Not For Need Of Answers

Myths and legends often aim to explain the natural world. Aesop tells us that the tortoise got its shell because Zeus was mad at it. Norse mythology describes earthquakes as caused by Loki’s tremors. Legends tried to explain animals, plants, geography, and many more things that they couldn’t fully explain at the time they were written.

We can debate whether these people actually believed their stories or whether they were just fun traditions, but what’s clear now is that we of the scientific era have found the better answers. We can explain the tortoise’s shell from biology and earthquakes from seismology. We no longer have need for such silly stories, right?

Well, then this week’s episode of Steven Universe aired.

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This was the first time I paid attention to something I’ve seen my whole life. Even though we understand the true meanings of things, we continue to invent explanations for them. This often happens when fictional universes adopt real world holidays. The story needs a reason for the holiday to be there.

So we have a thanksgiving Steven Universe story, but the history of that world isn’t the same as ours. It could have been, but it isn’t. For all we know, there were no pilgrims or anything of the sort. The holiday spread is what it is because Lapis and Peridot had the vegetables they had and because the others went into Greg’s van and bought what they could. Expressing gratitude just happens because they were all feeling thankful and having a good time. We carve pumpkins because Steven wanted Lapis and Peridot to have a living vegetable friend (wrong holiday, but whatever.)

And I found it strange that the show was trying to explain something that already has a story. Not wrong, just strange in a science-driven world. Evidently we do this for reasons other than just needing an explanation. We have an explanation but we want to make another. We love to reinvent and reinterpret our world.

Apart from being just fascinating, I find this comforting. It means that no matter what we discover or build, there will always be something more that can be done. We’ll never run out of things to do and we’ll never tire of stories.

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Don’t Just Vote

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The situation in the US is a mess. Being only 22 years old, this is the first US Election that I’ve really paid any attention to. I intentionally ignored politics for many years because I wanted to make sure that my worldview (including politics) would grow to be informed by important matters, rather than important matters being informed by my politics.

Aaron, politics are important.” Mmm, kinda? It is my opinion (having never studied political science and being quite proud of that fact) that what happens in the capitol is a consequence of what happens in the hearts and minds of the nation. Policies do not change hearts and minds, hearts and minds change policies. You cannot change the attitudes of the nation by implementing policies any better than you can change the wind by spinning the weather vein. What happens in the nation’s capitol is of second-hand importance – a sign of what’s already transpiring.

The We’re All Doomed position in this election is misinformed in that it’s looking forward instead of backward. Doom isn’t on the horizon. We’re already in a mess and we have been for some time now. This election’s results are only relevant as indicators and fulfillments of something else. I don’t care who wins, I care why. Fixing the problems that follow has nothing to do with Washington DC and everything to do the conversations that happen between now and the next election.

Those conversations are going to be tricky because we are embarrassingly ill-equipped. We tend to respond from our guts rather than our heads and we lack the self-evaluation skills to understand even our own beliefs. We know what we believe, as if our convictions are nothing but a single one-dimensional point of data, but issues are much more complex.

– We must understand why we believe. If two people believe the same thing, one because of X and the other because of Y, they will split once X or Y changes.
– We must also consider the intent of belief. Two people can agree with a position on an issue but have radically different visions on how that belief should manifest. We might agree that something is wrong but disagree on how to address it.
– We must also understand how we believe. Disagreements often include not just an issue, but the importance of an issue. You may be pro-choice but not really care, or pro-choice and consider the issue paramount.
– Even if our position is entrenched, we must understand how we disagree. Is the other position just stupid (they rarely are) or do they have complex reasons for their belief worth our consideration even if we do strongly disagree?

These are tools that will help us over the next four years no matter who wins. Now let me address some of the vices that got us here in the first place.

Autonomy as virtue. Whether it’s bearing arms or aborting pregnancies, we don’t want to be told what to do. Autonomy cannot be an assumed virtue. Sometimes freedoms must be surrendered to accomplish what is right.
Ignorance as permissible. Has either of these candidates studied the Hadith? I’m convinced that Trump’s fearmongering and Clinton’s complacency towards Islam are both born of ignorance, as are many more issues.
Platform over character. It is a tragic flaw of the American system (and the Canadian as well) that elections tend to come down to hot-button issues and soundbites. Character and belief are related but distinct. A leader of integrity, understanding, and selflessness will be a greater credit to a nation than a stubborn platform.

A few years ago, I would have concluded this post with an appeal to not vote; both of these candidates are awful and it would be wrong to express support for either one. While I do believe that both of these candidates would make terrible presidents, let me sum up differently.

Democracy, as we know it, is lazy. Checking off those boxes once every few years is the bare minimum effort you can put into impacting your community and your nation. You have a far greater responsibility. Don’t just vote: Talk. And Listen. It is neither your privilege nor right to look away from the uncomfortable complexities of the world, to disagree in silence and leave the battle to someone else, or to shelter fragile ideologies behind walls.

Be challenged. Read. Think. Challenge yourself and challenge others. If you’re a young adult like I am, we are in the process of inheriting this world. What are we going to do with it? Vote, but don’t just vote. Discuss and discuss well. Have your own thoughts. Think critically. If we can get that right then we’ll find a brighter future.

The world doesn’t need more Democrats or more Republicans, it needs both to be better. And the place to start is yourself.