I don't know what the fuck a hipster is.
I guess the combination of being over 30 and never having really given a shit about the ever-evolving counter-culture labels has left me a bit out of touch. The last time I paid even the slightest amount of attention to that shit was back in the days of goths and jocks and preps and skids. I was a teenager then, and these labels were, apparently, a hugely important way of determining who you should or should not be a complete asshole to. I guess you could say I was part of the "freak" crowd -- we were all some random hybrid of geek, goth, skid, and hippie. We wore a lot of black, a lot of leather, a lot of big boots, long skirts, and strange hats. Male or female, gay or straight, we all had long hair and black nail polish. We were opposed to war, but all armed with at least one knife. We were anti-establishment, but did well in school. We were anti-drug, unless those drugs were caffeine, pot, or beer. We hated sports, but went to the coulees just to spar with each other.
We didn't, however, pay much mind to being "counter-culture", or particularly care what clique someone hailed from. If we liked you, we liked you. If we didn't, we didn't. We had friends that were jocks, geeks, preps and rednecks. Pretty well anyone who was willing to buy a round of coffee and have an intelligent conversation was welcome to do so. And it is here that I become very confused by the cliques of today, and, indeed, the cliques of my generation as well. Particularly the cliques that are so-called "counter-culture". Perhaps it is just age catching up with me, but I find counter-culture cliques desperately hilarious. There is a delicious irony at the idea of counter-culture meaning those who swear by self-created fads and lord their intellectual interests over others. That there is nothing more to being counter-culture than shopping at thrift stores and downloading indie bands. Pick up a fucking Ferlinghetti book, for God's sake. Think a little deeper than the first chapter of your poli-sci textbook. Counter-culture is not a fad, it's not a clique, it's not a fucking fashion statement. It's not a term for those who haunt art galleries or wear thick-rimmed glasses or post shitty poetry about the man on their blog.
Counter-culture is about saying "no". It's about saying "fuck this bullshit". It's about not buying into propaganda, it's about making your own decisions, about valuing personal freedom, about accepting and rejecting things on their own merits, rather than on how popular or opposed they may be. Counter-culture cannot be a clique, it cannot be a fad, because as soon as it becomes such a thing, it ceases to be. By grouping yourselves off, by looking your condescending noses down at those outside your little circle, you are buying into exactly that which you claim to be against. When you create and strengthen divisions between people, when you judge people on such shallow issues as fashion or financial status or whether they shop at Choices or Wal*Mart, you become the culture you claim to counter. It is these petty divisions, these shallow judgments, that leave us questioning our culture to begin with. It is placing importance on the wrong things, the limiting of personal freedoms in favor of some contrived ideal, the categorizing of people as better or worse than us, that we rally against in the first place.
Now, just to make clear that I'm not trying to be a dick, let me say that I do understand the fashion statement side of things (as I write this, I have a bright purple streak in my hair and more tattoos and piercings than I'm willing to count right now). I understand wanting to visually stand out -- to reject societal norms and make it clear to all who look upon you that you are not one of them. That you are not just another sheep in the flock, that you will decide how you adorn yourself, that you own your own body. I get that. Not only do I get it, I loudly and strongly support it. I do not take issue with a visual declaration of independence. What I take issue with is exclusion. I take issue with cliques being formed out of these visual statements, and divisions being created from something so petty. I take issue with the hypocrisy of wanting the freedom to be who you are, and then using that freedom to berate others.
You want to be counter-culture? Try being a decent fucking human being. Try to live and let live. Try not to buy into coolness. Try to appreciate people for who they are. Try to blur the line between us and them. Try honestly and sincerely questioning why things are they way they are and what you can do about that. Try helping people just for the sake of helping them. Try looking beyond what a person is wearing or where they work. Realize that all politics are bullshit. Know your enemies, but try to have as few as possible. Dress how you want to dress. Do what you want to do. Don't harm others, but don't give a shit what they think of you, either.
We have a lot of work to do. We have a steep hill to climb. Those of us who are not satisfied, those of us who don't think this is good enough, those of us who know we are getting screwed, cannot let petty differences distract us. We cannot buy into fads, we cannot buy into propaganda, we cannot be soldiers in the war. If we are ever to make a difference, we must rise above these shallow divisions and commit ourselves to a greater cause. We must commit ourselves to the cause of personal freedom -- and the first step in embracing personal freedom is accepting others for who they are.
Abortion is a hot topic. Yeah, okay, I get that. It makes people uncomfortable. It brings up a lot of deeper issues. It pits the so-called right to life against so-called personal freedom, and it challenges our base instincts and general perceptions. It's hard to think about abortion and not have a knee-jerk reaction: on the one hand, it is consciously and decidedly ending a life before it even has the chance to begin, for what are often seen as questionable reasons. On the other, it is a decision that epitomizes one's right to control and own their own body and life. On either side, there are clever slogans, convincing propaganda and a strong emotional appeal.
The problem is, few seem to see the bigger picture. We can (and have) argue for decades over what should have more value: an unborn baby or a woman's right to choose. We can argue over how life is defined and when it begins. We can argue over ethics and religion and politics and law. We can pit right against right, scenario against scenario, life against life -- but we all lose for doing so. Ask 10 people, ask 100, ask 1000, if they like the idea of abortion, and all will say no. No one likes the idea. No one thinks abortion is awesome, and that everyone should run out and have one today. No one sees it as a fun way to spend an afternoon. Let's be real, here. In an ideal world, all babies would be intentional and wanted, all children would have loving homes, all sex would be consensual and responsible and between emotionally invested adults. But...guess what? This is not an ideal world. People do stupid things. People do bad things. People do irresponsible things. People have sex. While we sit around, debating the ethics of abortion on the internet, in the media, and in the courts, real people are really going through these things. Real women and real men are really having to decide whether or not to bring children into the world, or end these lives before they begin. Real girls are really pregnant, and are sitting, crying somewhere, trying to decide what the hell to do.
This isn't a political issue. It isn't an ethical issue. It isn't a religious issue or a legal issue. This is as real as it gets, and we are all doing a great disservice to a great many people by minimizing it and turning it into another piece of propaganda for our cause. What we all need to do is shut the fuck up for a minute and think. We need solutions. We need to understand the whys and hows of unwanted pregnancies and do all we can to minimize them. We need better health care. We need better education. We need more access to birth control and child care. We need compassion and empathy and respect and to remember that these are real people we are discussing. These are real lives we are debating. You may think you have it all sorted, that it's an easy and obvious choice, that your particular view of things is the right one, and that the world would be a better place if people would just agree with you. And hey, maybe you're right. Maybe your God or your Prime Minister or your tarot cards have figured that shit right out, and the rest of us are just slow on the uptake. Good on ya if that happens to be the case.
I ask, implore, even, that you just pause to consider one thing. Whatever your stance on abortion, whether you be the raving blow-up-clinics variety of pro-lifer, or the raging "advertise my abortion on a t-shirt" brand of pro-choicer, or (hopefully) a saner point in-between, I beg of you to consider a third option. The option of pro-intelligent choice. The option in which everyone has access to all the information -- the good, the bad, the ugly. Where everyone knows their options, where everyone understands all the implications of keeping a child, of giving a child up for adoption, of abortion. Where questions are not shunned, where curiosity is not seen as sinful, where people are given the means to make intelligent decisions. I ask you all to consider that, rather than condemn or congratulate those who choose to have abortions, we do all we can to care for the children we have now and provide them with all the information they need to make the best decisions they can. I ask that we stop viewing sex as an ethical debate, and start seeing it for what it is: a biological desire, an emotional expression, and a natural act in which most everyone will at some point engage. We would be foolish, naive, and really, downright stupid to think we can somehow convince people not to do it until some arbitrary standard has been met. People will have sex. People will not always be smart. Accept this, move on, and be part of the solution.
I tend to avoid the topic of religion pretty well everywhere, save a few select online forums. The reason being, I have friends and family of every possible non/belief, from fundamentalist Christian to raging atheist, and I have no desire to offend or argue with any of them. I have my beliefs, they have theirs, and I'm content to leave it at that (unless they try to force their beliefs on me, but that's a separate post unto itself) . I do, however, have a large fucking problem with one particular idea that has come up more and more often over the last few years -- the idea that non-believers have no morals.
To be honest, I don't even know where to begin, here. This is a topic that has long bothered me, long poked its annoying finger into the ribcage of my brain, but I've avoided writing this, as it's a hard topic to broach. See, believers and non-believers often have such vastly different views of the world that it's often hard to find a language common enough to us both to effectively communicate these ideas. Where many believers see morals as coming from God, coming from a definitive, objective source, non-believers tend to see them as general standards of acceptable behavior, based on culture, era, necessity, and the overall benefit of the species, combined with our own developed sense of empathy. Complicated shit. And I think it is exactly that -- the complex foundations of morality -- that make it easy for some believers to doubt the moral standards of non-believers.
I suppose the best place to begin is, well, at the beginning. While it's still a working theory and based largely on speculation and observation, I subscribe to the belief that morals are an evolutionary trait. Studies done on everything from bees to rats to chimpanzees have indicated that social species tend to develop their own brands of morality, for reasons ranging from overall benefit to the species to a sense of empathy that dissuades us from causing another pain. Simply put, it does both ourselves and our species harm to hurt others. Now, this is the point at which a lot of religious folks say "well, that doesn't seem to stop us, so why should I believe that?". To this, I have two replies: one, some people are just dicks. Morality exists, but that does not mean everyone possesses it. Two, religion doesn't seem to stop people from being dicks either. In the grand scheme of things, it's pretty clear that most of us are, by and large, moral beings. Most of us do not steal, do not rape, do not kill. Most of us, while selfish on some level, have no desire to harm one another.
The question then, at least for me, is: why do people feel that, without religion, without belief in a deity, one has no moral foundation? The implications of this belief concern me a little. As if, without your religion, you would have nothing keeping you in line, no reason to behave like a decent human being. That, if the Bible or...whatever...hadn't told you so, you would have no idea that murder and rape were wrong. It frightens me to think that people believe that, without belief in God, without fear of hell or punishment, atrocity would suddenly become acceptable.
All implications and speculation aside, allow me to explain, very simply, how one can have morals without God. I, quite plainly, have no desire to harm another. Because I possess empathy, because I can relate to another's suffering, because I have self-respect, and a general awe and reverence for the universe and existence in general, I long for the survival and growth of us as a species. I long for us to evolve to a point where, rather than fight amongst ourselves, we work together to discover the truths of our existence. Perhaps that's naive, perhaps it's mere wishful thinking, but it is the foundation for my morals. My desire to understand who we are and why we are here is more than enough to prevent me from willingly harming our species. Indeed, it dissuades me from doing any unnecessary harm, both within and outside of our own species. Unless I can somehow justify it as necessary to my own survival, I find doing harm abhorrent. Life is a pretty spectacular thing to be experiencing, and I don't feel it my place to interfere in or cut short the experiences of others.
It could be said that it's the result of an "us vs. them" mentality. It could be said that ambiguity makes people uncomfortable. It could be said that middle ground is seen as the bad part of town. Whatever the reason, it has become clear to me that those who hold to the center, who do not fit one extreme or the other, those who take up that space in the middle are not seen as diplomats or centrists or the halfway point on the spectrum, but as confused, or in denial, or playing both sides. We are the unholy middle.
At no time is this more obvious than when debating or discussing two positions that apply to me personally: agnosticism and bisexuality. Religion and sexuality come up often in debate, and the arguments against both agnosticism and bisexuality are annoyingly similar. There is an all too common distaste for this in-between position -- atheists and theists, homosexuals and heterosexuals, for just a moment, will join together to fight their common enemy.
Agnosticism, of course, is the position of not-knowing. I do not know if there is some sort of deity out there or not. I don't even know if such a thing is knowable. Many atheists claim that we are simply avoiding the inevitable conclusion, that we are playing the diplomat by refusing to say we don't believe in god. Many theists on the other hand will say we are just denying the obvious, ignoring the evidence. That if we would open our hearts just a tiny little bit, the truth of god would reveal itself. Both take on a position of claiming to know our beliefs better than we do -- they claim that we know the truth, we just won't admit it. Rarely considered is that we have searched for the truth, and been left wanting. That we have come to a conclusion, but that the conclusion is that there isn't one to come to. That there is no claim to be made, no information to go on. That the existence or non-existence of a deity is just another of the myriad mysteries of the universe, still waiting to be discovered, and that that's okay.
Likewise, bisexuality is the position of being neither gay nor straight. It is the natural ability or tendency to feel a romantic attraction to people of all genders, rather than just one. Both heterosexuals and homosexuals, however, have been kind enough to explain how wrong I am about my sexuality. That it's just a state of confusion, or a bucking of the status quo. That bisexuals are either homosexuals in denial, heterosexuals playing non-conformist, or some confused combination of the two. Rarely is it considered that bisexuality is a legitimate orientation, that a person really can feel attraction to both men and women, that people live this "phase" their entire lives.
Because these arguments are so painfully similar -- the idea that we exist in the middle because we are confused or in denial -- and because they are not espoused by all, but by a very particular type of person -- I can't help but speculate that this comes down to an "us vs. them" mentality. It seems some people are very uncomfortable with the in-between. They don't like grey areas. They like to know that you're either with us or against us. Like us or different than us. Part of this group, or part of that group. If you're in the middle, no one knows quite where you stand. They don't know if you support them or your enemy. They can't understand how you aren't one or the other, and they wish you would just pick a side. This idea, of course, works on the assumption that there are only two choices. Gay or straight. Believer or non-believer. Liberal or conservative. Us or them.
I would like to propose to those people, then, what to me is obvious. I would like to propose that there are far more than two options, far more people than just us and them. That there are people who cling to no extreme, who are neither gay nor straight, who do not see evidence for a god, nor evidence against one, who do not agree with any particular political ideology or align themselves with any particular group. That there is more than just black or white, and indeed, more than just different shades of grey -- there are bright and vibrant colors on both sides of the spectrum. More than that, I would like to propose that that's okay. That there is no requirement that one takes this side or that side, and that existing in the center is just as legitimate as existing anywhere else. That an agnostic really makes no claim, that a bisexual really isn't gay or straight, and that we really are not your enemy.
Wherein I say
whatever I want.