Games Without Frontiers

by James Classen

It’s all about perception. Everything. The politicians have that much figured out, even if they can’t recall who the president of Uzbekibekibekistanstan is, or if Russia really is visible from their front porch, or any number of public “misstatements”. They’re perpetual victims of it as well. An ad says “Senator/Representative So-And-So voted to release violent sex offenders…” when there was some prison population control rider tacked on to a bill about funding for state parks. For example. There’s the perception that the ad creates, versus the facts. There’s the base rate fallacy (my shorter, less scientific explanation here), which I’ve fallen victim to on more than one occasion. One thing I’ve been harping on lately to, well, one person (we’ll get to that  in a minute), is the idea of “Free Range Kids“, put forth by Lenore Skenazy, a tagline of “How to raise safe, self-reliant children (without going nuts with worry)”. She presents the idea that the media so often puts stories of children being abducted, sexually violated, shot, or some other horrible thing when in reality the occurrence of these events is extremely low. I have no numbers (go to the FRK site for a few), but most abductions are by people the kid knows. I think it was 96-97% of molestation of children is done by a close relative. Accidental shootings within the home when guns aren’t properly stored or locked away are probably higher than drive-by deaths, though that could certainly depend on the neighborhood. But crime in general has been on the decline since 1980, and CSI: Natchitoches doesn’t bother to show the weeks of waiting for DNA tests, much less the boring cases of “‘Missing’ child found 10 feet away petting neighbor’s dog. Parents charged with endangerment.” There’s such sensationalism that people assume the worst is going to happen to their child if they’re not watching over them every second of every day. Or they regulate themselves into a corner. Parents can’t bring cupcakes to school for their kid’s birthday because it’s unhealthy, and they have to go through a 2-3 week background check just to be allowed to enter the classroom. And sign in at three different offices, and wear this RFID nametag to track your movement through the building. This kind of stuff really is happening (usually not all at once, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was). We’ve replaced common sense with terror. Your 6-year old will be okay if you leave him in the sandbox while you use the restroom, or take out the trash, or answer the phone. He’s not going to run off to Uzbekibekibekistanstan and join NAMBLA in the span of 5 minutes. Make sure your kid knows your phone number, how to get home, that it’s okay to talk to strangers (just not to go off with them). They have to learn independence somehow, and they’ll gain a ton of self-confidence if you let them accomplish something—even if it’s riding their bike around the block—on their own.

Enough about that. A zillion things I want to say…

So I’ve been thinking about getting a dog. I am aware of the vast implications, and consequences, of doing so, but there are great benefits as well. The first and foremost in my mind is the psychological benefit to myself: a companion, someone who I can talk to, play with, spend a lazy day on the couch, run around outside, etc. There’s the benefit of the requirement of walks (or runs) around the neighborhood—exercise for both of us, which results in a healthier me, and possibly/probably a requirement that I get up earlier in the day to take him/her out. Another beneficial side effect is the fact that I’d have to keep the house with a…better balance of chaos and order. The entropic function working in my house needs some modification. The downsides are the vet bills, the food, the invisible fence (I am, and probably forever will be, very much against the visible kind), and deciding exactly what to do with the dog while I’m at work, or out with friends, or in any situation I can’t bring him/her along. All I know for sure is, if I do get a dog, it’ll be through adoption.

I have begun listening to StarTalk, hosted by celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. He interviewed Bill Maher roughly a year ago (from clues I pick up in the broadcast) and the question of the supposed incompatibility of science and religion (specifically Christianity) came up, as such a thing inevitably must when discussing, well, anything, with Bill Maher. I bring all this up because I want to discuss his, and others, vehement atheism. He acknowledges that there are scientists, from 40% in the general community (according to a survey) and 7% in the National Academy of Sciences (or something like that) who pray to a personal god, yet, regardless of their status, renown, or contributions, dismisses them as somehow substandard intellectuals. He, and a few others, seem to want to force a war between science and religion, and longs for a world devoid of any notion of gods, except perhaps in an anthropological or historical context, some “passing fancy” the human race once had.

I was raised in a Christian home. I was taught, at home, at the Christian schools I attended, and at church, that Earth, the solar system, the galaxy, the universe, was 6,000 years old (created 22 October 4004 BC according to James Ussher, or 5773 years ago last week according to Jewish reckoning). I maintained that belief through most of my academic career, then came the “evil”, “liberal”, “secular” university where I came to the realization that science doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t take much to reconcile the age of the universe as 13.7e9 years old, halfway through it’s existence to the best of our knowledge, with Christianity, with Genesis 1. I wonder if these atheists recognize their own zealotry, the hypocrisy almost inherent in their devotion to a belief in the lack of a higher power. I pick on Maher because he’s the latest to remind me of it. Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Bertrand Russell are probably the most prominent advocates of irreligion.

I could go on and discuss things like Christian atheism (yes, it’s a thing), but I’ll leave with one more thought: I see devout atheism as illogical as they perceive any theism. Agnosticism is as far as I see logic taking a person. It takes a leap of faith to make the move to atheism.

One more topic of discussion for me today, brought about by an e-mail exchange. This exchange prompted some, let’s call it soul-searching. I find my opinions and viewpoints diverging significantly from those in my primary social circles. You can claim I was influenced by that secular university (possibly one of the most conservative state universities around), or by the liberal media (careful of those commies at the BBC!), or whatever environmental influences you wish to blame it on, but I think I might have arrived at these same conclusions if left to my own devices. It probably just would have taken me longer. But the philosophical and sociological point I’m bringing up is the exchange of ideas with those closest to me. While I enjoy debate (do not confuse debate with conflict—that I abhor), I shy away from it. Some of my viewpoints may shock my family or close friends. Some may agree with me, but are themselves too timid to speak up. But if I don’t say anything, why should I expect anyone else to do so? Granted, many of the debates on which I hold an opinion, however strongly, seem so heated by the time I might interject that I decide it a far wiser choice to remain silent, lest I draw the ire of all participants. No discussion of import (or, just as often, insignificance) seems to be about rational challenging of one another’s opinions. Whether the subject is comic books or theology or science or gaming, even if I’m called as an “expert witness” (this is not the expert you’re looking for), I prefer to distance myself. That’s not debate, that’s one-upmanship, “I’m right, you’re wrong”, “Go away or I shall replace you with a very small shell script” noise, and it’s ugly. But that is the nature of the beast. I heard Denver described as a “‘Pale Blue Dot‘ in the middle of a red state”. Well, I’m a paler purple dot in the middle of a very, very red state. Neither Republican nor Democrat, with views that I won’t specify here that would gain criticism from the Republicans surrounding me, yet I’d be shunned from the Democratic party for other views. I’ll likely be “throwing my vote away” again this year—but think of it: if people would “throw [their] vote away” on a third party candidate, one might actually get elected! The two-party mindset is so deeply ingrained in our culture, another disturbing thing to think about. But I’ve wandered far off topic. I need rational discussion. I need a sounding board. Finding willing partners for such discourse is proving imminently difficult.

And with that, I sign off. CM10 with (working) Google Wallet, here I come (I hope).