July 31, 2016

Don't Enable the Christians

I read today that the Satanic Temple has announced plans to bring After School Satan Clubs to public schools as a way to counter similar Christian groups operating and recruiting inside public schools, and I feel deeply conflicted. I get that this isn't about teaching the religious practice of Satanism. I get that this is about rational thinking, skepticism, and developing logic. I get that this is about radical inclusion and testing Christian tolerance. But I also get that Christians thrive on persecution and love nothing more than having an enemy at which to point their fingers. 

Seeing as these Christian groups are operating under the "community use of schools" set of rules that allows anybody to use school property after-hours so long as the fees and background checks are met, this has more to do with school boards who are finding creative ways to not only serve their communities but also meet their budget shortfalls than it does with the churches behind the Good News Clubs. Do you get it? It's not the churches you have to persuade, but the school boards. 

I'm a big fan of logic and rationality, so I support the end result that the Satanic Temple claims they want to achieve - teaching children critical thinking skills -  but if the goal is to get religious groups out of school, I don't believe it's going to happen as a result of adding more religious groups to school. I think that the Christians who oppose this will accept that a minority of opposing viewpoints in scattered parts of the country is a worthwhile compromise to maintain a majority of Christian viewpoints throughout the entire country. Even Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel feels that way: 
“I would definitely oppose after­-school Satanic clubs, but they have a First Amendment right to meet. ... I suspect, in this particular case, I can’t imagine there’s going to be a lot of students participating in this. It’s probably dust they’re kicking up and is likely to fade away in the near future for lack of interest.”-via Katherine Stewart / Washington Post
Say what you will about Mat Staver and his Liberty Counsel - and there's a lot to say - but his opinions are often translated into Christian legal strategies around the country. If he's okay with this, then that should tell you something about just how far After School Satan will go toward getting religious groups out of schools. 

I wish I could be more hopeful about this, but I see this getting shot down by school boards using rules which say they're allowed to make an exception if they believe it's in the safety of students or would make the school property itself unsafe as a result of vandalism, protests, unwanted attention, etc. I also see After School Satan polarizing Christian attitudes and encouraging more and greater conversion efforts. That's a dynamic that I have no desire to support.

The Satanic Temple is fundraising to help pay for all their registration fees, healthful snacks, and activity supplies, but I'm not sending them anything because I oppose all religious groups in schools and would rather give my money to secular, atheist, and humanist groups such as the Young Skeptics who are already doing the same.

Let children be children. Let the teachers who are already employed by the schools teach logic and rational debate. And after a child has achieved the age of majority, he or she can choose for him or herself which religions if any he or she wants to follow.

July 30, 2016

Death to Parasites

Cymothoa exigua, or the tongue-eating louse, is a parasitic isopod of the family Cymothoidae. This parasite enters fish through the gills, and then attaches itself to the fish's tongue. The parasite severs the blood vessels in the fish's tongue, causing the tongue to fall off. It then attaches itself to the stub of what was once its tongue and becomes the fish's new tongue. -Wikipedia
Pentagonal Revisionism says that productive members of society should be subsidized, and unproductive members of society should be penalized. According to the usual logic, this means major companies which provide jobs should be given tax breaks and other incentives to continue creating jobs, whereas parasites who can't get or keep a job and who live only by feeding on the success of others should be pushed even further into the margins. In principle, I agree with this point of Pentagonal Revisionism - if you're a productive member of society and your actions are creating wealth and opportunity for others, then you should be rewarded and subsidized - but in practice, I have a very different opinion of who and what qualifies as a "productive member of society," and who and what qualifies as a "parasite."

Are major multi-national corporations productive members of society? Well, it depends on what you believe. I believe that productive members of society live up to their side of the social contract. I believe that productive members of society are free to earn as much money as they can possibly acquire, but I also believe that they're obligated to pay their fair share in taxes to support the physical infrastructure such as roads, utilities, and plumbing, but also public health and education, all of which work to not only keep the people they employ in their host countries safe and healthy, but also to maintain the law enforcement agencies which provide the law and order necessary for stable commerce.

If you're a giant, multi-national organization and you're using money laundering tax laws to get out of paying your fair share and supporting the social contract that provides the stability you need to do business, then you're not a productive member of society. Your choice to refuse to give back to the host country on which you feed directly impacts all kinds of government spending that are necessary to maintain the level of stability and education in your host country on which you depend not only for customers who'll buy what you're selling, but a skilled and knowledgeable workforce who can actually do the work you're asking. This is a major loss of perspective, and no matter how much profit you acquire, you're ultimately setting yourself up for your own failure.

I believe that farmers and ranchers are productive members of society who actually produce the food and animals we eat. I believe that mechanics and truckers are productive members of society who keep our cars working and our roads rolling. I believe that nurses and doctors are productive members of society who keep our bodies working and our feet walking. I believe that architects and builders are productive members of society who create and maintain the physical infrastructure which literally defines modern civilization. I believe that police and firemen are productive members of society because they defend against criminals and catastrophe. The list could go on, but these are all people who deserve to be subsidized for the very real and very valuable work they do to maintain the fabric of society and uphold the social contract which supports the stable society I enjoy.

But a corporation which exists only on paper as a legal entity and which deliberately drains money from the country in which it does business all the while demanding ever more and greater tax cuts, incentives, and exemptions is not a person: it is a parasite, and if it refuses to support the host which nurtures it, then it deserves to be killed with fire.

July 15, 2016

10 Ways to Infuriate a Tarot Reader

I love reading Tarot. It's a delightful hobby, I find it to be a deeply meaningful practice, and it's the best job I've ever had - I mean, how many people get paid to do what they love? Not very many. But, being a professional Tarot reader also means that I occasionally have to deal with clients who drive me crazy. I know some of my clients follow this blog and are also subscribed to my YouTube channel, so if you're reading this or watching me talk about it, please know that I'm grateful that you do business with me, but also that I want you to stop making me insane. Without further delay, I present to you my list of 10 ways to infuriate a Tarot card reader:

1st: I can't afford to pay anything right now, but if you give me a free reading I promise I'll pay for more readings later.

This is my #1 pet peeve: people who ask me to do free work (no matter how small) or who swear up and down that they're going to come back in a week and pay me for the work I did today. If you're a Tarot reader, just say "no" to free work. Don't do it. If you do free work, stop doing it. You're teaching your clients that your time isn't valuable, and they'll take and take until you've got nothing left to give, and even when you cry out that you've got nothing to give, they won't give anything back. I promise you this: free readings are the biggest mistake you'll ever make. And if you're a client who wants a Tarot reading, why in the world would you think it's okay to ask for a free service? I mean, it's not like you'd walk into your local greasy spoon restaurant and tell the waitress that you really want to order an entree but you need a free plate of French fries to make up your mind. And if you're a client shopping for a reading, what do you mean you "can't afford to pay anything right now?" I happen to know that you probably spent at least $5 on coffee, cigarettes, candy bars, soda pop, chewing gum, or even music or an app on the iStore or Google Play today. And how much did you spend yesterday? And how much are you going to spend tomorrow? So don't even pretend to be poor, because I know for a fact that's not true. What you're really saying is, "My daily indulgence of coffee, cigarettes, candy, soda, gum, or tech is more important to me than your time." So if you ever find yourself telling me that you "can't afford to pay anything," you'll understand why I'm going to laugh at you and tell you go away. 

2nd: Please just tell me whatever you see!

There are two mandatory ingredients for a good Tarot reading: desire and specificity. It's not enough for you to want a Tarot reading, because desire alone will only bring you to the Tarot table. Without a specific question which addresses the deep concern that motivated you to seek a reading, you will be sorely disappointed. Continuing the analogy of your local greasy spoon restaurant, would you tell the waitress to have the chef cook "whatever he wanted?" For all you know, the chef has a week-old can of spam that's still edible plus some floppy celery that he can't sell. Are you sure you really want to eat that meal? Or would you rather walk and tell the waitress, "I want a plate of buttermilk biscuits covered with southern-style gravy and a fresh mug of hot coffee with double sugar and double cream?" I know from years of professional experience that you won't enjoy a reading if I tell you "whatever I see." Ask a specific question, and I promise I'll cook something you like to eat.

3rd: Please just tell me what I should do.

How about, No? I'm not here to tell you what you should do. Only you can take responsibility for your life, and while I'll do my best to present options and alternatives, I refuse to absolve you of personal responsibility and enable you to make patently shitty decisions. You alone have to live with the consequences of your decisions, and for that reason only you can make your decisions. I'm also not going to tell you what you should do because I have absolutely zero interest in listening to you complain that things didn't turn out the way you hoped. No shit, stupid! They didn't turn out the way you wanted because you asked me to make decisions for you based on my limited knowledge of your life, when things would have turned out much better if you had looked at your Tarot reading as advice and then made a decision for yourself based on your knowledge of your life.

4th: Thanks for the reading, but I really wanted to ask a different question.

And how is that my fault? If you wanted to ask a different question, then you should have asked it first instead of the other frivolous question that you didn't really care about it. I'll refund your order and let you purchase another reading if you can refund my time and give me back however long I just spent with you. If you get to the end of a Tarot reading and feel that you really wished you'd asked a different question, you've only got yourself to blame. Choose your question with better care next time or don't come back at all.

5th: I know I told you his name was John, but actually her name is Jane.

One of my least favorite experiences is when I spend a few minutes talking with the client about the question so that I know the context in which I'm going to read the cards, complete the reading, and then the client says, "I know we just got done talking about my question, but I didn't tell you this one crucial piece of information that suddenly makes this entire reading worthless." If you're a Tarot reader, you know how angry this makes you. If you're a Tarot client and you've done this to your reader, shame on you. Speaking for myself, I'll say what I've always said: I'm not a psychic, I'm a Tarot reader, which means that I read the cards in context to your specific question. If you deliberately leave out some crucial piece of information that "breaks" the reading, that's not my fault: it's yours. If you get to the end of a reading and tell me, "I know I said I wanted to know about ABD, but I forgot to tell you about C," I'm going to tell you to purchase another reading because that's your fault. I mean, that's like going to a restaurant and telling the waitress you want a cheeseburger and then getting upset because it doesn't have any onions on it. No shit, stupid! Of course she forgot the onions - you didn't even ask for them! It's really hard for me to give you a complete burger if you don't even tell me what you want in it.

6th: I'm a psychic but I can't read for myself and I need you to do it for me.

Uh huh... and, tell me again why you can't read for yourself? I've heard lots of psychics say that their sanctimonious God-given powers prevent them from seeing their own future, and I've heard lots of Tarot readers say that the cards "just don't work" for them when they read for themselves, but I've got news for you: this isn't a matter of either your imaginary friends or your Tarot deck not talking to you, but a matter of you just not being a very good reader. I know from my own experience that you'll get past this self-imposed hurdle if you do two things: first, believe that you can divine your own reality, and second, practice divining your own reality. My experience reading for other readers is mostly positive, but I've got more than a handful of experiences with readers who tell me their question but then after I divine their situation swear up, down, left, right, and center that I'm completely wrong. Pardon me for saying so, but I thought you came to me because you can't see your situation and need another perspective? Because the way it looks from my side of the conversation is that you know full well what's happening because you can clearly define everything that isn't your situation. The problem isn't that you can't read for yourself, but that you refuse to see yourself. Suck it up, buttercup.

7th: I'm also a Tarot reader, and I want to know exactly which cards you pulled and what positions you used in your reading. Or, My friend is a Tarot reader and wants to know these things.

Uh huh... and how is it going to help you know what cards I pulled or what arrangement I was using? You might as well come right out and say, "I think you're full of shit and I want to test your knowledge." That's exactly what you're saying. Also, the next time you want to ask this kind of question, keep in mind that even Tarot readers who follow the same Tarot symbolism won't interpret Tarot the same way. Throw in a dose of intuition, plus the fact that Tarot is a practice that's often unique to the individual, and you've got a recipe that can't be duplicated by another reader. In other words, the answers to these questions are utterly useless. So don't ask them.

8th: How confident are you that this prediction is 100% certain?

What do I look like, an insurance agent? If you want absolute certainty, the only place where it exists is in the past. If you insist on 100% accurate predictions, then you're going to be sorely disappointed because the only way a prediction can be 100% accurate is if you embrace a world paradigm in which free agency doesn't exist and all actions are predetermined. If all actions are predetermined, then there's no reason to get a Tarot reading because nothing can be changed. If the future can't be changed, then any information I tell you is utterly worthless, and there's no reason for you to ask me to tell it to you. But if you're willing to accept that the future can be changed; that your decisions play a large role in the kind of life you live; and that nothing is certain, then I may yet be of service to you.

9th: I know I've asked this same question 15 times in the last week, but...

Yeah, I know you've asked the same question 15 times in the last week, too. And while I'm happy to get paid for the time I spend answering this question, what you don't realize is that asking a reader to revisit the same question over and over is actually really insulting. This is like you're going to a greasy spoon restaurant and ordering the same burger every week for months on end, and at the end of every meal you ask to speak with the chef and say, "The burger was good, but you didn't get it just right." Maybe for you there's some redeeming value in asking the same question 15 times, but for the reader is punishingly boring and equally insulting.

10th: Now that you've finished reading for my main question, please answer my 53 follow-up questions.

The reading is over when the reading is over. If you have one or two follow-up questions because you just didn't understand something I said, then by all means please ask and let me make myself clear. But if you get to the third follow-up question, then that's not "follow-up" anymore, that's an entirely new reading and you need to be paying for my time. Put your money on the table, or take a hint and get lost.

July 04, 2016

Sympathy for the Devil

Over at Sentinel on the Council, the author wrote a really engaging essay on the Devil of the Tarot, and delved into gnostic Christianity as well as trickster mythologies to broaden the discussion. It's worth reading if only to see a side you may not have heard before, and credit to the author, it's very nicely written. Me being who I am, though, I would add the following to the author's essay: hierarchy.

A key principle in the Church of Satan is hierarchy. The immutable truth is that some people are stronger, more influential, more capable, and better connected than others. For those reasons, they climb the hierarchy and rise above those who lack the necessary skills, knowledge, and abilities to do the same. Does this mean that the people at the bottom of the hierarchy are useless? Absolutely not: one king does not a kingdom make. Absent the lower echelons of minor nobility, merchants, tradesmen, vassals, and others who fill in the body of the kingdom, who is the king? Since the definition of a king requires subjects to rule, arguably a king isn't a king without all those over whom he rules and gives succor. 

Following this analogy, Satanists are encouraged to keep a healthy but honest ego and accept their place in the hierarchy. Certainly, this place can change over time, but if a member isn't honestly qualified for advancement, no amount of chutzpah will make it so. Life at the top isn't necessarily better, and depending on the individual's preferences, he or she may prefer life in the middle or on the bottom because it relieves him or her of duty and responsibility which would otherwise occupy their time. Take a look back at the picture of the Devil, and what do you see? The Devil himself perched firmly on his obsidian throne, opening his right hand in sign of his power to give, and lowering his left hand in sign of his power to punish. 

Tarot card the devil satan satanicBut this Devil threatens neither the man nor the woman, who both stand serenely in his presence. They wear chains around their necks, but the chains are loose and can be easily removed at any time, which means that the man and woman have voluntarily chosen not only to take their place in the Devil's kingdom, but also to remain there because they benefit from his gifts.

Some people interpret the man as holding his right hand out toward the woman but is unable to unite with her because the Devil restrains him, but shift your perspective a little bit and that inviting right hand is in fact beckoning toward the viewer - you yourself looking into the card are invited to become a citizen of the Infernal Empire.

Both the man and woman have sprouted horns upon their heads and grown fabulous tails of fruit and fire, so it can be inferred not only that they enjoy the Devil's blessings, but - following the pattern of the loose chains which represent their voluntary acceptance of their respective places in the hierarchy of the Devil's kingdom - they are free to return these gifts at any time should their role in his kingdom become intolerable.

Would they return the Devil's gifted compassion if he became intolerable? Or, following the analogy of a hierarchy which elevates the capable and lowers the incompetent, would this Devil be thrown from his altar and either the man or woman rise up to take his place? Power and authority are plastic, and he, she, or it who is strong enough to claim it, takes it. Have some sympathy for the Devil - if you're strong enough to take or accept your place in his kingdom, you'll find that he's not such a bad guy, after all.

July 02, 2016

The Cash must Flow

If you subscribe to the Amazing Atheist on YouTube, watched his video in which he responds to questions from Black viewers, and found yourself nodding along at his comments on victim culture and blame-the-Blacks, you might be a racist. This sentiment was repeated by Martin Hughes at Barrierbreaker on Patheos, and the two essays he wrote in response to the video I mentioned are well worth reading. But first, let's get something straight: aesthetics are decided by the individual. If you just don't like Black people, that's okay. You're free to dislike whomever and whatever displeases you. No problem! Your participation is not required. 

You're free to dislike Black aesthetics as much as you're free to dislike anything else. If somebody or something doesn't please your individual sense of aesthetics, that's not racist. But, if you find yourself judging entire groups of people according to a shared characteristic (versus judging their usefulness to you on an individual basis) and tacitly or overtly supporting legislation and policies that disadvantage people who aesthetically displease you, then that's racist, and there are consequences for that - not just for the people you dislike, but also for yourself. 

There're plenty of arguments to made based on cultural diversity and how diversity prevents the very real dangers of monoculture, but the author of these two essays spends a lot of time talking about gentrification. What is gentrification, you ask? Imagine you live in an older house. It's perfectly safe, you paid for it, and it's yours. But then, somebody in City Hall arbitrarily decides to update housing code, and for your house to stay in your house, it would require massively expensive renovation. Since you can't afford the renovations required to bring your house into agreement with the newly-revised city code, you lose your house - and if you're lucky, you'll even get something for your trouble in the name of "eminent domain." 

Then, after the city declared your perfectly safe house unlivable because they felt like re-writing the housing code, the city sells your property to a developer who builds a nicer home in its place, sells said home to a wealthier family, and then raises property taxes commensurate to the new home which in turn raises the cost of living in that city and pushes out people who can't afford to live there anymore. 

Another consequence of gentrification is that a lot of people who previously had homes are now homeless. And while homelessness isn't unbeatable, the odds are strong that crushing poverty will follow. You know what else comes along with poverty? High crime rates. And you know what happens when you live in a high crime area? No shit: you're very likely to be the victim of crime. Take away a person's home (whether it's a house or an apartment) and all the amenities that come with it, and you make it really damn hard for them to keep a job. Put people in a position where they have no legal choices available for success, and they will frequently choose illegal options for success. Law of the jungle, amiright?

Like TJ Kirk, the Amazing Atheist who made the video which started this discussion, I'm fabulously selfish. And speaking for myself, there are certain things I want for myself; I really enjoy living in a safe neighborhood and knowing that my car won't be stripped to axles, my home won't burglarized when I leave town, and I can walk my streets without fear of being robbed. So because I want these things for myself and my family, it makes sense for me to channel my selfishness into opposition to gentrification (among other things) to ensure my family's safety.

Historically, gentrification has largely affected people of color and minority communities who - due to the effects of personal aesthetics legislated into law - lack the financial standing that most white families enjoy. But this isn't solely a Black/PoC problem: once City Hall gets into the habit of pushing the weak out of their homes to appease rich developers who promise increased tax revenue, they start doing it to the strong who thought they were somehow protected by their majority-membership, or that they had legal rights that the city can't violate.

Well, I've got news for those folks: your rights are plastic, and if you're willing to just shrug and say, "law of the jungle," when the state robs the poor and lower class of their homes, you can be sure your friends will do the same for you when the state rewrites the law and decides that it wants your home, too. What a corrupt state will do to the least of its citizens, a corrupt state will do to all of its citizens. If the social contract is worth preserving, then individual rights and liberties are worth defending. It's not a black thing, it's not a white thing: it's a green thing, and our politicians have proven by their words and actions that they're willing to sell their constituents' rights to the highest bidder.