Death with Dignity

On a very personal note: My cat was terminally ill with lymphoma. I had 12 precious years with him and can’t imagine that he’s gone already. It was all so sudden, we were supposed to have a few more years together. Instead of letting him suffer the agony of a death from cancer, we decided to euthanize him when the time came. He had 12 years of a wonderful life and not even a second of suffering in the end. This topic has always been a deep topic of mine to explore, but now it was painfully made so much more personal. I can’t imagine how we let our fellow humans suffer in a way I would never dream of letting my cat suffer. This post is dedicated to my beloved cat of 12 years. What I would give to squish you once more, but never at the expense of your welfare…

Medical ethics surrounding things such as assisted suicide and “right to die” laws are hotly debated and much of the debate centers around medicine and science’s culture of preserving life. Modern medicine has made great advances and prolonged and saved countless lives over the years. Many conditions that were once a death sentence are now treatable and even recoverable. However, there are tragically, limits to what current medicine can do. In those cases, such as terminal illness, and even devastating mental and physical injuries, I will add myself to be elaborated on later, hard questions must be brought up. Most people are okay with the concept of when someone is sick or injured beyond repair, and machines are the only thing sustaining life, that if the person wished, it’s okay for family to “pull the plug” and let death take it’s course. The reasoning being that that person will no longer have a life, so to speak. They are biologically alive, but will never live a “life” in the sense of being the person in this world that they once were. The body remains, but the “person”, everything they were, is gone. Religious people might call this the soul. This isn’t as controversial as assisted suicide and right to die statutes I believe because at that point, one’s body will die once taken off the ventilator. Naturally, there is a greater aversion by people at the idea of ending a life before nature ends it for them. However, I believe the same principles apply in those cases as well. A life of pain and suffering is worse or at least as good as no life at all. Quality of life is what should matter, not quantity. Like others, I believe that the right to life is sacrosanct and one of the most fundamental human rights, but the right to die should also be held in high regard if we also uphold the right of autonomy too. No one should force another person to live a life of misery and suffering for their own comfort or selfish reason.

A common hesitance I think for assisted suicide and right to die statutes is that it parallels euthanasia in animals. People say that human life should be held in higher priority and reverence than other animals’ lives, therefore such measures treat humans like animals and devalues the sanctity of human life. This however, is flawed, because often times, pet owners only put their pets down as a last resort if they will suffer. Some pet owners might do it because it’s cheaper, and for more callous reasons, but it would be an insult to numerous pet owners to whom their pets weren’t “just animals”, but beloved and cherished family members. Many pet owners wish the world that they could have all the time on earth with their dying pet, but make the ultimate sacrifice in letting their pet go rather than selfishly keeping it alive for their own comfort. To me, reasoning that because terminating a life of pain and suffering early in a human being is degrading them to the status of a lowly animal is the complete reverse of logic. To me, letting a human die after a long and tortuous existence that many would decry as selfish and immoral for an animal, is the real degradation of human dignity. Think of it, an animal gets a more dignified and painless death than a human being.

Even then, most people will accept an adult deciding to end life early from a terminal illness, but I will go further to say that in some cases, I believe that a parent or caregiver should have the right to decide when to end it all when the person under their care could not decide for themselves such as young children and the mentally delayed. This is more controversial a stance, since many will worry that it could be abused by those who would be callous and cruel enough to kill someone out of convenience. It is true, that more protections would be warranted in those cases as they would involve the most vulnerable among us. However, consider this example, one I read about from a parenting blog about the loss of their child from DIPG, a 100% terminal brain cancer.

The child of these parents was a 6 year old girl. She developed a brain tumor called DIPG which thus far is 100% terminal and gives one an average of 6 months to close to two years. Many only live around 9 months or slightly over a year. This girl lived only 3 months from diagnosis to death. Within those 3 months, she was subjected to 2 months worth of traumatizing chemo and radiation treatments before spending her final month in hospice unable to move, see, urinate, swallow, in excruciating pain warranting multiple doses of morphine, or even speak. All while fully conscious and aware of everything, locked in her body. She could not cry out to mommy or daddy, nor tell them her fears or what hurt, or anything. In the 3 short months she lived with that illness, she was repeatedly traumatized by futile treatments and finally trapped in a painful body that failed her little by little, ending up unable to even see, move or speak all while fully aware of everything. DIPG is a childhood cancer, but I bet most adults if they could get it, would choose death before those horrible final stages. It infuriates me whenever I read about her, and other children like her, forced to live out those agonizing days, because they’re “human” and not “some animal” or because they’re a “precious” child who should come first. Those parents didn’t put their child first. Yes, every parent on earth would want every priceless second with a dying child they could get, but at what cost? Would those same people even dream of letting a dog or cat go through what their young daughter did? Even if they had the means to prolong its life and the issue wasn’t financial? Even worse, unlike a pet, she had human awareness of her suffering. However, because she was HUMAN, she suffered more than an animal. A parent, even more than a pet owner, needs to “grow up” and do the unthinkable, make the ultimate sacrifice so their child won’t suffer and die with the dignity entitled to any human. Obviously, children who are old enough to express a desire to live should be given that choice too, as right to life is just as important no matter what the age, but young children who cannot tell you themselves should be the responsibility of the parents to decide the ultimate decision. If only our laws protected those children.

Another category who I feel are denied their “right to die” are those who suffer from devastating mental illnesses and know it. They are labeled as “irrational” and it’s the disease talking when they feel that it’s all too much. Simply a chemical imbalance, and if they just righted those off-balance chemicals, then everything would be fine. It’s true to an extent, but the devastating, debilitating symptoms of diseases such as schizophrenia, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, etc. affect quality of life greatly. Often people with them end up in places such as institutions, jails, even the streets. Others simply live an entire life of emotional suffering they cover up. While many say to those who feel like ending it, what about their family or others? But is it fair to force someone else to live for your own comfort and convenience when you have no idea the living hell they’re in every day? True, many feel that they don’t want to give up, or let the disease own them, and I have grate admiration and respect for those people, but I do not blame or judge in the least, those among them who ultimately decide life with the disease is not worth it any longer. Unlike many psychologists seem to think, many mental illnesses are a “permanent” problem. It’s the medications that are the temporary measure. Even though their suffering cannot be seen on the outside like a physical malady, suffering from within is equally as torturous.

Overall, the fundamental principle behind “right to die” movements, assisted suicide, and euthanasia is quality of life over quantity. A life of suffering and pain with no end to it isn’t worth it to many. We let our animals enjoy the full benefits of a death with dignity. Why not extend such a privilege to our fellow man, supposedly held above all animals?


Originally Posted on A Lady of Reason: Why do Women Have to Be Men to Be Worth Something?

Calling all women: Check out The Virtuous Atheist’s sister blog, A Lady of Reason, for secular women who are more socially conservative and have conservative values and are critical of modern radical feminism. A Lady of Reason embraces more traditional feminine elegance, modesty and grace, but from a secular perspective. 

In today’s society, there is a trend where women must be more and more “masculinized” to be considered a “modern” woman and more emancipated from sexism and misogyny. Many examples of this phenomena are seen and taken for granted in today’s society. For example, dresses and skirts, which were worn by women through out many cultures and much of history, are mostly replaced by pants now, a traditionally masculine garment. Sure, women still wear dresses and skirts today of course, but the world of pants and more masculine styles of clothing are now more socially acceptable to women whereas in the past, it would have been scandalous. I’m not trying to say that it is immoral or should be unacceptable for women to wear pants today, indeed pants can be useful for certain situations. The telling thing about this observation is, is it unacceptable in the reverse. while men’s clothing is now open to women, women’s clothing is still forbidden to men. A man in a dress or skirt is unacceptable and subject to ridicule, emasculation and even hatred. Meanwhile, a woman in more masculine dress is regarded as “liberated” and empowered. Confining women to solely skirts and dresses is now viewed as patriarchal and sexist.  What does all this mean? I think it implies a contempt for femininity. Think of all the slurs a man might receive in wearing a dress. Notice that all of them have to do with being a woman. Traditional women’s garments that convey femininity also convey weakness and powerlessness in our society. Femininity is regarded as “lesser than” and a man wouldn’t be caught dead appearing so!

Another area women are pushed to be more like men is in career paths. While I stated before that I believe that lady like women can have fulfilling careers outside the home and still be feminine, there is a certain attitude about traditional homemakers that implies that they are trapped by sexist men and unfulfilled as “modern” women. Also the more traditionally masculine the career, the more the woman is applauded for breaking out of her feminine nature and becoming emancipated in a man’s world. What seems to be wrong with women desiring careers that are extensions of a more feminine nature, such as nurturing and caring for others? Things such as teachers, nurses, pediatricians, social workers, psychologists etc… Sure, women in those fields are commonplace, and there’s a reason why those fields are mostly dominated by women as they appeal to a more feminine nature. But they do not get the same kind of praise and attention given to women in fields such as the hard sciences, engineering, trades such as construction, mechanics, and others, as well as more “down and dirty” jobs traditionally men dominated. Not that women in the hard sciences for example, cannot be feminine, but the more masculine the role, the more praise is heaped upon those women by our society. This also extends into recreation too. Society influences girls to play in a more “rough and tumble” way now, just like the boys. Women in their free time socializing now try to be “one of the guys” instead of being separate from men.  This also extends to women’s sexual behavior too. Women are now encouraged to be more promiscuous to imitate the sexual assertiveness of a man, and no longer view sexual encounters as anything special or sacred. Overall, this extends to every aspect of a woman’s life! The message given by liberal feminism is women have to be like men to be worth anything meaningful in society and traditional femininity is weakness.
Ladies of Reason think differently. Ladies of Reason can reclaim expressions of traditional femininity, such as wearing gender specific clothing such as skirts and dresses, or choosing a more feminine role and persona in life, as a form of feminism too. Our feminism, unlike society’s, emphasizes the inherent worth and value of the traditional woman. One who does not need to be a “masculine wanna-be” to get ahead in life and be valued in society. One who believes that femininity is not weakness, but complementary to a man’s masculinity. Both are equal in value. We resist the notion that we are lesser than men through our expression of femininity and by being ladies of modesty, elegance and grace.
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When do Humans Become “Human”?

This is one of the huge philosophical questions up there with “What Makes Us Human?”. It is also a very relevant question whose answer affects many areas of science, ethics and philosophy about the essence of humanity in general. It is a question I believe is at the very heart of two major controversial topics in today’s society: abortion and embryonic stem cell research.  For full disclosure, I personally accept both as being ethically acceptable, albeit not in all circumstances with abortion, but first, getting into the question of when humans become “human”.

What is meant by that question often is when are we a human in the more philosophical sense. Scientifically, I think it’s an objective and black and white decision on what makes us biologically human: human DNA. By definition, if an organism is made up of DNA from Homo sapiens it is a human, same way anything made of DNA from Felis domesticus is a cat. (I say “made of” specifically because now some organisms in laboratories may have a portion of cells containing DNA from other species but by definition are not and would not even resemble said species. In my book, an organism with a few cells containing human DNA does not automatically make it a human scientifically or philosophically. That argument can be addressed in “What makes us human?”). However, what people really mean is the much more subjective essence of a human being, and the rights and ethical consideration entitled thereof. In what stage of development, in particular, does a human gain the status entitled to humans? This is relevant in debates about abortion, embryonic stem cell research or anything having to do with manipulating human life. At what point is it an immoral and unethical disregard for the sanctity of human life and where is the window in between the ethical and unethical, and is there one at all?

In all ethical quandaries, I try to look to the most objective standards I can find to support evidence for any position. In this one, I look to general principles about the immorality of causing pain and suffering, and to the regard for the special “sentience” and unique awareness that humans possess unlike other animal species. It is because of this unique characteristic of the human mind that what many would find acceptable in the treatment of animals, may be appalling in the treatment of a human being. Note that anti-abortionists do not extend their outrage to animal offspring. In my own judgement of how ethical or not any manipulation of a human life form is such as an embryo, a fetus and a living baby/child, I first determine whether or not it will suffer and feel pain in what is being done to it. Secondly, then I would determine the level of awareness of that pain and suffering it would have, and if it has any right to its own interests and bodily autonomy.

I propose that there are different degrees of ethical regard for human lifeforms, and many others including legal statutes do too. For example, a human embryo does not have the full rights of a human fetus, or full term baby. A baby already in the later stages and especially born outside one’s body is basically considered a full member of humanity with the rights and privileges that entails. However, a few cells that contain human DNA logically speaking are not on the same moral ground as the full term infant. The question remains though, where is the cutoff point between full human being, and not “human” yet legally or morally. Some feel, in certain religions especially, that point is conception, when the ova is fertilized by the male gamete. Others draw the line at certain intervals between conception and birth. When the heart first starts to beat is one, when the fetus can feel pain, which is debated in itself by scientists, perhaps when it starts to look more distinctly “human” and unlike other animal fetuses many (including myself) are more uneasy with it. When the stem cells in the embryo start to differentiate into those germ layers is even a proposed cut off. I would agree with much of humanity that an infant at birth is off limits to experimentation or ending life and doing either is grossly unethical and immoral. However, I personally find it acceptable to do things such as embryonic stem cell research on a newly conceived embryo and that at such an early stage, there is scientific proof that it is no more “human” than isolated human cells in a petri dish such as when they grow skin cells for grafting. Even when the germ layers are forming in the cell mass, it has not developed the nervous system required for pain. It is still ambiguous when exactly they do form to feel pain in the early stages. Even more importantly is when it becomes complex enough to have more “sentience” like other complex animals. However, I believe, to be the safest, the earlier the better for avoiding ethical issues. The later in development one goes, the more ethical considerations must arise.

This, should not ethically be considered the same as this, or this…

Image result for human embryo    Image result for human embryo   Image result for human newborn

Which brings me to the more specific issues at hand. The first one, embryonic stem cell research, is ethical in my book. The things they work with are mostly a few cells large, and have not even differentiated into other human cells since the aim is to gather totipotent stem cells to find ways to generate other cells the body needs perhaps to eventually replace the need for organ donors or to grow fresh supplies of healthy cells to supplement body parts already such as for cancer patients or cells that cannot be replaced. These cells are no more “human” than a few skin cells that flake off you everyday, or a biopsy taken to a lab. The embryos with these stem cells are not nearly developed enough yet to even have a functional nervous system for pain, nor cells for higher mental functions for sentience. While some may argue that these cells have the potential to develop into a full human, which makes it unethical in that it deprives another future human of life, keep in mind the thousands of ovum never to be fertilized, and the ones the female body gets rid of each month. Also, many of the embryos may come from unused IVF eggs, ones that would go to waste anyways. Do we not “play god” when we insert one embryo but not the others into a mother to be? Now, those eggs would not “die” in vain, but help to advance science in the benefit of humanity.

Abortion is trickier, since the whole purpose it ending a life and nothing more. Like I said before, the earlier the better. The key concern should be the potential for pain and suffering. I find it unethical to abort a fetus that has the capability to feel pain. This also why I am against late term abortions. Ideally, women who decide to abort should do so at the earliest possible stage in development. I wish they would work on technology to terminate the embryo even before it turns into a “fetus” so it would only be killing a few cells, and not a human-like being. However, this gets even more tricky ethically and morally as not one, but two parties are involved: the mother as well. For example, what about if it is later in the pregnancy but the mother’s life is threatened? Whose interests come first? I would think if both would die, since the mother is supporting the growing fetus, it is okay, but what if the baby could be brought to term and born, but the mother’s life would be sacrificed? Whose life is worth more? I leave this one open ended. Another concern is a late term pregnancy but a fetus with significant defects that would cause pain and suffering once born or even while in the womb, or a devastating condition such as anacephaly? While in general, a late term abortion would be fraught with many more ethical concerns, this would be a special case to consider. I think this would resemble euthanasia more in that it prevents a life of pain and suffering and stops the suffering then than letting the baby be born then die in pain or live a life in pain. Overall, I am pro-choice in many cases, but not all, and for other reasons too to save for a different question.

Overall, That is my stance on the question of when humans should be given their ethical rights. It’s a gradual process and are are not conferred all at once in one moment, but spread out and given as needed, as well as two major controversies with that question at heart. However, I respect the stances of others who draw different lines at different moments, and have a different perspective, as long as they provide evidence and ethics and not just arbitrary pronouncements. This is why I disagree with many liberals who hound and badger pro-lifers accusing them of sexism and wanting to control women. I haven’t heard one argument about their desire to subjugate women, but plenty about their concern for a possible violation of a human’s right to life. If you believe abortion and stem cell research is wrong and that a human being begins at conception, then fine. I can respect that. I just ask that you believe that way through your own exploration of the evidence, and not just because of an arbitrary proclamation handed to you, “it’s wrong because it’s wrong”…  I feel that those who disagree with me have more common ground than thought. We both are passionate about upholding the sanctity entitled to a human being and their right to life and their own interests, we just disagree about when that sanctity should be given.

What is It Like To Be You?

This post steers away for a moment about my views on morality and what I think others should do, but a reflection on myself and my own worldview. In this post, I want to look at the other side’s worldview. It has often been brought up by religious people, that their religious views provide them not only with the utilitarian aspects, such as factual knowledge about the world, or God’s plan for them/humanity, but deep emotional support and satisfaction that cannot be argued as true or false by secular people. No one can argue that no, you don’t feel a deep sense of meaning from a belief in God, or that you can’t imagine life without the comfort religion brings to you. These things are based in personal emotions and feelings that unlike factual postulates, cannot be disproved as one cannot tell another what they feel or don’t feel in their personal opinion. This goes beyond whether or not what they feel is the factual truth, but what they feel gives them a more enriching life for them alone. Conversely, many religious people claim that secular minded people’s lives are devoid of a more abstract sense of purpose and comforts in life in the absence of religious comforts, such as a loving God, or some benevolent plan for humanity.

For me, hearing these views from religious people and what enriches their lives and what they can’t imagine life without has made me try to reflect on what makes my life meaningful and gives me comfort or satisfaction in light of my secular worldview. I came up with a few things: Firstly, I find it very hard to imagine my life and picture the person I would be without my own personal sense of curiosity to explore big questions and deep topics, and intellectualism. I feel that my intellectual nature, not in that I feel smarter than everyone else, but the desire to ask the questions and think about possible answers  is such a big part of who I am as a person, so ingrained in my very nature and personality, that I could only imagine I would be a completely different individual if my mind were more shallow, and I did not find pleasure in addressing intellectual topics and think deeply.  My more analytical thinking style, versus more emotional and sentimental helps define who I am. It is almost unimaginable for me to envision myself never thinking beyond the superficial, accepting meaningless platitudes and just following along in life with everyone else arbitrarily. Sometimes I feel it can be a curse, as I can alienate myself from those with different thinking styles, being perceived as robotic and unfeeling, or arrogant. Sometimes I do wish I could just “take the easy way out” and for once just mindlessly accept their ways of thinking to fit in. However, I couldn’t imagine myself any other way than what I am in my intellectual mindset, nor ultimately give it up. To do so would be to deny myself the pleasure and comfort my deep thinking gives me.

Another comfort I find in a secular worldview is in how it does color my worldview overall. I find great personal comfort and security in objectivity versus subjectivity and arbitrariness. An example would be in that science and a scientific mindset gives me a sense of comfort and security in its objective nature, its desire for hard evidence and fact to back up a statement or theory. Subjectivity, to my own personal feelings, gives me a sense of insecurity and confusion. “Why this standard and not that?” “Why should we do that and not this?” etc… This especially spills into my development of my own ethical and moral code in life. As one of the major themes in The Virtuous Atheist, a moral code grounded in objective standards versus arbitrary pronouncements is a key determiner of my sense of right and wrong. The key question I ask myself is why something should be considered right or wrong, and if it’s simply a matter of cultural and social taste, or something deeper and more universal, for example, modesty standards versus killing someone… Having objectivity in my morals, and also what I choose to accept as true gives me a sense of security that I feel those who make arbitrary decisions on either one lacks in my opinion. One can observe the sense of fear and insecurity in the rhetoric of the arbitrary condemners.

Sometimes, most surprisingly, I find the exact opposite of some religious comforts to be the most comforting for me. For example, I hate the idea of when someone dies tragically or unexpectedly, to say that God wanted to take them back to heaven, or that someone who died a long and painful death from something like cancer was part of God’s plan. People think it’s comforting if God is involved somehow and it isn’t purely random, but for me, the thought of God playing any part in it in such an inhumane way to be infuriating. I’d rather it be a chance mutation, or cells gone wild, than divine providence, as in the randomness, no one was to blame. No one was at fault for what occurred. To me, it’s morally sounder that it was a chance of nature, and not God “playing God”.

My last major way in that a secular, scientific worldview provides me with satisfaction in life is in the sense of wonder and awe I feel in the study of science. I personally find great fascination in for example, the many ways evolution works in the natural world, how things evolved they way they did, and especially why. Learning about how the eye evolved from a small pigment spot on a unicellular organism, to our eyes and more complex ones today is much more fascinating than the 6 day Judaeo-Christian creation narrative. There are those who would disagree, but that is a matter of their personal taste versus mine, not a debate over what is more factual. To me, I mean, 6 days then you’re done, whereas in the study of evolution, there are almost endless topics to study and learn about within it. I find great interest in also studying chemistry for example, and learning more about the nature of matter and what things are made out of. The millions of chemicals, the microscopic world of chemicals, and the thought that everything is made of atoms gives me so much more satisfaction than simply stating we were made from dust. Now, some religious people would say that those things are a manifestation of the splendor of God’s creation, but to me, they are exponentially much more fascinating to think that they could have been created without any god at all! Saying “God did it” seems like the easy way out… Pondering a chemistry-based origin of life gives me much more intrigue. The sense of “awe” and wonder a religious person gets from their belief in a divine creation, I get similarly through science. Another thing a scientific and analytical worldview without divine intervention gives me is a unique philosophy on life. To me, we must define our own purpose in life, as there’s no one “up there” to give one for us. To me, this is not threatening or scary, but liberating, as I can decide what I feel give my life on this planet meaning. I was not created solely to please another being, but to determine my own path in life. What defines a person’s worth and purpose on Earth can now be up to the individual’s own thoughts on a satisfying existence.

Which leaves me to my last question: What is it like to think like they do? That’s one of the things I am trying to seek out and get a close experience of. As I was raised with a very different worldview, it is hard to break out of my own mold and expend the versatility of my mind to think like another. Sure, I can imagine their argument and where they’re coming from, their reasoning in other worlds, but that’s still in the limits of my own reason-based mind. What I have trouble with is experiencing what they feel. How does it feel emotionally to have a literal and very real belief in God, and a worldview that has its entire foundation in what God said to do? And this even goes beyond just religious versus non-religious, as non-religious people can be equally as guilty of blindly accepting whatever society tells them to think.  How does it feel to think and make decisions solely based on emotional whims and superficial platitudes without deeper thought? How did the shallow cliques at my school feel in terms of a fulfilling life by shunning intellect and the deeper questions? How does it feel to believe in miracles, and faith, and sincerely believe in something with no objective evidence, but because you personally want it to be so? I’m not trying to say that all religious people shun intellect, or don’t look deeper into their worldview, or are arbitrary all the time, or that their comforts and satisfaction in life are illegitimate, but what is it like to have a completely, almost alien mindset to my own? To the people on the other side of the fence, what is it like to be you? And I’m sure some ask, what is it like to be me??? I hope this gave some insight…

The Thorny Topic of Sexual Assault: Are We Really Helping Women by Making Them “Victims”?

The empowerment of women in society is a huge topic and source of controversy today. Many feel that a history of unequal rights and injustice has plagued women in our society, and try to seek answers to best make women more empowered and less dependent and victimized. The root of many solutions that society has come up with is to try to empower women more through empowering them to feel self reliant and advocate for themselves rather than be dependent on others to “rescue” them from a situation. In essence, not be viewed as weak and dependent. This in itself is a great approach in figuring out how to better empower women, however, society’s current approach unintentionally reinforces the opposite message.

Upon researching a variety of women’s issues, it struck me that there is an underlying theme of the issue being presented in the light of women being vulnerable and disempowered. In a more concise word, victimized. The majority of our current solutions seem to be presented in the light that we must “rescue” women from their oppression, as opposed to self empowerment on the woman’s part. For a specific example, take the thorny topic of sexual assault. Whenever there is an incident regarding any sexual altercation, the new approach is to not “blame the victim”. In theory, this is an excellent idea, to not make the victim of a crime feel like they deserved or wanted it, however the current execution of this idea sends a different message. In the practice of not blaming the victim, there is an underlying assumption that if the perpetrator did not use physical force or threats in the incident, then somehow he coerced her into doing it nullifying any consent. This seems to imply that the woman was unable to stand up for herself and stand by her choice to say no. That there was an inherent power differential between her and (almost always a man) that there was no way to rise above. It is true that most men can overpower most women physically, but in these cases, the implication is that men can overpower women mentally. While this approach looks like it helps by allowing women to come forward in more ambiguous cases of whether or not there was consent, it really has the implication that a woman was not capable of making explicit consent, a solid yes or no. Also, with such a confusing standard as to what valid consent is defined as, many situations that were not considered as sexual assault now are. Scenarios such as “hookups” and drunken sex that is regretted the morning after can now be called rape. While more women can come forward when the situation was unequal, automatically making judgements as to what constitutes an assault without looking deeper into it, and yes, doubting the “victim” as well, strips away the personal responsibility for mistakes made by those who did enter it consensually. There should be a new term for this: “ex-post-facto rape”, rape in which both parties entered freely and consensually but one party regretted it after the fact. What was created to help unseen victims of sexual assault come forward has also infantilized women by seeing them in the same light as minor children. In this current climate, no woman can truly “consent” to sex.

A different subset of this problem extends to female sexuality in general. Even with consensual sex, there is still the prevailing fear that it wasn’t consensual. The reasoning being that men are inherently more powerful and capable of unduly influencing a woman, especially younger women. Many of the statutory rape laws are applied to women in their mid to late teens. While that age group (both boys and girls) is very influenceable, there is a double standard in enforcing and reporting statutory rape between males and females. Teenage girls are seen in many ways the same way as prepubescent children mentally when it comes to sexuality, while boys the same age just starting to explore their own sexuality are seen as predatory. This double standard is even seen in young women who are no longer minors. One could argue that at such young ages, one is more vulnerable, but setting a double standard enforces the message of girls and women as childlike and gullible. With such double standard applied to female sexuality and their capability to provide valid consent, women are reduced to the status of honorary children.

This also feeds into the older stereotype that women shouldn’t have or express their sexuality. Much emphasis is placed on a woman’s right to say “no” but very few emphasize that it’s okay for a woman to say “yes” in this society too. This points to an implicit bias that women by nature are more likely to need to say “no”, and mostly have sex to please men rather than themselves. Modern feminists say that women should be free to express their sexuality, yet doubt if it’s genuine at every turn.

I feel that a lot of this stems from social conditioning in thinking of women in the role of the victim, that they need “rescuing” from any adversity. The better solution is to change the mindset of looking at women as vulnerable and needing protection, by encouraging women to be self advocates and take responsibility for their own feelings and actions in how they handle the obstacles they face as women in society. We shouldn’t think of women as needing rescuing from the issues they face, but needing to empower themselves and changing attitudes regarding how capable they truly are of doing so.

A Part of The Whole…

Since it’s Veterans day, I thought I’d address an issue relating to the military and our sense of patriotism. Often, people who wish to enforce their interpretation of patriotism, and how one must act/think to be a “good American” bring up the military, and soldier’s service to our country to defend imposing their version of patriotism on everyone else. Arguments usually take the form of our soldiers died for our right to dissent and critique the country, therefore you shouldn’t because doing so would be ungrateful! Basically, you can’t dissent because people fought for your right to dissent… Another argument is about showing reverence to the symbolism of the country such as the flag, or the national anthem, or the Pledge of Allegiance. Again, the argument is our soldiers fought and died under those symbols, so disrespecting the symbol indirectly disrespects the military. I’ve noticed that in these thought processes, they don’t really say it’s disrespecting the country. Yes, people say it’s disrespectful to America all the time when people don’t adhere to prescribed “patriotic” behavior, but the argument often steers away from America itself, onto the military. If anyone challenges how something disrespects our country, the answer is always it disrespects the military and soldier’s service.

Now, I don’t mean to say that the military isn’t an integral part of our country, or that the sacrifices soldiers make should be belittled or minimized, or that we should take them for granted, but I feel we overemphasize the role our military should have in whether or not we are “patriotic”. Yes, the military helps defend our right to practice freedom such as dissent and critique in a way many other nations throughout history have not. However, I feel it is our duty as citizens to uphold what our soldiers fought for back home. If we bully and corner people into one collective opinion on how to express patriotism, or that it need be expressed at all, or what opinions of America are “grateful” and “ungrateful”, we aren’t upholding the right to dissent and critique our own country. The argument that one should not express their right to uphold an unpopular view, because we can have unpopular views, completely contradicts what our country prizes so much, freedom of speech and thought. After all, these “rights” we have as Americans that our soldiers fought for mean nothing if we do not allow and uphold the practice of them in America. Even if that expression doesn’t favor our country or the military. It wasn’t “we fought for you to glorify our military/country”, but “we fought for your right to think critically about all issues and form your own opinion.”

I think the best way to look at how we should appreciate our military, is in this metaphor. Think of America as an organism, (preferably a multi cellular one!). In a multi cellular organism, such as ourselves, our cells are not the same though out, but differentiate to coordinate various functions our body must carry out. There are neurons to relay critical messages around the body to the brain. There are lung cells to do gas exchange, critical for life, and heart cells to pump oxygen and nutrients to other tissues. Other cells, such as liver and kidney cells clean up waste and metabolize chemicals we consume for nutrients. Skeletons hold us up, and muscles help us move. There are roughly 11 different body systems all with differentiated cells each doing “their bit” to keep our body up and running. Our country is the same. We all have special roles to play in running our country smoothly. We need innovators, scientists, tradespeople, food suppliers, governors ( as in political leaders, not just “governors”), builders, businesses, and many others to sustain our food, our government, our economy, our infrastructure, and yes, our defense as well. I think of the military like our body’s immune cells. They too defend the body from invaders who when left to run rampant, would kill us. A strong military, like a strong immune system, helps keep their respective systems running smoothly. However, all our cells can’t be immune cells, nor can we all be in the military! A strong immune system fights off infection well, but an overactive, overpowering one leads to allergies over innocuous things and autoimmune diseases! An overpowering military that takes resources away from other needs and expends itself on unnecessary conflict is not good for our country either. I get the whole “glory in battle” thing, I mean it was around long before America existed, but really? Modern warfare has been far less than “glorious” and should be taken upon heavily, not lightly. We need our military, but we also need every other role in this country just as much. Our immune cells are not more important than other cells. Without cells to digest food, we would die. Without cells to keep our brain alive, we would die. Without heart and lung cells, we certainly would die in minutes! Invaders are only one way to knock our country down too.  The military is very important, but it is only one part of a wider whole. The military fills an integral “niche” in America, but does not and should not overshadow the others.

I myself am thankful for those who have sacrificed their time, skills, body parts, mental health, and lives to defend our country against invaders. It takes a special type of person to endure the hardships of a soldier’s life, and even the most valiant come home with many invisible scars. I express my thankfulness by taking full advantage of our rights as American citizens to express an unpopular opinion, and critique our country, even in an unfavorable light. After all, why waste time fighting for something no one cares about or upholds once won? I personally feel that many of our gestures towards things like the flag or the anthem, or the Pledge of Allegiance are superficial. Putting your hand over your heart and standing for the anthem, or saying the pledge, or treating our flag in a certain manner convey one level of superficial deference and “respect”, but they don’t do much to honor the principles these symbols purport to represent. To honor principles, we must actually practice them. If we want to honor our military members, standing for the flag or the anthem does nothing to help homeless veterans, or sufferers of PTSD, or military families back home. Know what does? Actually making an effort that affects their lives for the better, such as veteran’s charities or simply being there as a friend and supporting say, a military family near you, or supporting someone with PTSD and removing stigma and blame. Or, what about being more careful in what wars we get involved in so we don’t waste precious human lives in wars that don’t directly involve America or threaten our right to express our principles. Soldiers “did their bit” by fighting for our deepest ideals as a country, let’s do “our bit” by allowing our fellow citizens to enjoy the full benefits of them.

Celebrate Diversity!

Often in politically correct culture, the word “diversity” comes up a lot, in that it is good to have a variety of people from different backgrounds as they can offer unique perspectives. This in theory sounds good, but in practice, proponents of this idea often simply use “diversity” to further some minority agenda. The point is not to add to a well-rounded society made of different, but complementary people, but to fill superficial quotas of certain demographics, such as race, gender, etc… This allows those who wish to brag that they have certain quotas of certain groups to gain what I call “enlightenment points”. One is more “enlightened” the more minorities they have versus the majority. It’s really an us vs. them contest. This is not to say that people of different backgrounds should isolate themselves and never interact and work in the same space in society, or that people with different backgrounds give different perspectives that can enrich society. The problem starts when people obsess over a superficial quota, an aesthetic rather than allowing diversity to happen naturally. Forced diversity is the problem, “diversity for diversity’s sake”. Things such as affirmative action, that take away opportunities for people who deserve a position by merit, not minority status help reverse discrimination in the name of “diversity”. Many great civilizations were very globalized and diverse such as Byzantium, and the Roman Empire, for example, but this diversity was not artificially imposed or used to push an agenda, but rather came about due to the advancement of a society that was powerful enough to have influence around the world. We are in such a society, but instead we force diversity rather than let it happen on its own.

The diversity The Virtuous Atheist wishes to celebrate is not tied up in physical features, or gender identity, or sexuality, or ability, but intellectual diversity. As stated before, the most beneficial contribution of the “diverse” society is the many perspectives different people can give. Minority groups that have had different experiences can bring a new perspective on many issues, but this goes beyond simply race, or gender or anything else like it. I also mean diversity of opinions and ideas, from all sides of the political spectrum, to philosophical theories, to the many theories in science, from the secular and the religious, etc… I feel that intellectual diversity is what the politically correct crowd would call “oppressed”. There is an intellectual majority in our society that through political correctness, deems opinions and ideas not to their liking “offensive” and inflammatory. There is a religious component in society which stigmatizes more secular and scientific ideas and worldviews as “robotic” and “cold”. There are popular opinions in which one who does not agree is subject to ad hominem attacks and ostracism. The Virtuous Atheist is okay with ideas that it disagrees with existing in society. Reasoned debate and an open dialogue brings people together and helps bridge the divides between ideologies. Ideas that may fall under political correctness are not bad in themselves, but the issue is with those who seek to force, corner and bully others into adopting politically correct views through ad hominem attacks, ostracism, and hypocrisy. While the politically correct purport to “celebrate diversity”, they do nothing but force their interpretation of what diversity should look like on those who see it differently, squelching all intellectual diversity. The Virtuous Atheist says we need to take a stand as a society that prizes intellectual freedom to uphold intellectual diversity.

“I Disapprove of What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It…”                 -Evelyn Beatrice Hall