Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On Being a Dick

I was pleased to read this recent blog post from the Barefoot Professor, Dr. Daniel Howell, advising new barefooters against being jerks. 

As a rule, I wholeheartedly agree with what Dr. Howell is saying. In fact, although he might not have intended it, he is paraphrasing the "Atheist Commandment" which is "Thou shalt not be a dick". I think that such a decree has some unmeasurable value, especially at moderating the tone of the discussion away from confrontation and tension.

However, I also think it's important to remember that sometimes, bad ideas can and will only go away when exposed to the harsh sunlight of ridicule. In other words, although we may attempt to live by the commandment "don't be a dick" as much as possible, sometimes it's advisable to not just bend, but to break this important rule. To show this perspective, I think we can get value from looking at the discussion that we atheists have amongst ourselves about whether we help or hurt our cause by sometimes "being dicks". 

Our leading atheist figures have often been accused of being "shrill" or "strident" for the way in which they question a particular point of dogma, or for implying that believing something without evidence, regardless of what is on the table, is a bad idea. There then follows a backlash from more friendly types of non-believers who will decry such "harsh treatment" of religion, believers, etc. This then inspires the original group to defend their statements which get even more criticism...wash, rinse, repeat. 

While I appreciate the gentler side of our causes, as they attempt to cajole our critics with kindness and understanding, I also think that we should value those who will stand firm and challenge those who would spout bad ideas as though they were Undisputed Truth. 

I think that Public Displays of Stupidity SHOULD be mocked. If we simply let them slide, there is the chance that we will become numb to stupid ideas, and it will require stupider and stupider acts to elicit our outrage. I guess to sum up, I think that sometimes the best (and only) way to move the markers down the field is to go against that one lone commandment to not be a dick. 

I will leave you with the following quote from PZ Myers, of the blog Pharyngula, who discussed this very topic of "playing nice" recently, and had this to say at the end of his blog post (emphasis mine): 
So here we are, once again talking about how to communicate, and I fear that we'll lose is the sense of what to communicate [sic]. Don't forget: the truth is our pole star, science is the vessel we use to progress, and a passion to explore and learn is the engine of our purpose. If we lose sight of that in our concern to be gentle with those who impede us, we'll lose our way.
So get out there, go barefoot, be proud, be nice, and don't be a jerk/dick. Mostly.  

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Lighter than Air

This post is inspired by an event which transpired about two months ago, and which has stayed with me this whole time. I was bothered by it then, but I never blogged about it and I wanted to say my piece before I let it go for good.

So back in the early spring, I had been getting into trying MovNat. (If you're unfamiliar with MovNat, head to I was running around on rocks, balancing on logs and beams, and just generally having fun. Well, there's a beautiful park here in Bellevue with a botanical garden, and there's one section of the path that winds through the gardens and is lined with these nice big rocks. They're perfect for jumping on. So this is what I was doing, when along comes the park ranger. He proceeds to ask me just what it is that I'm doing.

I felt a wave of embarrassment at first because here I am two years shy of forty and I'm jumping on rocks like I'm my son's age. But that quickly passed when I realized that I was in a public park, and who cares if I'm having fun pouncing on rocks. So I proceed to tell him that I was simply working on my balance, etc. He doesn't really let me finish, and then scolds me by telling me that I will "scuff the moss off the rocks".

I stammered an apology, and moved on, running barefoot down the gravel trail. It hit me within two minutes that his entire argument was nonsensical. And the reason it was nonsensical was because he was making the rather bold assertion that my bare feet would somehow damage the natural environment. And he had no idea just how light I am when I am barefoot.

Now, I'm a heavy guy. Marriage, a job which has me sitting at a computer all day, and age have conspired to turn me from a once-skinny string bean into an oafish gorilla-type. I'm not happy with the number that the scale continually tries to convince me that I weigh. But despite my weight, I know that when I am barefoot (or even in flip flops), I am distributing that weight evenly across the entire surface of my foot, the way that our foot has evolved to operate. So when I land even my bulk on the rocks at this park, I don't leave a single mark behind, nor do I feel any movement of moss being dislodged. I've become so light on my feet that I no longer make that ubiquitous slapping noise when I wear my flip flops. Going barefoot naturally pushes you to walk "lighter".

Barefoot Ken Bob describes how, when Harvard professor Dr. Daniel Lieberman tested Ken Bob's barefoot running to ascertain his kinetic impact, both of them were surprised to discover that Ken Bob showed NO discernible impact while running barefoot. What's possible when running is even more possible when walking. Or when jumping onto rocks.

Which brings me back to the point of this post - I'd like to say now to the park ranger what I wish I had said then: "Hey, buddy, chill the f#$& out."

There's an old trail saying that says "leave nothing but footprints". Well, I live by that credo, and I've even aspired to take it a step further, because when I go barefoot hiking, I find that even with a careful examination of the trail, it's tough to see even my own footprints (yes, I check). While I may not actually be lighter than air, I certainly feel light enough to not have to worry about destroying the ecosystem of the single most prevalent type of growth in the state.