Ah, a break. How wonderful it is that Christmas and the new year come one after the other so I get an extra long break from the hustle and bustle of life (hehehe, hustle and bustle... inside joke)
Along with the standard time off that comes with Christmas (unless you work retail, that is), I also have taken some time to count my blessings and reflect on how the year's gone. Having not posted in a while due to laziness, I thought I'd type out what's been on my mind and see where my stream of consciousness takes me.
Starting things off with something sort of depressing, the skeptical community lost Christopher Hitchens this year, who is arguably the greatest English speaking orator and journalist of our generation. For those not familiar with Hitch, I'd suggest looking up the word "Hitchslap" on youtube for his more quotable moments in debates and speeches. He was a controversial figure, and there's much to be said about his approach to the issues he participated in, but as for me, I always admired how Hitchens was unique in that any time he wanted to make a point, he made clearly, effectively, and powerfully. His style of argument always used awesome examples, good humour in the proper places, and a command of the English language that was unrivaled by his opponents.
I can't really say much about Hitch that hasn't already been said, so I'll move on. What else is on my mind? Christmas. Fuck. Everyone everywhere this year has been bitching about people who don't say "Merry Christmas." I do say Merry Christmas, because I love the Christmas traditions that I grew up with -- Christmas Carols, the tree, Santa, candles, snow, nativity scenes, decorations, presents, consumerism -- it's all a part of me this time of year and I've always had good memories of it. Christmas is the name of the holiday in this culture, and as an atheist I have no reason to avoid the word. As long as it's a national holiday, it is in effect a secular holiday. But on to what bothers me -- people are pissed off that "Happy Holidays" is being used, and that's stupid as shit. As far as I've been able to tell, advertising seems to want to use Happy Holidays as often as possible in an effort to try and sell shit to as many different cultures as possible, which makes sense, because you want to sell as much stuff as you can to as many people as you can include. They DON'T use the phrase "Happy Holidays" to deliberately snuff out religion, yet Christian pundits all over the newswire have been going apeshit about a "WAR ON CHRISTMAS!!" for the last several years. For the record, I've never met an atheist who gets angry at the word Christmas. And now, all of it has been flipped around, and if you say anything OTHER than "Merry Christmas," the very same thing these Christians are afraid of will happen to you! I dare you---next year, try saying Happy Holidays to everyone you meet next year, and see how many of them reply to you with "MERRY CHRISTMAS!!" as if to punch you in the face with the words, as they express how pissed they are that you're rejecting their favourite holiday myth. I'd love to see some data on that.
Now, on to something else. Another recurring theme that comes about this time of year is family. I have a wonderful family, and while I take them for granted as much as any other person in a position of privilege, I do try my best to love them as much as they deserve and be the best person I can be for their sake. But I'm one of the lucky ones. The older I get and the more people I meet, the more I realize that almost every other person I've ever met has a less than ideal family, and that can be really hard this time of year. On top of all that hardship, this year has marked some significant family events for me and my fiance. As implied by that sentence, we recently got engaged; prior to that, we had to move her out of her evil stepmom's house, effectively straining any relationship she can have with her dad; we moved in together; her sister had twins and everything seems like it's really dramatic, and no one wants to make it easier. When it comes to families, we tend to take it for granted that blood is thicker than water, and we end up taking advantage of our kin, and we find it easier to ignore when we hurt each other because we know we'll be forgiven. It's a grim reality that I try to always avoid, but as I grow more familiar with the new family that's coming into my life, I need to be even more aware of it, and I'd implore anyone reading to try and do the same whilst also not becoming the victim.
As new years day comes to a close, and resolutions get sort of made and broken, I think it's valuable to at least have a personal assessment of how things are and how things could improve for yourself and others. Thinking skeptically about this kind of thing is difficult, because it's not so easy to apply the scientific method to the emotions associated with death, families, rituals and personal reflection. Yet, it is the best method we have; either our methods for dealing with these situations work or they don't, to varying degrees. The best we can do is make an educated guess, design an experiment, see whether or not our approach works, and modify our methodology to improve our results on the next trial. Thinking about things that way always seems to help me because when things go wrong the first time, they usually improve the next time. A lot of people never seem to learn their lesson.