribe means one can participate in tribal affairs, like voting in tribal elections.
  2. Tribal nations are real nations. They really are. If you tend to think of tribes as being different or a lesser nation than the United States, that’s probably colonialism at work. Native Americans have been victims of colonialism for a very long time at the hand of the United States. I think the end goal of colonialism is the total obliteration of the indigenous population by whatever means necessary. Currently, tribes advocate tribal sovereignty, whereby they act in a nation-to-nation relationship with the United States and can run their own affairs.
  3. Native Americans are individuals. Be aware of stereotypes on Native Americans. Each Native person is a unique individual their his or her own story. Remember that. If you would like to unlearn Native American stereotypes, here’s a good book on the topic.
  4. Treaties are still in effect. Treaties are not mere historical documents. Most Native American treaties are ratified, which means they are “the supreme law of the land.” All treaties have been broken by the United States, but that doesn’t make them ineffective. In fact, recently a treaty was used by the Supreme Court to re-establish a reservation in Oklahoma.

Learn about Native Americans this month and fight for justice for them.

What Being a Patriot in Trying Times Means to Me

In my personal life, I have met abusers. I have simply decided not to allow them in my life anymore. I don’t hate them. I just don’t let them cause me any damage. (As much as possible.)

In my political life, it’s very similar.

Yesterday, a large group of scholars warned of the collapse of democracy. They called upon ordinary people to do what they can–even peacefully protest–to protect democracy. In such times, patriotism requires us to do extraordinary things.

We need patriotism when fascism is rising. We need to set good examples of what our country is about. I am far from perfect on this, but I decided a while back to not hate my political opponents.

Don’t get me wrong: Fascism is evil.

However, if I hate fascists, I allow hate to consume me, and don’t present a good example for my grandchildren and generations to come.

It’s just like with abusers in my personal life: I try to minimize their presence in my life and continue to live the best life I can while protecting and loving those I care about.

Now more than ever, we need a good example of what America is and can be. It’s an America where people feel comfortable speaking Spanish in public, where Black lives matter, where we honestly discuss things.

That doesn’t mean we have to sit down and have a beer with far right conspiracy theorists. If you want to do that, feel free. But I probably won’t be. I have too many other people in my life who need my love and support–many of them marginalized and very much at risk. Patriotism, to me, is supporting those most vulnerable. It’s about triaging who needs you the most right now and, for me, it’s the ones I love.

There is no excuse right now to vote for Trump. One cannot say that one agrees with his proposed policies because he hasn’t any. If you decide to vote for him anyway, I don’t hate you. But, to be clear, I don’t fear you, either. I know that the arch of justice is long. I am in it for the long game.

You may not think it’s fair to have to rise above the tactics of the opposition. Why, after all, do those wronged always have to take the moral high ground? I’m here to tell you that you can matter-of-factly and vehemently disagree, but you do not have to let hate consume you. You will, in fact, probably be better off and able to help those who need it if you aren’t filled with hate. That doesn’t mean you have to placate fascists and tyrants.

Peaceful protests are always better. Doing violence only hurts your cause. Speak up for the oppressed and be a good role model for what America can be.

Election Final Thoughts

It’s just two days until the election and, on this day, I am troubled that a crowd of fascists in vehicles, some of them armed, closed in on a Biden bus, forcing the Biden campaign to cancel their stop. That’s bad. But, worse: Trump, at an event yesterday, appeared to encourage this behavior.

Yesterday on social media, I shared a quote from a book I read: On Tyranny. I studied ethics and political philosophy, after all, and I was especially interested in evil. Here’s the quote:

Currently, we are up against a fascist regime. It hasn’t totally solidified power, but it’s a fascist regime nonetheless.

The good news is that, if you read FiveThirtyEight, the polls show Biden winning this election. And closing polls–polls this close to an election–are fairly accurate.

Last night was Halloween. It was a quiet night at my house. I wrote my first political poem in quite some time, feeling it necessary to articulate the need to vote Trump out.

On Happiness

I live in America. It’s common here to think of happiness as an exuberant state when you are beaming smiles.

I’m going to argue that’s not the case. I am a woman who has been told by men to smile more because I look unhappy. In fact, I have never been happier in my life. My happiness is deep and steady. I don’t have to be giggling and showing my teeth in order to be happy. These past few years have been joyous.

Happiness is the state of being unperturbed. That is mostly within your control. It’s up to you to decide what perturbs you.

I face challenges. Just the other day, I was thinking about how to deal with a potential problem. That doesn’t make me unhappy. It’s a chance to work out rationally what I should do and see how it works.

Stoics often engage in such things. Marcus Aurelius often went over what he may do in an expected situation and wrote his thoughts in his journal. Dealing with expected challenges does not need to make you unhappy. It doesn’t need to perturb you.

In America, we have a false and shallow view of happiness. It is fleeting and dependent on external circumstances. It is smiling with your teeth showing. It is exuberant laughter. The type of happiness I experience is not so fleeting. It is steady. And I feel it even when the circumstances around me are bad. It’s my goal to stay that way and, with practice and meditation, maybe I will.

I am unperturbed. And that, I think, is the true state of happiness.