What’s my label?

I’ve always been fascinated by belief systems. Thanks to the open environment I was raised in (my Mom is Unitarian) I possessed the ability to observe belief systems objectively from a very early age. I recall a book from my childhood on comparative religion that I would pour over from time to time, juxtaposed against a children’s illustrated Bible (basically a hardcover comic book) that immediately made me question Christian beliefs (likely not the author’s intent). There was even a point in grade school where, to the consternation of many of my friends, I declared myself Athiest. Certainly, not going to church every Sunday made that conclusion easier to reach than it might have been otherwise. At any rate, I am grateful for the intellectual freedom I was given.

Interestingly, though, that freedom has taken me on a path that did not remain in Atheism, a belief system with which I no longer identify myself. Rather, I learned to question belief itself, and learned that disbelief, as the opposite of belief, is itself a belief in something. To subscribe to a given religion is to say that you believe most of its tenets if not all. But to subscribe to Atheism is to say that you believe those tenets are wrong. Granted, there is much more evidence to support the beliefs of the latter than the former, but that does not change the fact that both are belief systems.

My journey has brought me to a place where, to borrow the words of the hippy philosopher Robert Anton Wilson, “I don’t believe anything”. But, and here is where the fun starts, for me, the corollary to that is true as well: I don’t disbelieve anything either.

But, what does that mean? First, I’ll point out the definition of believe from Dictionary.com:

to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that one is right in doing so

To rephrase, to believe something means to be convinced it is true without evidence or even despite evidence. So basically I am saying that I’m not convinced anything is true. I do mean anything. I do not even believe the evidence of my own five senses, or in the truth of my convictions. How can that be possible? It is possible, as most things are, because of semantics, really. When I say believe I mean 100% conviction of truth, with disbelief being 100% conviction of falsehood. Anything else in between is neither belief nor disbelief, but rather assumption or operating hypotheses. That means I can say that a given idea seems true or untrue as the case may be, and I may operate my life on that assumption, but I always leave space open for the possibility that my assumption is wrong.

Going back to religionists (religious believers) versus Atheists, religionists believe, for instance, that God exists. Athiests believe He (or She!) does not. Both these groups are convinced that they are right and the other is wrong. I don’t even stand in the middle of these two groups. I don’t believe either group is right, but I’m not sure either group is wrong either. Either side could be right! Who am I to say? I’m certainly no expert…

That lack of expertise is specifically why I’m not so sure about the whole belief thing. Just think about the amount of evidence you need to prove something. Now think about the amount of expertise you need to amass that evidence. And that’s why we have scientists and engineers, for instance. They study for years to gain the expertise to carry out experiments so they can prove things. And even then, the “proof” consists of a theory, or a set of assumptions that give the predicted result. Theories are certainly not conjecture as creationists would have you believe, but neither are they facts written in stone. They are rather things that are there “for now” as working, reliable tools that can and likely will be replaced by better ones as more evidence is accumulated in the future.

And that is my real problem with Atheists. For a group of people so obviously rational in every other way, how can they simply disbelieve all religion? How can you be 100% sure that God won’t just one day decide to show up after all and have a good laugh at our collective expense? Atheists believe God does not exist. They are absolutely convinced, despite how young our science is, despite how little we know of the universe or higher dimensions, that there is no higher being out there. I personally see that as only slightly less of an act of faith then those who believe God does exist and that He (or She) is watching over each and every one of us daily.

So, practically speaking, what does it really mean that I neither believe nor disbelieve anything but only have assumptions? Well, one really neat thing is that I get to audit class, so to speak. I can hang out with spiritual or religious friends and, for the time I am with them, assume that, hey, you know some of what they believe could really be true, and I end up having a great time. Then I can turn right around and hang out with my rationalist friends and go back to being completely rational, and end up having a great time. I get the best of both worlds, and I don’t even have to pay dues!

Not only that, but I can think whatever makes me feel good with a clear conscience. Think about it. Anyone with any intelligence questions their beliefs once in a while, and they invariably have a crisis of conscience. Whether it is the pastor questioning God or the Atheist resisting an instinctive urge to pray, it happens to everyone, and the stronger their beliefs are, the more guilty they feel for their doubts. For me, that’s never a problem. I can mix irrational spiritual urges which are, according to science, instinctive, with very rational thoughts, all in the same sentence, with no contradiction, because I don’t believe any of it 100%. I believe that is a much more healthy way to live. We cannot deny our biology and our brains (that want to be spiritual) without experiencing some discomfort, but neither can we deny solid evidence against a given belief when it is uncovered without also feeling discomfort. Doing away with belief altogether does away with those two major sources of stress. Believe me!

And I’ve recently even gone a step further. I now allow myself, for the sake of conversation and getting along, to use the word “belief”, but secretly using my own personal definition:

To act on the assumption that something is likely true with or without evidence until such time as more evidence becomes available.

I do this because it is boring to have to explain that I don’t believe anything etc. etc. bla bla bla every time anyone asks me a belief question. So now when people ask me if I believe in God, I say sure I do, I bet there’s a higher being out there somewhere. In fact, I believe that we and all matter are the embodiment of God, and that God created all existence because of how boring it was being alone in the Universe. But no I don’t believe in the Christian Bible or the Koran or the Torah or whatever other particular book of beliefs you might mention.

But then again, I could be wrong.

No more nukes

As everyone knows, a major earthquake struck the north east coast of Japan on March 11, 2011. It was the largest earthquake to occur in Japan since earthquakes were first recorded here scientifically. The death toll here in one of the top economies in the world has surpassed 10,000 lives as of this writing, and the figure is doubled when those unaccounted for are included.

This tragedy has precipitated yet another, the second greatest nuclear energy disaster to occur following the Chernobyl accident, a disaster that quickly eclipsed the actual earthquake in the public conscience both domestically and globally. Though it has been over two weeks since the tidal waves struck Japan’s coast and wrought their devastation, the nuclear disaster is still unfolding as workers at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant struggle to contain the leaking radioactive contamination. While there is much debate regarding the actual danger of the radiation outside an evacuation radius of 20km from the plant, the accident has fundamentally changed the lives of over a third of Japan’s population as residents across the Kanto region, which includes Tokyo, face power outages and water contamination warnings. A privileged few who are financially or otherwise mobile have given the warnings the benefit of the doubt and voluntarily evacuated themselves from Kanto to the Kinki region, Kyushu, Okinawa, and even Hawaii, not to mention the mass migration of foreign residents that occurred during the first week.

I myself live in Chiba prefecture which borders Tokyo to the east and extends south across Tokyo bay from Yokohama. The north end of the prefecture was hit by the same tidal waves that devastated the north, and earthquake tremors caused liquefaction of the parking lot at Chiba’s Tokyo Disney Land and explosions at an oil facility, hundreds of kilometers away from the epicenter. My coastal town of Kamogawa was largely unaffected thanks perhaps to the specific curvature of the shoreline, though that is only personal speculation.

I am situated roughly 270 kilometers south of the nuclear accident, and according to a simulation by a nuclear research organization in France, I may have received a dusting of cesium contamination between the 15th and 17th of March, along with much of the population of the Kanto region, though current local radiation levels are not significantly higher than natural background levels. However my daily life is now largely regulated by news of radiation. From helpful daily email updates from a local friend who owns a geiger counter, to NHK weather reports that announce the wind direction at Fukushima, radiation concerns have become and will now remain a basic part of my life for the foreseeable future.

How did this happen? What can I do about it? What can all of us do to prevent it from happening again? Just as after 9/11, I find myself fueled by a need to know why, down to the most fundamental root causes. I need to untangle the web of vested interests and ideas that is nuclear power, and I need to act on what I learn. I am currently healthy, in the prime of life, living close but not too close to a nuclear disaster of historic proportions, in the leading democracy in Asia. Rather than seeing myself as a victim, I see myself as having been handed, along with the almost 130 million people living in Japan, a responsibility to take this as a lesson, and to act on it.

Currently my days are filled with the busy activity of setting up an evacuation center for refugees of the earthquake and nuclear disaster. Such centers are springing up all across Japan as the people here ask them selves what they can do to help. The project started with a phone call from a friend on March 17, and four of us gathered to talk it over. Within hours, we were in the office of the mayer getting permission to turn a local abandoned school building (closed 2009) into an evacuee center. The frenetic activity that ensued cured me of the malaise of fear that gripped me for the first week following the earthquake. And the taste of working hard to give rather than receive, for the greater good rather than for profit, has given me a taste of what it feels like to live for a purpose other than one’s own self or loved ones.

I never imagined I would ever become an activist, but I can clearly see myself becoming one. But perhaps this is really the beginning of a new stage, one in which every responsible world citizen is by definition an activist. Perhaps then I am just another small statistic in a much greater, albeit sudden, trend. Actually, I very much hope that to be the case. I ask that you consider being a statistic too.

I am going to resurrect this blog and focus on the issue of the complete elimination of nuclear power generation from Japan and a complete transfer to reliance on renewable energy within my lifetime. I will call upon others to join together in systematically dismantling any and all arguments in favor of nuclear power in any form.

Nuclear fission based power generation should never have been adopted. Now that it has been, it should not be used any more. The way to that end is calm, rational argument tempered by a reverence for all life on this planet.

The nuclear power industry exists not because of the scientists who designed it but because of the captains of industry who implemented it. Their goal had nothing to do with calm rationality or reverence for any life. Their goal was and is shareholder value. Their excuse is that it was necessary in order to meet the ever growing demand for electricity. Calm rational argument will show that not to be the case. Much of the demand was, naturally, created by the providers of electricity as product themselves, those power companies who would profit from its increased use. Given a seemingly infinite supply of it, manufacturers of electrical devices and machinery naturally put its efficient consumption very low on their list of priorities. The result has been a snowballing of energy use which few have paused to question despite the growing concerns surrounding climate change.

These factors will now finally begin to change. Central and northern Japan will now face power shortages for many months to come. There will be an increased demand for alternative, local power generation, and for products and solutions that use less electricity to do common tasks. I have confidence that the ingenuity of Japanese industry will naturally answer to the call. It will be up to the rest of us to hold ourselves and industry to stay on the new path of ever increasing energy autonomy and efficiency, and prevent us from falling back into the trap of ever increasing consumption.

Who needs a job?

A friend of mine recently made a comment about just wanting a job that he didn’t hate given the US job market which values scientific, technical or engineering skill over other abilities.

My reaction was, why does anyone need a job? I like asking questions like this which seem to have obvious answers… Here is my edited reply.

You only need a job because this society goes out of its way to prevent you from living self sustainably. You can’t live anywhere unless you pay for it. You can only pay with money. You can only get money if you get a job (with a few exceptions). If you want a job you have to pay for an education. See how it loops? Vicious circle. Add to that the whole indoctrination that in order to be happy you need a car, a nice PC, a big TV set, blu-ray disk, brand name clothes, i.e. stuff that only multinational corporations can make, and it becomes impossible for people to imagine that it is possible to live a clean, happy, healthy, rewarding life without any of that stuff. Some of it is nice to have, but it isn’t essential for even a high level of comfort and happiness. In fact, it is irrelevant, irrelevant in much the same way that the difference between wearing Levis and wearing Levi knock-offs made at the same factory is irrelevant. It is only a matter of perception, what you believe.
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I have reincarnated my blog, formerly located at this address using a less than ideal hosting provider. Due to the way I have made the transfer, I haven’t been able to import existing content so I have re-posted a few gems and will otherwise start anew. Thus the title of this post. Seeing as we change drastically as people over the years, I think it is quite liberating to simply let go of the less useful trappings that we accumulate in order to allow ourselves to move more freely in whatever new directions we are called to.
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Originally posted in a facebook discussion on the book “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn in January, 2008.

The fear of death is, perhaps one could say, the root of all “evil”. It is also, ultimately, the root of the more neutral drive to “do something” in a single life time, to leave a mark, to be remembered, which in itself can be a beautiful concept under the right circumstances, but at other times really messes things up. We do what we can, with the understanding that what we can do is logically limited as an individual within the scope of a single life time, and that letting go of a need to change things is I think very liberating, freeing us to focus on changing the only thing we reliably can, ourselves.
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On Being

Originally posted December 31, 2007

The purpose of life is to be.  In being, you express the diversity of creation, and thus fulfill your part in creation.  To be is to express the joy of creation, and to share in that joy.  In being there is no suffering, only joy.

To be means to be who, and how, you really are, and not who you are expected to be, or who you want yourself to be.  To be means to rid yourself of all preconceptions and expectations, all goals and desires, and allow yourself to be, without judgement or restriction of any kind.In being, there is nothing you are meant to do.  Existence is not about doing.  Doing comes from being.  When you are being who you really are, whatever you do will come naturally without thought, without goal, without expectation.

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