Tolerance and Understanding

Listen, Understand, Act

I grew up in a very conservative religious environment and “tolerance” was not a positive word. In fact, quite a few people in the churches I attended were proud to describe themselves as “intolerant” of what they perceived as wrong or evil. As I’ve spent more time in liberal circles I’ve become very interested in the concept of tolerance and I have a fundamental criticism of the basic idea. Should we be working on increasing tolerance or should we instead focus on increasing understanding?

Lets take homosexuality as our main example. It’s pretty clear at this point that the LGBT community has not been well tolerated by the rest of humanity throughout human history. But a lot of this intolerance has been the natural result of a misunderstanding of human and animal sexuality. We now know that homosexuality is widespread throughout the animal kingdom. It is perfectly natural for a small percentage of a species to be wired up for homosexual thoughts and behavior. But just because something is natural doesn’t make it good or right, if we make that move we are committing the naturalistic fallacy. We need to learn more about homosexuality before we make a judgment on it.

The American Psychiatric and Psychological Associations started seriously studying homosexuality in the 1960’s and 70’s. They eventually discovered that sexual orientation is not subjectively experienced as a choice in the vast majority of people. People do not choose their sexual orientation, it is something heavily influenced by the genes and the early experience of the fetus in the womb. Also for bisexuals and lesbians sexual orientation is often more fluid and may change over time. After decades of research it has become clear to the scientific community that LGBT orientations and experiences are a normal variation of human sexual orientation.

It is important to note that we could have discovered something completely different. LGBT attractions and behavior could have been proven to be a mental disorder. We could have lived in a world where James Dobson was right and sexual orientation could be heavily influenced by childhood experience. But we don’t live in that world. People are not blank slates and LGBT thoughts and behavior are a normal expression of the variety of human sexuality. The evidence is in, and according to the APA the evidence has been conclusive since at least 1973. Human sexuality is largely wired in and the vast majority of people do not experience attraction as a choice.

Imagine if people had actually sought out a proper understanding of the intricacies of human sexuality in only the past 2000 years. Imagine if the New Testament of the Bible had an entire chapter devoted to a deeper understanding of the complexity of sexual attraction. The Old Testament has a book called “Song of Solomon” which rather graphically describes the intricacies of heterosexual attraction, so a more open discussion of sexuality in the New Testament would not have been out of the question.

In the end, tolerance is not enough, our main goal should be understanding. Tolerance is a good start but we should proceed as soon as possible to a scientific understanding and once we have that understanding we ought to spread the word that the time for ignorance is over. It’s time to accept the overwhelming evidence, understand our LGBT brothers and sisters, and realize that human sexuality is a complicated phenomenon where people have a vanishingly small “choice” in their orientation and the expression and acceptance of that orientation is normal and healthy.

Creative Commons License Image courtesy of highersights.

The Homosexuals

Hey there!  It’s been far too long since I last posted to this blog.  Things have been crazy at work lately and I’ve apparently fallen off of the blogging horse for a bit.  I’ll be posting again soon, but in the meantime here’s an interesting clip I found after going on a short Mike Wallace TV clip binge.  It’s a recap version of a TV special he hosted in 1967 about homosexuals.  It was one of the first TV specials to ever seriously address the subject of homosexuality.

As far as social issues go, it often feels like this country is stuck in the past and our slow march toward a better connection to objective reality is agonizingly slow.  But, after watching this clip you can see just how far this country has come in the past few decades.  We still have a long way to go, but if you look at the long game, things are definitely moving in the right direction on many fronts.

Informative Graphic of World Religious Membership

An absolutely fascinating graphic of world religious membership from the National Post. It’s encouraging to see that there are over a billion people in the “secular” class of religious belief.

Introducing Gmail Motion


The Final Four is Here!

Kentucky BasketballI don’t normally blog about sports, but today is a special occasion.  For those of us who live in the United States and enjoy the game of basketball the Final Four is upon us!  For those outside the US, here in the states, college basketball teams have a huge end-of season tournament called March Madness where the best 64 teams (actually a few more if you count the ridiculous play-in games) compete in a single elimination tournament.  We are now down to the final four teams in the tournament: Kentucky, Louisville, Kansas, and Ohio State.

I lived in Kentucky for five years and I definitely caught the college basketball bug.  Some people just don’t get it and I understand that the late game stoppages can be annoying, but in the more dramatic late-season games of the college basketball season I often find myself on the edge of my seat.  There is always a chance to see some high-drama in these tournament games.  Occasionally a small school like Lehigh takes down a behemoth like Duke, and oh did that put a smile on my face.  This year’s tournament certainly did not disappoint and we’ll see if it has any surprises left in store.

I heard Jon Haidt recently say during a talk that “sports is to war as pornography is to sex.  It gives us a chance to exercise some ancient urges.”  I suppose that is true.  It feels like you are going to war with the other team to a certain degree and I really enjoyed the competitive nature of athletics when I was in high school and college as a participant and an observer.  In high school I actually got to play in a national tournament for small private school soccer teams.  Definitely one of the best experiences of my life.

What sporting events really get your blood going?  Please leave your comments below.

Oh yeah, and Go big blue!

Hey Now!

The Larry Sanders ShowI just listened to a great episode of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast where he interviews Jeffrey Tambor of Arrested Development and Larry Sanders fame.  It was an interesting conversation and Jeff brought up one of my favorite episodes of the Larry Sanders Show, Hank’s Night in the Sun.

If you don’t know what the Larry Sanders Show is, basically it was a television show on HBO in the 90’s starring Garry Shandling, Jeffrey Tambor, and Rip Torn.  Garry Shandling plays Larry Sanders a cynical late-night talk show host with Jeff playing Hank Kingsley the pathetic talk-show sidekick and Rip playing Artie the aggressive and wise producer.  The history surrounding the show is interesting because Garry actually turned down an offer to replace Letterman on his old late-night show on NBC to star in The Larry Sanders Show, a late-night talk show satire.

Anyways, it was a groundbreaking show and is still absolutely brilliant and spot-on in its humor and satire.  I watched most of the episodes on Netflix streaming, now that the DVD’s of the show have finally been released after a long legal battle.  If you like The Office or Arrested Development, you’ll definitely find The Larry Sanders Show enjoyable.

Marc Maron also has a great interview with Garry Shandling where they discuss the show in more detail.

But I digress, Hank’s Night in the Sun is one of my favorite episodes from the show and it showcases Hank’s pathos to perfection. Hank has always played second fiddle to Larry and when Larry comes down with a serious illness he gets the opportunity that he’s been waiting for.  But after he fills in as host for a night, his ego balloons and he tries to secure a few more nights as host, until the whole thing comes crashing down.  Jeffrey Tambor plays this role so well, it is uncanny.

Here are some great excerpts from the episode:

Hank gets the opportunity of a lifetime:

Hank’s success goes to his head:

Hank hosts a second time:

Adam Savage at the Reason Rally

Great speech by Adam the Reason Rally

Le Café Wittypoots

Uploaded by MarkRosengarten on Mar 25, 2012

Adam Savage, co-host of Mythbusters, speaks at the Reason Rally on March 24th, 2012. This was, in my opinion, the best speech of the day at the Rally…and he had some serious competition.


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A Great Discussion about Atheism

Below are some links to a really great series of videos from Sunday’s episode of UP, a show on MSNBC hosted by Chris Hayes. This is one of the most thoughtful discussions about the role of atheism in politics and public life that I have ever heard.  There are some very intelligent and thoughtful people on the discussion panel including Steven Pinker and Robert Wright.  I encourage you to watch as much of it as you can.

Richard Dawkins also joins in for a few of the segments.  I have a real problem with his overall attitude and it was interesting to hear some of the reactions to his attitude from the panel.  Some disagreeing strongly, others identifying with his more strident take on atheism.  I’ve seen the damage that his attitude and incendiary comments have done and the ammunition it gives to conservative religious people, like my parents, so I have a real problem with him.

And also, in one of the later segments a pastor comes out of the closet as an atheist and engages in a fascinating discussion with the panel.  I wish there were more thoughtful discussions like this on cable news!

The full show: Sunday’s Show: Atheism

Individual Segments:

  1. Coalescing the atheist political movement
  2. Atheists, God, and the GOP
  3. Atheism in the Public Sphere
  4. How does God fit in with global warming?
  5. Pastor comes out as a non-believer
  6. Things you should know

The Righteous Mind – The Intuitive Dog and Its Rational Tail

This is Part 3 of my journey through The Righteous MindHere is Part 2.

The social intuitionist model offers an explanation of why moral and political arguments are so frustrating: because moral reasons are the tail wagged by the intuitive dog.  A dog’s tail wags to communicate.  You can’t make a dog happy by forcibly wagging its tail.  And you can’t change people’s minds by utterly refuting their arguments.  If you want to change people’s minds, you’ve got to talk to their elephants.

– Jonathan Haidt

And as reasoning is not the source, whence either disputant derives his tenets; it is in vain to expect, that any logic, which speaks not to the affections, will ever engage him to embrace sounder principles.

– David Hume

The Righteous Mind - By Jon Haidt

At this point in the book Jon describes the distinction of “seeing-that” versus “reasoning-why”.  The thinking here is that our reactions to religious and political statements come from a low-level rapid and unconscious pattern matching engine in our minds.  Research by Howard Margolis (building on previous work by Peter Wason) ultimately led both to the conclusion that judgment and justification are separate processes.

Margolis sees these as two different cognitive processes.  The “seeing-that” process is a form of pattern matching that all animals do and is a highly evolved and deeply ingrained part of all animal brains after hundreds of millions of years.  The “reasoning-why” process is brand spanking new in evolutionary terms and is only available to beings that have evolved language and have a need to justify their actions to other highly evolved beings. And of course we anthropomorphize lower animals, objects, and concepts when, out of frustration or a sense of comedy, we try to reason with something like our car or our dog.  The point is that the reasoning process is not automatic, it is a slower, conscious process that is bolted on top of our ancient, powerful, and efficient pattern-matching process. Read the rest of this entry

Taking Care of Business

Kramer doing a little TCB:

I recently switched jobs and started on a new software development project.  It’s new but I’m working with a group of people who I’ve had a great experience with before, so I know what I’m getting into.  I just came off a pretty bad two-year run in a project that was frustrating and rather unfulfilling.  It was one of those work environments where the systems were not very advanced, end users were not thrilled, and we had a few clients that hated the contract so much that they actively worked against us.  Just a horrible environment to work in.

In fact, my bad experience in this job actually worsened my depression and forced me to see a psychiatrist.  This is when my social anxiety disorder was finally appropriately treated and I had a sea-change in my outlook.  The depression started to fade away and I was able to deal with the vagaries of the job.  So there was some good in the bad.  But, things got to a point where I just had to move on, so I contacted some old co-workers and found out about this new project.

So, if you’re stuck in a bad job, don’t lose heart, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Just put together your résumé, talk to some trusted ex-coworkers, see what’s out there and take your time finding the right place for you.  Make sure you do some investigative work and find out what your potential new workplace is really like.  Some early investigative work can save you a whole lot of pain and frustration down the road.  Always know what you’re getting yourself into!  Seems like it should be common sense, but we all forget that piece of advice from time to time.

As for me, I’m finally in a great work environment again and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.

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