Category: Philosophy

Justin Bieber was talked about quite a bit a while ago, and not for the normal, preteen-girls-giggling sort of way. He made some comments to Rolling Stone magazine, in which he came out against abortion. More shocking was his comment on whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape. He said “everything happens for a reason.” Now, as TheAmazingAtheist said on YouTube, the quote as a whole wasn’t very shocking, being appended by “I don’t know how that would be a reason. I guess I haven’t been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to judge that.”

Now, I really don’t give a shit what Justin Bieber has to say. There are millions of people in this country who agree with him, and there are millions of people who disagree with him. Hopefully more people disagree than agree with him on the abortion issue, or at the very least the rape instance of the abortion issue, but what I want to talk about is his comment that “everything happens for a reason.”

TheAmazingAtheist, in the video I linked to above, replied to Justin’s remarks by saying that in a random universe, things don’t happen for a reason. He didn’t really go into this and moved on to his next topic. However, I think I would agree that, as an atheist, I do not agree with the phrase the way it is usually meant. That is, that there is some greater purpose to the universe, and that everything that happens — good or bad — is part of this purpose.

Theists would chalk this purpose up to “God’s Plan” or “God’s Will.” New Age types would probably talk about some “force” or “energy” within the universe that influences events. These spiritual-types are usually comfortable with the idea that there is something greater out there, and that that great thing or being or whatever it is has some influence over events and cares about us.

I, on the other hand, will only accept “everything happens for a reason” insofar as it is literally correct. Everything happens for a very specific reason. Why did the ball fall to the ground? Well, because you let it go and gravity had its way with it. Why did you catch a cold? Because your immune system could not deal with a certain virus it encountered. This, however, is not what is normally meant by the phrase.

This reminds me of a personal story. This was a little less than a year ago, when my father and I were shopping around for a used car. If you’ve ever shopped for a used car on a budget with a guy who has different tastes in cars than you, you know it can be a very frustrating experience. We had just left a dealership and were pretty happy with the car, but were going to check out a couple more places before going for it. Anyway, I’m not sure if it was because of my atheism or if he just wanted to impart upon me some of his philosophy/wisdom, but he told me that if we didn’t get the car because someone else bought it or whatever, it was for a reason.

You see, it is his opinion that if something doesn’t go your way, it was because something better is supposed to happen to you later. For this car shopping example, he thought that if I was unable to buy the car I wanted, then that car was not “the one for me.” The first couple times he said it I politely mumbled agreement but after hearing it about ten times (perhaps he wanted me to explicitly agree) I had to tell him that wasn’t how I saw things.

What causes people to adhere to this worldview? I am going to estimate that a vast majority of people in the world subscribe to it. I have a few ideas.

First, I think this is one of the main reasons religion and spirituality are so appealing. It is probably very comforting to believe that some higher power is looking out for you. Shit could be hitting the fan all around the world, , but you’d at least have an out in thinking that The Big Guy (or Girl, I guess; usually Guy) has things under control.

Second, it may have a lot to do with confirmation bias. A nonreligious person like me views all events as “not planned by a powerful being.” As such, my confirmation bias keeps me square in this worldview. Most people, however, see things completely differently. They are taught from a young age that whatever God they’re worshiping controls some subset of the events that take place in the universe, and that these events are directed in such a way that a divine plan is being fulfilled. Confirmation bias leads to even the most mundane events being attributed to God if they are beneficial to us, and if they aren’t good we forget about them.

The interesting thing is which things are attributed to God and which aren’t. Depending on your level of religiosity, you may attribute everything to God (even the really bad things) or you may attribute only the good things. You may attribute the motion of every atom in the universe to God and you may only attribute smiles, butterflies, and rainbows. You may take Satan into account and you may not.

The typically one-sidedness of event attribution is most easily observed through what language we use. Take the words “blessed,” “lucky,” and “unlucky.” The opposite of the word “lucky” is “unlucky.” The opposite of the word “blessed” is “cursed.” But have you ever heard someone actually use the word “cursed” in actual conversation? Use of the word “blessed” is a huge, blinking sign that a person grew up very religiously and/or is currently somewhat spiritual themselves. But they will not use “cursed” as the opposite of “blessed,” opting instead for the word “unlucky.”

Some examples: “Oh, when we were in Ireland it was really nice and sunny; we were so blessed.” (Real example from a date, at which point I’m like crap…) “He got hit by a car. Man that’s unlucky.”

Other nonbelievers and I are consistent with our lucky/unlucky usage, attributing neither good events nor bad events to the influence of some greater being. Theists, on the other hand, wish to attribute only good things to their God, and leave the bad things to random chance. I’m sorry, but you can’t do that.

This is starting to drag on a bit, so I’ll cut to the chase: we need to return to a literal usage of the phrase “everything happens for a reason.” We need to start looking at the world scientifically, empirically, and with the assumption that nobody is going to come to our rescue. They say “a pair of hands working does more than a thousand clasped in prayer.” I agree. Let’s stop begging daddy to come help us and start fixing the world’s problems ourselves.

~peace, RR

The idea for this post was provided by a reader like you! If you have any issues, subjects, or topics, specific or broad, that you want me to weigh-in on, please leave a comment below or send me an email at radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂

It is almost taken for granted in discussions of morality, government, and human endeavor in general that life – as opposed to there not being life – is a good thing. Who knows how long this opinion has been around, and when it was that the first person argued against it.

I know of a few places where this point has been challenged in recent times. There was an opinion piece in the New York Times by Peter Singer titled “Should This Be the Last Generation?” in which Singer makes a case for no longer having children so that we can be the last generation. There are also a couple songs by Bad Religion, namely “Better Off Dead” and especially “Pity the Dead” that express skepticism over the idea that living is better than not living.

And certainly there are arguments for ending it all. I won’t go into them, as that’s not why I’m writing this. If you want some arguments, read Singer’s article or listen to “Pity the Dead” (and read the lyrics while you do so you know what he’s saying; he talks pretty fast, but has some interesting things to say!).

What I’m getting at is that the answer this question of whether or not we should bother living is not a de facto “yes.” But I do want to get past this question so we can move on, so how should we decide? I do not simply want to say “yes, we should live” just for the sake of it. And I also do not want to weigh the merits of living and ending it all, as I have already mentioned.

What I will do is take each answer to their logical conclusions. I will say what I think are the only reasonable things to do if you choose to answer the question. And then, perhaps, based on the conclusions we come to, we can decide how we want to answer the original question.

If we answer “no,” if we decide that life is actually not worth living because it contains more suffering than happiness, more strife than peace, what should we do? I think the only options would be what I call the “quick fix” and the “slow fix.”

The “quick fix” would be for everyone to take their own lives. Perhaps not outright using guns or nooses or razor blades, but perhaps after one last planet-wide party. After the huge feast, after the orgy, after getting drunk and high and listening to the best music our humble planet has produced, we could all take an overdose of something or another and die peacefully in our sleeps, before the next day’s hangover and (probably justified) accusations of infidelity, and especially before going back to work.

The “slow fix” would be, as Singer suggests, to no longer have children. Let us soldier through these painful lives we lead, but at the same time not bring any more innocent souls into the world. As the last human being dies off, our species would finally be free from this Hell on Earth. Perhaps our brains are not equipped for reality. Wolves feed by brutally killing deer, and deer live by constantly avoiding the wolves, but neither are smart enough to realize their horrible positions. To them, living is merely so. Too much knowledge, as the God of Genesis might have said, only led us to understand the suffering we actually face.

As poetic as I tried to make those solutions sound, would you take them? I doubt you would take either, but would you agree you would more likely take the latter (if say, forced to decide)? I think there is an easy explanation for this: people don’t want to die. I won’t go so far as to say they like living. Many people, not even those who are crippled by depression, are not happy. Yet nonetheless they do not want to die. (And some people really want to have kids.)

So, at this point I could very well stop and say since we do not want to answer “no” to our question of whether we should bother living, we therefore must answer “yes.”

I will note here that if you answer “no” to the question, the two options I laid out are, as far as I can tell, the only logical conclusions. You may have a slight adjustment to one of my “fixes,” perhaps modifying the “quick fix” to instead party until we have exhausted all resources that are readily available. (If we allow for resources not yet excavated or turned into something usable, I don’t really see how that’s different than what we have now, or the “slow fix.” Why bother working (suffering) at all if your goal is to enjoy life as much as possible before killing oneself?)

You may have come up with another solution, such as killing 90% of the population so that the 10% remaining may start over with the more resources per person, presumably eliminating the problem of suffering for those who are alive. However, that is not answering “no” to the question “is life worth living period?” In this case you are just saying that life is not worth living as it is now and are therefore saying that life would be worth living ultimately if we could change it. This means life is worth living, if only to ensure that eventually we don’t need to put so much thought into this question. This is a “yes” answer. So far as I can tell, the only things that lead from the “no” answer are killing ourselves and no longer procreating – in other words, somehow ending the human race. (If you can think of another conclusion to the “no” answer, let me know in the comments!)

I am not going to stop at our answer of “yes,” however. I want to take this answer to its logical conclusion as I did with the “no” answer. If life is in fact worth living, if the human race is better around than not, what must we do? At the very least, this will give you something to compare to the “fixes” I proposed in response to the “no” answer. Perhaps you will choose “no” after all!

Anyway, unlike the “no” answer, I do not think there are multiple options in this case. I think there is just one thing that needs to be done, as well as a number of things that would probably be a good idea.

I think it is safe to say that if life is worth living, if living is good, then if something happened to us (either you or I personally or the human race as a whole) that killed us it would be bad. So what do we need to do to ensure that this bad thing has as small a chance of wiping us all out as possible?

Simple: we need to get off this rock. As it is now, there is far too much possibility of self-destruction. I won’t get in to the fact that people with Iron Age beliefs are getting access to 21st century weaponry. I won’t get in to the fact that we have enough nuclear weapons on this planet to destroy it many times over. I won’t get in to the fact that we’re slowly killing the planet through our over-use of fossil fuels. I’m sure you all know enough about these things already. But there isn’t just our self-destruction to worry about. If an asteroid hit Earth, we’d be done for. If aliens attacked us, we’d be sitting ducks here on this single planet.

We need to spread beyond our planet. We need to colonize the moon. Colonize Mars. We need to invest in new methods of transportation to get us even further away. This will ensure that no intentional act or accidental disaster could wipe us all out. Because that would be bad, as we’ve established.

That’s pretty much all I can think of that absolutely must be done. Leave the governance of the people, what moral systems we should have, and so on to the ebb and flow of human culture to decide. All that needs to be done is to ensure that we’re around for as long as possible.

I think there are a few things that are “strongly recommended” though. We need to improve the lives of everyone on the planet. If killing ourselves is bad, why give people the idea in the first place? By this I do not mean to censor media so that it does not mention suicide. I also do not think that suicide should be illegal. What I mean is that we should make every place humans live a place where nobody would want to kill themselves. Let’s feed the hungry. Let’s end prejudice and hatred. Let’s eradicate human slavery.

So there you have it. If we’re going to say that life is worth living, if we’re not going to be hypocrites and cowards, living when we think we shouldn’t, then let’s at least look like we mean it. If we’re going to live, then let’s live, and spread, and try to bring happiness to everyone.

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com :)

In this semi-serious post, I seek to compare two of my favorite philosophers: George Carlin and Alan Watts. Now, I say semi-serious for many reasons. First, George Carlin is a comedian, not a philosopher. However, as a social critic I do think he had a distinct outlook on life that could be labeled as a philosophy. Second, while there are some similarities that I will outline with this post, the two men would probably disagree on a wide assortment of issues, and their range of topics only overlapped to a very limited degree.

Yet while this post will be only semi-serious, I do think it will be one of my most original and (hopefully) thought-provoking posts for a long time. I hope you enjoy it. I know I will enjoy writing it 🙂

It would probably be prudent to explain who these men are for those who do not know. George Carlin, as I mentioned earlier, was a comedian and social critic. He had a sort of black humor that bit into the heart of modern society and made us laugh at ourselves. In doing so, I think he also did a great deal to make us actually think. Not just about ourselves, but of our society and the real problems it has. Here’s a video clip for a taste of George:

Alan Watts was a philosopher and theologian. (What? RR likes a theologian!? B-blasphemy…?) He was most famous for explaining Zen Buddhism and other Eastern religions to Western audiences. It might be better to just give you a taste of Alan rather than try to explain him:

So you may be wondering how these two people could have anything in common. Carlin seems to be a very cynical, skeptical, sort of person, while Watts is very mellow and perhaps high. However, though the two seem at first glance to be quite different, I think their philosophies complement one another quite well.

To begin our analysis, let’s compare two videos, one of George and one of Alan:

They seem, in these videos, to be talking about roughly the same thing. Namely, that modern society in this country is a sham, a hoax, a game meant to benefit those at the top. Carlin focuses much more on the “conspiracy theory” of it, insinuating that things are they way they are because those with the power want it to be so. This reveals in him his not-so-secret distrust of government. Watts, on the other hand, puts the attention on how we delude ourselves into buying into the system. He holds a more idealistic view of humanity, claiming that we are only stuck in this mess because we have been tricked into it.

Both, however, clearly label the system as rigged. Carlin said in that last clip “the table is tilted, the game is rigged.” In this next video, Alan joins George in brining “them” (those in power) into the mix:

In that video, Alan says “they are so unsure of the validity of their game rules that they say everyone must play.” And at the end of the video, he says of people who choose not to play the game that they “give the community great strength, because it tells the government in no uncertain terms that there is something more than government.” Watts and Carlin come together again to lift up individualism and nonconformity as virtues in this society in which conformity is the norm and anything else brands you as an outsider.

Now, because this view of society as being against us is somewhat depressing, especially as George describes it, George was asked how he manages to see the problems without having his mental state negatively affected. His answer, as outlined in this next video, shows yet another similarity between himself and Alan.

Carlin suggests that if you want to stay sane while keeping your mind going, seeing the problems in the world, you should “become a spectator.” He later says “I look at it as a show. It’s a big circus, it’s a big parade, whatever metaphor you wanna use.” Little does he know, however, that taking the attitude of a spectator is a very Zen, a very Eastern, way of looking at the world. Carlin used the the words “circus” and “parade,” while Watts, in the video above, called life “a musical thing.” Watts also preferred to call life a “theater.” In this video (8 minutes in) Watts, describing the Hindu concept of God (Brahman), says it is “the actor of the world, the player all the parts, so that everyone is a mask… in which the Brahman plays a role.” And that we, incarnations of Brahman “like an absorbed actor, the divine spirit becomes so absorbed in playing the role, as to become it.” He then mentions another term for our society, saying “and this is all part of the game.”

While it is obvious that Carlin’s suggestion is driven by a sense of practicality rather than mysticism, it seems clear to me that they are both on relatively the same page. Both in the same chapter, so to speak. Carlin says that it is a good idea to not take such a vested interest in the outcome of things such that you become infuriated with the impossibility of your plight. Watts says that it is a good idea to not take such a vested interest in such things because deep down the problems are simply what you make of them. They are problems because your are looking at things from the wrong angle. Carlin agrees, and to him the world with all its problems is the “freak show.” For him it is entertainment.

So there you have it. How interesting that two (seemingly) completely different people would have so much in common. I was very surprised the last few days, as I had been watching YouTube videos of both of them, how their messages overlapped. What do you guys think? Am I reading way too much into this, or do great minds think alike?

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂