Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Faking Death: Performance Art or Heartless Hoax?

Feel free to not believe me. I’ve done little to earn your trust, and I can’t blame you for your doubt.

Zombie Rystefn

On Saturday, October 11, 2008, I had just gotten out of bed and, for whatever reason that I can’t recall now, started talking to Elyse of The Skepchick Empire on Skype. Anyway, in the middle of our conversation about how inferior Sam Ogden makes me feel with his hotness and his superb writing, Elyse said “oh, Rystefn passed away”.

Rystefn was one of the readers and commenters on Skepchick, Teen Skepchick, and this blog. Oh, how much laughter he used to bring to me when I read through the comments of our posts. What wit, what eloquence, what genius.

I never talked to him on IM, much less met him in person, but he seemed far from a stranger. He might as well have been a part of Skepchick, so constant a name to appear in the blog comments.

Elyse linked me to Rystefn’s blog, The Last Road, and I poked through the posts, reading the story of his last days.

Damn it, I never told him that I loved his commentry, and damn it, I never followed the link in that ever-so constant name to his blog to find out that he was dying. What an arse I felt like!

Given that I hadn’t known that he’d been dying it all came as a shock to me.

Mum came in to my room, and looked upon my saddened facial expression. “One of my mostest favouritest commenters in the world just died,” I said.

I made a post, a clever interweaving of some of the comments I had scavenged for on my blog and on Teen Skepchick with my own words of mourning. But I didn’t post it (a post that wasn’t posted, aha!). I waited for more word from his girlfriend, “Sabrina” who had been the bearer of bad news on the blog, because she seemed to have hinted at writing something else in rememberance of Rystefn. I waited, not wanting to take away her moment of rememberance from her.

As I waited, doubts began to grow. Doubt had already been there, knowing that people on the Internet do create hoaxes, having heard many stories. But, not wanting to be an arse I decided to continue on the assumption that Rystefn was indeed dead, even without evidence.

I was faced with a nasty thought, I would rather Rystefn be dead than for him to be hoaxing us.

I waited, with each passing day thinking that if it were a hoax he would have revealed it. And if it weren’t a hoax Sabrina would surely have posted.

It was a hoax.

By now I had begun feeling pretty apathetic about the whole thing, and more and more doubtful, but I still couldn’t help but feel a strong, powerful disgust as I watched Rystefn’s video. I chose to ignore the urge to vomit, and decided to simply forget Rystefn ever graced even the outer layers of the blogosphere.

What seemed to be most upsetting to people was that in calling it “performance art” they thought that Rystefn might be trying to justify it as being art. He says he doesn’t think it’s justified as art but…

I began thinking… As despicable an act as it was, could it really be called “art”? And if so, could it still be justified?

The most useful thing I was ever taught about art was that art is hard to define. I can make some generalisations about it though, a few of which I’ll summarize here.

  1. Art is often aesthetically pleasing.
  2. Art usually provokes emotion, makes people think, bothers them.
  3. Art tends to have lessons.
  4. Great art is often controversial.

Can writing be aesthetic? I’ve been told that some of my posts are “beautiful” and while I admittedly am not entirely sure I know what that means, I’d argue that there are beautiful pieces of writing and that that could be considered aesthetics. I found The Golden Compass to be strangely aesthetically pleasing although I don’t know what that means even though I’ve just said it was.

The Last Road provoked emotion. It examined the human condition in the face of death. And I suppose this post might be evidence that it provoked thought.

Rystefn seemed to be saying he had the intent of teaching a lesson had he followed through with the rest of the story of The Last Road, but we shall never know what it was, it seems.

And was this contoversial? Controversial in whether or not it’s art? Yes.

But, the major difference between the catharsis of a great play, or a moment at which a great work of literature has played your heart-strings is that you know it’s fiction. Fooling people, while it may give you a good laugh, makes you a bit of a jerk. People tend to have no respect for you.

Lonelygirl15 was an actress on YouTube, though her videos were of less substance.

But maybe that is part of the art. Artists try to make things seem realistic, but making somebody actually believe it’s real… Is that perhaps a new and radical form of art? Isn’t that just controversial, a part of being great art?

And perhaps Rystefn, or whatever his real name is, is simply mentally ill. A plausible enough idea.

Van Gogh once cut off his own ear.

I think that The Last Road could get away with being called art. I will say with weak conviction that I am willing to go along with saying that it was art. Whether it can be justified… While I find the means of provoking emotion in what I suppose Rystefn thought was an artistic manner were definitely deceptive and vile, he did provoke emotion. Whether or not you liked the art, well, that’s all subjective.

Maybe I was enchanted with The Last Road before my disillusionment, but I am certainly now disenchanted with its artist.

Yesterday as David Grinspoon was giving his lecture at Auraria, I couldn’t help but noticing a man in the audience with a pair of glasses, a cowboy hat, blonde hair, and a beard much like Rystefn’s. Having only seen a few pictures, that video, and never having met him in person, I couldn’t say for sure. Perhaps it was the cold fury spilling over into paranoia making me see Rystefn where he was not there.

One question I think we will never have answered and that I am, admittedly, still curious about is how The Last Road would have ended, and what would have happened in between had Rystefn continued with his “art”. But, most curious to me… why would he give up all his friends for this? He certainly must have known that he would be stripped of all his respect and dignity, left with only the pity from a few of our hearts (including my own).

Throughout this post I’ve merely tried to make people look beyond our anger or apathy or whatever (and hell, maybe the story is not even about him dying, maybe it’s about how we react when we know it’s faked) at Rystefn’s distasteful actions and see if, perhaps, there was some taste to it after all. I don’t know the answer to this question, and now more than ever, I’d like to hear from you, the readers, especially if you’ve never commented before.

As much as I think Rystefn deserves a swift, forceful kick in the balls, can we still have appreciation for his “art”? Again, I’m calling it “art” with weak conviction.

However, perhaps the most telling thing he ever said was on his YouTube channel, and I think I shall end with it…

I am not a nice person. Do not mistake me for one.

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I’m Not Proud to be Human Right Now

Dedicated to all my gay friends.

So, here I am in my aerospace camp (we learn about aerospace engineering and make stuff like circuits and rockets) and a group of black boys who were forced to go there by their parents were talking about gays and how much they hate them.

“Wow…” I said. “You do realize that about 150 years ago your ancestors were in slavery because they had a different skin colour.”

They acted like I was just stating the obvious. “No! I had no idea…” they said sarcastically.

“Well, here you are, 50 years after the Civil Right’s movement and you’re discriminating against somebody because they’re different.”

“So?”

No, I don’t mean to say that all blacks are hypocrites. Homophobia is found in whites just as much as blacks as well as acceptance of gays. It has nothing to do with skin colour. But the Civil Right’s movement should have taught us all a lesson. The Civil Right’s movement should have taught us that just because somebody is different doesn’t mean we have to hate them.

What kind of a person hates another person because of their personal sexual preferences?

This is why I’m not proud to be human right now. We get discriminated against for our differences, initiate change to make that better, and then go back to discriminating against a new minority.

Reason save us all.

Can of Worms

I’m still not entirely sure about supporting Obama, but I liked him better than Hillary so I guess that this is pretty dandy news.

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois claimed the Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday night, NBC News projected based on its tally of convention delegates. By doing so, he shattered a barrier more than two centuries old to become the first black candidate ever nominated by a major political party for the nation’s highest office.

Source: MSNBC

And now, for a moment, I’d like to potentially open up a can of worms and talk about race. Having had a conversation with a black student in my College Composition class earlier this evening who is passionate about racism, I’d like to think that this won’t actually be judged as racist.

Alright, yes. It’s absolutely splendid that blacks are finally able to achieve the presidential nomination but… I think that it shouldn’t matter. If we really have progressed beyond racism in this country, why are we still counting every black achievement for the single reason that they are black?

I get the strangest feelings when I see a caption on a photo that says “First African American to (insert achievement here)”. Now, I’m not saying that in the past blacks didn’t have a lot more to overcome than protestant Anglo-Saxons, but today, why are we still congratulating their achievements not because they achieved it, but because they are black?

Yesterday, I saw a photo of a young black boy standing on the wing of his air plane. The caption read “Youngest Person to Fly Solo Around the World”. That’s a whole lot different than “First African American to Fly Solo Around the World”. We can justify saying “First African American to …” back in the days during and before the Civil Rights movement when racism ran rampant and they definitely did have to work harder, but today, why don’t we just celebrate the person’s accomplishments as an individual?

It’s arguable that Atheists are more disadvantaged than blacks are today. Can you imagine how weird it would be to see captions on photos like “First Openly Atheist Person to …”?

If it weren’t for the minority of people in this country who actually are racist, I’d like to think that race would’ve become a non-issue by now. I don’t really care about the race of the individuals who I interact with. As a biracial person (by the way, Obama is biracial too), I don’t think that any race really fits me so I have to see myself as an individual. I will celebrate the accomplishments of my black friends, not because they’re black, but because they are my friends. Same goes for my Hispanic, Asian, or whatever-they-are friends.

Dowsing and Alternative Medicine Anyone?

Whenever I see a new flyer about on campus that advocates classes for things debunked long ago, I worry that I will lose so much touch with reality that I’ll begin walking into walls.

Most recently, there’s been a little yellow flyer for a “Dowsing 101” class. It’s not actually something you can register for through the college. It’s being done by the “Crypto-Science Society” and presumably you show up, pay them, and learn how to use unbent coathangers dowsing rods.

Dowsing is the skill of using one’s intuition through the use of specialized tools to locate things such as underground water, oil wells, Archaelogical sites, and gold.

Dowsing has led to the discovery of some of our most productive wells with 96% accuracy.

Inconveniently, no source was provided for that last statistic.

Dowsing has already been debunked by James “The Amazing” Randi.

Actually, that’s not the only video of water dowsing being debunked.

James Randi in Australia

Enemies of Reason

Oh, but that’s not the only shit that my splendid campus has to offer… oh no indeed…

The Metropolitan State College of Denver offers an “Integrative Therapeutic Practices” degree which involves alternative medicine. You learn about acupuncture, homeopathy, aromatherapy, and guess what? That stuff has been debunked too!

I could be more detailed about exactly why a lot of the junk that they’re teaching is just dumb, but that’s for another time and for now I have provided links to The Skeptic’s Dictionary for information on it. The point I want to make is the very definition of alternative medicine is medicine that has not undergone rigorous scientific testing.

Personally, I think that it ought to be a college’s responsibility to make sure that what they’re teaching is not going to be stuff that’s already been proven false… especially if they’re teaching that bull shit as having practical applications. And when those practical applications involve getting neccessities…

I would not trust a generation of college graduates who wanted to use dowsing to get our water, oil, gold, and artifacts for the benefit of science. I would not trust a generation of college graduates who think that their untested treatments of disease are suitable for my health. What happens if their techniques fail (and I have reason to believe that they will)? Imagine the panic, chaos, and disaster that would result from failure to find what we are searching for when we are in dire need of resources. Imagine how many people’s health may be damaged by these untested or disproven medicines. Not to mention the damage done to this generation’s understanding of science.

No, society might not come crashing down… Dowsing isn’t really a profession that they’ll train for and there are other ways of getting water besides knowing where to drill for wells. There are still students going through real medical school who will become real doctors…

But damage can and will be done by ignorant students.

But that’s why colleges, especially public universitites, need to be held accountable for what they put in the minds of tomorrow’s leaders, scientists, and thinkers.

By the way, both the Crypto-Science Society and whoever is running the “Therapeutic Integrative Practices” program are eligible for the new MSCD Paranormal Challenge.

Fitna Pulled from Internet. Again.

Alas, my Friday has been ruined by news brought to my attention by Chicken Girl.

I’m not sure if anything proves that Islam is fascist better than its ability to terrorize internet hosting providers into silencing the truth about it.

Fitna was a short 16 minute film made by a Dutch MP named Geert Wilder who wanted to expose Islam for the violent, anti-democratic religion that it is. His hosting provider, Network Solutions, pulled his website after hearing news that he was making it. But, it finally got released on Live Leak yesterday until… today. It just got pulled… again…

On top of that, everybody from overly-liberal commentors on online articles to the UN are denouncing it as ‘hate speech.’

Here’s the video on Google Video which survived for your viewing pleasure. It’s rather gruesome so it’s not for the faint hearted and viewer discretion is advised.

Fitna.

Again, this is people getting pissed off just because somebody is bad-mouthing some religion. If somebody made the same documentary about nazism, would it still get the same reaction?

You’ll notice in the documentary that he is not just making random hate speech directed at Muslims, he’s making a plea to Muslims to renounce the violent aspects of the Quran.

Of course, the Muslims are just sending violent threats to the people willing to keep it on the Internet which pretty much proves the thesis of the film.

Islam is proving itself to be violent and anti-freedom and they’re whining about hate speech?

Geesh…

I Accidentally Went to a Bible Study Group

Yes, I know. How do you accidentally go to a Bible study group?

Well, I suppose I was kind of unintentionally forced… er… that sounds even more oxymoronic, but bear with me. Last night, my mum forced me to go see a movie they were showing on campus. What she didn’t know was that it was put on by one of the Christian organization. The movie in question was Amazing Grace (the title couldn’t have given her any clue as to the nature of the organization!), which was about the abolitionist movement in Britain and it’s religious motivations.

Although it had religious overtones, it was still a good movie, though the chair I was sitting in was a bit uncomfortable…

Anyway, afterwards, they divided us into little groups to discuss the movie. They printed out a sheet of movie questions, reminiscent of the movie questions teachers give to the class to make sure that they were paying attention.

At one point, they asked the question “If your society supports slavery, how can you change it?”

I said the secular thing to say. “Tell your society why they are wrong.”

“But why is slavery wrong?” they replied, in an attempt to force the discussion in a religious direction.

“You’re obviously causing needless suffering on to human beings which should be stopped.” An obvious answer, but unsatisfactory. The answer they were looking for was…

People should not belong to people. People should belong to God.”

“I just think that people should belong to themselves” I retorted, and there were some awkward laughs as they took the discussion back in a secular direction.

But honestly, if they have to say that people belong to God, or that God created all men equal to prove that slavery is wrong, Christians have got some pretty lame morals. Slavery is wrong because nobody should belong to anybody. Slavery is wrong because nobody should be forced to work for other people. Slavery is wrong because it’s torturous. Slavery is wrong because it causes terrible suffering. Anybody who’s studied it and has any form of decent moral values should know that it’s wrong.

Why Christians are so desperate to make it seem like they have the best reasons why slavery is of interest to me. Perhaps it’s simply another “religious values are better than secular values” thing… but maybe there’s also a bit of guilt in the fact that the only restrictions the Bible places on slave ownership is that you can’t damage their eyes or their teeth.

Sorry to burst your sanctimonious-secularism-sucks bubble.

I Got Accused of Being a Nazi Today

This was written more for my Speech & Debate teacher who wanted a written account of why I had started crying in class today, but it tells all.

Today in History, we were talking about Jim Crow. This got me on a chain of thought about the KKK, which got me on a chain of thought about Hitler, and eugenics. Though these first two sentences seem unrelated to what upset me in class today, I find it much more thorough to describe all the events leading up to it, and it sounds better to start out in History class than it is to say that I was thinking about eugenics for no particular reason.

Anyway, I was thinking about eugenics and why, ultimately, it failed. Obviously, it’s unethical, and racist. Highly esteemed people like Ben Stein also like to say that the idea of eugenics came from Darwin’s theory of evolution. But as I was thinking about it, I realized that the racist part of eugenics was group selectionist.

Group selection is an out dated theory that says that groups with certain traits are selected against other groups, in the same way that individuals are selected against other individuals. An example would be a tribe that has individuals within it who are inclined towards martyrdom. This tribe would win more battles against other tribes, and would become more dominant. However, if an individual in this tribe did not possess a genetic tendency towards martyrdom, they would survive longer and produce more off spring, and group selection therefore did not work. The publication of The Selfish Gene in 1976 effectively debunked group selection and stressed that it was the genes of individuals that were being selected. Nowadays, if a biologist tries to use group selection as an explanation of something they (usually) get laughed at.

I found great humor in Hitler’s use of group selection in his eugenics projects (which I now realize is really not something to be laughed at) and, knowing that Ilana had read the same book that I had, knew that she would understand the joke of saying “Hitler was a group selectionist.” After all, creationists love to say that Hitler got his ideas for eugenics from Darwin, and therefore evolution should not be taught. If you say that Hitler got his ideas from group selection, it makes the whole thing look even sillier.

So, I waited until 8th period, when I remembered that I wanted to remind myself to tell her that I had had an amusing (like I said, it doesn’t seem quite as amusing now) thought and I said “Ilana, today in History, I realized that Hitler was a group selectionist.” She giggled a bit, as was expected, but Matt also heard it, and not knowing what group selection is (not that anybody else in that class of highly well informed freshmen knew what I meant by group selection) thought that I was saying that Hitler was good.

The “Lucia is a neo-Nazi” meme spread like wild fire in that corner of the classroom, and I tried my best to correct the assumption. The fact that I had started laughing partly at the original joke, partly at the stupidity of the classroom, did not help much.

Comments ranged from “Lucia! I’m Jewish! I take offense to that,” to, “Don’t bring Esserman into this! He’s Jewish too!”

Lindsey perked up, gave me a very cold look and said very soberly “That is so inappropriate, talking about Hitler like he’s a good person.”

Part of the reason why I took greater offense to this is I suspect that Lindsey is judging me for my religion, or lack thereof. I cite the time I confronter her about not opening the door for us. I said, “I’m just philanthropic like that.” She replied “No. You don’t believe in God because you think that you’re smarter than everybody else. That’s not being philanthropic, that’s being selfish.” Despite the lack of connection between being egotistic (I try not to be) and altruistic behavior, she got complimented by several people in that corner of the room for the comment.

However, it did almost seem like she was perking up because she has been convinced by the good ‘ol “Hitler was an Atheist!” propaganda… I’m skeptical that this is the reason she demonstrates such behavior towards me, however, and I can’t exactly prove it. But, I don’t even recall having a conversation with Lindsey prior to that point when she said I was selfish for not believing in God. I can’t really think of any other reason why she seems to hate me.

But what really set me off was that I’m stuck in this vast sea of ignorance, filled with waves of intolerance. It’s not the prolonged exposure to it that has been bothering me so much lately as to cause me to break down like I did. It’s just that I’ve been consciously acknowledging it more. After all, I did just get a book on anti-intellectualism.

If all I had to do to get accused of being a neo-Nazi was not believe in God (again, that’s not necessarily the reason) and breathe the word ‘Hitler’ along with another word that people don’t understand… It’s just depressing.

I don’t think that I really need to leave my Speech & Debate class just because of this. I just need to figure out a new way of coping. Yes, it’s tempting to just get my GED, drop out, and go to college… but I couldn’t exactly get into a place that would be more intellectually friendly like that. Maybe Metro… probably not CU… and I definitely could not get into a highly selective university like that…