The Macrocosm Perspective

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The Macrocosm Perspective

Siddhartha Gautama taught that in order to see what matters we must first remove the ego from the equation.  Nothing rips apart my ego or sense of self more than the Universe.  The above photo is a compilation of the center of the Milky Way Galaxy in near-infrared, infrared, and x-ray from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, respectively.  As breathtaking as this image is with plumes of dust and gas, the bright star in the foreground, and all the distant stars and galaxies in the background, let’s take a momentary journey and see if we can’t have our consciousness expanded even more…

 

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The second closest star to us is Proxima Centauri, some 4 light years away, meaning it would take us about 4 years traveling at the speed of light to get there.  How fast is that?  Stand in the dark facing a wall and turn on a flashlight, the speed at which that light hits the wall is the speed you’d have to travel at to get to the star in about 4 years time.

Proxima Centauri is a Red Dwarf, which means that when it dies it will not supernova, but instead the process of thermonuclear fusion will fade and as its nuclear core begins to cool it will turn into a Blue Dwarf, then fade into a White Dwarf and eventually become stellar material in space known as a Black Dwarf, a process that will take some three trillion years.  Other stars with more mass are expected to supernova or even hypernova (equal to +100 supernova) anytime in the next million years (perhaps even tomorrow) and include Betelgeuse, Eta Carinae and IK Pegasi.

If that were to happen it would be like having a second sun or full moon in our sky, depending on the star and how far away it is from us.  The largest known star by size is named NML Cygni and the most massive (heaviest) star is R136a1 which also claims the title for being the most luminous known to exist.  Even though it’s the brightest in the known universe, it’s too far away to be the brightest in our night sky.  The visually brightest star from Earth is Sirius.

 

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This diagram shows the stages of a stars life.  Depending on the mass of a star, various things can occur throughout its life-cycle.  At the center of the diagram is the star forming nebula.  All stars come into existence within a nebula, this includes our own star.  In time stars fall away from the nebula clouds in which they are born, their gravitational pull will bring in dust and gas, which in time can form planets.

The above diagram lists examples of stars in each phase.  The phases are listed in white lettering and the real stars that are currently in that phase are listed in yellow lettering. You can see that Proxima Centauri is the example used for a red dwarf star.  Following this star’s path you can see it will become a blue dwarf, and eventually a white dwarf that is no longer active at its nuclear core and thus cooling into what is known as a black dwarf.

 

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In this diagram you can see some of the prominent stars within our arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.  The larger the circle, the larger the star.  You can see that Sirius is the largest star nearest to us, which is why it is the brightest star in our night sky.

 

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We exist within the Milky Way Galaxy, one of more than 50,000 galaxies and dwarf galaxies inside the Virgo Supercluster.  Thanks to the Hubble Telescope, we know there’s about 100 billion galaxies in the known Universe, but this is only based on what we can see with current technology.  In the future we may learn there are billions more.  In the above diagram you see our more prominent and nearby galactic neighbors.

Most of these are smaller galaxies than our own, known as dwarfs.  They are essentially just like larger galaxies, except that they have a lower stellar mass (fewer stars).  You can also see the much smaller Triangulum Galaxy and the Andromeda Galaxy, the closest large galaxy from our own.  Though it appears close in this diagram you have to realize that Andromeda is more than 2.5 million light years away.  Think about that.  It would take more than 2.5 million years to get there while traveling at the speed of light.

The entire Virgo Supercluster stretches for some 100 million light years.  Within that there are some 200 trillion stars.

 

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There’s a tiny little dot of yellow light that you can’t even see unless you zoom in southeast of the massive yellow globe in the center of this image of the Milky Way Galaxy, it’s marked “We Are Here” and that’s where our solar system is.  The Milky Way Galaxy is what’s known as a spiral galaxy due to its shape.  This logarithmic spiraling causes strands of stars, planets, dust, and gas.  Each strand or section is known as an “arm” of the galaxy.  We exist in what is known as the Orion Arm.  All of those tiny lights you see are stars, you can also see the many dust and gas clouds.

That massive ball of yellow light in the center is a cluster of dust and stars.  Inside that cluster is a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius-A.  Compared to our Sun, it is 4 million times larger.  Regular black holes are formed from dying stars, but astronomers still aren’t sure how supermassive black holes are formed.  What we can speculate is that they are the remnants of something that existed before.

Nearly every known galaxy has a supermassive black hole at their galactic center.  If you know what a black hole is, then you know that they have immense gravitational pull, so strong that dust, gas, stars, planets, and even light itself gets pulled in by the event horizon and cannot escape the singularity.

So what happens when objects or light are pulled into the event horizon of a black hole?  Neil Degrasse Tyson describes it as spaghettification, essentially you are stretched on an atomic level.  Ever play with silly putty and pull it apart until it gets really thin?  Well it’s like that but on a molecular scale.  What happens after that is still a mystery, but there are theories.

Based on models and simulations some scientists believe that once atomic bonds are pulled apart by the gravitational intensity and into subatomic particles by the singularity, they are then cast out into the universe as energy.  What kind of energy is not known, but considering that nearly 70% of the known universe exists as dark energy, this may be the fate of all matter and light.

 

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This graphic shows a scale of the mass of objects in space.  If you can remember science class you’ll know that high mass means high density.  As the mass of these objects increases, their density also increases.  The center of a supermassive black hole is extremely dense, often described as infinitely dense.  They defy what we know about the laws of physics as not only is the density of a black hole’s singularity infinite and its size infinitely small, but within that one dimensional point its gravity is infinite and space-time curves infinitely.  This has led some astronomers to speculate that black holes are a point at which this universe connects to another universe that has different laws of physics.

 

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Zooming out even further from the Milky Way and our location within the Virgo Supercluster, you can see where we are located in accordance to other superclusters of galaxies.  All of those little specs represent galaxies.  Several of these superclusters can be viewed from Earth using a telescope.  In all, there are about 10 million superclusters in the known Universe.

You will also notice there are areas labeled as “voids” in the diagram.  Aptly named, these voids are areas of the Universe that are empty of stars and planets.  About 80% of the known Universe is made of these voids in space.

 

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This is a timescale diagram.  One of the most fascinating and mind blowing things about the Universe is that due to its vastness when you look at distant objects you are looking back in time.

The easiest example of this are the stars you see in the sky.  Our own star, the sun, is so far away that it takes about 8 minutes for the light that erupts from it to hit your eyes or the ground at your feet.  If the sun suddenly vanished we wouldn’t know it here on Earth for 8 minutes.

Other stars are so far away that even though you can see them twinkle at night, they may already be gone and the light you’re seeing is not the star itself but the light that came into existence hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of years ago and is traveling through space towards us.

If you could travel the speed of light away from the Earth and had a telescope powerful enough to look back at Earth, the farther you traveled – the further back in time the Earth would appear.  You could essentially travel back in time while traveling away from the Earth and see people living their lives who died hundreds and thousands of years ago, all the way back to the formation of the Earth itself.

The above diagram is showing the oldest known galaxy to exist at more than 11 billion years old, discovered by the Hubble Telescope.    The Universe is estimated to be nearly 14 billion years old.  To see into the Universe is to look into space and time, to travel through the Universe is to travel through space and time.

Human Sexuality Defined

Human Sexuality Defined

Ever since I started writing about human sexuality I realized that a lot of people really don’t even know what sexuality and orientation mean and how to use those terms.

I think that one of the biggest reasons is because of the word “sex” in sexuality.  For most, this word causes them to conclude that anytime the word sexuality is used it must be in reference to the act of sexual intercourse.  However, when we’re talking about human sexuality, nothing can be further from the truth.

Though assumed to be one in the same, sexuality and sexual intercourse or even just sexual activity are two separate things.

This article is intended to help people understand what human sexuality is and why it matters that we understand it.

I’ve written numerous times about how human sexuality or sexual orientation is discovered, what theories exist on why there is a scale to human sexuality or orientations, and so I will not be covering those topics in this article.  I will, however, include links at the end of this article to the others where I discuss these topics in more detail.

So what exactly is human sexuality?  While it certainly includes aspects of human sexual nature, the predominant meaning behind the term human sexuality should be equal to the meaning behind the term human orientation.  Which is to say that human sexuality and human sexual orientation refer to the romantic desires of human beings.

When I say romance, I don’t mean candlelight dinners on a balcony overlooking the French countryside.  I mean romance generally as in love, intimacy, bonding, dating, and long-term partnerships.

Human sexuality is merely intended to refer to any number of sexual orientations in which and through which human beings express love, romantic intimacy, and companionship.

The belief that sexual intercourse or any other type of sexual behavior is somehow a defining factor of human sexuality is a false belief.  Sexual behavior does not define human sexuality or sexual orientation.

What gender a human being engages in sexual activity with, does not define that human being’s sexuality.

The reality is that I could engage in sexual activity with a pillow, a banana peel, a sock, or even a watermelon.  Does having sex with a watermelon make me a melonsexual?  No, it doesn’t.  Some clinical psychologists may argue that it would make me pansexual – someone who finds sexual and emotional attraction in a broad spectrum of people, genders, and objects.

The years that I’ve been researching and writing about human sexuality have allowed me to meet individuals who, although they define themselves as heterosexual, have or are willing to engage in some form of sexual activity with other members of the same gender.

A lot of people proclaim that this means those individuals are bisexual, or that they are closeted homosexuals.  The problem here is that they are basing their proclamations on one single thing: sexual activity.

As I have already stated, human sexuality is not defined by sexual activity.  It is the emotional aspect of human intimacy that defines human sexuality or sexual orientation.

Therefore, if I were indeed truly in love with a particular watermelon, and indeed was sexually aroused by the fact that it was a nice looking watermelon, then yes I would absolutely be a melonsexual – emotionally and sexually attracted to melons.

However, if I merely pounded that watermelon for the sole purpose of sexual release or gratification without any emotional attachment to that watermelon or any appreciation for the appearance of the watermelon, then it is solely a sexual act, and has nothing to do with my sexual orientation, only my libido and sexual impulsiveness.

The bottom line here is that sexual acts without emotional interest, attachment, or expression, does not determine or define human sexuality or sexual orientation.

A self-proclaimed heterosexual woman who has engaged in sexual activity with another woman is still a heterosexual woman.  A self-proclaimed heterosexual woman who falls in love with another woman and engages in sexual activity with said woman is not a heterosexual woman, but indeed a closeted lesbian or bisexual.

As a man who can and has fallen in love with other men, I am not and will never be straight.  If I quit engaging in sexual activity with other men for the rest of my life or if I had never engaged in sexual activity with other men ever in my life, and were only sexually active with women, I would still not be straight.

This is what many people who are not lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender do not understand.  What sexuality or orientation a human being is, is not defined by what they look like, what they say, or even what they do.  Sexuality and orientation are determined by what a human being feels.

Falling in love, romantically, with someone of the same gender means that you are not straight or a heterosexual, you are definitely gay or bisexual.  Engaging in sexual activity with someone of the same gender without any emotional attachment, means nothing more than that you are horny.

To learn more about human sexuality, check out my previous articles:

Alone In The Dark

TPPY Award Entries

An Educational Report by Kephen Merancis

Introduction

This report is intended to educate the public on the risk of suicide in those under the age of fifteen. It is my hope and my intention that through education and awareness, we can stem the rise in the number of children completing suicide.

“Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.”

– Margaret Wheatley

Alone In The Dark:

Why Children Attempt Suicide and How to Prevent It

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from the year 2000 to the year 2014, more than 530,000 Americans completed suicide. In the year 2014 alone, the number of Americans of all genders and all age ranges that had died by suicide was 42,773. It was the highest number in one year during the fourteen-year period since 2000. In comparison, 37,195 Americans died in motor vehicle accidents that same year.

Further, the yearly total of Americans completing suicide has continually and dramatically risen each year since 2000, whereas the number of deaths due to motor vehicle accidents has continued to drop since 2006, except for 2012 when deaths spiked to 38,251. While the elderly have the highest rates of suicide per population, followed by those of middle-age and young adults and teens respectively, children under the age of 14, and even as young as 5 also end their lives by suicide.

In 2006, there were only fifty-six known cases of children under the age of 12 who had completed suicide. Of those children, forty-five were boys, which coincides with the trend that about 79% of all suicide victims in all age groups are males, even though girls attempt suicide more often. In 2013 there were 395 cases of child suicides for the age group 5 to 14. For those 10 – 14 years in age, there were 409 suicides in 2015. Self-harm and suicide attempts among children under the age of 14 has doubled since 2006.

According to population reports from the United States Census Bureau, there were 73.6 million children aged 17 and under in the United States in 2014. According to the World Health Organization, during that same year in the U.S., one in every 100,000 boys aged 14 and under died by suicide. For boys aged 15 to 24, nearly eighteen in every 100,000 completed suicide. For men 75 and older, thirty-eight out of every 100,000 died by suicide.

From 2008 to 2015, there were 118,000 children between the ages of 5 and 17 admitted to thirty-two hospitals across the country who expressed suicidal thoughts or the desire to harm themselves.

Most children under 14 who attempt and die by suicide do so by hanging or suffocation at home, often in their bedroom. Of those, most have attempted it at least once before, often without anyone knowing about it. In fact, it’s estimated that for every child that completes suicide, a dozen others have already attempted it or have thought about attempting it.

The decision to attempt suicide in children under the age of 14 is almost always impulsive and reactionary to an external stimulus, in all cases they feel alone and helpless in what they’re dealing with.

This impulsive nature makes it very difficult to prevent child suicide because a child can appear energetic and seemingly happy in one moment, and then one negative experience later they may make the decision to end their life without fully grasping the finality of the act or realizing that circumstances can change over time.

For teens and older age groups, depression is often directly involved, so much so that two-thirds of all suicides in these age groups are connected to depression, often spanning years.

Children on the other hand, do not fit into this trend. Less than half of child suicide victims experience depression and for them it occurs on a rapid scale of days or weeks prior to completing suicide. It’s important to note that over half of all children who attempt suicide had previously been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD.

Most child suicides are preceded by a conflict with a parent, friend, classmates, and social interactions with strangers online, including cyber bullying. In recent years, social media sites and apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have played a major role in the emotional states of children and pre-teens. Sometimes the prevalence of online activity can be helpful in identifying at risk youth, due to the child venting frustration, stress, anxiety, or the desire to self-harm. However, in other cases the conflict itself unfolds online where adults are not present, leading the child to be cut off from support, and later completing suicide without the parent having any prior knowledge of what was happening.

Despite their impulsive nature, there are warning signs that can be observed in a child who may attempt suicide. Mood is always a key factor to monitor, this would include anger, aggression, irritability, frequent crying or easily triggered by sadness, disinterest in previously favored activities, constant involvement in physical fights, theft, constantly withdrawing from social interactions, and refusing to go to school.

Aside from mood, children often let slip things they’ve been thinking about, especially when they get frustrated or angry. Phrases such as, “I wish I were dead,” “I hate being alive,” “I just want to die,” “I wish I could go to sleep and never wake up,” “I just want to sleep forever,” are all red flags a parent should pay attention to.

Phrases like these are tell-tale signs a child has witnessed or is experiencing something that is causing them a lot of anxiety or stress that is beyond their ability to cope with alone, and that they have begun viewing death as an escape.

A child’s impulsive desire to attempt suicide is met by a desire to escape something they cannot process or handle. Trauma, fear, neglect, abandonment, harassment, bullying, verbal or emotional conflict or threats, embarrassment, physical assault, hazing, and sexual abuse, can all precipitate a suicide attempt in children.

Another common behavior in children with a risk of suicide is self-harm or self-injury. Prior to attempting suicide, children will intentionally harm themselves or engage in risky behavior where they know they can be injured.

Like teens and young adults, children tend to blow events out of proportion and become consumed by them. What may seem like a trivial event or temporary circumstance to you, may appear to be life shattering, permanent or inescapable to a child.

Most children seldom anticipate life beyond several days into the future and it’s due to the ongoing development of their brain. They are simply not yet able to anticipate life that far into the future or imagine how the circumstances of their life can be drastically different years, months, or even just weeks into the future.

This inability to envision a distant future adds to a child’s belief that current events or circumstances are unchanging, are unable to be fixed, are unavoidable, unforgivable, or unending. Whether with parents, teachers, or mentors, it is fundamentally important that a child have an open relationship with an adult or young adult to whom they look up to and can communicate with freely and rely on for advice, encouragement, safety, emotional support and stability.

Giving a child the opportunity to talk about things without judgement and without repercussions is essential for a trusting, honest, and open relationship. The sort that could, if need be, save them from making an impulsive and life-ending decision.

After discovery or intervention, appropriate pediatric counseling should be initiated in children who have attempted suicide or are showing suicidal ideology. Never assume it’s a phase or that they are too young to be suicidal. Mental health care is as equally important in children as it is in teens and adults, giving them the skills they need to better deal with the issues they are facing and will face in their future.


Click below for a downloadable PDF version of this report to print or share:

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Alone In The Dark

Sources of data included reports and publications from the following:

Nationalism and Police Brutality: The Deafening Sound of Ignorance

“The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established… It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world.  The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.”

– Mirza Husayn Ali (1817 – 1892)

Nationalism and Police Brutality: The Deafening Sound of Ignorance

From false patriotism to allegations of police brutality, nationalism is deeply a part of today’s American political commentary and those with opinions on either side attempt to silence the other.  In my attempts to observe and research, I’ve only come to the conclusion that these attempts to silence are actually just the deafening sound of ignorance, touted by those who are bound and blinded by their own political identity.

As is the case for the past few decades or perhaps longer, the American people divide themselves quite willingly into two sides.  Those who proclaim to be patriotic and acknowledge no legitimate errs in the American way, and those who point out the ills of American policy and procedure.

When I enlisted in the Marine Corps ten years ago, I didn’t do so because I wanted the government to pay for my college education, I didn’t do it because I thought it would be a good time, nor even because I wanted to serve my country.  I didn’t swear that oath because I wanted to be congratulated or because I wanted people to shake my hand and say thanks.  I swore my oath in the belief that it was the best way for me to serve a purpose in life far greater than myself.

The Oath of Enlistment has had a few revisions over the centuries.  On June 14, 1775, the then Continental Congress approved the oath to read:

“I _____ have, this day, voluntarily enlisted myself, as a soldier, in the American continental army, for one year, unless sooner discharged: And I do bind myself to conform, in all instances, to such rules and regulations, as are, or shall be, established for the government of the said Army.”

On September 20, 1776, it was revised again to:

“I _____ swear (or affirm as the case may be) to be trued to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies opposers whatsoever; and to observe and obey the orders of the Continental Congress, and the orders of the Generals and officers set over me by them.”

On September 29, 1789, the oath was changed again, this time under the Constitution and was split into two separate statements to read:

“I, A.B., do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) that I will support the constitution of the United States.”

“I, A.B., do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and to observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States of America, and the orders of the officers appointed over me.”

In 1960 an amendment changed the oath for the last time, to include a statement on God.  This infiltration of religiosity, was common between 1940 and 1960 as a part of anti-communist propaganda.  Such statements found their way into the Pledge of Allegiance, as well as on all American currency.  Rendered effective as of 1962, the oath now reads:

“I, (______________), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

The reality is our nation’s sense of patriotism has long been poisoned by political statements and propaganda, culminating in vitriol nationalism.  Identity politics now frames our political landscape and is our nation’s newest form patriotic subjugation.

Nationalism, the zealous pride in one’s nation of origins and a belief in its superiority, is now a tool used by political entities to attain agendas.  The American people in this way are puppets, being pulled in one direction or another based on the desires of the players on the political field, and we unfortunately and mistakenly believe this to be representative democracy.

Though touted as the pinnacle of a patriot, nationalism is far from the purity it is often rendered and is not the same as patriotism.  Instead it is often used as a weapon for political or even ethnic statements that divide rather than unite.

We now live in globalized interconnected communities.  The events that take place halfway around the world, now quickly impact every other nation invested in it, whether that be economically or politically.  Natural resources through sales, traded goods through import and export, cooperation in international infrastructure, international travel, political alliances and peace-keeping, all of these things affect every global community involved.

Nationalism has not only impacted American politics and the way in which the United States interacts with the international community, but it has also found its way into the personal lives of American citizens and alters the way in which they see their neighbors and how they approach controversial topics.

One of those topics is police brutality.  With both civilians being shot by police and police being killed by civilians, these incidents find their way onto the front page of any city’s newspaper and the headline news on any network.  While not true for all Americans, many U.S. citizens are divided into two camps; one side arguing that the militarization of police forces since September 11, 2001 and racial discrimination have both led to a rise in the use of extreme force and thus police brutality, and the other side arguing that a rise in civilian hostility, disrespect, and resistance to cooperation with police has led to an increase in violent conflicts between police officers and civilians.

So what’s true here?  Which side is right about what’s happening?  From what I can tell, both are right and both are wrong.  This topic is far more complicated than most American’s are willing to think about.  British philosopher Bertrand Russell put it beautifully, “Most people would rather die than think, in fact, they do so.”

Emotional responses are the key factor in how Americans chose to view a topic, which is the absolute worst way to draw any conclusion on any topic.  Emotions are intended for personal relationships between people, and it is there that those emotions should remain.  Bringing emotions into topics such as politics and social order, is both disingenuous and unintelligent.  How you feel about a topic does not determine truth or rationality, it only causes people to extrapolate false beliefs.

I’m going to give you an example of how an emotional response dilutes a person’s ability to discern between truth and bias opinion.  According to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, and the Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted Report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Washington Post, for every one police officer in the U.S. killed in a violent altercation with a civilian, 19 civilians have been shot by police.  So again that’s a ratio of one police officer killed for every 19 civilians shot.

Looking solely at that ratio, one quickly thinks that the statistics show that police kill more civilians than civilians kill officers.  So if you’re inclined to believe that police brutality is an endemic problem in America, then your bias opinion is supported by this data.

However, like all important issues, nothing can be explained so easily.  The first question you should have asked yourself when reading the data I provided above is “What about population?”  Yes, population matters, because there are far more civilians in the United States than there are police officers.  Let’s look at those numbers.

According to the U.S. government, there are some 325 million Americans and according to the Uniform Crime Reporting Program and the Annual Survey of Public Employment and Payroll, there were about 983,671 employees at police stations across the country in 2012.  It’s important to note that these reports looked at employees, and not strictly at those in uniform.  According to the FBI’s Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted Report, there were 724,690 uniformed police officers serving across the country in 2013, the last time any source had access to this data.

The number of police officers in the United States has been steadily increasing.  In 1975 there were 411,000, in 1985 there were 470,678, in 1995 there were 586,756, and in 2005 there were 683,965.  That’s an average increase of 78,423 every ten years from 1975 to 2013.

Let’s look at the incidents involving civilian and police violence.  According to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, an average of 50 police officers each year for the last four years (2013 – 2016) have been killed in violent altercations with civilians.  These deaths include shootings, knife attacks, beatings, and strangulations.

The Washington Post and The Guardian are currently the only known complete sources of data on how many people have been killed by the police.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation has stated that they do not keep track of this data other than what is voluntarily reported by police stations, which I find to be absurd and astounding.  Never the less, the politically left-leaning Washington Post keeps track of civilians shot by police based on police reports, public sources, and news reports.  On average in 2015 and 2016, there were 979 civilians shot by police each year.

As of September 6th, there have been 684 so far this year (2017), which is on track with the previous two year records.  The Washington Post also breaks down their data to include factors such as age, race, and gender of the civilian, if the civilian was known to have a mental illness, if the civilian had a weapon, if there was police body cam footage, etc.  You can access this data for 2017 and find links for the data from 2015 and 2016 at this link.

Now that we have our numbers lets take population into account.  If there were an average of 50 police officers killed by civilians each year from 2013 – 2016 and the average number of police officers serving from 2010 – 2013 is 719,853 then that equates to a percentage of 0.007% of police officers had been killed by civilians.

If the federal data is correct and there are roughly some 325 million Americans, and the Washington Post’s data of 979 civilians dying each year from being shot by police is accurate, then that equates to a percentage of 0.0003% of American civilians being shot by police.

According to these calculations you are more likely to die at the hands of a civilian if you are a police officer, than you are to die at the hands of a police officer if you are a civilian.

Unfortunately this isn’t everything you need to know.  The issue is yet even more complicated.  While half of all civilians who die at the hands of police are racially white and the other half a collective of racial minorities, when you take the demographics of population into account, you learn that African Americans are being shot and killed 2.5 times more frequently than white Americans.  Even though African Americans make up only 13% of the total U.S. population, they make up 26% of the people killed by police.

Things get even more complicated when you take into consideration that nearly 50% of all convicted murderers in the U.S. are African Americans, but are also much more likely to be the victims of violent crime than any other race, and also the victims of assailants of the same race (black on black violence).  African Americans, along with Hispanics, are more likely to be harassed and experience the use of force by police than white Americans.  This type of force includes firearms pointed at them, being handcuffed without arrest, being pepper-sprayed, hit with a baton, and tasered.

You can read a report on racial differences in the use of police force in this publication by Roland Fryer Jr., a professor of Economics at Harvard University.

As you can see from the data provided that coming to any conclusion is difficult to do and that you cannot look at this issue or any other issue from just one side.  Nationalism is a distortion of the truth, a bias filter through which those with a political agenda see the nation and our social issues, as well as encourage others to see them.  There must come a day when the majority of Americans stop seeking confirmation bias and stop living in silos of political identity.  We all must become harbingers of evidential truth, see the nation and world as they truly are, set aside false beliefs, shake off delusions and biased opinions.

“Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.” – Margaret Wheatley


This writing is available as an audio track on SoundCloud:

The Middle Way and the Turning of the Wheel

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The Middle Way and the Turning of the Wheel:
A Brief Examination of Buddhism

I began reading about Buddhism and its three main branches of traditions and the many lineages and schools of thought within each, when I was only a teenager.  Though all descend from the teachings of the first Buddha, who was born Siddhartha Gautama, the lineages of traditions in our world today are quite different from one another.

The oldest and the smallest of the main branches of Buddhism, according to the population of adherents, is known as Theravada (pronounced Taar-Ravada), which means School of the Elders, and is mostly found in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and other parts of Southeast Asia.  Theravada is mostly practiced through the monastic lifestyle as it is very orthodox in its tenets and beliefs.

The largest and second oldest branch of Buddhism is known as Mahayana (pronounced My-E-Yawna), a word meaning the Great Vehicle, which refers to the particular method taught to adherents in their path to enlightenment.  Though the highest populations of practitioners is in Asia, many people around the world practice this version of Buddhism through one of eight schools or lineages.

The second largest and most esoteric is known as Vajrayana (Vatch-Ree-Yawna) and includes the well-known Tibetan Buddhist leader the 14th Dalai Lama.  Vajrayana emerged from Mahayana sometime between the 3rd and 13th centuries, carrying along with it a worship of deities that are heavily influenced by ancient Indian beliefs.

Things get complicated within each of these branches of Buddhism, as they all have many sub-branches and schools of tradition within them and lineages of teachers.  Sometimes these lineages are passed down from father to son, sometimes they are passed on to revered students, or the helm may be passed on to believed reincarnations of previous teachers through a process known as divination, where they are enthroned with a title.  This divination process is how Tibetan Buddhist leader Tenzin Gyatso earned the title of the 14th Dalai Lama.

Because both Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhism emerged from Mahayana, both traditions are also influenced by Yogic and Tantra practices from India.  Tibetan Buddhism is one of the most well-known traditions of Buddhism in the West, in all there are seven different schools within this tradition alone.  Shambhala Buddhism, which was officially established and is currently led by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the son of famed spiritual leader Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, is a well known tradition of Buddhism in the United States and Canada.

Rinpoche, pronounced Rin-Po-Shay, is a title meaning honorable.  Along with other titles within Buddhism, it’s given to those who have reached a high level of understanding and respect within various lineages of the branches of Buddhism.  Titles can be given by birth, experience, status as a reincarnated teacher, or be granted by those of a higher ranking out of admiration or respect.  Other titles within Buddhism include Lama, Tulku, Karmapa, Dorje, Roshi, Thich, just to name a few.

It was during the study of Zen Buddhism, another sub-branch of Mahayana, that I came to know Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen monk who greatly impacted my life.  Most Zen Buddhists do not worship deities through mantras or yoga, but instead place a lot of attention on being mindful of every moment of life.  Through Koans, which are phrases or questions from Zen Masters, students meditate on the lessons or meanings intended, essentially forcing them to think abstractly about the world and about life.

I also studied Nichiren, pronounced Nee-Chee-Ren, Buddhism which originated during the 13th century in Japan by a monk of the same name.  The practitioners of this tradition place a lot of value on chanting the mantra Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, a mantra derived from the Lotus Sutra.

Mantras are essentially just like prayers spoken by followers of the Abrahamic religions, but depending on which tradition of Buddhism you adhere to, the value, purpose or intention behind these mantras can change.  By this I mean that some mantras are chanted with the equal intention of Christian or Muslim prayer, by which the devotee is hoping that a Buddhist deity will hear his or her pleas or praise.  In other traditions no such belief exists and mantras are solely meant to raise the mindfulness of the practitioner, to reach higher levels of clarity and peace.  Mantras can be chanted aloud, repeated below the breath as a part of mindful breathing, and can be counted by using a Mala.

Malas are the Buddhist version of prayer beads, similar to the rosary in Catholicism, the lestovka in Old Orthodox Christianity, japa beads in Hindu and Yogic traditions, and the misbaḥah used in some sects of Islam.  The mala can come in various sizes, styles, and the number of beads can very, though the most common is 108 beads.  The number 8 represents the Ashtamangala, a collection of gifts received by Siddhartha Gautama after he reached enlightenment (nirvana), but are also considered auspicious symbols in other religions in and around India.  These symbols in no specific order include the conch, a pair of goldfish (sometimes Koi), the eternal knot, the sacred lotus, a vase, a parasol, victory banner, and the Dharma wheel.  Each item holds a specific meaning that varies within each Indian religion.

Like all other world religions, Buddhism has several sacred texts, known within the traditions as the Pali Canon and the Sutras.  The Pali Canon is the teachings of the first Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama and his disciples and scholars, in a collection of ancient writings recorded in their original Indian language of Pali.  They were recorded sometime in the year 29 BC by the Fourth Buddhist Council in Sri Lanka, 454 years after the death of Siddhartha.  Prior to being recorded in text, these teachings were spread by spoken memory, recited aloud by those who had managed to memorize the teachings.

The Sutras on the other hand came later, covering a span of two hundred to four hundred years later and containing more than two thousand texts.  The most well known sutras are the Lotus Sutra, the Heart Sutra, and the Diamond Sutra.  Reading from the Pali Canon or the Sutras, you quickly learn that the tone of these documents are much different than the Holy Bible or the Qur’an.  The reason for this is the man or his disciples from whom the texts were transcribed from.  Siddhartha Gautama never believed himself a prophet, nor a demi-god, he was merely a man who found his way to nirvana, an inner peace found through complete separation from the self.

The teachings of Buddhism are complex and vast.  Different traditions practice different variations and interpretations of these teachings.  For any young monk joining a monastery within any of the three main branches of Buddhism, awaits a life long journey of reading, learning, and practicing, which includes memorizing the particular branch’s interpretation of the Buddha’s teachings, along with any other teachings of venerated individuals who followed the life of the Buddha.

Though over-simplified, one could hold the Four Noble Truths and Eight-Fold Path as the core teachings of Buddhism.  The Four Noble Truths which came from Siddhartha himself, teach the following:

  1. In the cycle of life, known as samsara, there is suffering and a student of Buddhism must acknowledge this suffering in himself and all others.
  2. A student must come to understand this suffering, to discern its origins; where it came from, why it arose, etc.
  3. Because the suffering has a source, it must also have an ending.  Therefore, a student must discover what is the cessation of suffering.
  4. Once discovered, a student must practice and attain the end of suffering within himself, and go out into the world and assist others in the ending of their suffering.

While these four truths may seem really simple and easy to understand, there is a whole lot more to each of these lessons than I could put into an article.  The question of what is defined by suffering is debated within the branches of Buddhism and within the sub-branches of each of them.  How to go about ending whatever definition of suffering you ascertain is another topic of disagreement.  And whether or not a student should concern themselves with ending the suffering of others and not focusing solely on his own liberation from the self (nirvana/enlightenment) is a major divide between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism.

It was once believed that only the most devout adherents of the Buddha’s teachings, those who followed the most orthodox tenets and practices, could ever reach nirvana, and that this path was intended for only those who led a strict monastic lifestyle.  This is what caused the break in Theravada Buddhism, as some practitioners disagreed with this and concluded that the common people could also reach enlightenment.  From this disagreement arose the Mahayana tradition, the Great Vehicle by which many could follow the path to enlightenment.

The Eight-Fold Path is a breakdown of the Four Noble Truths, essentially a guide from the first Buddha on how to live a life that will lead a student to enlightenment.  It is a collection of practices that reinforce moral and ethical behavior, the practice of meditation, and the understanding required to release an attachment to the self, which is often the source of suffering and the impediment to nirvana.  The Eight-Fold Path includes the following insights:

  1. Right View:  Attain moral perception, ethical behavior, and realize the consequences of the accumulation of karma.
  2. Right Intention:  Enact the renunciation of the ego, of negative or harmful action, addictions, habits, desires, and thoughts.
  3. Right Speech:  Speak and embrace the truth, uphold your integrity.
  4. Right Action:  Embrace nonviolence, uphold dignity, compassion, and loving kindness.
  5. Right Livelihood:  Practice non-attachment, be minimalist, turn from greed and living in excess, serve others, and give to those in need.
  6. Right Effort:  Be honorable in your thoughts and your actions with others.
  7. Right Mindfulness:  Become mindful of the interconnections of everything.
  8. Right Concentration:  Practice meditation, transcend the self, reach enlightenment.

Siddhartha Gautama gave many teachings during his lifetime to those who would listen, but there are three that stand out in Buddhist literature.  These lectures consisted of the Four Noble Truths, the detachment from the ego and the embrace of the practice of compassion, and the realization that each human has their own Buddha nature.  He gave them after he reached nirvana under a Bodhi tree, and each is called the turnings of the Dharma Wheel.  The Dharma Wheel represents time, life, and the cycle of samsara (suffering).  With every lecture he gave, Siddhartha is said to have turned the wheel, setting into motion the events that could lead Buddhists to finding an end to suffering and thus nirvana.  The eight spokes of the Dharma Wheel represent the eight core teachings of Siddhartha through his Eight-Fold Path.

Go here to find recommended reading on Buddhism.

To learn more about my journey out of Christianity and into Buddhism, Pantheism, and Taoism, follow this link.

 


Identity Politics and the Slow Death of the American Moral Landscape

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Identity Politics and the Slow Death of the American Moral Landscape

I used to watch Fox News, and then I switched to CNN, and then I stopped watching network channels for daily news and commentary because they are all so heavily biased towards the political right or the political left, and everything they report is filtered to favor those specific political leanings.  However, we’ve reached a point in our nation’s history when avoiding major news networks is no longer enough to skirt the biases of political loyalists.

Television media, internet media, newspapers, blog sites, everything has now become silos of confirmation bias.  The New York Times, for all its respect as a long standing American newspaper is very much a politically left-leaning sounding board.  I have no doubt in my mind that respectable news sources such as it are indeed honestly attempting to be truthful in their reporting, but I also know that every story and op-ed is flavored in such a way to appeal to the political left.  The New York Post on the other hand is politically right-leaning, and therefore, its articles and op-eds will find favor with those who identify with right-wing politics.

In the past year I have become increasingly aware of political biases, both those of others and of my own.  I have found it to be incredibly interesting and useful to look critically at my own perspectives and beliefs about American politics.  This is difficult to do without a median or a center to judge everything else from.  I have found that emotional responses are often times what drive people to be politically biased towards conservative or liberal politics.  People on both sides of this teeter-totter of American political leanings are very emotional in drawing conclusions about topics, discerning between them as good or bad, right or wrong.

These emotional responses are so strong that both sides will effectively ignore any contradictory data, and favor whatever coincides with their beliefs or emotional desires.  This is called confirmation bias.  This emotion-based political response is dangerous, as both sides continuously force each other further and further apart, dividing the tapestry of American honesty in a way I have never experienced before.

I say American honesty because often times people become disingenuous due to their perceived loyalty to their political party or political identity, foregoing rational interpretations of data and facts.  Favoring instead the interpretations of others whom they perceive to be on their own political team and echo their own beliefs and interpretations.  This is called the silo effect, basically meaning that people will only listen to or believe those they perceive to be on their own team (within the silo), never accepting information from those perceived as others (sources outside their silo).

I think it’s fair to say that I grew up in a conservative environment, and most of the people around me identified as conservative and would vote overwhelmingly Republican.  Despite this, I grew up politically left-leaning, and remain so even as some 75% to 85% of the people I currently know and find myself surrounded by are either self-identified Republicans, conservatives, or at the least prefer to vote conservatively.

Due to identity politics, my statement that I’m left-leaning will imply in the minds of many that they already know all of my political leanings.  In reality, however, this statement is not true.  In fact, I am against late-term abortion and find it morally unjustifiable, and I support the right to bear arms.

Being left-leaning and being surrounded by right-leaning influences has forced me to look at things differently than I used to.  These past ten or so years have really shown me that identity politics are dangerous, counter-productive, divisive, misleading, dishonest, and should generally be unacceptable.  Party affiliation and the belief that a person must always be either liberal or conservative, has taken our nation down a dark road that makes me fear for our future.  We keep slamming between two extremes that’s breaking the fundamental foundation of neutrality upon which any rational nation’s government stability depends.

We can no longer rely on the politics of identity, we must break from this addiction to left vs. right.  Reason, logic, evidence, rational thought, these things may not sate our emotional leanings, desires, impulses, beliefs, but it’s exactly what this nation needs.  How you feel about a topic, is far less important than the truth behind the topic.  It’s really hard for people to move forward in this way because they desperately want to lead with their emotions, but their emotions are ruining America.

When a crime scene investigator approaches the location of a murder she doesn’t begin drawing conclusions by what she hears other people say, what her heart or gut tells her, or even by what she initially sees.  She’s got to do research, figure out what is real and what is not, determine where bits of evidence came from, what value it holds, whether or not it has anything to do with the case, test everything, and form her conclusion based solely on what can be proven and is undeniable.  Sometimes her conclusions supports the detectives initial arrest, and who the victim’s family believes to be guilty of the crime, but sometimes it proves the detective’s and the public’s opinion to be wrong.  She is a servant of truth, evidence, facts, not of beliefs, desires, hearsay, or emotions.

Research into neurology has shown that people’s political leanings are not based solely on their environment, but also on the formation of their brain.  In other studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging¹, which detects activity in different areas of the brain, researchers have shown that the areas of the brain that light up on the screen when exposed to political triggers are the same areas of the brain associated with reactions to religion and favorite sports teams.

This means that biases regarding politics, religion, and sports are centered in the same areas of the brain affiliated with tribalism.  In the same study, participants were subjected to images belonging to or representative of the same political party, religion, or sports team, and in some cases were presented with images or videos of people representing the same political, religious, or athletic affiliation in a negative or dangerous situation.  In each instance, the participants showed an empathetic or favorable neurological response to those they believed themselves to be politically, religiously, or athletically affiliated with (in-group) and less concern or even a negative response to those they didn’t affiliate with (out-group).

Despite someone’s personal desires or opinions, despite their religious or cultural influences, I think it is critically important to evaluate the conclusions a person draws on political matters.  I think the biggest problem with people and politics in our country today is not just tribalism, but that people are incredibly selfish and ego-driven.  They focus on what they want way too much.  Everything they think about revolves around them and what they want, with little to no concern about anyone else.  And this goes for both sides of the political duality in our nation.

This duality, this division, has fueled tribalism in America and a desire to surround yourself with people you identify with; people who look like you, talk like you, and think like you.  It creates opportunities for confirmation bias, and the silo effect.  In general, people hate questioning themselves and the the perceptions they have about life and the world around them.  They do not like to doubt what they believe in, not even in the face of overwhelming counter-evidence.  Even compromise has become damned by identity politics because it means people can’t have it all, and that’s exactly what people want: everything.

Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals, there is a fundamental problem with all of these, a problem that has poisoned our politics in a way that it has been met with the consequence of the election of Donald Trump.  This battle between two sides of the same coin is making Americans blind, angry, vengeful, rigid, distasteful, unapproachable, and has been slowly destroying the American moral landscape.  A bird cannot fly when each wing is trying to out-flap the other, the only outcome is to plummet to its death.

Why the American people, and the politicians they elect, insist upon living in this way is beyond me.  I’ve always been a very analytical person, contemplating things constantly from many angles, and reconsidering my conclusions when faced with the evidence that grants justification to do so.  I have foolishly lived my life with the belief that other people are also willing to do the same.  I now fully realize that this is not true, and that in fact, many Americans have fallen victim to delusion and living in the narrative of “This vs. That,” “Us vs. Them,” “Right vs. Wrong,” “Good vs. Evil.”

A part of tribalism is the blame game.  Each side wants to blame the other for perceived wrongs and each is convinced that if the other group is silenced or removed then everything will be great.  If we keep this up, there will be no United States, only divided sovereign states.  Despite what we convince ourselves to be true, we will not always get what we want.  There is no perfect.  There must be compromise, there must be give and take on both sides, this is how rational people function.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of subjects and opinions in American conversation today and pay attention to if or when my statements trigger emotional responses in you:

1. Donald Trump

a.) Donald Trump and his administration want to destroy America.

b.) Donald Trump and his administration want to make America great again.

2. Abortion

a.) Abortion should never be viewed as murder and women should have the right to choose.

b.) Abortion is murder and the baby has a right to life.

3. Immigration

a.) Immigrants fleeing war torn countries need to be rescued and always enhance the culture in the United States.

b.) Immigrants fleeing war torn countries only pose a risk for the American people.

If you believe any of the above statements to always be true or always be false, then you’re a victim of political identity.  You’ve been groomed by either liberals or conservatives to believe either one side or the other.  Yes, this means that both A and B statements in all three topics listed above are nothing but political biases, none of which are factual statements.  They are emotional responses, and in reality these topics are far more complex and far heavier than most Americans are willing to accept and engage in.

This American narrative of black and white understanding, and by that I mean this delusional ideology that everything can be so simply broken into two sides of debate, is intellectual suicide, if not at the least shamefully ignorant.  Many of the other topics in our nation today have been diluted into this same delusional thinking: topics such as gun rights, freedom of speech, economics and trade, terrorism, racism, all of them propagated by the political divisiveness of both Democrats and Republicans who ride the wave of political extremism through far-left liberalism and far-right conservatism.

We have two political parties that oppose everything the other supports, constantly trying to take political jabs at one another and force legislation or executive orders that have absolutely nothing to do with our nation’s actual progress; we have a presidential administration with fake nationalism that takes every opportunity to incite political division; media outlets that plug articles to favor their political leanings; and an American people who are misled, used, morally abused, deeply and emotionally troubled, angry, resentful, paranoid, and sometimes justifiably convinced that other people are out to get them.

We have people on both ends of the political spectrum who see the other as less than human.  They do this because it’s easy to hate or talk down about someone that they view as less than human, as below them or not worthy of their respect or dignity.  This dehumanization of fellow countrymen, this ostracization of neighbors is grotesque and destructive.

In these troubled times we must start thinking independently of the agendas of corporations who choose themselves over people, independently of the agendas of political parties and special-interest groups, and we must turn against financial influence, tribalism and our knee-jerk emotional reaction to politics.

Compromise is the only answer to disagreement.  Shouting louder, hitting harder, threats, destruction, violence, these are the things children do, not grown adults.  The moral landscape of America has been tarnished, our dignity and integrity run ragged, our values tossed into the wind, and we have thrown ourselves down the steps of human progress in retaliation of alleged wrongs committed against us.

With shame for our child-like temper tantrum, and with a bloody lip, we need to get up, dust ourselves off, set aside our unfounded opinions, face the truth of the matter, let go of our ego, accept differences, find common goals, and work towards a better tomorrow, one step at a time.


¹Neural Correlates of Maintaining One’s Political Beliefs in the Face of Counter-evidence

¹The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief 

This writing is available as an audio track on SoundCloud:

The Thousand Year Journey

 

The Thousand Year Journey

Jedidiah Jenkins offers up some inspiring wisdom for those of us seeking deeper meaning in life:

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His Empty Soul

 

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His Empty Soul:

How to Heal a Broken Man

 

There are only a few things every man needs in his life to feel as though he’s living the most fulfilled life that he can.

The first critical thing every man needs is a sense of belonging.  When we’re young and in grade school, we’re surrounded by other boys our own age and it’s generally easy to make friends.  In college we are again in a situation where we are surrounded by other young men and are given many opportunities to socialize, join activity groups, attend special interest clubs, try out for team sports, or join a fraternity.  Then we graduate and adult life happens, and overtime we become more and more physically distant from the guys we met in grade school and in college.

For those who never attend college, this awakening happens at a younger age.  In either case, men begin to realize that maintaining a circle of male friends becomes a lot more difficult.  Time, distance, immediate family, these are all factors that break down male friendships as we grow older.

Once in the workforce, most men find an opportunity to make new male friends to supplement those they have lost from childhood and their teenage years.  Though the workplace can be beneficial, there’s also the issue of competition for promotion that hinders trust and the filtering of just how much information you share with coworkers, or at the least those guys eventually quit and get a job elsewhere, and before you know it the new circle you were building has been broken.

It’s at this point in a man’s life that he loses that critical first factor in leading a fulfilling life: fellowship.  Men have evolved to function in groups and whether or not this pack mentality is established and maintained can mean the difference between leading a positive life or a negative one.

Women or possibly even some men, may laugh off such a claim, but take any athlete who participates in a team sport or any service member who functions as part of a squad or unit, and remove them from that group.  Very quickly they become consumed by a sense of loss and even guilt.  Not being able to support their group or team, takes away a man’s sense of self-worth and belonging.  Being part of a group and knowing his place within it, are essential to a man’s life.

Second, he needs to be healthy, and I mean that in the physical and mental sense.  Every man needs to get and keep his body in the best physical shape he can be in.  Being physically fit is important not only for the sake of his physical health, but also his mental health.  Confidence, something that’s crucial for any man, stems from being positive about how he looks on the outside and his sense of inner well-being.  Challenging himself through various forms of exercise grants a man a sense of accomplishment, as well as allowing him to vent built up frustrations.

The third critical component needed for every man to lead a fulfilled life is purpose.  Purpose can come in various forms, from spiritual faith to believing in the work he does.  Whatever purpose he finds it must grant him the feeling that he’s involved in something far greater than himself and that what he’s doing makes a difference.  A man who loses his sense of purpose, quickly loses his way through life.

The loss of any of these three critical pieces can lead a man to ruin.  From physical illness to depression, a man can quickly find himself falling apart when he’s not able to attain or maintain social bonds, health, and purpose.  Of these three things, I believe the most important is the first one: social bonds.  Without having fellowship, a pack, a brotherhood, a sense of belonging with other males, a man will often not have the willpower to attempt either of the other two.

What happens to a man when he loses his sense of fellowship?  Initially he will attempt to replace it with his romantic relationship, such as with a girlfriend or wife.  However, he will begin to realize that their are certain things he’s not comfortable talking about with his female partner because either he doesn’t want to worry her, he doesn’t want to appear weak, or because he doesn’t feel as though she will understand.

It’s at this point that men fall into a dangerous circumstance.  Male bonding can be complicated due to issues of trust, loyalty, honesty, value, honor, sacrifice, among many other things.  It often takes long periods of time for males to bond closely enough that two men or a group of men can move beyond acquaintances or normal friendship and into the spectrum of close friendship.  The ultimate goal of course is to create that pack mentality, a brotherhood.

There is only one way to speed up this process and that’s through suffering.  When men endure something together or share in the same suffering, they bond more quickly.  Not only does it cause them to bond more quickly, they also bond more deeply.  Enduring hardship, especially if they help each other through that shared hardship, forges mental and emotional connections between men that would otherwise take years to create, and once forged will take a lot to break.

So what happens to a man when he fails to forge these bonds with another male or males?  That vacancy in his life begins as a small void, a feeling that something is missing, and then it begins to grow over time.  Eventually that emptiness swells and starts to interfere with all other aspects of his life, methodically breaking down everything that he’s tried to build up, leading to depression and possibly suicide.

These men can experience many different negative feelings, such as feeling abandoned, unwanted, useless, ignored, they may also feel as though they are a burden or a failure, have low self-esteem and lack confidence, feel fatigued or lack motivation.  They tend to believe that no one wants to listen to them or talk to them, they can feel a sense of desperation, loneliness, sadness, as though their life does not matter.

The consequences of these things will bleed out into the rest of their lives, hampering their romantic relationships or even leading to their end.  It can affect family life through increased hostility, irritability, loss of patience, loss of interest, etc.  It can also affect job performance or social interactions at work.

While some men are more susceptible to these consequences than others, all men have that innate desire to bond with other males, even if it ends up being just two guys instead of a larger group.  In a world where we have more social tools at our fingertips than ever before, it has actually become more difficult for men to fully connect to one another.  Sports is one of the few ways that has consistently given men the opportunity to bond as the centuries have gone by and our way of life has changed.  Though men no longer need to form hunting groups, that sense of fellowship has not gone away and needs to be sustained throughout life.

For the men who find themselves without that sense of belonging, they shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed, many other men feel exactly the same way and are either unable to find the words to talk about it or are unwilling to openly discuss it.  For those who have been lucky enough to not yet experience it, you will recognize other men who are going through it by their behavior.

These men are eager to socialize with other men whom they believe they can have a connection with, either through a shared interest or hobby.  They will regularly try to set up social events or invite you to participate in an activity.  If you exchange contact info they may message you frequently or may pull you into long conversations.  Sometimes the guy may be willing to trust you enough to be open and honest about what he’s going through and other times he may act as though everything is great in fear of appearing weak or vulnerable in front of another male.

In my experiences, those who have felt the pain from a lack of fellowship for long enough, are always keeping an eye out for another guy whom they believe they can relate to.  Once they find another male they will try to build a friendship and during this process they will likely not hold back what they’ve been going through and what they are hoping to achieve through that friendship.

If you are on the receiving end of this type of communication you must be patient and understanding with them, as they are truly in a fragile state where you may very well be the only thing that stands between them and severe depression or worse.  If they trust you enough, they will try to talk to you about how they’ve been feeling.  They may describe it as a sense of being lost or not having motivation, others may describe it as feeling alone, or empty inside.

If they are in a romantic relationship they may express frustration that their girlfriend or wife does not listen to them, or care about the things they like to do, or that she doesn’t respond to them emotionally.  A lot of people think that women are always the ones who feel cut off from the their male partners, but just as many men also feel emotionally rejected by their female partners.

At the point where he feels comfortable enough to share these things with you, then he’s displayed a certain level of trust that can easily be built upon.  As time goes on and the two of you talk about these types of issues and share experiences through activities, the bonding process will be self-evolving.  To really galvanize the bonding process, incorporate the second and third components mentioned above.

By participating in physical activities such as going to the gym or joining a team and playing sports, the connection between you and he will grow deeper and stronger, not to mention it will improve both his physical and mental well-being as well as yours.  You should also consider going on a guys-only trip together, maybe start an annual fishing excursion.  Anything that gives you time and opportunity to bond.

Get involved in some sort of volunteer work, perhaps mentoring or tutoring, assist at a homeless shelter, or if you both have a religious interest you can attend the same church, temple, synagogue, mosque, etc, or take on any type of community involvement or secular educational activity that gives the both of you a sense of purpose and meaning.

Once all three core pieces are attained you will have not only saved the guy from being trapped in emotional darkness, but you will have also found fulfillment within your own life.


 

The Choice That Never Was

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The Choice That Never Was

I wanted to believe that my work of writing about this topic had since passed and that I would never again have to write in defense of it, of us, of the nature of our being.  Unfortunately we still live in a world where there are people who still do not understand us, that still have false beliefs about who and what we are, where we come from, and the things we have faced in our youth, all consequences we never chose.

Choice, that is the subject matter of this article and it is in reference to those of us who belong to the LGBT community.  For the past 20 years, human sexuality has been a constant topic of interest for me.  For the past 10 years it has been a topic of research, reading, writing, and conversation as well.

Over the last two decades I have occasionally encountered the belief that members of the LGBT become lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender by choice.  That they also choose to have feelings, both emotional and sexual, towards members of the same gender.  Typically this opinion comes from those who are very unfamiliar on the topic, but whom sometimes feel the need to be vocal about their opinion anyway.  They are also usually politically conservative and religious.

Engaging these people in conversation can often lead to a breakdown of their tightly held belief, particularly when you swap the words lesbian, gay, and bisexual with the word straight.  To counter question if straight people make the conscious choice to be straight, as opposed to any other sexuality, has generally been enough to silence or even alter the mindset of the proponents I have met who held this belief.

I used this very argument about ten years ago, when I had befriended the most religiously conservative person I have ever met in my life.  I have written about him several times before, and as always I will not reveal his identity for the sake of his privacy.  In this article I will refer to him as “Dylan.”

Dylan admitted that he had never exchanged any meaningful conversation with anyone who identified with the LGBT before, he had never taken the time to listen to or read information from someone of my community, as he never felt inclined to do so.  He did, however, have opinions about the LGBT that he formed from religious scripture, his parents, friends, conservative talk show hosts, and other such conservatively bias sources.

The very nature of his perception was based solely on this determination:  that gay people have sex with other people of the same gender.  Beyond that he knew nothing else aside from the far left political positions of the LGBT.  I remember distinctly the moment he realized that the personal lives of the lesbians, gays, and bisexuals did not center solely around same-gender sex.  He bluntly remarked, “I had no idea love was involved.”

Not even for a moment did he consider that two men or two women could actually love each other and that it was a central factor in same-sex relationships.  That concept was just not even on his radar of possibilities because the sources that led to his opinion never offered him that possibility.  Dylan was not a bad person, he was not intentionally forming negative beliefs about the LGBT, he simply never found himself in a situation where he was learning from someone in the community.

He wasn’t the only person learning things during our conversations, I was learning things too.  About how his perspective was formed, why he held certain opinions, where he was getting his information, what people, books, and media sources had built up a veil through which he viewed something he had no firsthand experience with.  By seeing and understanding the barrier between us, we figured out how to cross it.

The barriers are like walls or trenches, dividing people who could otherwise learn a great deal about one another and often times come out the other side as both better people.  These trenches are dug by misinformation, misunderstanding, lack of desire to learn, preconceived notions, tightly held false beliefs, fear, lies, and even self-hatred.

Dylan once asked me why I wanted to like other men.  It was quite possibly the strangest question he had ever asked me.  Where he had drawn the conclusion that I had wanted to be emotionally and physically attracted to other men was befuddling to me.  Why would he think that?  How did he come to the belief that I chose to like other men?

Not knowing the best way to answer his question, I decided to ask him the same thing.  Why did he decide to like women?  He replied that he didn’t decide, it just happened over time, he discovered that he was attracted to girls and as he grew older he felt drawn to know and learn more and more about them both emotionally and sexually.  He found himself developing feelings for certain girls he met, a powerful attraction that compelled him to pursue them.

I explained to Dylan that his answer was the same type of answer any LGBT person will give.  While the source of what causes lesbians, gays, and bisexuals to be attracted to the same gender may still be open for debate, how that attraction works is the same as with straight people.  Most lesbians, gays, and bisexuals realize they are attracted to people of the same gender when they are young.  Some as early as childhood during their pre-teens, but most realize it during adolescence.  Some do so even later during their post-adolescence.  I was eleven years old the first time I realized it.

While it is a little more difficult to put it into this perspective, one could also ask why do you like chocolate?  Why do you like the color blue?  Why do you like the scent of lavender?  The answers to these questions are not easy to convey, but what we know is that whether we like them or not, we never made the conscious choice to do so or not to do so.  We just simply discover a preference, and for those of us who like them, we are simply drawn to them, to experience them and for those who don’t like them, they feel the need to avoid them.  No one chooses to like them and no one chooses to hate them.  No one chooses to be or not be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or straight, we merely discover it.

So is there any kind of choice at all when it comes to human sexuality?  Yes, there is a choice to be made.  The choice to act on the things we feel.  Dylan and I came to this agreement a decade ago, that indeed no one chooses what gender they are emotionally and physically attracted to, but everyone chooses whether or not they want to act out those feelings.

While that statement is absolutely true, it doesn’t mean it’s a positive conclusion.  In fact, while everyone has the free will to not pursue the people they find emotionally and sexually attractive or engage in sexual relations with, the resulting effect on that person for making the choice to abstain is dire.  Just because a straight man may choose not to engage in any kind of intimate relationship with a woman, doesn’t mean he’s no longer straight.  Just because a gay or bisexual man chooses not to engage in any kind of intimate relationship with another man, doesn’t mean he’s no longer gay or bisexual.

Deteriorated mental health is the leading consequence for lesbians and gays who choose to not allow themselves to become romantically and sexually involved with those of the same gender.  A similar effect occurs with heterosexuals who also choose not to engage emotionally or sexually with those of the opposite gender.  Why is this?  It’s likely due to the fact that we are programmed to seek out meaningful, healthy, productive relationships with others.

You do not have to be a member of the LGBT community to know that mental health issues abound for gays and lesbians still inside the proverbial closet, pretending to be and living out their life as though they are straight.  From drug addiction and alcohol abuse, to depression and social anxiety, gays and lesbians face many consequences for choosing not to act on their natural desire to be in same-gender relationships.  Most often this choice is made out of fear, the fear of being rejected by the people in their lives, such as family members, friends, and coworkers.

Sometimes the choice is not one of just fear, but one of hatred.  More specifically self-hatred.  Where this self-hatred spawns from is often different for each individual.  It can be born from a religious belief, from a culturally inherited social belief, or from a self-created perception of what it means to be a man or a woman.  As an example, I’ll use myself.  When I was much younger, I not only refused to accept that I was interested in other guys, I hated the feelings altogether.

Once I realized that I was more than just a little curious about other guys and that in fact I was becoming emotionally drawn to them in a very romantic sense, my fear of being a faggot and others discovering it grew into hatred.  First as a hatred towards gays and lesbians for multiple reasons, and eventually as self-hatred.

It made me angry when I saw people who were obviously gay.  I didn’t want to see gay people, I didn’t want to hear them speak, I didn’t want to be around them or be acknowledged by them.  I hated them because of how they acted, how they dressed, how they talked, I hated that they kissed each other in public, I hated that they held hands, I hated that they thought it was okay to not only have gay feelings but to also act on them.  I saw them as sinful, dirty, disgusting degenerates.  I hated that they were happy and that I wasn’t happy.  I hated that they accepted themselves and each other.  I hated them because they reminded me of the very thing I hated about myself and wanted to dispel from my mind.

Conversion therapy, which attempts to turn gays and lesbians straight by building a mental connection between homosexuality and punishment/negativity, has now been made illegal in several states, counties, and cities across the United States, because it doesn’t actually turn gays and lesbians straight.  What it does instead is give them psychological trauma regarding their sexuality.  Essentially conversion therapy is exactly what I did to myself when I was a kid, I just didn’t need to be shocked by an electric current every time I was exposed to something homoerotic.  Instead I punished myself until I became depressed and mentally unstable, which is exactly what happens to patients who go through conversion therapy.

My futile attempt to get rid of my interest in other men grew from hating gays to hating myself.  Back then, I was still religious and would pray to God to get rid of the feelings for me.  I’d promise Him all of these different things if He would take it away, such as being nicer to my siblings, doing better at school, all these silly things that kids think about.  For years I prayed to be free of this curse and that’s really how I saw it – as a curse.  I didn’t understand why God had made me that way, why He created me as a faggot, but for years I would silently cry myself to sleep worrying about it, scared of it, hating it, hating myself, wishing, praying for it to be taken away.

I would try in vain to not think about it, every time the thoughts would arise when I was around another guy I felt attracted to, I’d try to push them out of my head, try to distract myself from it.  I’d call myself a faggot, tell myself that it was sick and disgusting, that I was a freak, to make the thoughts stop.  It was ridiculously impossible, but I refused to accept that I was some kind of queer.  Every day at school I was put into the situation of seeing or meeting other boys I was attracted to, every night on television there was a good chance I’d see a man I thought was attractive.  Every single day of my life I lived on my own little island of hell, where every moment I fought a losing battle against the nature of my own being.

By the time I reached sixteen, I was incredibly introverted, depressed, and so lost inside my own head, I struggled to live outside myself.  I now look at pictures of me from back in those days and I see so much sadness, so much fear inside of me that I can’t stand to look at those pictures for long.  I wasn’t really a person anymore, a shell of one, a ghost of a person.  Pretending to be someone that I wasn’t just to keep from completely falling apart.  It’s no wonder that I began having suicidal thoughts.  I came to the conclusion that dying was a better idea than accepting homosexual thoughts and feelings, I was convinced that being dead was better than being a faggot.

The first time I planned to kill myself was the summer after my sophomore year of high school.  The only thing that stopped me was fear, the fear of dying alone on a hillside and the thought that everyone would still hate me, not just for having gay feelings, but for choosing to die.  Less than two years later, I began thinking about crashing my truck on purpose to kill myself.  I’d think about it every day on my way to work.  I was 19 the second time that I decided to stop thinking about killing myself and just do it, and I intended to shoot myself when no one else was home.  Before that happened, however, I confessed my feelings to other people and they intervened.

The truth is, no one wants to complete suicide, no one wants to die, they just don’t want to hurt anymore.  It took a lot of self-healing and self-acceptance to stop hating myself, and it took a long time to realize that no matter what I did, I would never stop having feelings for certain individuals of the same-gender and that it was okay to have them.

Now days, when I hear people state the false belief that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals choose to have that attraction to members of the same gender, I am reminded of the horror I went through as a kid.  That opinion insinuates that by choice, I lived through my own hell, when indeed I could have merely made the easy choice not to have an emotional and physical attraction to other members of the same gender if I wanted to.  It truly is absurd and naive, an unfounded belief that has no merit or logic.

I can imagine a young guy or girl, hearing someone say that to them or in their presence and feeling that same sense of fear, anguish, and self-hatred that I once felt.  The thought makes me angry, it makes me angry that anyone could be so unaware of the harm of what they mistakenly believe to be true.  Thoughts and opinions can be dangerous to those who are young and susceptible to the influences of those they look up to or care about.

Young LGBT members complete suicide because they don’t believe anyone would love them for who they know themselves to be.  They are afraid of the thought and opinions of people who speak demoralizing words of ignorance and hatred towards the LGBT.  It is for them that I write this, it has always been for them that I made the choice to ever begin writing at all about my own experiences.  And it’s because I was once just like them, I used to be that kid uncertain if his family would throw him away, if his friends would turn their backs on him, the kid who wondered if anyone cared, if he would ever feel loved and accepted.

On the long dark road of coming to terms with who and what I am, I have lost people along the way.  People that I once cared for, who mattered greatly to me, that I wanted to have in my life forever, to share life experiences with, to make memories with, to bond with emotionally and spiritually.  I lost them because they chose to believe negative and false things about lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people.  They chose to not learn or understand, they chose to not listen or inquire, they chose to not walk a mile in our shoes.

The trench that is dug between us, is never as wide or deep as we believe it to be, and I am convinced that if both sides are willing to talk, to learn about the other side and why they believe what they do and if they are willing to consider their beliefs or opinions might be wrong, then it is possible to live in tolerance and compromise.  Some of the best people I have met, turned out to make the worst choices because of false opinions they held about other people they didn’t know or understand.  But even when you light a fire in the trench and walk away, it doesn’t mean that it can never be crossed.

To read more about human sexuality and what I’ve learned or experienced over the past two decades I recommend these articles: UbiquitousMore Than Just FriendsTransgender in AmericaIn My Own Words


 

This writing is available as an audio track on SoundCloud:

No Arrival, No Destination, Just Being

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No Arrival, No Destination, Just Being

From Thich Nhat Hanh, the venerable Vietnamese monk who strives to live and spread the teachings of Siddartha Gautama, I’ve learned this simple lesson:  There should be no coming, no going, just being.

More than anything else, these past few years have reminded me how much joy can be found in being alone.  There is a major difference in loneliness and aloneness.  Being lonely is an emotional state, being alone is a philosophical state.  One can be alone without an attachment to any particular emotion, or even to no emotion at all.

I used to read stories about people who traveled into the wilderness, or who went off to some retreat in a secluded monastery, etc, to be alone.  To contemplate who they were, why they were, where they spiritually came from, how inexplicably they came into existence, what it meant to be conscious, whether or not there truly is a self, what it means to be alive, what it means to die, and so many more deep philosophical questions.

When I was much younger, I spent a lot of time alone outside, in the woods, wandering.  I’d turn over rocks to investigate what was underneath.  I’d lean in close to flowers to find out if they had a scent and to see what they looked like on the inside.  I’d touch trees to discover what their bark felt like and wondered if they could feel me too.  I’d walk along the creek and watch the water trickle by and reach down to touch its coldness, and try to find any fish swimming beneath the surface.  I’d sit on rocks and stare down into the valley below me, wondering curiously about everything that was me, everything that wasn’t me, and if there really was a difference between the two.

Curiosity, the desire to explore and learn, the contemplation of things outside yourself and inside of you, these are the traits that I would wish to instill in any child.  The distraction of a crowd or the entertainment in company is nice sometimes, but there can be true solace in being alone.  A kind of solace that can shift your perception of life and reality, of virtue and morality, of purpose and meaning.

It seems to me that people these days are too dependent upon constant attention and socialization.  They cannot stand moments of silence or aloneness.  Particularly younger generations who have grown up with online social networks… the knowledge that at least someone else is always out there, just a few short keyboard strokes away.  A stark difference to my own childhood, where if I wandered off into the woods, there was no phone for me to take, no tablet, no source of human interaction or distraction at all but my own mind, and on many occasions my dog.

How sad that it is to me.  How sad it is that people cannot stand to be alone with themselves.  I have become so confounded by youths abrasiveness towards not being constantly entertained or receiving constant attention.  I’ve noticed even in myself the repetitive act of picking up my phone every time it beeps, flashes, or vibrates with some alert from a social application.

Teens and even children these days are always complaining, “I’m bored!” “This is boring!”  When indeed it is not the environment or situation in which they find themselves that’s boring, rather it is they who are boring, it is their chosen behavior and mindset that is boring.

There is always something to do, always something that can be done, and sometimes that something is a moment of quiet contemplation, meditation, self-reflection, or perhaps even just an awareness of one’s surroundings.  There is never a moment when there is literally nothing to do.  The issue is the value placed on thoughts and activities.  To take a page from Nhat Hanh, every tedious action can be extraordinary, if only the person could focus on it.  He often writes of paying attention to the tasks we are completing, even if the task is eating an orange or washing dishes.  No matter how tedious the act, it can be an immersive experience if we just try to be mindful of it.

Often times we as adults don’t even need cell phones to distract us from the more insightful aspects of life.  Indeed we are our own distractions, with our minds constantly being sucked into a vortex of worries, work stress, appointments that need to be made, house work that needs to be done, groceries to add to the list, places we need to be, the time we need to leave.  In this way we become slaves to the coming and going of life, so much so that in our rush going through life, we actually forget to live.

In his lessons, Nhat Hanh teaches us that we shouldn’t get lost in the coming and going of life, that the hurried nature of modern life and particularly of adult life is bad for us and for our kids.  We’re teaching them that life is about constant tasks, constant schedules, constant distractions, constant entertainment, when it absolutely shouldn’t be.  There needs to be breaks in between, moments of solitude, moments of silence, moments of solace.  No arrival, no destination, just being.  Take in the moment, for this moment is the only moment we exist in.


 

This writing is available as an audio track on SoundCloud:

Respect For Living Things

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Respect For Living Things

Not every good person makes good choices.  I spent my childhood obsessively learning about animals, my family can attest to that.  When I borrowed books from the library, the overwhelming odds guaranteed that it was animal related.  I knew more about different animal species than anything else.  Books, television shows, documentary films, I was enthralled by the animal kingdom.  Utterly captivated by all the various forms of life, and it’s why I spent so much of my time in the woods when I was a kid, observing, interacting, and experimenting.

When I learned as a child that there were animals that no longer existed, having gone extinct in the last few centuries, I was devastated.  In just the past one-hundred years we have lost many different animals including the Tasmanian Wolf, the Caspian Tiger, the Formosan Clouded Leopard, the Caribbean Monk Seal, the West African Black Rhinoceros, the Hawaiian Crow, the Yangtze River Dolphin, and the Pinta Tortoise, just to name a few.  There are so many animals that have gone extinct, vanished off the Earth who’s only records of existence are now bones and if we’re lucky old photos or hand-made drawings.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has compiled a “red list” of plants and animals that ranks them by one of nine labels, from those that are of “least concern” to those that are “extinct”.  As of 2016 they have collected data on 849 species of plants, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, fish, cephalopods, mollusca, and insects that have all gone extinct.

Today, there are only three known living Northern White Rhinos on this planet, and they live in a protected conservation area in Kenya with armed guards on watch 24 hours a day to keep poachers away.  Think about that.  Just three.  Imagine if there were only three humans left on this planet.  Let that sink in.  Humans are animals too.  Our existence is no more a guarantee than any other given mammal, or reptile, bird, etc.

Some species went extinct because they were specialized (evolved to fit into a specific niche) and when their environment changed naturally or by human involvement they could not adapt.  Others are less specialized in given habitats and can fill gaps in various ecosystems, such as the coyote.  Some animals are hunted illegally (poached) for their body parts such as the African Elephant for their ivory tusks which has caused them to be listed as vulnerable to becoming endangered, and the Java Rhino for their ivory horns, sadly now a critically endangered species with fewer than one-hundred in the wild.

Conservation matters.  Some animals, such as invasive species of wild pigs in the United States and many other countries around the world, need to be controlled because their populations can boom and damage the local ecosystem.  In some areas they have no natural predators to control their population density.  The native species are not able to compete with these invaders and are chased out of the ecosystem or face starvation due to their food source being overtaken by the wild pigs.  Some species of deer also lack or have limited natural predators who would otherwise control their populations and without control, diseases spread which can affect other animals, including humans.  Increased populations of either of these species also means that contact between them and people increases, resulting in property damage, crop destruction, and motor vehicle accidents.

In the United States, The North American Bison were hunted excessively and their numbers became critically low, almost to the point people feared they would go extinct.  Today they are listed by the IUCN as “near threatened” thanks to conservation efforts.  Gray Wolves, sometimes known as Timber Wolves, were also so heavily hunted that they nearly got wiped out.  Their lack of presence caused deer populations to surge.  To this day, wolf populations are still limited to certain areas after having been reintroduced.  This vacancy elsewhere has been filled by coyotes (some of which are now a hybrid species) and pumas (also known as cougars or mountain lions) migrating from the southern United States.  The IUCN lists Gray Wolves as of “least concern” because of conservation efforts and their reintroduction in North America, however, in much of Western Europe the Gray Wolf is extinct.

A part of conservation is protecting animals who’s numbers are becoming too low and are at risk of being listed as a threatened or endangered species.  At these phases, we need to look at what’s happening and figure out what to do to stop it from progressing.  Many private and federal organizations exist to stem the tide of dwindling animal populations, to protect and preserve them for future generations, who undoubtedly will hold us responsible for the state of the natural world they will one day inherit from us.  I don’t want future generations to have to learn about extinct species from bones and photographs, animals that I was able to see alive during my lifetime, but whom our generation failed to save.

A large problem when it comes to protecting animals is that some people just don’t care.  Sometimes they argue about “the food chain,” some quote the Bible where it effectively states man’s dominion over animals as a justification for treating them however they want.  Sometimes the issue is that profit is more enticing and is more important to some people than preservation.  Sometimes they talk about Darwin’s theory of evolution and how only strong or adaptive species survive, and sometimes it’s just pure human arrogance and a lack of concern for other life forms.

The reality is that humans are animals.  We consume nutrients and defecate, we socialize, we communicate, breed and reproduce, raise young and die.  We are no different in those aspects than many other animals.  We may be different in our mental faculties compared to other animals, but there are also a wide variety of awesome abilities in the animal kingdom that we humans do not have.

There’s also a wide variety of abilities in the plant kingdom.  For instance, did you know the Sacred Lotus is one of only three plants that can control its internal temperature?  Something we often only associate with warm-blooded animals.

According to the European Molecular Biology Laboratory – European Bioinformat ICS Institute, and the Tech Museum of Innovation in association with the Department of Genetics at the Stanford School of Medicine, human beings share some of their genetic material with other living things.  From plants to fungi, mammals to birds and reptiles, all living things on this planet share the same origins.  Over millennia of evolution, all living things have branched out many times and gone in many different evolutionary directions, but some of the same basic genetic material has been kept within us all.

Human beings and chimpanzees share 98.8% of the same DNA, but how similar is our DNA to other living things?  We share about 88% with the common house mouse, about 85% with domestic cattle, 75% – 85% with zebra fish, 69% with the marsupial the Platypus, 65% with chickens, 37% – 47% with the fruit fly, 44% with honey bees, 21% – 38% with round worms, 24% with wine grapes, 18% with baking yeast, 15% with mustard grass, and 7% with various types of bacteria.  It definitely brings things into perspective when you look at how similar all living things are on a genetic level.

Disrespecting animals is the same as disrespecting humans, most dog lovers can tell you this without knowing that human beings share 84% of their DNA with dogs.  We are all equal in terms of the value of and the right we have to exist.  We’re all just trying to survive.  Killing an animal is the same as killing a human in that you have ended the life of a living being.  You can tell yourself that it’s not the same in order to feel better about yourself, but your feelings don’t change reality.  We’re all flesh and bone, organic.  We all take in information about our surroundings and process it in some way, we all have a sense of awareness.

Studies into animal consciousness are changing what we once believed true about how they perceive the world around them, how they process this information, their social behavior, and their ability to think and reason through situations and problems they encounter.  Any dog or cat owner can tell you that their pet is more than just some mindless, emotionless, entity they feed and live with.  Through varying personalities and behavior these animals become members of the families they live with.

Humans are neither better nor worse than other living things, but our level of critical thinking and the expansion of our cortex grants us a higher sense of moral being and this ability gives us the opportunity and quite possibly the obligation to sustain the living things we share this planet with.  Through preservation and protection, through environmental awareness, ecological impact, conservation education, and the general realization that we don’t own this Earth, but that we coexist on it, we can work towards a more sustainable future for ourselves and the living things we share this planet with.


This writing is available as an audio track on SoundCloud:

​Abortion, Abstinence, Abuse, Birth Control, Teen Sex, and Unwanted Pregnancy

Abortion, Abstinence, Abuse, Birth Control, Teen Sex, and Unwanted Pregnancy

One in every five American teens lives in poverty.  Abuse, poverty and a lack of opportunity plays an important role in not only teen pregnancy, but also unwanted pregnancies in general.  Later in this article I will give you some troubling statistics on abuse, teens, and sex.

The purpose of this article is to shed some light on why safe sex education is important, why birth control contraceptives must be made available, and why financial, medical and emotional support matter, especially for teens.

This article, I hope, will tie these topics together and aid you in your understanding of how they are all connected and why it should concern you.  The decisions we make, the opinions we form, these things shape the moral and political landscape our children are growing up in.

We live in a nation where a particular 25% of the population will do everything they can to keep a young woman or in some cases a teenage girl from accessing birth control or morning after pills and will not only still shame her when she unintentionally gets pregnant, but will also do everything they can to prevent her from having an abortion once she is.

They support limiting her access to government funded healthcare during various stages of gestation even though she will likely be impoverished and cannot afford it on her own, as they don’t believe taxpayer money should go towards supporting her pregnancy.  The pregnancy they insisted she continue.

Once she gives birth, they will shame her again and do everything they can to prevent her from receiving government funded assistance including food stamps, to care for the child they shamed her into having in the first place.

This 25% of the American populace I’m talking about are the more than 80 million Americans who allegedly oppose the use of birth control to the point at which they lobby to pass laws that free companies from paying for them through employee insurance.

These more than 80 million Americans allegedly believe that abstinence from sex is the only “safe sex” and the answer to America’s problem with teen pregnancy.  They believe that the best way to control and end the spread of HIV and other STDs is for young people to simply just stop having sex.

These Americans also believe institutions like Planned Parenthood should not only never receive federal funding, but should just be shutdown completely.

These Americans label themselves Evangelical Christians.

The reality is that abstinence doesn’t work for everyone.  If you are 16 years old to 40 years old and sexually functional and not impotent, and if you do not suffer from some form of physical or psychological disorder, then chances are you are sexually active and not abstinent.

According to the Vatican, as of 2014 there were some 3,400 cases filed against the Roman Catholic Church alleging sexual abuse by Catholic priests who were supposed to be celibate – abstaining from all sexual activity.

If these men, who are supposed to be the most religiously pious men on Earth, cannot control their sexual desires, how can we rationally believe that all teenagers can abstain from sex?

How are all teenage boys raging with hormones and young adult men supposed to avoid condom use and abstain from sex completely, and teenage girls and young women not be on birth control and remain abstinent, until they are ready for parenthood?  It is simply just not reasonable to have that kind of expectation of an entire population.

In the following statistical data you will see that we live in a nation where safe sex education, birth control contraceptives, condoms, Plan B contraceptives, and establishments like Planned Parenthood, are all necessary.  And yes, sadly even abortion.

I find late-term abortion appalling, perhaps you do too, but I find a lot of things in this life and this country appalling.  In 2013, the Center for Disease Control reported that 200 abortions occurred per 1,000 births.

I did not find data on what stage these abortions occurred, which to me would be the most important data point of all.  It matters greatly at which stage abortions take place and since we live in a world where people will still have them regardless of whether they are legal or illegal, understanding what happens and when is immensely important.

In my opinion, which is based on everything we currently know about human consciousness and the identity of self and awareness, an abortion during or before week 5 (prior to the formation of the prefrontal cortex) is no more murder than cutting out your appendix or pulling a weed out of your flower bed.

Any abortion following this stage is risky as the brain then begins to develop in different sections, including the prefrontal cortex in the left and right hemispheres.  The left being the most important and based on what we currently know in neuroscience, the part that understands you as an “I”, eventually giving you the ability to learn language and an awareness of self.

Having an abortion at this phase would be ending a life more complex than pulling a weed out of your flower bed, in other words ending a human consciousness to some degree.

If you still draw conflict with any form of abortion, let me inform you on what kind of existence this eventual human life will be born into.

First, you need to grasp the reality that unwanted pregnancies are the result of several possible factors, many of which are interconnecting.  The pregnancy may have occurred due to extreme scenarios like sexual or mental abuse or even rape, it may have been affected by substance abuse, lack of sex education, or even a lack of opportunities for alternative life choices.

In many cases that potential human life could be brought up into a life of physical and/or sexual abuse, neglect, exposure to substance and alcohol abuse, poverty, or even abandonment.  You must understand that unwanted pregnancies may lead to unwanted children and the option of simply giving your child away to adoption is not always possible or even considered.

According to UNICEF, 7 out of every 1,000 American children who are born will die before they ever reach the age of 5.

In 2015 alone, more than 1,600 children died from abuse or neglect and in 80% of those cases at least one of their parents or guardians were involved.  More than 7 million children were reportedly being abused, and 3.4 million received treatment for that abuse in 2015.

The United States has the highest rate of child abuse in children under 1 year of age out of all developed countries.  27% of children in the U.S. who are victimized are under the age of 3.

In a recent 10 year period, an estimated 20,000 children have died in their own homes in the United States due to abuse and neglect.

Every year some 60,000 American children are sexually abused and 90% of the abusers are family members, teachers, friends, or someone else the child knows.

Children who are abused are nine times more likely to grow up and become involved in illegal activity.  30% of abused children will later in life abuse their own children.  50% of inmates in American prisons were abused as children.

80% of 21 year old Americans who were abused as children currently suffer from at least one mental illness.

Having parents who have an addiction to drugs or alcohol increases the risk the child will be abused by 3 to 4 fold.  More than 30% of teens who were abused as children will develop their own substance abuse problem before they turn 18 years of age.

Abused teens are also 25% more likely to be involved in teen pregnancy.  As I said in the beginning, teen pregnancies and general unwanted pregnancies are greatly influenced by abuse, poverty and the lack of economic, educational, and familial/social opportunities.

Adolescents who can envision positive futures for themselves are more likely to maintain healthier sexual behaviors and to avoid or reduce sexual risk-taking, but there are racial and ethnic disparities that delineate young people’s ability to perceive positive futures.

One analysis used data from Add Health to study the “future certainty” of 5,900 teens (average age was 16) and to identify disparities among White, African American, and Hispanic youth.

Findings showed that White youth held the most positive perceptions of life certainty (defined as living beyond age 21 and surviving to at least age 35), college certainty, and marriage certainty.

Furthermore, youth with the most positive life, college, and marriage certainty also had the highest levels of sexual knowledge.

46% of high school students say they have had sex.  The majority of which were seniors.  39% of all sexually active U.S. high school students did not use a condom at last intercourse.

6% of all U.S. high school students admit to having had sexual intercourse before the age of 13,  but in a survey of ten U.S. states nearly 20% of middle schoolers surveyed said they have had sexual intercourse.

Almost 14% of all U.S. teens will have had sexual intercourse with 4 or more partners by the time they’ve graduated high school.

Despite recent declines, teens giving birth in the U.S. remain as much as eight times higher than in other developed countries.  In 2009 approximately 4% (410,000) of females aged 15-19 gave birth.

The abortion rate for U.S. teen females aged 15-19 in 2008 was 14.3 per thousand females of that age, and this age group accounted for more than 16% of all abortions.

We are the shepherds of our children’s future.  The decisions we make about our lives and about their lives today, greatly impacts who they become and what they choose to do in the future.  The resources, information, and assistance available to both them and us can greatly shape and guide this nation moving forward.  We must at all times remember that no choice is without consequence.


 

Specific Sources of Research:

Davis MJ, Niebes-Davis AJ. Ethnic differences and influence of perceived future certainty on adolescent and young adult sexual knowledge and attitudes. Health, Risk & Soc. 2010;12:149-167.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance: United States, 2009. Surveillance Summaries, June 4, 2010. MMWR 2010;59(No. SS-5).

Martinez G, Copen CE, Abma JC. Teenagers in the United States: Sexual activity, contraceptive use, and childbearing, 2006—2010 National Survey of Family Growth. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 23(31). 2011.

Mulye TP, Park MJ, Nelson CD, et al. Trends in adolescent and young adult health in the United States. J Adol Health. 2009;45:8-24.

Martin JA, Hamilton BE, Ventura SJ, et al. Births: Final Data for 2009. National Vital Statistics Reports. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Vital Statistics System. 2011;60:1.

Pazol K, Zane SB, Parker WY, et al. Abortion surveillance — United States, 2008. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2011;60:15.

Various Other Sources of Generalized Data:

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, Childhelp USA, Centers for Disease Control, and Every Child Matters Education Fund.