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For DummiesI am a pretty smart guy.  The tests that are usually used to measure these  things tend to place me somewhere in the smartest 5% of humanity, depending on the particular test and what kind of day I’m having.  I am also smart enough to know the flaws inherent in these tests and am very much aware that they are not always accurate (unless, of course, you just want to run comparisons of middle-class, white guys of European descent).

So let’s allow for the less-than-perfect nature of intelligence testing.  Let’s say I’m considerably less intelligent than the tests are wont to place me.  For the sake of argument, let’s say that I actually place just inside the smartest 20% of humanity.

This means that every time I initially encounter another human being, there is an 80% chance that they will be dumber than I am.  Although even the most determined moron isn’t stupid all the time, I think if we took the time to crunch all the numbers (and allowing for the relative nature of stupidity), we would end up with something like a solid 20-25% chance that any time another human being opens their mouth in my presence, something stupid will come out of it.

By now you may be thinking that I am arrogant.  While I feel arrogance is too strong a term, I am the first to admit I possess an ego the size of Louisiana.  However, my ego has nothing to do with with my intellect.  Rather, it is a result of my upbringing.  My family took pains to see that I developed a strong self-image.  They did not foresee the monster they would create.

My intelligence, to the contrary, tends more often to have a humbling effect.

The smartest human being I have ever met (and believe me, children – she’s really fucking smart) once explained it to me this way:  The universe is an enormous place full of stuff we don’t know.  Somewhere in that immensity, we live inside miniscule bubbles made up of our knowledge.  When we learn new things, the size of our bubble expands, but the net result of this is that the surface area of our bubble (the interface where our knowledge meets our ignorance) increases.  Therefore, expanding our knowledge exponentially increases our awareness of just how much we don’t know.

This is why those who posses truly superior intellects are usually not prideful about it.  Real intelligence instills humility.  Real intelligence knows that it has arrived where it is through a certain amount of luck and is thankful for it.  And real intelligence knows what it is – it needs no validation.  This is why most people who are truly intelligent view their intelligence as just another physical attribute, like being tall or having blue eyes.

And then there are those who just think they’re smart.   Those who are, in fact, not smart at all, but they believe otherwise because some test or web site or TV show told them otherwise.  To be fair, they probably clock in at the smarter end of mediocrity, but they don’t actually ever cross over into the realm of intelligence.  And stupidity that thinks it’s smart is the most dangerous form of stupidity.

You know the type – there’s no humility in this crowd.  They’re oblivious to the vastness of their ignorance, mainly because they never look up from the shiny baubles of their amassed ‘knowledge’.  They actually believe that they ‘know’ things.  They speak of ‘truth’ and ‘fact’ that is ‘proven’ and ‘undeniable’ as if such things actually exist.  And what really drives them crazy is when someone has the gall to question their so-called ‘knowledge’.  This is when they leap to the attack, and their attack always takes the same form:  they must prove you wrong.  This is the only manner in which they can believe themselves to be right.  The fastest – hell, the only – route to intellectual superiority lies in the ability to point to another human being and convincingly declare: You are wrong! It’s kind of sad, actually.

But here’s the thing that pisses off the genius wannabees the most:  that it is unacceptable in our society to walk up to others and say “I’m really smart”.  I mean, what’s the point of possessing a superior intellect if nobody notices? How will everyone else know they are inferior unless their betters point it out to them?

So the wannabees found themselves in a bit of a pickle.  How can they show off their intellectual superiority without just coming out and saying it?

After applying their mediocre intellects to the matter, they eventually decided that the way to show off their brains was to be annoying.  You know – needlessly correcting grammar.  Obsessing on minute, meaningless detail.  Memorizing acronyms and using the complete term instead.  You’ve been exposed to the behavior.  You’ve probably wanted to knee a groin over it.

Eventually, though, they managed to see through the fog of their mediocrity and noticed that all they were accomplishing was to piss everyone off.  While they may have been exhibiting their superiority, the inferior masses were clearly not ‘getting it’.  A new method was called for, and after much screaming and gnashing of teeth, one member of this ‘intelligentsia’ stood up and said “Um…what about this ‘God’ thing?”

After a brief fight, he managed to clear enough space around himself to offer an explanation:  “I meant that we should profess ourselves as atheists.  Everyone knows religion is for idiots.  If we say we don’t believe in God, everyone will know we’re smart.  And society allows us to go around saying we’re atheists.”

The rest – as they say – is history.  Now the creme de la mediocre have adopted atheism as their own personal religion.  And they cling to a few studies that support their primary idiocy, i.e., ‘smart people tend to be atheists’.

But what the mediocre minds really hate most is me.  I show up and declare my atheism in complete (usually well-constructed) sentences, and they welcome me with open arms.

And then I go and ruin everything by explaining a few things to them.  Like evolution is a belief, not a fact.  Like unbelief is as much a matter of faith as belief.  Like atheism is, in fact, a form of religion, as is science.  And my personal favorite, the one they hate most:

The universe is a really big place.  There’s enough room in it for more than one Truth.

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There’s this guy – let’s call him Steve.  Steve is a believer, and what he believes in is Creationism.  He has not arrived at this belief through any sort of evidence or proof, but rather he believes in Creationism simply because it makes sense to him.  Within the boundaries of Steve’s worldview, Creationism is the only argument that is even remotely plausible.  However, Steve is also an honest man.  He freely admits that his belief in Creationism is his own personal belief, and that he has arrived at it without benefit of direct evidence of any sort.  As a matter of fact, Steve will even admit that he believes this way because there isn’t, in fact, any direct evidence that supports Creationism.  However, he will go on to point out that Creationism is a theory and – like most scientific theories – is very difficult to outright prove.  So Steve (like most of us) is content to believe the way his personal logic dictates, and will accept evidence that appears to support his beliefs as proof enough (he’ll even go so far as to admit that sometimes he must avoid looking too closely at evidence that appears to contradict his beliefs).

Obviously, Steve is not the only Creationist in the world.  He has many fellow believers, but the majority of them believe in a fashion dissimilar to Steve’s.  Their worldview (unlike Steve’s) demands that there be proof of Creationism.  Because their beliefs are subject to opposing beliefs, they must be unchallengeable.  It is not enough to simply profess a belief in Creationism – belief is a fuzzy, imprecise and immeasurable thing.  This will simply not do.  Their beliefs must be precise, pure and unassailable.  Faith is not enough – there must be proof.  This is science, after all.

Unsurprisingly, these Soldiers of Truth do not take kindly to those in the opposing camp.  Those who would dare to refute – or even question – the righteous veracity of Creationism are the worst sort of unfaithful, unbelieving and unconscionable fools.  It is the utmost folly to question the truth behind any idea that is so clearly logical, reasonable and – above all – proven.  However, while these Soldiers of Truth are righteous, they are also compassionate.  Those who possess opposing points of view are not viewed as objects of rancor but rather as objects of pity.  After all, it’s rather sad that they are too ignorant and unenlightened to see the truth that’s right before their noses.

Instead, their rancor is reserved for the likes of our friend Steve.  You see, while Steve is, technically, one of their own, he’s not enough one of their own.  It’s not enough that he believes in Creationism as sincerely as they do.  Simply because Steve believes in Creationism in a fashion that differs from theirs makes him worse than the enemy.  The fact that Steve believes in Creationism, but fails to believe in the same way they believe, makes him some sort of abomination.  In their eyes, it’s just not possible for Steve to share their belief in Creationism because he does not share every aspect of that belief.  There is only one road leading to the moral and logical high ground on which they stand, and there is simply no other route by which one can arrive there.  And to pretend otherwise is the utmost conceit.  “If you are not with us in every respect,” Steve is told, “Then you are not with us at all.  And if you are not with us, you are against us.”  So Steve often ends up being a target for his fellow Creationist’s aggression, usually because he repeatedly makes the mistake of wading into arguments on the subject.

Okay.  Are we feeling properly pissed off at Creationists?  Has Steve won our sympathies?  Have we yet figured out that Steve’s story should be re-read, but this time replacing every instance of ‘Creationism’ with ‘evolution’?  (Replacing ‘Steve’ with ‘Terry’ is optional.)  Have we fastened our seat-belts and placed our trays in their upright position in preparation for today’s rant?  Good.

I have just about had it with liberals.  Don’t get me wrong – I am about left as they come – but I’m not talking about anything as secular as mere politics here.  I’m talking about the kind of liberalism that borders on religion.  The kind of left wing that believes it is, in fact, the Right Hand of God.

As you may have guessed, this post springs from a recent argument (two of them, actually).  In both instances, I took the stance you can assume I took based on the story above.  I do, indeed, believe in the theory of evolution.  I am also aware that there is no direct evidence of evolution.  You’d be amazed at the amount of liberal venom this stance attracts.  Wave after wave of vitriolic attacks flew my way, despite the fact that the first statement I made was that I believe in the theory of evolution.  But for most liberals (you know, the open-minded, accepting, understanding end of the spectrum) my belief sans proof is not enough.  In fact, it’s blasphemy.  By believing without proof, I am (to their way of thinking) invalidating their faith in the supposed ‘proof’ behind their belief in the theory.  In other words, the fact that the object of our belief is exactly the same is insufficient.  To these yahoos, my crime lays in that I do not share their method of belief.

For those of you keeping score at home, this is the stuff of which the Crusades and Inquisition were born.

And I am fed up with this crap.  So let me set a few things straight.  First off, there is no direct evidence of evolution.  Let me repeat that, using overweight letters to show I really mean it:  there is no direct evidence of evolution. Evolution is a theory and, in case you hadn’t noticed, the overwhelming majority of science is made up of theory.  There is blessed little proof in science.  Fact is also pretty scarce.  And laws are just theories that enjoy widespread acceptance.

This is not to say that there is no evidence of evolution.  There is plenty of it, actually.  Conversely, there is a fair amount of evidence that contradicts evolution.  To scientists, this is not a problem – it’s just the way of theory.  But trust me, folks, there is no evidence that proves – irrefutably – that evolution occurs.  If there was, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.  One of the boneheads I was arguing with recently pointed to a dozen or so experiments (you know – the kind with fruit flies or earthworms or somesuch) that ‘prove’ evolution.  Stands to reason – if it occurs with fruit flies and earthworms, it must occur in all species.  I tried to explain that a few examples cannot prove a premise unless at least a few assumptions are made along the way.  The response:  “I provided concrete evidence of experiments and observations that support evolution”.  Am I the only one who understands that ‘support’ and ‘prove’ are two different things?  Why is it that all these pundits think that any evidence that supports their beliefs equates to proof?

I’ll tell you why.  Because they turned to science looking for the same thing other people turn to religion for:  certainty.  Clarity.  Because they are looking for the absolute in a world that can only offer relativity.  Because they seek truth in a world that can only offer honesty.  And for some inexplicable reason, they seem to think science can deliver this.  But science is not – cannot be – this way.  Science is relative, not absolute.  It is honest, but not necessarily truthful.  Truth and the absolute are the domain of gods, not science.  This is by design.  Science is the domain of humans.  Therefore it will always be imperfect.  If you need perfection, shrug off your liberal prejudices and go out and find a religion you can agree with.  Seriously.

Due to my recent experiences with my fellow liberals (added to all the ones I’ve had throughout my life), I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to separate myself from the bulk of the ‘left wing’.  I no longer feel that I can define myself in the fashion they want me to define myself, so I must respectfully decline membership in whatever it is they’re selling.  Instead, I’m starting my own Left Wing (note the capitals) splinter group, A Latere Sinister.

The manifesto of A Latere Sinister will be posted at a later time.  For the nonce, know that we are the reasoning branch of the left wing.  We think before we speak, and we deliberate before we challenge.  We are driven by our hearts first, our conscience second, and our brains third.  Unlike the majority of our liberal brethren, we do not whine.  We see whining as the pointless exercise it is.  And while we are not a particularly militant branch, we will not hesitate to knee you in the groin if it becomes necessary.  Applications are currently being accepted.

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My formal education and training is in archaeology and history.  Archaeology was my first career-related love, history was more or less a by-product.  Here in the US, most archaeology is actually a sub-discipline of anthropology (but not all.  A discussion for another time), so while my field of study was archaeology, my degree is in anthropology.  Why, you may ask, is archaeology considered a sub-field of anthropology?  The reasons are complicated, but in a nutshell the answer is:  Because Franz Boas said so.

Anyway, that argument aside, modern American anthropology consists of four basic sub-fields:  archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology and linguistic anthropology.  There is some overlap and intermingling betwixt these sub-fields, but not as much as you would think.

Anthropology is, relatively speaking, a young science.  In the grand scheme of scientific endeavor, it really hasn’t been around that long (compared to – say – astronomy).  Because of this, it has undergone some well-documented changes in a relatively short period of time.  In its earliest manifestation, the field was basically cultural anthropology – a group of dedicated researchers (mostly men) who went into the world to spend some time amid strange peoples and learn their ways.  This often occurred amongst marginal and/or aboriginal peoples, mainly because – let’s face it – white people are boring.

Then Franz and his ilk came along, and they sliced anthropology up into its current major subdivisions (yes – I’m oversimplifying.  I’ve only got so much time here), due mainly to the fact that the field of anthropology was getting larger and more complicated.  So now the budding anthropologist needed to know more.  Now the discipline demanded more of them, namely what was then called four-field competency.  A couple of generations ago, this was something you could expect to find in any given anthropologist.  While they would have had their own particular area of specialization and expertize, you could reasonably expect them to be able to hold their own in any of the four sub-disciplines.

But time marched on, and anthropology again became larger and more complicated, so that by the time I got to it, anthropologists were no longer expected to possess four-field competency.  By this time, four-field exposure was considered to be adequate (this should not be taken as a comment on the quality of education in regard to anthropologists.  A person can only be expected to carry so much around in their head, and as the field expands, the requirements must narrow).  Today, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if four-field exposure is no longer considered necessary.  As time has gone by, the field of anthropology has become more and more specialized.  And this occurs even within the sub-fields.  American archaeology is immediately, broadly, divided into two categories:  Prehistoric and historic (the dividing line being drawn at the arrival of white people).  This gets even further subdivided, in ways I won’t go into here.

So a couple of generations ago, any given anthropologist could reasonably have been expected to be able to ‘do anthropology’.  Dropped into any situation in which the skills of an anthropologist (of any sub-field) were needed, it could safely be assumed that they would be able to perform as necessary.  A generation later, this was no longer the case.  And we get further away from it every day.  This is mainly because anthropology is (as previously stated) a young science.  It really hasn’t been around very long, and it’s barely out of its toddler stage.

This progression is not unique to anthropology.  All sciences grow from infancy into maturity (a state yet to be achieved for many sciences), the major difference being the length of the time period over which this occurs.  For some, it’s centuries.  For others, generations.  For others, considerably less.

Which brings us to GIS.  While you could (rather effectively) argue that the practice of GIS has been around for centuries, the discipline of GIS has only been around for a few decades (give or take).  In that time it has progressed through infancy and well into toddler-hood, possibly beyond.  The speed with which this occurred can be problematic.  As an anthropologist, I could safely stand on my own generational ground and look behind and before me.  I could see the ‘old days’, where four-field competency held sway and where anthropologists could be expected to ‘do anthropology’.  I could simultaneously look forward to where anthropologists would no longer really understand the interrelationship of the four sub-disciplines and where specialization would hold sway.  In the field of GIS, however, many of us have watched the development of our discipline happen right in front of us.

My first exposure to GIS was in the form of a class called ‘Computer Mapping’ (that’s right – while the term ‘GIS’ had been around for a short while, it hadn’t yet graduated into common usage).  For software, we used MapInfo (waaaaaaay before Pitney Bowes).  I was (as you may have guessed) studying archaeology at the time, and the usefulness of GIS to the discipline did not escape me.  The purpose of the class was to (eventually) produce a road atlas.  The end result for me personally was to seal my doom and condemn me to a lifetime of Map Dorkitude.  Toward the end of that class, I purchased my first copy of ArcView (for only $250.  At that point, at least, ESRI offered substantial discounts to students).  I spent the following Summer teaching myself how to use it (Map Dork!  Map Dork!).  By the end of that Summer, I think it’s safe to say that I was quite able to ‘do GIS’.  Because – let’s face it – at that time, a general proficiency with ESRIWare equated to an ability to ‘do GIS’.

But that was a long time ago (in GIS-time, at least.  Not so much in real-time.  I’m not that old), and the ability to narrow GIS to a particular skill set (or software vendor) is long past.  Sure – there’s a certain baseline skill set – a core of knowledge – that all practitioners of GIS possess and use, but the field has progressed so far beyond the baseline that the mere possession of the basic tool kit no longer enables or qualifies a person to ‘do GIS’.  As a matter of fact, the very idea of ‘doing GIS’ has almost become absurd.  We cannot assume that a speed skater and a football player are engaged in the same activity because they are both ‘doing sports’.  Neither can we say that a chemist and a geologist are engaged in the same activity because they are both ‘doing science’.  Therefore, I think it’s a little ridiculous to say that a person setting up a server stack and a person taking a waypoint on a mountaintop are engaged in the same activity because they are both ‘doing GIS’.  GIS – as a discipline – has progressed too far and grown too much and gotten too complicated to wrap into a single package that a single individual can ‘do’.  So the idea that one can be certified to ‘do’ GIS is either an extreme absurdity or an extreme conceit.  In either case, it’s a concept I refuse to buy into.

And this brings us to the first and primary reason I won’t have anything to do with GISCI and their GISP program.  I don’t believe that GIS can be effectively stuffed into a pigeonhole that would easily lend itself to certification.  In all fairness, though, I’m not all that sure GISCI claims to certify people to ‘do’ GIS.  From their home page:

“A GISP is a certified geographic information systems (GIS) Professional who has met the minimum standards for ethical conduct and professional practice as established by the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI)”

In other words, a GISP is someone who has been certified by GISCI to be – well – certified by GISCI.  I leave it to the individual to determine the value of this.  Now – it could be that somewhere within GISCI’s ‘minimum standards’ lies the ability to ‘do’ GIS (as they perceive it).  I can’t really say, because I haven’t been able to find a definition of GIS on GISCI’s website (I’ll be the first to admit that my search for one has not been exhaustive).  I did find this tidbit, though: “The GIS Certification Program is an opportunity to define the profession of GIS.”

So, to recap:  By paying GISCI, not only can we become certifiably certified, but our certification may someday help us to determine what it is that we are certifiably certified to do (although actually doing it may require another certification).  Hot damn!  Sign me up!

But let’s try to be charitable here.  Maybe GISCI is sincerely trying to respond to a need, however ineptly they may be doing so.  Does GIS – as a discipline – need some sort of certification or licensing to achieve legitimacy?  I believe this is a valid question, and I think the answer is “no”.  This question has been debated within the community for quite some time now, and the opinions seem to be pretty evenly divided.  If you think about it, this is one of those cases where a lack of consensus equates to a “no”.

Let’s take it a step further:  If not necessary, would such a certification or licensing process be desirable?  For much the same reasons, I think the answer to this would also have to be “no”.  In this case, though, I don’t think it’s so much that the community wouldn’t like to see something of the sort in place, but what they would like to see (in such a case) is something other than what GISCI has to offer.  And GISCI seems to be doggedly determined to stick to their program.  And they seem equally determined to convince the rest of us that we need what they’re selling.  Another reason I’m not interested.

Other than that, the only thing GISCI and their GISP program seem to be offering is a code of ethics.  Sorry, but I again feel the need to respectfully decline.  It’s not that I have anything against codes of ethics, per se, it’s just that I find them to be pretty much useless.  There is an old saying:  ‘Locks only stop honest people’.  In a similar vein, a code of ethics will only really be adhered to by people who don’t, in fact, need such a code in order to act ethically.  Those who are prone to act in an unethical fashion will certainly not be stopped by a code of ethics (especially when it really counts – when nobody’s looking).  A code of ethics is only useful when it has teeth.  GISCI’s code is only enforceable with those who live in fear of having their certified certification taken away.

So at the end of the day, GISCI simply isn’t offering anything I have a use for.  I am not saying that their program is without value, just that it holds no value for me personally.

Which brings us to the last item on my list, and the only one that I feel could actually be called a ‘complaint’.  While I have no use for GISCI and GISP, they do not, in fact, annoy me.  What does annoy me is their fanboys.  I’m not talking about their proponents and/or supporters, many of which I have had lively, entertaining and informative conversations (sometimes even arguments) with.  I’m talking about the zealots.  Like the yahoo who told me that GISP is not about competency but about commitment to the profession.  In much the same way the phrase “No thank you. I have my own belief system and would rather not read your literature.” somehow transforms into “No thank you.  I’d rather eat babies and burn in Hell.” on the trip from your mouth to the ears of the stranger who came knocking on your door, so does the statement “I don’t need a certification to validate what I do.” somehow become “Your support of said certification invalidates you and what you do.”  In some quarters, the support of GISP borders on the religious.

So allow me to make this as clear as I can:  My indifference to your certification does not – cannot – invalidate it.  My opinion of GISP does not determine its value or lack thereof.  If pursuing and achieving a certification is meaningful to you, then you should by all means do so.  But do not expect me to attach the same meaning to it.  I will make my own choices in the matter.

And, if it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll just express my commitment to the profession through a dedication to competence.

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Got into a discussion/argument with a random Internet pundit yesterday.  He did a post on his blog about Islam, in which he stated that he thinks ‘Islamophobia’ is understated.  He seems to feel that we should all live in mortal fear of Muslims.  I wasted a few minutes of my life trying to reason with the poor guy, but realized that I was being stupid when he professed to have read the Koran, specifically referring to ‘the nasty parts’.  He actually tried to convince me that within the pages of the Koran lies adequate reason for all right-minded global citizens to fear the ‘Muslim Threat’.  Painfully obvious that he had never actually read the book.  Or if he had, he had done so with extremely prejudiced eyes.

I actually kind of like the Koran.  As religious texts go, It’s not too terribly offensive.  It’s extremely dull, but not too offensive.  The fact that it belongs to a western religion is a strike against it, but it’s actually more interesting to read than the perennial favorite of the western religions:  The Bible.

Two quick facts, little-known to most Americans:  1)  The Koran is not the only scripture of religious import to Islam.  The Old Testament also plays a prominent role.  2)  The word ‘Jihad’  makes an appearance a grand total of four times in the Koran.  In none of those instances does it refer to an armed conflict (or a conflict of any kind).  In the Koran, the term ‘Jihad’ refers to a struggle – specifically a spiritual struggle.  And any idiot can tell you that a spiritual struggle is, above all, a personal one.  It’s not something you do with a group.  Especially a group with machine guns.

Anyway, this guy I was arguing with kept trying to convince me that Islam poses a threat to the world, despite all evidence to the contrary.  Eventually, I realized where he was coming from.  He had pretty much told me everything I needed to know with the first word he used.  Or, rather, the second part of that word:  phobia.  The guy is just plain living in fear – even abject terror – of Islam.  Or, more accurately, of Muslims.  And his fear is irrational, a fact that obviously bothers him.  So he professes to a knowledge of the Koran, which gives him the ability to claim his fear is a rational, reasoned fear.  It’s kind of sad, actually.

Since I’m aware of the fact that this guy is not alone in his fears, I started to wonder about the nature of those fears, and their genesis.  To be sure, they have roots that go back to the Crusades (you remember the Crusades – when the Pope saw that too many Christians were being killed by other Christians, so he invented an outside enemy for his flock to focus their considerable homicidal energies on), but while the seeds may have been planted in the Middle Ages, the Bush-Cheney cartel did a fine job of pouring Miracle-Gro on it.  But the propaganda alone doesn’t really explain the fear.  What – exactly – are so many Americans afraid of here?  What is it about Muslims that strikes so much terror into the heart of Joe Sixpack?

Belief.  Real, intense, white-hot belief.  The Kind of belief that Americans never see in their own lives.  The kind of belief that can drive people to obliterate themselves because they feel their faith demands it.  Americans don’t get this.  America has a different kind of belief – the kind that just asks you to show up on Sunday and perform the proper rituals.  Americans feel drawn to religious institutions not out of any spiritual drive but rather out of a simple need to belong.  And when we Americans are confronted with people who are willing to die for their beliefs, they scare the crap out of us.

Before anyone starts shouting, let me just say that I’m not talking about ALL Americans here.  Just the majority of them.  I know there are people in this country who are truly religious.  I also know that there are people in this country who are truly spiritual.  And I know that sometimes these are the same people.  But I know that these people are – by far – the minority.  Most Americans subscribe to one religion or another out of fear.  Simply because they’re afraid that the Beard In The Sky will punish them if they don’t.  Which is also the only reason most Americans behave themselves.  The average American (possibly the average person) is lying, thieving, raping, murderous scum, and the only thing keeping them from acting upon it is the threat of retribution.  Don’t believe me?  Just look at any situation in human history in which the rules were removed.  Riots.  Wars.  Show me any break-down of the social order, and I’ll show you the true face of human nature.

Now, this all got me thinking about the nature of belief.  Specifically, the nature of American belief.  What, if anything (I wondered) do Americans believe in strongly enough (or love strongly enough) that they would be willing to die for it?  Religion?  Not likely.  Sure – there have, on occasion, been Americans who have willingly chosen to die for their beliefs – but they are so rare as to be statistically nonexistent.  Their country?  Another big ‘no’.  While there are (and have been) plenty of people who will stand in line to fight and kill for America, those who have actually willingly died for it are intensely rare.  Family?  Sadly (and inexplicably, to my mind), also no.  Hell, I know many, many people who can’t even be bothered to give up their bad habits for the sake of their family.

Which brings us to the True American Belief System:  Hedonism.  This is the belief that burns strongly enough in America that its adherents are willing to die for it.  Americans have proven – repeatedly – that the one thing they are more than willing to sacrifice their lives for is their own pleasure.  Here we drug and drink and smoke and eat and sex ourselves to death every day.  Here we willingly risk our lives just to achieve the pleasure of the moment.  This, my friends, is the true American object of worship:  Personal pleasure.  It is this, not money, that we – as a people – love most.

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