Nothing was half-assed this year. From peaceful activism to violent terrorism, mass shootings to mass prayer circles, blizzards in Australia to droughts on the West Coast, no one and nothing was all that subtle. Donald Trump became a thing again. Bill Cosby became a thing again. Star Wars became a thing again. Legends departed and legends were reborn.
In my own little world, babies seemed to drop out of the sky at every turn, and death wasn't any less insistent. Decades-spanning governments were dumped abruptly and unapologetically. Friends changed names, addresses, genders, and careers, seemingly quite suddenly. Old flames were reignited and lifelong friendships were buried in silence.
Sure, these things happen every year, but for some reason, 2015 seemed a bit more...intense. A little more extreme. Perhaps it was the many political campaigns across the globe, perhaps it was the moment when Facebook memes became an accepted form of communication, perhaps it was the whole terrorism thing. I don't know. I just know that all around me, people are lamenting, celebrating, cursing, and rejoicing 2015 in a way they did not in previous years.
For me, the year was one of waiting and watching - a far cry from what it seemed to be for everyone else. Nice things happened and shitty things happened and I was good to myself sometimes and bad for myself at other times and I did some things and I didn't do some things, but most of this year was sitting still, for better or worse. I'd be lying if I said I didn't regret my lack of action this year, but I'd also be lying if I said that stillness was in vain. I gained an understanding and appreciation for humanity, even when it's at its worst. I learned that even the most despicable and disappointing views can be, if not empathized with, at least understood. I allowed myself to stand strong in my stillness, refusing to sway. I got a little bit better at being honest while still being kind. I took a micro-step toward balance.
And that, dear everyone, is what I wish for you this coming year. I wish you understanding. I wish you kindness, both given and received. I wish you wisdom. I wish you stillness.
Mostly, though, I wish for everyone to take a breath and count to ten. I wish that we would stop and listen just a little more often. Or, you know, a lot more often. I wish for us to accept and understand that those with views different from ours likely aren't as terrible as we believe they are. That everyone has a reason for believing what they do, and that most of us are capable of changing our minds. I wish us a bit more patience, and a lot more empathy. I wish that when our knee-jerk reaction is to ban and silence, we consciously choose to instead engage and challenge. I wish we reached for the middle more often. I wish we feared less and embraced more. I wish that we judged less and appreciated more. I wish us all more strength and honesty, more tolerance and acceptance, more willingness to understand.
I wish for us to value the word "us" a lot more.
In the immediate wake of America's recent Supreme Court decision, my Facebook news feed featured little else than various takes on the story. Most people were celebrating and congratulating. Some were cautiously optimistic, but quick to remind everyone how much farther the U.S. had to go. A few didn't care much one way or the other, and just wanted to know when everyone's profile pictures would go back to normal. And then there was that handful of people who changed their profile picture to Weeping Jesus and informed us the end was nigh.
I get it. I come from a religious family, and understand the belief that every step we as a society take away from Christian values is a step toward Judgement Day. I come from a conservative province, and understand the fear that liberalism is a slippery slope toward moral decay. While I do not agree with them, I do not condemn people for holding those beliefs. That said, when I see people I know to be loving, intelligent individuals cry out in horror and lament what an apparent outrage this decision is, when thinkers I generally respect begin ranting about the Gay Agenda and their noble Pro-Family opponents, when those charged to love and lead turn to hatred and harm, I have to wonder if they're reading from the same Bible, and the same Constitution, I am.
You know what truly upset Jesus? Poverty. Selfishness. Judgement. Greed. Finger-pointing. Dishonesty. Condemnation. He had little to say about romantic relationships. He had little to say about the law lining up with your personal beliefs. He had a whole lot to say about charity, kindness, and selflessness.
You know what really concerned the Founding Fathers? Liberty. Choice. Freedom. They had nothing to say about personal relationships, and made clear the government would not be run on religion. Rather, they spoke of freedom and the pursuit of happiness, the liberty to live as one sees fit.
Jesus and the Founding Fathers spoke passionately and often about these things. They wrote essays and speeches on them. They gathered their followers to hear their words on them. Their emotional and spiritual appeals on them have been immortalized.
Yet, conspicuously missing from my news feed is outrage that the richest nation in the world allowed 3.5 million people to go homeless this year. I've not seen any declarations that the obscene wages and outstanding greed of the top 1% indicate the end is near. Few are invoking the founding fathers when faced with the government spying on its own citizens, cameras on every corner, and an ever-increasing number of supposed freedoms being curbed. I haven't seen a single Weeping Jesus posted in response to the fact that about 16 million kids go hungry each year - in fact, I haven't seen anyone discuss that fact at all.
A lot of people are worryingly eager to express their outrage about homosexual unions, yet are staggeringly silent about greed, hypocrisy, poverty, and judgement. If this is about religion, allow me to remind you that there are over 500 Bible verses condemning greed and the coveting of riches, nearly 100 about charity, several dozen instructing you not to judge others, at least twenty that charge you to focus on your own sins before the sins of others, and...three about homosexuality (two of which are found alongside commandments to not eat shellfish or shave...). There are more verses about divorce than about homosexuality. There are more verses about foods you shouldn't eat than there are about homosexuality. Yet, I do not see anyone lamenting the decay of society because Red Lobster and divorce lawyers exist. If this is about what America was founded on, well, I could write at length about that, but suffice it to say, the founding fathers strongly supported personal liberty, believed the scope of the government should be small, that no one should be forced to live under another's religious beliefs (and nor should anyone be denied the right to worship as they please), and that all people are created equal, deserve equal rights, and are free to pursue happiness.
I cannot stop anyone from opposing homosexuality and gay unions. I cannot prevent anyone from feeling strongly that they are wrong, or even sinful. But I can ask you to be honest. I can ask you to stop pretending that your indignation is truly Christian or patriotic in nature. If it were, you would immediately set it aside, as there is no actual foundation for your outrage. If this were truly about Jesus or about America, you would be too busy feeding the hungry, burning down Wall St., defending your liberties, and removing the log from your own eye to concern yourself with two people who just want to love freely.
I've never been one to surround myself with yes-men. I like conflict, I like debate, I like being exposed to views I might not consider on my own. I'm happy to have friends with completely different opinions to mine, even if I strongly disagree with them. But, if my Facebook feed is any indication, there's something much more sinister creeping into my social circle. Something that goes well beyond a difference in opinion. Namely, vague, sourceless memes and statuses about the many benefits illegal immigrants and refugees get that we born and bred Canadians are decidedly denied. In the last week or so, two in particular have raised my hackles. One, which has apparently been circulated since 2004, details the huge amount of government funding refugees receive (in comparison to the pittance pensioners get), the other kindly informs us (IN ALL CAPS OF COURSE) that illegal immigrants are handed a job, driver's license, and huge sums of money upon crossing the Canadian border.
You may have guessed from previous posts of mine that I have zero issue with immigration. I'll even go so far as to say I have zero problem with illegal immigration. I'm not a big fan of claiming ownership and exclusivity over chunks of dirt. But that's not what angers me so much about these viral pseudo-diatribes. As I said earlier, I take no issue with my friends having completely opposing views from my own, even if I find them awful. No, what pisses me off about these is that they are fucking nonsense. Few things make me as irate as the intentional spreading of misinformation, especially when its inevitable result is bigotry against our fellow humans. And don't kid yourself - it is intentional, and it will lead to bigotry. There is no excuse for inciting hatred and mistrust of others using misinformation and outright lies - the only reason one can honestly offer for doing so is that those "facts" support their own personal biases. It takes literal seconds to fact-check; anyone not bothering to do it simply doesn't want to.
But hey, I'm a generous person. Maybe it was an honest mistake. Maybe they were having a bad day. Maybe they swear they read this was true, somewhere, at some point. Maybe they just don't know where to look for the facts. Just in case, I thought I'd do them all a favour and gather the information for them. Here, in no particular order, are the real answers to these allegedly hard-hitting questions about Canadian immigration.
It's not immigrants that pose a threat to this nation. It is misinformation and bigotry. We are going out of our way to pass along non-facts in an effort to diminish the positive aspects of immigration and multiculturalism. We, one of the best educated nations on Earth, are intentionally spreading wrong information. If that isn't threatening, I don't know what is. So, the next time you see one of these posts, the next time your anger at all this unfairness flares, the next time you're tempted to utter the now laughable phrase "they took our jobs!", please, for the love of all that is good, stop. Check your facts. Check the numbers. And check that leftover Chinese takeout sitting in your fridge.
It's hard to know where to begin this post. I've written, deleted, and rewritten the opening line dozens of times, and the clock has not yet struck 6am. I didn't want this post to be about me - it seems tacky and selfish - and yet, it's impossible to ignore the parallels and influence present. I didn't want this post to be about him - there are already tens of thousands of those that all say the same thing - and yet, it's so hard not to launch into a recollection of his greatest achievements. I didn't want this post to be all about depression - his goal was, after all, to make us laugh - and yet, this feels like an opportunity that should not be wasted. And so here I sit, wishing to express so many seemingly unconnected things, and having no idea where to begin.
From the time I was old enough to say my own name, I have thought about Robin Williams, quite literally, every single day. That may seem like an overstatement - who the hell, aside from a deranged fan, thinks about a celebrity every day? Someone that has to say his name numerous times a day, that's who. When you grow up with a celebrity's name, especially an insanely famous, hilarious, and well-loved celebrity, it's impossible not to think about them often. For 30-some years, I've daily gone through the same routine - at the bank, at work, at social functions and interviews. I introduce myself, or hand back my form, or wait for my number to be punched into a computer. Pause. Smirk. Inevitable lame joke. Apology for lame joke. Questioning of my parents love for me. Rinse and repeat.
It dawns on me now that sharing a name with, and being a huge fan of, such an iconic figure has influenced my life more than I might have realized. Even that name you see at the top of this page - Robyn J. Williams - was influenced by him. My legal name is Robin Williams; I swapped the "i" for a "y" and added my middle initial in the hopes that people might not make the connection as quickly or as often (and to ensure I had any hope of securing a domain name). This may go a long way in explaining why, for the first time ever, I feel a genuine sadness at the passing of a celebrity. It's no exaggeration to say that there are few, if any, memories I have in which he played no role - even if that role was often just a bad joke at my expense.
But it of course goes deeper than that. Mr. Williams and I didn't just share a name, we share(d) an illness. He made no secret of his struggles with depression and addiction, and knowing that a man who brought so much light to the lives of others couldn't find the light in his own is a hard blow. It serves as a stark reminder that depression knows no boundaries. It does not care about your fame. It does not care how many people adore you, or how many followers you have on Facebook. It doesn't care that you have a good sense of humour, it doesn't care that you're talented. It doesn't care about your scholarship to Juilliard or your HBO special. And it most certainly does not care about your bank account balance. When people ask - and they have, and they will continue to - how a wealthy, successful, beloved man could possibly have anything to be sad about, it tells us that we still have much work to do in educating people about mental illness. It tells us that people still do not understand that depression doesn't have a face. That people can carry their depression in their pockets, laughing and joking and filling the room with positive energy all the while. That it's always the last person we expect. That we never see it coming. If we can manage to pull anything positive out of Robin's suicide, it will be a little more knowledge and a little more awareness. Perhaps, finally, we can begin to understand that this is a real illness that can affect, and even kill, those who seem most immune to its symptoms.
Rest In Peace, dear man.
You're only given one little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it. -Robin Williams
My grade 5 year, 1990/91, I was a chubby, geeky, awkward girl. I didn't have many friends. I wasn't athletic, or popular, or into dolls or cars or make-up or mud. The nerds had rejected me, as I wasn't big on maths, and I thought the A/V club was preferable only to death. I liked books and poems and paintings and music. I spent a lot of time alone. When grade 5 started, I was nervous. I'd already been labelled a "teacher's pet", liked much more by my liberal, hippyish art and language teachers than by my fellow students, and though the label didn't do me many favours, I at least had those teachers to stop my school experience from being completely miserable. But now, standing at the front of the classroom was this old, conservative looking, presumably Christian woman, who I was sure, by those very characteristics, would hate me. I had no idea just how wrong I was.
"Oh, my little poet-to-be, do you think you could pry yourself away long enough to do this equation?" She smiled and winked at me, obviously trying to meet me halfway between enforced curriculum, and my own passions. I'd do the equation, often incorrectly, and she'd calmly walk me through it, undoubtedly knowing it would never sink in. I'd nod in feigned understanding, and go back to my seat to finish whatever it was I'd been writing.
"Robyn, wait," Mrs. Pashuk would say, stopping me on my way out the door. "Hand it over."
I'd pull that day's story or poem out of my binder and give it to her. Her response to it would depend entirely on whether it was about that day's lesson or not. If it was, she would keep it and grade me on it. If it wasn't, I'd get a half-assed lecture on how, even if it was boring, I needed to pay attention in class, as I was a bright kid, and one day, the amount of knowledge I possessed would matter. I think she knew she was fighting a losing battle - that it was highly unlikely I was ever going to pay attention to things that bored me - but that she felt it important to at least try holding my feet to the ground.
Never, however, not even once, did she attempt discouraging my writing. Even when she knew I was ignoring the lesson, even when she knew I wasn't doing what I'd been assigned, even when I would spend the entire day alternating between staring out the window and jotting down lines, never did she tell me not to write. Instead, she'd tailor the lesson to me - she'd challenge me to write a poem or short story about what we were going to learn that day, ensuring that I'd actually pay attention, as I'd want to write a good piece. She'd try relating math to language, as hard as that must have been for her, so that I'd have at least a cursory understanding. She'd play me songs that discussed history (I'll never forget us first laughing at, and then really digging into, Bony M's "Rasputin"), she told me about scientists who were also poets to pique my interest, and she introduced me to painters who were relevant to the lessons we were being taught.
At Halloween, she would make homemade popcorn balls; at Christmas, realizing that our school was highly multicultural, rather than decorating the room in standard Christmas adornments, she'd ask us to research our own culture's winter celebrations, and bring something in to add to the room. Before summer break, she played us songs from Elvis' "Blue Hawaii" - that was, in fact, the only time I saw her as a vulnerable person. A few students mocked her for playing something as ancient and outdated as Elvis was to 90s children, and she actually broke down in tears. All she'd wanted was to share her love of music, and give us something fun and summery to listen to in our last few days before break, and her being laughed at for it apparently hit her hard. I remember being angrier than I'd ever been that day - this woman had showed the same love for the cruel, seemingly heartless bullies as she had for the sweetest and kindest of kids, and here they all were, teaming up to laugh at the silly old lady with her silly old Elvis records. It was that day - despite the fact that it was only a few days before we left her class forever - that the relationship between Mrs. Pashuk, myself, and a couple of other classmates, changed permanently. It was that day that previous alliances were severed, and geeks, bullies, preps, and jocks, joined together, in opposition to those that had formerly been our peers. Some of us were horrified by how some others had treated her that day, and what clique we belonged to had absolutely no bearing on the side we took. It was a day of growing up, and a day of learning to stand our ground. Some of us, who had previously remained silent to damn near everything, loudly proclaimed our distaste for their behaviour. Some of us, who had previously clung tight to our clique, boldly took the side of "the enemy", in solidarity with a woman who had made a sincere attempt to connect with each and every one of us. Some of us grew a little that day, and Mrs. Pashuk, from that point on, fostered in us a belief in ourselves. Not just because we had stuck up for her, but because we had defied our social expectations, and stood up for what we thought was right. And, in her typically fair and bold manner, also (later) defended those who had mocked her, reminding us that they had every right to not like what others liked.
I can't say that, without Mrs. Pashuk, I wouldn't have become a writer. I can't say with any certainty that I wouldn't have published a book or written for websites or started my own business. But I can say with absolute certainty that I would have had to work far harder to learn the necessary lessons, that I would have had to overcome much more doubt, and that I would have had far less confidence. I can say with absolute certainty that the way Mrs. Pashuk approached me forever changed my own approach to learning, to writing, and to communicating. I can say with absolute certainty that her influence made me a stronger, smarter, bolder person. That, after leaving her classroom, I felt more equipped to face the real world, even if I had no idea at that point what it actually was. That her belief that everyone could succeed, that everyone had a passion worthy of following, that her seemingly genuine love for everyone, completely altered the way I viewed my peers, and life itself. That she was the first person, outside of my own family, that sincerely cared whether or not I succeeded.
We love you, Mrs. Bevery Jean Pashuk. May you forever know the good you did in countless lives. May your legacy live on well beyond the 81 years you were given. May you Rest In Peace.
If this blog is anything, it's a collection of contradictions, and this post is no exception - last year, I posted about my no-resolution policy - this year, I am posting my resolution. That's not really a contradiction, however. I still maintain my no-resolution position, for the same reasons. It was just a coincidence of timing this year that I had my latest epiphany just a couple of days before the calendar flips.
I've written about my struggle with weight a couple of times. I've written about my struggle with drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. I've written, rather proudly, about my overcoming of those issues. What I have not ever written, however, is how even overcoming is a temporary thing for me, pretty well always. Yes, I lost 75 pounds. I also gained 30 back. Yes, I quit smoking. Three different times. Yes, I gave up drugs and drink. Right up until I decided staying hammered for a year was an excellent idea. It's ok if you want to judge me for those things - I certainly have - but before you decide to do so, please hear me out.
My resolution this year is quite simply, and most difficultly, to be good to myself. I will not resolve to get skinny. I will not resolve to never drink again. I cannot even promise to never again smoke a cigarette (though I do hope I manage at least that). Hell, I'm drinking a double whisky and staring at a box of chocolates as I write this. It seems to me that my struggle was not ever with weight or with drugs or with alcohol or with cigarettes. I have, in fact, been both genuinely happy and sincerely miserable drunk, sober, thin, fat, smoke-free, and in the throes of a pack-a-day habit. What I was doing was never the issue. Why I was doing it was. I tend to be a woman of extremes. When I was thin, I had a certifiable phobia of food. When I was fat, it was my bestest friend ever. When I'm drunk, I'm really, really drunk. When I'm sober, I recoil in horror at the thought of any adult beverage. And so on, and so on. Whether I'm being "good" or "bad", the underlying issue remains - I'm just not all that good to myself. My sobriety or weight-loss was never a result of sincerely wanting to be healthy, it was the result of hating myself long enough to deny my body any pleasures. Likewise, my weight-gain or drunkenness was never a result of being comfortable with who I am and what I enjoy, but the result of hating myself so much that I just didn't give a shit.
This year has been a rocky one, to say the least. I hit my lowest point professionally and personally, watched helplessly as my dad suffered and recovered from a stroke, and re-adopted several of my worst habits. Rather than being angry with myself or anyone else, however, I have opted to be thankful. I have chosen to see all of this as a learning experience - of a clear declaration of who I was, who I am, and who I want to be. I have chosen to no longer dwell on any rut I may feel I am in, and instead look up at that opening. I have chosen to be good to myself.
In case you have been living under a rock for the last 24 hours, some guy that hunts ducks doesn't think anal sex is awesome. This is apparently the most important thing that has ever happened, so I'll give you a few moments to rage.
Feel better? No? What if I told you he got fired for it? Now do you feel better?
You shouldn't. Yes, yes, the guy is a dick. His views are bigoted, and not appreciated by a large segment of society. But there's a larger issue at play here, and we'd be foolish to ignore it. The man was "suspended" from his own TV show, because his personal views do not line up with those of A&E, who claim to support LGBT rights. That may seem reasonable at first glance - afterall, most of us would be likewise fired if we made racist or homophobic statements aloud at work. Here's the thing, though: Duck Dynasty, from what I have read (I'm not exactly up on the latest in "reality TV"), is about openly conservative Christian hunters from Louisiana. Now, I hate to stereotype people, but just from that description, I can assume, probably safely, that they do not drape themselves in rainbow flags at the end of the day. I can also assume that A&E was well aware of the fact that they would have the occasional controversial view. In fact, the more I read about this show, the clearer it becomes to me that A&E was banking on it. Let's be honest - you don't create a show about conservatives from the deep south to appeal to an ultra-liberal audience, unless you're counting on the trainwreck syndrome to work in your favour. Whatever the truth of the matter is, A&E had to know this would happen at some point, and is likely to get more ratings out of the deal, one way or another. Bluntly put, they fired one of their employees for doing exactly what they knew and hoped he would do. Not cool.
But it goes even deeper than that. I vehemently disagree with everything he said. I think it was bigoted and crude, and sorely uneducated. And I completely support his right to say it. This whole "free speech comes with responsibility" and "public figures shouldn't voice their personal views" argument is utter bullshit. No one - not you, not me, not homosexuals, nor Christians, have the right to not be offended. Sorry, but we just fucking don't. Everyone should be very disturbed by the precedents set by stories like these. I'm not generally one to employ a slippery-slope argument, but I can't deny seeing the potential for one here, for two reasons:
I'm quite sure I've already written this post, but maybe it didn't get through the first time. Maybe it needs to be said over and over. Or maybe I'm just talking to myself here. In any case, I feel the urge to say it again.
Anti-gay bigots: no one cares what you think. No, really. We care about you trying to deny us our rights, and we care that you are raising your kids to be bigots, but overall, your approval is not something we seek. We truly DO NOT CARE that YOU have an issue with OUR relationships, in much the same way that you undoubtedly don't care whether I like your spouse or not. But, just to be super clear here, some of your "arguments" really need to be put to rest. We're not in any way similar to paedophiles, rapists, or necrophiliacs. We do not engage in sex acts with unwilling partners. We do not rape kids, animals, or dead bodies (I can't believe I even need to make this distinction, really). We form the same loving, consensual relationships you do, just with people of the same gender. That's literally, and strictly, the only difference between you and us. If you fail to grasp the difference between rape and a same-sex relationship, I'd suggest that you are far more dangerous than we are.
Racists: you're fucking idiots. I've tried to employ diplomacy with you; I've tried to grasp your position, but it seems that there's nothing to understand. You hate people for stupid reasons, and that's about all there is to that. If you would step back for even a second and examine your position, I think most of you would see how fucking moronic it is. You hate people, even want them deported or dead because...their flesh is a slightly darker/lighter shade than yours? Really? Do you not see how incredibly stupid that is? If you're honest with yourselves, I think you'd be forced to admit it's not the race itself you dislike, it's the culture. I get that. You, Mr. White American, can't relate to a turban wearing Sikh. Fine. Not all cultures are easily blended. That's understandable. I have a hard time with the idea of a woman being submissive to a man, or feeling compelled to wear a burka. But, you know what? As long as those people are doing what they do by choice, rather than by force, IT'S NONE OF MY FUCKING BUSINESS. And, if they ARE being forced, how exactly does my being a racist fuck help them? Hint: it doesn't.
Religious bigots (of all flavours): fuck you. Just...straight up, fuck you. You don't believe in a god? Awesome, good for you. You DO believe in a god? Awesome, good for you, too. You want to infringe on other people's rights and lives because of those positions? Fuck you. This one should actually be really simple, no matter what perspective you are coming from. Christians would not want to be forced to live under Sharia law. Hindus would not want to be forced to live under Mormon doctrine. So why in the fuck do ANY Christians or atheists (the two most common beliefs/lack thereof where I live) think it's acceptable to force their views on their "opposition"? Why would anyone think it's okay to harass church-goers, or to call non-believers "evil"? What exactly do you think you're going to accomplish with those tactics? You think telling Christians they're delusional morons will make them ditch their faith? You think telling atheists they are destined for hell will shuffle them into your church? If so, you're a fucking idiot. People have different beliefs. Get over it. Seriously. Get the fuck over it, before we all kill one another.
I'm fed-fucking-up with these insane and illogical positions. If they weren't so dangerous and hateful, I would be sincerely amused by them, because they're just that stupid. There are almost 7 billion people on Earth. SEVEN BILLION. Do you really believe there's any chance that they will all be the same as you? Do you really believe they should be? If you've ever eaten a taco or gone to a funeral or had a glass of wine, I strongly suggest you shut the fuck up, as you are reaping the benefits of different cultures, religions, and races. If you've ever had anything but vanilla, missionary sex, or had the audacity to vote, I suggest you shut the fuck up, as you are reaping the benefits of the LGBT and women's rights movements. Anyone that is even halfway willing to examine life from a reasonable perspective will see that our differences and diversity directly contributed to the rights and privileges we enjoy today. And if you can't appreciate that, perhaps it is not everyone else that is the problem, but you. Just a thought.
Few arguments are more amusing for me to sit back and watch than one between the unashamed omnivore and the fervent vegetarian. For whatever reason, people tend to really dig their heels in on this subject, and pretty well immediately begin digging up the most extreme examples they can to "prove" their point. Meat eaters will offer a pseudo-educated lecture on the nutrients missing in a vegetarian diet, and scream hypocrisy if their opposition has ever been so bold as to take a Tylenol. Vegetarians will put forth an emotional appeal that would make Satan himself weep, describing in gruesome detail the brief and tortured life of the animals that land on your plate. Both will make the occasional valid point, but all in all, it tends to turn into a competition of convincing propaganda.
Here's the thing. Yes, most of the meat that gets to your plate was probably not acquired in an awesome way. Yes, it is possible to get all of your nutrients through a vegetarian diet. Yes, there are many moral and nutritional arguments in favour of limiting your meat intake. Yes, a lot of animal testing facilities and meat manufacturers engage in horrific practices. Yes, there are plenty of perfectly acceptable and equally beneficial animal alternatives. But it is also true that humans are designed to consume meat. It is also true that many of the products we all use and take for granted came by way of animal somehow. It is also true that diseases and infections that would have otherwise killed us can be treated now, thanks to animals. And, believe it or not, it is also true that a middle ground can be sought, here.
The more we all learn about the meat industry, animal testing, and the questionable treatment of many critters, the bigger the moral dilemma we face. More and more people are opting to become vegetarians or vegans, and I, as an (almost) vegetarian myself, greatly appreciate this. But this is no place for extremism, either. When people venture over to either extreme of any issue, the chances of doing overall harm are far greater than doing any great benefit. We have to keep a lot of things in mind here - what are we replacing our meat with? Is that sustainable, and ecologically sound? Is it rational to completely remove animals from everyone's diet, or would it make more sense to force changes in the industry? What alternatives do we have, or must we create, to animal-based medications? What will the economic impact be if we greatly shift our perspective, and what steps are we taking to avoid a collapse? While I'm morally on the side of animal rights activists, I also realise that this isn't just a moral argument. If it were, the right choice would be quite clear: stop doing what we're doing. But there is much more than that to consider. Current hunting and fishing laws make it difficult to sustain ourselves on only what we can catch. Free range farms are a great alternative, but not available to many. Vegetarian alternatives are more ethical, but often difficult to justify ecologically and financially. Many medical treatments involve animal testing/products, and do not currently have a veg-friendly counterpart. The meat industry, for better or worse, generates a lot of income, creates a lot of jobs, and provides a lot of affordable food - if we want to destroy it, we'd damn well better be prepared to replace it.
If we really want to see positive change occur, we cannot come at this with knee-jerk reactions from either side. We have to recognize not just the moral implications of our actions, but also the ecological, economic, and medical. We have to be rational, and not force ourselves into boxes. You don't have to be either a tofuwrappedinlettuceite or a wrapitallinbaconite. You can cut down on meat, but still go fishing. You can be a vegetarian that indulges in cheese now and then. You can eat only free range animals. You can be a vegan that grows your own veg. You can raise your own chickens, and do with them what you will. There's no reason to believe you have to adopt either extreme. If we can at least all agree that the current way of doing things isn't fantastic, and there are better alternatives out there, we can all make a change for the better.
As you've probably figured out by now, one of my favourite pastimes is debate. From the philosophical to the linguistic, from the political to the mundane, any and all topics are worthy of debate, in my eyes. One topic that never gets old for...well...anyone, is religion. And lack of religion. And which versions of which religions are more or less valid. And so on, and so on, and so on. There is no end to the number of possible religious topics, and the internet gives us more than enough podiums from which to rant. One particular debate annoys me, however, on both a linguistic and ideological level.
See, I'm a pedant. And a writer. And a self-taught linguist. I take great interest in words, and how to most efficiently apply them. I'm also, however, vehemently opposed to forcing labels and ideologies onto others. I firmly believe that everyone has the right to define themselves, to take on or reject any label they so desire, and to leave open the option of changing their minds. And so, when the word "agnostic" is used without any additional suffix or context, my brain tends to split off into two diametrically opposed camps. On the one hand, "agnostic" is, by definition, a knowledge claim, not a belief claim. One can be an agnostic-atheist, an agnostic-Christian, an agnostic-Hindu, or any other possible designation. All it means is that one claims no knowledge of whether a literal deity exists or not - it says nothing about what they believe. On the other, I personally self-identify as "agnostic". I don't add atheist or theist or Cthuluist or Flying Spaghetti-ist to that - just regular, lonely ol' agnostic. So I fully understand where others are coming from with that. Yes, technically, if you do not believe in a specific deity/deities, you are an atheist. This is an unavoidable linguistic fact. But, if we are to be honest, words are much more than just cold definitions. Words carry connotations. They give flight to ideals. Stating that one is a theist, or an atheist, carries with it much more than a dictionary definition. It implies an ideology - an ideology not everyone wants to be associated with.
I've often been told that I "can't" be just an agnostic. That I "have to" admit to being either a theist or an atheist. That there is no logical way I can claim to be neither. The pedant half of me agrees - the strictest definitions of these terms demands that everyone be either a theist or an atheist. But the adamant free-thinker in me bucks this idea unabashedly. Sure, we all have our vague beliefs about such concepts, but what is so wrong with sticking with the clearest truth to some of us, which is "I don't know"? Why bother applying terms that we don't feel at all passionate or confident about? Why limit ourselves to a dichotomy that does not adequately sum up our views on the matter? What if I think a higher power is possible, but reject outright the current concepts presented? What if I think a higher power is unlikely, but that a more evolved, unknown species may have influenced our own? What if I think creation is reasonable, but that the proposed creators are not? There are countless ideas one may have on these topics that do not neatly fit into the "theist" or "atheist" models - so why should anyone be required to apply one term or the other to themselves?
Language has a single purpose: to communicate ideas. While creating strict definitions for words is necessary in a functional sense (that is, we all have to come to some sort of agreement on what words mean, otherwise, they lose their purpose), when it comes to vaguer ideologies, abstract concepts, and an expression of hard to define ideas, those strict definitions become a detriment. They force us to apply inadequate labels on ourselves, and limit our own ideas to the words currently available. This is, really, in direct opposition to the purpose of language - it prevents us from communicating our ideas, rather than arming us to do so.
And so, I propose a new definition for the label "agnostic". I propose that, if one chooses to use this label alone, free from any context, we should presume that this is a person that does not feel the terms "atheist" or "theist" sufficiently define their thoughts on the matter. That they have chosen to end the conversation at "I don't know". That they reject the connotations of other terms. That an agnostic is one that does not feel inclined to express vague beliefs, or feels belief is too abstract a concept to cling to. I propose that we loosen the definitions of "middle ground" labels, to communicate the idea that not all ideas can be communicated with a single word.