Saturday, December 7, 2013

Haitian-Dominicans in a post-Mandela World

Mandela died.  He had been imprisoned for decades to free its nation from apartheid and racial injustice.  He fought the legacy of colonialism and racism that still has its grip on most of Africa, having become more than a man: an international hero that inspired all of humanity, a kind of people's messiah, the type that every nation has dreamed of at some point.  But he was real.  He delivered a promise, an ideal that people will forever hold in their hearts.  He seized history and made history.

Mandela will forever make us ask questions about what in my French literature class has been referred to as la négritude, blackness and Africanness as a political, spiritual and cultural construct.  Why is blackness so threatening to some ... and so redeeming and liberating to others?  Why is it and why MUST it be so political?  What is the history of blackness?  Why does blackness matter?  Does it still matter?  And most importantly, why must we ALL deal with la négritude.

In the first hours in a post-Mandela world, I learned that the Dominican Republic has passed a law to disown its Haitian-descended citizens, some of whose families have been there since the 1920's.  The Spanish-speaking Caribbean nation gained its independence from Haiti, not Spain, and has since sought to assert its identity as standing separate from Haiti, with which it shares borders and an island.

It's undeniable and natural that, since they share borders, many Dominicans have Haitian ancestry.  But the law that was just passed is incompatible with international standards of human rights and forces us to ask: Why is Haiti such a source of shame?  Should these Haitian-Dominicans not be encouraged to take pride in originating from the first free black nation?  One that was born of rebellion against slavery?

Haitians have not had a pleasant history.  They never had a Mandela, or a historical, national messiah of any sort.  Most of their leaders have been tyrants.  Aristide was able to do some damage-control but he did not, by any means, bring utopia or even normalcy to what still remains the poorest country in the hemisphere.

Is it poverty?  Does the specter of poverty, with its accompanying ghosts of misery, crime and illiteracy haunt the very identity of a people, the majority of whom have never been able to lift themselves from it?  Can we respect those who live in poverty?  Is it really that difficult?

The disdain born of class divisions (and boundaries have always been blurry when it comes to class and race divisions), and the agenda of the ruling classes, is so embedded in our psyche and even in our language that we hardly take notice.  I learned only recently that the word naughty shares semantic roots with the word needy; that need (read: poverty) and evil are such inseparable companions, always hanging in the same corners, that they acquired one shared identity, one shared word.  The needy are to be pitied; the naughty are to be reviled, but the sense of one word lurks behind the semantics of the other.

What if we rebel against language, against meaning?  What if we stopped pitying and reviling the poor and sought to solve poverty from its inception and from its roots?  What if we choose to not produce any more poor people?  What if we abolished the corporatocracy and raised the minimum wage ... globally?  What if we took a second look at the poor person that lives next door and began to dig into the narratives of slavery, of exile, of apartheid, of chains, of négritude, of denied opportunities, denied access to education, of living under tyrants?

Can people choose to not be poor when poverty is all they know?  Do they not have to re-learn their very identity?  Is this not a long-term project that requires new models?

History can not be erased, but there is a narrative of redemption in Mandela, a narrative of reconciliation where mutual distrusts, old hostilities and hatreds were successfully put aside and new paths were forged forward, a new national identity constructed with new symbols, a complete reinvention of the paradigm. Nothing less.  Mandela, of all people, understood the dynamics of how need demoralizes us, of how the needy come dangerously close to becoming naughty, and knew how much moral stamina was required to withstand the erosion of our morale.

Mandela died.  May he live forever!  We in the New World should look to Africa, for once, in search of inspiration and hope.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


"Our deepest fear is not that we are weak. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? ... As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." - Nelson Mandela

Monday, July 15, 2013

... Just the facts

Not sure by what criteria the jury decided that Zimmerman was innocent.  This has never been clarified by mainstream or alternative media, not even by the vocal parties that are racist and hostile to Treyvon.  It would have helped to ease a lot of the anger and disapointment that many people feel if a clear and concise opinion had been published along with the verdict explaining why it was what it was.  In the meantime, I have to join my voice to those of others that say the whole Treyvon case reeks of racism and double standards.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Boycott the Russian Winter Olympics!

In recent years there has been increased hostility against sexual minorities in Russia.  Attempts to celebrate an annual Pride Parade have been treated with the same suspicion that other countries treat terrorism and now a "non-traditional relationships propaganda" bill has passed, which will criminalize any positive references to homosexuality and any expression of gay-friendliness.

A recent push by global human rights organizations for a boycott of the Russian Olympics not only stands on moral ground but also argues that any gay athletes that compete in Russia will have to face the possibility of arrest and, possibly, torture in the hostile climate that Russian authorities have created, which is reminiscent of recent efforts in that other homophobic shithole, Uganda, to approve the 'Kill the Gays Bill'.

I am sharing this blog in solidarity with the movement to BOYCOTT THE RUSSIAN WINTER OLYMPICS and the Russian fascist state in general.

In fact, how do you say FUCK YOU RUSSIA in Russian?  That should be our slogan!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Wisdom's Full Circle: the Good Book

Age plants more wrinkles in the mind than the face - Proverbs 5:11, The Good Book: A Humanist Bible by AC Grayling
I've been recently reading the works of Norman DeWitt, an Epicurean writer whose research inspired and served, in great part, as the foundation of much of the work that we're doing now with the Society of Epicurus.  Dewitt has as thorough an understanding as we're capable of having today of what it was like to be an Epicurean in antiquity and presents the ideas of Epicurus accurately and from an Epicurean perspective.  One of the main problems we have with the ancient sources is that they're mostly indirect and often hostile.

It becomes quite obvious when we read DeWitt's assessment of Epicureanism that ancient Christians borrowed liberally from Epicureans: they acquired the Catholic sacrament of confession, which was originally not guilt-based but a tool for accurately diagnosing the diseases of the soul in the therapeutic process of applied philosophy.

They also developed the tradition of writing epistles to individuals or groups of people for didactic purposes, where the epistle was meant to be read and shared with the entire community and to be used in the teaching mission.  A recent revival of this tradition was Lucretius' Epistle to the Objectivists.

Christians would not have appropriated the epistolary didactic style from the Epicureans if they had not admired its usefulness and value.

It's a curious fact of history that Christians borrowed from Pagans and philosophers and that now, those that identify as humanists are imitating styles that have been thought of as Christian for the last 1,700 years at least.  AC Grayling's writing of a humanist Bible is the perfect example.  The humanist Bible, which makes not even one reference to God or to the supernatural but utilizes Biblical and Quranic styles of editing and writing, is an excellent example of how these literary traditions are recycled for every era.

The Good Book has its moments: it really does evoke that sense of wonder and reverence for wisdom's consolations that the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada and other scriptures sometimes inspire.

Many of the proverbs in the Christian Bible were inspired by the Maxims of Ptah-hotep, an ancient Egyptian philosopher of whom most Christians know nothing.  Many of the ancient and sometimes barbaric laws in the Old Testament were drawn from the Code of Hammurabi, the Sumerian predecessor.  The Good Book is, then, just one more in a chain of wisdom traditions, perhaps the one that is most relevant appropriate for our scientific era.  As the book of Ecclesiastes itself makes known from the get-go: "Nothing is new under the Sun".

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Reason for the Season

Religion as a Virus and Epicurus' Remedies

Those of us that grew up under the ideological yolk of the God of the Bible had to contend with a Janus that was said to be both a loving Heavenly Father whom Jesus imagined feeding the birds daily ... and a wrathful, jealous, mad sociopath who ordered the Jews to commit genocide in order to occupy other peoples' lands and carried out an extermination plan that lasted centuries in Canaan.  They could not possibly be one and the same person, but then again, there is no agent, no person, other than the human agents who had the political and military agendas in the Old Testament, and the agenda to try to fix the shameful ancestral crimes of religion in the new one.

I was initially amused when I first read Richard Dawkins' reference to religion as a virus.  I believe it was in his The God Delusion that I first found the idea, but then found out that Craig A. James had fully fleshed out the notion in his The Religion Virus.

The example that Dawkins sets uses parasites who enter the body of innocent animals and make animals (in his case, frogs) deformed and particularly vulnerable to predators.  Once eaten, the seed of these parasites lies dormant in the dung of the birds who usually feed on these frogs, and then the life cycle of the parasite can begin again.

Another example he uses is the ant who is overtaken by a parasite that grows on its head.  Other ants quarantine the member of the species and mark the territory around it with chemicals to warn each other.  These super-intelligent insects apparently know the parasite is contagious.  The growth of the parasite is such that the ant is entirely deformed.  It attracts birds who also eat the ant and perpetuate the seed of the parasite.

The argument seems to be that only something that functions as a psychological parasite can make a man blow himself up for a higher good.  Only a man possessed by a foreign biological agent would act as a suicide bomber or pilot, or murder his own children as a sacrifice to his God, or make a person engage in celibacy.  These are behaviors that obviously have no connection with biological imperatives to survive and to pass on the genes and are, therefore, anti-life.

These memes hijack instincts and emotional responses inherent to people (our connection to father, to mother, an infantile urge to surrender, our fear of death, etc.) and use them for self perpetuation.  Just as many viruses are intelligent and use the behavior of other species to their advantage, these memes cleverly implant impressions in the soul through devotion, ritual, initiation, passionate speech; they create fond memories just as familial relations do.  And just as with bacteria, some are harmful, while others are relatively innocent.

It may be more accurate to say that these cultural memes are not agents themselves but are cleverly utilized by agents: parents wanting to protect their children teach them certain beliefs, pastors wanting to control people implant beliefs based on guilt or fear, and some people seek to console themselves in times of difficulties and also construct belief systems that provide comfort.  All these agents have their own agendas and, ultimately, it is these agents who (consciously or not) create and perpetuate these memes.

Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist.  In the worldview of an evolutionary biologist, living entities' genes adapt constantly to their environment by the process of natural selection, perpetually increasing their chances of survival and honing the survival strategies of the species.  It is therefore understandable that, to Dawkins, only a parasite would lead a living entity to behave in a manner which is counterintuitive for its survival.

Lucretius, in Chapter IV of his poem De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) describes an early theory of natural selection which existed among ancient Epicureans 23 centuries ago.  This theory was part of the first and most cogent ethics based on biology, science and the study of nature that any philosophy has proposed. Because Epicureanism is a naturalist philosophy, it frequently draws metaphors from nature and there is ongoing discourse where philosophy is compared to medicine.  Applied Epicurean philosophy gives us a compassionate process of therapy by which the diseases of the soul can be treated.

Philosophy that does not heal the soul is no better than medicine that cannot cure the body - Epicurus 

We therefore take very seriously Dawkins' assertion that supernatural beliefs are parasitical, viruses of the mind and that religion  can behave like an epidemic.  We should carefully consider the repercussions of this and not ignore the many and complex religious worldviews and paradigms, not all of which are equal.  It would be unfair to treat all religion as (equally) evil or harmful.

The main danger coming from religion has to do with fear-based beliefs, as I see it.  This is indicated by the first two of the Four Remedies: do not fear the Gods and do not fear death.  These are among the very few 'thou shalt nots' of Epicureanism and their primacy indicates how important they are.

It's fear of God(s), and the implied notion that it is wholesome to be scared of a God, that produces many of the more primitive and superstitious, less desirable expressions of religious fervor, from the episodes of genocide in the Old Testament, to the inquisition, to the glorification of violence as jihad or of martyrdom in Catholicism.  In all these cases we create misery on Earth, all for the sake of a feared divinity.

It is here that the ancient imagery of an angry tribal warrior God sending plagues to his tribe's enemies becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in our process of co-creating our otherwise beautiful world.  It is here that the AIDS plague becomes an occassion of thanks-giving to pious Christian fundamentalists and 9-11 an occassion of festivity for pious Muslim fanatics.

Why else would a God have to be feared?  People only fear if they are threatened, if they feel like there is a reasonable danger approaching.  If you believe that you worship an agent capable of heinous acts of bioterrorism or mass murder, even if at times you wish he would act against your perceived enemies, you WILL fear your God and think of fear of your God as a necessary part of your piety.  But a closer and honest talk with the mirror will reveal that a part of your soul ressembles him.  Joseph Campbell said that your God is your limit.  He can also be your disease of the soul.

Each one of our unanalysed fears is seen as a disease of the soul, defined by us as diathesis (dispositions, or underlying beliefs) founded on false belief which generate unnecessary suffering.  The plague-sending God becomes very real to the people who suffer from this insidious type of spiritual disease.  They live in fear and they spread it against their will.  Like Dawkins' narrative of parasites in nature, these diseses perpetuate themselves through their agents, the false preachers, even when they seem to provide no apparent survival value.  They do not serve life: they hinder it.  They do not add pleasure: they remove it, and replace it with ignoble values and experiences.

Epicurean therapy requires that we replace false dispositions with true beliefs and wrong views with right views.  Science had advanced tremendously and provides great assistance, as it is through the study of nature that people can acquire a proper naturalist understanding of reality and protect the mind from supernatural (and, therefore, UNnatural) views.  There is now a science of dying, and also a science of happiness, both of which add to the conviction needed to succeed as an Epicurean and slay the monsters of the soul.

Applied philosophy heals the soul with its wholesome arguments, which argue against the false beliefs and make it easier for us to abandon the empty or vain desires, fears and habits that emerge from them.  Epicurus calls us to carry out nothing less than an inner revolution through which we regain our spiritual health.

We treat false beliefs, mainly, via thorough study, repetition and memorization of Epicurus' teachings, which are rendered in the form of short adages for easy memorization and compiled in epitomes like the 40 Principal Doctrines.  Having wholesome friends is the most important ingredient in happiness.  Also important is associating with people of like mind.  But without this introspective process, it is impossible to gain the insight and freedom by which philosophy redeems the soul.

Dawkins was recently seen sporting a shirt with the message: "Religion: Together we can find a cure!".  I wish I could meet Professor Dawkins in person and tell him: "Dear Friend, have you heard of Epicurus?  We at the Society of Epicurus are here for that very purpose!"

Friday, June 28, 2013

Hate the Belief, Love the Believer

One of the Top 10 trending subjects on twitter today is #YiyeAvila, a Puerto Rican televangelist and preacher from the old school who called people to repentance and frequently used fear tactics related to hell and the afterlife to weave a supposedly moralizing message that almost seemed in line with Salafi Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia.  On youtube, there is a video with a long rant where he admonishes women to never wear pants.  In another one, he speaks in tongues and laments aimlessly on stage without really making any sense for about ten minutes.  The hysterical pentecostal crowds loved him.

But Yiye Avila belongs not in the 21st Century.  The world is changing.  Marriage equality was given a boost yesterday at the federal level.  In the midst of all the social media reactions from all sides to all the events of the last few days, atheist media personality Shirley Rivera twitted "How sad that you've died.  I would have enjoyed you watching the first same-sex wedding in Puerto Rico".  There were many other reactions, but this one drew venom from the pious.

And so this raises a moral question for humanists who consider people of Yiye Avila's ilk to be profoundly detrimental to modern society.  I was never moved to hate him or to relish the fact that he's dead like some of the more cynical atheists.  In fact, I felt a good deal of compassion for him during his last days.

With his death, I was concerned that people would eulogize him and forget that he was a fraud and a parasite who lived off the credulity, ignorance and vulnerabilities of simple-minded people ... but wanted to make sure that in recognizing that fact, I did not dehumanize him.  He was not evil in the way that Jerry Falwell was evil.  His evil was mixed with good and derived from his (and his constituency's) profound ignorance.

Epicurus forbade attacks against people.  Instead, we are to attack false beliefs, not the believer.  This customary respect, in spite of the profound differences of deeply-held opinion with regards to common religious views, was perhaps the result of his exile from Mytilene in the island of Lesbos, where philosophers who were partisans of false Platonic doctrines had gained political power and the gymnasiarch had been influenced to threaten Epicurus with accusing him of impiety, for which the death penalty was the punishment.  Socrates had suffered a similar fate.

Faced with the tyranny of false religion and philosophy, Epicurus developed a philosophical tradition that made a virtue of frank speech yet, somehow, remained carefully respectful of religious symbols.  Today, at least in the Western world, we usually do not get intimidated and threatened into submission by religious powers, but it's still a sign of good character and of prudence to hate the belief, yet respect and love the believer.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Despite being an atheist, Ms. Doughty was told that any conscientious objection must be based on religious grounds, not simply moral objections. So as someone who was not religious, and didn’t believe in a god, she had no basis for objecting. Her statement has been denied and she has been informed that to move forward in the process she must submit a letter from the elders of her church to prove her conscientious objections are religiously based. 


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Nelson Mandela Quotes

A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.  But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.

There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Summary of the Diseases of the Soul

In his new book Letters on Happiness: An Epicurean Dialogue, Peter Saint-Andre wrote an introductory survey and commentary of Epicurean doctrines, fragments, and even a letter by Thomas Jefferson, in the form of an exchange of letters between friends.

This type of contemporary philosophical literature is exactly the type of content that the Society of Friends of Epicurus would like to see more of, as it resonates with our teaching mission and vision.  His commentary is didactically useful for several reasons.  It's sorted by subject, which would make it useful within the context of a study group, and utilizes the strategy of approaching a teaching from various angles and paraphrasing in order to help the pupil easily apprehend therapeutic concepts.  For instance:
Perhaps we can try to express the Epicurean remedies as actionable guidelines, as he does in Vatican Saying 71: Ask this question of every desire: what will happen to me if the object of desire is achieved, and what if not?
The author is particularly equipped to write his Letters on Happiness because he is the translator of Epicurean writings for Monadnock Valley Press and for the public domain, so that he was able to gain thorough familiarity with the writings while he was conducting his translation work.

Saint-Andre also incorporated his summary of the diseases of the soul, again applying the technique of paraphrasing and giving readers a different approach to the teachings in order to help them assimilate the didactic content.  The condensed Summary of the Diseases of the Soul is useful in learning Epicurus' doctrine and may even be helpful in our introspective philosophical work, in the cultivation of good character and of the analysed life.
Let's see if I can summarize the diseases of soul that Epicurus describes:
The fear of oblivion leads to the desire for immortality. Yet the ideal (what is natural and necessary) is not to live forever, but to face death without fear and to enjoy the span of your life on earth.
The fear of weakness leads to the desire for power. Yet the ideal is not to hold power over other people, but to be strong and effective enough to meet your own needs.
The fear of poverty leads to greed and the desire for great wealth. Yet the ideal is not to be super-rich, but to have enough material goods to meet your true and natural needs for food, shelter, clothing, companionship, etc.
The fear of obscurity leads to the desire for fame. Yet the ideal is not being renowned to all the world, but being connected to the people who truly matter to you.
The fear of being disliked leads to the desire for honor. Yet the ideal is not to be the recipient of great public esteem, but to have self-respect and to be respected by those you know and admire.
The fear of being bored or being perceived as ordinary leads to a desire for luxury (fancy things, exciting experiences, and such). Yet the ideal is not continuous stimulation but active engagement with the world around you. 
The fear of being considered inferior leads to envy — the desire that others lose what they have. Yet the ideal is not tearing others down, but accepting and improving yourself.
The fear of being disappointed leads to anger — the desire that other people act as you want them to. Yet the ideal is not feeling that others must conform to your expectations, but accepting others as they are and maintaining your inner serenity. 
The fear of failure leads to laziness — the desire to get something for nothing. Yet the ideal is not passivity but active confidence in your abilities and the pursuit of self-improvement.
You may read the book Letters on Happiness online, or via Amazon.


I must say that ever since I subscribed to God on twitter my relationship with God has gotten better.  I didn't know he was this witty!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Joe Rogan's alternative to the Pale Blue Dot Sermon

"We are here to fuck shit up!" - Joe Rogan

The original Pale Blue Dot.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Not what we have But what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance. - Epicurus

Friday, May 3, 2013

Philosopher Hypatia

You don't question what you believe, or cannot. I must. 
- Hypatia

I strongly recommend the film Agora. It's not fully accurate or historical but I thought it was a well made movie and it sheds light on the ancient history of oppression of philosophers and their schools under religious tyranny. It deals, in part, with the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, one of the most important history-changing events ever, which is impossible to under-estimate as it was this, along with the closing of all the philosophical schools in the sixth century by Emperor Justinian, that nailed the grave on ancient philosophy and science and ushered in the totalitarianism and mental slavery of the Christian Era / Dark Ages. If at least for a sense of perspective on the history of humanism, I think everyone should watch Agora.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Saudi Arabia: Another Casualty of Religion

In recent days, as the tragedy of the Boston attack has been in the news in the US, in Saudi Arabia another tragedy is being covered.  Men who are too fine for their own good have been asked to leave the country in order to avoid the dangers of girl boners.  In other news, the country's Committe for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice has been cracking down on lusty, flirtatious eye displays ... surely the only outlet for desperately lusty women who are covered from head to toe.

Let's put aside the fact that women do not generally make important decisions like the deportation of a foreigner in Arabia, and that it's likely that it was males who fell helplessly in lust with their foreign visitors and has to escort them out of the country.

What seems obvious to an outsider is how ... well, frankly, horny the citizens of the theocratic kingdom are, and how scared they are to admit it.  When something as fundamental as human beauty is criminalized and sacrificed in the altar of a life-hating desert religion, we have to stop being politically correct and admit that Wahhabi sex-phobia is a dehumanizing feature of Islam that treats grown ups, particularly women, like they're children and robs them of the right to naturally assert their enjoyment of one of the simplest, most universal pleasures available to our species.

For these reasons, I am posting this blog in celebration of Arabian lust and beauty.


Monday, April 15, 2013

WBC Thanks God for the Boston Bombing

We can not (yet) conclude that the perpetrator was the Saudi man who is in custody, but I personally would not be surprised if he was, and was frankly expecting certain religious parties to start blaming their God's uncontrollable fury at the gays and the atheists for the Boston attack.  Didn't have to wait long!

Rather than join people in prayer or minutes of silence, which accomplishes absolutely nothing, I am posting tweets by the Westboro Baptist Church thanking God for the Boston Marathon Bombs and posting miscellaneous religious filth to remind others that religion is the true and dehumanizing enemy, particularly religions that focus on death rather than life.

Proud to be an Epicurean Humanist!

Causal Analysis of the Myth of Atheists' Lack of a Moral Compass

            In this paper I will assess anti-atheist bias, then explore some of its historical and psychological roots and conclude on a positive note, observing that things are changing even as I acknowledge the enormity of the sources of this insidious form of prejudice.
The State of Anti-Atheist Prejudice
When during class recently, a mourning mother linked the violent killing of her son to the lack of religion in our society, it reminded me that atheists are still the most hated minority in America and that the stereotype of atheists as amoral, or immoral, persists unchallenged even in academia and in many cultural spaces.  The most shocking aspect of this revelation is that Protestants, Catholics and Muslims are particularly over-represented in the prisons, particularly because of violent crimes, whereas only 0.21 of inmates were atheist (Federal Bureau of Prisons, 1997).
According to a University of Minnesota Study on American Attitudes Towards Atheists & Atheism (Austin Cline, 2013), 39.6% of those surveyed said that atheists "do not at all agree with my vision of American society", a much higher percentage than Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians, or any other hated minority.  47.6% said they "would disapprove if my child wanted to marry an atheist", a much higher percentage than all other categories.  The study cites:
Some respondents associated atheism with illegal behavior, like drug use and prostitution: "that is, with immoral people who threaten respectable community from the lower end of the social hierarchy." Others saw atheists as "rampant materialists and cultural elitists" who "threaten common values from above -- the ostentatiously wealthy who make a lifestyle out of consumption or the cultural elites who think they know better than everyone else."
 Prejudice against atheists is so prevalent that many, perhaps most, atheists avoid the label and prefer, instead, to say that they're humanists or non-religious.  It's understandable that people who embrace philosophy instead of religion and human values, rather than religious values, would want to call themselves humanists.  This is a legitimate choice, even if it gives a nod of assent to an ill-informed consensus in our society.
Does the Stereotype Hold Up?
People in deeply religious societies are oftentimes routinely denied basic human rights.  Saudi Arabia denies women even the right to drive.  Uganda almost passed a Kill the Gays bill recently.  Afghani and Pakistani girls who attend schools have to fear for their lives.  An atheist should expect to be executed in many Muslim lands.  Nigeria is plagued daily by the most barbaric and obscene Christian-Muslim conflict, as well as killings of witches and slaying of children by their own Christian parents and pastors for witchcraft.  In heavily secularized and peaceful Sweden, a recent wave of rapes is tied to recent Muslim immigrants who feel that if women aren't modestly dressed, they deserve to be raped.
Atheists are happier and saner than theists.  A report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that Danish people, the majority of whom are atheists, are the happiest among 40 countries that were studied.  Other developed countries with high standards of living exhibit similar rates of disbelief, including Sweden where only 23 percent of the citizens say they positively believe in a God. 
The statistical link between prevalence of religion and societal dysfunction in human societies is more than demonstrated in census data.  Gregory Paul has published several peer-reviewed papers on this, including The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions (Evolutionary Psychology Journal) and his brilliant, Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies, which was published in the Journal of Religion and Society.  In it, he found:
“... high rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in prosperous democracies.  Higher rates of non-theism and acceptance of human evolution usually correlate with lower rates of dysfunction, and the least theistic nations are usually the least dysfunctional.”
           The Global Peace Index (GPI) measures nations' levels of peacefulness or violence.  Statistical data related to the U.S. states reveal similar correlations between religiosity and high crime rates, teen pregnancy rates, school dropout rates, etc. where the more secular states invariably exhibit more societal health than the more religious states.  Prison and divorce statistics also shed light on the prevalence of societal dysfunction in religious communities.  Atheists are much less likely to divorce than Christians and Jews.
Deep Historical Roots
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. - Psalm 14:1
            In addition to the Bible's vilification of non-believers, the Quran exhibits a persistent, repetitive, paranoid belligerence against infidels.  But we must not forget that non-Abrahamic religions have also exhibited intolerance for the infidel: Socrates was executed after a democratic vote in Athens for corrupting the youth and failing to honor the gods of the city.
            Gods are psychological artifacts created by communities to exert the pressure to conform.  They have often been used to delineate the boundaries of collective identities, so that it has been seen as anti-social to exit the hypnosis and the consensus imposed by the ruling classes by questioning their existence.
            Enrique Barrios once said that each person lives in the universe that he's capable of imagining.  When he instituted the one official religion of the Roman Empire, Constantine wanted the world to be able to imagine having to live under nothing but absolute power as the unavoidable destiny of the human race.  He criminalized and persecuted all non-Christians, just as the Christians had previously been persecuted: a retaliatory program was disguised as divine justice.  Dissent was henceforward forbidden.  Monotheism constituted a totalitarian cosmology and facilitated and justified a totalitarian regime in Rome, "on Earth as it is in heaven".
             The destruction of the library of Alexandria is pivotal in the history of how atheists became pariahs.  Science might have helped to justify questioning superstitious ideas, but now science was banished.  After the burning of the library of Alexandria, all the scientific knowledge that had existed in antiquity was lost and Europe entered the Dark Ages.  It is now known that Eristothanes, a Greek philosopher from Alexandria whose scrolls were most likely destroyed when the library was vandalized, had accurately estimated the circumference of the Earth by measuring shadows at noon in different parts of Egypt.  We also have evidence that ancient Egyptians had known of the Americas from coca that has been found in mummies in Egypt: coca plants only grow in the Andes.
           Also, philosophies such as Epicureanism (which first proposed the existence of the atom 2,300 years ago) might have helped to question superstition.  But later in the sixth century, as the church garnered more power, emperor Justinian closed all the philosophical schools that competed with Christianity, so that the church was guaranteed the complete and most absolute mental slavery of the population.
            What we see is a conglomeration of power structures, where the church provided the ideological superstructure.  All sorts of supernatural claims were now made available to various dominant castes to justify the established power structures beginning with the most persistent form of slavery, that of womankind.  The church used the tale of Genesis, which blames Eve for every evil on Earth, to legitimize women's subjugation and subservience:
I will make your pains in childbearing very severe: with painful labor you will give birth to children.  Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you- Genesis 3:16

           Slavery was then extended to anyone else who might be otherized, objectified, and commodified.  The church legitimized the institution of slavery, and therefore served the interests (and secured the loyalties) of the ruling classes by securing cheap or free labor:
Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life.- Leviticus 25:44-46
Numerous passages in the Old Testament legitimized genocide of foreign nations who worship other gods in order to steal their land, which was a most useful artifice during the colonial period in the Americas.  So many structures of power benefited from the Bible throughout history that the ruling class alliances were solidified comfortably under the umbrella of Christendom for centuries.  During the inquisition, doctors and lawyers profited handsomely from fees paid during the judicial processes and from the removal of midwives and folk healers in favor of men who studied medicine --after all, midwives were challenging the biblical deity by alleviating the pangs of childbirth, which was God's particular punishment to all women because of Eve's disobedience.  All the possessions of the women whose lives were taken for the crime of witchcraft (many of whom happened to be wealthy widows), including their lands, were transferred to the property of the church.
In modern times, the clergy still profits from tithe, from tax exemptions as non-profit institutions even when everyone knows how aggressively for-profit mega-churches really are, and from being above reproach as we saw with the culture of sexual predatory behavior that pervades the Catholic clergy.  
Media further silences atheists when it persistently upholds the tenet that an atheist would never be able to win the presidency in our country, in spite of the fact that recent polls indicate that about a fifth of the US population identifies as non-religious and that it's the largest growing segment of society (Pew Forum, 2013).
The Threat-to-Power Theory
All of the above examples of domination justified by religion should serve to explain the threat that atheists represent to power.  With systems of power as prevalent and well established as these profiting so handsomely from religion throughout so much of history, the atheists didn't stand a chance.  They would not be allowed to burst the bubble that kept so many people in their place and they would be demoralized, hated, and persecuted from all corners.
The Death Denial Theory
But there are also non-historical roots of anti-atheist bias.  Research by social scientists on what's being called the death-denial principle demonstrates that, when reminded of their own mortality, people become hostile towards those that are different and attach themselves to that which is familiar.  The death-denial principle (Ernest Becker, 1973) proposes that humans try to escape the anxiety, fear, and panic inspired by their own mortality by escaping into fantasies about immortality.  The principle explains not just religious fantasies about the afterlife, but many expressions of art, culture, and funerary traditions.
Recent studies by social scientists show that judges give much more severe penalties and that Christians express much more hostility towards Jews, atheists, and anyone who contradicts their fantasies about the afterlife, shortly after they're reminded of their mortality (Patrick Shen, 2003).
And so it seems like much anti-atheist bias has deep psychological roots, and that more of it has more to do with unresolved issues within the person who is prejudiced than with the character of the person who has the decency, the courage, and the intellectual stamina to recognize and admit that he's an atheist. 
In this analysis, I have explored the current state of anti-atheist bias and the root of the myth that atheists are amoral or immoral.  I've proposed a dual theory of atheists having been throughout history a threat to those in power and to social cohesiveness, plus the psychological roots of this bias in the death-denial principle.  Atheists have been at the margins of society for centuries and, as with any form of marginalization, this has required the dehumanization and demoralization of the other.
However things are changing.  For centuries, science has continued to render religion irrelevant and revealed its claims to be fraudulent.  More recently, the sex scandal and abuses of power within the church have come to light and books like Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great, Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation, have all been on the best-sellers list.  The rise of political atheism has created a new visibility for atheists, encouraged many to come out of the atheist closet, and feeds the hope that things will change.
Atheist vindication will not be easy, or immediate.  Too much stands in the way.  But in the information era, ignorance daily invites more ridicule.  I wish to close with philosopher Seneca's adage: "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful". 
Cline, Austin. "University of Minnesota study on American attitudes towards atheists & atheism." University of Minnesota, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
"1997 Federal Bureau of Prisons Statistics." Federal Bureau of Prisons, 16 July 2009. Web. 20 Feb. 2013. htp://
“Nones on the rise." Pew Research Center, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
Paul, Gregory S. "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies." Journal of Religion and          Society 7 (2005). Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death. 1997 ed. New York: The Free Press, 1973. Print.
Shen, Patrick, prod. Flight from death. Narr. Greg Bennick. 2003. Transcendental Media. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Untold History of Gay Marriage and Two-Spirits

The following piece was originally written for the NEIU Independent.
The film Two Spirits is a sad but empowering film about a hate crime committed against Freddie Martinez, a Two-Spirited transgendered Navajo youth in Colorado.  16-year-old Freddie was brutally killed by being repeatedly hit in the head with a large rock.  Unlike the Matthew Shepherd case in Oct. of 1998, the Freddy Martinez case got little media attention.  The film, and the visibility, was inspired in part by a renewed awareness of Two-Spirit traditions.
The film, in addition to details about his life and death, also contains interviews of Two-Spirit persons and tells the history of how, prior to colonial times in the land that we now know as the United States of America, LGBT people were respected, and at times even honored or feared, for their powers as Two Spirits.
The Two Spirits were considered the ceremonial leaders, the healers and sacred people of many tribes. They acquired names and clothing that identified accepted, even if liminal, gender identities.  They were known as winkte by the Lakota, as lhamana by the Zuni, or as nadleehe of the Navajo nation, and by many others names.  In order to coin an English word that approximates to the many terms used in the Native languages, in 1990 at the 3rd Annual First Nations Gay and Lesbian American Conference, which was held in Winnipeg, Canada, LGBT Native Americans decided on using Two-Spirits as the pan-tribal English term for their tradition.
Prior to this, anthropologists had labeled the phenomenon as berdache, but this term was linked to a history of human trafficking and of kept-boys and many considered the term an insult.  Two-Spirits, in aboriginal tradition, were weavers, storytellers, caretakers of the orphans, healers, ritual leaders. A male-to-female Two-Spirit known as Wewha, who was beloved by her people, had been an ambassador of her people to the District of Columbia at one point and was quite respected by the politicians of her day (many of whom probably didn’t suspect she was a biological male).
In Mexico, some of the conquistadors hated the Two-Spirits so much that they fed them to wild dogs according to one chronicle, but then in modern-day Oaxaca, Mexico today a similar tradition to Two-Spirits known as muxhes flourishes.  Its region of Juchitan, known for its muxhes tradition, happens to be one of the regions with the highest proportions of indigenous in the country.  Many nations used to entrust their Two-Spirits with keeping spiritual folklore, which leads one to suspect that the systematic killing of the Two-Spirits (which was documented both in Mexico and the US), like the near-extinction of the buffalo, also had the effect of dismantling the lore, the ritual cycle, and the cosmovision of the aboriginals.
In the documentary, some of the Native leaders mention in passing that Two-Spirits also married people of the same gender.  At times, a female chief would live her life as a male warrior, even taking on her own wife.  Or a male chief would have multiple wives, and among them count a male-to-female wife.
It’s an irony of history that this had not been woven into our demoralizing and dishonest national narrative about gay marriage: so invisible are Native Americans, and so trivialized their culture, dismissed as if it wasn’t part of our heritage, that the Christian Right’s assertion, almost mantra, that “marriage has always been between a man and a woman” has never been challenged in a significantly public manner by someone with just a basic knowledge of Native American history.
Illinois has finally assumed a place in modernity by becoming one of the states where gay marriage is legal.  But one should not forget that we are returning rights that were enjoyed for centuries before the arrival of Europeans.  Traditions of same-sex marriage had been practiced for centuries and were as American as any other American tradition.
History gets told by the conqueror but let’s get history straight, for once.  Marriage was not always between a man and a woman.  It was oftentimes between a man and many wives, in parts of Africa between a woman and many men, and in our continent it was often between two people of the same gender.  Monogamy (both opposite-sex and same-sex) was a late-comer.  But these were all marriage traditions, and they’ve always changed to reflect societal attitudes towards gender.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Fear leads to anger
Anger leads to hate 
Hate leads to suffering 
- Jedi Master Yoda

Enlightening ...

"If Americans want to live the American Dream, they should go to Denmark" - Richard Wilkinson

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Moments of Clarity

Lee Camp's Moment of Clarity has gone viral on the internet due, I suspect, to the truthiness of his rants.  Here's a sample ... Enjoy!


Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Better Place from Playing For Change on Vimeo.

We can’t say it often enough. If companies like General Mills, Kellogg’s, Pepsi, Coca-Cola and other giant multinational junk-food peddlers hadn’t dumped more than $20 million into the NO on 37 campaign, Prop 37, the California Right to Know GMO labeling initiative, would have passed.

If we want to pass GMO labeling laws in Washington, Vermont and other states, we’ve got to keep these Big Companies – and their Big Money – out of the fight. Our best shot at doing that is to send them a clear message: We won’t buy your organic and natural brands unless you keep your hands off, and your money out, of our GMO labeling campaigns.

Request Your Wallet Sized Boycott Guide:

Learn More About the Boycott:

Friday, March 1, 2013

I Am

I am a child of mountains and rivers
I am a branch of my Boricua ancestors
I am the intersection called Spanglish
I am a voice of the voiceless
I was nurtured in gardens
I am a friend of Epicurus
I am playful curiosity
I am the beginning of my own creation
I am possibility

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Seeing thus is the unshakable ground we long for because it cannot be doubted.  Herein lies freedom of mind.  Herein lies fearlessness. 
- Steve Hagen

Monday, February 11, 2013

Let us completely rid ourselves of our bad habits as if they were evil men who have done us long and grievous harm. 
- Epicurus, VS 46

Sunday, January 20, 2013

On the Radicalization of Martin Luther King

"... an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.  Questions must be raised ... when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question who owns the oil, you begin to ask the question who owns the iron ore, you begin to ask the question why we have to pay water bills in a world that is 2/3 water.  These are words that must be said." - MLK

Ataraxia and the Visceral

1. of or pertaining to the viscera. ….
4. characterized by or proceeding from instinct rather than intellect: a visceral reaction.
5. characterized by or dealing with coarse or base emotions; earthy; crude: a visceral literary style
- from
Hunger and thirst are the two most fundamental metaphors and experiences of desire.  In Buddhist poetic language, thirst and hunger are associated with desires and with need.  Buddhist folklore depicts and designates lost souls that are consumed by the misery of uncontrollable cravings as hungry ghosts.
The English word naughty is, furthermore, tied semantically to need, to being needy (poor), and originally both words were one and the same.  It is often the condition of need that brings people to act in an evil manner.  It is often in the poorest areas that we see the most crimes.  Among great apes, conventional chimpanzees are the most violent sub-species whereas bonobo chimps, having evolved amid far less scarcity than their cousins, learned to resolve conflict easily through lovemaking multiples times per day.
Hunger and thirst produce suffering, violence, and evil.  Plenty and satisfaction produce joy and good.  In view of this, the Epicurean theory on happiness lucidly suggests:
If thou wilt make a man happy, add not unto his riches but take away from his desires.
In philosophical materialism (the view maintained by Epicurus, by Marx, by Sartre, and many others), all things that appear to be metaphysical or spiritual (the mind, the soul, even the gods when they were believed to exist) are physical, material, made of atoms as if to say that without a physical form of expression, things are not, and therefore there is nothing to speak of.
Whatever soul there is, would require an atom or group of atoms.  Whatever god there is, would require divine atoms, etc.  In this manner the ancients attempted to reconcile with the intensity of existential, emotional and mental experience in light of no evidence for supernatural or non-physical reality, whereas now we know that joy, bliss, well-being, fear, anger, etc. assume bodily expression as serotonin (the feel-good chemical), cortisone (the stress chemical), etc.
All of these materialist philosophers also remarked that humans have basic needs that arise out of our facticity, our physicality and materiality, that cannot be escaped: shelter, food, water, etc.  Marx’s materialism led him to a theory on how to build a society where these basic needs are met whereas Epicurus’ materialist theory led him to a philosophy of personal happiness that lists being fed as one of the preconditions for its practice.  The Garden, in addition to being a place for meditation and for discovering simple pleasures, doubles as a source of sustenance.
When Sartre wrote about the psychosomatic effects of existentialist angst and sought to dramatize it, he specifically wrote a novel titled Nausea, ergo recognizing that the physical repercussions of angst are manifested in the stomach.  Perhaps he did this in acknowledgement of the knot that we get in our bellies when we get bad news about a family member passing, when we fall in or out of love, or when we have relational difficulties that leave us emotionally blocked.
One study says that about 85 % of hospital visits ultimately are the result of mental and emotional problems.  Many eating disorders (diabetes, anorexia, etc.) are known to have emotional roots.  We are in the midst of numerous societal health crises linked to psychosomatic disorders.
However, rather than focus on the pathology, on the disease, I’d like to focus now on the mind in its healthy state, a trend that is prevalent in the burgeoning positive psychology movement.  This takes me to a very interesting insight that Epicurus gave us, which raises many interesting questions and hypotheses now that we have the science to explore the depths of its meaning.
The beginning and root of every good is the pleasure of the stomach. 
- Epicurus’ epistle to Menoeceus
How true is this?  And in what ways is this true?  It seems, from the survey of observations made above, that the stomach not only serves to help us consume nutrients but also has evolved to serve as a type of warning system that advises us that we are not surviving properly, a type of emergency communication system.  This primitive neural system evolved into our current neural super-highway: the brain and nerves.
Let’s ponder the case of the helpless baby, since this is a metaphor used by Epicurus in his exploration of pleasure as a fundamental human experience, the one thing that humans are born knowing instinctively to seek.  When hungry, the baby will cry and demand the attention of a nurturer.  We’ve also evolved an instinctive empathy and desire to help nurture and protect an infant: babies evoke tenderness, love.
My own theory on ataraxia, has to do with our primal memories of infancy that are hidden in the deepest layers of our unconscious.  Soon after we were born and when we knew only pleasure and pain, we were satisfied when nestled in the arms of the mother and we were fed and nurtured by her breasts.  This constitutes a major part of our earliest layer of memory.  We felt entirely safe, warm, happy, even ecstatic.  Pure pleasure.  We first learned to bond with another member of our species through this primal blissful experience.  No one had to teach us to suckle or bond with our mother: we knew instinctively, that is, we inherited the instinct to do this.  It’s archetypal, universal, it is part of what it means to be human.
This primal state of pleasure that all religions speak of and that all humans intuit, which in philosophy is known as ataraxia, is known as the state of nirvana by Buddhists, and in many traditions is compared to gardens.  Not only is this primal state set as our ultimate goal and destiny in many religions, but the authors of our myths also have expressed that we once lived in this state: there’s an intuitive recognition of its primality.  We read about Eden in the Bible, the garden that was the cradle of humanity.  Epicurus sought to create a space conducive to ataraxia in the form of a garden.

My theory on ataraxia is that it’s possible that in these first days of our lives as members of the human species, we learned to associate the experience of being nurtured, being loved, and being fed as one and the same.  That the primal pleasure of breast-feeding and forming a bond with our mother linked our stomachs forever to our sense of safety and well-being, or neglect and suffering if that was the case.  It is in light of this insight that we can begin to make sense of Epicurus’ teaching that the beginning and root of every good is the pleasure of the stomach.
If this theory is correct, then one who was not nurtured, or not nurtured properly as an infant, may exhibit considerable emotional difficulties in later life.  If the neglect is chronic, there is research that suggests that the damage consists of a permanent inability to bond with others.
In my acquaintance with the Hare Krishnas, who sing, dance, find ecstatic exuberant bliss through Krishna consciousness, and feed people vegetarian foods, I learned that the motherly, nurturing qualities one cultivates when feeding the poor have positive emotional benefits.  Both the act of feeding another person and the act of being fed evokes ataraxia.
This insight also helps to elucidate another one of Epicurus’ teachings which insinuates that as important as what we eat, is who we eat with and the manner in which we eat; that the entire psychological experience of consumption is fundamental when we consider our well-being:
Only wolves and lions eat alone.  You should not eat, not even a snack, on your own. 
- Epicurus
I believe that by building or studying Epicurean cultures of communal and empathetic feeding (not just of the poor and homeless but of people in general), these issues can be explored, observed, and subjected to the necessary research in order to produce an updated, empirical Epicurean theory related to the primal brain in our gut and its relation to ataraxia.
Some of the questions we should seek to answer revolve around how much quantifiable emotional well-being can be observed in these interactions.  Members of a community who know that they will be lovingly fed should be less inclined to theft, violence, and hostility.  They should feel safe and perceive less threats to their survival.  And they should perceive the site of their feeding as a nurturing, cozy place of refuge.  They may even, like the bonobos, be inclined to create an entire environment and culture of affection and safety.
What if they’re fed in a manner which is angry or indifferent?  What if children are fed in such a way in their infancy and early childhood?  Does this have emotional repercussions in the child or adult?  These might be some of the other questions to ponder in further research.
Another possibility is the development of a diet for ataraxia: one that produces a blissful condition.  We know that raw cacao has anandamide, the chemical of bliss, and that there are certain foods that provide our brains with the tryptophan needed to produce serotonin, the feel-good chemical.  And so we have the beginnings of an Epicurean diet (that is, a diet conducive to happiness by fulfilling our most basic needs and desires).
But in addition to these dietary sources of well-being, perhaps there are other comfort foods that (either because of their flavor, warmth or ingredients) remind us of mother’s milk and awaken our memory of primal ataraxia.  The Romans, after all, decided to name cereals after the Mother Goddess of the Earth and its fruits, Ceres–or was it the other way around?  Did they name the Goddess after their experience of consuming cereal, which is traditionally consumed with milk?
Most humans stop producing the enzymes needed to digest human milk after a certain age, and many are understandably lactose intolerant as adults.  It might be interesting to research whether there are non-milk-derived foods that are particularly good at re-awakening our primal memories of safety and pleasure, and whether these culinary instincts are recognizably universal or highly personalized.  My hunch is that we should look at foods rich in probiotics, the “good” bacteria that populates our guts.
Recent studies show that the gut has neurons –100 million brain cells, in fact.  We literally think with our gut.  The human stomach has a brain of its own the size of a cat’s brain, it has its own agenda, and acts somewhat independently from the other brain.
What neuroscientists are calling the second brain, I am more tempted to call the first brain, having evolved earlier.  Our main brain could have only grown out of a less complex, more primal organ.  This article published in Scientific American concludes:
Cutting-edge research is currently investigating how the second brain mediates the body’s immune response; after all, at least 70 percent of our immune system is aimed at the gut to expel and kill foreign invaders.
UCLA’s Mayer is doing work on how the trillions of bacteria in the gut “communicate” with enteric nervous system cells (which they greatly outnumber). His work with the gut’s nervous system has led him to think that in coming years psychiatry will need to expand to treat the second brain in addition to the one atop the shoulders.
As a result of this research, many of the medicinal solutions to depression, anxiety, and other psycho-emotional problems actually already target the gut.  John Cryan’s research on the bacteria found in cheese, yoghurt, kim chee, kombucha, and other milk by-products and fermented foods suggests that some of the bacteria in milk and fermented foods reduces anxiety.  Earlier research done by Max Gerson, proponent of the Gerson therapy, suggests the possibility that a dietary regime (his live foods lifestyle) might work just as well as pharmacology to treat almost every known disease.
The fact that our gut brain has a basic cognitive function and is constantly in communication with the main brain has enormous philosophical and spiritual implications.  It implies that our understanding of the neural complex has to evolve to include diet as a manner of becoming, of communicating with our own selves at the neural and cellular level in order to elicit certain states of mind and being.

Consumption can be understood as an act of willful becoming.  We choose existence, but also we choose our state of mind and of existence through the physical and psychological act of eating.
Thus, a whole new scientific understanding of Epicurean existentialist spirituality emerges: one that places our society’s dietary and health crisis within the context of a spiritual crisis.  I believe it is no less than that.
Hippocrates said Let food be your medicine and let medicine be your food.  In ancient societies in our own hemisphere, the word for spiritual energy was medicine.  Like the classical sameness between the words sanity and sanctity suggests, to be sane means to be wholesome in body and spirit.
We exist by consumption.
We therefore existentialize matter via the act of eating.
Conscious consumption is then the same as conscious being, conscious living.
In all mammals, the primal bond with one’s mother is also highly olfactory.  One of the first things most mammals do when they give birth or when they’re born is to seek each other’s smell.  When we fall in love, one of the things that happens in the brain is that we get addicted to the chemical signal in our mate, the pheromone, which we inhale.  Might there be an unconscious olfactory cognitive function that relates certain odors to a sense of primal safety, familiarity, and pleasure?  Studies suggest a strong link between our sense of smell and our memory banks.  Can we smell ataraxia, and therefore even reproduce it via certain aromas?  Further research is needed.
Discovering these truths would lead to a science of ataraxia that would have been impossible to fully develop in the days of Epicurus, but that we now have the means to begin to explore, not just in a lab but in our daily experiments with feeding and relating to others.
The fact that Epicurus had an insight into the stomach as the seat of our emotions demonstrates that he was a humanist and philosopher in the fullest sense of the words, recognizing the importance of not just the rational, obvious brain but the earlier, primal one as well.