On Getting Through the Dry Spells
If you ask anyone who knows me, I like to think they'd tell you that I'm a generally optimistic and cheerful person. But these past few weeks, I've felt like I've been going through a dry spell. I've been restless, gloomy, and much more irritable and pessimistic than usual. No matter where I physically go, mentally I feel like I'm somewhere in the middle of the desert. And I don't think I'm alone in this: it seems to me that a similar dark cloud is hanging over the secular community.
There are multiple causes for this. Most prominent, I think, is the rampant sexism and misogyny that's shown its face within our community, where many of us had harbored hope that people would know better. Instead, we've come to the reluctant realization that we have to deal with the same issues of equality that many other movements have wrestled with, with varying degrees of success, and that we have a long, hard slog ahead of us if we're going to get rid of the trolls and make the atheist movement a place of true social justice. Most recently, this blew up in a storm over sexual harassment at the annual TAM conference in Las Vegas, culminating in the withdrawal of at least one speaker in the face of threats.
And in the wider world, as well, this seems like a summer of stagnation and reversal. The democratic revolution in Egypt is fading; Syria is being torn apart by civil war; Europe is sinking into a widening economic gyre while its leaders dither; free speech is being stamped out in Russia and China; even Canada is sweltering under a renewal of authoritarianism. Here in America, as the economy languishes and the predictable idiocy of campaign season gets into full swing, our politics often feels as if we're choosing which candidate is just barely the lesser of two evils, as if the best we can do is vote for preserving an unjust status quo because the alternative is one who'll make it even worse. We've made progress for certain, but it seems as if what little progress we do make is so halting, so tentative, and so easily erased. Bigotry, irrationality and authoritarianism are persistent ghosts, returning to haunt and leer at us seemingly as soon as we thought we'd banished them once and for all.
When I look out on the totality of this, I can't help but feel dispirited and discouraged, wondering what the point of all our activism is. But today, I've been thinking of what I learned from my latest encounter with the Tempter: you can't change the world single-handedly, and if you try, you'll just end up burned out and hopeless. But what you can damn well do is fight as hard as you can, and never be daunted, never give up. If you can't change the whole world, then see if you can change one person's mind, or better yet, two. It's hard, slow work, but it's the only way change ever comes. The world is still turning, and as distant and dreamlike as it seems from our vantage point, I believe that there will be a more peaceful, free and rational future whose people will look back on our era and wonder how anyone ever tolerated the kinds of injustices that afflict us.
We can bring that future into being, if we choose. We have all the tools we need. A rational, humanist understanding of morality is the map. Science and reason are the boots that carry us forward. And righteous, passionate, peaceful anger is both sword and shield, spurring us to take action and giving us passion for the fight. As always, there will be adversaries standing athwart the trail, trying to block our way, but when we recognize them for what they are, we can defeat them.
How much longer this dry spell will last, I don't know. But all deserts end somewhere if you keep walking, and all dark clouds blow themselves out eventually. Progress comes slowly at first, and sometimes it advances and then recedes, but it leaves a high-water mark for next time. So, come what may, I intend to keep speaking out, to keep pressing onward. And to anyone who espouses archaic and inhumane morality; anyone who submits their will and reason to the decrees of antiquated authority; anyone who perpetuates bigotry and hate; anyone who places obedience to petrified dogma above human well-being; in short, to anyone who is an enemy of humanity, I say thus: if you think I've been your enemy until now, just wait. You ain't seen nothing yet.
Oh, and one more thing: That big announcement I alluded to earlier this month? It's coming on Monday. Stay tuned.
To create wiser adults, add empathy to the school curriculum.
- Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
- Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
- Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
An extinction events expert sounds a dire warning.
- The supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park could cause an "ultra-catastrophe," warns an extinction events writer.
- The full eruption of the volcano last happened 640,000 years ago.
- The blast could kill billions and make United States uninhabitable.
Just before I turned 60, I discovered that sharing my story by drawing could be an effective way to both alleviate my symptoms and combat that stigma.
I've lived much of my life with anxiety and depression, including the negative feelings – shame and self-doubt – that seduced me into believing the stigma around mental illness: that people knew I wasn't good enough; that they would avoid me because I was different or unstable; and that I had to find a way to make them like me.
A joint study by two England universities explores the link between sex and cognitive function with some surprising differences in male and female outcomes in old age.
- A joint study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford in England has linked sexual activity with higher cognitive abilities in older age.
- The results of this study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men. In women, however, there was a significant association between sexual activity in word recall alone - number sequencing was not impacted.
- The differences in testosterone (the male sex hormone) and oxytocin (a predominantly female hormone) may factor into why the male cognitive level changes much more during sexual activity in older age.
Mathematicians studied 100 billion tweets to help computer algorithms better understand our colloquial digital communication.