22 May 2009

The Six Security Beliefs

I recently had the pleasure of reading a book of short stories and essays by Isaac Asimov, former honorary president of the American Humanist Association and an author who I enjoy immensely. Although Asimov was a skeptic, he tended to shy away from controversy for his publisher's sake and so until this very night I've never read anything about him that directly promoted skepticism. In one of his essays that I read tonight, however, he came quite close. In "Knock Plastic!", he identifies six general "security beliefs" that most people have or do presently share.

"But knocking wood is only one example of a class of notions, so comforting and so productive of feelings of security, that men will seize upon them on the slightest provocation or none at all. Any piece of evidence tending to support such a 'Security Belief', however frail and nonsensical it might be, is grabbed and hugged close to the bosom. Every piece of evidence tending to break down a Security Belief, however strong and logical that evidence might be, is pushed away. (Indeed, if the evidence against a Security Belief is strong enough, those presenting the evidence might well be in danger of violence.) [...] I have come up with six very broad Security Beliefs that, I think, blanket the field -- although the Gentle Reader is welcome to add a seventh, if he can think of one.

Security Belief No. 1: There exist supernatural forces that can be cajoled or forced into protecting mankind. "

(Here Asimov addresses the possible root of such a belief, the capriciousness of natural events, their importance to hunting and agricultural societies, and thus the importance of being able to control those forces. )

"Security Belief No. 2: There is no such thing, really, as death."

Asimov details the fear and denial of death and explores some of its offspring -- spiritualism, for instance.

"Security Belief No. 3: There is some purpose to the Universe.

After all, if you're going to have a whole battery of spirits and demons running the Universe, you can't really have them doing it all for nothing. [...]"

"Security Belief No. 4: Individuals have special powers that will enable them to get something for nothing."

'Wishing will make is so' is a line from a popular song and oh, how many people believe it. It is so much easier to wish, hope, and pray, than to take the trouble to do something. [...]

Security Belief No. 5: You are better than the next fellow. [...]

Security Belief No. 6:
If anything goes wrong, it's not one's own fault." [...]

When the Security Believers are strung by the explosion of the hoaxes and follies that deceive them, what is there last, best defense? Why, that there is a conspiracy of scientists against them."


I have been unable to find a copy of this essay online: I would like to be able to link people to it. It is contained in the posthumous collection Magic: The Final Fantasy Collection, which is a bit ironic. Magic consists of stories by Asimov that have been labeled as fantasy as well as essays on fantasy fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and other unrelated topics.

06 May 2009

What I Learned from Hippies

If you hear the song I sing, you will understand -- listen.
You hold the key to love and fear, all in your tremblin' hands...
Just one key unlocks them both, it's there at your command...
C'mon, people now, smile on your brother --
Everybody get together, try to love one another right now. - "Get Together", the Youngbloods

One of my monthly pleasures while growing up was riding to the state capital, where my parents and I would enjoy the advantages of the 'big city" -- for my parents, stores, and for myself, the zoo. The state capital, the closest "big city", was an hour away and along the way, we would listen to what my father termed "oldies": rock and folk music from the fifties and sixties. Since we were fundamentalist Pentecostals, I was barred from listening to 'worldly', or non-church, music. My father relaxed the rules when it came to the music of his youth, however, and so his childhood bands became my childhood bands. My mother, much more conservative in that area than my dad, would be very uncomfortable at this prospect, but grudgingly admitted a certain affection for the Monkees. Although I relished in all of the music -- it was, aside from sneaking around and listening to country music when my parents weren't around, my only source of "real" music -- I especially liked the folk songs done by the beats and "hippies".

Their message -- peace, love, tolerance, and understanding -- was very attractive to a social misfit like myself, much the target of bullying and jeers. In retrospect I can't say I regret that those things happened to me: for whatever reason, they gave me a humanist heart and I have benefited enormously from the lessons learned. My appreciation for the message of the hippies grew when I hit high school and learned what the counterculture was actually about. Although since childhood I had regarded the 1960s with very romantic eyes, understanding the racism, intolerance, and indifference of the conservative fifties made me realize how necessary the hippies were. Although I was subscribing more and more to my parents' religion and becoming even more fundamentalist than they in certain aspects of my life, I found myself preferring the world of the hippies. Even though I wanted the typical suburbans dream, I could understand why the hippies wanted to get away from it.

As I've grown older still, my relationship with hippies has become more complicated. I've since learned about the drug abuse, for instance, and how they popularized horoscopes and so on. At the same time, as I have grown -- have started to question consumerism and have started practicing a philosophically spiritual life rather than a religiously dogmatic one, my appreciation for them has grown in those aspects. I understand the motivation behind the "back to the land" movements, and as something of a free spirit myself, I 'get' living outside cultural norms. Although the way I have looked at hippies has changed, I still love their music.

Some of songs I regarded as"hippie" songs from my childhood:
  • "Get Together", the Youngbloods
  • "For What It's Worth", Buffalo Springfield
  • "Turn, Turn, Turn", the Byrds
  • "California Dreamin'", the Mamas and the Papas
  • "Blowin' in the Wind", Bob Dylan
  • "All You Need is Love", John Lennon/the Beatles
  • "If You're Going to San Francisco", Scott McKenzie

03 May 2009

Wild Geese

Wild Geese
Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things