Sunday, January 27, 2008

Personal philosophy, part 2

On practical pessimism:

The outlook I’ve come to call “practical pessimism” is an important part of how I look at the world. To be clear, it is not what people usually think of when they hear the word ‘pessimism’. The usual pessimist tends to go around expecting the worst of everything and being all depressed and sullen about life. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not that at all.

I prefer to use pessimism as a tool to be more prepared for life. I try to be as aware as possible of the world, the people in it, and myself, and look for all the little, everyday things that seem like they could and, as we all know, sometimes do to go wrong. I think about the more serious stuff that might go wrong, too, but that stuff tends to be very unlikely. So, while I’m thinking about all these small things that might go wrong, I prepare for them. I do everything I can to make them less likely in the first place and to be ready if something can’t be prevented from going wrong. I lock doors, I charge my electronics like laptops and cell phones regularly, I keep miscellaneous useful things with me, I use a Google online calendar to track my events and send myself reminders of things, etc. The bottom line is that I tend to be either prepared, if something goes wrong, or pleasantly surprised, if it doesn’t. Prepared or pleasantly surprised; that seems like a good way to live to me.

On faith:

The way I look at faith has changed a lot over the years. I used to think (like most people where I grew up and quite a few everywhere) that “faith” only came in the religious variety. This led me to nearly exclusively express my early faith relative to Christianity. My family never went to church, and I got harassed a lot for it. I had it explained to me by over half a dozen kids in elementary school that I was going to go to Hell. This hostility didn’t seem like much of a reason to join a church to me (and certainly not to my parents), so instead I ended up turning against religion fairly young. This may have ended up being a fairly significant factor in the other kid’s general dislike of me from 5th grade through 7th. Obviously, my thoughts on faith are much more refined now.

As a general principle, I try to avoid accepting anything solely on “faith”. I like to have evidence and reasons for my ideas, and I’m not very likely to accept someone else’s idea without something a little more convincing than “well, it just makes sense, right?” As a fan of evidence and reasons in a society that values such things much less than I do overall, I end up having to find my own fairly often. A lifetime of looking for my own answers (which I’ve been doing since long before I realized it was anything special or uncommon) has led me to be extremely confident in my thoughts, plans, and perspective. If there’s anything that sets me apart from anyone else, that’s it; I may or may not have been “smarter” than the others in grade school (which is what everyone always said), but I’m certainly not particularly smarter than the average "anyone else" at UT. I just have a very good idea of what I am and am not good at.

Regarding my ‘religious’ beliefs (since that’s probably what most of you were expecting from this section, anyway): I don’t have many. I certainly don’t consider myself a member of any religious organization. I’ve been building up a list of reasons to disapprove of organized religion for my entire life, but I already explained my biggest one in great detail several months ago: organized religions naturally end up in conflict with each other. Nearly all religions on earth, and certainly all the major ones, very clearly explain in their holy books that non-believers with suffer somehow after dying, either from some kind of torture or punishment or simply from not being admitted to some kind of afterlife paradise. Conveniently, there is no way to test such a claim. What’s worse, though, is that such doctrines often lead the religious to try to convert non-believers or followers of other religions to their religion, sometimes very aggressively. If the people being converted resist, it can cause resentment and tension on an individual level, violence on a larger scale, and war on a global scale. I refuse to participate in that.

A point I often have to clarify: I am not an atheist. No, I do not consider it likely that any omnipotent being exists exactly as described my any of the major religions. However, I cannot prove absolutely that such a being does not exist. Some atheists falsely claim that they can. Also, atheism is, effectively, an organized religion. It regularly comes into conflict with other religions. Once again: I will not participate in any unnecessary aggression. If you’re interested, page back to my conflict post for a more detailed discussion of my views on conflict.

Really, most of the details of my personal life philosophies follow fairly directly from what I’ve written about so far (including my discussion of conflict). I’ll likely continue this series anyway, though. And, as always, I welcome comments and questions.

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