Sunday, December 18, 2011

And Then, I started Blogging Again...

As you may have noticed, I haven't had much to say over the past few months. Which is to say, before yesterday, I hadn't posted a thing since October. I'd like to say that's because I've been busy on some big project. But, the truth is, I just decided it wasn't worth the effort anymore, and I stopped. But the other day, I decided to make a trip to my local Barnes and Nobel, and suddenly, I remembered why -other than for my own personal entertainment- I started doing this in the first place.

Upon arrival at the store, I was first annoyed to discover that, once again, the science section had apparently migrated. After making several laps around the floor in search of it's new hiding place; pausing briefly to glare at the MASSIVE religious/spirituality section that had swelled to gargantuan proportions since my last visit, I decided to ask for help in my search.

More than slightly annoyed, and a little bewildered by the idea that the science section might actually be gone altogether, I approached an employee and asked,

" Um, do you not even have a science section anymore?".
"Yes, we still have a science section", the clerk replied, "it's right over here."

He then proceeded to lead me to the back of the store, where, crammed onto a few shelves facing the back wall -safely shielded from view of the casual browser, and centrally located next to the bathroom and encyclopedias- sat the tiny, sad little selection of science books seen above.To put things into perspective; remember the obscenely large religious and spirituality section I mentioned? Well, here's a photo of just the floor space this particular store has dedicated to bibles alone.

Including the section labeled, "Religious Fiction" (Ill spare you the obvious observation here), the books seen in that photo represent about 25% of the total collection of books on religion and spirituality available at this particular store. Now, take a moment to consider the rest of the credulous, pseudo-scientific, nonsensical, and superstition filled publications that we all know dominate the shelves of this, and every other bookstore in the country, and you'll start to see why this trip managed to set off something in my brain. Because, these days more than ever, brick and mortar stores like B&N have to make the most of their inventory in order to compete with online retailers like Amazon -less they suffer the same fate as Borders. Which means, the content of this, and any other store's inventory, is a direct reflection of what people actually have an interest in buying, and clearly -it ain't science.

Now, I know that this may not sound like much of a catalyst for an Epiphany. But for me, watching the selection of science books -which actually used to be fairly large at this particular location BTW- slowly shrink, and disappear from view, was a stark, and frankly depressing, reminder of just how unpopular science and critical thinking are -and just how prominent irrational thought, and supernatural belief, continue to be in the mind of the average person. so while I still harbor no delusions of grandeur where my place in the world is concerned, it did manage to remind me of why any effort to promote science and critical thinking, however small, was well worth it.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

“I try to deny myself any illusions or delusions, and I think that this perhaps entitles me to try and deny the same to others, at least as long as they refuse to keep their fantasies to themselves,”

Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22.

As you have no doubt heard by now, Christopher Hitchens, who had been receiving treatment for esophageal cancer since the middle of last year, died of pneumonia Thursday night at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, he was 62.

While I am, as always, days late in hearing the news, and I can't even pretend to have any great insight to add to the meaning of his life or the impact of his death. As someone whose taken great inspiration from his work for many years now, I can't help but at least try to express who he was and what his work meant, to me.

Hitchens was best known to most of mainstream culture, at least here in America anyway, as one of the most vocal, and aggressive, members of the modern atheist movement. He was a polarizing figure, even amongst those of us who shared his values, and was often characterized as a loud-mouthed intellectual. One who could always be found -drink in one hand, cigarette in the other- happily dismantling the most sacred ideals, icons, and beliefs, of much of modern society. All while displaying little to no regard for whose feelings he might hurt or whose sensibilities he might offend along the way. Which, all in all, is a fair enough characterization of his public face I suppose, and to me, a description of a man I would have loved to have met.

Christopher Hitchens, as I saw him, was a man who believed that intellectualism was not a dirty word. That being a so-called intellectual, was not a pursuit beyond the means of the average mind. He was a man who believed that acquiring a true higher understanding of our world was something that we should all aspire to, and he correctly identified religion as one of the primary enemies of that pursuit, and treated it accordingly.

It was this unapologetic promotion of free thought, and his effort to promote and reinvigorate interest in the values of the enlightenment movement -the philosophical and intellectual phenomena that was, not only the true parent of America, but of the modern scientific era in which we live today- that meant the most, and had the greatest affect and influence on me personally. Because I believe that what the world needs most is to learn not to tolerate ignorance, injustice, or hatred; or to settle for mediocrity for the sake of tradition, superstition, or fear of offense. And that, to me, was the overwhelming theme of Hitchens' work, and the reason that I will most miss having his voice in the world.

Goodbye Hitch.


From the IQ2 talks: Stephen Fry & friends, discuss the life, love, & hates of Christopher Hitchens.

Posted by Youtube user: iqsquared