The Ecstasy and Agony of attaining the American Dream

My life progressed in phases: the childhood sports phase, the intellect and college phase, and now the career phase. My career phase started rocky, no doubt about that. A philosophy major, I tried and failed to attend graduate school for two years. Back to square one and saddled with over twenty grand in debt. I found myself working long hours at a coffee shop and the YMCA. At one point I “consolidated” my student loans (mistake), at another point I applied for a hardship – because I couldn’t pay them. And although living with my brother and his wife was fun, and my life at the time was perfectly fine, it was a rat race. There is an underlying stress to it all. Let’s just say a series of fortunate events, blind luck, more student debt, and some ability on my part led to landing a good job as a librarian – which is funny when I tell people but true.

At 33 years of age I have attained that rare and disappearing goal: the American Dream. My career phase is over (unless I decide it’s not over). I feel extremely happy and sad about it. The promise of the American Dream, in 2017, is sarcastic and menacing. As the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class constricts; as most people are working more and making less; as unions and full-time employment and paid vacation and benefits are a thing of the past; and as millions of jobs and dozens of industries will probably get replaced by technology and robots in the next 10 years (and our country has no real plan for this) – the American Dream is a memory from the 50’s.

middle class

Every single day I am reminded how lucky I am, especially at my age. A good, meaningful, decent paying job with benefits and health insure, a house, a car, a family. Zero debt, a steady income, a pension, retirement savings – looking to retire at a decent age. The feeling of not having to worry about money, or healthcare, or paying rent, is a peaceful feeling. I literally have nothing to worry about. I almost feel like something is lacking, but really I’m mistaking apathy for peace and freedom. I walk to work every morning, truly happy. It’s calming. Along with peace of mind, it’s truly a beautiful thing. I have felt the peace of contemplation, and religion, and love: but this is the icing on the cake. This makes it whole and brings it all together. This is how citizens of a wealthy country are meant to feel like. All Americans should feel like this, or at least have the opportunity. Economic security should come first; it should be the floor on which true happiness builds.

I deserve this life, but so does everyone. My success doesn’t come at the cost of anybody. That’s what they want you to think. A librarian should make a living wage, but so should a custodian. Why the hell not? Manufacturing jobs are not coming back. Service jobs are the new jobs. Walmart is the new GM, so let’s get over it. We can’t all work for Google (that has a double meaning…they hardly employ anyone, which is the new norm, and the people they employ are highly skilled).

So I am left grateful and pissed off. Once you make it in life, you pause, slow down, and relax. You notice all the people around you, struggling, fighting, rushing, working, scrapping buy – way worse than I ever was, much worse than I can imagine. Politicians don’t have the will or equipment to expand the middle class, so I’m also left with not only sadness – but not much hope. The unnamed, unremembered, statistical mountain of people go on living their life in this great American experiment.

The Ecstasy and Agony of attaining the American Dream

Hints that God Exists: Infinite Universes

Although I don’t like the infinite universe theory (or multiverse, or any theory that posits more than one), it allows us a novel argument for Gods existence (thanks to my wife for pointing this out). If infinite universes exist, then it follows by necessity that God exists in at least one of them: that is, God created that universe and exists in it (however that works). So we at least get one God to worship. Yay!

But we also get other gods, no gods, ant gods, evil gods, flying spaghetti monster gods. There is a universe where all these exist, theoretically. We get a world where I type this sentence, a world where I don’t, I world where I misspell “world,” a world where I get struck by lightening now, another five minutes from now…In other words, the theory of infinite universe itself is absurd. It’s mathematical only.

But if God exists in one universe, doesn’t he have to exist in all? – by the very nature of the concept itself? If we define God as all knowing, all powerful, and creator of everything, then it would seem to follow that, if God exists in one universe, then God must exists in all of them – everything. Oh boy, here we go with the old arguments for God. This is an old argument put into new clothes, actually. Saint Anselm once tried to prove God’s existence by definition essentially.  God is the greatest Being. God exists in our minds. But if God only existed in our minds, he wouldn’t be the greatest Being (because the greatest Being would exists in the world too. Therefore, God exists). Most philosophers eventually laughed it off and moved on. Now, with infinite universes, it sounds a little more plausible. Luckily, we can never prove infinite universes, just like we can never prove God. Strange bedfellows indeed.

Hints that God Exists: Infinite Universes

Hints that God Exists: the Eternal Something

I know that I exist, and you know that you exist. This cannot be doubted (try it; I bet it only lasts until you get hungry). Therefore we all know that something exists. We also know that a something cannot come from a nothing. Something, like a tree, always comes from, or is caused by, another something, a seed. I came from my parents, and my parents from theirs, and they from theirs, and they from theirs, and they from some lower life form, and they from chimps, etc. Where does this progression stop? Well, either we have to think of a chain that goes on eternally, or we have to think of an eternal something that everything comes from. The problem with the first option, the eternal chain, is that it never starts; which means that something never starts—that nothing happens. That’s a problem, because I know that I happened, and I certainly came from something. Hmm…what could an eternal something be?

Hints that God Exists: the Eternal Something

What Trump Represents To Me

I wrote this several weeks ago and thought: what’s the point of even writing stuff like this? It’s a glorified Facebook rant, to be echo-chambered among my friends on Facebook for what reason? It’s also divisive. I was going to delete it. I promise to my 13 readers this is my only Trump post. And who cares? – it’s just my perspective. Talking politics is kinda boring, depressing, and makes me sound like an old whiny pessimist baby. I don’t enjoy thinking about it. But, considering that political systems are the only way to solve real world problems, it’s hard not to care.

Even optimism has its limits and demands a shred of evidence. And Hope, a religious virtue, doesn’t apply here baby.

Trump represents the mass incarceration of Black people. The phrase”law and order,” which Trump uses knowingly and strategically, is possibly the most terrifying phrase to the Black man and to Black people generally. For very good reason. Historically speaking, it means nothing less than the mass incarceration of black men, which has been going on for decades and continues to go on. As The New Jim Crow shows, it’s the new Jim Crow segregation. History is littered with politicians using that phrase – “law and order” – and then creating policies or defending policies that result in putting 1 in 3 black men into the prison system, disenfranchising citizens and destroying families. Both parties are guilty of this. In fact, after reading the book From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime, I learned that tough-on-crime policies actually started with one of the best democratic presidents ever – good ‘ol Lyndon Baynes Johnson. To be clear, Republicans have been much worse, and much more open and harsh about it, but both parties are to blame. And intentions have nothing to do with it. Hillary Clinton, by her supporting some of Bill Clinton’s policies, by calling black men “super predators,” is guilty of the same shit (and I believe she apologized for that but, again, intentions don’t matter). Any politician can claim they had good intentions. They’re either lying or not smart enough (and we know they suffer from both). And Trump, if you judge a man based on what they say, could very well be the worst tough-on-crime president to date. His rhetoric, paired with his internalized racism (“I’m sure some of them are good people”), paired with his legal history of racial discrimination in housing, paired with his inaccurate hell-fire dystopian descriptions of “urban centers” (he would say “ghetto” if he could), paired with Rudi Giuliani’s idea of stopping and frisking black people on the street for being black. This is a recipe for what he would call a “disaster” (but he won’t call it that – he’ll call it “keeping our streets safe” from “bad people” or “thugs”).

Trump represents “no skin off my back.” In other words, I’m white, I’m male, I’m employed. I’ll be just fine thank you very much. Which means I could of voted for Jill Stein or whoever if I wanted (I didn’t). I didn’t wake up the next morning terrified. The worst thing I could possibly face is the loss of my pension, which I’m sure Trump would obliterate without a thought – not that he alone has the power to do that. I suppose that is a big thing. And that’s just me, standing on the pinnacle of privilege. Imagine other people.

Trump represents stupidity, idiocy, not being educated, not learning, not reading, not fact checking, not doing your homework, not qualified, not listening to science, not caring about objective facts or having a deep respect for them. He loved the stupid people that voted for him, and he seems to be uneducated himself. And if you’re stupid, it’s probably not your fault. That’s a societal problem. Our country made us stupid by having a stupid education system created by stupid politicians. So Trump represents a celebration of stupidity. Denying climate change, for example, which, apparently, might be some of the people he surrounds himself with as president (update: yes, he is), is the epitome and pinnacle of brash ignorance and willful stupidity. Good luck science. Good luck environment. You’re both fucked.

Although white children might be in luck because we invented a thing called “charter schools,” which is code for good white schools and everyone damn well knows it. Trump, by choosing Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, is pro Charter school. Let’s fund those with public money, and let public education continue to under-perform on the global stage. White supremacy continues.

Trump represents fake religion and everything that’s wrong with religion – and I consider myself religious. He’s not a religious person, and he’s not a good, nice, or decent person either – except to his friends of course (religious people are great at that). But masterfully, he convinced the masses of fake religious people, hiding behind their fake religious political party, to vote for someone that is so far from Jesus’ teachings it’s embarrassing. And then these fake religious people have the audacity to make fake religious excuses for voting for Trump, which is annoying to hear. Like “I believe God can use Donald” and “I believe God controls elections” and “I believe Donald will surround himself with good, smart people” or “I don’t really like him” or “it’s not about Trump.” Are you kidding me? Whatever makes you sleep good at night. Just know that you are watering down religion for good honest people; just know that you and Donald are the vipers and snakes that Jesus was referring to, when he was referring to hypocrisy.

A proper religion response to this whole debacle, although very depressing and defeatist, would be to disengage from politics altogether, to give up and give the system a middle finger. Disengaging from power structures, in fact, is a very religious idea. This could be based on a teaching that Jesus was probably right about – that politics has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God, or righteousness, or the good life. Socrates was the same way. The real struggle is the spiritual struggle, and that’s a struggle we can actually win. In other words, politics is wordly, and wordly things are greedy and corrupt by their very nature. Politics has been the game of greedy, type A, white powerful men since day one. What makes us think that will change? Are good, decent people going to suddenly wake up tomorrow morning and want to be a career politicians? Probably not – they’ll be a teacher instead, and not get paid shit for their troubles. Unless they move to Sweden where they will be prized as educators of future people in the world.

The most effective response, in my slightly educated opinion, is massive, grassroots movements, ones that reign in power and demand things from it. Like the Civil Rights Movement of MLK, or the Black Power Movement (which was snuffed out swiftly by racist politicians), or the Black Lives Matter Movement, or several other movements I cannot name because they were started by women and thus forgotten or suppressed or ignored or taken over by men. Anyway, coordinated mass movements have shown to create policy changes, usually watered down policy changes that take a bite out of certain discriminatory policies. But make no mistake about it. We white men have a short game and a long game.. Unless anti-racist people control power, these successes will always be temporary, will always be threatened, will always be revised and watered down. As history has shown.

Trump represents the billionaire class. This is so obvious it doesn’t need to be mentioned, and he’s proud of it. He’s the spoiled rich kid who never moved beyond high school, as his emotional intelligence shows. He inherited wealth, which probably wasn’t taxed as it should be, which is unAmerican. He doesn’t pay taxes and thinks it’s smart. He wants to cut taxes for rich people and business. But rather than see Trump for who he really is – a spoiled rich kid that inherited wealth and still somehow managed to go bankrupt several times – white people would rather see him as the embodiment of the American Dream, of what’s possible for anybody that is given the chance and works hard and isn’t impeded by silly democrats and their spending and welfare state and taxes and love of helping Black people and Hispanics (which isn’t even true unfortunately). Trump is a lottery ticket and maybe they can win too.

Trump represents anti-feminism, masculinity, testosterone, power, backroom deals, and violence. He’s a sexual predator, a megalomaniac, and everything that’s wrong with the sexist culture that men have created and (many) women go along with. Women are property, either to be taken care of and praised (if they’re pretty and on his team) or harassed and ridiculed (if they’re ugly or cross him).

Or perhaps most white people don’t like him, as polls seem to suggest. We all don’t like the system, it’s not working for us. That’s one thing we all agree on, and I’m truly glad we do. We all hate the entire political system. We all hate politics, and are sick and tired of the status quo. We agree. I hope Trump breaks the system, shakes it up. I hope he sets term limits, bans lobbyists, and all sorts of anti-establishment things. Fire every single of them – federal, state, local. Let’s start from scratch. I’m sure there’s some specific things that he will do that I will agree with. But at what cost? Even better, let’s start a direct democracy where real people vote on laws. My faith in Trump to do anything rational is equivalent to my faith in ferries or ghosts. A bad tree produces bad fruit.

What Trump Represents To Me

Hints that God Exists: Vision

You think I’m going to talk about the beautiful design of the eyeball, but I’m not.

This is by far the most fascinating and original hint that God exist; but very hard to understand because it involves some in-depth knowledge of visual theory (i.e. how we see), and a large amount of imagination. This hint comes from my man, the 17th Century philosopher George Berkeley, and has to do with his influential theory of visual perception. This hint tells us that once we understand how we perceive objects by sight and touch, then we find that the information we get from our eyes forms connections with the information we gather from our sense of touch; and that these connections are precisely the same type of connections that languages have when they connect sounds—for example, the sound “beach ball”—with words—the word “beach ball”. When we hear the sound “beach ball,” we immediate think of the word, and the meaning, and the object that is associated with that sound. The same sort of connections happen with what we see and what we touch. In other words, vision is a a language, and God is the speaker of that language.


Let me explain. When we are born, we do not “see” distance. Things do not appear to be “out there,” or even three dimensional at all. This takes a lot of imagination because we think it’s obvious that we now see things “out there”, or at various distances from us, and we assume that we always saw things this way. We didn’t and we don’t. According to this theory (which is, by the way, a legitimate visual theory to this day), we didn’t see distance as a baby and we still don’t! Test case: a person was blind at birth because of cataracts and when he was able to see by surgically removing the cataracts he thought that everything he saw was touching his eyes. In other words, things did not appear to be “out there” at all. This is known as the “Chelsedon Case,” and Berkeley saw this as validation for his theory.

What we actually see is a variety of light and colors, variously arranged on our visual field. That’s it: light and colors. We can think of our visual field as a great painting that is always pasted, so to speak, on our eyes (even though Berkeley warned against thinking of it like this): the painting is nothing more than a variety of colors, and the objects that the painting depicts are not “out there”. Now, even though the painting is pasted on our eyes, we still think that it shows us objects that exists out there, at various distances from our body. Where did we get such an idea? The answer: we got this idea from literally wandering around the environment and touching various objects. We learned to connect touch with sight, tactile cues with visual cues. At a very early age, we connected those visual blobs of color with those things that we were running into and touching with our hands and body. We started to see a circular red blob all the time and we called it an “apple.” Then, we walked towards the kitchen table, and we felt a smooth, round, hand-sized object and we called it an “apple.” In other words, we connected a purely visual idea with a purely tangible (related to touch) idea. After making this connection, what do we see when we look at the same apple, the same red blob on our visual field? Well, we see the same red blob of course, but now there are other ideas associated with it. We look at the red blob, and we think: if I walk about three steps ahead I will feel a smooth, round, hand-sized object on the kitchen table. Therefore, we connected the red blob, which is only a color blob pasted on my eyes, with the apple that exists “out there”, on the kitchen table, round and smooth. And this, according to the theory, is how we perceive objects at distances.

The existence of God comes into play when we realize that we connect our visual ideas to tangible ideas in the very same way that we connect sounds with words in a language. Both connections take learning and practice. If a baby never wandered around and touched objects, the baby would never learn how to perceive distance at all. It would never be able to look at a large, blue, slowing-moving expanse (i.e. water) and think: “I better not walk too far ahead, because I can’t swim!” Also, both connections -language and vision- could have been different. It just happens to be that a red blob is associated with a round, spherical, hand-sized object. It just happens to be that we wanted to use sounds to represent words. We could have used smells. Can you imagine smelling a variety of smells on a piece of paper and then thinking: what a great poem! Both systems are, in a way, arbitrary.

Perception is a system of connections between our senses that form a language. The language consists of visual ideas, tangible ideas, sounds, smells, and tastes that communicate to use all the information we need to survive and enjoy life. Just like a language that humans construct, so to is perception a language, and therefore a mind is probably behind it. But we did not create our own perceptions, we did not decide that a red blog is connected with a round smooth sphere. God, the great Mind behind nature, has given us both our perceptions and the rules by which we connect them. God is communicating with us all the time; God is literally telling us how far away things are from us, all the time.

Hints that God Exists: Vision

Hints that God Exists: Evolution

Yeah, you heard me: evolution. Darwin didn’t use the word ‘evolution’ (he called it Natural Selection), but it is very interesting how anyone ever found out about it in the first place. Chapter one of The Origin of Species is titled “Variation Under Domestication,” a chapter where Darwin shows how human beings can manipulate nature according to their own wants. For example, imagine I’m a cat breeder. I breed only those cats that have a tan paws; the rest are not allowed to breed. Eventually, perhaps even in my life time, I end up with a race of cats that all have tan paws! That’s a kind of selection. Call this human selection, because humans are selecting what they want from nature. Darwin uses human selection as a good analogy for, and transition into, natural selection. Rightly so. Natural selection, however, takes longer and is much more efficient and has different rules and standards. Instead of selecting tan paws (vanity), nature “selects” those traits that help to propagate a species for survival (a very basic explanation).

Charles Darwin in 1881
Charles Darwin

This leaves us with the question: how close is the analogy between human selection and natural selection? Clearly there is intelligence behind human selection, because we are directly aware that we are doing the selecting. But in the case of nature, who or what is doing it? There are two options: a) nobody is doing it. This is a purely unintelligent, unconscious, blind process. There is no ‘who,’ and the ‘what’ is evolution, via the mechanism natural selection. To be fair, many science author interpret evolution in this way. But there’s a clear second interpretation: b) Just like human selection, there is an intelligence behind evolution. God decides the laws of variation and selection; God is the “selector,” the architect of the system, the author of nature.

To me, the analogy carries, and there is no reason for me to think that it doesn’t. I choose the analogy because I see no compelling reason not to. And yes faith has something to do with it, no doubt.

Indeed, it seems that the natural starting position would be option #2, and only a further argument, proving that the analogy doesn’t hold, should bring us to #1. To me, there is no further argument besides the one that, in the case of natural selection, we are not directly aware of a God-like mind controlling it – it’s fine all by itself, thank you very much. And Okhams Razor too!

Well, I’ll just respond by saying we are never directly aware of God, by definition. So I wouldn’t expect to “see” God in evolution or anything else. Analogy is the best we got. Leaves room for faith. I’ll take it.

Hints that God Exists: Evolution

Hints that God Exists: a Book’s Meaning

What is a book, and why do books have meaning? Think about timeless literature, like War and Peace. Looked at one way, a book is nothing but a story about things happening to characters, and characters saying and doing things to other characters. This is true, but why do books like War and Peace have such tremendous meaning? What is the meaning of a book, and where does it come from?

A book’s meaning has everything to do with the author. The author wants to get a point across, or wants to express something meaningful, and so the author uses characters and events to portray that meaning. The author, in a way, hides her meaning inside the book, and our job is to find it, or grasp it, the best we can.

w and p

The world is a lot like a book. Our life is a lot like a story. It is filled with things and events and people, all interacting to create a giant story. It has a plot, a setting, characters, conflict, resolution, falling action, even foreshadowing. But does the world have meaning? It seems like it does. We are certainly looking for meaning all the time. If it does, where does that meaning come from? A possible response could be that it comes from me. My life story has meaning because I give it meaning. This seems to be an acceptable response, but doesn’t it sound like a character in a book jumping out of the book and giving his own character meaning? Also, this response doesn’t account for other people’s lives, or animals, or nature itself, or the universe. I can try to be the author of my own life, and therefore give it meaning, but I cannot give meaning to the whole world. For that, another author is needed: God.

Hints that God Exists: a Book’s Meaning