Category Archives: Random Thoughts of Jack

Back From the Future

I am going to put you in a science fiction story that has the potential to change your life. Ready?

I want you to imagine the next ten years.
– What is it you hope to accomplish?
– What career goals do you want to attain?
– What does your living situation look like?
– What kind of car do you have?
– What kind of friends do you have?
– What are your interests?
– How do you spend a Saturday night?
– Where have you traveled?
– How much money are you making?
– What are you doing for a living?
– What does your love life look like?
– What do you look like?
– What kind of foods do you eat?
– How much exercise do you do?

Answer these questions and any others you think of but do it in such a way that you ignore potential obstacles. Assume that everything goes your way. Assume it all works out. What does your ideal life in ten years look like? Write it all down.

Now go do that and come back for the science fiction paragraph. It’s right below this amusing photograph.

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Did you do it? Are you lying? I’m not going to know so you’re only lying to yourself which kind of defeats the purpose of self-actualization. Go on. I’ll still be here. Once you have, scroll past the photo below and learn the second part.

 

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Okay. Now I want you to pretend from now on that you were living this ideal life in the future. And then something happened, you don’t know what. But whatever happened destroyed your timeline. And now your consciousness has been plunged back to the present. You are Future-You. And due to the rigors of time travel you’ve forgotten most of how you got where you were in your ideal life. The only thing you have to go on is what you just wrote down. Tell yourself, “This is how my life is supposed to be.” Now all you have to do is figure out how to fix your timeline so that you can get back to your ideal life. Time travel is rough. It’s not likely that you’ll get everything perfect, but if you just get close, think of what an improvement that is over whatever your life might be now.

So get to it. Every second counts, traveler.

– Jack Cameron

The Myth Of Fridays

friday-083Most people who know me know that I’m an atheist. I try to be the sort of atheist who does not believe God exists but does not really care too much what your religious beliefs are as long as you don’t force them on other people (especially me). My girlfriend is a practicing Pagan. In the past I have been a Christian and a Quaker. If prompted I will tell someone that I feel we are all on a path of discovery when it comes to religious beliefs and that those paths are all different. I will say how it makes little sense to me to argue that you are wrong simply because you are on a different part of the path than me.

That sure sounds nice. And it is something I try to keep in mind. But there is a nagging thought in my head. A variation of this though is in the head of every atheist I have ever talked to. It’s the thought that gives atheist a bit of an asshole reputation. That thought is, “How can otherwise intelligent human beings who demonstrate the ability to think rationally, apply evidence, and use logic believe that there’s an old man in the sky who created everything in the universe but only cares about us and did this all in six days as recently as six thousand years ago?”

I have never found a satisfying answer to this question and so I have employed mental tricks to avoid the thought. The typical mental trick I try is that I pretend religious friends and family are playing different Live Action Role Playing (LARP) games. Each religion is a game with a set of rules and it’s all centered around an imaginary afterlife that you get when you die depending on how well you play the game while you’re alive. From a believer’s perspective I can understand how condescending an insulting such a concept is, but understand the idea here was to keep that annoying question out of my head in an effort to be nicer to those who believe and not bug them with that question.

Of course this too has a problem. If I manage to convince myself that it’s all a bunch of LARPers, then the lie I’m telling myself is that every believer knows deep down that God is not real and their religious convictions are illusions. And if I’m not careful I end up saying things to let them know I’m in on the joke. A joke that they aren’t actually telling.

Then something happened. I read a book. The books was called Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind by Yuval Noah Harari. There’s a lot in it but one of the more surprising things to come out of reading it was the concept of myth. Not just myths like Thor or Zeus but myths like nationality and money and days of the week. These are things that have no objective value but only exist because we decide that they do. Really there’s about as much evidence that today is Friday as there is that there is a God. Friday isn’t REAL. It’s an agreed upon myth. There is no scientific test that will prove it is Friday.

The problem for an atheist like myself then becomes what myths are acceptable and what myths aren’t? There’s no real way to live in society without accepting the myth that printed fabric paper has value as do digital numbers in a bank account. Not one strand of DNA in me can be definitively called ‘American’ because America is simply a place we’ve all agreed exists but is actually just a part of a land mass that we have all agreed to call North America. Why is it I would never have a problem with someone believing it’s Friday but I would have a problem with someone believing that a God created them? I wouldn’t think someone just isn’t very smart or at the very least they aren’t intellectual if they still believe in Friday.

I don’t have any answers here. This is just something I was thinking about and I figured I would share it.

– Jack

Conspiracy Theories and the Forklift Six

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In Fredericksburg, Virginia on May 6th of this year, Keith’s forklift overturned, killing him. Five days later on May 11th, in Powell, Ohio a man named Marcellus was crushed by a sand hopper that fell from a forklift. Three days laster in Lexington, Kentucky on May 14th of this year a man named Chiu was killed by a large slab of granite falling on him. The granite had fallen from a forklift.

Less than a month later, in Buffalo, New York, a guy called Charlie was electrocuted when a forklift boom contacted with an energized power line. A few weeks later, a 25-year-old man named Allen was securing a load on a forklift June 29th, in Granite Falls, North Carolina, 55-year-old Steven was crushed by forklift that he was operating.

Six men all killed by forklifts. One killed by falling granite. Another killed in Granite Falls. The last man killed was 55 years old. He was killed on the 55th day since the first Forklift killing.

Everything I’ve said is entirely true. I got the information from a website called The Weekly Toll which looks at workplace killings. If I were to tell you that I believe that Forklifts have become sentient and are trying to systematically kill us, you’d rightly say I must be joking or I’ve lost my mind. Or if I were to tell you that there’s a lever factory in Kansas City, Missouri that is hell-bent on destroying the forklift industry by making them look bad just at the start of the season of industrial equipment conventions, you’d see it for the silliness that it is.

And yet, if the forklift operators are alternative medicine doctors or vaccinated children or any number of other things that have nothing to do with each other, we see conspiracy. We see a secret pattern. We’re humans. We’re pattern seeking creatures which often means we see patterns that simply aren’t there.

There are two fallacies at work. One is Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc  (After, Therefore Because Of). This refers to the assumption that simply because one event happened after another event, the first event is the cause of the second. It’s often untrue. One hour before Donald Trump announced he was running for President, I made a sandwich. My sandwich had nothing to do with Trump’s latest stunt.

The other is the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy where we’re looking for a specific pattern and we find it by ignoring anything that doesn’t fit with our narrative. With the Forklift Conspiracy I’m ignoring all the other workplace deaths and all the millions of times in those 55 days that forklifts were used without incident.

Recently I saw a meme that listed half a dozen alternative medicine doctors throughout the country that had mysteriously died. Unlike most memes, this one listed names. So I did some digging and soon found that one had been murdered by their spouse, another had committed suicide, three had disappeared in literally the most dangerous part of Mexico, one had wandered into the wilderness never to be seen again. The Forklift Six have more in common than these doctors did.

It’s easy to get caught up in patterns that aren’t there. The only way to avoid it is to continually ask yourself questions and do some research before believing there’s some sort of X-Files level conspiracy going on.

– Jack Cameron

How The X-Men And Matthew McConaughey Helped Me Accept My Mortality

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I’ve been an atheist for about five years. It didn’t happen all at once. I spent years being unsure. I spent many years searching, reading, researching, and thinking before I came to the conclusion that there is absolutely no evidence of an omnipotent God and plenty to contradict the existence or divinity of Jesus Christ. I won’t get into what all went into that because that’s not what this post is about. What I want to do with this post is give an answer to a question that has bugged me for most of my life:

If there is God and no afterlife, what comfort can be found in knowing that you and I only get 80 years of life (give or take a decode or three) no matter what?

I tried thinking that the best we can do is do good and be good to ourselves and others and enjoy what we have. That’s a nice thought, but it’s really not all that comforting. It’s like decorating tips for a house that’s on fire. I’m all for being good and doing good and being an all-around nice person to other people, but that’s not helping me get over this thing where one day I die and cease to exist. I like existing.

I tried thinking of technological answers to our mortality problem. Cryonics offers hope that they might be able to freeze you and bring you back in a cloned body. The problem with this is that it requires that your current body (or at least head) are in good enough shape when you die that cryonics is even an option and even assuming everything works right, you’re still trapped in a human body which can be destroyed any number of ways, many of which are simply unavoidable. One day you might be able to upload your consciousness into a computer, but is that really you or just an artificial intelligence that thinks it’s you? I’m thinking it’s the latter. If you uploaded your consciousness into a computer, but you were still walking around after that, you wouldn’t say that computer was you would you?

I was stuck. Without God, no theological answer was likely to help. Philosophy on being a good person wasn’t helping. Technology isn’t there yet for serious life extension and even when it is, it’s only life extension, not something more. For a while, I stopped searching and did my best to accept the words of Jackie Greene, “We walk through life and we live and die/We do our best to not ask why.” I listened to music. I read books and comic books. I watched television and movies. And recently, the confluence of my media consumption resulted in a slight epiphany.

Sam Harris is a noted atheist and one of the faces of the so-called ‘New Atheist Movement’, a term that even Harris dislikes. I’ve read most of his books and attended one of his lectures. I’ve written about his books on this site before. While The End of Faith helped inform my already atheist views, his books Free Will and Waking Up have had significant impact on my life and the way I think about some things.

In Free Will Harris argues that free will is an illusion. He argues that our every decision is a result of our genetics, our past experiences, and luck. I approached the book disagreeing with the premise, but the more I read, the more it made sense. And then there was the following passage from the book:

“Take a moment to think about the context in which your next decision will occur: You did not pick your parents or the time and place of your birth. You didn’t choose your gender or most of your life experiences. You had no control whatsoever over your genome or the development of your brain. And now your brain is making choices on the basis of preferences and beliefs that have been hammered into it over a lifetime – by your genes, your physical development since the moment you were conceived, and the interactions you have had with other people, events, and ideas. Where is the freedom in this? Yes, you are free to do what you want even now. But where did your desires come from?”

As a writer of fiction, this passage entirely freaked me out. When I’m creating a character for a screenplay or a novel, I figure out who she is by making up her family, her upbringing, and her past experiences. Each of these informs me as to what sort of character I’m working with and results in my often knowing what a given character is going to do simply because of who they are. The way he’s talking about how we humans operate is the same way three-dimensional characters operate. This was one piece of the puzzle.

I also recently watched the first season of the HBO crime drama, True Detective. One of the main characters played by Matthew McConaughey is a burned out detective with a penchant for nihilistic atheist monologues. Among many of the great scenes in the show is this:

In the above clip he talks about M-Theory, which I knew (and still know) almost nothing about. The important part for the purposes of this article is that while you and I experience reality as linear time, that’s not all there is to reality. What we experience as time is just one big thing if viewed from beyond our third dimension. This is a difficult thing to fully grasp, but it’s nearly impossible to comprehend if free will exists. How can it all be seen from another dimension if we all can choose to do anything we want? Without free will, this makes a bit more sense.

This was the second piece of the puzzle.

The latest piece was the Christopher Nolan movie Interstellar (also starring Matthew McConaughey). There is a lot that happens in Interstellar, but the relevant part for my purposes is that they attempt to show the universe outside the third dimension in one particular bedroom. It looked like this.

tesseract

The room had many books in it. So it’s not an accident that it looks like a bunch of books. I don’t know the reasoning behind this particular plot device, but it helped me visualize the concept of being outside of time and brought me back again to fictional storytelling.

With these pieces I added one final piece. I’ve been collecting Marvel Comics since I was twelve. I have thousands of comics starring the X-Men. I often reread them. From the perspective of the X-Men if they were real, they’d be experiencing time linearly. The X-Men of 1963 would have no knowledge that Magneto would one day be an ally. Of course, I can read their entire history at any point that I like. In this way I stand outside of time when it comes to the Marvel Universe. The X-Men are not dead or alive. They are both and neither because it depends on what point in time I choose to focus.

All of this led to a dream I had recently. In the dream, the technology to upload your consciousness into a computer had been achieved. Not only that, but when you upload your consciousness into the computer, the memories that are in your mind are hazy are crystal clear in the computer. In fact, they are so full of sensory input that accessing a memory would feel exactly like you were experiencing it. I awoke briefly wondering if that were exactly what was happening.

If there is God and no afterlife, what comfort can be found in knowing that you and I only get 80 years give or take a decade or three of life no matter what?

The comfort I’ve found is in knowing that everything I’ve done, everything I’m doing, and everything I will do is all happening at once and will always happen. Every loved one exists forever living, loving, and feeling every bit of life. The comfort is in knowing that we’re an eternal part of a picture that is reality.

– Jack Cameron

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Gays

kiss
I remember the first time I saw two men kiss. I was about 14-years-old. It was on a cable access channel. I was completely repulsed. Watching these two men on the television screen I felt physically ill. It went contrary to just about everything I had encountered in my life at that time. There were no gay people in my life that I was aware of. The gay characters on television shows always talked funny and would make insinuations, but they’d never kiss. In the late 1980s, you could call someone a ‘fag’ and no one cared or called you a bigot. Being gay or ‘queer’ as the adults around me would say was abnormal.

As a teenager I went to church. It was a Quaker church and I have to say I never once remember even a mention of gay people while I was there. Still, I was aware that most Christians felt that gay acts were a sin. This did not make them bad people. They were simply sinners who were not following the ways of Christ. Eventually, they’d find the Truth, the Light, and the Way and they’d stop being gay.

It wasn’t until I was seventeen that my thoughts on being gay changed. I got a phone call from an acquaintance. I didn’t really know him very well, but he had my number and knew I had a car. He needed a ride. I’m ashamed to say I honestly do not remember his name. He asked me to pick him up a few blocks from his house.

Fifteen minutes later I found him walking down the street. Stumbling. His shirt and face were bloody. I asked if he wanted me to take him to the hospital but he refused. I asked him what happened. He told me that he had chosen tonight to tell his father that he was gay. His father’s response was to beat the shit out of his own son and kick him out of the house.

I took him back to my parents’ place and let them know my friend was spending the night. He and I talked most of the night. I kept thinking that there was no possible excuse for what his father had done. No act, set of words, or confession could possibly make it okay for a father to beat his son bloody. And the idea that such an event could happen simply because his son was physically attracted to other boys was absurd.

That night before we went to sleep, he kissed me. I didn’t want him to and it solidified my feelings that I was most definitely a heterosexual, but I after what his father had done to him, the last thing I was going to do was add another rejection.

The next morning he called his parents’ house. His mother pleaded with him to come home. He asked me to take him. I asked if he was sure. He said that he was. Over the next year or so, I’d see him every now and then and we’d talk, but he never came over again and we did not become good friends.

The truth was I had many gay and bisexual friends as a teen. I just didn’t know it. I was completely oblivious for much of my high school existence. When I learned they were, it wasn’t a big deal to me because of my experience with that acquaintance.

When I was 19, my parents split up. My mom moved in with a female coworker. When her mother, my grandmother was in the hospital, her entire side of the family was there, but only one person could go in to visit at a time. When my mom went in, relatives asked me if my mom was a lesbian. I said, “Y’know, my whole life I’ve not known much about my mother’s sex life and I intend to keep it that way. If you want to know about it, ask her.”

These days some of my favorite people are same sex couples. I’ve lost count how many I know because it simply doesn’t matter. When I saw those two men kissing on that cable access show, I thought my repulsion was due to some fundamental wrongness with gay culture. I know now that it was simply my reacting to something that was entirely foreign to me.

I used to think that the term ‘homophobe’ wasn’t correct. Anti-gay people weren’t afraid of gay people. They just thought their lifestyle was wrong and shouldn’t be condoned. I was incorrect. Homophobe is exactly the right term. It’s the same as any bigoted response. They’re afraid of what they don’t understand and so they condemn it or try to shut it out. It’s homophobia.

Homophobia isn’t religious, though many nest their homophobia in religion. Jesus never mentions homosexuality. And sure, you can find passages in various holy books that condemn homosexuality, but in those very same books you’ll find that they condone slavery. Our moral compass has evolved since pre-industrial times. One cannot condemn an entire culture using ancient books as their sole justification.

If you find yourself unable to let go of your homophobia, I’m going to suggest you do something very difficult and very rewarding: Get to know gay people. You’ll find that they’re just people who talk and laugh and smile and love the same as the rest of us. They’re just people. Like you and me.

I know for some that request is an impossibility. There are people out there like that father who beat his son for saying he was gay. On a deep core level these people know that being gay is wrong. Our holy books say so. For those people, I want to say that the best way exemplify religion is not to condemn others, but to live your own life in accordance with your beliefs. The most powerful weapon in a Christian’s arsenal is forgiveness.

– Jack Cameron

Being Wrong On The Internet

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People are wrong on the Internet. People will say things that are factually inaccurate and easily proven false. They will say things that any 5-year-old who hasn’t been hit in the head with a baseball can tell you are untrue. They will tell you that vaccines cause autism. They will tell you that more guns make people safer and that the last mass shooting was a hoax. They will tell you that everyone on the West Coast will get cancer within five years thanks to Fukushima. They will tell you there’s a secret root that cures all cancer. They will tell you about Obamacare killing thousands. They will bury you with absolute bullshit that if you heard anyone saying in a city park, you would just assume that person is a crazy person.

And yet, if you’re like me, when these people say these wrong things on the Internet, rather than ignoring their prattle like you would if a crazy person were ranting in a park, you feel compelled to correct them. You feel the need to make sure that if someone less intelligent than you were to stumble upon such a post, they would at the very least see your comment showing that the original post is absolute crap. Because what if an innocent and naïve person were to read the original post and think that it’s true? What if your comment is the only chance to stop some other person from sharing this obviously asinine crap? If not you, who will speak truth to stupid?

It’s been one of my pastimes over the last few years. One might even call it an addiction. I find a cause I’m interested in and I care about. I find people who disagree with my stance and I battle it out online with them. Whenever possible, I try to use links and facts and statistics to back up what I’m saying and try to insist that they do the same.

I’ll tell people that I like talking to people I disagree with because it’s the only way I learn. I’ll tell people how at one point I was a anti-choice, pro-death penalty, gun rights, Christian Quaker, and how through talking with people I disagreed with, I am now none of those things. And while that is true, it’s not why I do it.

I am not going to learn anything from someone who thinks 9/11 was an inside job. And there isn’t going to be a theologian alive who is going to convince me that God exists. There aren’t facts out there that will convince me that killing someone is the best way to show as a society that killing is wrong. Many of the things I see as true are things I’ve thought about and studied so much that in many ways I’m simply frustrated with those who see things otherwise. More to the point, I just want them to pay attention to the facts and see where that leads because I think if they do that, they’ll find themselves in a similar area.

I haven’t been doing it to learn. I’ve been doing it because it’s fun. And while I’m all for having fun, there are better ways to have fun than at someone else’s expense. Taking out my frustration and anger on people who have opinions not backed up by anything more than their feelings on the matter while enjoyable isn’t really what I want to be about. I’d rather take that time and simply make a compelling argument here on my website than get into a thread war on Facebook that inevitably ends with someone I might otherwise think is an okay person all pissed off at me because I’ve ridiculed them for having the audacity to post something stupid.

My point here is simple. I have things I need to do and things I want to do that all take priority over telling someone they are wrong on the Internet. So instead, I’m going to treat you like the crazy person in the park and simply walk away. Facebook friends who post too many bullshit stories will find themselves no longer part of my Facebook friends. Websites that post click bait will be ignored. Commenters so incredibly stupid that it’s strange they’re capable of literacy will be likewise ignored. In short, to all you climate change denying, 9/11 conspiracy, gun nut, anti-vaccers out there, I have better things to do with my life than to tell you that you are wrong on the Internet.
– Jack Cameron

It Might Not Get Better….But Don’t Leave Just Yet

When I worked for the police department in police records, I was shocked by many things, but nothing shocked me more than the amount of suicide reports I encountered. There was one about every other day and I was one of six people processing the reports. And this was just for Tacoma, Lakewood and Pierce County.

Many of the reports contained notes written by the person who committed or attempted to commit suicide. The first one I encountered was written by a 13-year-old boy. He lived in unincorporated Pierce County. He rode his bike up a trail in the woods, wrote a note and shot himself with his dad’s pistol. The note said how he’d never be cool enough or smart enough and he’d never be anything he or anyone else wanted him to be and that he just couldn’t live not fulfilling these ideas of what he felt he was supposed to be.

I cried a lot that day. I thought how if only I could have talked to that kid. Maybe I could have said something. Of course that’s probably naïve or arrogant of me. Whatever the case, over the two years that I worked there, I got used to the suicides. I learned that the longer the note, the more likely the suicide attempt would fail. I learned that some suicides weren’t just people giving up, but people deliberately trying to hurt people by their passing. I learned that it almost never works out the way they expect it to.

Lately there’s been a lot of talk about cyber-bullying. There’s the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign, mostly targeted towards gay and lesbian teens. I like the idea of it for the most part, though few of us are going to end up being rich and famous regardless of how long we live. For most of the people in those campaigns, it didn’t get better. It got fucking amazing. But it’s made me think what I’ve thought about since the day I read that 13-year-old’s suicide note. What would I say to someone who was thinking of killing themselves?

So here it is:

I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t know what you’re going through. And I don’t know that it will get better. Things might even get worse. That may not be the best thing to hear right now, but it’s true. When life sucks, it tends to suck a lot. So let’s get that out there right now.

The other thing I’m going to say that a lot of people wouldn’t say is that you have absolutely every right to kill yourself if you really want to. We don’t get to choose how we come into this world. I think it’s fair to let us choose how to go out. However, just because you have the right, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

I’ve known people who’ve killed themselves and people who’ve tried to kill themselves. And every single one of them was someone unlike anyone else I’ve ever met. I don’t think that’s coincidence. I think that the freaks, the geeks, and the nerds are far more likely to consider suicide because they are far more likely to consider anything. You are the people who come up with the ideas no one else can think of. You’re a valuable piece of the world. And while it might not seem like it right now, we need you.

More importantly, we need you here because there are a lot of people and I mean a LOT who aren’t like you. They don’t think much. They don’t really do anything different than anyone else. And if you’ve ever felt like fighting for anything in your life, then you know that you simply cannot let these people win. And they can’t possibly win while you’re alive.

There are things in this world that you haven’t done yet. And I’m not talking about a bucket list. I’m talking about life experiences you can’t plan and never expect. I’m talking about your entire world changing in the space of a few hours.

I’m 36 years old as I write this. I’ve been married twice. I’m a father. I’m a published author. I’ve been to the other side of the planet. I’ve done things I thought only happened in movies. But long before all of these things happened, I sat in my parent’s living room with a gun in my mouth. I may not know what you’re going through, but I understand the urge to end things.

You are not a burden. You are a person. You are not doing anyone a favor by checking out. It might not seem like it right now, but this isn’t the end. It’s the beginning.

You don’t know what’s coming for you. It may get better. It may get worse. But I promise you, it won’t be all bad. And some of it is going to be more amazing than you can possibly imagine right now. You aren’t normal and that’s a really good thing. Stay weird. Stick around. It’s the one thing you can do that will drive all the right people nuts.

–          Jack Cameron