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Sun Mar 01, 2015 at 08:21 AM PST

Secularists of Ohio Unite!

by Spencer Troxell

The only thing secularists in Ohio have to lose is their isolation...

I'm writing this from the particularly conservative/christian suburbs that surround Cincinnati. It can be a lonely place for someone who doesn't fit into the area's ideological mold.

There are plenty of good secular groups in Ohio, yet there is still a general sense among those who are not actively engaged of there being a lack of community. That's something Camp Quest Ohio--for which I am a board member--plans to attempt to rectify.

Camp Quest is a wonderful thing for the area's secular families. It's a place where--two weeks out of every year--secular children can come together in community and complete acceptance and learn, laugh, play, and grow. The problem is that this is only two weeks out of every year.

What we are looking to do is to expand this sense of community and acceptance to a year round experience by creating meet ups, outings, and other cultural experiences that will bond our secular families and create a more cohesive community structure.

We are starting in earnest with a volunteer opportunity to serve a meal at the Drop Inn Center in Over the Rhine on May 9th, precipitated by a tour of Over the Rhine and a speech by a local homeless advocate.

Because there are things we can learn from our religious brothers and sisters too: Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught that a robust Christianity would blend into its social surroundings and participate in the most pressing issues facing a community, and that it would do so under the auspices of a common humanity, rather than under a particular religious banner. Who better to adopt this approach than a bunch of humanists? Not only do we have to build and strengthen our own community, we need to fuse with the wider community as a whole and have our impact felt.

We will do more activities like this. We will stage fun, bonding events for local Camp Quest families as well as more socially conscious activities like reaching out to local non profit organizations and seeing where we might plug some holes in a worthy yet flawed system. Your ideas are welcome, and you are certainly welcome as well. Contact me at spencertroxell@gmail.com if you'd like to participate in the May 9 event, and if you'd like to brainstorm some more activities. All we have in this world is each other, and it would be a shame for those connections to go untapped.

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co written by David Troxell

The other day I tuned into Rush Limbaugh's show and heard him opining--paraphrase--'the liberal attempt to make work unnecessary for the lower classes'.
This complaint arrives at a central disagreement between myself and the modern American right wing.

Places Rush and I agree: Work builds character. We should be proud of the fruits of our labor. Hard work leads to innovation and prosperity.

Places Rush and I disagree: I don't think a person should have to work to live. Rush does. I think a person should be provided with the basic necessities of life, and that the goal of a person's life and work should be to self actualize, and to contribute back to society from that state of self actualization.

I have to rephrase a previous statement. Rush does not actually believe a person should have to work to live. He believes a POOR person should have to work to live. The 1% in this country do not have to work, and he doesn't seem to have a problem with that, nor does he seem to have any doubts about their ability to contribute to society in a meaningful way. It is us ugly proletariat that he feels require the old stick and carrot (the carrot, by the way, never gets unloosed from the stick. It will never actually come into our possession).

Something Rush does not understand: Man craves work. By our very nature, we are restless creatures. We do our best--and are our healthiest--when we are comfortable and productive. When a person suffers from want, they are not focused, and their creativity is taxed. When a person has the freedom to pursue their own creative strengths free from fear or want, they are more inclined to create something instilled with that same freedom. Building from a position of personal strength is the best way to build.

Rush betrays a personal distrust and misunderstanding of the proletariat. He believes that we are lesser beings who must be steered like farm animals.

There is a belief that humanity is driven by greed. Some have a notion of humans being entirely individualistic, their only motivation is for the greater benefit of that individual. The idea is unquestionable to those who believe it, it is human nature. It’s the only way we as a species could survive. This is what drives the belief that humans need to be hard working members of the society in order for them to be entitled their basic needs. If they are fed, housed, healthy, and unconditionally taken care of, they will have no reason to contribute. We’re a product of our evolution and you only survive in nature by putting in minimal work for maximum gain. This idea is a simplistic view of humanity.

 Humans didn’t survive as individuals. We have a complicated relationship between looking out for our personal best interest and looking out for the welfare of the group. In a society where everyone’s needs are guaranteed to be taken care of, it will never be socially acceptable for those who can contribute in a meaningful way to not do so. We are social animals and we will (as a general rule) comply to the expectations of our social groups. For this reason we, as a caring and capable group of humans, should not ask others to sacrifice their freedom and humanity in order to provide for their basic necessities.

Getting to a place in our society where we are not forced to work to provide ourselves with basic necessities is not a situation to opine; it is a scenario to rejoice. The great American experiment was supposed to be a government of free people for free people; until we are at the point where the least among us no longer have to work for basic needs, this dream will be unrealized. Until we’ve reached this place, we will not live in a free society. The lower and middle class is forced to submit their lives to those who happen to be born into a higher station in life. There is the notion that we can move from our station but there is a vicious cycle in place that prevents this from happening. It is hard to find any money to invest in any kind of venture while you’re struggling to find money to pay for food, medical care, and housing. This is not a question of these people not being hard working, the hardest working people I know are stuck in this situation. This is a question of whether anyone should, by birthright, be taken care of and valued more than anyone else. It seems like the exact opposite of the ideas that this country was founded on.

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Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 04:44 AM PST

If You Love God, Let Him Go

by Spencer Troxell

The best way to have a relationship with God is to stop believing in him.

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I had a friend confess to me yesterday that he has been trying to believe in God lately.

I am an atheist who is a former evangelical Christian, and that evangelical impulse has never really left me. If I have the truth, goddammit, I want to share it with you.

I didn't find myself sharing my truth with my friend yesterday, however. I found myself empathizing with him. "Believe me, I understand the attraction of believing in God." I said, and left it at that.

Why didn't I follow my old evangelical impulse? Maybe it's because I have softened in my view of the harm a deity-belief can do a person. Religion certainly wasn't good for me, and I certainly don't believe the supernatural claims it makes are true, but that doesn't mean there aren't good things to be found in religion. Religion brings comfort to many. It unites communities. It can carry with it an underlying humanism that is good for all...not that you need religion to obtain these things. Religion is just a convenient package wherein to harvest them.

I am also aware of how difficult it can be to live without religion when one is inclined towards it. It takes a lot of hard work to find your hope outside of a god-belief when you are first leaving religion. It can be done--and it is rewarding--but it is hard.

But I do believe on a fundamental level that mankind will be better off once it finally abandons supernatural beliefs. Belief in God usually leads to belief in the authority of written dogma, and to belief in the hierarchy of a given church. Blindly following authority is dangerous. Handing the well being of yourself and your family over to the authority of a church structure or unquestioned religious belief weakens the spirit. It makes us sheep. I don't want to be  a sheep, personally. Personally I am more sympathetic to wolves.

Maybe some folks are more comfortable as sheep. I don't know.

What I believe a person does when they believe in God is to fashion that God after their own image. Ultimately, a belief in God is either a self deification, or the deification of another's self. If it is a self deification, we invest supernatural authority in our own inclinations, and find scriptural language to back our inclinations up. In the deification of another's self, we accept the god-image created by another person--usually a preacher of some kind--and surrender our own inclination to the fulfillment of that person's ideal. So I guess there are sheep and wolves in the religious realm as well.

What harm does it do me if someone wants to deify themselves or deify the self of another? Well, it makes me sad, although I am more sympathetic to self-deification, although it can be quite insidious too.

On the other hand, I think it is possible to be humble in the pursuit of spiritual truth. The word spiritual, to me, does not require an investment in the supernatural or a church structure. To be spiritual is to be in touch with the emotions of calmness and humility, and acceptance of the passage of time and the occurrence of trials: spirituality is a vehicle in which to  weather the storms of life. It provides a narrative with which to talk to ourselves about the things that cross our path.

Maybe that's all my friend is doing with his god pursuit. I don't know. Is it my business? Probably not.

I am at a turning point in my life. I have just left a job I was very invested in, just began reconnecting with my writing, just began exercising, and am about to start a new job at the end of the month. A lot is up in the air for me. Maybe that makes me more sympathetic to the turning points in other people's lives, and thus less willing to meddle or judge. I hope that when I settle down into my new routine, I am just as introspective about meddling and judging as I feel right now. Right now, I am very much of the 'live and let live' school.

Actually, after writing all of this, I realize that my evangelical urge is leaving me.

I'm glad to see it go.

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Reflections on Nye vs Ham debate.

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Tue Feb 04, 2014 at 08:03 AM PST

Concerning Woody Allen

by Spencer Troxell

Disclaimer up front: I am an enormous Woody Allen fan. If you would like a quick and easy reason to discount my opinion on this subject, there it is. I don't want Woody to be a pedophile.

Also, I don't believe he is one. This verdict deals more with my gut than any objective evidence. After all, how could I know what went down in his personal life? We have two markedly different opinions on the issue available to us--that of the accuser and the accusee--and based on that alone there is no penetrating the issue. Siding with one person over the other based on the evidence available is a matter of instinct, which is hardly scientific. I have read all of the articles that have come out on the issue recently and have to go with my gut: I don't believe the accusations. Other people's guts tell them different things, and that is fine. We just have to remember what we are using internal organs to make our decisions on this issue. I don't know why the gut and heart are given more credence than, say, the spleen, but they are. I have yet to consult my spleen on the possible sins of Woody Allen. Maybe my spleen thinks differently. Maybe I'll need my rectum to break a tie...

I don't like to hold opinions regarding the personal worth of people I don't know. I was someone who suspended judgement on Michael Jackson. I defended Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen, and Alec Baldwin when their names were mud--all because I didn't have enough inside evidence, and the only thing I had to judge them by was the feeling I got about looking at them through the very, very distorted medium of the media.

Woody Allen is a great writer and director. His films are some of the greatest and most moral pieces of art to come out in this century. On the other hand, we have someone accusing him of some terrible stuff. I can't defend him regarding that terrible stuff, because I don't know what happened. I can tell you what my gut says, but as we have established, that's just a hunch. I can defend the man's work, however, and can tell you what sort of man I believe would create work like that, and that kind of man is not a sex criminal.

I don't feel I'm giving Woody a pass because he's white, or because he's an artist. I am withholding judgement because he is a human being, and I have so very little to go with.

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Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 09:21 AM PST

Sorting Out Abortion

by Spencer Troxell

Trying to hash out my feelings on a divisive issue.

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Luckily--or unluckily if you ask my wife--my medication has had no sexual side effects. It has however slowed down my creative process. Being unable to write feels a lot like being backed up sexually, which is incredibly frustrating because--maybe unless you ask my regular readers--there is no writing equivalent to masturbation.

A common reason for going off of medication is the belief that you are 'cured' or somehow in a place to handle things yourself. This is not true of course; your wiring is faulty and you need the drugs. Other side effects can also cause a person to go off their meds.

My meds seem to be working, more or less. There was a rough patch earlier in the month, but I weathered that. It was frustrating when it happened because I had hoped that the meds would make me permanently normal, so when I took a dip it was disheartening, but it wasn't too bad of a dip.

I've only written two essays this month. This will make the third. That's not a good feeling. I think my writing comes from the same place as my illness. I had become comfortable in the swirl of emotional chaos I was living in, and now I've got to get used to doing things more deliberately. Maybe my writing will be slower but more coherent? Who knows. Regardless, I know why people go off their meds. One becomes nostalgic for their place of origin, even if that place of origin looks a lot like hell. We're pattern seeking animals after all, and even chaos has its patterns.

Here's to hoping I can continue to adjust to the sane world. Things look promising, I just have to ignore that small voice telling me to go back to the devil I know.

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Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 08:52 AM PDT

Excerpt From a Mind on the Mend

by Spencer Troxell

If I had cancer, I would understand my relationship to that cancer with my brain. If I had diabetes, I would understand my relationship to it with my brain. There is something wrong with my brain. How am I supposed to understand that? With my foot?

Suicide is a thing that is always waiting to suggest itself to me. Other people have problems and struggles in their lives, but not all of them turn directly to thoughts of suicide when things go awry. Suicide is the perennial salesman, always on the bullet point.

I don't know how to explain my salesman passenger to other people who don't carry the same passenger. I guarantee you, if you do not have the passenger, there is nothing I could say to explain it to you. If you do have the passenger, there's nothing else I need to say.

I guess there is a loneliness to being down, because the only comfort I can find when I am down is to seek out art created by folks who know what it's like to be down. Nothing direct helps lift me up. I am only lifted by catharsis. There is a song by Florence and the Machine called Never Let Me Go that is a romantic ode to drowning that has kept me afloat lately. I listen to it over and over again and really know what it means. I don't think my disease would be bearable without art.

Similarly, I also have to write. I mean I have to write. Otherwise it knots up inside of me and makes me too heavy to do anything. I have demons that I have to answer to. Some of them are beautiful and some of them are horrible. I use the beautiful demons to chase away the horrible ones. Sometimes it is all I can do to remain functional.

I'm coming out of a fog lately. The medication I have been on has been working pretty well, but there are still cycles. Luckily, I have been able to take some time off of work in order to sort these things out. It's something I need to do every now and then. I feel tender. I wince at human contact. I'm going to grow stronger if I am patient with myself, I know, but it's a matter of waiting. One does not simply walk out of Mordor.

I know it may be unwise to share these things with you, but I'm not the only person with demons out here. Life can be a cold business and it is inherently without meaning. We have to create our own meaning and share our meaning with each other. We all carry this life around on our back, and it is good to share our loads. It's good to let others who have a similar load that you know what it is like bend beneath the weight. At least I think that's true. It has helped me.

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Mon Sep 02, 2013 at 11:49 AM PDT

Other Types of Hunger

by Spencer Troxell

On reading, creativity, fear of conversion, and other-people's-thoughts

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"Capitalism will behave antisocially if it is profitable for it to do so, and that can now mean human devastation on an unimaginable scale. What used to be apocalyptic fantasy is today no more than sober realism...."-Terry Eagleton
I've been asked to deliver a talk on the causes of homelessness at the end of September. Half jokingly, I wrote on my Facebook page:

"Been invited to talk to a local church about the causes of homelessness. Basically, I am going to blame it all on capitalism'.

But later--as I began to prepare for the talk--I thought, 'Shit. This really is capitalism's fault'.

What you typically hear in a discussion of the causes of homelessness is statistics about mental health and substance abuse, along with a little bit of information about laborers who have aged out of the workforce and women fleeing domestic violence. More daring speakers may get into issues of racism, homophobia, and sexism too. These are all key contributors to homelessness. What do they have to do with capitalism? Everything. Unfortunately, most speakers are not daring enough to completely indict our entire social system.

Capitalism is a socioeconomic system that understands the basic law of the jungle: eat or be eaten. Only the strong survive. These two precepts are in the very cells of capitalism. Capitalism is also inherently an exploitative system: For someone to be on top, another person has to be on the bottom. Staying on the top cannot be done without ensuring that those who begin on the bottom stay on the bottom. Capitalism can be compared to a machine that must keep moving in order to prevent from collapsing. The fuel it uses to keep it moving is the lives of the exploited classes. As it moves, it grinds up bodies. In order to stay on top, the exploiters must become much more vicious. In order to rise to the top in this system, a person must almost by definition be a perfect sociopath. Bear in mind: you are statistically likely to die in the same class you are born into. 'The American Dream' is more myth than it is a possibility.

  Things like mental illness, substance abuse, racism, sexism, and domestic violence affect everyone across all classes (although you do not find many laborers aged out of their professions in the 1%). The difference between the way the 1% handles these issues and the extreme poor (a necessary byproduct of capitalism) handle these issues are vast.

Like everything else, the quality of services available to the very rich (the richest of whom have inherited their wealth, not earned it) is far superior to the quality of services available to the rest of us. You will not find many folks from very wealthy families in our shelter system. You will not find many women from the 1% fleeing abuse into our shelter system. Rich folks with mental illness and substance abuse problems handle them much more differently. They have the resources.


There are homeless people in so-called socialist countries, but there are no real socialist countries in the world. Capitalism taints everything. It is like a cancer that spreads even into the most egalitarian environments. It is this system--built off of our basest qualities--that fills our shelters and sidewalks with homeless people.

There is enough wealth in the United States to end extreme poverty the world over. Venezuela ended extreme poverty by nationalizing oil and oil production. Imagine if we were to follow suit? The wars we have engaged in over the past few years cost more than the projected cost of Obamacare, yet we were willing to pay for those. The money is there. Karl Marx predicted that real communism would only be possible in a country that had accumulated a vast amount of capital via the capitalist system. America fits that bill perfectly. It's just a matter of redistributing it. Really, it's just a matter of priorities.

All of those typically listed causes of homelessness can be addressed. We just need the resources. We have the resources, but only if we start to think collectively and humanistically. The resources are there, but are they there for us, or for them?

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Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 10:54 AM PDT

Why Live?

by Spencer Troxell

As Creed asked whenever Creed was asking things, 'What's this life for?', and who wants to be in a world where there is Creed?

Attempting to comfort a suffering friend recently, I found myself jumping into a conversation with him with the intent on lightening his load, but found my mind immediately filled with questions of a different nature.

All of the platitudes a person offers someone going through a tough time felt hollow to me. I was calling myself out on bullshit left and right. Eventually, I came to feel like someone who stepped out on a ledge to talk someone else out of jumping, but then decided, 'hey, maybe I should jump to'.

These thoughts occur to me. There are philosophical answers to the question of whether or not we should go on living, but philosophical answers are of small consequence when the embrace of life and the retraction from it is something that is more felt in the blood than experienced in the brain.

This, it turns out, is actually much more than a metaphor:

 

 "Because of the brain's complexity and inaccessibility, the search for predictors of suicide risk has instead focused on molecular signs, or biomarkers. These biomarkers help to indicate which people are at even higher risk. Niculescu and his colleagues have found six such biomarkers in blood that they say can identify people at risk of committing suicide."
So once again it comes down to the domain of science. Telling a person with depression that they 'have to make their own happiness' or 'fake it 'til you make it' is really weak tea. The problem of suicide is really something that is literally in the blood, and does not boil down to merely a conscience 'yes' or 'no' to the problem of existence.

And for many of us existence is a problem. It is a problem that comes bundled with a series of other problems too. There is not only the question of 'should I live', but there is the question of 'how should I live', and at every step along the line there is a chance for our answers to those questions to turn one way or the other.

I want to comfort my friends when they are suffering, but I understand the pull of existential crises entirely. When in the grips of a crisis, word barely suffice. Good advice can only go so far, and often feels more like it is intended to bolster the self worth of the advice giver than the person who is suffering. Is it best to simply be there for a person in crisis, to listen to them, to sympathize, or should we be rifling through our working memory for anecdotes and Facebook quotes that will make it sound like we've figured out something that we in no way have?

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