Tag Archives: children

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Children Should be Encouraged to Read Fantasy Fiction – Article by Jon Miltimore

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Categories: Education, Fiction, Tags: , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatJon Miltimore
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Recently I spoke with a friend who expressed some angst that his 12-year-old son was primarily interested in reading fantasy novels. Efforts to introduce the lad to higher forms of literature were proving more difficult than he’d expected.

Not to worry. Fantasy novels and science fiction yarns, I said, are often gateways to the higher forms of literature. This was not just my opinion, I added, it was my experience.

When I was 12, I was not yet much of a fan of reading. I had enjoyed some young adult fiction writers (S.E. Hinton, R.L. Stein, Christopher Pike, etc.) and enjoyed the histories of NFL football teams, but I didn’t have a passion for books. That changed when my father gave me J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

For years my father had tried to get me interested in the classics and his favorite histories to no avail. Then he tried a new tactic. Perhaps taking a tip from Montaigne, he gave me Tolken’s epic trilogy, which I devoured in a couple weeks. Terry Brooks’ Shannara books followed, and then the first few books of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Then a new book came out with a cool title — A Game of Thrones — that blew them all away.

I bring all this up not to demonstrate how big of a fantasy dork I am. (I also occasionally played real-time strategy computer games. Sue me.) I share it to make a point: these books taught me to love reading.

Fantasy fiction is often pooh-poohed by academics and intellectuals, but it can whet the appetite learning. In my case, the great historical fictions of James Clavell, Gary Jennings, and Ken Follet followed Lord of the Rings. Tolstoy, Nabokov, and Dostoevsky came not long after; then the histories of Foote, Barzun, and Michener.

But the case for fantasy fiction goes beyond my personal experience. Scientific research shows there are clear positive neural affects to novel reading. For example, Emory University researchers found that students experienced heightened activity in the left temporal lobe of the brain, the area associated with semantics, for days after reading novels.

It should go without saying that reading nothing but fantasy fiction, even good fantasy fiction, is not a path to a well-rounded education or intellectual maturity. But fantasy novels can awaken imaginations, inspire creativity, and create a passion for story-telling.

So if you’re a little worried that your teenage daughter seems a little too obsessed with, say, Hunger Games, relax. She’ll likely be reading George Eliot and Byron in a year or two.

Jon Miltimore is the Senior Editor of Intellectual Takeout. Follow him on Facebook.

This article was originally published on Intellectual Takeout.

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Panel Discussion on Hereditary Religion – Nevada Transhumanist Party

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Categories: Culture, Education, Philosophy, Politics, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Nevada Transhumanist Party invited notable panelists to participate in a 2.5-hour conversation via Google Hangouts on Air, in order to discuss free thought and the prospects for children to be allowed the freedom to choose how (or whether) they will approach religion, instead of being compelled to follow the religious beliefs of their parents or the surrounding society.

This independent panel discussion was moderated by Mr. Stolyarov and occurred on Saturday, January 23, 2016, at 11 a.m. Pacific Time.

Each participant offered a unique, unfettered perspective on the subjects discussed. Panelists were asked to opine on the subject of how cultivating free thought and independent decision-making from a young age can result in children growing up to be more interested in advancing science and technology and solving the great problems of the human condition.

See the Constitution and Bylaws of the Nevada Transhumanist Party here. Of particular relevance are Sections XXIII and XXVI of the Nevada Transhumanist Party Platform:

Section XXIII: The Nevada Transhumanist Party supports the rights of children to exercise liberty in proportion to their rational faculties and capacity for autonomous judgment. In particular, the Nevada Transhumanist Party strongly opposes all forms of bullying, child abuse, and censorship of intellectual self-development by children and teenagers.

Section XXVI: The Nevada Transhumanist Party welcomes both religious and non-religious individuals who support life extension and emerging technologies. The Nevada Transhumanist Party recognizes that some religious individuals and interpretations may be receptive to technological progress and, if so, are valuable allies to the transhumanist movement. On the other hand, the Nevada Transhumanist Party is also opposed to any interpretation of a religious doctrine that results in the rejection of reason, censorship, violation of individual rights, suppression of technological advancement, and attempts to impose religious belief by force and/or by legal compulsion.

Panelists

Adam Alonzi is a writer, biotechnologist, documentary maker, futurist, inventor, programmer, and author of the novels “A Plank in Reason” and “Praying for Death: Mocking the Apocalypse”. He is an analyst for the Millennium Project, the Head Media Director for BioViva Sciences, and Editor-in-Chief of Radical Science News. Listen to his podcasts here. Read his blog here.

Troy Boyle is a comic-book artist, writer, and former president of The National Atheist Party (now the Secular Party of America), which he co-founded in March 2011. Troy has worked for Image Comics, Desperado Publishing, Caliber Press, and Boneyard Press. Some of Troy’s comic-book art is included in “Mysterious Visions Anthology”, “Ppfszt!”, “Tribute”, and “The Return of Happy the Clown”. He also provided artwork for David Gerrold’s comic “A Doctor For the Enterprise”. See his Wikipedia page here.

Roen Horn is a philosopher and lecturer on the importance of trying to live forever. He founded the Eternal Life Fan Club in 2012 to encourage fans of eternal life to start being more strategic with regard to this goal. To this end, one major focus of the club has been on life-extension techniques, everything from lengthening telomeres to avoiding risky behaviors. Currently, Roen’s work may be seen in the many memes, quotes, essays, and video blogs that he has created for those who are exploring their own thoughts on this, or who want to share and promote the same things. Like many other fans of eternal life, Roen is in love with life, and is very inspired by the world around him and wants to impart in others the same desire to discover all this world has to offer. Roen also runs the Facebook page “Gods are unproven hypothetical conjecture“.

B.J. Murphy is the Editor and Social Media Manager of Serious Wonder. He is a futurist, philosopher, activist, author and poet. B.J. is an Advisory Board Member for the NGO nonprofit Lifeboat Foundation and an Affiliate Scholar for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET). He’s done work as a Tech Adviser for both TV and short films and is currently an Ambassador for artificial intelligence tech. company Humai.

B.J. is a co-author of The Future of Business: Critical Insights Into a Rapidly Changing World From 60 Future Thinkers, his chapter being “The Future Business of Body Shops,” which explores how 3D printing, cybernetics, and biohacking will fundamentally change not only the business industry of the future, but subsequently the human biological substrate itself.

Demian Zivkovic is the president of the Institute of Exponential Sciences (Facebook / Meetup) – an international technopositive think tank / education institute comprised of a group of transhumanism-oriented scientists, professionals, students, journalists, and entrepreneurs interested in the interdisciplinary approach to advancing exponential technologies and promoting techno-positive thought. He is also an entrepreneur and student of artificial intelligence and innovation sciences and management at the University of Utrecht.

Demian and the IES have been involved in several endeavors, such as organizing lectures on exponential sciences, interviewing experts such as Aubrey de Grey, joining several of Mr. Stolyarov’s futurism panels, and spreading Death is Wrong – Mr. Stolyarov’s illustrated children’s book on indefinite life extension – in The Netherlands.

Demian Zivkovic is a strong proponent of healthy life extension and cognitive augmentation. His interests include hyperreality, morphological freedom advocacy, postgenderism, and hypermodernism. He is currently working on his ambition of raising enough capital to make a real difference in life extension and transhumanist thought.

Panel-on-Hereditary-Religion-NTP

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Don’t Assume I’m Smarter Than My Contractor – Article by Kevin Currie-Knight

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Categories: Education, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Kevin Currie-Knight
September 11, 2015
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“So, I figured I’d ask you,” said my contractor. “You’re a lot smarter than me and—”

That’s when I stopped him.

Tom knows I am a college professor, and he wanted to ask my advice on his daughter’s education. He’s an ex-Marine who never went to college. It makes sense to ask an educator for advice about education, but why does that make me smarter?

I thought about all the times I’ve asked Tom’s advice about the house we are renovating, and about all the times he answered with a tone that implied, “Well, obviously you should…”

“Tom,” I said, “I wouldn’t say I’m smarter than you. It depends on the topic.”

He smiled politely and moved on to his question.

But even if he dismissed my objection as perfunctory, I can’t let it go. Why does our culture trivialize nonacademic intelligence and knowledge?

I think the existing structure of schooling plays a big part.

Fantasy Football

Let me tell another story, this one from my days as a high school special educator. I was teaching a study-skills class to students with learning disabilities. Partly, this course provided students extra time on assignments for other classes. One day, I sent two students to the library to work on a written project assigned for another course. About 10 minutes later, I received a call from the school librarian.

“You should come up here and get these kids, because they are off task and disturbing others!”

When I got to the library, I didn’t want to confront my students immediately. I wanted to see how, exactly, they were being disruptive.

What were they doing? Adjusting their fantasy football rosters.

As anyone who’s really played fantasy football knows, adjusting your weekly roster involves contemplating a lot of statistics: What are this player’s chances against this team? How does this team do against this type of running back?

That’s what my students were doing in the library: arguing over statistics. Not bad for kids considered learning disabled in subjects like math.

Like a good teacher, I interrupted their passionate dispute and instructed them to come back to the room, where they could get going on the more important work of writing an academic paper.

Whether we mean to or not, we constantly reinforce the message that only the stuff kids are taught in school counts as serious learning. Extracurriculars are fine, but what really counts is in their textbooks and homework.

We send them to school precisely because we believe that’s where they’ll be taught the most important subjects. We grade them on those things, and in many ways we measure their worth (at least while they’re in school) by how well they do on tests and school assignments.

Deschooling America

I’m certainly not the first person to notice this. Education theorist John Holt wrote about it in his frankly titled essay “School Is Bad for Children”:

Oh, we make a lot of nice noises in school about respect for the child and individual differences, and the like. But our acts, as opposed to our talk, says to the child, “Your experience, your concerns, your curiosities, your needs, what you know, what you want, what you wonder about, what you hope for, what you fear, what you like and dislike, what you are good at or not so good at — all this is of not the slightest importance, it counts for nothing.”

Ivan Illich made a similar point in Deschooling Society. Illich suggests that schooling makes us dependent on institutions for learning by convincing us that what we learn in school is important and what we learn outside is not.

Likewise, in Shop Class as Soulcraft, philosopher and auto mechanic Matthew Crawford bemoans the dichotomy we set up in our schools and society between knowing and doing. Schools are increasingly cancelling programs like shop class to make way for more knowing and less doing. Crawford points out that this drastically underestimates the crucial role of thinking in manual labor.

If you are still in doubt, think about this: earlier, I talked about learning disabilities. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), learning disabilities can only exist in academic subjects like reading and math. If you are bad at playing music or drawing, you are not learning disabled — just bad at music or art.

There may be good reason we leave teaching biology to the schools and teaching how to care of a car to the home (or to “extracurricular” apprenticeships). There may be good reason we teach algebra in the schools but not the statistical analysis needed to adjust a fantasy football roster. But the standard segregation of subjects sends the message that what is learned in school must be more important. We send you to a special building to learn it, we grade you on your ability to learn it, and we socially judge much of your worth by your success at it.

Almost by reflex, we ask kids, “What did you learn in school today?,” not, “What did you learn today?” The existence of school has conditioned us to regard what happens there as important, while we relegate what happens outside of school to the dust heap of “extracurriculars.”

So, no, Tom, I am not smarter than you; we’re both pretty smart. It’s just that our school-influenced culture wrongly tells us that what I do is more cerebral and therefore requires more intelligence than what you do. And that’s a bad assumption.

Kevin Currie-Knight teaches in East Carolina University’s Department of Special Education, Foundations, and Research.

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

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“Death is Wrong” Reviewed by Robert W. Franson of Troynovant

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Categories: Education, Philosophy, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Read the excellent new review by science-fiction author and literary essayist Robert W. Franson of Death is Wrong. The review is published on Mr. Franson’s website Troynovant, which offers extensive literary and philosophical analysis.

Here is an excerpt: “Death is Wrong is a short book, clearly written and easy to read. I like the personal approach: it doesn’t talk down and is quite accessible. A striking concept presented quite reasonably and supported matter-of-factly. There are apt quotations from a variety of thinkers, including several of my personal heroes of modern times: Francis Bacon, Benjamin Franklin, Friedrich Nietzsche. These people and some scenes from nature are nicely illustrated by Wendy Stolyarov. For readers who want a little more about the background concepts, there is a brief Appendix discussing the seven basic causes of senescence, such as cell loss and atrophy. There are some links for further learning. It’s a good book, entertaining and thoughtful, and certainly gives us a challenge to think about.

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Ethical Lessons on Principled Parenthood in the Film “A Thousand Clowns” (2004) – Essay by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Culture, Education, Fiction, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 29, 2014
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2004 and published on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007.  I seek to preserve it as a valuable resource for readers, subsequent to the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices. Therefore, this essay is being published directly on The Rational Argumentator for the first time.  
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~ G. Stolyarov II, July 29, 2014

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Raising a child into a competent, intelligent human being is no light task. It is necessary to imbue the child with a sound system of values, but also to prevent his perpetual dependence on external authority for answers and guidance. The two aims need not be antagonistic and can reinforce one another, as the upbringing of Nick Burns by his uncle, Murray Burns, in the 1965 film A Thousand Clowns demonstrates. Murray is able to endow Nick with a moral framework that guides Nick’s further judgments, but he does so in a non-intrusive manner that suggests rather than commands. The plot of the film demonstrates how this approach can produce an integrated person who triumphs over the obstacles posed by the dominant society.

Nick’s entry into Murray’s home occurred at the age of five, when his reckless vagabond mother abandoned him there. Due to his presence under Murray’s guardianship since such an early age, Nick’s upbringing is almost entirely determined by Murray. This is not to say that Nick is stifled or deprived in any manner. Formerly a child living on the streets with his mother, Nick now enters a special school for talented children, and is able to retain his place there for many years. There is no doubt that Murray’s acumen, wit, spontaneity, insight, and individualistic courage permeated Nick’s experiences from an early age, and that Nick absorbed these qualities. Nick’s dialogue within the film is indicative of a sophistication that one does not typically find in a twelve-year-old. When Nick and Murray walk through New York City on Irving R. Feldman’s Birthday, a holiday that Murray had invented, Nick earnestly addresses Murray with respect to the latter’s unemployment. He presents realistic concerns about the future of his upbringing, Murray’s financial security, and the very ability of the two to remain in the same household. Nick has a foresight into matters of consequence that approaches that of an adult. While other kids his age would “live for today” and simply enjoy themselves during a day on which they had skipped school and were able to enjoy a walk across town, Nick is able to extract the best from both worlds. After he raises his concern, he is still able to visit the Statue of Liberty with Murray and enjoy the unique and magnificent sights that Murray is able to show him. Nick’s upbringing has allowed him to exhibit an integrated personality, combining serious thought with pleasure. He is not a young Albert Amundsen, who “talks as if he had written everything down beforehand,” but is unable to realize to a bond of joy can exist between two people, outside mere “practicality” and adherence to societal norms. At the same time, Nick is also more practical than Murray himself, as the latter tends to lean toward enjoying himself at the present moment while compromising long-term security.

How was Murray’s upbringing able to produce a person more adult and more reasonable than Murray himself? A part of the answer lies in Murray’s laissez-faire approach to parenthood. Unlike a majority of parents, who establish stringent guidelines for children with regard to the smallest minutiae, Murray allows Nick immense free rein. Until the age of thirteen, Nick is allowed to go by whatever name he pleases, as he tests varying roles and identities in order to find out which one will suit him best when he becomes “an actual person.” Murray does not want his nephew to become a mirror image of him; instead he “[wants] him to know the special thing that he is; [he wants] him to see the wild possibilities.” Since Murray recognizes the need to raise Nick as a unique and unprecedented individual, his approach is not one of domination, regulation, and imposition, but of suggestion, demonstration, and camaraderie. Murray does not intervene in Nick’s schooling; he is confident that Nick is capable of managing his own formal education. Indeed, Nick performs well in his special school without being unnecessarily obsessive about his learning. He is able to skip school on special days, such as Irving R. Feldman’s Birthday, in order to share much-valued time with his uncle. In the modern culture, the compartmentalization of education into a separate rigid sphere of existence prevents most typical students from spending adequate amounts of time with their family, but Nick has learned to “own his days and name them.” He will not permit schedules and routines to intervene with the people and things genuinely valuable to him.

Though Murray allows Nick’s schooling to follow its own path, Murray, too, acts as a teacher for Nick in vital matters of principle, ideas and phenomena that cannot necessarily be taught in a classroom. During Irving R. Feldman’s Birthday, Murray points out to Nick the gray masses of people rushing off to work, pushing to enter a bus, running desperately to catch the next train and meet someone else’s schedule, being mired in a routine that prevents them from living life on their own terms and in accordance to their own principles. Murray shows Nick a scenario and allows Nick’s observations to determine his conclusions; it is a far more effective method of teaching than the common “When I tell you something, believe it!” approach. Murray is able to share his values and impressions of the world with Nick without forcing Nick to adopt them. They merely become matters for Nick’s consideration, but Nick, like an adult, is given the authority to analyze them on their own merits. Because Nick is granted the responsibility typical of an adult, he is able to think like one and interact with the world as every man’s intellectual equal, not a subordinate.

The culmination of Murray’s upbringing of Nick manifests itself when Chuckles the Chipmunk enters their home in an attempt to persuade Murray to return to work. Rather than being tactful, Chuckles seeks to psychologically dominate Murray and Nick. He carries in a cardboard statue of himself and, when it falls, forcefully urges Murray to put it up once more. He thrusts corny and uninteresting remarks at Nick and expects Nick to laugh due to the sheer weight of Chuckles’ authority. Nick, however, frankly admits that Chuckles’ jokes and routines are not humorous. Though he wishes that Murray would find a job, he does not wish for Murray to take this one. Chuckles calls Nick a “freak” simply because Nick does not display the deference that Chuckles receives as a societal norm. But, after Nick resists the label placed upon him and nearly forces Chuckles out of the apartment, the Chipmunk begins to assume a more respectful posture. He informs Murray that his show has suffered without Murray’s writing, and that Murray would be an integral component of the program. Rather than acting with pseudo-superiority and condescension toward Murray, Chuckles begins to treat him as an equal, and Murray accepts the job offer. In the meantime, he can be content knowing that he has taught Nick the individuality and devotion to principle that he intended to transmit. Earlier, Murray states to Sandy Markowitz that he wants Nick to “understand the sneaky, subtle, important reason he was born a human being and not a chair.” Now, Nick has fully demonstrated his non-chairness. He will not be sat on by those who expect him to bear their burden. He will not feign his emotions or his moral sanction simply to be polite to those who do not give him the same courtesy in return. He will analyze each situation on its own merits, rather than on his society’s expectations of conformity to this social worker or that Chipmunk. And he will meet with courage and dignity whatever challenges the society poses to him.

Indeed, challenges to Murray’s relationship with Nick abound. When Albert Amundsen enters Murray’s home, accompanied by Sandy Markowitz, he already carries orders from the Child Welfare Board to confiscate Nick from Murray. His job is merely to inform Murray that this is the case, not to give Murray any authority in deciding otherwise or interacting with Amundsen on an equal level. But rather than be the quiet, complacent, and somewhat miserable child that Amundsen expects Nick to be, Nick acts jovially, telling jokes and stories about his genuinely satisfying relationship with Murray. Sandy, despite Albert’s strict reprimands against such conduct, begins to laugh, as she is genuinely entertained by Nick’s conduct and personality. She becomes convinced that there is no reason to separate Nick from Murray, as both seem to be satisfied with their relationship.

The audience is moved to ponder the idea that a dominant paradigm’s expectations of a “good” household may not hold or be necessary in every individual case. A “parent” need not work from 9 to 5 in order to provide a beneficent environment for his child. And if he does work, he need not grovel before authority in order to receive his paycheck. Moreover, elements outside the financial realm play a crucial role in the sound upbringing of a child. Nick is able to receive both learning and leisure, work and play, under Murray’s care. Amundsen informs Murray that his “is a distorted picture of this world.” However, when comparing Nick to a self-evidently absurd character like Chuckles, who “keeps touching [himself] to make sure that [he] is real,” but who would likely fit Amundsen’s characterization of a “sound” member of society, one must seriously question the validity of Amundsen’s statement. While Chuckles is not even sure of his own existence, and Sandy, when she is under Albert’s aegis of “societal respectability,” has not “the slightest idea of who [she is],” Nick moves firmly toward establishing a unique, colorful, principled identity. Nick, no matter what name he will go by, is sure never to become just a series of different facades put before each person he meets, devoid of personality and self-esteem. The individual that is Nick does exist; this is not a matter of doubt either for Nick or for the viewers of the film.

The ending of A Thousand Clowns is indicative of victory for Murray’s relationship with Nick. Murray returns to work, which foretells his ability to continue to provide for Nick materially, while not compromising his principles intellectually. Because Nick has refused to show deference to Chuckles, the latter agreed to approach Murray as a human being and not a chair. Murray is thus able to work on his own terms, and to be certain that Nick has become his own person. The objections of the Child Welfare Board to Murray’s continued guardianship over Nick have now become null and void, as Murray, with Nick’s indispensable help, has demonstrated that one need not conform to the norms of conduct put before him in order to live and prosper, soaring like an eagle far above the realm of the mundane, mediocre, and perfunctory.

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“Death is Wrong” – Book Distribution and Call to Action – May 28, 2014 – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Announcements, Education, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mr. Stolyarov provides an update regarding the effort to distribute over 1,000 free, paperback copies of Death is Wrong to children.

As of May 28, 2014, 644 books have been sent out, and 385 remain to be distributed, out of an eventual goal of 1,029 books provided to children, free of cost to them.

Instructions for Longevity Activists to Request Copies of “Death is Wrong”

– Send an e-mail to gennadystolyarovii@gmail.com

– Provide (i) your name, (ii) your mailing address, (iii) a statement of your support for indefinite life extension, and (iv) a brief description of your plan to spread the book to children in your local area. Remember that all copies received pursuant to this initiative would need to be offered to children free of charge (as gifts or reading opportunities) and may not be resold.

– Provide the number of copies of Death is Wrong that you are requesting.

– Preferably, provide an indication that you would be willing to send photographs of the books that have been delivered to you as well as events where you will be distributing the books.

References
Death is Wrong on Amazon:
* Paperback version
* Kindle version
Death is Wrong Official Home Page
– “Spreading the Word That Death is Wrong” – Article by Gennady Stolyarov II
Updates Regarding Book-Distribution Effort
– Death is Wrong Book Trailer – Video by Peter Caramico

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The Benefits of a Non-Religious Upbringing: A Firsthand Account – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Culture, Education, Philosophy, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
January 26, 2013
Recommend this page.
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This speech was delivered at the Second Annual International Day of Protest Against Hereditary Religion on January 20, 2013. You can see recordings of the speech and subsequent question-and-answer session here.

                Greetings, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for attending my speech. It is an honor to present at the Second Annual International Day of Protest Against Hereditary Religion. I will focus on the issue of hereditary religion from a perspective that, in my view, receives all too little attention. Unlike most individuals – and even unlike many atheists – I was not a victim of hereditary religion. I was raised in a non-religious household and have never been religious and was never seriously attracted to religion. I would like to provide my firsthand account of how the absence of religious indoctrination during my childhood enabled me to thrive as a thinker and maintain a high quality of life in adulthood. Through my presentation, I hope to provide a glimpse into the advantages that all children can and should have.

                I was born during the very late years of the Soviet Union, when Gorbachev’s perestroika was already well underway. While the Soviet regime was always atheistic in name, religious freedom was openly tolerated by that time. By the time I was four, Belarus had declared independence from the USSR, and the post-Soviet government no longer had a view of religion one way or the other. Most people who pretended to be nonreligious during earlier eras of the Soviet regime no longer needed to do so, and so there was a widespread apparent revival of Orthodox Christianity during my early years. My family, however, was among those who were truly non-religious, so they never needed to pretend. I was raised largely free from structured ideology, either religious or communist. There was no real emphasis on atheism placed during my childhood, either. I was not taught that religion or religious people were bad, though I was taught about the history of religious atrocities – such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Wars of Religion during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Much of what I learned on this subject was through my own reading of history books, of which there were plenty around the house, and to which I had unrestricted access. My family had no wish to be confrontational, so I was generally asked not to engage in any religion-oriented conversations in public. However, I do remember a situation where I and my grandfather – after whom I am named – were walking on the streets of Minsk and were hailed by Christians selling bibles and religious pamphlets. My grandfather replied firmly that he was an atheist and was not interested, though he did engage them in argument. It was around that time that he had read the Bible from cover to cover on his own, which seemed to reinforce his own atheism, as it does for many who actually delve into that text.

                As a child, I was not expected to think anything about religion, though I did anyway. I was, however, kept away from any sources of religious indoctrination. I want to share a few of the thoughts that went on in my mind at the time:

●             Prior to the scientific age, humans believed that gods inhabited high regions – mountains and the sky. However, humans climbed Mount Olympus and did not find the ancient Greek gods. Humans went into space and did not find heaven or any gods. Moreover, humans have discovered that the sky is not a solid platform or a place that can be inhabited generally; instead, it is a visual effect created by the fact that the Earth has an atmosphere. (I had memorized all the layers of the atmosphere, too.) Thus, it is impossible for gods to live there. Beyond the atmosphere is outer space, where no gods have been observed, either.

●             Prior to the 19th century, humans believed that only a god could have designed human life. However, Darwin’s theory of evolution demonstrated that it was possible for one species to evolve into another in an entirely natural process. (Yes, I knew about evolution – though in very simple terms – at that age.)

●             When I was asked by believers “If there is no God, then who created you?”, I would respond that my parents did. If the question was formulated somewhat differently – as in “What makes your existence possible?” – I would give an answer in terms of material causation – i.e., that I am made of cells, and cells are made of molecules, and molecules are made of atoms, and atoms are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Generally, the conversation would proceed until I reached the smallest subatomic particle I could name, which was the quark, and which the believers asserted that God had to create. I generally answered that, while I do not know about the components of a quark, someday science would find out. I was fascinated with numbers from a very early age. I had learned to count at age two, before I learned to read, and by age four I was already delving into very large and very small numbers – to the hundreds of powers of ten, both positive and negative. I grasped that there was no limit in either direction to how large or small these numbers could get, and so I thought that there was also no upper or lower limit to humans’ eventual ability to understand existence at any magnification.

While my reasoning about religion at ages four and five may seem somewhat simplistic now – and the more sophisticated theists could find responses to my reasons for not believing in the existence of God back then – a habit of free thought was nonetheless established very early on in my life. It was never broken. I never hesitated to form my own opinions and to express them, sometimes in ways that got me in trouble with the various powers that be. I am, however, a better person because of this – because I acknowledge the power of evidence, reason, and my own mind in attempting to discover truth. While I may be wrong about particular ideas (and have been wrong in the past), the overall open-ended dynamic of my thinking enables me to overcome any specific errors and to improve my understanding.  I have never been subjected to successful indoctrination into a static, dogmatic worldview whose adherents fear questioning and challenge. The old Soviet system and its communist propaganda machine had already disintegrated by the time of my childhood, while the Orthodox religion – which now has a close affiliation with Alexander Lukashenko’s dictatorial regime in Belarus – was not yet strong enough to try to impose itself. I moved to the United States in time to avoid the worst of Lukashenko’s tyranny. Had I spent my teenage years in Belarus, I would likely have been imprisoned for political dissent. I was fortunate enough to have grown up during perhaps the freest era in the entire history of the former USSR. When I moved to the US, I certainly had more intellectual freedom than I would have had in Belarus had I remained.  But I also came to a society where atheism was a lot less common and a lot less understood.

                I have always tried to maintain a great deal of respect for post-Enlightenment interpretations of religion. Spending my teenage years in the suburbs of Chicago, I thought, initially, that this was pretty much how the majority of Americans viewed their faiths. I attended friends’ Bar Mitzvah ceremonies and engaged in interesting discussions with moderate Christians and Muslims. In that area, even those who called themselves conservatives generally considered religion to be a private matter and focused more on this-worldly political and economic subjects – for which I could respect them and have civil discussions with them. Ironically, it was the politically correct segment of the American Left (which, I understand, is not the entirety of the Left) that tried to crack down on my expression during that time, because I criticized premodern or “traditional” religious paradigms – including Aztec human sacrifice, the Hindu caste system, and traditional Chinese practices, such as foot binding, which were bound with religious views of women’s submissiveness and dependency. To the politically correct Left, all cultures and religions were equal as a matter of dogma – except, of course, for post-Enlightenment Western individualism and rationalism. I realized that atheists and freethinkers generally have as much to fear from this sort of indoctrination as they do from religious fundamentalism of any particular stripe. It does not matter, for instance, whether a blasphemy law or censorship of speech in the schools are based on the dominance of one particular religious sect, or on the fear of offending any religious sensibilities. Either way, the crucial human faculty of reason is muffled, and the capacity for intelligent critical thinking is stunted. Only the freedom of the mind can lead to the discovery of truth and the improvement of the human condition.

                Only when I went to college in Hillsdale, Michigan, did I discover that true premodern fundamentalist Christianity was far more prevalent than I had thought. The student body and professors at Hillsdale are split roughly along traditional conservative and libertarian lines. The libertarians – even those who are  personally religious – tend to be tolerant and to incorporate Enlightenment ideas of individual rights and free expression into their religious views. Many of the traditional conservatives, however, thought that religion was the only legitimate foundation for morality. Those of them who were raised entirely in religious settings – with no allowance for interaction with other worldviews and perspectives – were bewildered at how I, as an atheist, could do anything worthwhile at all. One of them – indeed, one of the better-behaved ones – was listening to me play the piano in one of the practice rooms in the music building. He then came in and asked, with sincerity, “That was beautiful, but I want to know… why? If you do not believe in God, what is the point in doing anything beautiful at all?” Another fundamentalist Christian, with whom I had quite a few discussions, suggested to me at one point that he and I could have nothing in common because I did not believe in God and his entire life was based on that belief. In return, I asked him whether he thought that two plus two made four. When he agreed that this was the case, I pointed out that I thought the same, and that this was indeed common ground. I tried my best to find as much of this sort of common ground as I could, and I made it a personal project of mine to give numerous presentations on campus about the possibility (and, indeed, the superiority) of non-religious objective morality. My many essays on the subject from that time period are freely available for all to read online.

                But it always baffled me how little I was able successfully get across to the fundamentalist Christians at Hillsdale that their way was not the only way. I never tried to de-convert them; rather, my objective was always simply to cultivate mutual respect and to lead them to recognize that, yes, atheists can be just as moral as some of them – while religion is no guarantee of moral conduct and can often be used to excuse genuine atrocities.  Perhaps I reached a few individuals, but many seemed impervious. As new groups of students came in every year, they came with the same preconceptions. It was like a vicious indoctrination machine was working to turn out fresh batches of carriers for the fundamentalist religion meme, with all the built-in defenses that meme entailed. I thought that, if only I could get them to drop the idea that morality requires religion, everything else about them could be maintained without too much harm. I realize now, however, that the pernicious notion of the Christian religion being the sole foundation of morality is one of the defense mechanisms that are deliberately inculcated into children by the cynical professional purveyors of Christian fundamentalism. Most children, and most human beings, want to be moral. Fortunately, in the real world, morality is a matter of actions and not beliefs. Thus, people of any persuasion can act morally by following rather simple negative and affirmative rules of conduct. Yet if, early on in their lives, people form a repeatedly reinforced association between morality and a particular religious persuasion, they will develop a visceral aversion to abandoning that persuasion – even if reason and experience show it to have numerous flaws. They fear that, if they cease being Christian (or Muslim, or Hindu – for that matter), they will cease to be moral human beings. This fear keeps them in the flock and keeps them paying money to the peddlers of their particular denomination’s doctrines.

              Yet reasons to be skeptical about religion abound. No person who is alive can avoid having doubts about pre-scientific systems of thought, formed millennia ago by people who were far less knowledgeable than even the average person today – and who were certainly far less civilized and moral in their personal conduct. Memes of hatred and insularity serve as the immune systems of fundamentalist religions. The more tolerant, post-Enlightenment interpretations of religion avoid these tactics by de-emphasizing institutional religious obedience and shifting their focus toward more abstract theology and more concrete real-world problems with secular solutions. This is an admirable attempt to salvage essential humanity from the grasp of dogma. Yet whether a child is born into a fundamentalist household or a more moderate religious household remains a matter of sheer chance. The children raised by fundamentalists continue to be subjected to an intellectual bubble, where questioning is discouraged and conformity in both thinking and practice is expected at the very least, and enforced through the threat of bodily punishment and social ostracism in many cases.

                I want every child to have the intellectual freedom that I had. I was surely raised with rules and discipline and expectations for moral behavior – but those can exist in complete independence from any expectation of religious or even broader philosophical adherence. Since morality is a matter of action and not thought, parents can expect their children to adhere to certain norms of conduct while leaving them free to think and believe anything they wish. I am not against religious adults who are intelligent and tolerant about their religion. But the choice to be religious or not must be made in an informed fashion, without the pressures of guilt, ostracism, or punishment. Thus, indoctrination into any belief system – without the allowance for dissent or even doubt – is a form of child abuse. It warps and stunts a child’s intellectual development and renders the child ripe for exploitation by knaves, charlatans, and demagogues in authority. Every parent needs to give his or her children the latitude to discover truth for themselves, and to commit errors in the mind of the parent, as long as those errors do not damage the children’s bodily well-being.

                As for me, I never felt myself to be constrained in my thinking – even during the times in my life when I was regimented in my routines of action, as I was in various public schools. I never felt that there were areas of existence or of my own interest that I could not explore. I never felt that I was a bad person for considering certain ideas and evaluating them on their merits. While many religious persons claim that there is a “void” in the human being that only their conception of a god or gods can fill, I never perceived such a void. Perhaps the void only occurs to those who abandon some part of their upbringing with which they were acquainted through repeated reinforcement; perhaps it is a form of nostalgia for a past to which they can no longer claim full allegiance. I, however, was always comfortable with reality as I perceived it through my senses and evaluated it through my mind. Existence is vast and extremely multifaceted. There is enough still unknown, still remaining to be discovered, that it never seemed fruitful to me to add another layer of obfuscatory complexity by superimposing a supernatural dimension upon the natural world. As for any intellectual errors of my past, they have not troubled me, since I consider myself to engage in a continual learning process, where improvement and not shame is the focus. It is better to have a good answer now, and to aspire toward making it better, than to blame oneself for not having the perfect answer the first time.

                As a self-supporting adult, I consider the lack of indoctrination and the ability to exercise complete independence of thought to be my greatest asset. Any situation I encounter – be it in the work I do for a living or in the endeavors I engage in as part of living well – can be approached using reason and evidence. I try to understand the fundamental constituents of the situation and their natures. I then use my analytical abilities and previously accumulated knowledge to construct a solution or improvement. Where I need to rely on the work of others, I use my reasoning abilities to evaluate for myself the degree of that work’s reliability. Everyone makes mistakes on occasion, and so do I. However, adherence to reason is a self-correcting mechanism that can extricate me from the mental traps and vulnerabilities that plague some people for an entire lifetime.

                In the years since I have graduated from college, I have been increasingly amazed at the breadth and open-endedness of existence. Life entails literally billions of possibilities and choices. While some people are, unfortunately, entangled in intellectual straitjackets and are pushed by their indoctrination along very specific and narrow paths (with well-known pitfalls along the way), I have always been determined to make a path of my own – based on my own values, my own talents, and my own flourishing. I will never allow dogma to blind me to possibilities for improvement. The earlier one embarks on this individualized journey, the easier it becomes to avoid common failure types in life. My plea to all parents is to allow their children this precious opportunity. Freedom of thought is the greatest gift you can give to your offspring, and it does not cost a penny.

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The Benefits of a Non-Religious Upbringing – A Firsthand Account – Video Presentation and Q&A by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Culture, Education, Philosophy, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mr. Stolyarov speaks on the benefits of a non-religious upbringing and providing his firsthand account of how the absence of religious indoctrination during his childhood enabled him to thrive as a thinker and maintain a high quality of life in adulthood.

This speech was given at the cyber-rally for the Second Annual International Day of Protest Against Hereditary Religion on January 20, 2013.

In the recorded questions and answers following the presentation, Mr. Stolyarov discusses ways to reach out to other non-believers, possibilities in influencing individuals to increase their use of reason and critical thinking, connections between atheism and libertarianism, and the similarities in tactics used by traditional (premodern) religions and totalitarian regimes.

An MP3 version of this Q&A is available for download here.

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Uniting for the Upcoming Second Annual International Day of Protest Against Hereditary Religion: January 20, 2013 – Article by Eric Schulke

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Categories: Education, Philosophy, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Eric Schulke
January 19, 2013
Recommend this page.
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The Second Annual International Day of Protest Against Hereditary Religion is coming up on January 20, 2013. This is a live cyber-rally with speakers, live Q&A, and the chance to give live commentary, being held in the Second Annual International Day of Protest Against Hereditary Religion U-Stream page throughout the day. Google us to attend. Events like these are important for a variety of reasons. For me, this event is about drawing more action lines in the sand. It’s about community involvement and helping to strengthen the overall group of atheists, agnostics, and related thinkers. It’s about helping the cloud do more testing with the concept of the cyber-rally.  And most of all, of course, it’s about making a statement about hereditary religion.

Even if the religious don’t budge on the issue, if it doesn’t make a single one of them consider it, it’s still important to make the statement for a variety of reasons.

First, if you oppose idea systems like supernaturalism-asserting religions, you want to get all your chips out on the table, because if you don’t show the depth to which you are committed to opposing the teaching of fairy tales to children as truth, then they will think the middle ground is farther toward their side than it really is. You disadvantage yourself in that way.

Second, even if the time during which the religious might ultimately be significantly persuaded on this issue occurs 100 years from now, it’s important that we help by starting to plant those seeds now. That reminds me of the JFK quote, “I am reminded of the great French Marshal Lyautey, who once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow-growing and would not reach maturity for a hundred years. The Marshal replied, In that case, there is no time to lose, plant it this afternoon.”

Third, action breeds action.

Fourth, another main role that this event serves is as a challenge to the religious. The more we confront them and call them out like this, the more we demonstrate that hereditary religion is an active and not a passive issue, and the more likely people are to come upon the issue. It forces more of them to deal with it and make their case. The more we get them to make their case in contrast with our message, the more opportunity young children will have to see this dichotomy and have a fair chance at choosing reason. The way it is now, many of them whisk children from home activities, to home school or private school, to church, in a never-ending cycle.  Although we think the atheist/agnostic message is out there for the children to see, for many it isn’t.  So we want to make sure we fill as many of the ‘hallways’ around them as possible with discussion about this. When they step out into the hallways of life, we want the people to ask them to explain why they are supporting and teaching fairy tales to children. Helping to keep the pressure on by throwing down challenges like this makes it easier for other projects by atheists and agnostics to get traction when they make their moves.

In order for humans to be pioneers in life, the universe, and this vast existence in all of its deep and intricate ways, we need people using as much reason as possible so that more people figure out the important things in life that there are to work on. There are many of them. The whole emerging era of Transhumanism is in essence a definition of important things to work on. There are many important things to work on.  We have a lot of history left to uncover, a lot of space left to explore, a lot of dreams and goals left to fulfill, and a lot of very big questions about existence left to answer. One of the main important tools that we need to get there is reason. Reason is the vehicle by which we pioneer fields like those.  We need more projects of reason, projects that work to get at the roots or reasonlessness. An excellent example is this cyber-rally to keep pressure on people that purposefully teach a reckless disregard for logic and reason, like religions that assert supernaturalism.

That’s why I like events like the Second Annual International Protest Against Hereditary Religion. We don’t live in a post-Age-of-Reason world. The Age of Reason has not yet claimed full victory, and it will have a hard time prevailing, so long as hereditary religion continues to maintain its traditions of brain slavery. When the Age of Reason calls for these kinds of shows of solidarity, stand up and be counted. Numbers matter. Help us make this cyber-rally a success.

Eric Schulke has been a director at LongeCity since 2009. He has also been an activist with the Movement for Indefinite Life Extension and other causes for over 13 years.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Stolyarov will also be participating in the Second Annual International Protest Against Hereditary Religion. He will be speaking on the benefits of a non-religious upbringing, from the standpoint of his personal experiences. Watch his introduction here.

At present, it is expected for the speech to be broadcast live over U-Stream at 12 noon Pacific Time.

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The Follies of Gun Control – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


A satirical commentary by Mr. Stolyarov on the wildly unrealistic assumptions made by those who wish to restrict private individuals’ gun-ownership rights.

This video is based on Mr. Stolyarov’s essay, “The Follies of Gun Control“.

Remember to LIKE, FAVORITE, and SHARE this video in order to spread rational discourse on this issue.

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