In software development we have a saying: there is no silver bullet. It means that no one thing will dramatically improve the quality of the programs we write. No single thing will save us.
I believe my fellow atheists should adopt this saying because too many of them act like the world would be a better place if everyone thought like we do.
This stance isn’t limited to a few well-known atheists. It seems like every time I click on an article that mentions religion the comment thread is peppered by skeptics denouncing other beliefs and touting their own non-belief as the one true thing. That the irony of this is lost on these people is a clear sign they’re not thinking straight.
Let me be clear: I consider myself a devout atheist and have been one since elementary school. Countless times I have experienced prejudice for not believing in god, including receiving death threats from Christian extremists for publishing “anti god” cartoons. I detest the injustices so many suffer in the name of religion and I will never tolerate anyone who claims their god requires women, gays, minorities, or those with different beliefs to be treated as less deserving of civil rights.
But atheism is not the answer. There is no single answer. As humans we are flawed regardless of what we believe. If we stop killing in the name of god we’ll simply find some other reason to do it.
The previous century should be proof enough that even those who claim to be rational can create incredible horrors. If we want to survive the next century then all of us – atheists included – must give up this childish notion that our way of thinking is the key to salvation. We are all just monkeys with expensive haircuts so to claim we’ve got everything figured out is a spectacular conceit.
There is a lot of resentment among atheists at being forced to live in a world that shuns us despite our achievements, but we have to get over this. If we want humanity to move forward we must build bridges rather than burn them.
I’ve been car shopping lately, and one of the vehicles I’m looking at is a Subaru. Upon hearing this, a friend mentioned that Subaru has an image of building cars for lesbians.
I wasn’t sure what to make of that. What does it mean when a heterosexual male is attracted to a lesbian car? I tried to figure that out but gave up after getting stuck in a loop.
The whole idea of attaching an image to a car – or really any product – seems silly, yet a product’s image often decides whether we buy it. We choose clothes, food, music, operating systems, and even political candidates based on how they make us feel about ourselves and how we want others to feel about us. I’d argue that some people have no personality of their own and are instead the sum total of the products they buy.
Sometimes negative images work, too. I was surprised when an “anti-aging boutique” named Snooty opened near me. The name “Snooty” seems completely off-putting, but apparently a lot of people like the store’s image. I imagine their spouses shop at a store named “Overpaid Asshat.”
I like to pretend I’m above letting a product’s image affect me, but I know I’m not. I’m one of those annoying people who shuns something just because it’s popular so I favor products with an underdog image. My son says that makes me a hipster but I know that isn’t true because I can’t wear flannel without humming The Lumberjack Song.
Over the years I’ve named three products and I only consciously thought of image with one of them. That was FeedDemon, whose name was a play on “speed demon” – I wanted everyone to think it was fast. A lot of customers liked the name, but some people avoided it because it had an image of being demonic (although in fairness, I’m sure I chose that name in part due to my ill-begotten metalhead youth).
One year there was a present under the tree from one of my brothers to my parents. My mother unwrapped it and was speechless to discover a DVD containing exotic dancing lessons.
My brother was also speechless, because he didn’t know anything about the gift. That’s because I had bought it and labeled it as coming from him.
Every year since then there has been a similar fake gift under the tree. It has become part of our family tradition, and I look forward to handing it down to my children.
Some time after the first incident, my now-beardless oldest brother decided to host Christmas. My other brother would be there, and I had long given him grief about his unkempt nostril hair (what are brothers for?), so I bought him a nose hair trimmer as a gift.
I thought he’d love it, so I was disappointed when he left it behind. That’s when I decided it was his turn for a practical joke.
I bought a second trimmer and arranged for the first one to be given to him a few weeks later. In the meantime, I took the second trimmer with me on a Carribean vacation.
After my brother had been using the first trimmer for a month or two, I showed him pictures of my vacation – which featured the second trimmer.
In one, the nose hair trimmer was lounging by the pool. In another it was dancing with my wife by the beach. The final picture showed it taking a swim – in the hotel restroom. Yes, I took a picture of a nose hair trimmer floating in a toilet.
My brother, of course, was disgusted by that last picture since he thought it was the nose hair trimmer he’d been using for several weeks. I enjoyed his reaction so much that I waited several days before telling him the truth.
Many years ago my oldest brother lived in an apartment complex that had tiny mailboxes. Any mail that wouldn’t fit would be left out in the open – for everyone to see.
So I thought it’d be funny to mail him a package labeled “Infectious Disease Center: Test Results Enclosed” when he was out of town for a few days.
He got me back for that in a big way.
It was around that time that I developed a hernia. The surgery required being shaved “down there,” which my brother thought was pretty funny.
A few days after surgery I received a letter from him. Thinking it was a get-well card, I opened it without concern for its contents – and suddenly found myself covered in hair.
There was a note inside. It said, “I’m sorry they had to shave your naughty bits. I shaved my beard this morning and figured you could put it to good use.”
He wasn’t kidding. He actually shaved off his beard and mailed it to me.
Two years ago I was searching for a new job, and I only considered positions that enabled working from home (something I’d done for almost 20 years). Given what I’d heard about the huge demand for mobile developers I figured there would be plenty of options, but I was wrong – there were lots of jobs but all but a few of them required going to an office (and, in my case, moving).
That really surprised me. There are plenty of talented developers who have chosen not to live in overpriced tech hubs like Silicon Valley. If it really is hard for companies to find great programmers, then why don’t they stop requiring people to move to where they are and start allowing people to work from wherever they choose?
Throughout my life I’ve been strangely attracted to dark humor.
Before I wrote software I was a cartoonist, and back then I’d wonder what humor was and why people laugh.
I decided it was madness escaping.
We’re all a little bit insane, doing and believing whatever it takes to avoid the horrible truth that one day we’ll die of old age unless something bad happens first, and when we’re gone the universe will quite clearly continue on just fine without us. Laughter is the sound of that pressure escaping. In a group, it enables us to shed our differences and admit we’re all fucked.
Given that rather bleak perspective, it’s perhaps no surprise that I lean towards dark humor. Not the mean-spirited kind, but instead the kind based on hope.
This is where I start to ramble.
There’s a thing called “middle age settling,” where as you approach middle age you realize you’re not going to change the world as much as you thought you would when you were younger. So you settle on changing a smaller part of the world instead.
In order to do that, you still need hope. Hope that the world is still worth changing, hope that you can at least make things better for the people you love (and maybe even the people you don’t love).
Hope, unfortunately, can be hard to hold onto the more you learn about the world. That seems to have been a problem for some of the dark humorists I’ve enjoyed. As they got older they stopped sounding like disappointed idealists and started sounding like cranky cynics. They faded to black.
That’s something I may struggle with, but so far I haven’t given in to cynicism (of course, I’m a spry young 47, so there’s still time). I continue to laugh at the unpleasant things that bind us, like the universal truth that nothing is funnier than an improperly stifled fart in the middle of a church service. The fact that others laugh with me despite our differences gives me hope.