Atheism and gratitude

First off, here’s today’s vid.

It’s about atheism and tolerance.

I won’t dwell on it because I more or less said all I wanted to say on the subject there. In my dream world, that video would draw down gales of angry comments from angry atheist angry about how I pointed out how angry they are.

But this is the real world, which means all my words and images disappear into the background noise of the zeitgeist without causes so much a ripple in its field.

It’s not that I am looking to make people angry per se, but I do want to challenge their beliefs and make them think, and in practice that is nearly always the same thing.

I just can’t stand bigotry and hate, and I will reject it and fight it wherever I find it, without prejudice, without exceptions, and without hesitation.

From a certain point of view, that makes me untrustworthy and unpredictable. I can’t argue with that. My primary loyalty is to my own sense of right and wrong. Against that, interpersonal loyalty and other similar issues tend to run a distant second.

I suppose I just hope that those close to me understand this about me and never ask me to do something I will consider wrong, or at least, will forgive me if my burning need to do what I think is right causes me to make choices that do not favour them.

I try to make sure it never comes to that, and so far, I have been quite successful at that.

But I fear the day I have to choose between those I love and what I consider right.

Speaking of which, I have started watching Dexter via Netflix, and I am really enjoying it because by having the main character be a psychopathic killer, it really highlights the whole hot circuit/cold circuit dichotomy that has obsessed me ever since I learned the terms.

Dexter is all cold. His hot circuit just does not work. He has no normal human emotions and has to fake everything. He is very intelligent and has learned to fake it extremely well, but he is still a cold fish.

Oh, and he kills people who kill other people.

And he makes me think about my own hot circuit. Mine works, but sometimes I feel like it doesn’t work well enough. I worry that I am too cold and detached. I definitely feel like there is the calculating, analytical, hyperintelligent, incisive me… the cold me… and the warm, sentimental, friendly, cuddly me… the hot me.

I won’t torture myself by asking which is the real me. That would be pointless. They both are the real me.

But I do worry that they don’t integrate well enough and that is why I am so cold and alone inside. Sometime happened to me at some point and the two got out of phase.

I hope that can be fixed.

The real focus for today, though, is this little vid from the awesome people at Soul Pancake.

What a brilliant idea for both a project and for a source of inspiring Web content. Like most brilliant ideas, it is deceptively simple : get people to write a letter to the most inspiring person in their lives, then get them to call that person up and read them the letter.

Admittedly, oversensitive me picked up their embarrassment and awkwardness (that’s hot circuit stuff, right?), so I found watching it kind of hard, even though the outcomes were all good and I knew they probably would be.

Being sensitive isn’t for wimps.

What really fascinated me though is this idea that gratitude is a strong determinant of happiness. There is a lot of what is true about being human encoded in that notion.

As I incessantly say, we are a social species with social instincts. Seen from that angle, gratitude is clearly the way we socially reward those who help us. Thus, it is very natural human emotion. If someone does good things for us, we feel gratitude toward them, and with that comes the urge to reciprocate. We want to do something nice for the person who did something nice for that.

Thus, positive human reaction is encouraged, and our group, whatever that may be, is strengthened by both parties helping one another.

Extend that to the rest of the social group, and you begin to see how a social species comes to dominate all others by constant mutual reinforcement.

Sadly, this noble and natural instinct towards gratitude and reciprocity is routinely used by the rich and powerful to co-opt the average citizen. No actual bribery is needed. If you invite the person to your mansion, treat them as equal in status, introduce them to the finest pleasures of the world in a setting that radiates status, wealth, and comfort, and give them a ride home in your limo, that person is going to feel grateful to you and want to reciprocate whether they want to or not.

And when you start in with other wonderful things, like the promise of a cushy job with a fat salary, trips with you are your rich friends to exotic and luxurious locales, help getting your wife a job and your kids into a very high class private school… well, who wouldn’t feel intense gratitude towards someone who had done so much for them? Only a cold-hearted bastard.

As for myself, I have a natural instinct to express gratitude enthusiastically (if not gushingly). I have no problem praising others sincerely. I have never understood why some people just cannot bring themselves to say anything nice about someone.

But I am limited by my shyness. And we are all limited by the question of how much gratitude to express, and when, for the everyday kindnesses shown to us by others.

My roomies do a lot for me, and I am truly grateful for it all. But it seems weird to tell them that all the time. So what do I do?

I tell them whenever I can, that’s what. That sort of thing is really important to me.

I guess I am not that cold after all.

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