The Flying Spaghetti Monster Is No Different From Any Other God

Lindsay M Miller License PhotoI always like the opportunity to pass along good news, so I’m very pleased to report that Lindsay M Miller finally got her Massachusetts driver’s license. The issue is that she is a Pastafarian — a follower of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. As part of her religious observances, she wears a colander on her head. By Massachusetts’ law, people cannot wear head coverings unless they are “for medical or religious reasons.” Clearly, the colander is part of her religion. This really isn’t a hard case and that may be why it only took two months to resolve the matter and get the driver’s license picture seen on the left.

The reason this is even an issue is because people feel confident about old and large religions. When I was a kid, I used to hear that the Mormon Church was actually a cult. It was just a way for one religion to delegitimize another religion. Of course, the problem is even more extreme with things like the Satanic Temple and Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. They seem as though they aren’t actually religions but just groups designed to make fun of religions. The problem with that thinking is that there is no reason to make that distinction.

Pastafarians believe, “The central creation myth is that an invisible and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe ‘after drinking heavily.'”

What is a religion? Truly, I don’t think it is any different than any other group or organization. The Catholic Church and the Elks Lodge and a bowling team are really all the same. But I will admit, that religions normally deal with more fundamental ontological issues. But this has been one of my great disappointments with most religious people here in the US: they aren’t much interested (or even aware of) ontology. And so that really does make them nothing fundamentally different from the Karaoke events at Double Decker Lanes.

According to Wikipedia, the Pastafarians believe, “The central creation myth is that an invisible and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe ‘after drinking heavily.'” I don’t accept this. It is utterly contrary to what we know from negative theology. The problem is that so are the creation myths of every other religion that I know about. The best explanation that I’ve ever heard of the Christian creation myth is that God created the universe in the same way that Mozart created The Marriage of Figaro: as an act of pure creativity. The same can be said of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

So, are the Pastafarians making fun of religious people? To some extent, I’m sure they are. But mostly, they are just having fun. They are making sense of the world in a way that speaks to them. (Wikipedia: “The Pastafarian conception of Heaven includes a beer volcano and a stripper (or sometimes prostitute) factory. The Pastafarian Hell is similar, except that the beer is stale and the strippers have sexually transmitted diseases.”) The complaints that some religious people have about the Church of the Fly Spaghetti Monster are the same as the complaints they have of all other religions: that they don’t take the complainer’s religion seriously enough.

But in all my life, there is nothing that I feel the need to defend against mockery. I’m a big Don Quixote fan. If people mock the books or my love of them, it means nothing to me other than that they are people of very little taste. This is why I think more and more that a lot of religious people are lying about their beliefs. They really do think that the Bible (or whatever other book they follow) isn’t telling them the truth. And it terrifies them to see other reasonable people thinking that those beliefs are silly.

Does Islam Promote Violence?

Reza AslanIslam doesn’t promote violence or peace. Islam is just a religion and like every religion in the world it depends on what you bring to it. If you’re a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is gonna be violent. There are marauding Buddhist monks in Myanmar slaughtering women and children. Does Buddhism promote violence? Of course not. People are violent or peaceful and that depends on their politics, their social world, the ways that they see their communities.

—Reza Aslan
Interviewed on CNN

Out With ‘Banana Republic’ & in With ‘Gig Republic’

Lawrence MishelBack in 2007, while between jobs, I worked the graveyard shift at a gas station that was a mile away from the San Francisco Airport. So I knew a lot of taxi cab and limo drivers. They were a desperate group — always looking for fares — and generally willing to screw over each other in the process. They struck me very much like small business people, even though they were technically workers. That’s because the base pay was pathetic and they really depended upon tips. It got rid of any romantic ideas I ever had of driving a cab.

So when Uber came around, I didn’t see it as being that big a deal. The main thing is that Uber seems decidedly worse. Generally, cab companies only checked to make sure you had a clean driving record. And they provided you with the car. I don’t much see the point from the user’s perspective either. In both cases, you are using your phone to get a lift. To me, it all stinks of Pets.com: nothing new, except it’s on the internet! Ultimately, the big difference is that Uber gets 20% of all fairs just because they had the idea of creating an app. It isn’t adding much value, and I really question its business model in the long run.

“Evidence of an exploding gig economy is, as they say, showing up everywhere but the data.” —Lawrence Mishel

But I got to thinking about this from a different perspective after reading an article by economist Lawrence Mishel in The Atlantic, Uber Is Not the Future of Work. It contains a great quote, “Evidence of an exploding gig economy is, as they say, showing up everywhere but the data.” It turns out that the majority of Uber drivers do it very casually — usually only when they are looking for other (real) work. The Simpsons got Uber exactly right in their episode, “My Fare Lady“: it is best thought of as a job stay-at-home mothers have to make a little extra cash.

As regular readers know, I’m a freelance writer. It would seem pretty strange to call myself that, however, if all the writing I did was through a single service. I would tend to think that I worked for that one service. In the writing world, that “service” is generally called an agent. And those agents do a lot more for you than Uber does for its drivers. And those agents only charge 15% — not the 20% that Uber seems to think it deserves. So it seems to me that the freelance world of Uber isn’t very freelance at all. Rather, it is just called that (or “gig” — a hipster term for the same thing) so that companies like Uber can justify paying low wages and providing next to nothing in terms of support and benefits.

UberI wonder if it is actually possible to have a cab company actually be freelance. I mean in a legal sense of the word. One of the defining characteristics of freelance work is being able to manage it yourself. The writers that I work with generally have week long deadlines. And if they can’t manage that, they get more time. So a writer will be working on a dozen articles and she will decide when and how much to work on every bit. But people need cabs right away. Thus, they are not hiring a particular cab driver, but rather a system of cab drivers. Thus, regardless of what Uber wants to claim about it just providing an app, it is providing a fleet of cabs. It is a cab company.

Mishel showed that the fraction of the economy that is self-employed has been basically static for the last two decades — that’s through both the mother of all booms and the mother of all busts. So Uber and other “gig economy” companies have yet to change the basic contours of our economy. Yet we find ourselves talking about Uber as though it is something new. But it really isn’t. Consider the decline in the wage earning capacity of middle class workers. I think it is this and not the smartphone technology that allows Uber to exist. Cab companies in the 1960s could have been set up the same way Uber is today. The base technology hasn’t changed. What has changed is that now workers are desperate enough to provide all the startup and maintenance costs of running their own cab company without the compensation of a larger wage.

As part of my work as a freelance editor, I was recently working on an infographic that focused on things like the Uber app. It was about how regular people could have all these things (like a personal driver) that used to be available only to the rich. One of the things on it was a laundry service. We were immediately contacted by a website that wanted to use the infographic, but there was a problem: the laundry service had gone out of business just a couple of weeks before. So I went out and looked for a replacement. There used to be three such services. They had all gone out of business in the last year.

Being a driver or a cook or a launderer is not a freelance job. We are being sold a bill of goods. This is just another example of businesses using a technology to screw over workers. And these things only work so long as the economy is bad. If Uber and the “gig economy” is the future of America, then we are in for a very bumpy ride. People will stop talking about “banana republics” and start talking about “gig republics.” And I don’t think Americans are going to stand for that.

Anniversary Post: Dulles Airport

Dulles AirportOn this day in 1962, President Kennedy dedicated the Washington Dulles International Airport. This gives me the opportunity to talk about the day that I was stuck there. I was 17 years old and I had been accepted into one of these summer touring bands. Kids were flying in from all over the nation to be shuttled to some music conservatory in the middle of Virginia. (I can’t seem to find it.) Anyway, they were understaffed and I spent a good eight hours there.

But the weird thing about it was that the vast majority of the kids were from the south. I don’t know why. But even though I had traveled quite a bit in the south, I did not get on well with the southerners. Or maybe it is more correct to say that they had a problem with me. There were basically three people I got on with. There was a girl from Arizona who had a sense of adventure and who was the only one who backed me up when I pushed for us to go see, No Sex Please, We’re British. There was an older woman — a teacher — from Philadelphia who I learned much about the world from. And there was this crazy guy from Alaska who I used to sneak out with late at night and have great times in some of the best cities in Europe.

I’d never thought about it before, but maybe there really is something wrong with southerners. At least among that group, they were no fun. And this is during a period of my life when I was a pretentious young intellectual. But at least I wasn’t wedded to the rules and afraid of a little adventure. But anyway: Dulles.